The historic Hand House in Elizabethtown often boasts classical music in the stately drawing room where Piano by Nature's grand piano resides.But this evening the house is rockin' with ragtime from renowned pianist Ethan Uslan.
According to the program, Mr. Uslan is one of the hottest names on the ragtime/traditional jazz scene today. He has performed on NPR's "A Prairie Home Companion" as well as in various concerts and festivals nationwide. It is evident early on that Mr. Uslan is not merely a ragtime pianist but he is also quite an entertainer on and off the bench.
He begins by telling us that this is his first visit to the area and that he has been to most of our restaurants. He had breakfast out at The Dogwood Bakery. And he went out to lunch at The Dogwood Bakery...delivery is everything.
Now that he has us chuckling he goes on to say that he likes to perform by creating a plot for his concerts. Tonight's plot is the story of his life. So we learn that he was born in South Orange, NJ. This elicits a bit of a cheer, including from this writer who was graduated from Seton Hall University in South Orange. Ethan seems surprised by this reception, telling us that this is the best response he's ever gotten to his birthplace.
He moves on to relate happenings in his life to each piece in his repertoire in a lively and engaging manner. This sets him apart from many of the musicians I have seen perform at The Hand House series but what really moves me is the way he makes the piano sing, at least that's what it feels like to me, especially when he plays "The Muscrat Ramble."
Another big crowd pleaser tonight is his rendition of "Fur Elise" which seems to combine classical and the unexpected with strains of something Pink Panther-like, boogie, and rag all thrown in.
We are treated to some Hoagie Carmichael and Charlie Chaplin and a curious tale of how four Romanians ended up staying at Ethan's home in North Carolina.
The icing on the cake comes near the end of the performance when Ethan invites local guitarist Joan Crane up to share the spotlight with him. I've heard Joan play before and know how talented she is. She explains that the era Ethan plays in was known for piano and guitar duos. She says she's always wanted to play one and gives us an aside before she begins, "Sometimes when God answers prayers he sends a world champion."
That about sums up what a magical experience this musical evening has been. If you have a chance to experience the music of Ethan Uslan by all means, don't pass it up.
This completes the 2013 concert season of Piano by Nature but keep an eye on the web site for next year's line-up. For more cultural events in the Lake Champlain Region, click through to the regional web site.
Kathleen Recchia has been enjoying the arts in the Adirondacks for about 20 years—both as observer and participant (acting, directing, and producing). She also enjoys cross-country skiing, swimming, juggling, and hosting visitors to the area at her bed & breakfast in Jay.