On Tuesday 13th December I attended St Georges concert hall in Bristol to hear a performance by world-renowned pianist Mitsuko Uchida. Uchida has performed here before and it is clear the venue and the audience were pleased to have her back; the show tonight was a sell out. I was bringing my piano-playing partner with me as my plus one, and we were both looking forward to revelling in the beautiful music and performance we were no doubt in store for.
Before commencing this review, I thought long and hard about the tone of my writing and how I was going to coherently convey all the thoughts and feelings I took home after this evening. I am not an aficionado of classical piano and certainly did not know the artist, so I read about her before we arrived. I was excited, she sounded like she was a master of her craft. We both left St. Georges tonight certain of one thing, and that is that Mitsuko Uchida is a phenomenal pianist who has a command of this instrument that is surely hard to surpass. The audience clearly felt it too, you could have heard a pin drop in the sombre silence of this acoustically beautiful venue. However, this is the point where the tone of my review that I pondered so hard over how to write must change. Although her technical skill is obvious and she is clearly beyond gifted, the music felt very much like I was experiencing it cerebrally, rather than having it permeate my chest and having it make my skin tingle. In fairness though, this was not really the fault of Uchida. It’s hard to explain, but from the moment I stepped through the door of the venue to the moment I walked out into the cold December air outside, I felt like an imposter. The evening felt incredibly highbrow, and that intimidated me. I made a ‘beginners error’ by clapping at the end of the first piece for just a split second which I quickly discovered I wasn’t supposed to, and this earned me a glare from a fellow audience member. I guess I felt rather unsettled from the outset though, as our review tickets had been mistakenly resold, so we had to leave our seats and walk to the back of the hall to hastily placed chairs, which seemed to point out in an even more direct way that I didn’t really belong. Unfortunately then, imposter syndrome was coursing through my veins before the performance even started, so maybe this accounted for how uneasy I felt. Interestingly though, this is perhaps the most lacking in diversity of any audience I have been part of in any venue in Bristol, and I was really struck by this, if not all that surprised.
Maybe none of my thoughts are really that important. Maybe it doesn’t matter if the demographic of the audience is not particularly wide. If you like a genre of music you will seek it out. If you don’t, then quite simply, you won’t. But I can’t help feeling this is a shame. I am incredibly lucky that I am able to see and experience a wide range of theatre and music performances in my role as a reviewer, and I remain extremely grateful for this privilege that I never take for granted. Because I am being opened up to genres and styles that I would not have sought out, I’m discovering new things all the time, and my tastes are developing and changing. So, although this concert did not really speak to me, its not to say that it wouldn’t have gained new fans who would discover a new genre to become passionate about if they were given the opportunity. As a musician, Uchida is faultless. Perhaps some of the people in the room where moved to heights of emotion and passion by the music that I never reached. Perhaps others who had not experienced this kind of performance before might also have been moved in a similar way. However, unless these kinds of performances are made somehow more accessible for a wider audience, they will remain the property of an exclusive minority.
Review by Karen Blake