Denis Matsuev at Royce Hall

My last visit to Royce Hall on the UCLA campus was a few years ago for the annual Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra silent film gala. It was a wonderful event and I knew I would return but I didn’t know it would take so long. Last Friday I finally had a chance to revisit the hall to attend the Denis Matsuev piano recital (I received complimentary tickets).

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Royce Hall was built in 1929 and was one of the first structures on the UCLA campus. It’s a beautiful Romanesque inspired building that has hosted such luminaries as George Gershwin, Ella Fitzgerald, Leonard Bernstein and good old Frankie.

Royce Hall

On Friday night it was the perfect spot to catch the piano virtuoso, Denis Matsuev.

Denis Matsuev

I enjoy classical music and have been to several live performances but am hardly an expert. I’ll leave that to the critics and will instead give my impression, as a casual fan, of the evening.

The first act consisted of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons. This series of 12 short pieces was originally published as a monthly series in a St. Petersburg music magazine. Each piece is based on a particular month and it’s played in order from January through December. As the evening’s program explained Tchaikovsky didn’t put a lot of effort into these pieces and, frankly, it shows. For me, it was a bit boring. I could hardly tell one piece from another and actually contemplated leaving at intermission. Nothing against, Mr. Matsuev, he played excellently but the music just didn’t inspire me.

Denis Matsuev

I decided to stick around because the next piece was Robert Schuman’s Kreisleriana Op. 16 and I’m a bit of a fan of the composer. In reading through the program I discovered that Schuman dedicated the piece to his future wife, Clara. After playing it she responded to him “You shock me sometimes. I wonder if it is true that this man will be my husband?” With that response I was surely intrigued.

As I listed to Mr. Matsuev’s masterful playing I began to understand just what Clara meant. It’s not exactly a love song. It’s heavy and dark filled with emotion and tempest. Matsuev pounded on the keys as if his life depended on it and throughout the piece it was as if Schuman’s every emotion, every heartache, every longing and passion was laid bare. It. Was. Intense.

To finish the night Matsuev performed Trois mouvements de Petrouchka by Stravinsky. I’m not the biggest Stravinksy fan and wasn’t sure if I would enjoy this piece. I was wrong. The piece is the antithesis of the Schuman work. Any heaviness is replaced by brightness and light. It’s upbeat, it’s energetic and it’s very, very fast. It was the perfect piece to showcase Denis Matuev’s incredible talent. At times his hands flew so fast over the keys they appeared as one big blur. One difficult passage after the other occurred and never once was there a misstep. It was effortless and incredibly beautiful. On the final note I had to hold myself back from jumping to my feet and shouting. It was fantastic.

For my return to Royce Hall I picked the perfect show. It was a night I won’t soon forget.

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