I love classical piano concerts. Every time I go to one, I wonder why I don’t go to more. Over the years, I’ve seen a fair few, with stand-outs including Yuja Wang at the marvelous Philharmonie in Paris, a Debussy concert with two pianos at Bargemusic in Brooklyn, and a concert of Chopin and Mendelssohn in Leipzig. My visit to Leipzig is also memorable because I located the site of the house where the great pianist Clara Schumann was born in 1819. A Woman of Note, my novel about a woman composer and pianist in 19th Century Vienna, features a cameo appearance by Clara Schumann when she was still Clara Wieck, a twelve-year-old prodigy on tour in Paris.
I frequently listened to pianists perform the great works of Schubert, Chopin, and Beethoven while writing the scenes in A Woman of Note in which my main character, Isabette Grüber, plays the piano. The music I listened to both inspired and frustrated me. Music is meant to be experienced in the moment, not described in cumbersome words. Music pours directly into the soul like molten gold, spreading and warming every inch, leaving no room for words. How can words compete with the most ephemeral of the arts?
But after attending a recital by the Uzbek sensation Behzod Abduraimov at the Chan Centre on February 10, 2019, I felt I had to make a stab at capturing the wonder of his performance.
The program began with Liszt’s piano version of Wagner’s Isolde’s Liebestod. I recognized the piece and gave myself over to closed-eyed enjoyment. The piece was lushly, romantically played and was a great introduction to the next piece, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, S.178.
I confess that Liszt is not my favorite composer and I can’t say that I loved the Sonata in B minor . But I did love Abduraimov’s virtuoso performance. In fact, I think I might have had an out-of-body experience while listening to it! By the time it ended, I’m sure I flew beyond the confines of the Chan Centre to pay a visit to the Gods.
After intermission, Abduraimov played 10 Pieces from Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. Again – a tour de force. A day later, my palms were still red from clapping.
Before the encore, I grabbed my notebook and jotted down words and phrases as I watched Abduraimov set the piano on fire with La Campanella by Liszt.
Here are my edited and expanded notes:
He looks like he’s composing as he plays. I know he’s playing a composed piece because I recognize it, but he plays with such fluidity—as if he was born knowing the notes.
Abduraimov alternates between looking off into the distance as he plays and peering closely at the keyboard, hunched over like a black-feathered bird of prey. I think of a coiled spring, alternately striking and relaxing–forward and back, a dance of light and dark, fortissimo and pianissimo. He commands an awe-inspiring sound from the piano one moment and then the next, his fingers barely caress the keys–the gossamer delicacy truly astonishing. But even when he’s playing at his lightest, Abduraimov appears to feel every note, to chew it and then release it for our listening pleasure.
Some pianists exude joy when they play, but I do not find Abduraimov a joyful performer. Instead, he is serious and focused. Music is life and death, heart and soul. This seriousness adds to the power and transcendent beauty of his performance. Abduraimov is not playing for his audience; he is mesmerizing them.
He makes the music his own and then offers it to us in the ultimate act of sharing.
I am transported.
For more information about Abduraimov and his concert at the Chan Centre on February 10, check out this article by the Vancouver Recital Society.
And if you love classical music, you’ll be fascinated by A Woman of Note (Lake Union Publishing, 2015), my second award-winning novels, which follows the musical life of a determined woman in 1830s Vienna. The novel was awarded Editors’ Choice by the Historical Novel Society and won First in Category for the Goethe Awards for Best Historical Fiction post-1750.