Canadian Jan Lisiecki the latest prodigiously talented teen to set fingers on a piano keyboard
I have a review of 15-year-old Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki in today's Star, but I can't find it online, so I'm pasting in the version I submitted after the recital at Stratford Summer Music on Thursday morning. The final of the three programs is on today at 11:15 a.m. (The photo is mine, from Thursday's recital.)
STRATFORD -- It doesn’t happen very often in a lifetime that a classical musician comes along who is truly out of the ordinary. Yet, even in a world resplendent in accomplished performers bearing diplomas from fine music schools and prizes from prestigious competitions, 15-year-old Calgarian Jan Lisiecki is something special.
Even though the piano-playing teen has clearly not yet grown into an adult body, he dazzled a Stratford Summer Music audience at St. Andrews Church with a matinée Chopin program on Thursday.
It was the first of three different concert programs he is presenting with the Canadian Tokai String Quartet, honouring the 200th anniversary year of the birth of composer Frédéric Chopin.
On the bill were two showy solo pieces, the Op. 18 Grande Valse Brillante and the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise of Op. 22, paired with the first of Chopin’s two piano concertos, with orchestra part reduced for string quartet.
Although it’s not easy to judge a musician’s overall artistry from the works of a single composer, written in a specific style, Lisiecki immediately made clear that he has a pro’s flawless technique, delivered with a facility that made these virtuoso showpieces look easy.
This is one of the secrets to imbuing Chopin’s music with the right balance of emotion and nobility. The Polish-born pianist-composer was a prototypical Romantic, leading an emotionally tortured life, cut short by physical frailty. Exiled from his home, he surrounded himself with the great painters, poets and patrons of Parisian society. Yet, despite all the drama, most of his music is about a deceptive transparency and elegance.
Achieving this kind of interpretation was Lisieski’s ultimate triumph on Thursday.
Chopin preferred the music room to the concert hall, so intimacy is key. If you get overrought in an intimate setting, the sturm und drang can get in the way of the music.
In a smaller venue, like Stratford’s St. Andrew’s Church, the teenager played with a fleet restraint, while also carefully showing off carefully shaped musical phrases balanced delicately with the inner voices in the music.
With eyes closed, one could have imagined the artist at the keyboard as a mature musician bringing years of experience and insight to some of the most popular pieces in the classical piano repertoire.
Earlier this year, the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland released a recording of Lisiecki performing the two Chopin piano concertos with Sinfonia Varsovia and conductor Howard Shelley. These are gorgeous interpretations whose validity was proven in live performance in this summer festival town.
Not that the Piano Concerto No. 1 sounded as robust without a full orchestra backing up the piano. Chopin himself used chamber adaptations of his concertos to make private performances easier to organize, but the string quartet version is a bit too thin much of the time, and was not played with much finesse or balance by the Tokai quartet.
Fortunately, because Lisiecki’s solo part was compelling, the lack of a full-bodied concerto sound from the strings was a lot easier to overlook.
Lisiecki and the Tokais present their third and final all-Chopin musical matinée on Saturday. The pianist is offering up some Etudes, a Nocturne and, with the string players, the Piano Concerto No. 2. (For full info., visit www.stratfordsummermusic.ca)
It’s worth the drive.
If you can’t make it, keep your eyes and ears open, as the patriotic teenager is set to begin studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Glenn Gould Professional School in Toronto next month. There are also rumours of a major-label international recording contract being finalized very soon.
As I've mentioned before, I feel uneasy about children on stage and even more uneasy about treating them like adults, from a critical perspective. But musical prodigies have been around for as long as there's been music. Whether or not it's immediately obvious, there is likely an ambitious parent of guardian working hard to make it happen in the background, using as a foil any child's enthusiasm for a task that brings joy to his or her elders.
Today, I just thought I'd do a quick survey of some famous piano prodigies, each of whom has an interesting personal story -- and each of whom became a far more interesting artist in adulthood. But, before that, here is a cleverly edited Los Angeles Times profile of 3-year-old Richard Hoffmann, made at the Pasadena Public Library and posted online in Jan., 2009:
Lang Lang in 1996, age 14:
Martha Argerich in the early-1960s, around the time she turned 20:
Ivo Pogorelich in 1980, age 22:
Hélène Grimaud, in a recent video. She was 16 when she won acclaim for a Rachmaninov album in 1985.
Glenn Gould, in his early 20s, I'm guessing, at home: