The Art of Listening
Javor Bračić, piano
National Opera Center, New York, NY
September 17, 2017
The 7th floor Rehearsal Hall at the National Opera Center was a perfect venue for this most interesting hour- long event, an interactive investigation and performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 1. During the half hour before the scheduled start, pianist Javor Bračić mingled with the gathering audience while encouraging them to sample the wine and cheese set out in the back of the hall. As there is no raised stage in this space, the piano was at audience level, making for a continued intimate connection between performer and audience. I especially liked the fact that the piano was turned diagonally so that there was no “keyboard-side,” allowing all audience members the coveted view of the performer’s hands.
As stated in the event’s publicity material (notice I do not call this a “recital”) Mr. Bračić wishes both to break down the wall between performer and audience, and to give his listeners a deeper understanding of what they are hearing. It is a pleasure to say that he succeeded in both endeavors.
After a brief statement as to how the session would be organized, we heard a masterful performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in C# minor, Op. 27 No. 1. (But this was just a taste of Mr. Bračić’s pianism. I look forward to hearing a full recital.) He then asked the audience for any thoughts about the piece. After a silence, which felt longer that it really was, people began to overcome their shyness and spoke. Words like “sad,” happy,” “victorious,” were followed by stories people thought the music evoked. I, being a trained musician, thought major, minor, modulation, ternary form. I had to say to myself: “Stop! Just see what Mr. Bračić will do.”
Soon, after playing the opening two measures of the piece (the left hand playing just C#’s and G#’s,) he asked if the music was happy or sad. Silence followed. Both Mr. Bračić and I knew why. I raised my hand and said “We don’t know yet.” As I had just stepped on his line, Mr. Bračić made a joke about the showoff in the audience and proceeded to add an E, the first note of the right hand. “Sad,” said the audience, for this made the chord C#-E-G# – a minor triad. The next note in the right hand was E#, which then created a major triad. This was a brilliant way of introducing major and minor, concepts which are very important to understanding this Chopin Nocturne.
The concepts of polyphony, modulation and chromaticism were introduced in equally clever and easy- to- understand ways. (Upon re-reading the previous paragraph and seeing how convoluted it is, I won’t try to explain how he did it.)
The hour ended with another beautiful performance of the Nocturne. Three more events in the series will take place this season at the National Opera Center, when works by Chopin, Mozart and Samuel Barber will be performed, discussed and elucidated. I wish him continued success in this laudable project.