The Freddy Storm Pt 2

Lindsay Perigo's picture
Submitted by Lindsay Perigo on Mon, 2017-09-25 04:08

For the two weeks leading up to Freddy Kempf's Pianomania concert with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra in Wellington on Saturday night, I had been praising it to the skies without having heard it. (Unusually, this tour began in Napier and went to all its other destinations before concluding in the capital.) I was hearing a lot about it both from Maestro himself and various people who attended in sundry venues, and was confident that any sight-unseen plaudits I heaped upon it would turn out to be understated. So it proved. Even in Napier, where the performance was affected by some opening-night wobbles, pianist Paul Carnegie-Jones was moved to report:

He was astonishing... a superhuman pianist AND the consummate multi-tasker. 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.

It quickly became apparent that Freddy's own fears that this novel and adventurous concept—single movements from six great works, from Handel to Gershwin (Greatest Hits from Greatest Hits, so to speak)—might end up being a "chaotic mess," had no chance of being realised; instead, Freddy and the Band would chalk up a resounding success. From the electrifying majesty of the Handel through the aching heights of the Mozart through the grandeur of the Chopin through the tightrope-romp that was the Mendelssohn through the exquisite sorrow of the Rachmaninoff ... this was unclouded enchantment from start to finish.

As for Rhapsody in Blue, here's what Freddy had said about his approach to it in his email to me from Hamilton, which I shared with his permission:

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.

As if on cue, this, from critic Tony Ryan in the Christchurch Press a few days later:

Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which ended the concert, brought a whole new level of communication. Here, at last, the orchestra came into its own, from the most exhilarating playing of the clarinet's opening glissando that I've ever heard, to beguilingly jazz-inflected trumpet solos and idiomatic playing from the whole orchestra. Fine as Kempf's playing was here, even he couldn't match the flair and class of his orchestral colleagues.

I would simply amend that to say Freddy assuredly did match the flair and class of his colleagues, in Wellington at least ... and the effect was orgasmic. The performers were standingly ovated, and Freddy was made to return to the stage many times before the cheering audience would let him go.

In this regard, Mr. Ryan made a further salient point in his Press critique:

I also enjoyed seeing the human face of the orchestra as various section principals introduced the works on the programme. I hope this is just the start of breaking down some of the more stuffy formalities of classical concerts; it made a significant contribution to an enjoyable, if unusual, evening.

A couple of Establishment critics have sniffed disdainfully about the "crowd-pleasing" nature of Pianomania. Newsflash to these tight-sphinctered purists: pleasing crowds draws crowds. I can't speak to the whole tour but I know the audience at the Michael Fowler Centre on Saturday was the largest I had seen there all year.

It's a tribute to humanity that the gods of Western Music still do draw crowds; when they stop doing that, we'll know civilisation itself is coming to an end. With contemporary gods like Freddy Kempf keeping their flame aloft, we needn't worry for a while yet.

Auckland "critic" William Dart ...

Lindsay Perigo's picture

... was the worst of the "tight-sphinctered purists." Pomowanker!!

Blood transfusion? Yes!! One came out with a new lease of life!!

I've just caught up with my...

Olivia's picture

friend and landlady, Ronnie, who unbeknownst to me was at the Auckland concert when I was also there.

She said her concert companion felt as though she'd been given a blood transfusion, so inspiring was the beauty of the event and Freddy's energy from the stage. Smiling

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