Classical pianist not so traditional

Music: Calgarian's concert features unique pieces

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Sep 26, 2012 09:29 am

Calgary concert pianist Matthew Blackburn
Calgary concert pianist Matthew Blackburn
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A Calgary pianist is not playing the typical selections one might hear at a classical concert.

In fact, Matthew Blackburn will be giving classical music fans a rare treat in Okotoks on Sept. 30 when he plays selections by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky, impressionist Claude Debussy and the romantic Franz Liszt as part of Alberta Culture Days.

“I’m selecting pieces that have varied interest and appeal, pieces people might not normally get a chance to hear on a regular basis,” he said. “The pieces I’m playing I’ve never heard other people perform.”

Among his favourites is Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” written for the piano, but made famous when it was reworked into an orchestral piece following his death.

Blackburn said the piece depicts 10 paintings by Mussorgsky’s friend Viktor Hartmann, with musical segments representing each painting.

“It’s just wonderful,” he said. “It’s a piece that doesn’t get performed too often. I never heard anyone play it live myself.”

Blackburn will also bring to life compositions written by Debussy and Liszt.

“These are pieces I really love,” he said. “It’s the diversity and mostly the vividness of the writing and the pictures that are portrayed through music, through sound.”

Blackburn said he hopes the audience will be just as enthralled as he is by the pieces.

“There is a vast range of repertoire that is worth listening to,” he said. “It can make for a really exceptional experience for the audience as well.”

With his energetic performance on the piano Blackburn anticipates his interpretations of the Mussorgsky, Debussy and Liszt pieces will resonate with the audience.

“For me it’s the energy and the passion that I bring to my performances and just to be able to capture the attention of the audience and make it engaging,” he said.

Those in attendance who have an appreciation for music, but little understanding of the classic pieces won’t leave unsatisfied. Blackburn said he will explain each piece and answer questions from the audience during the performance.

“Most people will enjoy a concert but will enjoy it a lot more if they know more about what’s going on,” he said. “The music I’m playing has descriptive titles that are character pieces. There are specific extra musical references beyond the notes on the page.”

Classical music touched Blackburn at a young age. He has been playing for 20 years having studied at the Victoria Conservatory of Music and the University of Lethbridge. He is currently completing his Masters degree at the University of Calgary.

He said it’s the complexity, simplicity, harmony and rhythm of the cohesive masterpieces that has captured his interest in classical music.

“I don’t think there is a more fascinating genre of music to perform,” he said. “It’s an extremely complicated art form.”

Blackburn has taken his musical talents to communities across Canada, from Vancouver Island to St. John’s, Newfoundland, on his own and through the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.

“I perform in small and big places,” he said. “I’m passionate about bringing the arts to smaller communities.”

Having the opportunity to share his talent during Alberta Culture Days makes the experience that much more exceptional.

“It adds to what Okotoks is doing as far as promoting their arts scene and bringing in people such as myself,” he said. “I think that’s really fantastic.”

Town of Okotoks culture and historical services team leader Allan Boss said Blackburn’s classical show fits well with Alberta Culture Days, particularly his performance of “Pictures at an Exhibition.”

“The great thing about this is we are doing a quick draw event on the streets of Okotoks the day before the concert,” he said. “Saturday there will be artists all over Okotoks drawing pictures and they will be exhibiting pictures in the basement while the concert is going on. It’s a great connection.”

Boss said he is looking forward to hearing Blackburn’s performance of the piece.

“One of the movements of the piece is called ‘Chicks hatching out of the shells,’” he said. “When you hear the piece and see the picture it’s amazing.”

Boss finds Blackburn’s concert to be a great addition to the weekend’s events, exposing residents and visitors to a variety of musical genres.

“It’s really exciting to get him out to play that concert and expose people to that music,” he said.

Boss said Alberta Minister of Culture Heather Klimchuk is expected to drop by the Rotary Performing Arts Centre at about 4 p.m. to meet the artists and say a few words. Blackburn’s concert begins at 3 p.m.


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