Monday, 14 May 2018

Capturing the 20th century on a piano *2

The 2018 Late Music Concert Series saw a single day – Saturday 5th May 2018 - devoted to three concerts and a talk about 20th Century Piano music. The idea of doing such a programme first occurred to me in 2011 when I was running the now defunct Grimsby St Hughs Festival. I wanted to look at 20th and 21st century British song and quickly realized I needed more than two concerts. Four concerts would be too much of an ask but three concerts with a couple of hours break between them seemed viable. So that’s what we did. Three concerts and a talk on British song. The day was well attended, feedback was excellent and the majority who attended bought a day pass for the whole day and came to the whole day.

In terms of times and lengths of concerts, the Late Music Piano Day followed the Grimsby St Hughs format pretty exactly. Where it differed is that it confined itself to the 20th century and, consequently, there were no new pieces/first performances to hear.

As for how I programmed the day, well, where to start? Inevitably, there is subjectivity in the mix. I wanted pieces by some of the composers that, at the moment, seem to me to be among the most significant of the twentieth century, although I am fully aware that the sifting of time may change that perspective. Where possible I wanted the best piano music by these composers, as many such composers as possible to be included and to programme performances only of complete works. In the light of these stipulations, one will see immediately that many compromises were made! I prefer Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Miroirs to his Valses nobles et sentimentales but the Valses are nevertheless very fine and choosing them over the other two made room for the Busoni and the Scriabin. The best music/only complete pieces stipulations came a cropper when I got to Messaien – I just had to do pieces from Vingt Régards: subjectivity again. The Satie might seem a strange choice but I love the Berceuse from that set, is the Prokofiev Toccata really him at his best? And on it goes. Even human error played its role. I wanted the Scriabin Deux Morceaux Opus 57 as its first piece – Désir – is one of my all time favourite Scriabin movements but I forgot to put the Opus Number in my email to Ian and he assumed I meant Deux Morceaux Opus 59 and started rehearsing that. So we went with it.

Nevertheless, in spite of all the provisos about subjectivity and practical compromises etc, I love each and every piece that was played in the 20th century piano day. The good attendance figures and extremely gratifying feedback we received would suggest many others also found music to love in our piano day, wonderfully performed by the indefatigable Ian Pace. I couldn’t have hoped for more.

David Power.

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