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Le Poisson Rouge – oh how I loathe thee, let me count the ways! You over-hyped and overheated little hellhole, full of overconfident people, with your nasty bar, serving the most disgusting by-the-glass wine my $10 can buy, with your messy re-entry stamps and your disggraceful two-items-at-the-table policy! But I had to come tonight, in the name of this magical evening last November, when I heard Jeremy Denk playing Hammerklavier – and I was awestruck, verklempt, charmed, enchanted, stunned – and head-over-heels in love.

So come I did, on this rainy Monday night, with my high heel shoes killing me (very bad idea if you’re in for standing-room-only admission), my Beethoven t-shirt suddenly so appropriate for the occasion, and with a great hope for just a bit of what I felt last time around. I heard the CD our soloist was about to promote on NPR’s First Listen, and liked it, but wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Jeremy Denk, after all, is the closest classical music has to a hipster: modern to the bone, eloquent, witty, cool – a concert pianist you can actually follow on Twitter. And I freakin’ hate hipsters, even if they can play Opus 106 so beautifully they almost make me cry. I noticed last time he is not free from mannerisms some people find annoying; I, for one, did not mind so far. At least not when he was playing Ludwig Van, and that was the plan for the evening. Well, for part of it.

The place was packed – almost as packed as the last time when I was there, for the amazing Górecki evening with Jack Quartet and Signal. The well-dressed older folks, the Julliard sirens, the Manhattan School of Music clarinet-class dandies – all of them were there, with their faces lit like moons from the glow of their IPhone screens as they tapped on them mercilessly, making status updates and check-in announcements for the rest of the wired world to know where they’re at. Sipping overpriced beers, munching on tasteless chicken nuggets, waiting for the celebration to begin.

It started half-comically, with the pianist shrinking in the blinding blue spotlight which make him look like glowing zombie and rendering the Ligeti Etudes score at the stand completely illegible. A short moment of commotion. Light turned softer. The music started. And it worked.

I am quite surprised how much I enjoyed these nervous, unpredictable pieces, with their sudden turns from raging forte to the most delicate pianos (which, for my money, Denk executed quite elegantly and with great taste). I enjoyed even more the intrusion (not quite an unexpected one, as the pianist mentioned before the music started that this is what he intends to do – insert an odd piece between the Fifth and Sixth of the Ligeti’s etudes) – a Liszt/Bach transcriptions of one of the Cantatas. Surprisingly well balanced mix: almost as good as what Uchida did in her Carnegie Hall recital few years back, setting Kurtyag against Die Kunst der Fuge. Throughout the set, the rattle of bar shakers never stopped, as if the mighty bartenders wanted to tell you that music is music, however sublime – but what people want is martinis.

So it came and went, impressive if not earth-shattering, elegant if not unforgettable. A short break followed, with more blinking phone screens lighting up some of the faces. The pianist returned. The music stand was removed from the top of the massive black Steinway, which barely fit the small club stage. Then there was finally silence, and the first C-minor chord of Opus 111.

I liked what he said about the piece, and how what late Beethoven really wanted to say was not really picked up until the 20th century because the 19th was not ready for it. I liked the tempo –considerate, respectful. I liked his touch, amazingly light in the pianos, powerful in fortes without even raising his wrists too high. Niiice. The first movement of this amazing 32nd sonata, the last piano piece by the greatest of masters, always seems too short for me, in every performance – but then the second one starts, and I am in heaven. This one drifted in and lingered, but then – oh man, I feel the bloodthirsty rage every second I recall that – then, just a few bars before this most amazing transition – the one when Beethoven pulls a total Scott Joplin on us and goes jazzy, peaking into the 20th century, like this monk on the Flammarion engraving, the one who stuck his head outside the limit of the earthy realm and saw the revolving celestial spheres – right THEN some moron turned on the huge A/C unit on and all I could hear was deep, imposing, machine-like hum over Denk’s subtle passagework. Believe me, you don’t want me anyplace near deadly weapons when something like that happens in a concert hall.

Thankfully, just before his jazzy passage begins the machine stopped, and the soloist was allowed to work his magic there. It was good: energetic but not overly cheerful , just as it should be, and I wanted to hear it again right away. This, however, you don’t do to in your theme & variations piece. The next section came, and then the next one. And just as I was about to start complaining that the earth was not shaking from those chords as much as I expected, there it came: the coda. So gorgeous you want to die right with it as it fades.

Oh, lovely. It was lovely, indeed. But only that. What stayed with me afterwards was not that much Jeremy Denk’s interpretation, however graceful and well-balanced – but the overwhelming timelessness of this amazing piece: if there’s anything capable to convince me of the immortality of the soul, it is late Beethoven. But unlike that November Hammerklavier night which left me breathless, this performance got me longing for this moment – maybe ten, maybe twenty years ahead from now – when I get to hear Jeremy Denk again, an aging man, playing the same sonata as seen from a totally different spiritual place. He is an amazing pianist, that is for sure, his musicality is as impressive as his skill, and he certainly has a deep intellectual understanding of every piece of music he gets to perform – who knows, perhaps he is a new Charles Rosen, a pianist-philosopher in the making. But he is not there yet. He is a 42-year old rising star, and for the best interpretation these late pieces require the sort of humility possibly unattainable for anyone who has not yet been afraid of sticking his or her head to the worlds outside this one. And that was what I was thinking, leaving the club, not waiting for the CD signing – I wanted out, as soon as I could, before the noise of clunking wine glasses and hurried voices would wipe out the last memory of this sublime last cadence. I left. The train came for me and took me to Brooklyn.  

There was a manic subway performer in my car, rattling his maracases and yelling I AM THE CAT IN THE HAT over and over again, and then preaching – because, apparently, that is what his god told him to do: to make noise on the train all night long. The feeling was gone. The memory of this magical last chord was gone. Suddenly all I could think of was that I lost a day of my own piano practice because I went out. And as much as I enjoyed the concert, it set me even further away from that day – should it ever happen – when I will finally be able to read Opus 111, and maybe, just maybe – play it. And this, all of the sudden, made me want to cry.

wtorek, 22 maja 2012, bigapple1

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