Presenting the extraordinary talent of sixteen year old Talon Smith and the centenary of Lya De Barberiis
It was thanks to Franco Buzzanca that we were able to hear the remarkable 16 year old Talon Smith in Rome.
In the noble surroundings of the Teatro di Villa Torlonia.
The Villa just a stone’s throw from the British Embassy which was the residence of Benito Mussolini until 1944 when after his fall it fell into disrepair and abandon.
Originally land owned by the Pamphilj family that passed into the hands of the banking family of Giovanni Raimondo Torlonia who built this sumptuous villa.
A villa that was the residence of Mussolini during his rise to power in the 1920’s.
Peppercorn rent was paid to the family Torlonia and as fate would have it Mussolini sought refuge during the bombardment of Rome in the jewish catacombs of the 3rd and 4th century that were underneath.
It passed into the hands of the Comune di Roma in 1978 as a public park but the actual villa was not restored until 1990’s.
The beautiful theatre that stands in the grounds has become a wonderful venue for music with an extraordinary acoustic.
It has much in common,although on a much smaller scale,with the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza.
Franco Buzzanca has for many years made the scenery for all the major theatres in Italy creating Scenografia Oggi a symbol for handfinished craftsmanship.
Now retired from the day to day workings of his firm he dedicates himself with his colleagues from the world of art and theatre to organising benefit concerts for the Association “Insieme per Aiutare.”
And so it was that Franco came to the rescue when Bill Nabore asked me if there was any way that we could give Talon a platform in the three days that he was flying in from California for some coaching before playing in Geneva.
I first heard William Grant Nabore when I was a student in Rome when he gave a very fine performance of the Diabelli Variations in the historic Oratorio of Gonfalone.
He had been a prize student of Carlo Zecchi.I was studying at the time with Guido Agosti.
40 years on Bill has created the renowned “International Piano Academy- Lake Como” of which the Honorary President is Martha Argerich.
Eventually when I came back to Rome creating the Teatro Ghione with my wife Ileana Ghione ,I used to persuade the great almost unknown artists who played for us to spend a week with Bill’s students in Como living and working together.
Rosalyn Tureck was enthusiastic and full of astonishment at the standard of the students.
Fou Ts’ong soon became a favourite followed by Peter Frankl,Moura Lympany, Stephen Kovacevich,Alicia de Larrocha.
Adding over the years artist such as Murray Perahia,Dmitri Bashkirov,Alfred Brendel etc.
So when Bill said he had a truly phenomenal talent coming to Rome I moved mountains to be allowed to hear him.
The Ghione Theatre on that same day was busy with a concert dedicated to the 100th Anniversary of our beloved Lya De Barberiis.
Organised by the indomitable Massimiliano Negri who has done so much to keep alive my duo partner’s memory for so many years.
Our last concert together,Lya and I, was in 2012 for the newly born Circolo Culturale Lya De Barberiis.
Massimiliano has since brought out a book, after her death in 2013, dedicated to keeping her memory and legacy alive.
He even found time to perform Mendelssohn’s Violin and Piano Concerto splendidly on this occasion .
I attended the dress rehearsal and was able to enjoy the extreme sensitivity in Elgar’s Serenade for Strings of the String Orchestra from the Conservatory di Perugia under the guidance of Piero Caraba.
The extraordinary playing of the violinist Liliana Bernardi together with Massimiliano Negri.Lya would have been happy to see what musicianship they brought to this rarely heard work of Mendelssohn.
But who is infact Talon Smith:
National & International Award-Winning Pianist & Composer & Distinguished Young Steinway Artist
“Exhibiting an innate, passionate musicality and brilliant technical mastery well beyond his years, sixteen-year-old virtuoso pianist and composer Talon Smith has already won Gold at the Gina Bachauer International Junior Artists Piano Competition.
Talon’s inspiring musical performances display immense beauty and passion engaging his listeners in an unforgettable experience. He shares his feelings and vast musical gifts of authentic depth and rare sensitivity with emotionally touching musical performances that have ignited both tears and laughter with his audiences. He commands the piano with superb tone, remarkable timing, and poetic phrasing layered with amazing contrasts of stunning colors. According to the experts, “This young pianist is extraordinary in many ways – Talon is a passionate musical force with a special and huge talent. He has a distinct voice, a remarkable sense of musical structure, and intense poetry.”
Talon’s career is marked by an abundance of triumphant achievements. He has won many top prizes – 1st place almost exclusively – in numerous solo, concerto, and composition competitions. He continues to perform in many successful solo artist and orchestral concerts in front of sold-out crowds generating enthusiastic standing ovations by extremely inspired audiences.
Besides piano and composing, Talon enjoys spending time with family and friends; delicious food; reading the Bible, the classics, and books on theology and history; playing ultimate Frisbee; participating in choir; school; and spending time with his furry companion of 8 years – Browny – an Australian cattle dog. Talon states that some people have service dogs, but he has a “be served dog”— Browny is pampered. Talon’s ultimate goal in piano playing is to bring glory to God and to be used by Him as a minister of blessing to his audiences. Current Teachers: William Grant Naboré & Rufus Choi.”
From the very first notes of the early Beethoven Sonata op. 2 n.2 it was clear that we were in the hands of an unusually mature musician.
An unrelenting drive to the Allegro vivace was only alleviated by the almost orchestrally conceived interpretation of the Largo appassionato.
Chords that were crystal clear in the first movement suddenly became dense and pregnant with weight and meaning.
Scrupulous attention to detail showed off all the charm and drive of the Scherzo.
The Rondo played with a freedom that is implied in Beethoven’s almost Schubertian writing and was given full reign to contrast with the extraordinary percussive outbursts that were played with an almost obsessive insistence.
Nothing had prepared me though for the sudden change of colour and density of sound that immediatley filled the air with a passionately driven performance of the Allegro Maestoso of the Chopin Sonata in B minor.
Such forward movement and lack of sentimentality gave only greater density to the finesse and nobility that I was certainly not expecting from a sixteen year old.
A crystal clear Scherzo played indeed molto vivace .
Not the usual jeux perle but an incisive precision allied to a flexibility that for once led to a Trio with a shape and form that had grown out of the scherzo.
No break before the majestic opening chords of the Largo.
What a surprise to hear too Chopin’s own subtle pedal effects in a performance that had an architectural solidity allied to fantasy and deeply felt feeling.
Bill had recently told me about the pedal effects in the second Concerto that he is helping Marcos Madrigal master for a performance next week in Los Angeles.
How lucky Talon is to have someone that can point his way to what the composer actually wrote and intended.
Works that are so easily played in a beautiful but traditional way without actually paying heed to the very precise indications of this absolute innovator of the piano.
The Finale certainly played Presto but also with the reserve of “non tanto” that allowed Talon to throw himself into the final pages with an excitement and extraordinary precision.
A quite exemplary performance from someone so young.
Breathing life into an old warhorse as seen through the eyes and ears of a real thinking musician was indeed a refreshing and exilarating experience.
An interval full of extraordinary brass music led beautifully into the second half of Bartok and Prokofiev.
“…The Suite op. 14 has no folk tunes. It is based entirely on original themes of my own invention. When this work was composed I had in mind the refining of piano technique, the changing of piano technique, into a more transparent style. A style more of bone and muscle opposing the heavy chordal style of the late, latter romantic period, that is, unessential ornaments like broken chords and other figures are omitted and it is more a simpler style.”
— Béla Bartók, radio interview with David Levita, July 2, 1944.
That in the words of the composer himself could have easily summed up tonight’s performance from Talon Smith.
The simple clear skeletal sounds driven with an inner energy that seemed to ignite the whole of this second half.
From the bare bones of the Scherzo through the plasmatic movement of the Allegro molto to the bleak isolation of the sostenuto.
It had a mesmerising effect on an audience caught unawares by the sudden chameleon like changes of this young musician.
Little were we expecting the onslaught that awaited with the second of Prokofiev’s War Sonatas.
The seventh Sonata op.83 was written 25 years after the Bartok receiving its first performance in 1943 from Sviatoslav Richter.
Like a man possessed Talon threw himself into the fray with a total abandon that made the few moments of serenity even more terrifying.
A wonderful palette of sounds drawn from this black box that had nothing to envy from a full symphony orchestra.
The subime Andante caloroso was played with an almost understated cantabile that made the climax even more heartrending and colouful.
The savage relentlessness of the Precipitato was breathtaking as it progressed in a seemingly endless crescendo until it’s final disintegration.
A true tour de force that brought an ovation from a public completely overcome by the virtuosity and musicianship of this young star.
A sumptuous Etude Tableau op.39 n.1 played as an encore filled the hall with the grandest of sounds.
A fullness without ever hardness because of his supreme sense of balance anchored in the bass harmonies.
A public that would not let him go was offered one of his own compositions.
A beautiful Scriabin-Debussy type impressionistic piece with some hypnotic sounds that glistened in the treble whilst hinting at glories that lay in the middle register of the piano just waiting for this seducers caressing hands.
“Hats off” indeed to Bill Nabore for sharing with us in Rome this young musician heading for the stars.