Lubomyr Melnyk @ The Queen's Hall, Edinburgh, 6 Oct

The 70-year-old pianist and composer brings a night of gorgeous and unique music to The Queen's Hall

Live Review by Lewis Wade | 08 Oct 2019
  • Lubomyr Melnyk

If nothing else, Lubomyr Melnyk is a breath of fresh air, optimism and eccentricity in the world of contemporary classical. He extols the joys of his first time in Edinburgh with genuine relish. He speaks excitedly about the nature of continuous music and contextualises it in the (approximately) 350-year history of the piano. He lets us in on the secret that magic is real – and all of this before a note is played.

The self-serious pretensions of the avant-garde world are nowhere to be seen as Melnyk begins his first piece, Illirion. It's a relatively light introduction to the show, just touching on tenets of the speed and complexity of continuous music, mainly highlighting a superlative ear for melody and a natural affinity with the piano (there's no sign of sheet music to guide this or any other piece tonight).

The second piece, Butterfly, is introduced with a hefty, impassioned rant about Spotify, the TL;DR version of which is 'it fucking sucks'. Melnyk's work is primarily concerned with the relationship of sound, nature and the self, none of which are particularly well-represented through the money-grubbing corporation. Butterfly is one of his most accessible pieces as it prioritises a “nice” sound, while also demonstrating real technical prowess during its mid-section, both of which come together in a majestic finale.

The shortest introduction rightly precedes the shortest piece, Barcarolle, Melnyk's reimagining of a Mendelssohn barcarolle (most famously realised in Songs Without Words). Now, intricacy and concision are emphasised over speed and theme, Melnyk playing at his most delicate, ephemeral and elegant.

Windmills, the most lauded of Melnyk's work, at least since his '80s 'heyday', is saved for the finale, preceded by a lengthy introduction explaining the tender allegory at the heart of the piece. This is padded out with enthusiastic asides about transcendentalism, nature and not listening to scientists when it comes to time (re: it doesn't exist; "have you seen the finale of Twin Peaks?"). Interestingly, Melnyk also positions himself in opposition to both classicalism (too lazy, fame-hungry) and minimalism (too simple, though he's got a lot of love for Terry Riley's “world-changing” In C), cementing his outsider status.

The piece itself takes almost 40 minutes, working up from low, rumbling notes until the windmill starts to approach terminal velocity. Melnyk terms this “nirvana” and it's the finest example of continuous music you're ever likely to hear. He reaches the apex of intensity in the central 20 minutes, arpeggiated notes coming in so fast they're impossible to distinguish; “where there's no time for imperfection.”

The windmill ultimately breaks down under the sheer weight of momentum (“the storm”), but finds peace in the release of death, the beautiful coda expressing thanks for what was, rather than lamenting what is no more. It's a perfectly triumphant finale, bringing a night of gorgeous and unique music to a close, Melnyk beaming as he drinks in the standing ovation.