Last night at La Casa de la Musica in Quito, Ecuador, something very rare happened. A German pianist named Laurens Patzlaff, influenced so we were told by Oscar Peterson and Robert Schumann, sat down solo at a piano and played Bernstein’s ‘Glitter and Be Gay’ from the musical/film Candide. However, any audience member who was expecting a straight forward performance was in for a surprise. Laurens is an improviser and, whilst the essence of the original number could clearly be heard at times the improvisation around the tune was simply outstanding. Laurens showed what improvisation means – he took the root chords, worked the keys and modulated, changed and altered them until they were a resemblance of the original, then he put them back together, finishing almost poetically with the original 4 chords. Absolutely outstanding.
What followed were 5 more Bernstein pieces including ‘Maria’, I Feel Pretty’, ‘America’ and ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story – that re-vamped tale of Romeo and Juliet set in the streets of New York and preceded with ‘Chichester Psalms’. Quite what Bernstein would have made of it all no one can say but it was entertaining to say the least.
Then for the second half – here, was a twist. A clipboard and paper were passed around the audience and each person wrote down a song they would like to hear improvised. After the interval, Laurens looked through the list and decided which to play. He chose a few numbers but not just one at a time. We were treated to first Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ mixed in with Mancini’s Moon River – but not just one song merging into the other but a real mix – sometimes Claire de Lune, sometimes Moon River and back again – the connections made subtly and you needed to keep your ears open for which song was which. Then it went uphill with the second mini-set consisting of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ mixed with John Kander’s ‘New York New York’. Next up was a mix of ‘Summertime’ coupled not only with a Liszt composition and one from Beethoven – both of them familiar but the change was so rapid I forget their names and you had to keep listening because next up was Mayfield’s ‘Hit The Road Jack’, John’s ‘Can you Feel The Love Tonight ‘and a few others. The encore was Joplin’s ‘The Entertainer’ with ‘something else’ or maybe several ‘something else’s’.
The point here is that ok, perhaps in the first half, the Bernstein set was possibly practiced so the improvisation may not have been what it seemed and at times it almost felt like Bobby Crush on speed with all the flourishing going on but the second half could not have been practiced because the audience came up with some pretty obscure ideas as well as the familiars.
The thing which strikes you about watching Laurens Patzloff perform is the speed. His fingers fly up and down the keys, his hands cross, his feet work the pedals just so and yet each note is crystal clear. At one point where he was playing staccato I actually saw his hands blur – I have never seen that before. Each number in the mini-sets – for that is what they were – was given respect, yet each also had their root chords, key changes and tempo alterations melded together with others in ways so clever and devious you found yourself listening to one tune, still hearing the one before somehow. The modulations at times were beautiful as Laurens switched from major to minor keys to emphasise a section and then returned to a more familiar passage played as it was written. The performance lasted almost an hour and a half but seemed to fly past and, judging from the faces of the audience members, they felt it was all too short as well.
Laurens Patzloff showed that improvisation can be incredibly engaging and by taking familiar themes and returning them to the ears of the listeners now and again, it meant they could touch base with the comfortable, whilst at other times, they were taken into the land of the oddly weird but somehow still connected to the original, by Laurens. His coverage of the keys was also incredible. The piano keyboard has 88 keys and each one was played many, many times tonight. Overall, just a great, entertaining experience.
Find out more about: Laurens Patzlaff
Text: Sammy Stein
Photo Credits: Laurens Patzlaff – and (c) info: all rights go to original recording artist/owner/photographer(s).
Last modified: July 15, 2018