Meg is the Bristol Old Vic Marketing Manager, super keen singer, pianist and lover of theatre.
“I drink Virgin Bloody Marys but I use pedal for Bach” – Ji Liu
Ji Liu instantly put the audience at ease with his introduction to Cage’s 4’33. There was a complete lack of pretention in his explanation of the piece, as he explained that a successful performance relied on collaboration from the audience – this felt particularly appropriate within the context of Bristol Proms.
Seeing a projection of Ji flexing his fingers above the bare score, almost as if in frustration that he couldn’t place them on the keys, did offer a privileged insight into his performance. But, for me, my own pretention meant some of the significance of the silence was lost by visual distraction. 4’33 was over before I had managed to have any profound thoughts or realisations, and I was left feeling that I should have managed a better supporting performance for Ji.
Ji’s introduction to the Goldberg Variations had echoes of Bryn’s tales from the previous afternoon about his training. Both musicians revealed that there was repertoire their teachers did not think they were ready for, that they were forced to explore in their own time. For Ji this was the Goldberg Variations, which he memorised in two weeks. Ji’s absolute dedication to communicating this “undisputed masterpiece” (his words) was breath-taking.
From the first note of the aria I knew that something unforgettable was about to unfold on the stage in front of me.
Ji, equating Bach without pedal to a Bloody Mary without vodka, embraced the technology of the Steinway – as I can’t help but believe Bach would have done had he been writing today. There were moments when it felt like we were listening to Rachmaninov, and such a passionate interpretation was, for me, more powerful than one that’s key feature is technical precision.
As we soared, and settled, and soared again with each variation, the beauty of great art, and the astonishing skills of a virtuoso musician in communicating this art, was wonderful to witness. The return of the aria felt simultaneously heart-breaking and invigorating– to return to such a point of stillness seemed to suggest both hopeless inevitability and simmering potential. What surprised me was that it also felt oddly amusing, as if Bach, via Ji, was making a warmly immodest point about all he had managed to draw from those eight bars.