Piotr Anderszewski at Lucerne Festival with Bach and Beethoven – A Review

Piotr Anderszewski

My first “contact”, obviously virtual, with the Polish pianist Piotr Anderszewski was  when I reviewed the 2015 Gramophone Award nominees back in the early days of my blog. 

At the time, I wasn’t blown away by his recording of the English Suites, compared to my other favourites in this area, particularly Perahia and Pierre Hantaï.

So I was even more surprised when he won the Gramophone Award in this category over my personal favourites Levit and Grosvenor. 

In a nutshell, Piotr and I didn’t get off to a good start. 

Things improved more recently, when he was nominated again in 2017, for his Schumann album, which I really liked. I even meant to formally review it, which never happened for lack of time, but this album to this day is one I recommend without hesitation. 

But when I saw that he was playing the closing concert of the fall Lucerne Festival, which is always dedicated to the piano, and I happened to be in the area, I had to check it out.

Piotr Anderszewski at the 2018 Piano Lucerne Festival, KKL Lucerne, November 25, 2018

Piotr Anderszwewski at the KKL Lucerne, Lucerne Festival, November 25, 2018

If I needed any more convincing, the program helped. 

Anderszewski started off with parts of the Wohltemperiertes Klavier, especially the second book of the Well Tempered Clavier that I must admit I listen to much less than the first volume. 

This was really an amazing experience. Amazing intensity, while at the same time never too extrovert, a dense flow of sound, that really took you in as a listened. 

During the break, we got to admire the beautiful Christmas tree that Lucerne built up in front of the KKL’s main entry, together with a illuminated ice skating ring for kids that looked like taken out of a fairy tale (ok, I actually don’t know any fairy tales that feature ice skating rings, but you get the picture). Together with a glass of bubbly the break passed quickly.

Moving on to the “main  act”, Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. I’ve previously written about them how they really aren’t easily accessible. It basically took me years to really appreciate them. By now, I have several favourites, including Andreas Staier, and obviously Igor Levit.

This was now the first time I heard this Opus Magnum live. I had pretty high  expectations after Andrew Clements in the Guardian called a similar performance by Anderszewski earlier this yearperhaps the most completely convincing reading of the Diabelli I’ve ever heard in the concert hall“.

Now, it was clearly also the most convincing reading for me, given that I heard it live for the first time, but bad pun aside, it was a fascinating reading.

What struck me most was the speed, or actually lack of it, that Anderszewski took. In many parts he really stopped time, or so it seemed. This may not be a performance that works on a recording, but in the beautiful acoustics of the large KKL hall, it worked wonders, and it truly became a transcendental experience in some moments. 

Overall, an amazing concert experience.

P.S. I didn’t find many reviews of this concert, but both the great Swiss critic Peter Hagmann, as well as Leonard Wüst on behalf of the Bochumer Zeitung, both reported very positively about their experience (both links in German only).

Keith Jarrett live in Lucerne May 22, 2015

So, first entry. I had created this blog some time ago, thinking I’ll probably never write anything. The subtitle, from Jarrett to Brahms, I created with the site some time ago. Now I attended yesterday my first ever Keith Jarrett solo concert, so do I really have an excuse not to write about it? Why would you want to read this? No idea, I’m basically writing this for myself. I do love music, and I care about it very much and like sharing it, so if you share my passion, and maybe at least partially my taste, it maybe worth reading anyhow.

So back to the officially named “Kunst- und Kulturzentrum Luzern”, better known by its acronym, KKL. It is a beautiful building in on the shore of lake Lucerne, created by the French architect Jean Nouvel. In spite of heaving a leaky roof (google it if you want to find out more), it is a beautiful space, with loads of glass and steel. Inside you have a museum, some restaurants and cafés, a nice open roof top terrace with an amazing view over the old town and the lake, and most importantly, the main concert hall. It is a beautiful affair, and has excellent acoustics. It is mainly known for hosting the famous Lucerne Festival, but beyond classical you can attend contemporary music and the occasional Jazz concert here as well. They even go into mainstream by having some orchestra play the soundtrack to Pirates of the Caribbean and other stuff (why somebody would want to hear THAT in concert, escapes me, but I digress).

So back to me being in front of this beautiful building. You should know that being disorganized and traveling a lot for work I wasn’t part of the crowd who bought ALL of the tickets in the 48h after they became available. I went nevertheless, trying my luck on the grey market. And lucky I was (well if you consider overpaying 25% over the already pretty ludicrous (Switzerland is a rich country) list price of the ticket.) Note that normally I would have ethically objected to supporting the grey market on this kind of stuff, but for such a rare bird as a Keith Jarrett solo concert, my conscience quickly shut up.

An amazing experience

8pm pretty sharp (this is Switzerland after all), sitting more or less comfortable in my seat in the middle of the first balcony (at least the black market dealer had the kindness of actually choosing one of the best seats available), lights went out, a speaker welcomed us and warned us all to shut up, switch of mobiles, and ABSOLUTELY not to take any pictures of any kind. (It seems that Keith has decided to stop concerts in the past over this) We’re left with one grand piano on the large stage that can easily hold a full Mahler 8th orchestra including Choir, and about 4 microphones (this concert being recorded for ECM, hopefully it will eventually get released). There he comes, wearing his apparently usual outfit of pretty regular pants, shirt, and sunglasses (I assume to protect him from the spotlights). I’m not a religious person at all, but this was pretty close to a catholic mass in a way, with Mr. Jarrett being our high priest. I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had smelled incense.

Then it starts, and here my words start to fail me. WHAT AN EXPERIENCE! I’m a regular concert goer and have seen many great artists both in the Jazz and classical fields live, but this was outstanding. Unlike earlier may of his earlier concerts, he now seems to shy away from the 20-30 min long improvisations that fade one into the other, and he goes for smaller pieces, each 3 to less than 10 min long (I certainly didn’t check my watch…), getting up for applause every time. In a way, this is similar to his latest release solo album on ECM, Creation, where the longest piece doesn’t exceed 9:25). What a marvel each of those little gems were! Let me state first of all that I’m a sucker for melodies, being a bit simple minded, and I don’t like it very much when musicians stray to far from that. Jarrett has his occasional moments where he seems to think “who needs tonality” and just improvises on (to illustrate, take Paris/London Testament Part IX). Luckily for me, there were only two “songs” of this nature last night, and actually sitting there as part of the magical experience I didn’t even mind these parts too much. Let me state the obvious: Having been there in person doesn’t make me a very neutral judge. But what I’ve heard last night takes the best elements of the “old” concerts (Bremen/Lausanne, München/Bregenz, Sun Bear), and combines them with the greatest moments of the new concerts (Rio, Carnegie Hall). Again, I’m not religious, but I wouldn’t mind having some higher authority to pray to that ECM releases this recording (apparently, Jarrett has to ok this and is notoriously hard to please).

Jarrett having fun

I don’t have any other data points to compare to, but overall, he seemed to be in an excellent mood. He was joking with the audience, at some point once the applause faded he just said “What next? What now?”, closed the cover of the Steinway keyboard and pretended to play (“You don’t hear a lot?” was his joking comment back to the audience). Later during the concert, he even went up, walked over to a microphone that had been sitting in the dark, and told us a story about how this entire concert was for his Grandmother, and her Hungarian origins. Walking back to the piano, he rhetorically, and smilingly, asked the audience “but why would you care about this?” He even tolerated somebody very loudly coughing about 2 seconds into a new song, stopping but just joking about it (I assume me and half of the audience were afraid at that point he’d throw a tantrum instead).

Overall, the range of styles we got was amazing, from small introvert pieces that played a lot with Counterpoint (you could hear he played a lot of baroque) too much heavier, larger pieces where every finger was busy. We even got a very special tribute to BB King, with a Blues/Boogie Woogie-type improvisation. But the best (again, I’m a sucker for melodies) part came with encore number 3, a short improvisation over “When I fall in love”. I’ve only heard this from him in trio form (e.g. Live at the Blue Note, Whisper now), but never heard it solo. SOOOO BEAUTIFUL (yes I know I sound like an over excited teenager praising Justin Bieber, but what the heck). Even better than my previous encore favorite (beyond the obvious Köln Concert Part IIc), My Song from the Carnegie Hall Concert. Overall, I’m very glad I finally made it to my first live concert.

If you like his music, and there is a concert coming up even on your continent, I urge you to hop on a plane and go there, no matter how expensive the tickets are. It is truly a once in a lifetime experience. And let’s not forget, Mr. Jarrett just turned 70. We all cross fingers he’s doesn’t decide to retire any time soon,   but let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Let me stop here. In a later blog entry, I’ll talk a bit more about the other recorded live solo albums. No idea how often I’ll be able to write, but again, I just presume nobody will ever read this anyhow.