ROOKIE REVIEW: Dan Tepfer: Goldberg Variations/Variations

Rookie Reviewer Ceri Flanagan joined an intimate audience in Symphony Hall for a performance of a unique take on Bach’s Goldberg Variations

Dan Tepfer is a pianist and composer originally from Paris born to American parents. His bicultural and bilingual upbringing is reflected through his musical expression whereby he seamlessly combines two very different genres: classical and jazz. Tepfer states that he is more attracted to content than to form, something which is clearly manifested through his interpretation of J.S Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ given that the performance is unconventional in a number of ways. Mr Tepfer begins by playing Bach’s Aria with sophistication and elegance before pausing for a short time and then performing his improvised jazz variation, a format which is repeated throughout the recital.

Before the performance I was unsure what to expect. I found it hard to imagine how Bach’s thirty variations could be played in the style of jazz and was worried that a modern interpretation might lose the original character and grace of the well- known piece. I also questioned how a solo pianist would be able to fully utilise the acoustics of such a large venue. However, due to the critical acclamation of Tepfer’s version, I did expect to witness an innovative and unique performance and this is exactly what I experienced.

The eighty minute recital drifted through major, minor and often ambiguous keys and the extensive use of dynamics had a captivating affect on the audience. As I looked around, listeners seemed to be entranced by the performance and at one moment, someone dropped what appeared to be a phone which alarmed myself and many other members of the audience as it felt as though we had suddenly been awoken out of a hypnotic state imposed by Tepfer’s playing.

Additionally, to my surprise, the performance was more interactional than I had presumed it would be as the audience were seated on the stage which created an intimate atmosphere. Sitting so close to Dan Tepfer meant that I could often hear him humming which gave the performance a more relaxed and personal feel to it. Despite the large capacity of the venue, at times it seemed as though we were listening to him practice in his own home due to the improvisational nature of the performance. I found this enjoyable because it provided a stark contrast to larger and more formal orchestral productions.

It was a performance of contrast from the outset and throughout from chaotic melodies and heavy handed, contrapuntal jazz improvisation, to soft, classical harmonies and moments of silence. Tepfer pushed the boundaries of musical performance by often using unexpected and un-resolving chords, as well as exploiting the full instrumentation potential of the grand piano by plucking the strings and tapping the framework which captured the interest and imagination of the audience.

The recital was unique and original and clearly conveyed Tepfer’s love of both jazz and classical music. It therefore was a performance accessible to those who are fans of either or both genres and the applause reflected the audience’s appreciation for his indisputable talent.

Ceri Flanagan is a student from Birmingham reading for a Bachelor of Science degree in English Language at Aston University. As a keen pianist, guitarist and singer-songwriter, she has always had an interest in live music extending over a variety of genres such as Classical, Rock, Jazz and Soul. She is particularly attracted to music which is innovative, inspiring and original, thus is delighted to have been given the opportunity to review a diverse range of performances at the iconic Town Hall and Symphony Hall, Birmingham.