The Kennedy Center likes MacArthur “genius” grant winners who play the piano, showcasing three of them last week. On Wednesday there was Vijay Iyer, followed by Friday’s double bill of Jeremy Denk and Jason Moran. Moran, the center’s new artistic director for jazz, is curating a six-concert series called “Jason+” — this was the second — in which he collaborates with a variety of artists, ending with the National Symphony Orchestra.
Friday’s concert in the Terrace Theater, co-presented with Washington Performing Arts, was less a collaboration than a genteel drum battle. Other than some timid noodling by Moran during Denk’s final two numbers, the artists simply took turns playing solos, announcing them as they went. There was no particular nexus between their respective selections; Moran hewed mostly to jazz classics, refracted through his thoughtful, wide-ranging and virtuosic keyboard language, while Denk offered an eclectic mix of tunes by Hindemith, Stravinsky and William Bolcom; Mozart’s startlingly dissonant “Andante” from his K. 533 Sonata; a deranged canon by Conlon Nancarrow (one hand playing slightly faster than the other); the “Alcotts” movement from Ives’s “Concord Sonata”; and a brooding Bach Sarabande.
Moran also played one of his own works, “South Side Digging,” a snarling blues number, reaffirming his creative talent. He is a respectful scholar and an unassuming, fastidious player; if you watched the two artists on video with no sound, you would presume that Denk was the jazz pianist and Moran the classical one, as the former is much more into the show-and-tell of performing.
The concert offered no boundary breaking or cross-fertilization and no particular musical synergy, but rather two superb musicians in their prime, enjoying themselves in a relaxed format, taking turns sharing some enjoyable music from their respective genres.
Battey is a freelance writer.