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Summer musings: inspiration from surprising sources

Heather Kurzbauer

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Published: July 14, 2015 at 10:37 AM [UTC]

The glory days of summer have brought more than unexpected scorching temperatures to musical Europe. Accompanying the heat wave, high spirited music festivals follow close at the heels of the mega-music contests: the esteemed Queen Elisabeth and the ever polemic Tchaikovsky Competition. Intriguing blog posts at have discussed the results of the Tchaikovsky Competition Violin in great detail. Yet, whereas the violin and cello competitions showcased outstanding technicians, it was the piano forum that reached another level of magic and musical intensity.

Of all the high profile contestants who tested their mettle at the Tchaikovsky Competition 2015, it was the dark horse pianist, the Frenchman Lucas Debargue who made time stand still winning the hearts of public and discerning critics alike. His story is the stuff of a public relations representative’s dreams: Debargue started piano at 12 and did not attend conservatory until the age of 20; the young man paid for his piano studies by working in a supermarket; although he plays at late night jazz clubs, he had never performed with orchestra until the second round in Moscow. His unaffected relationship to the piano can help string players rethink and refresh their approach to their instruments. Open your ears as you listen to Debargue’s colors and tapered phrasing in Ravel, (Click here to view it)

Now consider the fact that the piano is a percussion instrument and challenge yourself to apply his free-flowing phrasing to the violin. Instead of visualization, go for auralization. The temptation to analyze technique, a leading characteristic of our hypercritical fellowship of fiddlers diminishes as we focus on a different instrument.

And now for something completely different! Several of the most extraordinary recollections in the early days of summer came courtesy of nonprofessional ensembles.

Far from the rarified stratosphere of world-class competitions, student orchestras from every part of the world are performing at festivals. This year’s Lisbon Music Fest 2015 brought together classical, jazz and big band groups from Ireland, Latvia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the US to perform in spectacular venues and share the joy of music with enthusiastic locals. Expecting no more than cacophony, I checked out several ensembles to discover that student orchestras are not only noteworthy for camaraderie and plain, old fund but for real musical substance and repertoire choices that go standard orchestral fare. A well-nuanced performance of Johan Wagenaar’s symphonic poem, Elverhoï by the Dutch-based VU Orchestra convinced me that the long-forgotten gem deserves pride of place in the major leagues.

With all the hue and cry on the demise of classical music that wafts through the media as major orchestras head for the bargaining table, a focus on the positive is warranted. Go forth and celebrate!

From Paul Deck
Posted on July 14, 2015 at 5:08 PM
That young man, Lucas Debargue, sure is a wonderful pianist. I enjoyed that video very much even though I just listened most of the time. To play like that for 55 minutes, though, I think that's more than should be reasonably expected of anyone. This particular competition seems to be more of a crucible than some others. Debarque's personal story is unusual, but probably so are the bios of some of the others, perhaps in some different way. Almost by definition these people are not normal.

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