DIVINING THE DI­VINE

Con­cert pi­anist Stephen Hough says clas­si­cal mu­sic re­veals hu­mankind’s deep­est emo­tions

The Courier-Mail - QWeekend - - MUSIC - SALLY BROWNE

You hear the de­spair and the dark­ness there, which is quite ter­ri­fy­ing

Em­i­nent con­cert pi­anist Stephen Hough says plan­ning a recital is a bit like pre­par­ing for a din­ner party.

“I al­ways put to­gether the pro­grams a bit like some­one go­ing to the mar­ket and see­ing what looks good,” he says. “Maybe the tuna’s look­ing par­tic­u­larly nice and so you build around that.”

Hough is some­thing of a re­nais­sance man. The Bri­tish com­poser, with Aus­tralian her­itage on his fa­ther’s side, has built a rep­u­ta­tion as one of the world’s most re­spected per­form­ers, as well as a visual artist, writer and con­nois­seur of per­fume, hats and tea. His mus­ings ap­pear reg­u­larly in UK news­pa­per The Tele­graph and he has al­most 18,000 fol­low­ers on Twit­ter.

The cen­tre­piece for his Mu­sica Viva recital at Queens­land Con­ser­va­to­rium on Tues­day is his com­po­si­tion Trini­tas, which takes themes of the Trinity and dogma, ar­ranged around the nu­meral three. The piece was com­mis­sioned by Catholic mag­a­zine The Tablet and the Bar­bican Cen­tre in Lon­don.

“It’s in three sec­tions, the tune it’s built on is made up of thirds, and it uses the 12note row,” says Hough, whose Catholic faith drives his cre­ativ­ity. “The me­taphor is dogma, be­cause the 12-note sys­tem was a dogma of mu­sic life in the mid­dle of the 20th cen­tury. Dogma is in­ter­est­ing – rules can free us or en­slave us. The same is true with the Trinity and the 12-note sys­tem.”

The pieces he has as­sem­bled around it in­clude works by Liszt (se­lec­tions from

For­got­ten Waltzes and Tran­scen­den­tal Stud­ies), and Schu­bert, in­clud­ing the Sonata of Sighs, which the com­poser wrote af­ter his fa­tal di­ag­no­sis of syphilis. Hough will also per­form work by Bel­gian-French com­poser Ce­sar Franck. In a re­cent col­umn, Hough wrote that clas­si­cal pieces, like fa­mous art­works in mu­se­ums, can be like old friends.

“I’ve played a lot of Liszt ... and it does very much seem like be­ing with an old friend, and I think also with Schu­bert and Franck, be­cause you spend an aw­ful lot of time with these pieces as you’re pre­par­ing them. It’s thou­sands of hours in the prac­tice room so you get to know them very well. They travel with you, ac­com­pany you some­times when you’re not feel­ing well ...” So, would he in­vite them to din­ner? “Liszt cer­tainly I would and Schu­bert would be fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause he was such an ex­traor­di­nary ge­nius. He wrote so much mu­sic in his tiny life, and the Sonata of Sighs was very poignant be­cause it was writ­ten when he dis­cov­ered he had syphilis and there­fore this 20-some­thing-year-old man knew he was go­ing to have a very short life and a very painful and dis­graced one. You hear that in this piece. You hear the de­spair and the dark­ness, which is ter­ri­fy­ing.

“Clas­si­cal mu­sic takes us in­side a room of the deep­est hu­man emo­tions, not al­ways pleas­ant ones. It’s not al­ways full of joy.”

Hough says while he went through a rock and pop phase as a teen, clas­si­cal mu­sic sim­ply had more for him to sink his teeth into.

“It just seemed to me so rich,” he says. “These pieces are end­lessly fas­ci­nat­ing. I want clas­si­cal mu­sic to change your life. Every sin­gle piece.”

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