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  • David Kiser

Ivo Pogorelich's Only American Recital

I have been listening to a few of the many bootleg recordings of Ivo Pogorelich live at Carnegie Hall and other locations in the 80s an

-d 90s. His Haydn in particular shows a deep understanding of the classical style meaning he balances the structure with expression. He is of course one of the great piano figures, gaining fame by not winning the Chopin Piano Competition. That's right, Martha Argerich quit in protest that this genius was not the winner. Frankly he is anti-establishment. His interpretations are orchestral and can almost seem like decompositions where he recomposes the music on the spot, at the very recital. How does he do that without changing the notes? He does

it by voicing and tempo. One of the great piano recordings of all time in my opinion is his take on Scriabin's Sonata no. 4 in 1990 at Carnegie Hall. (He used to play at Carnegie Hall on the regular). So after dousing myself with YouTube recordings, and learning about his new Chopin CD for Sony I wanted to see if I could catch one of his performances in person. Scanning his polished website I saw that in 2021 his only appearance in the states was to be at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

An event like this could not be missed. Sure Pogorelich has his detractors who sum him up as a mere eccentric, but many (myself included) believe he is one of the most musically sincere artists around. Here is a man unafraid to show his musical convictions, his faith in the performing arts. There was no taste of cynicism in his interpretations. He presented musical tomes, the Gospels of Chopin. So you can imagine my disappointment when I walked into the venue after a 7-hour plus drive that the recital hall he was to be playing in was very much a student theatre inside the student center. It felt like this was an almost secret affair. In attendance were the local piano students, the knowing fans, and university professors.

The unsuitable surroundings added to the vibe that this was a piano pilgrimage and the journey to see a piece of the true cross is not studded with 5-star hotels and air conditioning.

Before we get along any further I have to be honest that part of the reason I dragged the family out on this pilgrimage was to research a novel I was writing. Pogorelich, representing the strange artist as an archetype was an illusive figure in the book. I just had to see the real thing.

Pogorelich played an all-Chopin program including the Barcarolle, the Third Sonata, The Polonaise-Fantasie, the Berceuse, and the Fantasy in F minor. His sound filled the acoustically dead theatre. Pogorelich used the music for all of the selections, and that provided a bit of actual theatre with the poor page turner. His music was mostly flimsy, ancient copies that were falling apart and the turner did his best to keep everything on the stand. Pogorelich also sits quite high. The bench was sitting on a platform of wood as you can sort of make out in the photo (I hope it was okay that I took this photo, I had to at least get one of him on the stage, but not show his face). There was a bit of a fiasco at the abrupt ending of the intermission. Some patrons including us were still walking around the student center lobby when we heard piano playing, the soft opening bars of the Polonaise-Fantasie. No lights had been flickered, nor any announcement, it was time for him to play and he started! At the conclusion of the recital Pogorelich remained seated at the piano and fished out another music book from a small stack on the floor. Chopin's posthumous prelude (c-sharp I think). When that was finished, without standing up or so much as glancing in our direction he played the E major nocturne, both selections hardly ever attempted. Afterwards there was a homestyle spread of food in the lobby. No strong drinks (as it was a student center) but what nice rust belt hospitality. Not a few patrons were wearing masks.

We made a trip out of the recital with stops to hear the Cleveland Symphony led by Klaus Mäkelä and the Pittsburgh Symphony with Manfred Honeck and soloist Yefim Bronfman in Rachmaninoff third. We tried to break up the trip with a number of stops.

Not necessarily in order but here are some of the sights we saw along the way. To organize/plan the trip I followed the suggested route on Google maps looking for interesting places to visit close by, finding them I "saved" them to a list called Pogorelich itinerary that way I wouldn't forget and could easily find them within the map app. We stopped at the National Museum of the US Air Force outside of Dayton. The place if you haven't been is gigantic. Many of us have probably visited in the past during childhood. I certainly remember it from mine. Hasn't changed at all. I wish we just picked one section (it's mostly organized by wars/conflicts and took the time to get deep into the good 'ol US of A propaganda. I loved it as a kid but this time I just felt a bit sad. The display of atomic weapons was particularly touching/troublesome. Fun trivia for the book nerds but the above picture is the V-1 rocket that was a predecessor to the V-2, a major plot device/character in Gravity's Rainbow (I think they have a model of a V-2 somewhere in the museum).

Quite the contrast is the above photo and the three down below. We quite literally ascended and then descended into Cataloochee, a part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This was not far miles wise from Interstate 40. However the road is gravel, curvy and narrow and we have a low slung rear wheel drive sedan! Fortunately there was only one other car on the road. I almost turned back many times but again fortunately we kept going and were rewarded with an almost alien landscape of remote beauty. The place was settled and some of the early buildings still remain. There is a campground and hiking trails. The valley fields are place to see elk graze but I suspect they come in the early morning. We did see spectacularly large turkeys. Panthers used to roam here. One of the distinctive features and one that I have fond memories of as a child are the bubbling shallow creeks of crystal clear water. On the way in look for the private Big Foot statue (sorry didn't get a pic)

And yes below that's the original KFC in Corbin, Kentucky. This is a bit of a wild story. Their dining room had been closed for the renovations and the pandemic. We arrived a few hours before the official opening! They were in the middle of the soft opening for family, friends local dignitaries of Corbin and descendants of Sanders himself. Of course we had no idea. We get out of our car and see a press vehicle and people in suits milling about. We walk to the front door and see that it is locked. Around the corner a door is propped open and Lisa boldly approaches entreating (perhaps the mayor) if they would just let us in early since we had driven up from Greenville, South Carolina to visit. And to our surprise they let us in! Everyone was friendly and welcoming. Still we felt like crashing a wedding and visiting a religious site at the same time. Lisa mentioned how Kentucky Fried Chicken was a huge thing in South Korea when they entered that market in the 80s. Of course Korean Fried Chicken is now world famous. We had the distinct privilege of being the first customer from the general public. I had not had KFC in ages so it was nice to reacquaint myself with the American variety.

After the Recital we turned our eyes towards Cleveland to visit one of the great mecca's of classical music Severance Hall and the Cleveland Orchestra. Hailing from another rustbelt city (Pittsburgh, as you will read about shortly) I find urban decay charming and awe inspiring. The industrial wasteland on the banks of the great Lake Erie (Eleanor loved this name by the way, and asked me if the Loch Ness Monster lived there) is a perfect illustration that progress and civilization can be lost. But we are here for Severance.

(Above is the Museum of Art, which was preparing for an extravagant wedding in the atrium) We stayed in University Circle which is essentially the campus of Case Western Reserve University and the hospital. Nearby is Little Italy where we went from homestyle restaurant to the next without a reservation asking for a table and not getting one. But we are here for the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance.

The lobby as you can see is ornate and beautiful, a relic of the industrial barons that once ruled America.

Eleanor poses under a pink magnolia tree outside Severance. The grass here was unreal fluffy and soft. Behind her you can see Wade Lagoon.

The sound in the hall from the second row to back where I sat with our daughter was outstanding. The lead usher belted out the Shostakovich eponymous theme at the end of the 10th symphony. No one could hear him because of how loud it was. This was a great orchestral concert and the citizens of Cleveland and surrounding areas are lucky.

Notice this note about fireworks. Case Western spring fest was happening at the same time. So we were treated with a fireworks show at the conclusion of the concert. If you haven't heard fireworks in a city it is unreal with all the sound bouncing off the tall buildings. Two bunnies stopped in the grass and watched with us.

Oh and here is a photo taken of Cleveland from the Lake Erie perspective.

The fireworks above Case Western.

Our violinist in Sibelius violin concerto was Szeps-Znaider.

We stopped at the Westside market the morning of our departure to Pittsburgh to stock up on supplies. Obviously it used to be an old station.

Arrived in Pittsburgh after stopping at Skyline Chili (don't skip this if you are in the area. I got the 4-way and they literally put a bagful amount of cheese over the pasta. Oyster crackers never tasted so good. With elevated cholesterol we made our way into PA. (also don't speed here, there are speed traps every mile). We drove into unusually sunny Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon and had an hour to kill before the concert so we walked down to Point State Park.

Exterior of Heinz Hall above and below the textured water basin. Of everything in Pittsburgh seeing these stones is what made me nostalgic.

Heinz Hall is even more opulent/baroque than Severance.

I have heard many recordings of Yefim Bronfman but where he really shines is in live concert. The volume of sound he produced in the third concerto was quite thrilling. The orchestra had to work to keep up with him. On the way home we stopped at the New River Gorge Bridge. I have crossed the bridge dozens of times but never stopped so this time we did. I recommend taking the stairs down to the viewing platform. The bridge is quite massive and hard to really understand the scale of it.

That's it and if you made it this far thanks for reading. Stay tuned for more piano blogs and news about our students.


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