Intensity In Crescendo

Last night I went to the Auditorio Nacional in Madrid to see (and hear) my friend, Philippe Raskin, play. Although I had heard him play once before in a quartet setting, this was the first time I got to experience him live on solo piano. The experience blew me away. It was by far the best concert I have ever been to. I wish I had more time now to describe the performance in depth. Unfortunately I don’t, so I’ll be brief.

The performance was spit into two parts. During the first half, Philippe played Scarletti, Haydn, and ended with Brahms. The second half was Bach followed by Prokofiev. I suppose there was some logic to the order. He started out with baroque and built up momentum to something more intense.

When it comes to Classical music, I have always preferred the more subtle pieces of Bach, Chopin and (Beethoven sonatas) to the more modern Brahms, Prokofiev or even Stravinksy or Rachmaninov (as seen in the video). But the crescendo to Brahms was incredibly power, and then the crescendo to Prokofiev was so intense and moving that I was left literally speechless for minutes after the end of the performance.

There were a few things that particularly impressed me about Philippe’s playing. First, there was the sheer physical and almost athletic stamina that he endured for the hour and a half of playing and that increased in intensity from piece to piece. Next there was the emotional intensity to be sustained throughout the entire performance, with only a few seconds break between each piece and with such a wide variety of emotional content (say the difference between Bach and Prokofiev).

Then there was the emotional exposure. Add all of the physical and emotional intensity involved to the fact that the solo pianist is all alone on stage, baring it all (as they say). It is exhausting, not only to reveal yourself to others in public, but also to be solely responsible for commanding their sustained attention throughout the performance.

Finally, there was the pure virtuousity and precision — especially visible in the Prokofiev pieces. As mentioned, I used to be more of a fan of the classical Classical music, but I think that the more modern pieces are better for showcasing one’s talent, especially Philippe’s style. During the Prokofiev, there were times that I was reminded of Cecil Taylor’s innovation and intensity. Yet, the difference was the each note that Philippe hit — either delicately or brutally — was both precise and deliberate. I was sure that something was going to break — his fingers or the piano keys.

Overall, I think that there is something so much more intense about watching a friend perform than an artist you do not know personally. Because you already know the person and their demeanor, you almost feel a responsibilty to protect them, and therefore, you too experience an intense derivative sense of emotional exposure yourself.

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