On Friday November 2nd, at a packed to capacity Chan Centre concert, I heard one of the finest performances of Pyotr Il’ch Tchaikovsky Piano concerto number 1 in b flat minor I’ve ever heard. That said, I’ll choose not to comment on the orchestra (made up of students from the U.B.C. School of Music)
From the first step onto the stage, Devon Joiner showed the confidence of a seasoned performer. Since I had no preferred seating, I was seated in the choir loft above and behind the orchestra. I thought i might not be able to see the pianist adequately. However this was not the case. I had a bird’s eye view of at least one half of the keyboard and the last quarter of the right hand side. (this is a case where the supposedly worst seating possible ended up to be the best!)
A performers demeanor as he steps on stage can sometimes make or break the the relationship with the audience. From his first step onto the platform his cool, calm confident manner set the audience at ease. . He is a confident, extremely well poised, intelligent and musical player. He has technique to spare, but he did not waste it as many pianists do in this piece, and turn the piece into the side show show barn burner it is usually presented as. Each time textures changed or rounded a new corner in this difficult score, I knew how carefully he had prepared the score. I heard more Tchaikovsky in the work than I ever have before. Tchaikovsky gives virtuoso ample opportunity to show off, after all, It was after all, written for one of Nikolai Rubenstein, Russia’s most famous pianists of the period, however, showmanship never overshadowed the lyrical Tchaikovsky we know so well from works like his Violin Concerto.
Glittering passage work and thundering octaves are not the only test of virtuosity. By far the most difficult virtuoso passages are the ones with fewer notes; they ones with hushed pianissimos and exposed, simple melody. The ability to keep the audience’s attention when the drama is less melodramatic is, perhaps, the ultimate test of a virtuoso. Devon Joiner passes that test with flying colours. One of the tests of a great pianist is his ability to show his audience a new and compelling view of what he plays. Devon succeeded.
Making the connection from the big theme at the beginning with the rest of the movement is not an easy task. The tune overshadows the rest of the work for most of the audience. I am certain, that is the only thing most people ever hear in that piece. Devon Joiner managed to make it sound more like the integrated whole it really is. I hope that in the future, he keeps his own voice and does not give in to the demands of conformity the competition circuit has successfully imposed on so many young musicians.
Music commentators for many years have claimed that since Tchaikovsky tacked on the tune after the work had been completed that it has nothing thematically to do with the first subject and the development section. This simply isn’t true. There is a connection, Tchaikovsky didn’t simply pull this tune out of the blue, even though it was an afterthought.
Too my ears, he sounds very much like a student of Jane Coop (currently head of the keyboard department at the U.B.C. School of Music). However, since I must confess that I am not exactly unbiased. I have taken lessons with Ms. Coop. As a teacher she is as conciencious a teacher as you could ever wish for but she never imposes own view on her students interpretation. So, although Ms. Coop’s guidance is very clear, I could still hear Devon’s very exciting and personal view of this concerto. I hope I hear it again many times. If you have a chance to hear Devon perform, by all means take it. You have a chance to hear one of the up and coming leading lights of the classical keyboard!