Friday 31 August 2012

Me? Satanic orgies? Nah, just demonic patterns and poisonous greens!

Me? Satanic orgies? Nah, just demonic patterns and poisonous greens!

Just got back from a delightful visit to Helsinki, after a Festival performance of Piano Colours with Pierre-Laurent Aimard. We both found it most enjoyable. In a fully packed Sibelius Academy hall, the audience just wouldn’t stop applauding!  Alongside an interview of Pierre-Laurent, here are some comments by Hannu-Ilari Lampila for the Helsingin Sanomat (29.8.2012).

Piano Colours at the Helsinki Festival.
Watercolours gliding with the music.

“The Englishman Norman Perryman has been visualizing music in concerts for forty years. As pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard played, Perryman was inspired to paint kinetic colours and shapes on glass plates resting on five overhead-projectors.

One might have expected Perryman to use his brushes to paint satanic orgies, during Scriabin’s Black Mass Sonata. Instead, what appeared on the large screen were mysterious, golden, demonically spiralling patterns, changing into poisonous greens.

Perryman fortunately avoided an illustrative approach. His paintbrushes followed the music freely and their movements corresponded with the rhythms and movement of the piece. The dissolving, flowing colours created an abstract, sensually glowing, shimmering colour-language - a visual language that left room for the imagination.

In addition to the Scriabin, Perryman visualized works by Liszt, Tristan Murail and George Benjamin. 

In the last work it was a fantastic idea to break through the boundaries of the screen and let the projections of the brushstrokes spread on to the ceiling and the walls of the hall.”

From Scriabin’s piano Sonata No. 9, mixing from warm to cool – and back.
Well, well. I’ve never really been into demonizing, myself, and actually I thought my “poisonous greens” were rather beautiful, changing from warm to cool variations. A chacun son goût.
Behind Pierre-Laurent you get a glimpse of my image, chopped in half by another ruthless editor.

One couldn’t help sensing the history of the prestigious Sibelius Academy hall, where so many of Finland’s now famous musicians have studied or taught. I was very touched to meet the wife of the composer Rautavaara, who came to our concert when she heard that I’m also performing one of her husband’s works in October, with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.

This was my first visit to the city of Helsinki and I stayed at a hotel from the Art Deco period, overlooking the centre of town. Getting some sleep was a major challenge, as it seemed like the whole city was celebrating the end of summer until deep into the night! The rest of the hotel was filled with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, in town to play two concerts with Riccardo Chailly in the impressive new Helsinki Music Centre.

After our concert I had some time to sit at the Contemporary Art Museum with a coffee and do some people-watching. (The coffee was definitely better than the exhibition). As a portraitist, I can’t help studying faces. Most Finns seem to have a rather straight, sharp nose, strongly formed at the point, that also suggests that they know where they’re going. Well, they do in music, that’s for sure! People tend to dress casually, with some adventurous alternatives – perhaps symptomatic of their culture. Finnish is completely incomprehensible to me. It sounds direct, spoken efficiently, with a sense of purpose, but by no means unfriendly. Serious, but often with a sense of humour. The hospitality of the excellent Festival organization was heart-warming. They had 200,000 visitors. I can’t wait to go back! 

By now, the gear will have arrived in Norway, for my concert with the Bergen Philharmonic next week. Another first for me. But more about that next time!

Monday 20 August 2012

Piano Colours in the Helsinki Festival

Piano Colours in the Helsinki Festival

On Thursday night my technical assistant Jan-Cees will be driving north from Amsterdam, to catch the night ferry from Lübeck-Travemunde (Germany) to Helsinki (Finland). The ferry trip alone takes 27 hours! Did you know how far Helsinki is from Amsterdam ? (1500 km/930 miles). 

He's taking my performance gear to the amazing Helsinki Festival, that last year attracted 184,000 visitors. On August 27th, at the Sibelius Academy, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and I will perform our recital Piano Colours, that was so well received at the Aldeburgh Festival. If you missed Bob Singleton's blog On an Overgrown Path (June 27th), check out his delightful piece Has classical music finally found its contact high? He describes our audio-visual partnership as a "revelatory experience".

"In the post-concert talk Pierre-Laurent Aimard described how he watched Norman Perryman's kinetic visuals during (a Concertgebouw) performance, and went on explain that the visuals actually helped mould his interpretation; while from his side Norman recounted how he took visual and aural cues from the pianist. Which was the eureka moment for me - suddenly I understood that Piano Colours was not a solo piano recital by Pierre-Laurent Aimard with added graphics, but a duet for piano and improvised kinetic art, with the same risks and rewards as a conventional duo performance.
A still from Scriabin’s Sonata No.9 at the Aldeburgh Festival

So Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Norman Perryman have created much more than a powerful classical music marketing tool, they have also created a new and notably adventurous performance form. This is a considerable achievement and their pioneering work needs to be taken very seriously." 
My wonderfully analogue projectors, paintbrushes, jam-pots and glass plates.

So rather than a van-load of gear, why am I not just taking all my visuals on an iPad, like everyone else does these days? Because an iPad is merely a digital tool, and I'm a painter, working with analogue means that touch us emotionally. In fact, Pierre-Laurent and I both use a "hands-on" method of communication. My "primitive" overhead-projectors produce analogue coloured light: fluid kinetic images that we respond to in a visceral way. Research published in Nature Neuroscience reminds us that good food, sex and music release dopamine (and a feeling of elation/euphoria) in the brain. So do kinetic visuals with music, believe me!