The b-flat Sheep

The man from the mountains / Ivo Pogorelich at the Royal Festival Hall

Franz Liszt: Après une lecture de Dante – Fantasia quasi sonata from Années de pèlerinage
Robert Schumann: Fantasie in C, Op.17
Igor Stravinsky: 3 Movements from Petrushka transc. for piano
Johannes Brahms: 28 Variations on a theme by Paganini for piano, Op.35

‘I don’t think I’ve experienced the same concert as everyone else’, I say to the gentleman who asks about my notes, after Pogorelich’s roaring success. ‘It is controversial, let’s put it like that’, he replies – and I walk out of the hall quite depressed. Not because of the music or the intensity of the performance – I am sad because I can sense Ivo is sad.

I read his interview for Piano International and one image got stuck in my mind – he talks about his wife who passed away in 1996:  ‘Her liver exploded and in her last kiss she showered me with black blood. I didn’t want to wash it off.’ For a long time he couldn’t touch the piano. ‘I’ve never lost her. She is somewhere behind me now’.

Before the concert, there is what appears to be a retired ski instructor, with a cozy hat, jumper and boots, improvising at the piano on a semi dark stage, while the members of the audience find their seats. It is a man from the mountains. It is Ivo Pogorelich. The hermit’s hands reach under the thick jumper, he buttons up his trousers (which he has clearly unbuttoned to feel more comfortable during his pre-recital jazzy flirtation with the piano), and he leaves the stage to get changed. For a moment I thought he would play in that outfit – I must admit that the revolutionary in me was salivating already at the idea of a pianist being daring enough to perform dressed like a caveman.

Showtime. He doesn’t come out alone, the page turner follows him on stage. Ivo carelessly drops one of the scores next to the piano and tells off the old man sitting next to him, trying to explain that if he sits too close, he will hit him with the elbow, so he needs to stay away from him, now.
Then more than two hours of experimental sight reading begin.
I will never write a bad review, and I would like to stress that this is by no means a negative review of what just happened tonight. As I said, it was sad, and what I will treasure from this recital, is that it proved how much one can love, and how loss is one of the most destructive of feelings a human soul can be eroded by. Pogorelich is clearly not well emotionally / mentally, and I’m not sure who needs more hours of psychotherapy, him or the page turner who must be traumatised after this shift. The audience smiled when Ivo told him to hide the score under the piano a bit more, after the first piece – apparently it wasn’t on the right spot on the floor, and the page turner had to crawl to place it in the right position – he didn’t smile, nor did the pianist.
What I found most irritating was the complete lack of structure. I have been to very boring concerts, empty sound, aggressive technique, you name it, I’ve seen it. But this utter chaos, I’ve never heard anything like it before. And the most extraordinary thing is that the sound was, very often, stunningly beautiful, but everything was ‘ad libitum’. Not stunningly beautiful, let me rephrase that, the exact words would be distressingly beautiful. I can’t be angry at this man though, with his exquisite pianissimos (I have a pianissimo fetish), but why doesn’t Ivo trust himself? Why do his fortes sound weak, no intensity, no strength, no depth? Where is his faith in the music, and most importantly, again, in himself?
Too many tempo variations, misplaced rubatos, moments of doubt, rigid wrists, dry octaves. The man of the mountains is intolerant with the piano, with the audience, with the page turner and with himself. There needs to be a proper rationalisation of these pieces, there can’t be a mature structure unless there is an in depth musical and technical analysis – he is improvising, letting himself go way too much – lunacy is acceptable only if it serves a higher purpose. Schumann sounds like Prokofiev and Brahms like Alban Berg, and I’m starting to consider whether to get wedges or French fries at Waterloo station, while he is playing – not a good sign.
I haven’t got much else to say. Ivo needs love again, on all levels. And I hope he finds it, because he is a great pianist and I’m sure he’s  also a great man. Being a concert pianist is heartbreakingly difficult, people don’t know how hard it is, what a slave you have to become, a martyr, a sick, mad, lost and beaten human being. And bless the piano and its slaves, because they bring the highest beauty to this world. That is all.

This entry was published on February 25, 2015 at 12:02 am. It’s filed under classical music, music, piano and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

16 thoughts on “The man from the mountains / Ivo Pogorelich at the Royal Festival Hall

  1. Painful and tragic, brilliantly written

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you so much Ates!


  3. Peter Nontocket on said:

    You’ve written a very good review, most importantly in the point of stressing what loving and losing can do to a person. In the many times I’ve heard Ivo this past decade, it’s always that sense of pain from a scarred and confused broken heart that comes across strongest. For the listener it’s an exhausting experience, sad as you said, awkward, arresting and utterly unforgettable. I agree with you–and share the fetish–that his pianissimo playing is exquisite, and his descent to silence via enormous distance between notes totally affecting. Last night I wasn’t at the recital but I recorded the same programme last year in the Netherlands, and many more from the past decade, available on my YT channel (if you wish to drift back into the shade): ADGO. Thanks for the review and the pleasant memories of evening fast food near Waterloo.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Di Jonson on said:

    absolute tosh, he’s been fooling the public since he walked off stage at that competition way back when, trouble is it’s only other concert pianists who can see through it…. the rest of you are just taken in… that’s what’s sad, nothing else!


  5. Pingback: The man from the mountains / Ivo Pogorelich at the Royal Festival Hall | Hugh MacDermott

  6. Beautiful, thankyou

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I can’t tell you how much I wish more reviewers – more audience members – were this passionately engaged with the concerts they attend and this articulate and creative in the way they reflect on them. Most treat the experience as if they were judging pork pies in a damp tent somewhere. Few seem to think it has anything to do with art.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: SuiteLinks: February 28 | Piano Addict

  9. Yesterday I stumbled on Youtube on Ivo P’s 2nd piano concert of Chopin with Abbado and had many moments of……”what???” but I heard it just after a recording of the same by Arthur Rubinstein which did not move me one bit and later I wanted to hear P’s version one more time. Whatever one could say, I felt here was someone playing true to himself, as if he could not play any other way. It felt genuine, not gimmicky. As long as there are enough musicians faithful to the directions of the composer it is good to have a Pogorovich now and then, it jolts us and makes us listen more intently and hear a lot more and forces us to let go of what the ear expects. I will listen to more of P’s music now. Not sure though that these liberties could work with, for instance, Stravinsky, whose music is complex and very precise and who abhorred liberties taken by musicians.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A strange review: obviously, IP was not playing well & merely messed around with the music. Pianists who use the music to draw attention to themselves don’t do a good service to the music. Composers did not write the music as a vehicle for egocentric performers, but to get a musical vision realised into the world, and the performer is a helping midwife, not the mother. Musicians like Glenn Gould keep the 19C cult of the ‘genius performer’ alive, while it should have died-out already a century ago.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Many hours spent watching the Tchaikovsky competition currently streaming on Medicitv led me to the Chopin competition in 1980 (you probably know what happened there)

    Enjoyed reading your review. It’s always worth having another critical voice in the
    “classical”music world other.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Beautifully written review. I saw Ivo live in 1985 and it was mesmerizing. He was so incredibly gifted. A genius.

    Liked by 1 person

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