Hamelin at the piano

We may recall a line from the movie The Natural. The character played by Barbara Hershey asks “Roy Hobbs”: “Are you the best that ever was?” He responds with a golly-shucks affirmative, whereupon Hershey shoots him, abruptly cutting short his career.

Last Saturday night I sought pleasure, not from baseball but from music. To wit, I joined a full house at Benaroya Hall to hear a pianist who may be “the best that ever was.”

Marc-André Hamelin played Chopin’s Second Concerto. “Played” hardly does Hamelin justice. Let me offer a few observations.

I have witnessed live performances of pianists. Invariably, they appear to be anxious, if not nervous. After arranging themselves in front of the piano, they typically press their palms against their trousers, and often rub them against the fabric as if to wipe off perspiration.

Not Hamelin.

He verily glides on stage, gently seats himself on the padded stool (no makeshift chair modified by his father, à la Glenn Gould), raises it a bit with a few turns of the nob, then sits quietly with his hands folded in his lap. There is no hint of nervousness or sweat. This man is cool, calm, and collected.

Then he begins playing. Oh, what magnificent playing. No matter how difficult the passage or complicated the fingering, Hamelin has full command of this musical instrument, from which he coaxes magnificent sounds. Perfectly in sync with the Seattle Symphony and its new conductor, Ludovic Morlot, Hamelin lets his audience focus on the music, so much confidence does he instill in the listener; we’re never left to worry about wrong notes or jerky transitions.

The audience expressed its appreciation by according Hamelin with three standing ovations of exuberant applause. He extended the favor by playing an encore, a Liszt transcription of a Chopin piece. (I can’t recall the title.) The orchestra members sat in rapt delight, as if the, too, were in the presence of greatness.

Bravo!, Monsieur Hamelin

 

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