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Filling in due to flu, Kenny Broberg shines in Minnesota Orchestra concerto debut

February 26, 2018 GMT

A week ago, pianist Kenny Broberg’s phone rang in Kansas City, Mo. It was the Minnesota Orchestra, asking could he possibly stand in for a flu-stricken André Watts at the coming weekend’s subscription concerts.

Five days later, Broberg walked on stage at Orchestra Hall to play Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, one of the grandest in the repertoire. A canceled flight from Kansas City meant that only one rehearsal with the orchestra had been possible.

At least the surroundings were familiar. Eight years ago Broberg, then a student at Washburn High School, made his Minnesota Orchestra debut at a Young People’s Concert.

Since then the young Minnesota artist’s progress has been exponential. Last year he won a silver medal at the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas, one of the most prestigious in the business.

Friday evening’s performance of the “Emperor,” Broberg’s concerto debut at Orchestra Hall, showed exactly why the Cliburn judges rated him so highly.

One obvious feature of his playing was the bright, pearly tone quality. It animated the glimmering cascades of notes in the piano’s flamboyant opening gestures and put a bright smile on the many episodes of silvery trilling that Beethoven asks for in the concerto.

The slow movement had a clean, pellucid beauty, without a trace of sentimentality or false straining for profundity.

Was the first appearance of the finale’s main theme a little impetuously pummeled? Perhaps, but Broberg’s playing of the movement had a pleasing rustic swagger and was refreshingly free of pomposity.

Age 23 is young for a pianist, and Broberg will know that in many ways his journey as a professional soloist is only just beginning.

But this was nonetheless a highly auspicious debut, marked by poise, technical brilliance and a welcome lack of the narcissistic body language so many pianists see fit to indulge in.

Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony was the other work on the program, and its oppressive sense of lurking menace contrasted sharply with the bushy-tailed optimism of Broberg’s “Emperor.”

Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at artsblain@gmail.com.