London Piano Meet

2 Jun

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It has taken me a while to get to writing this but here goes. On Saturday 17th May my wife Judy and I took part in the inaugural meeting of the London Piano Meetup Group at Peregrine’s Pianos in central London.

It was an experience fraught with personal sadness for us, due to the loss that day of a close relative. For this reason my recollections, whilst fragmented and obscure in some aspects, are somewhat heightened in  others.

The group is organised by two doyens of the London amateur piano scene, Frances Wilson, who blogs famously as The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and Lorraine Liyanage. Their assiduous efforts in providing performance opportunities for amateur pianists are worthy of much praise and are of the highest value and importance in making real the aspirations of the would-be artist. Only in the fire of tests can the precious metal of artistry be forged. Details of the group may be found here.

My wife Judy and I waited at 5:15pm excitedly outside the venue alongside some thirty other performers and observers. Peregrine’s appear to be Schimmel main dealers, so after the doors opened, the walk to the upper floor took us past a succession of rather beautiful instruments bearing that name.

For me, performance is a challenge to be relished, but a pretty nerve-wracking thing. As well as all the outward signs such as sweating and shaking, there is the adrenalin surge coursing around the system, rendering one’s familiar mind-body coordination comfort zone all undone. One can either surf this turbulence and get inspired by it, or sink ignominiously under its waves.

Introductions over, the first brave artist took to the gleaming Fazioli grand. The instrument was really too powerful for the small venue and this created some problems for all the performers, especially in fortissimo passages. Nevertheless the opportunity to play such a fine piano was a precious one appreciated I am sure by all.

The standout performer for me amongst the amateurs was the second, a young lady who played a really touching Brahms Intermezzo. She seemed to convey real honesty and took great care over the accuracy of her playing.

She was followed by a young man who bravely (perhaps rashly) took on Rachmaninov’s C# Minor Prelude, a fiendishly difficult piece. and faltered about a third of the way through. We all felt for him and he will have learned much from the experience. His basic musicality and piano playing potential were actually really good and he will no doubt return successfully. As Fran later observed, being able to play a thing very nicely at home is a world away from performing it live in front of one’s peers.

Then it was my turn. It’s hard to describe to place one finds oneself in (or at least I do) when faced with such a challenge. Confidence is everything when performing but it has to be matched with some decorum and dignity, something I failed quite miserably at. It was more a case of getting to the instrument without falling over; getting through the piece without stalling, and getting back to one’s seat without looking a complete Wally. I chose Debussy’s Valse Romantique, mainly because it is one of three pieces which I can make some semblance of playing. The heightened nervous state does strange things. Mind-hand connections can just dissipate altogether, memorisation get lost and awareness of one’s self and surroundings turn into a kind of altered reality. Focusing entirely on not getting it wrong blocks musicianship, whereas forays into the latter risk losing the musical thread altogether. Worst of all is the enemy ego, that can send one unexpectedly into a delusional fantasy of “aren’t I doing well”, or “move over, Kissin, this is how it should be played”. Such horrors always end with an embarrassing exposé of one’s weaknesses. That said, I had a few brief moments of what is most wonderful about performing: getting into a space where the art takes on a life of its own, where the music hints at something sublime. It happened for me in the pianissimo sections of the piece. I did forget the last two or three chords, though that was brought on perhaps more by mental fatigue than uncertainty.

I regained my seat without incident, having sought on the way to give the impression of indifference to any audience reaction but in reality listening keenly for any hint of something more than tired applause.

Our next two performers made accomplished work of some challenging repertoire and thus to a performance from Fran of a lovely piece by Takemitsu. A seasoned amateur performer, possessed of considerable musical sensitivity, she raised the bar rather higher into the interval. We were informed then by Fran and Lorraine that the next performer was late arriving, and would someone care to play again. Someone did, giving a convincing rendition of the same Rachmaninov Prelude that our intrepid earlier performer had met with some resistance from. Some might think this was a little insensitive as the former individual was still recovering.

Soon our star turn for the night arrived, a little breathlessly, in the form of Emmanuel Vass. He headed straight for the Fazioli and, after a short introduction, treated us to a flawless account of Bach and some other classical repertoire, followed by his rather amazing ‘mashup’ of James Bond themes, including the Barry original and individual themes from the various films, all woven together with Liszt-like (or was it Liberace-esque?) artistry. He raised our spirits with his no-nonsense, exuberant playing, then sold and signed CDs afterwards.

We had to leave at that point but the evening had helped us through a few difficult personal hours and remained uplifting for some time afterwards.

There are to be more such gatherings and I highly commend them to anyone wishing to test their playing skills in a friendly, appreciative environment.

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6 Responses to “London Piano Meet”

  1. SE22 Piano School June 2, 2013 at 3:40 pm #

    Thanks for the review, Ian. I hope to see you and your wife at an event soon.

  2. Emmanuel Vass June 3, 2013 at 9:23 pm #

    Hello sir! Thank you so much for this, it’s great to reflect upon what was a very enjoyable event. Am I ok to share this on my own website?

    • isdigby June 4, 2013 at 3:01 am #

      Of course Emmanuel, I would be flattered to be quoted on your site. And thank you ahain for an unforgettable performance-it felt a privilege to be there.

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