Monday, 18 June 2012

Bach is alive and well in Melbourne

Steinway awaits
(c) divacultura 2012

One of the things I love about Melbourne is that there are often great things to do that cost very little or nothing at all!  Yesterday afternoon I went to the magnificent Melbourne Recital Centre and spent a couple of hours listening to music by one of my favourite composers, JS Bach.

The occasion was the Bach Competition for musicians aged 17 years or under and they must be citizens or permanent residents of Australia.  The competition is in its third year and there is a $2000 prize, donated by Richard Mills AM who is also one of the judges.

There were pianists, violinists, a cellist and an oboeist (accompanied by harpsichord).  It took me back to my own days competing in piano competitions and the breakthrough that I had playing Bach.  I always entered the Bach Two Part Invention section at the Toowoomba eisteddfod.  I have a beautiful edition of the pieces which includes copies of the original scores.  It started my love affair with Bach.  One year I received a Highly Commended from the adjudicator.  I was thrilled!  I collected my certificate and the written report which included detailed comments about the nature of Bach, the need for balance between the parts.  I remember there being a particular reference to "conversation" between the parts.

It changed my life!  Suddenly I had this new insight into the music and played it much better.  The following year I won the section playing invention number 13.  It was a very big deal at the time.

I also remembered the nerves as I watched the young musicians take the stage in the home of serious music. I silently congratulated the young girl who patiently adjusted the height of the piano stool before commencing.  I was sitting so close that I could hear the breathing of the cellist.

I sat longing for some personality (having seen James Rhodes play, it spoils you for all future serious music concerts) when a boy with a mop of red curly hair timidly took the stage with his violin.  He looked very nervous.  When he chose to stand side on to the audience I inwardly groaned.  Then I looked at his feet.  He was wearing shoes with an extended toe.  Brave move with that hair!  His performance wasn't very good.  Playing solo violin leaves no room for error and was completely exposed.  The performance was out of tune and uncomfortable for all.  He seemed to know it.  At one point he turned the page of his music and shook his head.  Even he couldn't believe that he had to keep going.

I wondered about him.  Would he rather be playing football?  Was he really a flautist, but discovered he had entered the wrong competition and had a violin thrust at him as he took the stage?

Listening to young musicians is instructive.  Many are skilled technicians and hit all the right notes.  They excel in the fast music but when it comes to the slower pieces a lack of emotional maturity is evident.  It will be exciting to hear these musicians play as they grow as people.

Richard Mills referenced Virgil Thomson in a perfectly pitched speech as he prepared to announce the winner.  I've looked for the reference this morning but haven't been able to find it, so I paraphrase.  In France during the War he was in such despair at the state of things that he decided to stay home and practise Mozart.  It was the best way he could find to stay in touch with humanity and beauty.   Richard Mills applauded these musicians for their contribution to humanity by staying home and practising Bach. He also thanked the audience for coming out to support and nurture young musicians.

Congratulations to William Soo who won, playing Toccata in C Minor, BWV 911 on the Steinway and Sons piano.  Commendations were also made to pianist Oscar Jiang and oboeist Andrew Kawai.

Who's your favourite composer?

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