American pianist Garrick Ohlsson plays during rehearsal of Special Concert on the 200th Anniversary of Fryderyk Chopin?s Birth at Warsaw Philharmonic

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote in a letter: ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants’. A concept perhaps made relatively more colloquial by physicist Stephen Hawking in 2002, it seems to remain timeless and infinite in nature. If we want to achieve greatness, we must first scale with intrepid determination, the shoulders of giants. However, the more you meditate on such a concept the less desirable it seems it should be, beginning ones own discoveries and revelations – from a personal level to that of intellectual stimulation – must always begin with close studies and interpretations of those who have tried before you, although we generally strive to conclude our journey with our own innovations and ideas. Sure, climbing the shoulders of giants sounds like a respectable endeavor, but once you are staring into infinite potential from the zenith, the last hurdle to climb is yourself. It was on October 12th at the Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco that we understood the distinction between metaphysical and physical interactions. More importantly, it’s where we understood that great artists don’t copy, great artists become.

Sitting in one of the most winsome symphonies can be one of the most pleasing and interesting musical experiences. Upon entering the symphony I was a firm believer in the aforementioned belief of innovation over imitation; however, now I can confidently identify the fine-line between imitation and mastery. Music is a movement, stirring and inspiring music lovers, in therapeutic trance. It is one thing to make the body sway, another to make the emotions pour.

Garrick Ohlsson took us on a revelation of a lifetime. The Grammy Award winning pianist entered with modest serenity and continued with a truly beautiful performance. Filled with ebbs and flows of a dynamic range of emotions, spanning the entire spectrum of human condition, clenching our bodies with invisible dictation, the orchestra executed pieces of which were intense – to say the least. We were lost in the beautiful chaos which, rather oddly, brought order to our thoughts.

Unsurprisingly, the virtuoso, Garrick Ohlsson, brought the audience to a unanimous stance of appraisal. His stunning performance left little to words but everything to emotions. The orchestra and Ohlsson’s complimentary execution was an idiosyncratic piece of art; it was strange because every timbre from every instrument dictated a unique brush painting a canvas; every emotion had it’s own representation of color; every story and direction it’s own storyboard. It was as if there was a theatrical show infused with every emotion known to man conquering our inner thoughts. Without the emotional connection to Ohlsson’s performance, this experience would have been left incomplete, however, it was beautiful.


It was Ohlsson’s final solo piece which showed the flaws in the skepticism surrounding imitation. In 1970, Ohlsson won the International Frédéric Chopin Piano Competition, and we were fortunate enough to be left with Chopin’s Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2. Inexplicable to myself, the first five notes immediately commanded my body to respond with tears of magnanimity; a part of me knew I was hearing something I will possibly never hear again, some mastery I will soon learn to appreciate, and some moment which will etch itself in my ability for self-discovery. It’s not that there are not enough words in any language to fully convey the skill and perfection from Ohlsson; it’s that every note carried a profound emotion, whilst every word would not carry the same weight to that tonal and sensory effect. Garrick Ohlsson did not reproduce Chopin, he became the music he was playing.

Treading the fine line that is the boundary between imitation and mastery, quickly submerging into the pool of mastery, and re-emerging with ebullience and inspiration, if anything can be asserted with dignity, it’s that the beguiling beauty of Ohlsson’s mastery has added a piano on top of the shoulder of giants for the greats to be reminded that music will follow you wherever you go and beauty may just be the octave of self-fulfillment.

Article by Nikos Zarikos



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