BEIT MERY: Hrachya Avanessyan’s shoulder-length black hair flies wildly in all directions as he shakes his head to the music.The black sequins on his shirtsleeve glint in the stage lights.
Like one of Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarists, he throws his head back, eyes skyward, to deliver a particularly emphatic flourish. The music isn’t metal, however. Avanessyan isn’t rocking a guitar, but a violin.
Aptly titled “An Eye for Talent,” Wednesday night’s performance at Festival Al-Bustan featured the 26-year-old Avanessyan, 24-year-old cellist Narek Haknazaryan and 21-year-old British pianist Oliver Poole. These three rising stars on the global classical music circuit performed together for the first time at Al-Bustan, after just two days of rehearsal, with stunning results.
The program consisted of Franz Schubert’s “Trio op.99,” followed by pieces by two of the “three Bs” – Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio op.20 no.1” (so named because of its eerie-sounding second movement) and “Trio op. 101 in C minor” by Johannes Brahms.
It’s a classical repertoire but performed in a decidedly contemporary fashion. Characterized by a playful energy and fluid give-and-take, the show was not only aurally engaging but unusually fun to watch.
Avanessyan’s almost-head banging in the more dramatic moments was complemented by Poole’s gestural approach to the piano. Flinging his left hand away from the keyboard after delivering a series of staccato chords, head thrown back as though about to topple from his stool, the pianist would dive back to work, quite literally putting his back into it.
Perhaps hindered by the bulk of his cello, Haknazaryan’s presence was more staid, but he compensated with his vivid facial expressions. These told a story all their own – ranging from a quizzical raising of the eyebrows during a perfectly timed pizzicato, to a determined frown as he belted out a bass melody.
Black patent leather shoes twinkling in the light, the three players performed a visual dance that was all the more splendid for being accompanied by a near-perfect rendition of their repertoire.
“We’re not octogenarians or in our nineties like most guys who play,” Poole said after the show.
“Well, I’m not saying most guys,” he clarified, “but there’s this thing about ensemble music and the older listeners that’s kind of just dying and slow, and we didn’t want to have that because it can be exciting.”
By the final chords of the Schubert, with the trio throwing their hands into the air in triumph, Poole’s point had been proven, propelling the audience into the interval with buzzing energy.
Twenty minutes later, the more ponderous strains of Beethoven’s “Ghost Trio” turned the mood solemn, particularly the melancholy second movement. The approach was more lugubrious and introspective, demonstrating that the musicians are equally accomplished when performing more subtle material.
Poole was the driving force that held together the trio’s give-and-take, delivering everything from lyrical trilling runs – so light they might be a figment of the imagination – to crisp, staccato chords with skill and evident pleasure.
The pianist will return to the Emile Bustani Auditorium for a solo performance Wednesday. He said he aims to get the audience involved.
“I’m playing, in the first half, [the] Goldberg Variations by Bach. Now that is a very spiritual piece. It’s very intellectual and it can be incredibly boring,” he confided. “But that’s the reason I choose to play it.
“I will talk to the audience,” he continued. “I’ll tell them that this is like looking at a work of art and to appreciate it for what it is, but I will also remind them that there are 100,000 plus notes in this piece, which I’ve learnt by memory ... If you imagine it on a canvas it’s like an equation ... It’s a journey that requires thinking, but this is an experience.”
Poole has chosen a program that shows his range, following the technically challenging Goldberg Variations with Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries,” Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Preludes and Etudes,” George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and one of his own compositions. Poole will also perform live improvisations based on audience suggestions and he promises that there will be a couple of surprises.
A multiple-award winning musician, Poole achieved fame at the age of seven when he became the youngest person to win an EPTA award as Europe’s most promising young pianist. He’s determined to bring classical music to a wider audience.
“I go to [London’s] Royal College of Music,” he said. “Everyone who’s there is 18, 20, 22, but when you go to a classical concert, where are they? They’re not there when you go to the Barbican ... It’s just full of old people.
“The problem lies in the state of classical music at the moment,” he opined. “There are a few popular pieces here and there, and they use the Goldberg Variations on ‘Top Gear’ sometimes, but it needs to have that same appreciation and exposure as pop music does.
“As a 21-year-old I don’t want to be sitting playing to some old people at the Barbican. I love old people ... but I want to have the same exposure as Lady Gaga or Beyonce. And why not? That’s music and music makes people happy. It may not have a beat but there’s a lot to explore.”
Oliver Poole’s solo performance, “My Kingdom for a Piano,” will take place March 13 at the Emile Bustani Auditorium as part of Festival Al-Bustan. For more information and tickets call 04-972-980.