When everyone else in the free world was waiting in hours-long lines or bribing store employees to expedite their wait for the illustrious new iPhone, Jeremy Denk simply showed up to his local 24-hour Apple store in New York City: no lines, no hassles, no problem.
It was after 1 o'clock in the morning.
It's a type of decision—quirky, thoughtful, slightly dangerous—very much in character for Denk, a youngish maverick pianist with an increasingly busy international touring schedule. Denk is fast becoming recognized as the thinking-person's classical pianist, and for good reason: He brings a formidable, searching intelligence to every piece he plays, new or old. Hearing him in performance at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum just a few years ago, in a concert dedicated to works by pathbreaking American composer Charles Ives, was a revelation for this writer.
Though Denk's visited Portland before—he claims his love affair with coffee started in Stumptown nearly a decade ago—he's making his recital debut here thanks to the enterprising folks at the Portland International Piano Festival, which right now is in the heat of its two-week-long summer keyboard fest.
Denk's recital features works that he speaks about with passion and sharp insight: Beethoven's masterful "Hammerklavier" Sonata, op. 106, and Charles Ives' Concord Sonata. "They're both what you would call 'limit works,'" Denk says. "They're at the edge of their respective genres, and they're just about to explode."
Talking about his non-classical music interests, it's surprising when Denk admits to "having always been a little bit pop-phobic. Until recently," he says. He claims the indie band My Brightest Diamonds (who recently opened for the Decemberists) and Rufus Wainwright as favorites. But Denk doesn't have much time these days for listening to anyone—except himself.
He is currently busy working on Bach and Ives, prepping for more gigs on the concerto and recital circuit, including more tours with hotshot violinist Joshua Bell. "Whatever comes in my career is sort of a surprise," he says. "I've learned not to plan too much ahead."