Friday Review

Prodigious piano mastery

Pallavi’s impressive maturity in her emotional approach, rounded her off as a remarkable performer

At her interview, Pallavi Mahidhara, looked like a schoolgirl - in jeans, her hair worn naturally, the horn-rimmed spectacles being the only sign of gravitas that hinted at her chronological age – she admitted to “the late 20s”. Appearing much more sophisticated in a coral gown at her concert last week, she amazed Bangalore audiences with her keyboard command, prodigious in one so young. An American of Indian parentage, she first performed for the International Music and Arts Society when she was 17 and was acknowledged to be phenomenal even at that time.

It was an early epiphany: “My parents said that when I was two and a half years old, I was watching my favourite children’s TV programme, where the presenter sang and played the piano. Apparently I pointed to it and said, ‘that’s what I want to do; I want to play the piano’. So I was started on lessons when I was three.

My parents have always been encouraging but stressed the value of a solid educational foundation. They also emphasised the importance of hard work and dedication if I wanted to develop my passion seriously, so besides having piano lessons, I would practice the piano after school and then do my homework – yes, it was a long day! ” She has made her parents proud with a sleuth of awards, honours and performances the world over, her musical experience guided by many illustrious teachers.

“One of my mentors was the Georgian, Dimitri Bashkirov. Russians have a very special feel for the quality of sound. But it’s much more than musical knowledge and performing techniques I learned from him; it’s like the Indian Guru - you get so much more by just being in his presence. Bashkirov was nearly 80 when I studied with him. I identify with the older generation of musicians.

I feel I was born in the wrong era. I love the Jazz Age … the amazing singers from that time! And my favourite author is Scott Fitzgerald, all whose works I have read several times”.

Currently doing a Master’s degree in Berlin, she finds the cultural atmosphere in Berlin very conducive to artistic creativity. “I love living in Europe because it is the home of western classical music. Its musical ambience is quite different from the US. Yes, the world of the performing musician is very tough and very competitive. Such young talent coming from Japan, China, Korea … each country has its own approach to music.”

Bangalore was the last stop of this year’s Indian tour, comprising of a very challenging programme. She included a contemporary, Luciano Berio. “I wanted to give audiences something new to listen to, so I didn’t choose any of the staples from the Baroque and Classical repertoire that most pianists present – you know, Bach Beethoven Schubert. Yes, Berio might prove challenging to the more conservative listener but I’ll preface my pieces with a short explanation that might help. And I’m only playing seven minutes of his Encores, so not too taxing!”

Opening with three pieces from Ravel’s Miroirs, she proved her mastery ranged from the light touch that evoked the fluttering moths of Noctuelles, to the repeated stabbing staccato of the more famous Alborada del Gracioso, notorious for some of the most difficult episodes in piano music. She even showed how glissando can be varied.

In fact, Miroirs is considered even more taxing than the Liszt she played, 6 Grand Etudes after Paganini. If Paganini was considered the devil’s disciple on the strings [one apocryphal story claims that he could play the violin upside down] his counterpart was his friend, Franz Liszt, equally fiendish on the piano. Both were extraordinary performers of their scintillating heavily decorated compositions that demand the same skills of players who have since followed. Pallavi was nothing daunted, meeting the demands with a joyous aplomb.

Brahms’ 7 Fantasies was a welcome contrast to the hurly burly of the other composers, with his melodious harmonies, tender or passionate. Pallavi’s impressive maturity in her emotional approach, rounded her off as a remarkable performer. Another treat for the more conservative listener was her encore, the soothing and atmospheric Clair de Lune.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2020 3:52:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Prodigious-piano-mastery/article14001447.ece

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