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The Prokofiev Sonata that made my head explode.

The Prokofiev Sonata that made my head explode. featured image

Composer and pianist Bill Hirtz

April 26, 2019

Tomorrow marks the 128th birthday of Sergei Prokofiev. The first time I heard his Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat minor, Op. 83, I was blown away. I was twelve years old, hanging out in Banff with my parents. One or both of my brothers were doing summer studies at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, or just “the Banff Centre” as everyone called it. My parents and I would pile into the car and drive from Vancouver to Banff, to take in whatever recital or concerto concert they were performing. Those were wonderful summers, and I was introduced to all kinds of music, dance, and visual art.  (It doesn’t mean I got out of practising, though. When I didn’t want to go on a hike, my parents would leave me in a “fish tank” or a practise hut – these little sound-proof rooms where instrumentalists could practise.)

I’d likely heard recordings of the Prokofiev Sonata that my dad would play – he had about a thousand records at one point – but I’d never heard it live. When I did, one fateful evening in Banff, I was riveted. The pianist was Bill Hirtz, a very good friend of my brother Jackie, and they were cohorts during their Juilliard days in New York. I remember first meeting Bill by the cutlery in the Banff Centre cafeteria and thought he was cutest thing ever. Instead of ignoring his buddy’s kid sister, he was really nice to me, acknowledged my existence, made me laugh with his sharp wit, and even wrote back when I sent him letters about my miserable early teens. He was a real friend to me, and someone I think of very fondly to this day.

The 7th Piano Sonata is in three traditional movements, Allegro inquieto (I was like, “what? Inquieto??), Andante caloros (I probably wondered if it was somehow fattening), and Precipitato, described as “an explosive burst of rock ‘n’ roll with a chromatic edge”. I was totally gobsmacked when I heard Bill perform this piece. Bill is a freelance film composer and songwriter in Los Angeles now, but my god, what a pianist he is, too.

Here is Lang Lang, doing the honours.

Sergei Prokofiev was born April 27, 1891 in what was known as the Soviet Union, and died March 5, 1953, in what was then Moscow.


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