The dazzling, inexplicable Cameron Carpenter

Cameron Carpenter steals the listeners’ breath by his octopus hands traversing layers of keyboards and his feet dazzlingly dancing, literally, on a three-octave pedal of Hong Kong’s Rieger-organ.

Mr. Carpenter opens with Bach’s Toccata in F-sharp (originally in F, BWV540). The showmanship subtly gleams through with a liberal use of unconventional rubato and sophisticatedly programmed organ couplers, which changes nearly in every bar.

The programme is decided on arrival, after checking the capability of the organ. We do not know what’s on the bill until the bling-bling-bling, Swarovsky-bounded organist talks about the music between pieces.

He goes on with a colourful rendition of Liszt’s Funérailles. He sets his devilish talent in full swing not only by his fingers and toes but his wild ideas on realising capabilities of the king of the instruments and glorifies it in a wildly imaginative way. No one dares to think playing bear boars on an organ before him.

Well, no one ever tries to put Chopin’s etudes on an organ either. Mr. Carpenter tells the audience that when this idea comes to his friends, what he gets is “that’s crazy.” Truly indeed. After three Op. 10 etudes (in C, in A minor and in A-flat C-sharp minor), audience behind me claps in disbelief and yells “chisin.”

The second half resumes with Bach once again (Prelude and Fugue in D and in G), and immediately contrasted by Marcel Dupré’s Prelude and Fugue in B. He hasn’t played the Star War, but played instead a beloved, lighthearted Joe Hisaishi from Howl’s Moving Castle.

After all these is a stunning improvisation of Mr. Carpenter in three movements. The music has well-defined motifs and developments that sounds like a composition more than something purely temporal. However according to a radio host who interviewed him that morning, the music may not be entirely made on the spot, but it is not something written down on paper either.

We have witnessed a true genius that exists beyond the Renaissance.

The stunned audience would not let him go without encores — or specifically, the music that claims him to fame. He plays another madly arranged Mozart, the very entertaining Stars and Stripes Forever, and the exhilarating Revolutionary Etude. Mr. Carpenter has to repeat the Chopin twice so that the enthusiastic audience would spare him.

Cameron Carpenter and his cat Kittyball.

After going home my Facebook stream is flooded with people saying about Mr. Carpenter’s dazzling performance. Some of the buzzes :-

  • Cameron Carpenter “needs to be heard (and seen) to be believed” — I can’t agree more!
  • Cameron Carpenter Organ Recital. This guy totally rocks! Outrageously fantastic! He’s actually dancing on the pedals! Who said he’s just using gimmicks to impress the audience? Wrong Wrong Wrong! “真係猛料, 先玩得起!” Well said, Janice! Truly 出神入化!
  • Cameron Carpenter rocks!!!!!! ♥ (I’m pretty sure cockroaches can’t survive at his house!)
  • 欣賞八爪魚彈琴: Amazing pedal trill and FREE MIND in improvisation! Genius!

This concert is part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival and this concert is Cameron Carpenter’s Asian début.

Date: February 26, 2011
Venue: Concert Hall, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Photo © Chris Owyoung
Screen Capture from Cameron Live! © Telarc International

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