Le Poisson Rouge wasn’t simply filled to capacity last night. Thirty minutes before a one-hour performance, the room was over-filled, standing room only. Standees stood in front of other standees, in front of …well, you get the picture. This was a standout evening. Nor was this a single-minded audience. Young people, families, older composers, critics, the curious and the eccentric. All had made their appearance in Le Poisson Rouge for Taka Kigawa, a slight, modest t-shirted pianist about to plunge into the most difficult music of the past 80 years. Taka Kigawa has not made his reputation playing Bach and Chopin, though this is surely in his repertoire. But this short recital was devoted to serialists and post-serialists, and at times, his essays seemed to encompass more notes per minute than the most agonizing cadenzas of other centuries.
Despite this, what was most startling was the clarity of Mr. Kigawa’s playing. He started with an “ancient” piece, Anton Webern’s Variations. What struck one was the absolute clarity of the music. Yes, the pianist paid self-conscious attention (perhaps homage) to the plethora of dynamics in Webern’s work (as he should have). But the movements themselves were so clear that the variants were as lucid as any older composer.
On the other end was Jason Eckhardt’s Echoes’ White Veil, with the composer in attendance. After the recital, I read that this was inspired by a prose-poem by W.S. Merwin, dealing with echoes and silences (and far too much for this essay). But without that knowledge (or possibly in spite of), the work itself was nerve-rackingly difficult to comprehend, initially endless tumblings of the piano, sometimes seemingly formless. Yet at different points one heard a lyrical, almost Classical line under the tumult, that itself was repeated in a different form later. Who knows if this was the holding device upon which the other echoes and reflections developed? And who knows if this wasn’t implied somehow in the silences of the second section? No guesses hazarded here. Mr. Kigawa seemed to play it faultlessly (I’m only guessing at that, since I haven’t seen the score), and there were certainly moments when I could surmise those echoes.
On a Clear Day was the first piano work I had heard by Matthias Pintscher, but his orchestral works are not only massive but absolutely dazzling. This piece, dedicated by Mitsuko Uchida, certainly took advantage of that artist’s sensitivity and easy handling of serial music. Mr. Kigawa took advantage of the resonances, the pedal held down almost continuously, and the lovely atmosphere. In one way, it was as if Copland’s Quiet City had actually been written by a genius lunatic. In another way, this was Pintscher the tone-painter.
Pierre Boulez’ First Sonata was probably a ground-breaker, but its fierceness, pure serialism and the composer’s references both to Schoenberg and Beethoven made it somehow dense and ancient. (More ancient than the Webern, which is actually a very lyrical work.)
Nothing, though, was old-fashioned about another classic, Xenakis’ Evryali (clouds). No pianist takes this lightly, much of it is seemingly unplayable, but Mr. Kigawa gave it the extra effort, so its unending percussive repeated note-clusters becoming hypnotic in themselves. He may have sacrificed a few notes here and there, but the major effect glittered with the repetitions. Supposedly this was based on Balinese gamelan music, but that music is of endless variations on a particular rhythmic motif, with much contrapuntal chatter amidst the drums sections. Nothing contrapuntal was in this performance, but its repetitions and drumming was beguiling by itself. Needless to say, the pianist not only demonstrated the electricity, the dynamism and the volition to make each tone cluster inevitable, but, as in the other works, his fingers, even in the most tightly-knit phrases, allowed rays of color and even light to shine through.
CODA: I shouldn’t have wondered at the eclectic make-up of the audience last night. Sunday morning, I was handed a circular by a rocker who was advertising his group who were going to give a concert. ???“Oh,” I said, “thanks, but I’m not into rock. I’m more of a…well, classical music reviewer.”??“Yeah?” he asked. “That’s great. Uh, like who? Ligeti and Boulez and dudes like that?” He even pronounced the name Ligeti correctly! Yes, despite certain political and social aberrations, we have indeed entered a wonderful new world.