What is it about the piano? At this month’s Sydney Festival (sadly the last one under the direction of the brilliant Fergus Linehan) a proliferation of piano-related events has brought into focus the peculiar ability of that instrument to appeal to high and low aesthetic tastes … and to everyone in between. Two events illustrate the spectrum on offer. The Belvoir Street Theatre is hosting a production of “The Pianist”, an adaptation of the memoir by Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman that Roman Polanski made into an Academy Award-winning film several years ago. Spontaneous music-playing and community-building is the goal of Play Me, I’m Yours, in which 30 pianos scatter the streets of Sydney and Parramatta, for any member of the public to play. The pianos are in public squares, bus shelters, parks, a tattoo parlour, hairdressers and even on a ferry. The idea is to encourage anyone to play the piano, beginner or professional, to reflect the personality of each community in which the “street piano” temporarily resides.
Last Friday night I was mesmerised, as always, by the Mike Nock Project at the Sound Lounge in Sydney. (It’s downstairs from the Seymour Centre, so I suppose that’s Chippendale?) Pianist, composer and educator Mike Nock has formed various iterations of this ensemble over the years, and I have been addicted since the first time I heard them play, which I think was 2000. Mike’s challenging but melodious compositions (apart from an exquisite Jackson Harrison tune called “Mysteries”) anchor the band of eight, who performed as tightly as could be expected of a group of professional musicians for whom rehearsal and performance (in this case) must be more for the joy of playing and improvising than for hard-earned cash. Roll up, arts philanthropists, who want to see more of a unique Australian musical phenomenon! This band and the terrific Mothership Orchestra led by saxophonist David Theak are two examples of exciting original ensemble playing that could easily find a larger audience – both in Australia and elsewhere – through some well-placed private support.