For the Love of Blues

15 May 2012

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Marcel Worms

For piano music aficionados, last Sunday’s piano concert, featuring the Dutch pianist Marcel Worms, was a rare treat of blues-inspired compositions. Okechukwu Uwaezuoke reports

MUSON Centre’s habitués must have enthusiastically ticked off this date in their calendars. Coming so close on the heels of Gordon Fergus-Thompson’s piano concert at the same venue, this was a bonus.

Not a few among the suitably decorous audience at the Agip Recital Hall must have drooled over the prospects of this first-rate concert. Nor could the compère’s caveat to the effect that the compositions by the Dutch pianist, Marcel Worms, would be “very unusual” have lessened any aficionado’s enthusiasm.

Granted, Piano compositions with bluesy provenance may offend the sensibilities of classical music purists. But not when a man with Worms’ talent and antecedents was involved. After the initial five compositions in the programme’s first part, which were about water, the rest was blues-inspired.

Truly unusual was the accompanying slide presentation of photographs depicting water scenes. These photographs formed part of an exhibition that toured a handful of other Nigerian cities, including Abuja with the concert. All this was at the instance of the Ikoyi, Lagos-based African Artists’ Foundation (better known as AAF), which again is an unusual organiser of a MUSON Centre concert.

A few quick asides: The haunting melodies of Charles Tomlinson Griffes’s “The Lake at Evening” resonated in a couple of slide photographs but might have lulled the audience into dreaminess. None of the photographs seemed suitable enough for the intricate motifs of Claude Debussy’s “Reflets Dans L’eau” (Reflections in Water), which explores the play of light on water. Then, there was the fact that the subjects of some of the photographs constituted an obvious distraction.

Back on the stage, the Dutch pianist’s nimble finger movement on the keyboard must have had a spellbinding effect on the audience. Or how else could anyone explain the awkward interludes of silence between the conclusions of each of the pieces and their deserved applause?

Yet, the dazzling talents of this alumnus of Amsterdam’s Sweelinck Conservatorium - appropriately burnished by his lustrous credentials – would be hard to ignore in serious music circles. An eloquent testimonial of this was his invitation to tour several venues in Europe countries, North America, Russia, South Africa and Indonesia.

His last Sunday’s repertoire of compositions proclaimed his versatility and, perhaps, his predilection for exploring new terrains from the rooftops. While the Catalan Spanish composer Federico Mompou’s “El Lago” (The Lake) or the Italian composer Luciano Berio’s “Wasserklavier” (Water Piano) shared similar meditative elements, Margaret Bond’s “Troubled Water” traipsed from swing music-like tempo to dramatic urgency.

The concert eventually dovetailed into the blues-inspired segment from the segment, subtitled “Water No Get Enemy” in Pidgin English. In many of the pieces, there would be overlaps between blues motifs and compositions with roots reaching out to places like Syria (Kinan Azmeh’s “Waiting for Friday”), Tunisia (Mohammed Ali Kammoun’s “Turan Blues”) and Justino Chemane’s “Nganda Blues”.

On resumption after the 15-minute interval, the concert began to lapse into that numbingly predictable déjà vu feeling. Blame this on the similarity of the blues motifs of the compositions. Perhaps, the few exceptions were Ayo Oluranti’s “Omi” (Water) and his parting shot, both of which drew from the motifs of Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s “Water No Get Enemy”.

Obviously, the ground had shifted from the contemplative and the conventional to more danceable rhythms.
Joey Roukens’s “Blues on a Bright Background” scoured the moods of diverse genres like Boogie-Woogie, Rock ‘n Roll, Swing, Gospel, Soul, Funk and R&B, among others, to enliven the familiar blues mournfulness. So did Stefan Koch’s “Soccer Blues (for the Honourable Vondelrangers)”, which was cobbled together from a lot of melodic fragments.

Even Ed Wertwijn’s “Blues for Mike”, which was dedicated to the fond memory of the composer’s late American psychoanalyst friend Michael Chayes, seemed virtually bereft on dirge-like qualities.

Nevertheless, the Dutch pianist’s deftness at harnessing the sublime lingered throughout the duration of the concert. So, alas, did the discomfiting interludes between the end of the pieces and the applauses. As the blues-inspired compositions followed closely on the heels of each other, they must have blurred into some kind of cold sameness. Clearly, something about the mood of the compositions kept lulling the audience into lassitude. Several times during the concert, the pianist himself doubled as a prompter.

Of course, there were lots of dramatic moments in some of the compositions. This obviously guaranteed the audience’s wakefulness and attentiveness.

Give Worms his due: he has launched himself into the privileged league of outstanding performers.
More rousing were his obvious skills, which should compel a peek into his antecedents. Besides his many years of performing in high-profile festivals and venues in many countries, Worms founded the Ensemble Polytonal in the early 1990s and released several CD albums. Since his graduation in 1987 till date, he has entrenched himself in the circuit as a maestro.
His MUSON Centre concert was only a confirmation of his pedigree. 

Tags: Life and Style, Arts and Review, Featured, Blues

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