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An impossible beauty

Tacoma Symphony opens up its Russian Season

Andreas Boyd, performs his magic Saturday at the Pantages. Photo credit:

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There's a little-seen but eminently watchable movie from 2013 called Grand Piano. The film, framed as a sort of cross between Speed, Phone Booth, and the most stressful recital you've ever seen, stars Elijah Wood as a concert pianist who spent years in seclusion following a poor performance of a supposedly "unplayable" piece known as "La Cinquette." His first performance back, and - wouldn't you know it - a psycho (John Cusack) has informed him via earpiece that he must play "La Cinquette" flawlessly, or he will be killed.

The Hitchcockian thriller is deeply silly, but ultimately effective, as it comes from a screenplay from Damian Chazelle, who would later write and direct a much better picture of musical obsession with Whiplash. The piece of music, "La Cinquette," was composed especially for the film, but the fact remains that the idea of musical perfection is a powerful one in some corners of culture (Chazelle then creating Whiplash makes me wonder if musicians killed his parents).

It's because of this strive for perfection - especially in the realms of classical and jazz music - that people like Andreas Boyde can be celebrated to the extent that they are. Known by the nickname "Monsieur 100,000 Volts," Boyde is famed for his impeccable ability to recreate little-heard pieces that are renowned for their difficulty as much as for their beauty.

The Tacoma Symphony's Russian Season Opening will feature Boyde, as he performs the notoriously difficult "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Tchaikovsky. As Boyde says, referring to the differences between Tchaikovsky's first and second concertos, "The first has beautiful melodies which are not really developed. The second is much more cohesive, with motifs that are common to all three movements."

Music being inherently transportive, it's fitting that Boyde would then follow up this complex piece with "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky. This is a suite of pieces that replicates a trip through a gallery, with each piece representing a different work of art. Of course, this is an idea that has stood the test of time, with each collection of music meant to evoke different emotions and visions. Pop music has even taken hold of the notion, with prog-rock albums all too willing to transport listeners to different lands, both at a global and street level. The Who's Quadrophenia stands to me as an immensely transportive experience, as a wonderfully gloomy, rainy day album, and as a triumphant record of catharsis.

I confess that classical music is not as ingrained in my musical knowledge as pop music, but the funny thing is this: music will always possess a visceral experience that is singularly its own. There's an inherent power to music that I sometimes liken to math. I don't need to understand every aspect of it to know that music powers much of life, through the sort of ineffable magic that can only come from these certain sounds that - whether we know them or not - have the capability to tingle our spines and raise hairs on our arms.

Seeing someone play a near-impossible piece is like seeing a magic trick done right before your eyes; you don't need to believe in magic to appreciate a person harnessing it. With the Russian Season Opening, the Tacoma Symphony is celebrating a burst of creativity that happened in a time when creatives were held up as people of which to be in awe. These days, you can't turn a corner without running into an artist; back then people like Tchaikovsky were gods among men, and their challenges will soon be met by Andreas Boyde.

Pantages Theatre, Saturday, Oct. 3, 7:30 p.m., $12 Students, $19-$80 GA, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, 253.272.7264

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