Jeremy Denk and magic
We saw Jeremy Denk play Beethoven’s 1st Piano Concerto at Disney Hall this past Sunday (March 20). There was other music but Denk and his piano stole my heart.
I recognized the music when the orchestra began, and the LA Phil always plays beautifully. Everything was gorgeous. Happy me. Then Jeremy Denk started playing and sparks started to fly. He seemed so very in love with what he was doing, and so very pleased to be doing it. For us. Honestly I had the thought that he was giving us a gift and was grateful to be able to give it.
In piano concertos there are long passages of solo piano. I know that sometimes these parts may be improvised by the musician. I do not know whether this is true of Concerto No. 1. I can tell you that there was a huge middle section of Denk’s playing, oh god it went on for minutes and minutes of glorious weirdness, and what he played sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. I’ve listened to this piece several times, twice before live, and I have never been so surprised and had my attention riveted like this before.
Good Lord, then later on towards the end he did it again!!! Denk’s body language totally communicated, too. His face, his head and torso and his feet all moving and expressing – this man was soooooo performing for us. What a show!
At the end, some 1500 newly committed Denksters stood and cheered, and then cheered more and more loudly. We were lusty, even. I felt that I could finally understand what history teachers (and really crazy Ken Russell movies) tell us about Franz Liszt: Jeremy Denk may indeed be such a rock star. He certainly was in my eyes on that Sunday. (Okay, only because I must: a link to Max Ophul’s Lola Montez. In this film Liszt has a carriage that sweeps him around Europe, playing the piano and seducing such wonders as Lola Montez. Wow.)
So my friends, should you ever get a chance to see Jeremy Denk play, you absolutely must do so. Honest.
A few resources:
Think Denk, Jeremy Denk on music, life, sometimes politics. Most appreciated are the notes Denk offers on listening to and playing music. In posts showing on the home page he takes apart Ligeti’s music, with helpful music clips and by relating Ligeti’s music to other the work of other composers. I offer you a quote:
“Now, this sort of thing happens in Ligeti so often that it becomes commonplace. He’s intimate with infinity, comfortable with destruction; infinity’s like the 7-11 he stops at on his way home from work, to pick up a Big Gulp.”
Here Denk is speaking of practicing a Ligeti piece and to make his points he uses examples from Ligeti and Mozart.
That people can speak with erudition on the mechanics of music thrills me. Listening to them is like reading Scientific American – I do it hoping something will rub off. Mostly though I’m glad that it all works – people do things with instruments and wonderful sound comes out.
Denk’s writing is fun, it is recommended by a million people. Now I’m one of them.