On April 21st 2018, The pianist and multi disciplinary artist Tianqi Du took to the stage at Zankel Hall (Carnegie Hall) in New York City to deliver a power packed and thoughtful reading of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations. These thirty variations based on the foundation of a single bass sequence, as established in the opening and closing Arias, have long been among the most challenging adventures in the keyboard repertoire. Mr. Du is certainly up to leading his audience through the fire, tranquility, desperation, and unadulterated joy waiting for witnesses in these compositions.
Bach’s Variations are some of Music’s first known offering of sleeping pills. Created by Bach for his prized harpsichord virtuoso Johann Gottlieb Goldberg, these variations were commissioned by a German count – Count Kieserlink – who had trouble sleeping and needed music to get him entry into the liminal world. How on earth any human would think these variations are good for sleeping is beyond this observer, especially as played by Mr Du.
His plaintive interpretation of the aria at the outset immediately let us know that he was consciously engineering a spacious room for the following variations to live in. A large, awakening, and patient landscape thus established, he was leading us then by hand into it as he set out with his first Variation. Filled with a heart that must contain its unbridled joy, variation one as played by Tianqi, was brimming because he presented it with restraint. The rolling hills of this variation, as a result, felt that they resided within rather than a place outside of ourselves. The 16th Variation, being the 1st Variations counterpart was translated in a similar manner – an opening into a new landscape that felt grounded by a guide we knew we could trust.
Every third variation is a canon and Tianqi does not disappoint with these Byzantine keyboard feats. In their own turn they were polished, singing, reflective, majestic, and sometimes deeply brooding. The devastating 25th variation was played with such pointed and brutal beauty that it fortunately lacked glamour and as a result gave us a barbed sense of life’s devils and angels. Many times throughout the night we heard Tianqi reaching into and sometimes past his comfort zone. The riding of this nerve really gave the music the restrained fire that it deserves although in a few instances he came close to getting burned. This listener much prefers this to the staid safety of the less imaginative and fearful performers of this music. By the time the opening aria had come full circle and was played again to close, we had been to a place that was bristling with beauty, morality, possibility, and intellectual and emotional depth.
Beyond Carnegie Hall
Others were no doubt similarly exhausted as we walked out into the night trying to parse out these aspects of our shared humanity. Later,laying down to sleep, this performance experience continued to give glimpses into the idea that our better angels of mind and spirit are all mixed and woven together in this magisterial music. When the highest human morality is shown to us in art, it’s incumbent on us to live differently. Thank you Tianqi for showing us the way.
For more information on other Carnegie Hall programming with artists similarly able to transcend the ordinary in their performance, visit the Carnegie Hall website.
To learn more about Tianqi Du and his upcoming performances visit the official Tianqi Du website.
Photos courtesy of Michelle Tabnick PR
About the Author -- Composer and Musician David Cieri:
"David Cieri is a master composer and a true artist. Fearless on the piano, a combination of virtuosity, sensitivity and curiosity, he is constantly discovering new ways to express complex emotions through music that has served as the backbone of our films."
"This is real music, not trapped by boxes, definitions and genres, but creating its own style. Cieri delivers beautiful moods…honest, imaginative, fearless."
David Cieri is a Composer and Musician. Cieri’s film-scoring work includes Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War (Florentine Films, 2017), The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (Florentine Films, 2014), The Address (Florentine Films, 2014), Prohibition (with Wynton Marsalis, Florentine Films, 2011), Baseball: The Tenth Inning (Florentine Films, 2010), and Emmy-winning National Parks (Florentine Films, 2008), Barak Goodman’s Emmy-nominated The Emperor of All Maladies (Ark Media, 2015), and “The Heart of the Matter,” a short directed by George Lucas for The Academy of Arts and Sciences (2014). His original score for Raymond De Felitta's Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story was longlisted for an Oscar nomination in 2013. His recently completed scoring project, Oklahoma City, premiered at The Sundance Film Festival in 2017. Cieri has just completed a score for the two time Pulitzer Prize winning Lynn Nottage for her project, This is Reading. Most recently, he has released a recording on Ropeadope Records with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa entitled White Dust, which was released September 1, 2017. The follow up record with Yusef Komunyakaa, Dark Furniture, will be released in June 2018 and a compilation of original score compositions for Ken Burns’ Florentine Films – Notes From The Underscore - will be released by Ropeadope Records on December 1st, 2017.