Schubert Revives My Lust for Piano

I haven’t written about piano in quite some time, since it’s no longer the huge part of my life it once was. Still, I’m extremely happy I have that skill, and today, I was able to get some great enjoyment out of it.

Watching Gattaca, which is a fantastic movie, I came upon the scene where the ’12-fingered’ pianist plays Schubert’s Impromptu Op. 90 No. 3 in G-flat Major. Loving the gorgeous melodic lines, I decided to have a go at it myself, with merely 10 fingers available to me. 🙂

Listening to and enjoying music gets elevated to a completely different level when one can recreate that music him/herself. For me, I can derive far more enjoyment when I’m playing the piece myself, taking the interpretations on the lines as I see fit and putting my heart and soul into it.

I typically play a few pieces each time I’m home from university, but I practiced this piece for about an hour and a half today, probably the longest I’ve played on end in the entire 5 years of university. I have the first of six pages in good shape.

My eight years of piano have defined a large part of who I am today. The discipline, determination, and possibly intelligence I have can be traced back, at least indirectly, to the things I learned sitting in front of the ivories. Now I get to reap those benefits. Being able to tickle the ivories without embarrassing myself is nice too!

A Ben Folds Concert

The Ben Folds concert this evening in Seattle was some of the best fun I’ve had in as long as I can remember. He sure is a showman. His story interludes were witty, and he was quite at ease with the audience. Hecklers beware – Ben Folds can hold his own!

Over an hour and a half, Ben Folds played songs I knew (including Zak and Sara, Brick, The Ascent of Stan) and ones I didn’t with the Seattle Symphony orchestra. He didn’t play ‘Still Fighting It’, our high school graduation song, but his explanation was quite candid. To paraphrase, “You might not hear some of the songs you like tonight. That’s because the orchestral arrangements sucked. We spent $10k on each crappy arrangement, so they’re not here tonight.”

But what surprised me most, and made the evening 10X better than its already stupendous awesomeness was his ‘spontaneous encore’ with the Seattle Symphony, which was completely expected, and his actual spontaneous solo encores. After the Seattle Symphony Orchestra had left the stage and the lights in the theatre started rising, Ben Folds came back out, went to the piano and launched into song. Everyone was on their feet, and milling around the stage by this point, completely shocked by this.

With three solo songs at the end, he ended off with Rockin’ the Suburbs, a fantastic way to wrap things up. There was so much energy in the crowd, as we filed out. Worth every single, frickin’ penny I paid for the tickets. Rockin’ the Suburbs indeed.

Going To Any Orchestra Performances?

A friend asked me today if I planned on attending any orchestra performances, while I’m in the Seattle area this fall. I didn’t even know if Seattle had an orchestra.

Some digging later, I find myself in the possession of a ticket to see Ben Folds with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra on October 20th. I’m so pumped.

Ben Folds with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra

Here’s a bit of background. Back in early high school, on Prince Edward Island, I was introduced to Ben Folds (Five) by a good friend, during a time when listening to punkish/cut-yourself music made one appear as though they were in touch… and so deep. A factor of the time and the age, I’m certain. In any case, the first song I heard, Fred Jones Part 2, was pretty slick (I mean, where was Part 1?!). It’s about a guy who is let go from the job that he’s had for many years at the local paper. It details his last moments at the company. Emotional stuff.

Fast forward to high school graduation: Ben Folds’ Still Fighting It was the graduation song, chosen by our class. I was a pretty big fan of him, loved the piano tunes and all that. Let’s just say, Ben Folds holds a special place in my heart, being the nostalgic that I am.

So, I was justifiably excited when I saw Ben Folds’ name appear in the Seattle Symphony Orchestra schedule. Cue the mystical destiny music. What are the chances I’m to travel half-way across the continent, to the West Coast, only to see the one artist that holds the strongest connection for me back to Prince Edward Island? Well, those odds could probably be calculated (seeing as I’m studying Queuing Theory for ECE 418 right now), but I’d rather not, and leave some of the mystery.

Woo! Ben Folds!

TSO – Holst – The Planets

I’ve heard of music bringing tears to peoples’ eyes, but I’ve never experienced anything remotely close to that, until this past Thursday at the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets. I’ve listened to the suite countless times on my MP3 player, but never performed live. As great as it is as a recording, it’s like a completely different work live. I thought Roy Thompson Hall’s tagline, ‘Intimately Powerful‘ was especially appropriate for the evening. The music was like a wave washing through the hall, but was, at the same time, extremely personal.

The chilling beginning to Mars, the opening piece of the suite, sent shivers down my spine. The giant dynamic variations in this movement were splendid and the quintuple meter helped keep up the feeling of urgency. It was as though the music were straining against an invisible leash. I consciously felt my heart beating rather quickly through this movement, probably my second favorite of the suite. The almost-splitting-to-splitting brass themes can be heard in similar form throughout many modern-day soundtracks, such as Star Wars and Gladiator (John Williams and Hans Zimmer).

My favorite movement of The Planets is without a doubt Jupiter. The slow middle theme is the most beautiful orchestral theme I’ve ever laid ears on. It was already absolutely gorgeous in recordings, and sitting there about 10 feet from the stage, I could feel tears welling. It was one of those rare moments in life when nothing else quite mattered and I was completely absorbed in a warm, content cocoon. I didn’t want it to ever end.

Earlier this week, as I sat at my computer looking at the $80 ticket in my online cart, I found myself second-guessing my decision to go. In the end, I reasoned that the opportunity to hear one of my favorite works live wouldn’t present itself very often, so I purchased it. In retrospect, I’m simply so happy I did buy the ticket. It was an experience I won’t ever forget.

Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Mahler 3rd

I went out for dinner with a couple people and then to a Toronto Symphony Orchestra rendition of Mahler’s 3rd Symphony at Roy Thompson Hall this past Thursday. What a blast! The TSO is without a doubt the most accomplished classical music group that I’ve ever heard live. Now I can’t pretend to be a Mahler aficionado, but with my limited knowledge of the 3rd, I was very impressed and entertained. I’ve played in several different bands and orchestras, but all at the amateur level. I guess it’s in my naiveté that I was so amazed by the absolute clarity and proficiency with which they performed.

The hall itself was magnificent and even at the very back of the main floor (tickets which I purchased for $12 mind you, via tsoundcheck), viewing was unimpeded and the sound was in no way negatively affected. I thoroughly enjoyed the evening and I think all those who’ve attended live concerts can attest to the fact that regardless of how flawless a studio recording may sound, the experience of a live concert just can’t be matched.

I’m already seeking out the next concert to go to. I think it would only be appropriate to attend something I can relate to more, Lang Lang at the piano. I’m still trying to decide whether I can swallow the $80-100 for a decent seat, but I figure it’s not every day that I’ll get a chance to hear a world class pianist in concert.