Nicholas D. Gallagher
When one is told to expect a duel, one must be prepared for two rivals of equal skill to face off in quick yet captivating combat, whatever form it may take. This past Friday, the same held true for two men – classically-trained and world-renowned performers considered by their peers and fans alike to be innovative in the field. They took to their Steinway-&-Sons pianos to engage in a new form of battle: a Piano Battle (the official title of the touring show). Here, the two competitors, Paul Cibis (left in picture and in black) and Andreas Kern (in white, on the right), offer their visions of
classical music as arguments played live for both wonder and laughs.
Surprisingly, the show itself was conceived as the result of an accident. As Cibis told me after Friday’s performance, “our show organizers had spoken with event hosts in Hong Kong about our playing some pieces together. When they were told about our having done that earlier in , they offered to increase our compensation to do it again. After initial refusal, Andreas came up with the idea of ‘why don’t we compete for the extra money?’ We then said, ‘that was fun! We should do it again!’ And now we’re seeing the world, doing this for fun and to teach.”
It would be an understatement to say that both were achieved in spectacular fashion this weekend. Fun was had in bountiful supply as ping-pong balls were batted between pianos, tastes in music history were judged using terms like “spicy” and “sexy,”and keys were played with body parts other than hands. However, there was a great deal of teaching achieved as well. The audience was stilled by the comforting lullaby of Debussey’s “Clair De Lune,” exhilarated by Bach’s “Little Fugue In G Minor,” and motivated by the originals composed by Cibis and Kern themselves.
In addition, both Cibis and Kern took the time at the end of the night to make an appeal to the full house. Cibis, presenting himself as somewhat of a traditionalist in his address, spoke on the importance of maintaining respect for classical music; spoke of listening to classical music beyond the high school level, and for more than just music classes to pass a music history test. His life’s motto, “Trust Your Ears,” opens the auditory doors of the listener to permit them access to the minds, hearts, and souls of Bach, Mozart, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin.
Kern, on the other hand, is more of a contemporary idealist within the genre. His speech at the end of the night gave rise to the passionate hope that classical music can be reimagined, reorchestrated, and presented in new and fascinating ways akin to David Garrett and Lindsey Stirling; classically-trained musicians who bring modern flair to its presentation, and bring millennial energy to centuries-old composition, hence the inspiration for his motto – and my new motivation to explore classical music for the first time in years: “Stay Curious.”