Friday, May 14, 2010

Abbey Simon on the Yamaha CFX

Some notes as I listened to my former teacher, Abbey Simon, play a rare concert in an intimate setting, on an incredibly beautiful CFX Yamaha concert grand:

Despite having broken multiple fingers in a car accident about 10 years ago, which reduced his handspan and his flexibility, he doesn't shy away from the difficult repertoire - the complexity of Kreisleriana, some of the most technically challenging works of Chopin in his Preludes. He misses notes, but he never misses a line or a gesture.

Never does he play a chord with all the notes together, never does he play two notes at the same time. He uses the effects of timing to the same degree and for the same effect as with dynamics - to differentiate, constantly differentiate. I see images of a weaver, dealing with multiple strands, effortlessly braiding and tying, occasionally tangling, but always in the end producing something that seems so organic and solid, something unimaginable when looking at the original pile of threads.
He also seems to spin the threads from thin air, so it is all unimaginable - where did that line come from? I'll go look at the music once again, to see if i can find it myself.

The power of the piano is incredible, especially in this small space. Simon doses and paces with his 80+ years of experience. He is able to play a melody line pianissimo, and the accompaniment mezzo-forte, and yet still make the melody sit on top. Part of it is the instrument, that can sustain at all dynamic levels, but most of it is his ability to listen for those lines, to execute, and to trust that the listener can and will also follow him. I hope all of these people can - I am on the edge of my seat. I think they are following him.

His pulse is impeccable, but that does not mean his tempi are strict. In fact, they are all over the place! He pushes and pulls constantly, with the effortlessness of a jiujitsu master who needs only suggest a motion in order for it to take place. I think of the Matrix film, which innovated with the three-dimensional suspension shot. It seems like time stops for a second and we circle around the scene to another vantage point, all the while holding our breath as if we were also suspended in time and space, then suddenly we fall back exactly into the motion and action that had been interrupted. Simon can do that with a note in a phrase.

When he takes a quick line in the left hand suddenly into the bass, we are thrown against a wall of sound. Again the image of the jiujitsu master comes to mind. It is a shattering feeling, even though, objectively, I can tell that the dynamic level is not high. It is the abruptness of the line, the clarity of the attack and release.

Encore: Mompou Song & Dance - Never knew that he played Mompou.

My turn next to play the CFX, tonight!

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