When the young French-American jazz pianist Dan Tepfer brought his version of Bach’s Goldberg Variations to the Jazz at the Maverick series in Woodstock last year, this critic viewed the coming event with skepticism. That was before I heard it, and because I hadn’t heard Tepfer’s recording of the music from 2011. The most immediately surprising element of Tepfer’s performance was that he actually played Bach’s music – all of it – and that he played it very well. If it had just been a straight Bach performance, it would have been completely satisfying.
After each variation, though, Tepfer played an improvisation on Bach’s music. This is actually in accordance with the tradition of Bach’s time, when repeats would be highly altered and embellished in the performer’s own improvisations. Tepfer didn’t attempt to improvise in Bach’s style. What he played was jazz. But it was excellent, intelligent jazz, and didn’t sound silly, the way most jazz versions of Bach sound to these ears.
Tepfer grew up in France, but his parents were Americans, and he now lives in Brooklyn. “I grew up bilingual, raised in France by an American family,” says Tepfer, “which may explain why I’ve always been much more attached to context than to form, more concerned with what’s being said than the language in which it’s being expressed. As a result, I’ve grown increasingly drawn to exploring different means of expression for my music in order to further isolate the message from the medium.”
Since each Tepfer performance of the Goldberg Variations is different, his playing at the Doctorow Center in Hunter on Saturday, October 4 won’t replicate the exact performance that he gave in Woodstock. But it’s a good bet that it will be just as involving and entertaining.
Tickets purchased ahead (by 3 p.m. on October 4) cost $25 general admission, $20 for seniors and $7 for students. Tickets purchased at the door cost $30 general admission, $25 for seniors and $7 students.
Dan Tepfer plays Goldberg Variations, Saturday, October 4, 8 p.m., $30/$25/$20/$7, Doctorow Center for the Arts, 7971 Main Street, Hunter; (518) 263-2000, www.catskillmtn.org/events.