Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Peter Serkin: an elegant banker-look-alike gives us new ears

A wave from
tier 3.
We have got so used to loud and virtuosic piano high-jinks that when a concert is quiet and meditative, it takes time to adapt. The SSO piano concert last night at Angel Place in Sydney was one of those.

The audience filed into the Angel Place concert hall and sat looking at the grand piano, shining in black splendor. Bathed in violet with yellow backdrop, the setting was a visual treat even without a performance.

The lights dimmed and onto the stage walked a gentleman in a perfect grey, striped, three piece suit. He bowed to the audience, looking for all the world like a banker from a by-gone era, one of those elegant if slightly stiff gentlemen common in the days when bankers were people you could trust.  This was Peter Serkin, distinguished American pianist and son/grandson of distinguished musicians. Perhaps you need a persona and lineage like this to present a concert such as he presents, music that no one has heard before and which defies the 'normal' concert experience.

Serkin has a reputation for championing contemporary music but the pieces he chose to play last night looked to the past. The concert started with pre-baroque adaptations and music from an Elizabethan song-book. They seemed so simple but it look me some time to change tempo. I am sure the pieces and Serkin's slow, quiet and contemplative presentation was a very deliberate choice, designed to help us move from an over-busy and intellectualised world into a space where we could 'really hear' the works he presented.

I found myself wondering as the concert started whether I would have come had I known what was on offer and it was only during the second half of the concert, listening to pieces by Max Reger, Mozart and Beethoven  that I realised Serkin's skill had given me a whole new ear. I had not previously heard the chosen Mozart and Beethoven pieces and as I listened I could feel my view of both composers changing. I felt as if I had previously only seen the surface view and that now I was suddenly able to delve much deeper. Mozart's Rondo in A minor was a revelation. The program notes say it is regarded as his most personal work and I can believe that. It is introspective, thoughtful and contemplative, but emotional at the same time. Beethoven's Sonata No 30 is similar.

I am so grateful to Peter Serkin for taking me to a place where I could really hear music I didn't know existed.

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