Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Do big cities inspire musical timidity?

When we lived in Ohio and wanted a big-city experience, we went to Chicago. The symphony hall has a top-notch piano series every year, and we saw Maurizio Pollini and Krystian Zimerman give recitals there. The CSO tracked us from Ohio to Arizona, and we received their new season brochure today in the mail. Again, a great looking set of piano concerts, including a recital by Marc-André Hamelin, a pianist whose recordings have almost singlehandedly brought a large number of worthwhile but otherwise unknown piano works to light. Even though the concert blurb emphasizes his adventurous and courageous progams, Hamelin's concert in Chicago will include sonatas by Haydn and Chopin, and Debussy's second book of Preludes. I'm sorry, and with all due respect, but this is neither adventurous or courageous. Do pianists get all super-stuffy when they come to Chicago?

After we had gotten tickets for the Zimerman recital a few years ago, we discovered that he was coming to a university just down the road, and that we didn't need to go all the way to Chicago to hear him at all. Well, we had tickets already, and reservations at Charlie Trotter's, so we didn't change our plans, but my piano teacher went to the local concert so we could compare notes. IIRC, the program was the same in both venues, Mozart, Ravel and Chopin. In Chicago, Zimerman was all business, playing the pieces on the program, but no conversation with the audience and no encores. (Of course, he played exceptionally well. His Chopin was highly idiosyncratic, very strange, and extremely moving.) At the concert in Oxford, Ohio, two days before, he changed the program on the fly (Mozart out, a big Beethoven sonata in), got all friendly and chatty with the audience, and played two encores. Perhaps in smaller venues, performers can relax a little bit and have some fun, but in the top-ranked cities, it must be so important to play as perfectly as possible. But the people in Oxford probably had a more interesting and memorable concert.

Hypothetically, if we were going to go to Chicago for a single piano concert this coming season, it would probably be Pierre-Laurent Aimard, playing The Art Of Fugue.

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