David Mitchell and David Greilsammer: Scarlatti and Cage
St Mary's Cathedral, Manor Place
This collaboration between Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell and Israeli pianist David Greilsammer was actually an experiment in trying to blend Mitchell's spoken words with the keyboard sonatas of those two groundbreaking composers: Domenico Scarlatti in the 18th century, John Cage in the 20th.
There were five readings, each followed by a few Cage or Scarlatti pieces, played alternately. Greilsammer's performance of both composers' work was spellbinding – he made even Cage accessible. Greilsammer had two grand pianos, one conventionally set up for the Scarlatti pieces, the other "prepared" specially to fit Cage's work. The audience were never told in what way it had been "prepared", sadly.
I'm not sure that Mitchell's reading did his own writing justice. The first story featured Scarlatti himself, and that was easy enough to follow. But then Mitchell moved into the sort of prose-poetry that Dylan Thomas created for Under Milk Wood. Mitchell's writing sounded lovely, but sadly, Mitchell gobbled his words a little and it was hard to make them out. He also has a slightly distracting habit of swaying from side to side as he reads. And he was let down by poor amplification, and a spotlight would have been good, too. But his texts were good.
Greilsammer, on the other hand, was simply sensational. Every piece commanded my attention, and when the pair were given a standing ovation at the end, I felt the pianist was deserving of the lion's share.
As an encore, Mitchell read a poem about a nightmare, which Greilsammer then complemented the text by playing a Scarlatti sonata – on the prepared Cage piano! It certainly produced strange sounds, but curiously not so strange as to be unbearable, reinforcing his very point that the two composers had more in common than at first seemed.