Monday, 23 April 2012

Meet Alex Scriabin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard & the gang

Meet Alex Scriabin, Pierre-Laurent Aimard & the gang.

Had he lived today, Alex (1872-1915) would have been an international multi-media star.  He had all the requirements: ambitious projects, romantic involvements, cultivated mystique and illusions of grandeur (“I am God”). 

In September 2010, I was standing in the conductor’s room, exhausted, joyful and relieved, after a performance with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (George Benjamin conducting), shaking hands with a line of happy people.  Then, one word -  “Magnifique!”.  There is the master pianist, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, beaming with delight. He had just performed in the first half, then run back to watch me after the interval. He loved it. And immediately invited me to perform at the U.K. Aldeburgh Festival, of which he is Artistic Director. Wow... I’m breathless!

Anyway, with this terrific orchestra I had just been painting continuous kinetic visuals for twenty minutes to Alexander Scriabin’s Poem of Ecstasy – one of the works to which Scriabin wanted to add projections of colour.  This is why I was invited. The musical Poem might be interpreted as expressing spiritual ecstasy, but the composer includes directions in his score that suggest he has a double agenda. His original title for this work was Orgiastic Poem – another kind of ecstasy!

The opening bars are marked to be played “languishing” (as in longing), then we also find “caressing, gentle, sweetly, with ecstatic sensuality, perfumed, with ever increasing intoxication, almost delirious”.  So Scriabin is urging us to let ourselves be carried away with his love poem.  And my choreography for continuous visuals and my choice of colours reflect his directions.  This emotional music begins with a dream, pulsates and surges, the tension growing to repeated climaxes, resolves into the blissful relaxing state after an ecstatic experience and finally celebrates the glory of the achievement. Aided by synaesthesia, I translated these sensations into a stream of kinetic images. 

Having said all that, in fact you are merely watching floating pools of delicate or rich colour, abstract shapes without any figuration. You can perceive them as mystical or majestic, erotic or spiritual. The organic properties of the paint have a therapeutic effect and create a natural synergy with the music. Altogether a beautiful, powerful, multi-sensory, holistic experience that may touch you deeply, yet defies definition.

At the Aldeburgh Festival, on June 22nd 2012, Scriabin’s Sonata No. 9 (‘Black Mass’) will be the centre-piece of a audio-visual recital Piano Colours, by Pierre-Laurent and myself.  We shall also perform Liszt (La Lugubre Gondola II), Tristan Murail (Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire ... In memoriam Olivier Messiaen) and George Benjamin (Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm). Pierre-Laurent will also play excerpts from Debussy Préludes, Book I and II.  I explained to Pierre-Laurent that I would need a little time to change plates and brushes before each piece. “No rush” he said with a smile, “I shall play a Prelude while you’re preparing. After all, that’s what Preludes are for”. We all know that he will turn them into something much more than a mere transition.
Here’s a sneak preview of a still from George Benjamin’s “Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm”. In fact, the streaks of colour escaping from the screen stretch much further, but my studio isn’t big enough to show you that!

So last Saturday I finally had the chance to show PLA what I had prepared for our programme. To my joy, he loved my presentation. Then, demonstratiing his masterly insight into our repertoire (on a Yamaha stage piano - my studio doesn’t hold a Steinway - ha, ha!), he gave me some excellent suggestions for small improvements.  After years of performing, this was the first time a musician had taken the time to compare my kinetic painting projections to the score in a detailed creative discussion!

It’s a joy to work with a pianist who masters such a magnificent palette of tone colours and who brings both intelligence and sensibility to everything he touches. He is an outstanding example of the musicians of which Luciano Berio (1925-2003) wrote. “The best solo performers of our time – modern in intelligence, sensibility and technique – are those capable of acting within a wide historical perspective, and of resolving the tensions between the creative demands of past and present, employing their instrument as means of research and expression”.

I can’t wait for our recital on June 22nd. in Aldeburgh. Book quickly!

Cloches d’adieu – et un sourire. In memorian Olivier Messiaen. (Tristan Murail)


Next Monday:  Excerpt from chapter twelve - Murmurs in Korea – Augusta Read Thomas.


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