Tuesday, December 6, 2011: First Impressions
The man who walked on stage with an odd gait exuded sternness. A man in his later prime, with a black bow tie around the collar of his stiff white shirt, he approached the lone grand piano in Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum empty-handed. His grey hair, left a little longer on top, did little to soften this impression.
I had not known what to expect, never having seen Tomáš Víšek before, with the biography on his website showing a smiling younger man in what was seemingly a communist-era photograph. Not only do regimes change, but also people.
But this was the real Tomáš Víšek, one of the most significant pianists of his generation, who has traveled throughout Europe and to countries such as Japan, Egypt, and the USA during his extensive concert career. He studied at the Prague Conservatory (1972-1976), and is currently himself a teacher at the Academy of Arts Faculty of Music (HAMU).
He sat down a little stiffly on the piano bench, making minimal contact with the audience; wiped his nose in his handkerchief, as he would do several more times during the performance; folded and placed it back in his pocket; and started to play.There was no rustling of pages of notes. As much as he had come empty-handed, there were no notes waiting for him at the piano either. The only letters anywhere on the stage were “FOK” on a tastefully subdued sign to the right of the piano, indicating that this was a concert under the auspices of the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
He launched into works by Carl Maria Von Weber, Franz Liszt, Bedřich Smetana, Václav Jan Tomašek, and Vítězslav Novák. His fingers danced over the keys like little hammers. Technically brilliant, he played as though there was no audience in the hall and his job was simply to fill it with music. Periodically the faintest hint of a smile would briefly retrace his features, but this was purely introspective.
After the intermission, the music was noticeably more melodic. His fingers raced across the keys, hands crossing each other and even one hand playing the keys on either side of the hand below. Now he would smile and, on occasion, survey the audience with a piercing gaze.
And indeed, the latter half of the performance saw Tomáš Víšek not just playing on the piano, but playing with the piano — using slightly theatrical gestures in a dignified manner, unconsciously enraptured by the music. These are the mannerisms that are so often misused by performers many times his junior, giving them comedic and insincere effect.
Tomáš Víšek portrayed himself as a gentleman. And yet, just to demonstrate that the impression of cool dignity and playfulness are not mutually exclusive, he performed Jaroslav Ježek’s ragtime Bugatti Step for his third encore, much to the delight of the audience. — oo
– Hana Škrdlová
Photo Credits: Top: Hana Škrdlová; bottom, Tomás Víšek