The Freddy Storm!

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2017-09-18 05:28

Pianomania, featuring Freddy Kempf and the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in six glorious high points of Western music, is taking New Zealand by storm. It has already captured Napier, Auckland and Hamilton, and will shortly conquer Blenheim (19th), Christchurch (20th), Dunedin (21st) and Wellington (23rd).

Accomplished pianist Paul Carnegie-Jones was among the captivated in Napier. He said of Freddy:

He was astonishing... a superhuman pianist AND the consummate multitasker. He conducted the entire concert from the piano, which I'd been aware of, but watching him actually juggling the roles of soloist and conductor was something to behold, particularly in the Rachmaninoff. At times he was playing the solo line in his right hand while conducting the orchestra (with total gestural independence) with his left hand. I can't begin to imagine the kind of coordination required to achieve this. I think that Napier was the first performance of the programme, and occasionally the orchestra felt a little insecure. In places the orchestra took a while to find consensus in pulse/tempo, and there were some mistakes, but nothing conspicuous. The performances are bound to get tighter with repetition, and I don't mean to be critical, as the evening was magnificent. It would be so interesting to hear what Mr Kempf's feelings were! ... In short I was blown away by Freddy Kempf and have been buzzing all day.

Fellow-captive Sam Pierson attended the Auckland concert the next night:

The programme was six selections for piano & orchestra beginning with Handel & signing off with Gershwin. I don't know if this has been done before, but it's a great idea. We get to hear the development of the form; like watching an acorn become an oak, or a chummy chimp become a man. No way is it academic. It's a pleasure-trip, from stream to river to sea. And when we wrap up on Gershwin - after the longing & searching of the second movement of the Rach 2 - it felt like we'd arrived at home port, alight & twinkly & generally very pleased with ourselves.

That Kempf is a wizard, we already knew. This druid-in-chief can walk & chew gum at the same time. But he's up to something here & knows what he's doing, beyond the piano keys & his loyal band of tooters & scrapers. He led the superb NZSO & we, the audience, on a sort of tour over the tip of an iceberg. Not too much, not too little, with an overall upward trajectory & his trademark, faithful emotional clarity. Crowd-pleasers all. To be able to switch between, & deliver on, the emotional requirements of each piece is remarkable. The band looked to be enjoying themselves, and the brief spoken introductions to each piece added some useful context. Kempf as usual, looked always & only on serious duty, seeing the mission right.

Sam's sister Olivia exulted:

Pure melodic heaven... from start to exalted finish. Every slice of piano music was delicious - from Handel to Gershwin. Freddy took us on a masterful piano journey which created one heck of a sumptuous atmosphere. The Rach 2 morsel was particularly exquisite! The world felt wonderful again tonight.

From Hamilton the next day I was honoured to hear directly from the Maestro himself (e-mail excerpts published here with Freddy's permission):

Dear Lindsay,

Greetings from Hamilton(!) Tonight is no. 3.

I have to say your Napier spy was pretty much spot on. We all felt a few first-night trembles, as did I. I think it just took time for us to settle down and remember exactly what our plan was – and the huge difference in acoustic between Napier and Wellington was or is always a shock. the same time it was lovely to see it well attended and to see more young people there – which was partly the point of Pianomania, in the pops series.

We had different pressures in Auckland – since the acoustic is a dream, but we had the mikes for radio. ...

I think the most important thing is that the audience generally seems to be absolutely thrilled and taken with the program – it does “work” and builds tremendous excitement towards the end.

For me it is unimaginably difficult – I feel for once utterly exhausted (mentally) but can at least honestly enjoy the Rhapsody. The Handel is tricky because I have to improvise a lot of the time, and communicate what I’m doing to the orchestra so they can confidently join in. The Mozart I find very tricky to suddenly jump into out of the blue. The entire concert is still a very unfamiliar concept to us – since the works are introduced by the orchestra members, and there are constant player-changes with people walking on and off. We weren’t 100% sure of when to tune the orchestra – and am always considering when and how to stand the orchestra up. So all these non-musical distractions.

The Chopin is one of the most taxing works to simply “play”, never mind to cue the orchestra, which I actually need to since I’m playing so freely. The Mendelssohn would be fun if it wasn’t so dangerous to play – it goes at such a lick. ...

So the Gershwin – well I have such a ball with this, even though this is very tricky to conduct – but at least for the most part it’s an either/or situation – either I conduct, or I play – and you have Lenny on drums to keep things together.

Wonder how you’ll like my version. I’ve tried to have a very jazz-band sound in certain places and then make the contrast between that sound and the symphony orchestra. I’ve got the saxes playing in a very big-band manner – and have also asked the brass, at times, to play in a band manner too – in the way they attack and “hit” each note. Since most of the time they’re trying to fit in and get closer to the gradual attack that the strings produce when the bow starts the note.

Really looking forward to seeing you tomorrow – and boy I’ll need a night off!

All the best,


Here we are in Wellington on his night off:

I made sure it wasn't too late a one and Maestro was protected from the ferocious Wellington elements which were really leering up!

The much more formidable storm that is Pianomania will resume in Blenheim tonight, Tuesday Sept 19!

Ha, Pierson!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Aren't you the most ferocious Wellington element?

Flattery will get you everywhere!

I made sure it wasn't too

Sam Pierson's picture

I made sure it wasn't too late a one and Maestro was protected from the ferocious Wellington elements which were really leering up!

Aren't you the most ferocious Wellington element?

Nice pic.

I just had a note ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... from a former All Black, saying that thanks to my post he's going to the Blenheim concert tonight, and that it had better be good. I assured him it will be brilliant. But he's not the kind to blub through the Rach 2 (or ever admit it if he did). This will be interesting! Smiling


Olivia's picture

considering how difficult a concert such as this may be to pull together, it came across as almost effortless - the exceptional talent and beauty of the music just dazzles the audience. From my perspective the only strain was on Freddy's face as he delivered his mission, which of course just looks damn sexy! Smiling

P.S - I confess that I blubbed all the way through the Rach 2 second movement - it is so very tender and was so beautifully delivered.

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