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Original compositions and Joplin rags carry the day at OCRS's June 2024 Nixon Library concert


An eleventh-hour invite to fulfill Nixon Library's Sunday concert slot for June 9 introduced a new ragtime pianist to Theater 37 audiences and yielded plenty of original compositions and Joplin rags, which accounted for 11 of the 13 selections.

Pedro Bernardez got things rolling with two outstanding early Joplins: "Original Rags," which preceded "Maple Leaf" in publication by six months in 1899 and is the closest thing Joplin wrote to a folk rag; and "Elite Syncopations," one of the composer's best early rags. The year 1902 was impressively prolific for Joplin, who saw eight published works that year. As always, Pedro incorporated creative improvisations into his performance that brought the pieces to life.

Ron Ross made his Nixon Library debut with a raft of originals, his specialty, and many of which he has previously recorded or performed at OCRS. He started with one of his most recent: "The Itchin' Rag." From 2022, this sprightly, clever piano rag, as with many of Ron's pieces, flirts with the minor tonality (first in the B theme, then in the trio).

Ron has written a handful of (usually) comedic ragtime songs, so we were entertained and got laughs from "Passin' by Pasadena" from 2009. Last up in his opening set was his "Nostalgia," an elegant, pretty rag-tango from 2005.

Eric commented that he had primarily intended only to act as MC, but couldn't resist playing the gorgeous Yamaha concert grand, giving us Harris and Brown's "Texas Tommy Swing," a piece the duo wrote for the Ziegfeld Follies of 1911.

Next up was Pedro with the fourth original of the afternoon: "Ragtime #3." The 2008 piece is wildly avant-garde, with creative dissonances and startling rhythms carefully placed to surprise the listener. He followed with his final Joplin of the day, a top-flight performance of "The Easy Winners" in which he cranked the tempo of the finale's final repeat down to half speed, which effectively emphasizes that section's ingenuity.

Ron encored with more originals, starting with the pretty ragtime waltz "Cloudy" (circa 2005-2006). Next was "Sunday Serendipity," an eccentric piano rag from 1998. Ron closed his successful first appearance at Theater 37 with the beautiful rag-tango "Joplinesque" (from 1999).

Eric wanted to deliver a vintage rag that originated in California, and so we heard "World's Fair Rag," self-published by composer Harvey Babcock in 1912 (three years ahead of 1915's Panama-Pacific International Expo, aka the 1915 World's Fair).

Audience members requested more Joplin in the form of "Solace," "Maple Leaf" and "The Entertainer." Time only allowed for one, so the audience was polled and "The Entertainer" captured the majority of votes. Thus the afternoon ended with the fourth Joplin of the day, the second from 1902, the second featured in "The Sting," and perhaps the most popular Joplin rag of all time.

The performers took their bows and spent some time mingling with audience members, who were given fliers with the dates of all five remaining scheduled OCRS performances and encouraged to attend as many as possible.


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