By Pavle Cajic
On the 27th of May, I set off to Auckland, New Zealand to do an 80 minute piano recital, a trip kindly gifted to me by Theme and Variations as part of their Emerging Artists Series. What a great opportunity to not only perform overseas, but get to spend time in Auckland enjoying Kiwi scenery… or at least that’s what I could have been doing! But duty called, in the form of university exams, so my trip was condensed into a single-day stay, arriving at midnight and leaving before the sun had risen the day after my performance. Lucky for me then that the motel room provided was wonderfully spacious and too luxurious for a single person – too bad I only had a day to enjoy it.
The recital was to take place at 7.30pm at the Lewis Eady music store, just a minute’s stroll from the motel in the chilling, hand-incapacitating Kiwi weather. No time for delay, I headed straight there after my free breakfast (eggs benedict – yum.) Once they recognised me (which was not immediately) I was kindly shown to the piano of their choice – which was, as per agreement, a brand new Steinway. Almost too new, in fact – they thanked me for allowing myself a three-hour practice session on it to ‘loosen it up’ – apparently it didn’t get frequent work-outs. And the program I had chosen was by no means light-weight; almost one and a half hours of Romantic and 20th Century piano music. Gladly I think I entertained some piano movers who happened to walk in on the ending of Chopin’s third Ballade – an ending which surely puts you in a daze of ecstasy for at least the next five minutes. Having thoroughly de-tuned the top half of the piano, I took a long nap before returning for the recital.
I allowed myself a little too much time to warm up, because I soon got bored and decided to mingle with the audience – is that breaking any rules? In hindsight, I probably would rather not have been told by an enthusiastic ex-pianist that he was sure my performance of Scriabin’s third Sonata would be “much better than Ashkenazy’s”. What pressure!
Two hours later, I’m not sure that I did outclass Ashkenazy; but I got the impression that the audience really did enjoy the recital, from the comments I received. A woman said I had inspired her to go home and try playing through Chopin’s ‘5th‘ Ballade (presumably, she was joking about the number). I’m glad I chose to end with Liszt’s transcription of Isolde’s Liebestod (from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde), as it always puts me in a state of serenity (so I probably didn’t need the wine I drank afterwards) – although the ex-pianist didn’t hesitate to tell me he absolutely abhorred Liszt’s transcription (I couldn’t really agree with him).
All in all, the reception was wonderful and they did their best to allow me to practice and warm up beforehand; they even arranged a taxi for 5 am the next day (yikes!) in order that I didn’t miss my 7am flight back. True to my nature, I missed the taxi – but I made the flight, and all’s well that ends well, right?
In summary, I’m very grateful to Theme and Variations for sponsoring this trip as it has been a new experience for me to be a special guest overseas and to play such a long recital!