I don’t really have a bucketlist, but if I did, a couple of things which would be on it have been ticked off this year. In January, I fulfilled a childhood dream and went to the European Figure Skating Championships. The flipside is I got to spend some time in Sheffield but there was skating none the less. The second was attending the final round of the Dublin International Piano Competition.
I have kept missing it because that round usually sells out quite quickly. 4 piano concertos of an evening is a treat not to be passed up but I have kept missing it, until last night.
The finalists ranged in age from 19 to 28, I think, and came from the US, Russia, Latvia and China. Regrettable – and I don’t really like that word – two of them performed the same piece, Tchaikovsky’s first which – to some extent – created a competition within a competition.
The National Concert Hall isn’t always full which I think is a big pity because they get some fantastic music in there and last night really wasn’t an exception. I look at these four young people and I know they’re on a journey that I gave up when I was about 16 years old. It was at that stage that I realised that I had far too many extraneous items in my life to be a concert pianist; the time to dedicate myself was behind me. It has never stopped me dreaming.
Here in my house is my collection of piano scores – the first of which I bought when I was 14 years old, a piece which I am still capable of devoting hours to if I only had a piano – Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto.
The DIPC has a list of suitable concerto pieces which is extensive; featuring a large number of works by Mozart, some by Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Bartok and Ravel. Of the works on the list, I am least familiar with the Mozart piano concertos; most familiar with Rachmaninov.
Last night, I heard Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto twice which – to some extent – was a bit disappointing, given there were four soloists and 28 different works on the list. However, that minor gripe aside, I cannot take away from the effort and the work that goes into a journey from your first scale in C to a major piano competition and possibly the first great leap in your career.
For me, the stand out performance of the evening was that of the eventual winner, 19 year old Nikolay Khozyainov. He was second to play, so just before the interval, and he played Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto, a piece which I have mixed feelings about. It’s a piece of music which really caught public attention thanks to a film called Shine, and a lot of the discussion around that film, and the discussion of Rach 3 being somehow hard always struck me as somehow superficial from people who don’t listen to much piano music; and yet…they associated it with hard. It’s not a piece I often expect to see young pianists playing – not because it is difficult technically (young people tend to see technical challenges as grist to their mill) but because it’s quite a sombre piece of music, almost dark. The opening notes are quite depressing. It’s a very strong contrast to the imperial opening chords of the piece performed before it, the first of the Tchaikovsky renditions.
On this occasion, the opening notes were absolutely assured with no impression of any nerves and…throughout the appearance, it seemed to me as though the performers on the stage vanished from sight and merely left an impression of sound. I’m not one for usually de-constructing music in any way, but last night’s performance of the Rachmaninov conjured up pictures and images that I’ve never seen in it and it is a piece of music which I have been listening to for a very long.
So two things stood out for me about that performance; one was the imagery, and one was the exceptional technical competence. Every once in a while, a young musician crosses my path who leaves a burning impression. The young Evgeny Kissin was another one – his Carnegie recital of Chopin music blew my mind and is still one of the best solo piano recitals I have had the pleasure to listen to. I bought it in 1995, in Bath. It’s been a while now.
I expect Nikolay Khozyainov to be another one and I will be interested to see what sort of a voice he develops as he gets older.
John O’Connor is planning to run another Dublin Piano Competition in 2015. Three year’s time. He needs money. In his plea for sponsorship last night, he mentioned that 100 people supplying 100E a month to the Dublin International Piano Competition would get him past his target. And that in fact, if you couldn’t get that much to him, he’d take whatever you wanted to give. I believe it is something worth considering.