Monday, November 23, 2020

A Virtual Stephen Hough

Spivey Hall at Clayton State University is offering a series of Virtual Events, while the Hall remains closed due to the pandemic.  Pianist Stephen Hough is the featured soloist in the November 22, 2020, virtual event.   The program began with an interview of Hough by Spivey’s Artistic Director Sam Dixon.  It was brief but included a discussion of Hough’s feelings about the music of Bach.  He said that he is not totally sold on it, even though the composer is one of the most revered in Western Art Music.  Of course, the pianist has taken some heat from those who consider such an opinion to be nothing short of blasphemy.  Hough explained that Bach’s music does not connect with him, but nevertheless, he continues to perform it, quite wonderfully as the show demonstrated.   This discussion was interesting to me since I have similar misgivings about the music of Mozart.  When I expressed this on a classical music discussion board, I was the target of much criticism derision.  We must never forget that our reactions to music are not universal, but that they grow out of our unique experiences, associations, and circumstances.  This program included:

·        Busoni’s transcription of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor. 

·        Schumann’s Fantasie, Op 17 in C major

·        Liszt’s Funerailles, No 7

·        Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1

Hough is a piano master, and he seems particularly well-suited to the romantic works that were potently played here.  Even his Bach was powerful, save for the first few minutes that seemed a bit shaky. 

Video events that are present-day substitutes for an in-person experience musical experiences should also be reviewed for their video qualities.  Hough’s piano sound was beautifully recorded and took full advantage of the warm reverberation at London’s Henry Wood Hall.  The camera work was excellent, with no fast-crosscuts or other editing-related distractions.  But it was hard not to notice the ramshackle appearance of the Hall.  There was a line of black folding chairs on a riser behind the piano, the purpose of which was a mystery.  There was also frayed carpet on the riser that took up some of the frame real estate.  Finally, the Hall is as visually bland as can be, with lots of off-white paint on the walls and windows draped in an equally unexciting hue. If virtual events are going to be with us for some time, it is important that production values be considered; having a tattered background in an endless sea of off white is probably not the best way to present such a great artist.  Granted this recital was produced during the height of Great Britain’s COVID response and that may have limited options, but a few post-production enhancements could have made a much better video experience.  But there is no doubt that Hough is a master and his performance was stellar.



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