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Idiosyncratic Piano Sonatas

Marian McLaughlinBy Marian McLaughlin on Jan 17, 2013 | Add a Comment Add a Comment (659)

Idiosyncratic Piano Sonatas

The Piano.  Short for pianoforte, which derives from gravicembalo col piano e forte.  It's known for it's dynamic range, the ability to be played soft and loud and everything in between.  It's a transforming instrument, so much that it recently turned two progressive house show venues into intimate salons for two respective nights. Jonathan Wood Vincent (New York), Leo Svirsky (Netherlands), and David Klinger (DC) brought their unique and elaborate sets one night to the the Paper Sun, a long-running DIY loft in Columbia Heights.  Known for it's vinyl dance parties, the Paper Sun audience showed plenty of interest and respect, sitting down and giving each performer their undivided attention.  The same vibe carried through in Baltimore a week later at the Holy Underground, an upcoming venue and community space situated in Charles North, as listeners discovered the works and talents of each pianist.

Vincent scored performance points for scoring well-composed musical freakouts.  His mannerisms were incredibly peculiar, yet simultaneously fascinating when paired with his virtuosic playing.  Most of his songs were theatrical and rhapsodic ballads, teetering along the realms of obscure and outrageous. At one point, he stopped mid-song and decided that it was necessary to start over, and for some reason, became side-tracked in some heavy, yet entertaining stage banter. Once he finished up with a handful of tangents, he excused his banter as a diversion, explaining that it made the audience forget about song, allowing him to begin it again with a fresh start.  To be honest though, it would take a couple of listens to really comprehend Vincent's meandering songs.  Each one was incredibly detailed, packed with unusual imagery and progressions.  One of the highlights of his set at the Holy Underground was when he unleashed his epic musical tale about Baltimore, which seemed to have many subset stories inside of it, the most memorable one centering around a figure named Barbara. Vincent's ragtime tribute to Charm City held many shootouts to certain parts of the cities, which instantly charmed the audience.

It was an exceptional treat to have Svirsky perform again in the area.  Svirsky spends most of his time overseas in the Netherlands, studying improvisation and composition at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague.  I first became familiar with his musical talent when I saw him playing keyboard for the local avant-rock group Hume a couple years ago.  His skills were wizardly then, so it was exciting to wonder how Svirsky had developed from being at Den Haag.  As he introduced himself to the Holy Underground, he broke the ice a little bit by saying that he intended to cover all of Bob Marley's musical catalog during his performance. He then added that it would take several days to accomplish this feat, and requested for the audience to hold their applause until the end.  Taking a deep breath along with a quick smirk, Svirsky humbly sang into the mic "Out in the streets…they call it…"

And then, from there, sailed into half an hour of complex compositions.  One of the unique elements of Svirsky's performance was his use of silence.  It's not often to that musicians incorporate rests into their music, as silence can sometimes seem a little awkward, especially for our over-stimulated culture.  But with semblance and most likely homage to minimalist composer John Cage, Svirsky utilized long gaps of silence to add a sense of space.  Another interesting part was when he slowly built up lyrical content by adding words to a sentence one by one, starting the sentence over again each time with the additional word.  It took some time to get through the sentence, but the anticipation to its completion was much like that which comes with solving a puzzle.  It brought elements of patience and curiosity to the audience as they tried to decode Svirsky's modus operandi.  But Svirsky balanced his elongated periods of stillness with sudden attacks of ferocious motion, rapidly traversing along the whole range of the keyboard.

Following Svirsky, Klinger turned the tables back to songwriting for the night.  Like the other performers, Klinger's arrangements were filled to the brim with thoughtfulness and depth.  But in contrast to Svirsky's set, Klinger kept his many of his songs short and sweet.  His conciseness spanned over a dozen or so songs, a handful of which were under a minute in length, but shared similar moods.  Klinger often came across a bit comedic, inserting jokes about his songs here or there or providing one song a title so long that Sufjan Stevens would be jealous.  It's hard to recall the whole title to that song but it had something to do with listening to Radiohead while falling asleep and stumbling across a magical portal of some sort. 

Sometimes quirky, but always charming and adorable, Klinger displayed sangfroid in between songs, always checking his setlist for reassurance and giving the next piece a bit of thought.  Then, off into the next piece, only to almost knock the setlist off his keyboard and to the ground as his hands moved through whimsical flights along the keyboard. He played a couple of songs that are becoming solid and essential parts of his set, like "Prince" a mysterious and jazzy number, and the melodic "Hit me Harder". And as a special addition, he invited his sister to sing a Les Paul and Mary Ford duet, full of pleasing harmonies.  When all seemed to be just about done, some friends managed to convince Klinger to share one of his rap songs, "Wickerman".  It took some persuasion, but Klinger gave way as long as his sister laid down a beat.  As a trained a cappella singer, his sister had no problem with beatboxing throughout Klinger's rap.

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