What, one asked oneself, is modern classical music (Fabrizio Paterlini’s forte) in relation to that which is deemed merely classical? The evening threw the question into sharp relief, shaped unexpectedly from the reverberative storm of piano chords sent roofward by the Italian pianist sitting beneath the proscenium arch, upon which in black script could be read “To thine own self be true”.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, classical music is music “written in a Western musical tradition, usually using an established form [and] is generally considered to be serious and to have a lasting value”. But the evening’s unique selling point was the addition of the word ‘modern’ to the proceedings, thereby promising something different. It was an experience of two halves, the first a 40-minute run that saw Paterlini sweetly, ponderously soundtracking an animated cartoon version of himself (flying eagle-like above his home town of Mantova) that played out behind him on a large screen. Mid flow, curled in concentration upon the keys of his grand piano, every now and then he would gaze up at the distracting imagery on the screen, seemingly in search of inspiration. The visuals, he told the audience before the concert began, would make the experience “more interesting”.
The second half was something of a freestyle of ‘hits’, with one in particular (Rue des Trois Frères) when it was announced provoking ululations from the audience, ostensibly because the Marvel franchise actor Chris Evans had recently championed the piece on YouTube. And, as if in lockstep with the host nation’s current mood, the funereal plod continued to its terminus and a roar from a crowd overcome by Paterlini’s unarguable technical ability. Paterlini is an alumnus of the Academy of Arts in Mantova where he graduated in music theory, and it was with this gift that on a night in Holborn he attempted to explore hitherto undiscovered vaults of musical expression.
Nicola Benedetti once told me that she wants the core of classical music “to be as popular as possible”, adding that “if I don’t stick to that, then what am I saying? The bulk of my work has to have a consistency and a clear message”.
Clarity is all when communicating with an audience; Paterlini sees fit to autobiographise in order to strengthen that line of communication. You must shoot the arrow into people’s hearts and make them love you, no matter the idiom. You must change their tastes or, if not change them, encourage such tastes to bloom. Which is what Paterlini is attempting to do as he tours Europe, a curious iconoclasm affecting his presentation: that of the tattooed left arm working the bass notes and the sneakers snug upon his crossed feet as he plays beneath his animated self taking wing in the skies over Mantova.
Conway Hall puts a visitor in mind of swimming baths, or else a school assembly hall, yet its acoustics were of an excellence sufficient to satisfy the audience as it witnessed Paterlini taking the proscenium’s Shakespearean edict to heart.
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