[the following text and photos were a submission from friend of the Foundation - Stefanos Theodoridis]
On the 26th of April, the Greek capital had the privilege to host a unique experimental event, based on Glenn Gould’s views on how live concerts should be. Back in 1962, at the Stratford Festival where he was serving as artistic director, Gould decided at last to make his teenage dream about non-applause concerts a reality. According to leading Gould biographer and scholar Kevin Bazzana “before the last number, instrumental arrangements from the Art of Fugue, he gave a speech in which he criticized the custom of automatic applause at concerts, which he derided as immoral and insincere – ‘an easily induced mob reaction’ – and considered particularly inappropriate after such esoteric fare. He requested that the audience refrain from responding, and, to emphasize his point, had the lights dimmed black during the final phrases of the last fugue. The audience was startled by the request, and, though most complied with it, the result was not the reverent silence Gould had wanted, but tittering, nervous coughs, and embarrassed shuffling. He received sixty letters about the Bach concert, half of which were supportive, and only one of which was abusive” (Wondrous Strange, The Life and Art of Glenn Gould, p. 213).
Fifty four years after Gould’s semi-successful attempt, Stefanos Theodoridis, gouldian scholar and translator of the best-selling anthology Glenn Gould, Σκέψεις για τη μουσική [Glenn Gould, Reflections on Music], published by Nefeli Publishing in 2012, was given carte-blanche by his dear friend, the composer and artistic director at “Porta” theatre Kornilios Selamsis (who by the way wrote the music for the acclaimed staging of Sophocle’s Elektra at the Stratford Festival back in 2012), to materialize at the theatre’s hall any gouldian project he wished. Theodoridis accepted the challenge and – since every creative work springs up initially from a personal, and sometimes egotistic, desire – he instantly felt that the one thing we would love to live in Gould’s time, was be a member of that Stratford audience back in 1962 and experience that – unique I guess in the musical annals – non-applause concert. Since Theodoridis was born in 1977, the only thing he could do was repeat that half-century old attempt, experiment – call it whatever you want. And of course, that would be a first-class opportunity for all music lovers to experience a very different kind of concert.
This time, though, he decided he would go not one but three steps further than Gould. In his “Glenn Gould interviews Glenn Gould about Glenn Gould” article (High Fidelity, 1974), the Canadian pianist wrote that “the artist… should be granted anonymity… He should be permitted to operate in secret, as it were, unconcerned with or, better still, unaware of the presumed demands of the marketplace which demands, given sufficient indifference on the part of a sufficient number of artists, will simply disappear. And given their disappearance, the artist will then abandon his false sense of "public" responsibility, and his "public" will relinquish its role of servile dependency.”
Thus, Theodoridis envisioned a piano recital where the undisclosed pianist (yes, the poster bear no name!) would also be almost invisible to the audience (even though Gould obviously didn’t mean “anonymity” that way). And even more he would play an undisclosed program (of works carefully selected for the occasion of course, i.e. introspective enough so as not to elicit any kind of response from the audience. A sort of “listen without prejudice” concert, to quote the U2 song. And even more than that, a concert where the artist would play not for his own but for art’s sake, thus renunciating any vanity on his/her part. All this in the hope – as the press release stated – “of turning the hall into a church, the interpreter into a priest and the audience into a congregation”. After all, Selamsis had the bright idea of scheduling the event for Holy Tuesday (I think Gould would be most happy with the religious connotations and all).
The event (supported – as all Theodoridis’ gouldian endeavours – by the Canadian Embassy of Greece, thanks to Ms. Zoe Delibasis’ (head of Cultural and Public affairs) zest, was publicized quite a lot – especially in the social media – and, judging from the comments to the relevant facebook post, it seemed that everybody was thrilled and anxious to live the experience. However the “congregation” was rather small (around 100 tickets were sold), no doubt due to that beautifull byzantine hymn, St. Kassiani’s hymn, traditionally sang at every greek church on Holy Tuesday, around 9 p.m.
The recital was preceded by a 30’ lecture given by Theodoridis, concerning aspects of the Canadian pianist’s life and art that can prove of significant pedagogical value for all aspiring – and established too! – pianists and musicians in general, giving emphasis to topics such as the artist’s contact with nature, creative solitude, choice of repertoire, practicing methods, the power of mental image, attitude towards the recording medium, choice of tempo, pedalling, architectural conception of music, kinesiology, psychosomatic relaxation, ecstasy, live concerts, competition, the mission of art e.t.c. Right after that, Selamsis introduced the audience to the rituals of the concert (“the lights will be dimmed, you will seat very quietly, you won’t applaude e.t.c.).
As if by sheer divine guidance, everybody was attuned to the introspective atmosphere. The hall was almost totally dark – apart from some dimmed lights on the roof. As for the stage, the piano was placed behind a black tulle, which gave quite an eerie impression to the audience and also a very vague impression of the pianist’s silhouette. The only light came from a dimmed roof spotlight fixed mainly on the keyboard, and two very small led lights placed on the lid so that the pianist could see the keys.
The sequence of events was as religiously – and touchingly too - simple and unaffected as one can imagine, which was Theodoridi’s goal by the way, i.e. that everything must unfold and flow very naturally. People sat at their seats, a few minutes afterwards the pianist appeared very calmly at the stage (just behind the tulle), sat at the piano, and after a few seconds of esoteric preparation – in which he might be praying as well – a most beautiful lyric and warm sound filled the hall, and it was really more like being out in the universe (the roof lights served as stars) and hearing a most dreamy sound coming out of nowhere. That first piece was fittingly short, minimalistic and introspective, more like a prayer. Then followed more extensive and complex works, until the 45’ program – which sprang out in one single breadth, with no intermission – reached a climax, which at the end of the recital reached a very natural resolution with a reprise of that first minimalistic work. The audience – in sharp contrast to Gould’s 1962 Stratford audience – kept a truly reverent silence (no coughs, no nothing) absorbed in the music rather than the visual aspect, which in anyway was – purposefully, so that no one would try to identify the pianist – almost non-existent. The only thing one could roughly see was a piano and a pianist’s silhouette at play. At the end of the program, the pianist calmly and smoothly rose from his seat and walked away in such a simple manner that for some reason it touched Theodoridis deeply and made a lasting impression on him; I guess the reason is the pianist’s faith in a higher ideal, that of serving art, acting like it’s high. After all, the reason Theodoridis and Selamsis selected that particular pianist – apart from musical considerations of course – was exactly that attitude. Even more, the pianist (an already established artist by the way), agreed to not having his name disclosed even after the recital, so right now nobody knows who was the artist they heard on that night. Now, isn’t that something?
Another divergence from Gould’s Stratford non-applause recital, is the unanimous praise it received from everyone present! (characteristically, a well-known theatre director told Selamsis that so much was he thinking and re-thinking aspects of the whole experience that he was unable to sleep!). And there are already many musicians in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second biggest city, almost begging for a follow-up! It seems that today the world is a bit more close to Gould’s view that “the purpose of art is not the release of a momentary ejection of adrenaline but is, rather, the gradual, lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity”. And who knows if Athens will become just the first in a series of cities all around the world which will host such non-applause (and anonymous) concerts!
In any case, Theodoridis feels touched and lucky to have been able to honour Gould’s ideals and ideas by actually implementing them (his firm belief is that it’s time we tried to do exactly that, rather than keep theorizing about him and his views) after more than half a century. It’s like giving him a second chance. Don’t we – and especially visionary artists like Gould – all deserve that?