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“Getting close” to her piano

Another music related bagatelle from Barbican resident Ronald Millar O

ur romances with the piano are unbalanced. Unlike instruments clasped to the body, played with the breath,

or held between the legs, the piano keeps its distance. It can be caressed, but is not to be possessed. Hit it as hard as you can, it will never submit. We had been given a touch of the unusual with the preceding piece – bass notes held with left forearm flat on the keyboard, right hand playing the tune. And the alternative positioning, right forearm on the treble, worked as well. Well, why not use the arm if the intended notes are more impressionistic than defined? In fact, it was the most melodious elbow-playing that I have heard.

We had also seen the piano invaded by a thinly gloved right hand, damping and stopping the vibrating strings – a now-common composition device to evoke sound palettes of many colours. “Tango” (composer Claudia Molitar) was something else, about “getting close” to the piano, a choreographed exploration of all the angles and body positions within reach of the notes. A sort of ballet, smoothly athletic, assertively feminine, in an intermittent and not- quite-musical sound-world. She ran around the instrument, she played with brief normality, and then with her back to the keyboard. Sitting or kneeling on the floor was no deterrent, eyes level with the

fingers. Once, she walked away (I shall neglect you, then where will you be?). Returning, she jumped onto the stool and stood erect while hitting a single note accurately with her right big toe.

In a silent interlude, she posed in admiration of what she could never possess. Then, frustrated into vulgarity, she sat on the keys, squashing them into childish noise. It was her only aggression, and apologised for with a momentary frontal hug. A single touch on the lowest and highest note (yes, you do have your limits) was followed by a graceful move to the floor, where, flat on her back, she probably played what was intended. Upstanding again, she fulsomely embraced the back of the instrument – well, this was a baby grand.

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There was more – brief elbow- action, quick glissandos up and down the scales, an arm-outstretched grip of the curving front, as though in search of empathy from the gleaming gloss. Even when stretched face- down on the shiny, skiddy lid, she could still strike with precision. Finally, and for some time, she stood to attention on top (I am in charge of this beast!), before stepping down, running around once, and finishing with a deep bow. The applause was generous. There had been no laughter, for this was visual theatre of a high order. Will the like be seen in the Big Halls, or remain in the confines of musical academia? At least, we have seen a future for one doubly-talented actor-musician.

As the audience departed, the piano stood, as ever “its own thing”, a lonely monument to independence.

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