Gretchen Hull: Young in years, mature in performance

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

It’s said that youth is wasted on the young. Not in the case of pianist Gretchen Hull, who is both very young and musically mature.
Hull, who taped a segment of Expressions Oct. 25 before a select audience in the state-of-the-art WSKG studio in Vestal, played piano with a technical virtuosity and expressiveness that belies her age. She’s a recent college grad, so she’s probably at least in her late teens or early 20s, but she looks about 16.
With long, long, graceful fingers and arms that recall the fluid motion of the solo ballerina in Swan Lake, she tossed off incredibly difficult and physically punishing works by Bach, Beethoven, Messiaen, Chopin, Rachmaninoff and more.
Her piano touch ranges from velvety soft to hugely aggressive and percussive. Her face reflects the same huge range of emotions, from despair to delight, from tenderness to turbulence, which she injects into the music and projects to the audience.
A master’s degree student at Temple University, Hull is the latest prodigy to be featured by the Classical Pianists of the Future program. Twice yearly, Classical Pianists founders Al Williams and Lance Hill produce concerts by up-and-coming young pianists, who perform on a very fine Bechstein concert grand piano housed at the Tri-Cities Opera Center in Binghamton. As Williams explained it, there’s very little opportunity for young would-be concert pianists to shine in solo recitals not linked to major competitions. Recitals like this are designed to launch a concert career. Hull’s appearance is this Sunday (Nov. 4).
As a bonus for the Expressions audience, Hull apparently wasn’t totally satisfied with her performance of the Beethoven Sonata Op. 81, a programmatic work depicting a heart-wrenching farewell, melancholy absence and a joyous reunion. She played the work a second time, as the cameras rolled. To this fairly musically educated listener, there wasn’t much difference in the two takes – both were superb.
A highlight of the program, Hull played a Messiaen piece depicting various scenes from the life of the infant Jesus. Both a lullabye to the baby, and a reaction to a kiss received from the baby, the piece is all rapturous sonorities and dissonances, best listened to with one’s eyes closed.
As icing on the cake, she tossed off a lightning-fast encore — Chopin’s Black Key Etude. When this Expressions show airs, don’t adjust your sets. Yes, her hands were a complete blur.

Hull will be the featured performer at the Classical Pianists of the Future recital at 3 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 4) at the Tri-Cities Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton. For ticket information, visi: The Expressions program featuring Hull will be aired at 8 p.m. Nov. 15 on WSKG-TV.

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