Piano at EMPAC
Can you have too much of a good thing?
This is the question I began pondering last Friday at EMPAC, at a concert featuring two talented piano players, Craig Taborn and Vicky Chow. I love the piano, and I fully expected to love this concert. But I didn’t.
Now, I liked a great deal of it. The concert aimed to showcase pianists with contrasting styles — Taborn is a jazz pianist, while Chow is a classical pianist known for her work with experimental and avant-garde groups such as the Bang on a Can All-Stars — and it succeeded. Both pianists played solo sets, and their styles varied greatly. Taborn turned in a fairly traditional jazz performance, while Chow proved much harder to define. Her driving, repetitive piano playing was accompanied by digital electronics created and arranged by composer Tristan Perich, and it was unlike anything I’d ever heard or experienced before, with the exception of a handful of other genre-defying concerts I’ve seen at EMPAC.
Here’s what was good about the Taborn/Chow pairing: It offered an excellent primer in the different ways musicians are using and exploring the piano. Taborn’s playing ran the gamut, shifting from quieter, more subdued moods to more excitable emotional states. He often played with the sort of speed and pounding intensity that I’ve always aimed for, but never been able to sustain. Chow’s set was quite striking, and for about 10 minutes I was fascinated by her unique sound, which seemed to meld classical music and electronica together in a new and interesting way. Listening to her was an immersive experience, and at times the music seemed to wash over the audience in waves.
But Chow played for about an hour, and by the end the repetition and odd electronic noises had grown tiresome. I kept waiting for Chow to shift gears and do something a bit different, but for the most part her musical approach remained the same, and by the end of the show I was nodding off. Taborn’s set was much more invigorating, but I would have preferred a slightly shorter set — something between 30 and 45 minutes, rather than the hour or so that he played.
Before this concert, I would have said I could listen to solo piano for hours. But now I know better.
Taborn and Chow are gifted piano players, and I’m glad I heard them. However, a little less of them would have been fine.
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