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Thousand-handed god of the piano: Garrick Ohlsson

What happened? In just one week, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra went from sold out to about half full.

To add insult to injury, this concert was better than last weekend's. This concert had more variety, this concert had enlightenment, and this concert had Garrick Ohlsson--”The Thousand-Handed God of the Piano”--more on that later.

What of the variety?

The first piece of music was Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances. Respighi was a 20th Century composer but styled this piece after the music of old. It had grace, it had charm, it had terraced dynamics.

Terraced dynamics mean that the composer uses a few instruments when he wants a quiet section of music and more instruments when he wants a loud section of music. This was the practice during the Late Renaissance and Early Baroque periods.

From here we moved on to Haydn’s Symphony No. 102. The difference in style should have been apparent. The phrasing of the music swelled and tapered in the classical manner. Hayden was the “father of the symphony” and this symphony was a quintessential classical piece of music. It was balanced in its manners and a tad restrained but full of mirth, like a British comedy of manners.

Intermission.

Now Tchaikovsky, Garrick Ohlsson, and his thousand hands. First of all, I found Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 to be more interesting than the more glamorous Piano Concerto No. 1.

Think of it this way, if the first piano concerto is Ginger, then the second piano concerto is Mary Ann. Both are lovely, both are appealing, but they will never be confused for one another.

Garrick Ohlsson’s playing was beyond anything I can describe. His body was quiet while he played but his hands were everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

His playing reminded me of “The Dance of the Thousand Hands” or “The Thousand-Handed Goddess of Mercy” from China.

In the second movement of the piano concerto, Mr. Ohlsson played with the pure love and compassion of a Zen master.

This movement is essentially a piano, violin, and cello trio with minimal accompaniment from the orchestra. Concert master, Jeff Thayer, and principal cellist, Yao Zhao, proved to be masters themselves as they joined Ohlsson in this meditative trio.

The evening concluded with Mr. Ohlsson sitting down at the piano and saying, “This piece is too famous to announce”. The audience gasped as they heard the first two notes of Debussy’s Claire de Lune.

I have never witnessed symphony hall be more quiet, more attentive, or more in love than during those six minutes while Garrick Ohlsson taught us the meaning of music.

When he finished, my concert companion turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I think I just heard that music for the first time.”

I agreed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpP1Z5kFLA4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=jZApcRVNVqw&feature=fvwp

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What happened? In just one week, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra went from sold out to about half full.

To add insult to injury, this concert was better than last weekend's. This concert had more variety, this concert had enlightenment, and this concert had Garrick Ohlsson--”The Thousand-Handed God of the Piano”--more on that later.

What of the variety?

The first piece of music was Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances. Respighi was a 20th Century composer but styled this piece after the music of old. It had grace, it had charm, it had terraced dynamics.

Terraced dynamics mean that the composer uses a few instruments when he wants a quiet section of music and more instruments when he wants a loud section of music. This was the practice during the Late Renaissance and Early Baroque periods.

From here we moved on to Haydn’s Symphony No. 102. The difference in style should have been apparent. The phrasing of the music swelled and tapered in the classical manner. Hayden was the “father of the symphony” and this symphony was a quintessential classical piece of music. It was balanced in its manners and a tad restrained but full of mirth, like a British comedy of manners.

Intermission.

Now Tchaikovsky, Garrick Ohlsson, and his thousand hands. First of all, I found Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 2 to be more interesting than the more glamorous Piano Concerto No. 1.

Think of it this way, if the first piano concerto is Ginger, then the second piano concerto is Mary Ann. Both are lovely, both are appealing, but they will never be confused for one another.

Garrick Ohlsson’s playing was beyond anything I can describe. His body was quiet while he played but his hands were everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

His playing reminded me of “The Dance of the Thousand Hands” or “The Thousand-Handed Goddess of Mercy” from China.

In the second movement of the piano concerto, Mr. Ohlsson played with the pure love and compassion of a Zen master.

This movement is essentially a piano, violin, and cello trio with minimal accompaniment from the orchestra. Concert master, Jeff Thayer, and principal cellist, Yao Zhao, proved to be masters themselves as they joined Ohlsson in this meditative trio.

The evening concluded with Mr. Ohlsson sitting down at the piano and saying, “This piece is too famous to announce”. The audience gasped as they heard the first two notes of Debussy’s Claire de Lune.

I have never witnessed symphony hall be more quiet, more attentive, or more in love than during those six minutes while Garrick Ohlsson taught us the meaning of music.

When he finished, my concert companion turned to me with tears in her eyes and said, “I think I just heard that music for the first time.”

I agreed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpP1Z5kFLA4

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=jZApcRVNVqw&feature=fvwp

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