Monday, March 9, 2009

Piano Hero: Level 637?

I just ran across this video on Bart's Well-Tempered Blog. First of all, I'd never heard of this Feinberg transcription of Tchaikovsky, but it is mind-blowing and ridiculously fun to listen to. I'd also never heard of Koji Attwood, but he's got some chops. 

It's also fun, in a Piano Hero kind of way, to reflect on how the crudity of this video contributes to the experience of hearing this performance. I rushed right out (well, not really out) and downloaded Arcadi Volodos' recording of the arrangement - a bargain at $0.99 for 9:29 - but it's not quite the same. Yes, all the notes are in place and more under control and the sound of the piano is much better, etc., but the YouTube practice room rendition comes across so much more viscerally. Of course, that partly has to do with getting to see Attwood play, and maybe part of the point is that, for a piece such as this, I'd much prefer to see Volodos giving a one-take performance than hear a highly polished studio production. As I mentioned here, it can be highly engaging for a listener (or audience of listeners) to feel that a performance is on the edge. And, as Piano Hero has proved to me three times already, there's something especially fun about hearing a very familiar piece in a sparkling new context. (NOTE: This does not apply to all new contexts!)

Neither the sunglasses stunt [2:54] nor the lid-raising [6:10] do much for me, by the way, but I do like the way Attwood makes several little false starts before he gets going, and the gesture to the camera at the end seems genuine and deserved. It's clear from beginning to end that this is about entertainment, and the playing delivers the goods. To summarize, the Attwood video makes me remember why I wanted to become a pianist. In fact, I still want to become that kind of pianist!

[At the opposite extreme, I happened on an ultra-slick, overly produced Boston Pops special last night. It features jazz trumpeter Chris Botti and a bunch of superstar collaborators, but although some of the playing and singing was fine, everything had this thick haze of pre-packagedness about it, including all the stagey smiles back and forth among the performers, the stylized lighting and camera zooming. It didn't help that most of the music was in a smooth jazz style that's not my fave, but I would say I had almost the exact opposite experience watching this fund-raising special and watching Attwood a few hours later.]


perdido said...

Atwood is entertaining to watch, but check out Lazar Berman (audio only)


Thanks, Peter. Wow! I just about needed to put on sunglasses to listen to that. It's such a stunning combination of power and finesse - whereas the Attwood recording sounds like a really entertaining transcription, with all the inherent compromises and understanding that the piano can't really be an orchestra, the Berman recording makes it sound like a perfectly idiomatic piano piece. By the way, I shelled out another $0.99 to download it here.


I should also have mentioned about the Berman, in addition to the power and finesse, is how extraordinarily he shapes it all. He manages to get across all of that complex orchestration with a kind of delicacy that means it's not all just one blast of sound, which allows for a much longer sense of line and direction.

Philip Lee said...

When I hear Attwood's performance I think I should be attending a silent film viewing in a local theater with rough riders -- yes, fun to hear.