Lubomyr Melnyk – St George’s, Bristol

Thursday 10th October, 2019

When I started writing, as part of 40 gigs, I used to open my laptop as soon as I got in from a gig to capture everything as quickly as possible. As time ticked by and I wrote more and more (there are over 200 entries on this blog now) and I went to an increasing number of gigs the pace at which I write has slowed. There are still gigs I am desperate to write about, of course, times when words come tumbling out like a stream. Then there are others where I need time to contemplate and ruminate on before the words will come. And then there are gigs like this one where the words just will not appear. Hence it taking 5 days to even start.

I had this gig on my radar, on the planning list for autumn (there are paper lists and a spreadsheet, I have to be organised with the sheer number I attend) for a while. I was planning to wait for the culture flash sale. Then I heard Lubomyr on Radio 3’s Late Junction and I thought to myself, I had better get a ticket for this guy, he’s really good.

The past week or so has been a really strange time for me emotionally. Lots of random, irrational crying. The change of seasons, the loss of light, the increase in rain, the loss of love, all weighing on me. Music has always been my release, my light, my key. And in David McAlmont the night before that had been so very true and I had a wonderful evening. I needed and expected something special from Lubomyr and I guess I was left feeling disappointed when I didn’t get it.

I cannot fault his technical skill as a pianist – his repetition and crescendo building, note after note endlessly crashing into and over each other, his hands flying at bewildering speed across the keys, was something to behold. But it did not land emotionally with me. I expected to be carried away on a beautiful cloud of music (the music doesn’t have to be happy in subject for this by the way). Instead I found myself wondering when it would end.

Partly this was influenced by Lubomyr being, to put it politely, eccentric. To be anti-science and evidence is a problem to me; it may not be perfect but scientific rigour is about the best we have. To dismiss sound waves as baloney when you are a musician? Just confusing. His insistence on moving his piano 3 feet closer, against the skill, experience and acoustic knowledge of the venue staff (St George’s know their stuff) was arrogant and annoying. It made zero difference to anyone but Lubomyr. Strange I can deal with, challenging I can deal with, but this was something I found uncomfortable.

The music itself was good and there is nothing wrong with good. I wanted and needed spectacular, incredible, to be moved to another realm of consciousness. Was I asking too much? I’ve been lucky enough to hear some amazing and transformative pianists play. I’ve been taken on journeys into other realms. I’ve had music move my soul.

There are so many factors that influence a gig experience, many of which are impossible to pin down. Sometimes the music can be amazing and yet I still leave feeling miserable. Perhaps it was my general malaise, perhaps other factors were at play, whatever it was this wasn’t a vintage gig experience. I’ve had other gig funks before. With a packed week of events, Festival of Ideas talks, live music, theatre, political panels and poetry events ahead I hope this one doesn’t last too long.

Part of the reason I continue to write is to help me process. There is something in the act of typing words that helps my brain to make sense of the experience. It focuses and distils and enables my jumbled wires to connect. There is a stillness to writing that helps me. Perhaps putting off writing about this gig was about running away from my own emotions and admitting that things are hard for me right now.

What I know is that I am glad that Lubomyr Melnyk played in Bristol and that he has developed a style of playing that it his own. I also know that I wasn’t the intended audience for it last week. His music and me weren’t compatible on that evening, in that time and in that place.

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