Thinking back on the all-day Brahms event, this is what I recall most clearly.
The unusual-looking piano on the stage, not the polished black Steinway normally provided, but an older piano made of brown wood. If my understanding is correct, it was a piano that Brahms once owned and played.
The video that accompanied the performers. Projected on a screen placed high at the back of the stage, it showed interiors of Brahms’ summer home in Baden-Baden. The camera panned slowly around the rooms, tracing moldings and peeling paint, lingering over details of the furnishings, gazing at lampshades and window frames. Minutes passed by as we watched a dim light bulb in a corridor. More minutes spent in contemplation of a crack in the wall. It was excruciating and distracting.
To take my mind off the video, I looked around at the audience and noticed a man who looked so much like Christopher Lloyd’s mad scientist in Back to the Future, I nearly expected him to jump up and shout for Marty McFly. Turned out he was the piano tuner… and the piano was the reason for the intensity in his gaze.
There was a moment of dread when someone’s mobile phone started ringing during a silent passage in a lovely piece of piano music. The pianist, Alexander Melnikov, glanced out at the audience and counted off a few silent beats with his hand before continuing.
The program traced the life of Brahms, apparently through his favorite vacation places. The story was told by a narrator seated on the stage through the whole day. At the very end, David Wilson-Johnson is on stage, enacting the death of Brahms in songs. The voice is wonderful, all is very somber. Suddenly, the narrator misses his queue and stands up to declare Brahms dead two songs before the end! Frantic waving from the stage director at the back of the audience stops him short.
As a final touch, the death of Brahms is symbolized by Wilson-Johnson slumped down on a chair and the narrator fetching a basket of dead leaves. He then proceeds to drop the leaves over the head of the singer. The end, at last.