Pianist points to unique pedaling technique

Oct. 17, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Pianist Fabio Bidini will perform Sunday with the Hawai'i Symphony Orchestra. (Courtesy SV Hoepcker)

Pianist Fabio Bidini will perform Sunday with the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra. (Courtesy SV Hoepcker)

BY STEVEN MARK / smark@staradvertiser.com

Piano fans are always drawn to the artist’s fingers, reveling in watching them fly across the keyboard.

HAWAI’I SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA: FRENCH IMPRESSIONS

Fabio Bidini, guest pianist; Bruno Ferrandis, guest conductor

» Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
» When: 4 p.m. Sunday
» Cost: $32-$90
» Info: (808) 946-8742, hawaiisymphonyorchestra.com

Pianist Fabio Bidini, however, would tell you the “magic moments” are really happening at his feet. That’s where he uses the left pedal, known as the una corda, or “soft” pedal. On a grand piano, depressing the pedal shifts the hammers of the piano slightly to one side so that different parts of the hammers strike the strings.

“The left pedal is the only thing that permits you to change quality of sound, because it’s changing the percussion point of the hammer into the string,” he said. “There are spots of the hammer that are much harder, and there are a spots that are little bit softer. That doesn’t mean that you play softer; it means that it produces a sound that is not as bright, but a little more round.”

Few pieces put this technique on better display than the second movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G, which Bidini performs Sunday with the Hawai’i Symphony Orchestra. The program also features Bruno Ferrandis conducting a French program of Ravel, Debussy and Satie.

The second movement of Ravel’s concerto, marked “adagio assai” (especially slow), is a dreamy, flowing movement of subtle variations in pulse and harmony.

“It’s a phenomenal movement. It’s like antigravity, like walking on the moon,” said Bidini, who said he now plays the piece much slower than in years past.

While the second movement largely involves gentle interplay between piano and orchestra, it opens with a long piano solo. That allows Bidini to explore the colors of the instrument by pedaling on almost every note.

“Definitely every note in the slow parts in the very beginning,” he said.

“When the sixteenth and thirty-second notes are coming in, you cannot do it, so you go by the color of the harmony and by what the orchestra is suggesting to you, because you need to adapt your interpretation also to what the orchestra does.”

As a whole, the concerto is more than mood music. It opens with a snappy, jazzy movement that reminds many of Gershwin.

“It’s a very challenging piece for everyone. It’s very jazzy, it’s full of blues, full of rhythm,” Bidini said. “Every part of the orchestra, woodwinds especially, have a terribly difficult part, and terribly beautiful.”

Hearing the similarities between Ravel and Gershwin, many assume Gershwin mimicked the composer, but Bidini pointed out that this is not the case. In fact, much of Gershwin’s work predates this concerto.

“We have to read it in the opposite way,” Bidini said. “Gershwin went to Ravel and asked, ‘Please, can you give me lessons?’ and Ravel said, ‘Why do you want to be a bad Ravel when you can be a great Gershwin?'”

BIDINI PERFORMED with the Honolulu Symphony in 2005 and 2006 to rave reviews. The Italian native won several European piano competitions as a young prodigy in the 1990s, and now teaches at a major conservatory in Berlin.

For all that experience, he approaches his concerts with a fresh enthusiasm.

“Every time you walk on stage is like the first time,” he said. “I cannot deny that today I play in a completely different way than I did when I was 15 or 20, thank God!

“Of course, the physical aspect of it is more difficult — I cannot run 100 meters as fast as I did when I was 20. But the musical aspect, the approach to life, the approach to the music, how you read the score, it’s much more fascinating actually now than before, because now you have life experience.”

Conductor Ferrandis was born in Algiers in 1960, raised in Nice, France, and lives in Paris. He trained in London and at Juilliard, where he conducted the pre-college orchestra, and has recorded three CDs with the Radio France Orchestra.

He will conduct a program of French music in all of its moods and colors, including a Debussy work that should resonate with Hawaii audiences: “La Mer” (The Sea), which consists of symphonic sketches of the ocean. To illustrate the work, he chose as the cover for the published work a detail from “The Hollow of the Wave off Kanagawa,” one of the famous prints by Japanese artist Hokusai housed at the Honolulu Museum of Art.

Also on the program are orchestrated versions of two pieces from Erik Satie’s “Gymnopedies.” The work has inspired many contemporary artists, from rock band Blood, Sweat and Tears to slack-key guitarist Keola Beamer.

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