I got my first taste of the Adelaide Festival’s ‘livestream’ format last night watching Igor Levit performing at Her Majesty’s Theatre. In lieu of having performers perform live in person, some of the festival’s largest acts are beamed in this year from venues across the world, with the production values to match. I watched the lingering excitement that at any moment, Levit could break this slick, cinematic fourth wall and respond to an audience on the other side of the world.
A short opening chat, in contrast was done over zoom – and it better reflected who Levit seems to be as a person. Having gone viral on Twitter for his series of quarantine concerts and for being outspoken on his political views, he explained away his motive for doing so simply, as a musician, he felt the need to perform to an audience, in whatever form, to feel at ease and a sense of normality in unprecedented times. He dismissed a prod from the hosts to tie his performance to his politics – it was simply too early in the morning in Germany for that, and he launched into a performance of Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.
The Diabelli Variations are considered to be among the most virtuosic of Beethoven’s pieces, and allowed Levit to display his range as a pianist in a performance that calls for it. Each repeating form soared high and low, and across forms there was a strong, irreverent contrast of tone and mood. The theatre’s sound system audibly buzzed at the extremities, but I felt that added to the rawness of the performance.
Without a background in classical music I took the performance at face value, and found the structure meditative, was made acutely aware of how much control a pianist of Levit’s skill could play identical notes and sections, sounding jarringly different. With a range of emotions bursting from the same repeating structures, the performance was a perfect analogue and antidote for what audiences and performers alike have been through the last year.
– Tin Do