“Music is a means capable of expressing dark dramatism and pure rapture, suffering and ecstasy, fiery and cold fury, melancholy and wild merriment-and the subtlest nuances and interplay of these feelings which words are powerless to express and which are unattainable in painting and sculpture.”
- Dmitri Shostakovich
It seems to me that the above quote applies perfectly to the First Piano Concerto of Shostakovich, a beautiful piece for Piano, Trumpet, and String Orchestra. A few years ago I had the privilege of performing it with the fabulous Alison Balsom, the Colorado Symphony, and conductor Edward Gardner. It was wonderful to share the stage and make music with such incredible artists.
Few composers can make us stare into the darkness, and show us that, though repulsive, it has a comical side. I believe that in his First Piano Concerto, as in many other works, Shostakovich really shows us the meaning of the word “grotesque“.
Two years. It’s already been that long since our beloved Van Cliburn passed away. Aside from the geopolitical implications of his victory in the 1958 Tchaikovsky competition, which made him an American hero, why is Van Cliburn one of the greatest pianists of all time? After all, there are many others who played more concerts, made more records, had longer careers, a larger repertoire…
For me, the answer is simple. From the first time I heard his sound, I felt a real human being was speaking to me, baring his soul without mannerisms or sentimentality. A sense of purity, nobility, the perfect mix of the emotional and the rational pervaded his every phrase. I did not know much about him then, I did not even know what he looked like. Yet, when I met him many years later, he was exactly as his sound had told me he would be. A great human being who also happened to be a fantastic pianist.