Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor with multi-colour light projections, beer in the concert hall, warm-up dance music and a DJ talking very seriously about Rachmaninov's big hands as a result of a rare disease? It may sound like the ultimate blasphemy for some sensitive classical music ears, but it's definitely groundbreaking and refreshing. Of course, it can be still painful to see your neighbours taking a sip or trying to find the door to escape in the most moving moments of Rachmaninov's Adagio sostenuto. But the feeling of being in the company of more than a thousand predominantly twentysomething listeners who react with unadulterated enthusiasm to a classical piano concert is incomparable and precious.

Denis Kozhukhin © Felix Broede
Denis Kozhukhin
© Felix Broede

As long as renowned orchestra's, conductors and the winners of the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition dare challenge conventional classical concert formats, there is hope for new concepts and a future for classical music performances. TivoliVredenburg's Pieces of Tomorrow serie focuses on a young public and introduces the ABC of classical music through informal talks by a popular DJ, hosting concerts in a familiar club or pop concert setting. The whole combination of staging, programme and informal framing in the Rachmaninov's concert was completely interesting. The talks and jokes of DJ St Paul were both entertaining and informative, with a wink at the classical music 'peculiarities' such as 'dreary precision' and perfection of a classical concert, with its predictable development and set-up. A few hilaroius examples of a false organ accompaniment in Handel's Messiah or Florence Foster-Jenkins doing her best as Mozart's Queen of Night showed that a seemingly perfect music world is by no means dull and can be full of surprises.

Luckily for the curious young public and several middle aged connoisseurs spotted in a colour-changing hall, the musical surprises didn't go further than these examples. The pianist and the orchestra remained faithful to classical music conventions, the score, the conductor and that very 'dreary precision' the DJ talked about. It helped the musicians not to be distracted by sounds of rolling plastic bottles and paper cups – the noise with an effect of bursting cannon shots. There were no artistic compromises as the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Denis Kozhukhin played with total commitment. The Russian pianist appeared to be not only an excellent pianist with a fabulous technique and breathable phrasing but also a good collocutor. Stopped after the first movement to answer questions about Rachmaninov from DJ St Paul, Kozhukhin reacted quickly and wittily and brought the audience into raptures with his reflections on the music he played. Also the conductor Jun Märkl successfully passed his ordeal during an introductory conversation with the DJ.

The evening in the TivoliVredenburg proved that neither Rachmaninov's music nor the precision and perfection of the performance lose any of their power, vigor, brilliance and magic with a change from the traditional concert perspective. Provided that the music is played with mastery and inspiration, it will ensure not only the longest applause but an even longer lasting enthusiasm of the public of tomorrow.

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