Liana Forest Trio wows audience

A Review

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Have you ever heard Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee” performed as a boogie woogie arrangement? Turns out to be gut-level impressive, with a beat that doesn’t just tap your toes but goes right up your leg. Russian-born Concert Pianist Liana Forest, accompanied by an accomplished drummer and guitarist, grabbed the whole audience right there, at Monday night’s IWV Concert Association’s latest concert.

When I saw the program described as “Swinging Classics,” I foolishly assumed it would be music from the Swing and Big Band eras. Ooops. Forest is a classically trained pianist, and the music presented was mostly classical, but often with a different interpretation. For instance, several Beethoven pieces were done with a Latin beat.

Some remained unvarnished, for the traditionalists — like my personal favorite, Chopin’s “Fantasy Impromptu.” In Forest’s skilled hands, the famous notes poured out like a shimmering waterfall, delicate and bubbly. She played the entire 17-minute version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” two medleys of Bernstein’s “West Side Story” songs, several pieces by Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat” and “Waltz in C Sharp Minor,” which sounded like dream images dancing lightly on their toes, pirouetting like thistledown.

Then she knocked our socks off with Khachaturian’s “Saber Dance” — also done hot boogie style. Intense! I don’t think there was a toe in that audience that wasn’t tapping. Forest was clearly having fun.

Between selections Forest told brief humorous stories about her Russian upbringing, emigration to the U. S. in 1993, learning English and her musical career. She described coming to this country on a visit, unable to speak English, and finding herself in an employment office. She pantomimed playing piano, and was shown to a typewriter. Knowing nothing about typewriters, she gave it a try. “It was useless,” she said. “All the keys sounded the same.”

While she normally does not take requests in concert, she played one for a fan who asked for her very favorite — “Clear the Saloon.” So Forest played a sparkling “Clair de Lune,” knowing that was what was wanted.

Ending with Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto Number Two,” she earned a standing ovation and three curtain calls. She came back out and played a fiery encore piece from her upcoming Latin show, which she calls “Waters of Winter.”

“Music has the power to transcend the language barrier,” she said.

For more about her, see www.lianaforest.com. She lives in San Francisco and has performed with all the prominent orchestras in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco and San Jose symphony orchestras. She often plays on cruise ships and has recorded three CDs.

“It was everything we were expecting and more,” said Greg Morrow, president of the IWV Concert Association. “That was despite the fact that she was following Map Quest’s directions and driving up from Mojave on Highway 14. The directions said to take 178 West, and she wound up in Weldon at 7 p.m. last night, knocking on someone’s door and asking, ‘Did I miss Ridgecrest?’

“Despite that, everything went well.”

IWVCA’s next concert will be Tuesday, Jan. 29, with the Night Blooming Jazzman, a seven-piece Dixieland jazz band. For more information, see www.iwvca.com.

Story First Published: 2012-12-12