The Edmonton Chamber Music Society kicks off the season with an unexpected performance from the mindfulness pianist

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Was it a recital? Was it a conference? Was it a New Age session? The Edmonton Chamber Music Society‘s new season opening event, their first since Mach 2020, was a bit of all of these things – what it wasn’t, it was a concert.

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Pianist Nicolas Namoradze won the Honens Piano Competition in Calgary in 2018. He is also a teacher of mindfulness and is currently pursuing postgraduate studies in neuropsychology at King’s College London. What he gave was an evening of teaching mindfulness while listening to music, with himself at the piano to accompany exercises for the audience.

I suspect the CHMS wasn’t fully aware of what it was getting, and indeed Namoradze told us it was the first time he’d done something like this.

If I had known, I would have said that I was not the ideal person to cover such an event. I’ve seen too many diets telling people how to think, what the Chinese call “correct thoughts”, and the mindfulness movement seems to me to have an element of that sometimes, the teacher assuming he has the way superior to its audience.

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Indeed, what Namoradze gave us was really a bit old-fashioned. Breathing exercises and body awareness have been familiar therapies for decades (not to mention Buddhist heritage), and the idea of ​​listening to environmental sounds all around has been expressed much more definitively by the piece of 1952 by John Cage titled 4′ 33″, where the artists remain completely silent.

However, I’m sure there were people in the audience who all of this was new to, although I wondered how much.

There are fascinating developments in our understanding of brain function and in the science of how we physically respond to music. Some neuroscientists believe that everything we do is actually mechanistic, predetermined by chemical and physical processes.

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It may be, but Namoradze gave us too little. His color example – he asserts that we all see colors differently – illustrates the problems with this view, as it is a philosophical statement rather than a provable one. He ignores the joys of a riot of colors.

None of this would have particularly mattered if the music had made up for it, and if it had those joys. Unfortunately not, either Bach or Rachmaninoff. I guess Namoradze’s playing style here was designed more to illustrate the exercise he had given the audience for each piece, rather than to express musicality, as it was rhythmically stiff and deliberate, soulless, and the Closing rallentandos for emphasis were awfully obvious.

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Most interesting are the two pieces by 20th-century English composer York Bowen, simply because his music is so little heard in concert, despite being quite widely recorded. There is a disc of Bowen’s own 78 rpm recordings, and Namoradze recorded a disc of highly acclaimed piano works on the Hyperion label.

Two of Hans Andersen’s Bowen Fragments, preceded by quoted extracts from fairy tales, were very English, of a pre-World War I aesthetic. The Snowdrop was Andersen in the English village square or one of the cottage gardens, while A Leaf from the Sky had an impressionist influence, both very appealing.

But that wasn’t enough to salvage what was a rather strange and unsatisfying evening.

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Edmonton Chamber Music Society and Honens present Nicolas Namoradze

Or Robertson-Wesley United Church

When October 23

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