The Pianist


Virtuoso:  1. an experimenter or investigator especially in the arts and sciences; 2. one skilled in or having a taste for the fine arts; 3. one who excels in the technique of an art, especially a musical performer.

Working as a writer, “virtuoso” is one of those words I prefer to use rarely, if at all.  Marketing personnel tend to throw it around a lot, especially those working in classical music because they believe it will sell tickets, which threatens to dilute its true meaning.  A virtuoso appears not every other week but every other generation for any given instrument.  The Minnesota Orchestra excels at playing orchestral music and could be considered a virtuoso orchestra.  They have worked diligently and hard with Osmo Vanska to reach the level at which they currently perform.  So, it’s not only talent that makes the virtuoso, but how that talent is nurtured and developed. 

Pianist Stephen Hough is a genuine virtuoso.  I love his playing.  Often, it steals away my ability to speak, or my brain to form words.  Listening to him play the Tchaikovsky Concert Fantasia last night with the Minnesota Orchestra took my breath away.  Rarely performed in concert — I don’t know why —  It’s a wonderful piece of music — I’d heard it only once before on the radio, played by Stephen Hough at the Proms in London this past summer.  To say Hough’s technique is excellent is an understatement.  I’ve heard him tame the Brahms Second Piano Concerto, also, as well as Tchaikovsky Piano Concertos last spring.  He’s a slender man, of slight build but powerful at the piano, with  straight blonde hair and a flair for fashion.  Next week, he plays Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra.  And the beauty of these performances will be available on CD at some point in the future.  So everyone can hear Hough’s clarity, precision, warm musicality, and imagination.  I will be able to listen to his performances over and over.   

Those recordings may well accompany work on the Perceval novels.  In the first book, Evan befriends a young Russian pianist whose passion for music enriches his passion for life.  If those passions infuse a pianist’s technique and performance, we’d hear them in Vasia’s, as they are in Hough’s.  Conductors have soloists that they love to work with, soloists who share their musical vision, fearlessness and goals.  Evan would work with Vasia, possibly helping his career.  Stephen Hough’s career needs no help at this point.  May the patron saint of music, Saint Cecilia, watch over him and protect him so we will be able to hear his performances for many years to come. 

A welcome back to the Minnesota Orchestra and Osmo Vanska who has signed a contract extension through the 2014-15 season.  I look forward to next week’s concert and Hough’s performance.  And his encore!  Last night, he played the most luscious encore.  It began with the opening chords of Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, and after 3 or 4 measures, riffed into a haunting, bluesy rendition of “Moscow Nights,” ending with the Rachmaninoff chords again.  Awesome!  I loved it.  Hough’s blog informs and entertains as he offers a glimpse into his life as a professional concert pianist (research for me for Vasia’s character). 

Next spring, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin returns to record Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto with the Minnesota Orchestra….

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One response to “The Pianist

  1. Such vision & passion drive fearlessness, I think.

    I love the art of calligraphy with a passion. Doing so professionally is completely out of consideration: can you imagine seeing it in the Jobs Section of the Strib?. Not everyone can be Donald Jackson (the official scribe to the queen of England).

    I used to do it quite often as a hobby; I even did it a few times for money. At one point I decided to make a psalter, a collection of the psalms. I had started to contemplate layout and design for a few of the ones I really like, esp. #150 which is all about rejoicing with music. (it’s back on the drawing board after an odd thing at Mass this morning.)

    I saw the St. John’s Bible when it was on display at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a couple years ago. http://www.saintjohnsbible.org. I was planning to drive here from Lansing, Mich. for no other purpose than to see it based on an interview on NPR. (Luckily that turned into a short drive from the ‘burbs after we moved.) It is rare that I say with all sincerity that something was breathtaking.

    This took my breath away. Literally. Gasp and then nothing. My eyes opened, although my lungs didn’t. I was speechless; no little feat.

    Yet, I was at the exhibit with someone who quite honestly had no deep abiding interest in it. Yet even he was moved by the beauty, if not in quite the same way.

    Being a virtuoso, I believe, is the ability to move just about anyone; the ability to overcome the lack of passion in the audience member. One’s ability to unlock and understand the wonder of the art is used to open the same door to which others don’t have the key.

    After you get the CD with Hough’s music, I’ll have to borrow it to see what his passion is like.

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