The audience squirms in the dark, stuffy concert hall. A grand piano sits expectantly in centre stage, waiting for its next victim. After a smattering of applause, music begins. The people in the pews drift in and out of focus, trying to make sense of the sounds. (Was that the start of the second movement? Who was this ‘Liszt’ fellow anyway?) And then in reverse, the music stops, the crowd claps, and lights come on. The herd files out to the bathroom, preparing itself to return for another forty minutes of enlightenment.
At least, that’s what happened at your grandma’s piano recital.
What if seeing a solo pianist earned you (aside from breathtaking music) confetti, neon lights, comedy skits, and a history lesson? Adrian Bronson asked and answered this question and many others at his solo recital last weekend at Alix Goolden Hall in Victoria. With a program featuring music of Haydn, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy (say that ten times fast), Bronson showed his passion for engaging the audience.
He explained not only when and by whom the music was composed, but also what it was about. Debussy’s Children’s Corner, for example, is a collection of six short pieces with evocative titles, such as Jimbo’s Lullaby, and Golliwogg’s Cakewalk. Going through one by one, Bronson told the story of each piece using visuals and musical demonstrations. And then came the performance. Bronson began the movement The Snow Is Dancing under a darkened ‘sky’, (dimmed stage lights) and later showered ‘snow’ onto the audience (tossed by his trusty stage hand Peter from the balcony).
The second half featured a skit called One Nod, One Page that reminded me of Victor Borge’s page turner. Page turning is one of those simple jobs that shouldn’t be difficult, but can become terrifying because one mistake can cripple an entire performance. (In my mind, this is one notch more frightening than being the cymbal player in the orchestra who waits for the final bars of the symphony for his one moment of glory.) The comedy routine involved Bronson, playing himself, and Peter Garrett, a ‘volunteer’ page-turner who caused a simple wedding march to go awry. I’d like to see a sequel.
The third performer of the night was Robert Dukarm, an excellent violinist who collaborated with Bronson for three pieces. The final music of the night featured my own arrangement of Shostakovich’s Second Waltz, which the duo performed as a well-deserved encore.
All extras aside, a piano recital really is about the pianist, and we were treated to some tasty playing. My favorite was Rachmaninoff’s gorgeous Prelude in B Minor. This piece shows off the range and power of the piano, and it was a treat to hear it performed well. Bronson engaged our minds with words, our hearts with music, and our senses with some surprises that made this a remarkable show. It was a pleasure to see classical music brought to the public in a way that is engaging, entertaining, and thoughtful.