“[The piano is] able to communicate the subtlest universal truths by means of wood, metal and vibrating air.” -- Kenneth Miller

Music I spent lunchtime at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool in the company of piantist Bors Giltburg as he gave a recital of Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Chopin and apart from the banging noise from the basement which was audible between movements, it was a treat. Since this was my first live classical music concert since the Proms, I felt like one of the stooges on What Not To Wear at the end when whoever’s presenting that week takes them around the clothes shops so that they can demonstrate what they’ve learnt. Coupled with the music appreciation text book I’ve been reading I could see where the pitch and rhythm where and why the composers did certain things and it didn’t totally destroy the experience.

What was surprising was how different the music sounded live. I’ve become very accustomed to listening to music on my headphones which means in some cases it can feel as though I’m standing in the middle of the orchestra or at the very least from the conductor’s spot. In the hall, obviously, the sound is emanating from a single area but what I think you lose in terms of being able to hear every nuance of the composition you more than make up for in the ability to simply concentrate on listening to what you’re listening to with far less distractions, the difference between watching a film in a cinema and at home perhaps.

If I’d listened to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in C minor (Op. 111) at home would I have noticed the heart-rendering brief appearance of a melody in the first movement which would become The Ode To Joy from his Ninth Symphony. I love that I’m gradually noticing these things, being able to see classical music as a series of periods rather than a great amorphous collection of pieces and how the composers and musicians influenced one another, and also how like writers and painters they’d often try out notation in one place and expand it elsewhere, or shelving some ideas in one place and use them elsewhere.

I love too that as Giltburg spurt into Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor (Opus 23), I recognised what I was hearing and it was like greeting an old friend. I’m listening to a different recording as I write by Bella Davidovich which I co-incidentally borrowed from the library this week and I can see why musicians love Chopin -- he gives them room for some personal expression the softness of textures and tempo when required. Giltburg was less deliberate than the version I’m hearing, although it could simply seem that way -- I was sitting at the front of the hall just metres away from the piano.

As I left (the woman along the aisle from me in the long blue mac having been woken up by the final burst of clapping) I heard a couple of twentysomethings enthusing about what’d they’d seen and I had to agree with them. It is amazing that the pianist is somehow able to shift both hands across the keyboard and often have them doing completely different things. I can type and pat my head while I stroke my tummy but I can’t imagine ever being able to create chords with my right hand and shift my other up and down the rest of the keys with that kind of dexterity. If only I’d listened to my parents on the night before secondary school began when they asked me if I’d like to try a musical instrument…

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