This evening I went to a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as part of the Perth International Art Festival. It was, to quote the advertising material, “classical music and jazz intersect, as two piano virtuosi meet one musical genius: JS Bach.”
We were given 2 free tickets (in fantastic seats) by a friend of ours. But we couldn’t get a babysitter, so my husband stayed home and I went with a girlfriend.
Now, I enjoy musical performances. Everything from orchestral classics, to more modern pieces; and usually they accompany a theatrical or opera performance.
But this was the first time I went to a piano recital. An enormous concert hall. A huge wooden stage. A grand piano. A stool. And NOTHING else.
In fear of sounding like an uncultured fool… the truth is, I don’t know much about Bach and his works. I can recognise plenty of other famous classical melodies by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky etc. I could probably even hum them for you. But I probably wouldn’t be able to pick a snippet of Bach if it was playing in, say a toilet paper advertisement.
So when I saw the empty stage, I thought – Oh. I’m not a Bach fan. This might be a problem.
A man walked onto the stage. He bowed. We clapped. He sat down. He played. Like a master.
I went wow. This guy is good. This is most excellent.
After 5 minutes, however.
I was bored. It was not a good sign. The flyer said : This performance lasts for 2 hours and 30 minutes.
I looked about. Hundreds of people, rooted to their seat. Motionless. Silent. Deathly silent. Their heads and eyes were frozen in hypnotic awe. I swear. The only thing moving in that concert hall, was the pianist’s fingers and right foot.
What on earth is going through these people’s heads? What are they thinking about? That woman is wearing a very cool scarf. That guy looks like the Mayor of Perth. The pianist looks like Mr Bean. How do all these people sit so STILL?? Wow this guy’s technique is really impressive. Is his piano seat made out of leather or vinyl? I thought the graphic design for this event’s poster was quite charming.
I couldn’t stop myself. I was having multiple, uncontrollable conversations in my head. About the performance. The people around me. The experience I was having. What we were going to eat for dinner later. What I was going to write on my blog. The unexplained details of the book I’m reading. What’s happening this weekend. Funny things the kids did yesterday. Other really random stuff. The thoughts just kept coming and coming and coming.
In the silence of the concert hall, I was tormented by the unrelenting noise of my imagination. It was torture.
60 minutes later.
I suddenly perked up. I recognised the final canon. And Oh. My. It was exquisite. It was astonishing. I gasped. Then I almost stopped breathing, lest the air in my chest disrupted the staggering beauty of the music. Holy crap I had no words to describe how amazing it sounded. I was spellbound. Frozen in a state of spiritual ecstasy for less than 5 minutes.
The next interpretation was very modern. It was contemporary with jazzy overtones. The overall structure seemed similar. But I couldn’t identify any of the original Goldberg in it. Like I would know anyway.
It was definitely much easier to listen to. It had heaps of interesting bits, and the guy’s technique was rather colourful. Especially when he started smashing the keys with clawed fingers, like they do in the cartoons. Haha.
But I must admit, although it kept me engaged for the whole 70 minutes… it didn’t move my soul once. Isn’t that interesting.
[I thought I should include a foot note. These two pianist were highly accomplished and internationally recognised musicians – who fully deserves a better review from someone who doesn’t sit in their pyjamas all weekend watching Battlestar Galactica.]