Hyperion Knight Plays
It’s show time in New York City and I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing all the new equipment. The people at Primedia have also arranged a busy schedule of live entertainment. A solo concert of Hyperion Knight catches my attention; the piano is my favorite instrument. I count the days until my return to the Home Entertainment show and my hometown. You can feel the excitement as you disembark at LaGuardia Airport in Queens, New York: the crush of people in business attire, electricity in the air and the long, but rapidly moving taxi line.
The first day of the show is a whirlwind of press conferences, colorful literature, equipment demos and slick corporate presentations. The technological advancements are overwhelming. It seems that only yesterday, DLP (digital light processing) was a newborn babe a newcomer to the visual world of HDTV. In only a few years, DLP technology has matured into a young adult with a second-generation chip from Texas Instruments already on the market. The technology of the latest Star Wars movie rides the crest of the hi-tech wave and starts a movement from feature film to feature video. Yes, the latest Star Wars movie uses DLP technology.
Almost every new DVD player now has progressive scan output and component input. Every plasma TV, every TV monitor, every projection TV employs hi-definition capability. CD players are taking a back seat to SACD and DVD audio hardware. New SACD and DVD audio software is being released by the major recording companies.
Halfway through the second day of the show my circuits are on overload. I visit rooms bursting with video images of every size and shape (4X5, 6X9), high-end surround sound systems, two channel sound systems, tube amps, turntables and even a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes transformed into a transformer— an amplifier of a different color. Now I’ve heard of people with foot fetishes, but this is just too much. I walk out into the crowded hallways: pushed and pulled by the crowd, beckoned by manufacturers and storeowners. My head begins to pound as I step into the elevator and encounter a former customer.
“Hi Gigi, remember me.”
“Um, refresh my memory.”
“I bought a Zenith projector from your store. Now I have my own business.”
“Oh, what lines do you carry?”
“Just Naim, but it works for me.”
“That’s nice. This is my floor, gotta go.”
Desperately in need of some solitude, I drag my tired body, my heavy bag of literature, purse and camera equipment down the hall to the music room. A person at the door scans my badge. I enter a dark, cool and quiet auditorium with a concert grand Steinway piano parked on the stage. It patiently waits for the mesmerizing touch of the pianist to free the music that rests beneath its brilliant black exterior.
With a sigh of relief, I take my seat in the half full music room. It is time to clear my mind of technical jargon, dancing images and noisy chatter. A person appears at the microphone to introduce the pianist. A tall, handsome, young man with a sensitive face and an Armani tuxedo strolls onto the stage.
Hyperion Knight was born in California and had his musical debut at the age of fourteen where he performed Beethoven’s “G Major Concerto”. He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory when he was nineteen. A recognized soloist for the Utah Symphony and Cleveland Philharmonic, Knight is known for the diversity of his recordings from Beethoven to Gershwin. The American Record Guide noted, “Not since Heifetz has anyone played Gershwin solos with this much panache—the songs glitter like jewels against black satin.”
Hyperion Knight walks over to the microphone and says, “Given the relaxed informal nature of this performance, today’s concert will be an unusual mix of past and present, classical and modern music.”
He sits down at the Steinway.
The concert begins with an interesting interpretation of the Beatles, “Norwegian Wood” and Eleanor Rigby.” I feel my body relax as the music of the Steinway piano and the Beatles fills the room, and my mind with sweet memories of days long past. The team of Lennon and McCartney are known for their melodic and harmonious approach to rock music and this appears to be Knight’s forte as well. The pianist’s flowing style thrives on the melodic beauty of these modern classics. Next he plays the Billy Joel song, “A New York State of Mind.” This brings a smile to my face, as Knight’s interpretation portrays the excitement and energy that is New York City.
Mr. Knight approaches the microphone, “Now I’m going to take you back several hundred years and play a different interpretation of Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat”.
Frederick (Frederyk) Chopin, a sensitive Pisces, was born on March 1, 1810 in the village of Zelazowa Wola 20 miles west of Warsaw, Poland. His devoted family exposed him to music at an early age. His mother Justina, the cousin of Polish nobility played the piano and sang. His father was born in Lorraine, France and later became the tutor of Napoleon’s mistress, Madam Walewska.
Before he turned six, Chopin was already a master of the piano. He could play every melody he ever heard and began to improvise. His tutor, Woljciech Zywny, encouraged and guided young Chopin’s genius.
Chopin’s first work, “Polonaise in G Minor” was published in 1817 when he was seven years old. One year later young Chopin played his first public concert in Warsaw. The talent of this child prodigy was obvious to all in attendance and he was invited to play at the homes of the aristocracy.
Chopin matured into a shy, sensitive soul that preferred small gatherings to public performance. He is recognized as one of the most prolific of composers in the nocturne genre. Chopin further developed the nocturne by adding richness to the texture and intricacy to the left hand harmony. He was described, as 5’7 and 98 pounds; not surprising that his technique was gentle and delicate with a light touch on the keys and added attention to the melody.
Hyperion Knight takes advantage of the small room (similar to those preferred by Chopin) and presents us with a gentle and sensitive interpretation of Chopin’s “Nocturne in E Flat”. The sound is exquisite. The transparency of the highs, the space surrounding the notes, the way the sound lingers in the air and reveals the harmonics of each note as they hang suspended…this is what music is all about.
Chopin’s subtle transition from one melodic proposition to another gave his compositions a musical flow likened to mountain streams in springtime. Liszt said, “Listen to him as he dreams, as he weeps, as he sings, with tenderness, gentleness and melancholy; how perfectly he expresses every feeling, how delicate, how ever lofty! Chopin is the pianist of pianists.” and Hyperion Knight is the pianist of Chopin.
But, this is only the beginning. Knight continues with Chopin’s “Fantasy Impromptu”. Chopin composed only four impromptus. The “Fantasy Impromptu (in C Sharp Minor) was his fourth composition. While the performances of this piece by Rubenstein on RCA Victor LM 1153 display his athletic and masculine style, Knight’s performance reveals a gentle touch of fingers on keys and a delicacy true to the composer’s style.
The pianist tells us of a special musician that recently passed away and that the next song is a tribute to this man. The song is “Something in the Way She Moves”. The man is my favorite Beatle, the talented and spiritual George Harrison. Tears fill my eyes as I realize that there will be no new music from the quiet Beatle.
Hyperion Knight walks over to the microphone, “Next I’m going to attempt to play something never played before by a classical pianist, my interpretation of the heavy metal song, “Stairway to Heaven.” A murmur rises up from the audience of the now-filled hall as recognizable strains of Led Zeppelin fill the room. What a treat to hear this old favorite played with such a fluid style. What a surprise when our classical pianist emphasizes various phrases by reaching inside the piano. He plucks and strums the inside strings so that his right hand is playing the strings while his left hand is simultaneously playing the keys of the beautiful Steinway. This is truly a modern interpretation of an old rock-n-roll tune.
Hyperion Knight walks off the stage to thunderous applause and a standing ovation. After several minutes, he returns for an encore. “What should I play for you?” He asks the audience and someone replies, “Play us your favorite.”
The pianist replies, “As far as music is concerned the 20th Century belongs to the U.S.A. especially the time from 1925 until 1985. During that period, one composer stands out, Gershwin.”
George Gershwin, born in Brooklyn on September 26, 1898 spent his childhood on the lower East Side of Manhattan. When an upright piano was hoisted into his mother’s house and installed in the living room, the 12-year-old Gershwin immediately sat down and played a popular tune that he learned on a friend’s player piano. Recognizing his abilities, Charles Hambitzer; a talented pianist, composer and music tutor encouraged Gershwin’s creativity and introduced him to the masters including Chopin and Debussy. At age 15 Gershwin was the youngest pianist at Tin Pan Alley. In 1916 he received an advance of $5.00 for his first published song “When You Want ‘Em You Can’t Get ’Em, When You’ve Got ‘Em You Don’t Want ‘Em”. In 1917 he became a Ziegfield rehearsal pianist and in 1924 he turned a clarinet theme into “Rhapsody in Blue”.
The music of Gershwin portrays human suffering. All that is painful, sad and supine. At the same time, it is naïve, innocent and playful. Who but George Gershwin could have written Porgy & Bess? The philosopher Spinoza says, “Virtue is the power of acting exclusively according to one’s true nature”. While in Paris, Gershwin visited Maurice Ravel, to become his pupil. Ravel shook his head no, “Why do you want to become a second rate Ravel, when you are already a first rate Gershwin?”
Porgy & Bess is the most complicated of Gershwin’s works. It uses well-defined choral patterns and African rhythms to reflect a primitive intensity and rhythmic vitality. A combination of jazz and blues, Porgy and Bess is an opera about America. Gershwin called it a folk opera. J. Rosamund Johnson notes that it came “from street cries, blues and plantation songs of the Negro” and Gershwin presents it with humor, eloquence, melodic passages and deep emotion.
My favorite recording of this masterpiece is “Porgy & Bess – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Amstrong” Verve 827 475.2. The soulful trumpet and gravelly voice of Louis Armstrong accompanied by the deep resonances of Ella Fitzgerald’s silky sound is accentuated by a high-quality recording. The result is a powerful recording and rewarding musical experience.
The tall musician sits down on his piano stool and plays a medley of songs from Porgy & Bess including “Summertime”, “I can’t Sit Down”, “My Man” and “Someone to Watch Over Me”. Gershwin successfully combines jazz and blues in this modern opera and Hyperion Knight adds his own touch as he extracts the pain and pleasure from the score and injects it into his performance. Although Hyperion Knight’s playing lacks the gut-clutching soul and strength of an Oscar Peterson (my favorite jazz/blues pianist) it is at once sweet and sour, emotional and uplifting.
The concert is over. I feel rested and relaxed, ready to go back into the hi-tech world of Primedia’s Home Entertainment Show 2002. The lights come on and the room is jammed with people. More tired music-lovers roll into the music room for the next concert, a chance to rest their feet, their minds and to enjoy the music.