Benefiting the Henderson County Hunger Coalition, Tavernier plays Saturday, Feb. 3 in “The French Connection” concert on one of the largest, rarest pianos in the world. The concert starts 2 p.m., in Flat Rock Playhouse’s Playhouse Downtown (PD), at 125 N. Main St. in Hendersonville.
Already by last weekend, about half the seats are filled with advance ticket purchases, according to producer Joann Freeburg. She founded and heads the non-profit Music Foundation of Western North Carolina, that promotes jazz and classical music. The concert sponsor is Agudas Israel Congregation in Hendersonville, and the production manager is Sam Gess.
Tavernier reunites with clarinet player Matthew Hanna of Boiling Springs, S.C. in this show. There are three duets, four piano solos and one clarinet solo.
Hanna runs Harmony Creek Studio, and performs with Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra and Philharmonics of Brevard and Spartanburg, S.C. The veteran musician of some 20 years and Tavernier played duets a year ago, as well.
Their current theme is composers who were French, or lived in France. Though Tavernier has French heritage, Hanna came up with the theme and title of The French Connection a la the famed 1971 crime thriller starring Gene Hackman.
The upcoming concert reflects “the brilliance and range of French composers” of various eras who helped form the “cradle of modern music,” Joann Freeburg said.
Three pieces are by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). One each is by Frederic Chopin (1810-49), Franz Liszt (1811-86), Andre Messager (1853-1929), Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) and Jerome Naulais who is 66.
Polish native Chopin (“show-PONN”) was christened as Fryderyk Chopin. His mother was Polish; his father was born in France. Fryderk moved to Paris at age 21, befriended Hungarian Liszt there, and remained there until dying at age 39 from tuberculosis.
Intricate composer Liszt toured across Europe, and spent time in Paris. Tavernier closes playing a piece by his favorite, Liszt, entitled “Grand Galop Chromatique.”
Tavernier feels a range of energy and emotion, from the program’s music. He senses these sounds are up for flexible interpretations, varying among others. His own grasp of a piece tends to stay consistent, rather than vary with his own mood.
He enjoys expanding his repertoire with more composers, for each concert. He said duets spark “interesting color — the way the piano and clarinet compliment each other, especially with Messager.” He likes PD’s acoustics, and recalls the stage light was so bright that “you can’t see anyone” in the audience.
This is Tavernier’s only scheduled personal public concert before September, when he will play solo in his annual Masterwork performance in Diana Wortham Theatre in Asheville.
Now, for the monstrous piano. Tavernier will play a rare, huge Mason & Hamlin CC-95 concert grand piano in Wortham, he will have played first on Feb. 3. Freeburg Pianos in Hendersonville has it for sale, and lets Tavernier practice on it in the shop at 2314 Asheville Hwy/25N. It is nine feet, four inches long and five feet, 4.44 inches wide, and weighs nearly 1,500 pounds. Its rim is made of hard rock maple.
Freeburg G.M. Levi Freeburg said it retails at $140,000, there are only about 20 of this model in the country, and “it takes over one year to hand-build each piano one at a time.” This piano is a foot or two larger than most that Tavernier plays on. The previous longest piano he performed on was a nine-foot-long Steinway, also in Playhouse Downtown.
Tavernier’s concerts regularly are benefits for local groups. This time it is for the local Hunger Coalition, as chosen largely by Agudas and the Music Foundation. The Hunger Coalition formed 35 years ago, and is run by faith-based volunteers. Its executive board represents Agudas and also nine local Christian churches.
The Coalition will “help feed those needing assistance in our community,” Joann Freeburg said. “We have great need in our county, as well as great support. Please consider helping your neighbors.”
The $35 price per concert ticket raises money for this cause. In addition, patrons are asked to bring canned, dry-packaged and other non-perishable food to donate to the Hunger Coalition.
Tavernier, 17, a Hendersonville High School junior, is rewarded by raising money to help feed local people: “It feels really good, that my performance is benefiting a group of people.”
He feels part of a growing awareness, in his generation. “I feel like, in general, younger minds are more sensitive to hunger. Our generation is concerned about global problems, if the world is out of balance. We talk about it” in classes, such as a backdrop for perspectives in literature.
Similarly, he researches the historical times behind compositions he performs, to better understand the motivating emotion behind the sounds. “It helps me, to have the context of how they wrote it in the back of my mind.”
As a result when he pauses between pieces in concert, “right before I play, I try to get into the mood of the piece. So I convey the right ‘message’ of the composer.”
He would like to time travel for a month to the 1880-1920 era culturally overall and musically in the U.S., during New Industrial and Gilded ages. “Music and lifestyles were changing,” he said. He noted many classical music composers moved to the U.S. then, such as Bohemian Antonin Dvorak (1841 -1904) in 1892 then Austrian Jew Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) in 1908.
Tavernier is extra busy preparing for college entrance SAT and ACT exams, and auditions for collegiate music schools that are mostly in May through October. All seven of his HHS classes are advanced placement or equivalent. They include orchestra, U.S. history, and French II. He said he comprehends better than speaks French, but might uncork a greeting in French at the concert Feb. 3.
He will study at Brevard Music Center again this summer, after winning the tuition in a BMC student concerto competition last summer. He also won concerto competitions of symphonies of Asheville, Hendersonville, Charlotte (junior division), and Augusta, Ga. in the last year or two.
Tavernier feels refreshed by the mental “break” of spending a tech-free Christmas week at an area ski lodge cabin with his family, for the seventh year in a row.
Meanwhile, the Music Foundation of WNC has two upcoming shows. First is the free Spotlight on Steinway on Thursday, Jan. 18, at 6:30 p.m. in the Freeburg studio/store. Michael Jefry Stevens performs tunes by Thelonious Monk and others. Keith Freeburg, Joann’s husband, gives piano tutorials. Then at 7 p.m., Jonny Mercer is focus of the Legends of Music Film Series.
Next, the quartet Jazzville with vocalist Bronwyn Cronin plays in Isis Music Hall in Asheville. That is on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 4, 5:30-7 p.m. starting an hour ahead of the game. Tickets are $12 each.
The foundation’s latest show, Friday and Saturday, was New Orleans Baroque and Jazz by flutist Rita Hayes, Keith Freeburg on double bass, pianist John Cobb and with his son Morgen Cobb on drums. That was in Hendersonville Community Theatre, benefiting HCT just as Tavernier did a year ago.
The French Connection concert tickets are $35 each. They are not sold at the playhouse, the venue. Instead, they can be bought in the nearby Visitor’s Center at 201 S. Main St. in Hendersonville, from Sam Gess (773-213-2200), or online at: thefrenchconnection.rocks.