Pianist Filippo Gorini ‘gets Bach’, reinvents a master’s catalog

The young Italian musician brings landmark compositions from the past to the present, is an advanced musical thinker beyond his tender years

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The Vancouver Recital Society presents Filippo Gorini, piano

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When: Sunday, September 18, 2 p.m.

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Where: Vancouver Playhouse, 600 Hamilton Street

Tickets, more info: vanrecital.com

One of the great joys of classical music is seeing great works become new and exciting as young performers reinvent them.

There could be no better example than the opening concert of the Vancouver Recital Society’s fall season, during which Italian pianist Filippo Gorini will discuss Bach’s The Art of Fugue, BWV 1080.

For those of us who heard Gorini’s Canadian debut in 2019, his return to the Vancouver Playhouse couldn’t come soon enough. What we heard from the 20-something performer was not only an astonishing recital but also a display of a musical thinker far beyond his still tender years.

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Really, the audacity to associate Stockhausen’s Klavierstuck IX with Beethoven’s Opus 111 sonata! This breathtaking conjunction left his audience flabbergasted, enriched and delighted.

Gorini continues to get better and better. It has already won more than enough awards to last a lifetime, including first prize and audience award at the Telekom-Beethoven Competition in Bonn in 2015 and the very prestigious Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award in 2020.

This year, her summer vacation was spent at Marlboro Music, Vermont’s ultra-elite program started by the legendary Rudolf Serkin and currently co-directed by Mitsuko Uchida and Jonathan Biss.

What does Gorini have in store for us this September? Nothing less than an overhaul of what it’s like to play music in the post-pandemic environment; a mini-residence with an awareness-raising film project; and a complete interpretation of The Art of Fugue.

The Art of the Fugue and the Musical Offerings, BWV 1079, are the twin peaks of Bach’s catalogue. The first consists of 18 pieces, fugues of all kinds and a canon quartet, written in Bach’s last decade and published posthumously in 1751.

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A demonstration of contrapuntal prowess, it has never been equalled. Part of the mystique of the work comes from the fact that the original does not indicate instrumentation; scholars and dedicated gamers alike love to debate how this can be achieved in real-life performances. Gorini will play it on the VRS Hamburg Steinway grand piano.

It will not be a fly-in/fly-out proposal. Gorini will be in and around town for much of the week. He is due to perform – if BC Ferries wants him – for Frances Heinsheimer Wainwright’s Coast Recital Society on the Sunshine Coast, a day before his event in Vancouver.

At the Playhouse, he plans to present The Art of the Fugue with a pre-concert presentation at 2 p.m. before his afternoon performance begins at 3 p.m.; then he’ll stick around for a Q&A with the audience after the concert.

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But there is still more on the road. Gorini has created a series of filmed conversations with the likes of Canadian-born architect Frank Gehry, pianist Alfred Brendel, director Peter Sellars and choreographer Sasha Waltz that will be available online to VRS subscribers.

What drove this extraordinary project? Gorini explains on his website, filippogorini.it: “In February 2020, with regained time and a thirst for something deep, I devised a plan for a unique exploration. My work on The Art of Fugue, mystical and unfinished masterpiece by Johann Sebastian Bach, had begun in 2013, but it was only thanks to these long months of silence and the support of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award that I have been able to study it with enough dedication to offer it to the public.

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Like most true Bach enthusiasts, Gorini has no intention of treating the work as just a great landmark composition from the past. “In addition to my game, I have prepared a collection of material to explore it further, not seeing it as a fixed monument to the past, but rather as a living dialogue with contemporary culture.”

Could Gorini’s holistic approach to Bach’s historic oeuvre be a demonstration of how our best and brightest performers are exploring the future of post-pandemic concert? We will know in mid-September.

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