Monday, March 21, 2016


I had the opportunity to see another amazing concert this past weekend courtesy of the Calgary Philharmonic. It will be the last one I will be able to get to for a few weeks now and as always, it was outstanding.

Featured on the program was Sibelius's "Finlandia", the Grieg Piano Concerto and a Symphony by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.  The guest conductor, Rune Bergmann, hails from Norway, making the evening a truly nordic affair.

The Grieg Piano Concerto easily ranks among my favourites piano concertos.  Written in the same key as the Schuman Piano Concerto that I saw last month, the two are often paired together on recordings and indeed these two pieces were among the first that I ever owned on an old LP.    Having the opportunity to see both of these works performed live was definitely one for the "bucket list" for me.

All of 21 years old, the soloist, Conrad Tao, was absolutely brilliant.  It's a rare treat to hear such a technically outstanding performers at such an age.  He had me at the piano's opening flourish and I was left with the impression that an alien has descended from the sky.  It was one of those rare performances that leave you breathless and wondering how playing as he did is even humanly possible.   He played with great power and emotional depth.  The finale bordered on the transcendent.

The final piece was a work by Nielsen, his Symphony #4, titled "Inextinguishable".  Written against the back drop of WWI, it a powerful piece indeed.   It contrasts themes of good and evil and human struggle, much in the vein of Beethoven.  The finale features 2 sets of tympani which engage in an epic battle mimicking the sounds of competing artillery.

While dark and chaotic at times, this is a work that is ultimately life-affirming.  In a note attached to the score, Nielsen wrote, "The composer has tried to indicate with a single word that which only the music itself has the power to express fully: the elementary will to live.  Music is life, and like life, inextinguishable."

Jack Singer Hall, home of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

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