Monday, October 19, 2020

Kate Liu, Before the Grand Competition

Ever since capturing the attention of the music world with her performance at the 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw, Kate Liu has been very much in the thoughts of music and piano lovers the world over. Just as many in the piano world, I was concerned when she was forced to halt her performance activities because of a hand injury. I am happy that Kate Liu seems to be back, and in great form, as evident in her recent performance in Poland.

 

From the first notes of Händel’s Suite in E major, HWV 430, I was captivated by her sound, how she allows the sound to develop and envelop the space around her.  She does not hesitate to use the pedal generously to play this music, and her playing, especially of the Praeludium, has a great deal of freedom and space. At the same time, I find the performance completely idiomatic. In the Courante, the music really floats and dances. In the famous Air and “Harmonious Blacksmith” variations, there is a sense of playfulness in the way she plays it, as well as a real organic connection between the theme and the variations. The fast-moving 3rd, 4th and 5th variations are simply exhilarating and breathtaking under her fingers. 

 

I had the good fortune to hear her play Chopin’s Op. 59 mazurkas in her Vancouver recital. I believe her interpretation of these late masterpieces has matured. In the Mazurka in A minor, Op. 59, No. 1, she took time for the music to speak for itself, and she seems to play the work like reliving a dream. One of the remarkable things about Liu’s is that she draws the listener into the core of Chopin’s soul, and in the process reveals to us the deep sadness inherent in the music. I was deeply moved by her performance of the Mazurka in A-flat major, Op. 59, No. 2. Her interpretation goes far beyond the outward charm of the music, and reveals the dignity and heartbreak of the music. Liu brings out the earthiness of the opening of the Mazurka in F-sharp minor, Op. 59, No. 3. I held my breath as I beheld the unbelievable beauty of the B section. Throughout the performance of these three works, I was completely captivated by her playing, and was absolutely drawn into Chopin’s emotional and sound world.

 

The second half of her recital, dedicated to the works of Robert Schumann, began with a moving rendition of the Arabesque in C major, Op. 18. Once again, my ears were captured by the depth and beauty of her sound, as well as the euphoniousness of her rendition of this charming work. As well, she brings out the unique and contrasting character of each section, as well as the dreamy nature of Schumann’s creativity. I find her playing of the work’s ending (Zum Schluss, Langsam) overwhelmingly beautiful.

 

The concert ended with an impassioned reading of the monumental Fantasy in C major, Op. 17. As in the Chopin, Liu completely draws the listener into Schumann’s inner world. Liu’s sound is now bigger and bolder since I last heard her and she is even more able to bring out the extremes in sound demanded for this music. Throughout the performance, I felt that Liu was someone who both lost herself in the music, but who also saw clearly the way before her. In the Im Legendenton section, her interpretation had a kind of dreamy, faraway (almost fairy tale) quality to it. The final Adagio, when the composer quotes from Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, was emotionally shattering.

 

Liu observed Schumann’s mf marking in the beginning of the second movement, and let the music build. I also appreciate her pacing in this movement, and how she does not overplay the music, or uses it as a vehicle for her virtuosity. She acquitted herself brilliantly in the treacherous coda. 

 

Once again, her musicality and artistry are evident with the profound and otherworldly beauty of the third movement. Liu plays this movement as one enormous buildup to the tremendous climax at the end. The quality of her pianissimo in the beginning of the A-flat major section is quite extraordinary. The final buildup – Nach und nach bewegter und schneller – was overwhelmingly emotional, and the Adagio in the final measures sounded like a closing benediction.

 

With Schumann’s Fantasy as well as the Kreisleriana, Op. 16, we feel the creativity of the composer operating at a fever pitch. Kate Liu’s artistry recreated for us this white heat of the composer’s creative genius with her rendition of the Fantasy. Even experiencing this concert online, one feels the audience in communion with the artist as she embarks upon this aesthetic experience.

 

In Schubert’s Ungarische Melodie, D. 817, which she played as an encore, Liu captured to perfection the shifting shades of light and darkness so inherent in Schubert’s music.

 

I do not believe that Kate Liu will ever become the kind of barnstorming, note-perfect pianist we see so much of today. As Theodor Leschetizky said to Arthur Schnabel, “You will never be a pianist; you are a musician”, Kate Liu is a musician and artist, with her own original and highly personal voice. We, the music lovers, wait with anticipation for the next chapter of her artistic journey.

 

 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Chasing Chopin

 In the last decade, writers and music scholars seem to have devoted much effort on the life and music of Chopin. Starting with the 2011 update of Adam Zamoyski’s Chopin, to Paul Kildea’s Chopin’s Piano: A Journey Through Romanticism, and to Alan Walker’s masterful and unsurpassable Fryderyk Chopin: A life and Times, these writers address many aspects of the composer’s life and art.

 

Most recently, we have Annik LaFarge’s Chasing Chopin: A Musical Journey Across Three Centuries, Four Countries, and a Half-Dozen Revolutions (Simon & Schuster, 2020), a book that is more difficult to categorize, or to write about.

 

The book grew out of the author’s love of and fascination for Chopin’s famous funeral march, the third movement of his Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35. This is a more personal journey of the writer in trying to understand Chopin’s elusive work, a musical creation that, in spite of its title, had no precedent. Throughout the book, the author, I believe, tries to discuss the relevance of the work, and Chopin’s music in general, in today’s world. If we were able to bring Chopin back to our own time, LaFarge, he would, “encounter a world that has much in common with his own: countries invade their neighbors, people flee their warn-torn homelands, often unable to return; barricades go up in city streets; nationalism rages around the globe; new technology brings wave after wave of cultural and social changes; dictators bloviate; individual voices are amplified.” Chopin, she adds, would find his music being “reinvented and reclaimed in so many surprising ways and unusual places.”

 

Indeed, ethnomusicologist and folk music specialist Maria Pomianowska and her folk band attempt to do exactly this, to “reinvent” the music of Chopin. Playing with instrumentalists from many different cultures and ethnicities, she explores how his music might sound in today’s multicultural world, with the influences of music from a myriad of inspirations.

 

In terms of information or knowledge, there isn’t very much here that cannot already be found elsewhere. But then this isn’t meant to be a conventional biography, but an author’s “take” on how Chopin’s music relates to her own life and that of the world around her. 

 

According to the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz, “the idea of Poland constituted the nation itself in the hearts of its own people, and that idea could live on, no matter what.” On top of the composer’s genius, the most potent inspiration for Chopin’s creativity is probably the idea of exile, the love of his homeland that is sublimated in his musical creations. This “idea” of Poland permeates every one of the composer’s works, but it is perhaps this very idea that makes Chopin’s music so universally appealing. 

 

The author does address some interesting aspects of Chopin’s art. She devotes some pages to the evolution of the piano up to Chopin’s time, and the composer’s love for the Pleyel piano – perhaps the most famous endorsement of an artist for a brand of instrument. In Chopin’s words, the Pleyel was the instrument for “the enunciation of my innermost thoughts.” 

 

Also important in the current volume’s narrative is Chopin’s love for opera. Chopin arrived in the Paris of Berlioz and Meyerbeer. His love for opera inspired not only his melodic creation but his approach to piano playing. It was, as the author states, also the time of the birth of programmatic music, the year 1830 was the year when Berlioz programmatic Symphonie Fantistique was premiered. For me, it seems ironic that, with all of Chopin’s love for the narrative nature of opera, he resolutely resisted any hint of story-telling in his own music. Unlike his famous contemporary Liszt, none of Chopin’s works carry any programmatic titles. None of Chopin’s compositions would paint any pictures, or tell any story. In this way, Chopin is very much a classicist, leaving the interpreters to draw upon his or her own imagination in playing his music.

 

Perhaps because she herself is a dedicated piano student, LaFarge is also fascinated with Chopin’s teaching. In the midst of the craze for the piano, Chopin also tried to codified his own teaching by writing a piano method, a project he left unfinished. The author addresses many aspects of Chopin’s teaching, from his emphasis on a singing tone as well as comfort of the hands, the use of the wrist to express “breathing” in a musical phrase, and his aim to foster individualism and freedom in his students. 

 

Naturally, no story involving Chopin would be complete without discussing his relationship with George Sand, their infamous trip to Majorca, and their life together at Sand’s house in Nohant. It was in Nohant that Chopin completed work on the Op. 35 sonata. The author suggests that Chopin’s inspiration and model for the sonata could have been Beethoven’s Sonata in A-flat major, Op. 26, one of his favourite Beethoven sonatas, and a work that also included a grand funeral march as its third movement - “Trills on the keyboard evoke drumrolls…and the slowly rising and falling crescendos and decrescendos give the march a sense of dignity and importance” - a description that could also easily fit Chopin’s funeral march. The first public performance of the funeral march was at the composer’s own funeral at La Madeleine church, in an orchestration by the composer Henri Reber, one of the composers to whom Chopin bequeathed his piano method.

 

There are other personal and intriguing stories surrounding and involving the music of Chopin, and the author should be commended in looking hard for evidence of the relevance today of Chopin’s music. Perhaps she needs look no further than to just think about the enduring popularity of his music. From the struggling amateur pianists to towering artists like Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, and Sergei Rachmaninoff, Chopin’s music remains a touchstone of their repertoire. 

 

LaFarge’s book is a personal journal of musical discovery, a result that grows out of her love for the music of Chopin. It is not, nor does it try to be, a comprehensive overview of the composer’s life, but a highly personal glimpse into various aspects of his art, and a book that betrays the writer’s passion and curiosity for the subject matter.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Revisiting a special Brahms First PIano Concerto

Shortly before the end of his long performing career, Arthur Rubinstein made a final recording of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15, with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.  Mr. Rubinstein had been playing the concerto since he was around twelve years old. According to My Young Years, the first volume of the pianist’s memoirs, his teacher laughed when he expressed the wish to learn this work, but then young Rubinstein brought it to the subsequent lesson and played it to his teacher’s amazed satisfaction. 

 

The recording also represents Mr. Rubinstein’s only appearance on London-Decca. Special arrangements had to be made at the time to temporarily release the pianist from his contractual obligations to RCA Victor. 

 

My first live performance of this concerto was with Claudio Arrau, and it has remained one of my favourite symphonic works. I somehow felt the need to hear that recording again this morning, First off, if you are looking for a note-perfect, silken smooth performance of this concerto, this is not for you. Mr. Rubinstein was close to 90 when he played this performance, and hitting all the correct notes was certainly not his primary goal.

 

I found this performance incredibly moving, and felt that it represents a wonderful bookend to Mr. Rubinstein’s artistic and musical life. For him, to play this concerto with Mehta, an old friend, and this “orchestra of exiles” from the nation of Israel, whom he loved, made for very special music making. 

 

Having played chamber music all his life, Mr. Rubinstein does not make the superhuman demands of this enormous work a showcase for himself, but takes an almost chamber music like approach to make the piano’s musical line an organic component of the giant orchestral fabric. As well, there is a real give and take, a real feeling of dialogue between him and Mehta. Mr. Rubinstein had said that it was always a feast to play with Mehta, as it was with George Szell before that. 

 

In the slow movement, Mr. Rubinstein plays the music in a reflective manner, and imbues the music with an inner glow, while in the outer movements, the sound evokes a feeling of ruggedness. In addition, the relatively modern recording technology (or perhaps it was the London engineers) captures the pianist’s piano sonorities, much more so than in his earlier RCA recordings. His earlier recording with Fritz Reiner, long considered a classic, seems more “light-weight” compared with this Israel recording, which really has a sense of weight in the sound.  

 

Mr. Rubinstein’s performance with Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic evoke in my mind the image of magnificent granite. To be sure, the musicians in this recording bring out the epic quality of Brahms’ great concerto.

 

With the state our world is in – challenges and stress during this pandemic, political division in the United States, and the hopelessness of the fight for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong - hearing this deeply moving performance was for me a cathartic experience, as well as one that gave me hope during this bleak time.

 

I am still young enough to remember that every Rubinstein recording was a special occasion, something to celebrate. The music world has changed much since those innocent days. At least we have this unforgettable artistic memento by the great Arthur Rubinstein, someone who to this day represents for me what it really is to be a musician.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Poet of the Piano

Although not a medal winner at the 1st International Chopin Competition for Period Instruments, Dimitry Ablogin has been enjoying a busy post-competition career. His recital at this year’s Chopin and His Europe Festival clearly shows not only a highly talented pianist, but also a musician and artist with artistry and maturity far beyond his tender years. 

 

The opening piece, Mendelssohn’s Andante cantabile e Presto Agitato, WoO 6, from 1838, as well as the Chopin selections, were played on an Érard piano. The intense lyricism of his playing was immediately apparent with the first notes of the Mendelssohn. He appears to be one of those musicians capable of producing liquid sound, many different shadings of piano, as well as whispering pianissimo. In the presto section, I was captivated by the clarity, lightness (especially in the bass notes) and quickness (not just tempo-wise) of his playing, capturing the essence of the keyboard figurations so typical of Mendelssohn. His playing of this presto section reminded me very much of the scherzo from the composer’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.

 

Ablogin gave deeply felt performances of his choice of Chopin, beginning with the Etude in C-sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 7. I admire the flexibility of his line, playing the melody very much like a string instrument, as well as the beauty of his phrasing, allowing the music to unfold naturally. Throughout this short work, there were many moments of heart-piercing sadness. 

 

In the Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27, No. 2, probably the one piece that is most identified with what is Chopin, his legato playing was simply astounding, almost letting one note melt into another. He played the coda like a beautiful operatic duet. The entire piece, from first notes to last, was played almost like one enormous arch. 

 

The Polonaise-Fantasie, Op. 61 equally captured my attention. It was very much an inward-looking interpretation, allowing us to have a glimpse into the very heart of the music as well as making us feel its heartbreaking beauty. In the opening, he managed to paint the music with many shades of sound colours, all within a fairly narrow dynamic range. This large work, elusive to many pianists, did not come across as a series of disjoined (albeit very beautiful) episodes, but was played with a real sense of organic unity. In the softer parts of the work, Ablogin infused the music with an inner glow. 

 

After intermission, the young artist performed Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations, Op. 126. For this work, Ablogin chose to play on a copy of a Buchholtz piano, built by master instrument builder Paul McNulty. 

 

Ablogin played the waltz theme, written in a childlike, almost childish fashion, with great humour, and a real “bounce” to the dance. On this beautiful period instrument, Beethoven’s hallmark accents did not come across with any less impact. If Beethoven thoroughly exploited – in the best sense of the word - every aspect of Diabelli’s simple waltz theme, Ablogin certainly succeeded, with his astounding pianism, in bringing out the humour (a vital factor in playing these variations, I think) and unique character of each variation. Ablogin really knew how to work with the instrument, and as I listened to his playing, I actually forgot that I was hearing an “old” instrument. Under the hand of a lesser artist, a performance of this extended work would seem interminable, but Ablogin managed to give Beethoven’s massive construction a sense of coherence and unity. This is a magnificent performance of this Mount Everest of the piano literature, a towering achievement for any pianist, let alone one so young.

 

As if the giant set of variations was not sufficient, Ablogin generously granted us an encore, Beethoven’s charming Rondo in C major, Op. 51, playing this lighthearted work with great flexibility of line - this appears to be a hallmark of his musicianship - and as much lightness, grace and charm as called for by the music.

 

Every artist will have his or her own path. In a recent performance, I had also been moved by the Chopin performance of Tomasz Ritter, the gold medalist of the aforementioned Chopin competition for period instruments. Of course, no one could tell how these very different musicians will mature and develop. But I can say for certain that Ablogin is an artist we should all keep an eye on. I believe that we will be hearing much more from this young poet of the piano in the decades to come. With young musicians like Ritter and Ablogin, the future of music appears to be in good hands.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Final Concert of the 75th Duszniki Festival

There seemed to have been an embarrassment of musical riches from Poland this past weekend. There was Nelson Goerner’s beautiful performance at Warsaw’s “Chopin and His Europe” Festival and, almost at the same time, pianist Kevin Kenner’s outstanding recital at the prestigious Duszniki Festival.

 

Kenner began his performance with Ned Rorem’s Barcarolle No. 2, the second of a set of three Barcarolles written in a period of ten days (November 17 to 26) in 1949. Each Barcarolle is dedicated to a pianist personally close to the composer, and the one performed at Kenner’s recital is dedicated to Rorem’s close friend, pianist Shirley Rhoads. The splendor and warmth of Kevin Kenner’s sound highlighted Rorem’s beautiful harmonies as well as the introspective, almost hymn-like nature of this gorgeous work.

 

The atmosphere evoked by the Rorem work continued with music by Robert Schumann, beginning with the Romance in F-sharp major, Op. 28, No. 2. Kenner certainly heeded Schumann’s marking of Einfach (simply) for the work, playing it with disarmingly directness and simplicity. In the outer sections of the short work, he infused the music with an inner glow, just as he effectively underscored the darker, slightly more turbulent harmonies of the middle section. Kenner’s interpretation of the work reminded me very much of a classic performance by Benno Moiseiwitsch, in sound as well as pacing.

 

The recital continued to draw upon music from Schumann’s inner world, with the Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6, for me one of the composer’s most personal and revealing works. From the first notes of the first section’s opening piece, Kenner’s playing of this large work was deeply felt; he certainly highlighted the very intimate, very inward-looking nature of the entire score, and brought out the character of the two-sided nature – the boisterous and passionate Florestan versus the shy and reticent Eusebius – of the composer’s creative genius. In movements 3 (Mit Humor) and 4 (Ungeduldig), he certainly brought out the spirit of the dance, whereas in the introspective movements 2 (Innig), 5 (Einfach), 7 (Nicht schnell) he played it as if he was the composer improvising at the piano. In movement 6 (Sehr rasch), he highlighted the fever and almost hallucinatory nature of the music. Kenner’s playing of movement 8 (Frisch) brought out the feeling of a chase in the music. 

 

In the opening movement of the second section (Sehr rasch), Kenner captured my attention with the skills of a master storyteller. Moreover, he successfully weaved his way through Schumann’s complex web of counterpoint and syncopation in the movement. He effectively captured the ticklish humour in movement 3 (Mit Humor) and the more unbuttoned hilarity in the outer sections of movement 4 (Wild und lustig). Movement 5 (Zart und singend) was played with disarming simplicity as well as the most gorgeous singing tone. The coda was played with sudden indelible warmth. Kenner played the B section of movement 6 (Frisch) with a lovely bel canto, highlighting this aria-like nature of the music. I found his playing of the 8th movement (Wie aus der Ferne) incredibly moving. The return of the theme from movement 2 of the first section brought us back to the dream-like nature of the music. In the final movement (Nicht schnell) Kenner kept us in this beautiful dreamlike state by drawing us even more into the innermost core of Schumann’s fertile imagination. This was truly masterful and very moving interpretation of this exceedingly difficult score. 

 

Kenner devoted the second half of his programme to some earlier mazurkas and a polonaise by Chopin. But he opened with the very popular and familiar Nocturne in E minor, Op. posth., not falling into the trap of sentimentality but infusing the music with dignity and depth of feeling.

 

In the mazurkas, Kenner highlighted the joy, innocence and, in some cases, the earthiness of these early composition, before the composer was exposed to the tragedy and vicissitudes of the world outside Poland that were to colour his later works. Again, Kenner played these dances without pause, and as if he were improvising at the piano; his understanding of, as well as his uncanny feeling and love for this music, playing them to the manor born, so to speak, was infectious. 

 

I was especially grateful to him for concluding his recital with the very rarely played Variations on "Là ci darem la mano", Op. 2. This was of course the piece that so captured the imagination of Robert Schumann, for him to coin the now classic phrase, “Hats off, gentlemen – a genius”, in his review of the work. Again, Kenner obviously identified with this music, playing it not only with towering and rousing virtuosity, but also with a great sense of fantasy. His interpretation prompted in my mind of the words of Schumann in his fanciful and imaginative review, of how the dramatis personae in Mozart’s opera came alive before his eyes when he hears this music.

 

Kenner remained with Chopin in his encore, and generously gave us the (Liszt) transcription of Wiosna (Spring), one of the composer’s Polish songs, playing it with the same directness and simplicity that appear to be the hallmark of his music making.

 

During this time of isolation, I am indeed grateful for these musicians and music festivals for making available these memorable musical experiences, and I ponder with wonder at the technology that enables us to bring such beauty to every corner of the globe.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Opening Concert at the Chopin and His Europe Festival

On August 15th, pianist Nelson Goerner played the opening recital at the 16th Chopin and His Europe in Warsaw. I had had the pleasure of hearing Goerner in recital several times, and yesterday’s performance only reinforced my certainty that he is indeed a master pianist and artist.

 

Goerner opened the concert with Beethoven’s Sonata in E-flat major, Op. 81a (Les Adieux). The chords of the opening captured my attention immediately, with the pianist beautifully playing the horn-like descending chords. In those brief sixteen measures, Goerner lavished the music with a wide range of sound colours. In the Allegro, he effectively highlighted the shape of the arch-like opening theme, as well as the constantly shifting moods of the movement. In the second movement (Abwesenheit), he brought out the bleakness of the opening measures and the warmth and sense of yearning of the second theme. Goerner played the opening run of the third movement (Das Wiedersehen) with supreme confidence, rushing us headlong into the joys of the opening theme.

 

In the 15 Variations and Fugue on an Original Theme, Op. 35 – the so-called ‘Eroica’ Variations - that followed, we can surely say that Beethoven exploited (in the best sense of the word) every compositional possibility of that simple theme. In yesterday’s performance, the performer took the composer’s notes and recreated this masterpiece for us by exploiting every pianistic and musical challenge laid down by the composer, bringing out the humour, bravura, orchestral effects, as well as the unique character of each variation. In the final fugue, Goerner successfully navigated the fine balance between clarity of line and the forward surge of the music.

 

The Ballade in A-flat major, Op. 47, was the only offering by Chopin in yesterday’s performance. To my ears, it was an introspective performance that highlighted the structural integrity of this large work, without sacrificing the beauty and colours of Chopin’s writing.

 

In Liszt’s Valse oubliée, S. 215, Goerner brought out the charm as well as the quirkiness of this miniature masterpiece, giving us sparkling passagework that was crystalline in its clarity. In the Rhapsodie Espagnole, S. 254, Goerner did not draw my attention to the virtuosity the works demand – which is considerable – but emphasized the dignity and nobility inherent in this music. His performance of this Liszt work reminded me of the title of one of Alfred Brendel’s essays on Liszt, where he referred to Liszt’s “nobility of spirit”. This nobility of spirit was certainly clearly apparent in Goerner’s Liszt interpretation.

 

Goerner’s encore was Paderewski’s Nocturne in B-flat major, Op. 16, No. 4. Kevin Kenner introduced me to this charming work when he played it, also as an encore, after his Vancouver recital last year. Kenner applied a lighter touch to this music, and the music came across as beautifully limpid and delicate. I thought that the depth of sound Goerner employed when playing this music gave it an extra dimension as well as a more velvety sound colour. 

 

I was very envious of the (sparsely spaced) audience in Warsaw, who had the privilege of not only witnessing this masterful performance, but also being at a concert hall, hearing this music live. I was really very much bowed over by Goerner’s performance yesterday. I am grateful that he is a young man still, which means we can expect many more years of continued artistic growth, as well as many more memorable performances from this artist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Leon Fleisher

I was four years old when Leon Fleisher lost the use of his right hand.

 

To me, the name of Leon Fleisher is really just that – a name. Of course, his Beethoven and Brahms concerti recordings are, or should be, parts of every music lover’s collection. Of course I knew about his playing of the left hand piano repertoire, as well as his careers as conductor and teacher. But as a young music lover and music student, Fleisher remained for me a historic figure. 

 

I had read with interest about his “come back” as a two-handed pianist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Sergiu Comissiona in Franck’s Symphonic Variations, and I knew that he had done some performing of the standard repertoire since that occasion.

 

In the 1990’s, when Comissiona was music director of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Leon Fleisher came and was soloist in Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor. Of course I had to go.

 

I attended that concert with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation - anticipation because I would finally get to hear this legendary musical figure perform in person, and trepidation because I couldn’t help wondering how he would manage with this treacherously difficult piece lasting a good three quarter of an hour. 

 

Fleisher came and played. And played it he did. It was a glorious and glowing performance of the concerto. I must add that I had a ten-second encounter with Fleisher backstage, but all I could manage was to stammer something to the effect of, “It’s an honour meeting you.”

 

What I remember was being so very moved, not just by the performance, but also by the courage it must have taken for him to do it. For any pianist, the Brahms concerto remains a formidable musical and technical challenge. But for someone who hadn’t been regularly performing for a couple of decades, it must have taken incredible determination, will, and an overwhelming love for the art of music. It is an experience that remains with me to this day.

 

Rest in peace, Leon Fleisher.