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May 9, 2008

Blechacz's great success in North America (1)

In May this year,I had an opportunity to visit the United States to see concerts of Rafał Blechacz.

I was wondering if it would be better not to talk about this, because I could be beaten by eager Jananese fans. However, I was moved by the great success that I witnessed there. I believe reporting what I saw at the concerts is my duty.

I went to Vancouver and San Jose concerts.


Venues:
Vancouver: University of British Columbia Chan Centre
San Jose: Le Petit Trianon Theatre

Program:
Mozart Sonata k 311
Debussy Estampes
Szymanowski Variations op3
Chopin Preludes op28
Encore: Chopin Waltz op64-2
Moszkowski Etincelles (San Jose only)


Vancouver, a multi-ethnic society, has 2,500 polish residents.

Ten years ago, a former Polish pianist (now a computer engineer) founded the Chopin Society of Vancouver, the organizer of the recital, hoping that it will promote Chopin music more to the people of Canada.

Prior to the concert, representative of the Chopin Society greeted to the audience with Polish and Chinese as well as English.



University of British Columbia in Vancouver's Chan Center concert hall



It was chilly and drizzling on Friday when the concert was held in Vancouver. However, supported by the organizer's policy to let people, especially families and students listen to the excellent music at affordable price, the hall of 1000 plus seats with good acoustics were filled with men and women, old and young, including infants. Some additional chairs were brought out.


In San Jose, on the other hand, where 30 percent of the population is Hispanic and I felt Spanish is the language of the majority on the train, almost of all the audeience were English-speakers.
The Bay Area Steinway Society sponsored the concert here.

The Society holds piano concerts on regular basis by inviting excellent pianists from around the world. Members of the Society have discerning views of piano performance and it seemed that people here do not know about Rafał Blechacz yet. Therefore, audience here is very different from that of Vancouver.

"Do you know how to pronounce his last name?" Before the concert on Sunday, an woman asked to the ticket desk and the question was forwarded to me. (Because the receptionist knew that I came from Japan to see Rafał's concert.) I told her how to pronounce "Blechacz". It turned out that she was the President of the Bay Area Steinway Society, the sponsor.

On opening of the concert, she made greetings to the audience and said,
"Now let me introduce the pianist, Rafał BLECHACZ. I was trained for the pronunciation this afternoon". This made some people smiling.


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In Vancouver, the big applaud was mixed with the shout of admiration and whistling. I felt I was in the sport stadium where the home team clinched the victory.
I really felt that all the people in the hall were deeply moved by the performance and rejoiced from the heart.


San Jose's Le Petit Trianon Theatre



The following is my impression of the concert in San Jose.

I felt that Rafał charmed the audience by visual elements as well as the sound more than before: stunning actions at the conclusion of phrases, more deiversified musical expressions and more powerful rendering.

As was described in the review for the Gilmore Keyboard Festival in Michigan, he played Mozart swift and crisp, sometimes with playfullness and he looked full of joy.

In the third movement, at adagio in the 231 measure soon before the tempo primo, he showed cadenza-like play, using right and left hands alternately, letting some in the audience giggle.

It was as if the skillful jockey reined an excellent horse to prance and jump elegantly and rhythmically. The sound he produced was cristal clear and serene.


For Debussy, he completely changed to render deeply soft sound like velvet. From my seat (3rd from front, the leftist), I was able to see his right hand and I saw the whole range of fingers was used lithely. Tears appeared down involuntarily. I felt that the Debussy of that night was quite different from that I heard last year in Tokyo.


Without leaving the stage, he moved on to Szymanowski. Hanging down his head, he seemed trying to concentrate his mind, while late comers were being seated, causing creaking sound.

I thought people here in the United States are not farmiliar with this piece, but I felt the audience was attracted to the music immediately and listening to the music intently. I felt that all the people were deeply impressed.

I saw a man in fromt of me was surprised shrugging and shaking his head when seeing the pianist's upper body floated from the seat and dropped down when playing fortissimo chords of many fingers.


In San Jose, I had arrived earlier for the venue. Luckily enough, I was able to hear the rehearsal in the lobby.

The door between the hall and the loby is made of wood embedded with glass window, so I could hear the piano sound from the lobby.

The fact was that Rafał spent most of the time for Szymanowski. He played the final variation again and again, both slowly and in tempo. The music has been one of his repertoire for yeas and still he was making these efforts. It affected me profoundly.



San Jose venue lobby



The rehearsal started at around 5:15 pm, relatively late. He continued practice until 20 minutes before 7:00 pm, the schaduled opening time. Quite a few people had already been in the lobby.


In addition to Szymanowski, he played Moszkowski, Chopin's op 28-21,22,23 and 24, and Mozarts's 2nd and 3rd movements.


During the concert, I thought his efforts were rewarded when listening to the final variation of Szymanowski which was very very powerful and impressive.


Then started Chopin. In Chopin, it was like that the keyboards were getting closer to him. As he usually asserts, he played the 24 works as one integrated cycle. The way he linked the pieces was "divine" work.


The performer and the instrument were completely harmonized. Inspired audience was also assimilate into that harmonized unit.

Everyone was keenly watching the pianist with the body thrust forward, sending encouraging energy to him. Rafał, on his part, on receiveing the energy from the audience, radiated another inspiration back to the people. I felt a perfect spiritual cycle was created between the musician and listners.


After the concert, I heard some conversations of the people.


"He is a true super-virtuoso, isn't he?"
"He has an unbelievable super-technique".
"His playing Szymanowski's pieces, especially in low-register chords, was as if he was playing Rachmaninoff".
"He was getting greater towards the end of the program".
"He is really playful".
"The last piece (Moszkowski) was great! Very swift!"


All the people had their eyes shining with joy.
They were really delighted.


San Jose's hall with 300-plus seats is old and has very good and natural acoustics. It fits quite well with Rafał's natural stature, giving the audience the best-of-breed sound.


After the concert, an autographic session was held. The small lobby was filled with excited people seeking for Rafał's sign and taking the pianist's photos.




Rafał responds to each of all fans with smile.


My turn came, and I said,
"Thank you Rafał. For me, today's performance was best".

He immediately came back.
"Best? Better than Vancouver?"

"Well, honestly speaking". I faltered.

With bright smile, he said.
"We will see in Prague?"


Note:
With "Best", I meant that the performance in San Jose was best of all the live concerts that I attended so far. I came to know Rafał Blechacz just last year, threfore, this was the 6th live concert that I saw. (Four concerts in Japan plus Vancouver and San Jose.)


The Steinway and the stage in San Jose


There was one more thing that drew my attention while waiting for the start of the concert. I saw one staff of the Bay Area Steinway Sosiety was looking for the "pillow", saying that the bench in the hall was too short for Rafał. But it seems that he could not find out appropriate pillow and said that a small carpet was inserted below the bench. Actually, I do not know how this issue was solved in the end, but, if the height of the chair was really too short for Rafał, the performance he showed that night was really amazing.

I wonder if he created that great music under such a disadvantageous condition.

Thank you, Rafał.
It was a really excellent concert.
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