ATHENS – Never have 4000 Greeks sat so quietly and so still for so long – ever. They were spellbound by Boris Berezhovsky’s performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
On a gorgeous autumn evening in Athens the renowned Russian pianist delighted and awed with music of Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Chopin – and the Chopinesque Russian composers like M. Balakirev, A. Liadov and A. Scriabin.
The program began with the State Academic Chamber Orchestra of Russia of the Moscow Philharmonic conducted by Alexei Utkin, who then departed the stage to make way for Berezhovsky’s solos. They returned to conclude the concert with Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor.
Berezhovsky’s precision on the keyboard was superhuman and his passion was palpable. On a night when classical music reigned in Athens and baseball was king in New York – where he has often performed – expats in the house could call him the Mariano Rivera of the keyboard – there was ice in his veins and fire in his fingers.
Then there were moments ofexquisite tenderness – like a father cradling his newborn child, though not his first – there was security, never tentativeness in his hands. Berezhovsky’s sureness seized the audience’s attention and never let it go, and theywarmed to the person too as he constantly acknowledged their loud applause – often rising and bowing.
Berezhovsky’s performance was a diachronic musical shadow of the perfection of the Parthenon above and the tragedies that were once performed in the nearby Theater of Dionysus. From his piano poured forth Dionysian ecstasy and the serenity of Apollo.
As he played, hypnotizing the audience, his passionate perfection seemed to restore the blocks of marble in the surrounding monuments to their youthful glow, like soft and radiant flesh returning to the bones of Grecian heroes and princesses– and a moment later the audience was back in the present, marveling and delighting in Berezhovsky’s musical magic.
Indeed, there was reverence as well as delight below the Sacred Hill that night. One audience member tied so hard to suppress a sneeze her friend worried she would hurt herself.
The audience loved him, punctuating the night with “bravo” and “spasiba.”
The setting and the man, with his quiet charm and his music, embraced them, as if they had been invited into a garden, pine and cypress trees visible beyond the ruins of the walls and the sea as a distant backdrop.
There were moments when the soulful performance prompted people to look heavenward, searching for stars – but there were few visible in the hazy sky. Eventually looking over their shoulders they spied the graceful southwest corner on the Parthenon from the one angle where the mighty walls of the Acropolis formed a gentle curve, perfectly reflecting the rising and falling lines of the Chopinesque pieces – then came the Rachmaninoff, a scintillating prelude to the pure Chopin to come.
Berezhovsky delighted with the Impromptu 1 and 4, then the orchestra returned, a lovely young page turner joining him for the majestic Concerto in F minor.
The moody opening was heightened by the amber lighting on the ancient marble.
The larger piece allowed for moments of meditation and memories of other venues. The Herodion has a unique sound and feel. A gentle breeze passed through the ruins as Berezhovsky’s piano sang to the weary stones.
It was not the fire and crystal of Carnegie or Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, more like thunder and raindrops on the nearby sea, sublime rather than spectacular – a Mediterranean versus a North European magic.
The huge crowd ate it up, shouted for more, and a smiling Berezhovsky served a delicious encore.
The concert was presented by Symphonic Productions – Athens, and among its many sponsors was the Archbishopric of Athens – Archbishop Ieronymos was present – the Athens Medical Association, and the Greek Parliament. Proceeds benefitted the Panhellenic Association of Paraplegics.