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Benjamin Grosvenor is God

Benjamin Grosvenor is God

Up here in Glasgow, presenting on the BBC Young Musician of the Year semi-finals. It’s fabulous hanging out over breakfast eggs and coffee hearing 3 concert pianist jurors chatting about working with Rattle or touring Japan or Graham Fitkin’s new concerto – “Is it good?” Musicians are so inspiring to me. I’ve been reading Daniel Barenboim’s conversations with Edward Said and he speaks rather mystically about the creation of sound out of silence and the exqusite fleetingness of performance.

In many ways the ungraspable fluidity of music – the fact that dwelling too long on one musical moment fatally impairs your apprehension of the next – is a Buddhist teaching. Alles vergeht. And music is the supreme articulation of that. Live music that is. CD recordings allow us to rewind, replay and pause but a live concert performance has a unique transience that can be sublime.

Last night was the 5 piano semi-finalists and that live quality was much in evidence. Late teenagers sitting infront of the piano with all the raw emotion and self-consciousness of late teenagers. That electric energy working at or through their perfomance.

Then a tiny little 11-year-old, Benjamin Grosvenor, trotted on, balanced himself on the piano stool and began to play.

It was almost spooky to hear the beauty of expression and tone that this 11-year-old magicked out of the keyboard. It was as if he was channelling Horowitz or Glenn Gould. Such a tiny chap with a mop of badly cut hair and thick Clark shoes. And yet he played like a fully adult man in full possession of the finest, maturest sensibilities. In fact, the contrast between the maturity of the music and his physical immaturity felt almost unnatural. As if he was infact a 40-year-old man shrunk to dwarfish size.

Not only did he play exquisitely well, he (or his teacher) had exquisitly apposite taste. He chose technically athletic Scarlatti sonatas and a beautifully lyrical piece by Balakirev, But most extraordinary was a set of Five Bagatelles by the Australian composer Carl Vine.

Rolf Hind, the chairman of the jury, told me afterwards that Vine’s pieces are extremely exacting to play and that the last, beautiful movement was written by Vine as an elegy to AIDS victims in Australian. All the other competitors ended their recitals with barnstorming virtuoso pieces, but Bejamin played out with this excoriatingly beautiful pianissimo work which suspended breath and dilated souls.

When Daniel Barenboim was 11 he played for Fuertwangler and was invited to leave Tel Aviv and study with the great conductor in Berlin. (His parents declined.) I think I saw another Barenboim in the making last night. An extraordinary, almost supernatural talent.

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