I have been attending classical (to use the popular definition of the term) concerts since the mid- 1970s, but I am not musically trained and so cannot comment with any expertise on technique, interpretation, etc. However, I do know what I like – and one of the things I like is a concert that mixes old composers/pieces with new. It is satisfying to hear music you know or, if you don’t know the actual music, at least a familiar style. But, it is also great to be challenged by new compositions from contemporary composers.
Musica Viva’s recent subscription concerts – we returned to subscribing about 8 years ago after a bit of a hiatus – achieve an appealing balance in this regard. Under the artistic directorship of Australian composer Carl Vine, we have seen (and heard) a wide range of performers from the tried and true, like the Jerusalem and Tokyo Quartets, to the unusual (for the chamber music scene anyhow) like TaikOz and The Song Company. And, each year, there is a featured composer – a contemporary Australian. In recent years we have had Matthew Hindson, Richard Mills, Ross Edwards, Peter Sculthorpe and, this year, Carl Vine himself. This means that pretty well every concert in the series will include at least one piece by that composer. A painless – indeed usually a joyful – way of being introduced to contemporary repertoire.
And this brings me to last night’s inspiring concert by the young (well, born in 1971) Russian pianist, Katia Skanavi. We rarely have solo piano concerts at Musica Viva, so we were expecting a real treat, and were not disappointed. The program included Schubert, Carl Vine and two pieces by Chopin. It was beautiful – to watch and to listen to. I won’t describe the concert in detail. True music reviewers will do that much better than I, but I will say that Carl Vine’s Piano Sonata No. 3 (2007) was a delight. It comprises 4 movements played without the usual breaks between them. It was both lyrical and dramatic. This may sound silly but I particularly loved the left hand which played some gorgeous quiet lyrical parts and then joined the right in strong dramatic sections. In fact, Katia confirmed once again what a physical thing playing the piano is – her soft notes were barely there but you could hear them all; her loud notes were clear and strong. She seemed to me to combine technical excellence with great expression. After playing for around 80 minutes – with an intermission – she played an encore. Unlike many performers today who tell us what their encore is, she just sat down and played. I think it might have been another Chopin but I’m probably wrong. I will have to wait for the reviews to find out.
Meanwhile, if you want to hear and see her, albeit much younger, self try this YouTube recording.
Addendum: There was finally a review of the concert BUT, bum, the reviewer did not identify the encore. I bet he didn’t know it either! Anyhow, he agreed that the concert was great. He wrote that “Her playing is deceptively simple. Everything seemed effortless, with even the most complex and technically demanding passages played with a delightful rhythmic definition and precise phrasing and articulation.” (Graham McDonald, “Simply Splendid Skanavi”, Times2, The Canberra Times, 26 May 2009)
Addendum 2: Here is a lovely review from a Melbourne Blogger of the Melbourne concert. They had two encores, and one was Chopin. I reckon ours was too! Anyhow, now I wish we’d clapped more…