Part 2: Babayan in Recital, Yudina, Visconti, and Argerich
As part of an International Festival Society grant for my summer musical plans (including the Martha Argerich Project in Lugano) I am keeping a little daily log of the goings-on, because many of them have been extraordinary, weird, or surprising. This is a public blog post, so I tried my utmost to protect the privacy of all involved while recounting these stories.
Excitement Builds at the Festival
Almost no sleep last night, due to the excitement of the concert and all the meetings with the legendary musicians. But then, the atmosphere here is framed by groups of musicians staying up until 4 or 5 in the morning, rehearsing and practicing for the concerts. It is hard to settle into a comfortable sleep knowing that Martha Argerich is still awake and practicing at the Radio hall at the top of the mountain as though there were no more tomorrows. Her prolific practice habits are the talk of the festival.
Waking up with a window to Lake Lugano is unforgettable because of the color of the water—it always changes depending on the sky. Breakfast at the “Grand Hotel Splendide Royal”, as I remarked to my friend, strikingly evokes the rich interiors and liveried regalia of 19th-century hotels, much as in Luchino Visconti’s “Death in Venice”. People coming and going, footmen and waiters offering theatrical flourishes of hospitality, and families of somewhat unrealistic beauty speaking in hushed tones gather for hour-long breakfasts.
Once again I caught a glimpse of many of the sleepy-looking musicians dragging themselves in to catch brunch before it closed. Amazing how they radiate an artistic solitude and how they appear within themselves and their thoughts.
Sergei Babayan in Recital at Chiesa Evangelica, Lugano
I spent much of the day reading and writing in my room, and after my two friends arrived from Berlin, I along with my friends from America went into town to have latte macchiato coffees ahead of Sergei Babayan’s solo recital at the Chiesa Evangelica. Until last minute the doors remained closed, so there was a sizeable crowd waiting outside. Before the doors closed, I noticed that Martha Argerich quietly slipped in to attend.
Mr. Babayan opened the recital with “für Alina” of Arvo Pärt in an intense reading that was derived from the length of sonic decay, but with its bell sonorities luminous and frozen in space.
The Liszt Ballade that followed without pause was startling in its scope—a Wagnerian epic tale; the lyricism and drama unfolded in deliberately paced episodes that by the end already evoked a triumphant and nostalgic apotheosis.
The Ryabov fantasy in memory of the great pioneering female Russian pianist Maria Yudina that followed gave the performer even further opportunities to utilize his massive range, both interpretively and sonically. The piece, as gripping as the two preceding it, is a fractured and haunting kaleidoscope traversing harmonically-altered musical quotations from Yudina’s signature repertoire—but heard through the lens of a world already destroyed. In the episodes of harmonic resonance in which mighty bass notes activate silently depressed harmonics, the sound caused the audience to want to crane necks to see how the effect was achieved.
The three Rachmaninov pieces that followed were grouped without pause almost as a through-composed set; they displayed an almost three-dimensional layering of sounds of highest mastery. The spiritual and emotional aims of the pieces unfolded so inevitably and so masterfully that I was sure half the audience had no clue as to the amount of work required to achieve it. Depth and ease at the same time? That is one of the contradictions that always follows musicians. All three works were the greatest performances I had heard of them, both from other performers on and off records, and also from the performer himself. Since I have no photos of the performer to share, here is a youtube performance featuring Sergei Babayan in Piano Concerto No. 3 by Rachmaninov:
Dinner in the Face of the Lens
An Italian dinner with the performer and a group of our friends was joined by Argerich and Gitlis; for that reason cameras were incessantly taking photos of the entire meal. I cannot imagine the necessity of being photographed mid-bite, although that would in a way make for an exciting photo-book. “Famous Musicians Trying to Ingest Dinner.”