Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (11 cents)

I was a little concerned at the noon time concert at Epiphany Church today. There was a audience of between 75 and 100 on a beautiful day. There was only one piece on the program, to be played by Russian born Irina Kats, who teaches at the Levine School and performs widely.

I was first concerned because Ms. Kats gave an introduction to the piece that lasted almost 20 minutes. Not that it wasn’t interesting and didn’t put things into context, because it did, but many of the concert goers are on strict lunch schedules, and I was afraid that the piece would extend beyond the 1 p.m. end time (which it did). But more than that, I was concerned because three different people sitting close to me stood up in the middle of the concert and walked out.

I figured that Moussorgsky, or at least Pictures, must not be for everyone. They weren’t walking out because of the time (it was still early), and they certainly weren’t walking out because of the performer who was spectacular.

I am not sure exactly what a bravura performance is, but whatever the definition would be, Ms. Kats’ Pictures at an Exhibition qualified. I was lucky enough, even though sitting in (as I counted them) the 13th row, to have a direct view of the keyboard, so that I could see the strength, the speed and the agility with which she attacked (an appropriate word for much of the piece) the piano. I didn’t have to worry that the vast majority of audience members who stayed were just being polite, either. The standing ovation was immediate, showing that I was not the only one who appreciated the performance.

Her introduction started off well. A little about Moussorgsky’s background, his place as one of the “Five”, the group of Russian composers of the 19th century who included Borodin and Rimsky-Korsakov, his personal problems, his avoidance of formal training, his alcoholism and the alcoholism of his best friend, who died at age 39, throwing Moussorgsky into a depression relieved (perhaps, relieved) only when he saw a special art exhibit arranged in his friend’s memory, and decided to compose a piece based upon the pictures in the exhibition. But then she began to describe each of the ten pictures, and how the music (which had not yet been heard) corresponded to them – and that was a bit too much.

All forgiven, however, when she sat down at the piano.

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