03 December 2010

Ce qu'a vu le Vent d'Est

On a cold December night - the heaviest early snowfall for some 30 years - the pianist stepped onto the stage. The applause, as he took his bow in his evening suit, white shirt and black bow tie (made up, not tied, the adjuster gleaming in the audience's sight) was thinner than he might reasonably have expected, but as the staff member behind the bar - where did his accent place him? It seemed German - explained, there had been many cancellations because of the weather.

Being an English audience, they had carefully taken their assigned seats in the hall, so the fifty or so hardy souls present were scattered across the hundreds of chairs at their disposal. He lowered himself onto the piano stool, endeavouring to extract what dramatic effect he could from this mundane act, and the stool squeaked under his unexceptional weight. He raised his hands, and borought them down on the keyboard: the audience might have found the dissonances remarkable in such a piece, but if they did they didn't let on, and John Ireland's London Pieces unfolded in front of them. At the end, they applauded as convention dictated (though even without convention, they would have recognised the brilliance of the playing and the quality of the composition), the pianist stood, turned to face them, smiled, bowed, and resumed his seat (squeak!) To play a Chopin sonata.

At the end the same protocol was followed, and the audience made its way to the bar, from whence it returned twenty minutes later for the pianist to recite five of Debussy's Preludes. The Submerged Cathedral was further engulfed by what sounded like the wine bottles emptied at the interval being consiged to a nearby bottle bank, and the piano stool's protests continued from time to time throughout.

The audience, careful not to applaud inappropriately, lacked the collective confidence to mark the end of the fifth of the Preludes, so the performer had to launch into Poulenc's Suite Napoli without the encouragement of an ovation. Having added the Improvisation No XV (Hommage à Edith Piaf), he received the applause that was his due, and duly encouraged returned for a couple of encores.

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