David Porter will perform Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata on Sunday, March 2, at 3 p.m. in Brooks-Rogers Recital Hall on the Williams College campus. He will give a brief talk about the piece before the recital. This free event is open to the public.
When Charles Ives’ Concord Sonata received its New York premier in 1939, Lawrence Gilman of the New York Herald Tribune described it as “exceptionally great music—the greatest music composed by an American, and the most deeply and essentially American in impulse and implication.” The intervening years have reinforced Gilman’s assessment of this work—and yet the Concord Sonata still remains relatively unknown and unappreciated even among sophisticated concertgoers.
David Porter has for more than forty years been working to remedy this situation. He learned the “Concord” when he was teaching at Carleton College in the mid-1960s, at a time when only a handful of other pianists were playing this piece, and for the next fifteen years he performed it throughout the country. A spell as a college president took Porter away from active concertizing, but since 1999, when he returned to teaching at Williams College, he has again been performing on a regular basis. After a hiatus of almost 25 years, he has now again begun performing the Concord Sonata, with renewed delight in its pianistic challenges, renewed assurance of its place among 20th century musical masterpieces, and renewed determination to help audiences understand, appreciate, and enjoy it. Porter has always believed that music such as the Concord Sonata profits from some pre-performance remarks, and over the years audiences throughout the country have praised his ability to open minds and ears to this wonderful but demanding music. He has brought a similar approach to other 20th-century composers, and when in 1994-95 he was designated a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, the lecture that proved most popular on the various campuses he visited was a lecture-recital on music of Ives, Cowell, Cage, and Satie, “The Well-Tampered [sic] Clavier.”
Porter is currently Harry C. Payne Visiting Professor of Liberal Arts at Williams College, a position which he has held since 2000 and which carries the expectation that he offer each year at least one course that reaches beyond classics and that is in some way experimental in nature and approach. Previously, Porter taught classics and music at Carleton College from 1962-1987; was Carleton’s William H. Laird Professor of Liberal Arts from 1974-1987; and was visiting professor of classics at Princeton University in 1986. In 1986-87 he served as president of Carleton College prior to becoming president of Skidmore College from 1987-1999. In the fall of 2008 he will be at Indiana University as Case Visiting Professor of Classics.
As a pianist, David Porter has given hundreds of recitals and lecture-recitals throughout the United States and in Great Britain and has frequently performed on radio and television. In recent years he has given concerts not only at Williams and Skidmore but also at Lake Forest College, the University of Arkansas, Whitman College, Bennington College, Drew University, Webb Institute, and the Intermezzo Chamber Music Festival in Utah. In 2000 and 2004 he participated in two major performance pieces at the Frances Young Tang Museum at Skidmore College, one centered around music by Cage and Satie, the other around George Crumb’s Makrokosmos III. His performances of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations at Skidmore and Williams in 2002 received warm critical praise. He is the author of articles on Beethoven, Ives, Satie, et al., and co-editor, with Gunther Schuller and Clara Steuermann, of a book on pianist Edward Steuermann, The Not Quite Innocent Bystander (1989).
Porter is also author of books on Greek tragedy and Horace, of three monographs on Virginia Woolf, and of numerous articles and reviews on topics in classics (Homer, Greek tragedy, Horace, etc.), modern literature (Cather, Wharton, Woolf), and education, including opinion pieces in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Atlanta Constitution. His book, On the Divide: The Many Lives of Willa Cather, will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2008.
Porter received his B. A. from Swarthmore College (1958) and his Ph. D. (in classics) from Princeton University (1962). He studied piano with Edward Steuermann from 1955 to 1962 and harpsichord with Gustav Leonhardt in 1970 and 1977. He was a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 1994-95, and in 1998 Skidmore College awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.