If you read that one pianist of a duo was a ‘quixotic Moldavian jazz pianist living in Oslo’, and that the duo’s recital in which “Schuman merges into tango into Bach into jazz into Stravinsky on two” pianos was “like no piano recital you’ve ever seen”, and if the reviewer (Simon Broughton in Evening Standard on Thursday 19th) gives it five stars, you might be tempted as I was to rush to buy tickets before they sold out.
I was curious to see Kings Place, as this latest addition to London’s concert venue had completely passed me by, and the Standard review spoke of the ‘open-minded spirit of Kings Place’ which sounded interesting. That, together with a piano duo recital that promised to play ‘games with concert conventions’ (the title of the review) was enough to make me get the credit card out.
I hated the building, the atmosphere and the implied values so much I nearly left without even going to the concert. It is so unfriendly, I barely understood how to buy a sandwich and eat it. The checkout assistant gave me a threatening look when I tried to pay, as if to say ‘Yes? What do you want?’ and grudgingly agreed to take my money when I said I wanted to pay. There weren’t enough seats. There were a couple left at one long refectory table like the ones in Oliver! A lonely jazz trio spooned mellow tunes into the cavernous office-like space and stopped abruptly when the hall opened. No-one clapped. I leafed through the Spring programme. Who goes to this stuff, I thought. It all seemed so worthy. Like it was developed for Guardian readers, or in fact, by and for Guardian writers (as it happens, Kings Place is indeed the home of the Guardian and Observer offices.)
And the concert? Well, it was a recital, in the most 19th century, Hanslickian sense you could imagine. Sit back, shut up and listen with the lights out. Far from playing games with concert conventions, it was about the most conventional concert I’ve been to since the last piano recital, except that Alperin wore red shoelaces.
Mikhail Rudy’s playing was lovely. Alperin’s was fine too, it was just all the grunts, wheezes, face-making and vocalizing that I could have done without (all hideously enlarged on the overhead video relay. Just the hands will be fine, next time, thanks.) He couldn’t play a note without looking like he was experiencing something between an orgasm and choking on a potato. The more extravagant the gesture, the less evident the outcome in his playing. Rudy, by contrast, did nothing and extracted honey and chocolate and perfume from his piano. I detected nothing that sounded like improvisation, rule breaking or playing with conventions. The audience tittered occasionally in that way that classical audiences do when some 19th century rule is poked at (but not broken) with a knowing wink from the performer.
Once, as a teenager, I overheard a woman in front of me at a concert of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra say to her friend ‘It’s good coming to things like this, isn’t it, because if it was on the radio, you’d just turn it off’. I laughed, but secretly, I couldn’t help agreeing with her. And 35 years later, I’m afraid to say I haven’t found a better reason to go to a classical recital.