Results tagged “Andras Schiff” from ARTicles

The audience knew it had been at something special.  You could tell by the murmuring in the crowd on the way out of Zellerbach Hall.  "Wasn't that amazing?"  "Have you ever heard anything like it?"  "He's always been terrific, but this was even beyond expections."  "They throw around the word 'genius' a lot, but in this case, it really applies."  And so on, all the way down Bancroft and out into the surrounding streets, as Berkeleyites and other Bay Areans returned to their cars and their homes and pondered what they had just heard.

Last night, Cal Performances presented András Schiff in a solo performance of Bach, Bartók, and Beethoven.  Sounds pretty good, eh?  You have no idea.  The program started with all fifteen of Bach's Three-Part Inventions, which Schiff played crisply, tenderly, pensively -- his foot never touching the pedal once, so as to give each note the equally weighted precision it deserved.  These little pieces, which Bach composed as instructive material for his son, became in Schiff's hands miniature contemplations of the possibilities of melody and counterpart, thoughtful expressions of interiority and communication.  It was as if we were peering into his mind through his fingers -- Schiff's mind, I mean, but also Bach's.

And then, with barely a pause for one round of applause, the amazing András launched into Bartok's vehement Sonata for Piano, which had been composed roughly two hundred years after the Bach.  This was a different piano entirely:  stormy, expressive, with a huge dynamic range and emphatic chords and discords.  Folk melodies interwove with previously unheard combinations of sound, in a wild musical adventure:  it took us to the edge of our seats, but Schiff had the whole thing firmly under control, and he landed us safely at the end.

Huge applause again.  But now, after the intermission, came the most challenging effort of all:  the entire 33 sections of Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, played almost without pause (and entirely without sheet music, as indeed the whole concert was:  this is truly what it means to know music "by heart").  If the contrast between the Bach and the Bartók had seemed severe, it was nothing compared to the contrasts we now encountered within the Beethoven:  from near-silent serenity to pounding aggressiveness, with humor and irony and melancholy thoughtfulness and dour triumph all mixed up together.  Or no, not mixed up, but carefully laid out side by side, in a way that only Schiff (and Beethoven) could manage.

And then, as if THAT were not enough, András Schiff gave the roaring crowd two encores:  a Beethoven Bagatelle and a Bartók Allegro, both just as pleasing and beautiful as everything that had come before.  This was generosity taken to a new level and energy of a previously unseen kind -- all housed in a pleasant, friendly, unassumingly modest person who quietly walked on and off stage, taking his repeated bows with a small gesture of thanks, looking to the sides and above so as to catch the eyes of as many audience members as possible.  We all had the feeling that we were in an intimate setting, despite the 2000-seat hall:  he seemed to be playing just for each one of us, and at the same time for all of us at once.  It was quite an astonishing achievement, and I am very glad indeed that I was there.
March 1, 2012 9:35 AM |
After spending the entire day snuggling under a blanket with a good mystery during Saturday's unseasonable snowfall, I had to make a concerted effort to venture out into the elements in order to get to Carnegie Hall that evening. Nothing less than the combined musical power of pianist András Schiff, conductor Iván Fischer, and the Budapest Festival Orchestra could have lured me out on such a night. As it turned out, my gamble paid off handsomely.

The program (part of a Perspectives series that Schiff is curating on Bartók and his legacy) began with two Bartók works, the lively, brief Hungarian Peasant Songs and then the lengthy, complicated Second Piano Concerto. For both, Fischer had arranged his Budapest musicians in an unusual manner: the orchestra wore its belly outward and its pelt inward, so to speak, with two rows of woodwinds and brass surrounding the conductor at the center of the semi-circle, so that they were seated in front of rather than behind the evenly divided strings. This made for a bright, clear sound that suited the Bartók songs beautifully--and since there were more than enough strings to hold their own, it didn't in any way damage the balance. When Schiff entered the scene for the piano concerto, this seating seemed to make even more sense, for it gave his emphatic playing something solid--something that emphasized the piano's percussive rather than string-like qualities--to stand up against. As the concerto modulated from its frenetic, overpowering opening to its more complex echoes and patterns, one was able to sense how fully Schiff understood this music. The pianist seemed to combine inspired madness of manner with utter sanity of control, much in the way the conductor did with his instrument, the orchestra--proving once again (if such proof were needed) that you can never have too many wild Hungarians onstage at once.

For the second half, which consisted of Schubert's Great C Major Symphony, András Schiff sat in the audience (I could see him, right across the aisle from me, as he sat and listened attentively, occasionally rubbing his hands against each other to relax them from their prior exertions) and Fischer took over completely. For this performance, he moved the trumpets and French horns back to their usual position and left only a single row of woodwinds at the front. I have been steadily and passionately listening to this symphony since 2003, when I first heard Simon Rattle rehearse it and then conduct it with the Berlin Philharmonic; I probably play Rattle's excellent recording at least once a month, at home. And yet it wasn't until last Saturday night that I realized exactly how the lead oboe and the lead clarinet function in the music--how they alone start up each new theme, and then proceed to take over each other's parts, sometimes twining together as a pair, sometimes enlisting their fellow woodwinds, sometimes leading the whole orchestra into a larger sound. It was Fischer's brilliant seating arrangement that showed me this. (And it was equally brilliant of him to keep the horns at the back, so that their haunting, mournful sound could seem to come at us from a great distance.) Iván Fischer is that rare item, a choreographic showman who is also a great conductor--and what Saturday night proved to me, once again, is that both these aspects of his personality are essential to the Budapest Festival Orchestra's consistently marvelous performances.
November 3, 2011 6:59 AM |


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