Why Bach was top of the class with respectful nods to Brahms, Ives and Ligeti.

Jeremy Denk is one of America’s most admired pianists, known for sharp, vibrant performances of programs that are anything but conventional. Alongside four ACO regulars he’s performing one of Bach’s best-loved keyboard concertos and a series of quietly radical Ligeti etudes which require superhuman technique. Denk describes Ives’ classic Concord Sonataas “one of the most profoundly nostalgic and tender projects in all of music.” It is this American pianist’s calling card, vividly portraying the idealism, strength, hope, and fierce individuality inherent in the American ethos. Brahms’ Piano Quintet, both powerful and tender, is one of the masterworks of 19th-century. Here are his thoughts:

Bach was a terrible over-achiever, a teacher’s pet (forgivable, since he is also the teacher). He apparently decided the monumental GoldbergVariations, with their canons at every interval, were not quite enough: he took the first eight notes of the Goldbergbass line and did a series of further contrapuntal exercises on them – extra credit on the greatest homework assignment in history.

These ‘extra’ canons fascinate me. The first few are humdrum. Bach is demonstrating to us certain qualities of these basic eight...