RIAM Piano Immersion Day: May 15th 2016

We all know the grand tradition and repertoire of the instrument, but whither the piano now? The RIAM’s Piano Immersion Day attempted to address this important question with events featuring improvisation, prepared piano, toy piano and new pieces for young players.

Martin O’Leary gave a marathon recital of recent Irish piano music affirming the instrument’s continuing importance for our composers, several of whom, like O’Leary himself, are also accomplished players. To draw any one direction from the variety of pieces would be impossible: the modern piano boasts as many styles as it does composers.

Izumi Kimura (a RIAM alumnus) gave a mesmerizing account of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes. For this performance Jonathan Nangle filmed the inside of the piano, enabling the audience to see an entrancing choreography of dancing bolts and screws. This work is often described as a kind of exotic clacking and tinkling, but Kimura rightly talked about its often dark emotional language. It emerged in this performance as a cycle to bear comparison with Messiaen’s Vingt  Regards, the two works forming a pianistic West-East divan. (Messiaen incidentally was fascinated by Cage’s prepared piano and it may have influenced his music of the later 1940s.)

The session for young players attracted the largest audience of the day. Fascinating it was to see our composers interact with these young players to discuss points of interpretation The challenge was to express themselves simply, often within the restraints of the five-finger position. I was one of the composers played, and I came away from this event admiring even more the genius of Bartok, Schumann and Kurtag in writing gems for this level of performer. It is not easy to do.  The show-stealer was Brendan Breslin’s Emoji Music, a funny combination of live playing and computer story-telling that riveted the audience.

Pianist, Izumi Kimura, gave an improvisation workshop

Kimura also dazzled in a live improvisation workshop. She is among the few classical pianists who risks improvising as part of a concert, and she also fielded searching questions from the audience. From her many quotable observations: ‘I want my improvising to sound like real composition, and my rehearsed performances to sound like improvising.’

The duo of David Bremner and Kian Geiselbrechtinger brought the long day to a close with an American programme of Cage, Tom Johnston and Glass and a work by Sebastian Adams. The few survivors felt that they had been made an epic journey together. And if they are like me, they will never again look at or listen to a piano in the same way.

Kevin O’Connell