News & Reviews


CONTACT: Matthew Bengtson, 215-704-4600;
Publicist, Trish Doll, Publicity Works, 717-445-6377


Excelling at both keyboard and chessboard, this award-winning concert pianist from Wyomissing, wants to promote the works of obscure composers of music.

Oh yes, he also wins at golf.

On Wednesday, December 11, 8:00PM, Pianist Matt Bengtson will be making his third appearance at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, performing the works of the early 20th century composers Szymanowski (Mazurkas op. 50, Nos. 2, 13 and 14), Debussy (selections from Images Book I) and Scriabin (Sonata No.3 in F-sharp minor, op. 23). Scriabin the composer has always been a personal favorite and specialty (he’s played all ten Scriabin sonatas). But Bengtson has also immersed himself in the works of Szymanowski, enough to record on compact disc all the Polish composer’s 22 mazurkas, each one its own distinct musical entity. “An amazingly wide range of moods can be found in these works,” says Bengtson.

If he knows Szymanowski, he also knows chess. Owning the prestigious title of “master,” Bengtson won a recent Grand Prix tournament in Great Britain. Then there’s golf—in 1991, he was good enough to win two club championships in and around his hometown of Reading, PA. And he knows computer science, having majored in the subject at Harvard University.

So what doesn’t Bengtson know?

The location of his next gig, perhaps?

“My agent arranged for me to perform one Sunday evening in a concert venue along the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia,” he recalls. “Until the afternoon of the concert, I didn’t have a clue as to where the hall was. All I knew was that it was within walking distance of my apartment.”

He is 28 years old, a handsome, five-foot-tenish, trim and an easy-speaking bachelor. Like any artist living downtown in the center of a large metropolitan universe, Bengtson walks miles everyday, taking the pulse of the City of Brotherly Love and its wonderfully diverse culture. He’s also a frequent flyer, having journeyed the world over to play piano, play chess and hit the links. Last summer he toured Europe, gave a recital in Toulouse, France, won a Grand Prix chess tournament in Kenilworth, England, and played golf on many renowned Scottish links courses (including firing a 2-under 70 at the Monarch’s Course at Gleneagles).

Somewhere in all this he managed to attend the École Américaine at Fontainebleau, where he studied a variety of French piano and chamber music, including the Debussy Images I, and was awarded the Prix de la Ville de Fontainebleau for piano performance.

“I think most musicians like myself want to live a worthwhile and fulfilling life that pursues and shares the essence of humanity,” he remarks, “through the creation and interpretation of new forms of artistic expression.”


Then there’s his competitive, gaming side.

“I admit it—I was addicted to chess,” he says, recalling that it took a lot of tournament experience to mature from a tactical standpoint.

“My game improved dramatically when I roomed with a very strong player at Harvard,” says Bengtson, who soon gained the “master” title (FM) given by the Fédération Internationale des Échecs and began competing internationally. Later, he gained entry into the American School of Chess in New York City, which admits those American players showing the most promise in the sport. From there, Bengtson went on to study with the late Edmar Mednis, a well-known grandmaster and chess author who beat the legendary Bobby Fischer. This past summer he won the Midland Open, a Grand Prix tournament in England. “In competitive chess games, the bizarre is commonplace,” notes Bengtson.

“Tournament play is excruciating pressure. The clock ticks away relentlessly. You’re under the hypnotizing stare of your opponent. It’s no wonder that some astonishing things can happen on the board.” As the youngest player in a Grand Prix tournament in Allentown, PA, he was a curiosity figure in the press. “I was often alone at my age,” he remembers.

He’d later find companions in the creators of music, especially those whose works for whatever reason would lie dormant in obscurity.

His new release Karol Szymanowski: The Complete Mazurkas reveals a rich stylistic palette of the Polish master. The CD evidences his advocacy of both contemporary and rarely performed music. In Bengtson’s view, the Polish composer wrote mazurkas that are hardly inferior to those of Chopin, yet they are little known.


Bengtson thinks the performance culture in general tends to “rehash the same repertoire.”

“There are many worthy albeit unplayed pieces out there that deserve to be reheard,” he insists. “Once a piece gets a poor reception or falls out of favor because of overall artistic trends, it tends to be forgotten by everyone—until some great visionary performer champions it. Then it might suddenly become quite popular again.” He respects pianists like Gould, Horowitz and Richter. “They were wonderful at exploring through the cobwebs in the attic and finding the rare jewels,” he says.

If you’re a pianist thinking of playing Baroque music, Bengtson suggests including some Handel or Rameau in addition to Bach. Instead of Pictures at an Exhibition, how about a Glazunov sonata? “If one is allured by Rachmaninoff, why not consider Nikolai Medtner or Nikolai Miaskovsky?” he asks challengingly.

Performing Szymanowski has served him well. In 2001, he lectured on the mazurkas as a Lowens Award finalist for the American Musicological Society.

There have been other numerous international and national piano awards and fellowships. In 1998 Bengtson won a La Gesse Fellowship sponsored by the Princess Cecilia di Medici and was subsequently presented in concert in France and Italy, at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. and at the Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home. La Gesse has also sponsored all three of Bengtson’s concerts in Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall.


All that is a far cry from his beginnings years ago in Reading, PA, where he became a “miniature golf fanatic” by age six. “I was enjoying golf for the variety of challenges it poses,” says Bengtson. He went out to play with his dad, an accomplished organist - and grandfather - at the local par 3 course. At Harvard, he played on the golf team for a year and a half. Eventually, the academic workload and his growing passion for music forced him to give up the team. That didn’t keep him from winning three Reading-area county tournaments in the last 10 years. Sporting a 3 handicap, Bengtson has recorded eight eagles at the Berkshire Country Club, considered one of the area’s more difficult ones. He once shot a 32 score on the back nine of the same course. He admits nevertheless to some wildly errant tee shots.

Meanwhile, he continues to pursue the music of the masters. After graduating from Harvard, he attended Peabody Institute in Baltimore, MD where he earned his masters and doctorate in music degrees in piano performance and minored in harpsichord. At Cornell University he studied the fortepiano with the highly renowned Malcolm Bilson.

Today, he performs extensively, offering a diverse repertoire that ranges from Rameau and Bach to Boulez and Legeti. He is also on the faculty of Settlement Music School in Philadelphia and the piano staff of the Curtis Institute of Music. All this—and he still manages to fit in about 30 rounds of golf a year and occasionally competes in chess tournaments as well. Whatever happened to that undergraduate computer science degree? Though there are opportunities in the field, he admits to having done little with the degree aside from framing his diploma. “The digital piano technology is advancing wonderfully,” he says. “But classical piano will always lead my heart’s direction.”

Tickets for the December 11 concert are $25/per person. For further information, contact 212-247-7800, Carnegie Charge.

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