It was the music of Franz Liszt that had me turning to my daughter Maggie in Armstrong Concert Hall at Shenandoah University that day and mouthing the words, “Holy Fuck!” She mouthed back an exasperated, “Dad!” then we turned back toward the stage, where Nikolay Khozyainov, the Russian pianist, was playing Liszt’s Transcendental Étude, S. 139, No. 4 as if someone were squeezing his balls and wasn’t going to let go until he was done creating the best performance ever of this difficult piece.
Khozyainov had started off the concert with Haydn’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob.XVI:49, and both Maggie and I were going “Wow,” but as well as he played Haydn, nothing prepared us for the way he took the music of Franz Liszt and, as good as it already was, made it seem like the best shit ever written. I mean Jesus! Khozyainov went on to do Liszt’s Après une Lecture du Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata from Années de pèlerinage II, S . 161, then on to close his main program with Schumann’s Arabesque, op. 18 and Fantasy in C Major, op. 17. Whether the music was loud or soft, fast or slow, Khozyainov played it all like he was the most insane motherfucker in the universe.
Of course, when he was done everyone in the audience applauded until it seemed like our hands would start to bleed. He came back out, and then again and again, doing three encores, the last of which was a punked up medley of tunes from Bizet’s Carmen during which he ran his fast fingers sick as fuck up and down the piano. I’d been hoping that maybe he’d pull Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1 out of his hat for a final encore, but his punk rock Bizet made me forget about that.
And I must say, that even though I love jazz, from Sidney Bechet to Sun Ra, and beautiful raw rock and roll shit like the Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, and then everything from P-Funk to throat singers like Tanya Tagaq to the did-the-record-get-stuck modern symphonic music of Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, there’s nothing like classical music from the Romantic era to make me think, Fuck Donald Trump. Fuck everything he believes, fuck everything he thinks he knows. I mean, there’s so much in the world that’s beautiful and we have to deal with his ugly shit and the massive stench he keeps building up with it and then be civil and polite and respectful about it? Fuck that.
That evening, when Maggie and I got home, I looked up some of the music Nikolay Khozyainov performed and played it for my wife Heather and our five-year old, Julien. They didn’t quite put it this way, but they looked at me and nodded as if to say, “Yeah, this shit is fucking good, motherfucker.” Then we ate dinner.
Late that night, when everyone was asleep, I looked to see if there was any footage of Nikolay Khozyainov playing Chopin’s Etude in C major, Op. 10 No. 1, and there was–after all, it’s one of those incredibly challenging and beautiful pieces which any badass classical pianist has to try at some point and Khozyainov is definitely a badass. So I listened to it, and Jesus, his Chopin was the fucking shit.
Still, I think the great Argentine pianist Martha Argerich’s take on Chopin was a little better. But then again, is there anything anyone can do that Martha Argerich can’t do better? Hell, back when she smoked cigarettes she smoked cigarettes better than anyone else. There are pictures of her doing it. You can look them up.
Photograph by Jose Padua