XXX

reimagine; verb, rēiˈmajən

  1. reinterpret (an event, work of art, etc.) imaginatively; rethink.

I’ve always had warm receptions toward re-composed classical music—Max Richter’s Vivaldi is one of the breathtaking highlights. Yet for whatever reason, upon hearing about Chad Lawson’s The Chopin Variations, I was skeptical. (Old habits die hard). A jazz pianist taking apart the masterful compositions of a revered composer? Okay, sure. I’ll bite, but with apprehension.

It turns out, Lawson doesn’t take apart anything; he reimagines. In the same way Richter exposes the riveting brilliance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons through a 21st century lens, Lawson returns Chopin to his long-lost origin: intimacy. He unearths that dedication in Larghetto of Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and underscores it in every arrangement: “It should be like dreaming in beautiful springtime—by moonlight.”

One of the gems of the album is the Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 9, No. 2. The piece, which countless pianists and musicians are surely familiar with, is stripped bare. If you listen closely, you can hear the soft clunks of the pedal changes. Lawson’s arrangement manages to capture what so many musicians ignore these days when performing Chopin (something I’ve also struggled to portray). It is the feeling that Chopin preferred over the buzzing energy of public performances: playing music in your apartment for a small group of friends, huddled in the warmth of each other’s bodies. Loving something that is neither tangible nor wholly invisible, again, and again, until there’s no one left to listen.

It doesn’t hurt to reconsider tradition, and especially for classical music, it would be wise to take a long, hard look at the ways in which tradition fuels the genre and the ways in which it destroys itself. For better or for worse, we tend to adhere to those traditions because they’re a part of what we fell in love with in the first place. Yet beautiful things can emerge from change and irreverence—perhaps not a complete usurping of the past, but rather, subtle and gradual realizations in ways tradition can be transformed and translated. Intimate acts, like placing a thin layer of felt over the piano strings, recording Chopin at 2AM in the morning, closing your eyes to that warm, resolved harmony. It’s no longer Chopin’s music note-for-note, but the sensation remains. And, for the time being, someone is listening.

2 thoughts on “XXX”

    1. Thank you for the incredible album; it was an ethereal experience listening to it, and I’m glad I got the feeling conveyed. Definitely looking forward to Bach Interpreted!

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