Kathleen Tagg & Andre Petersen: two accomplished pianists, one residing in New York and the other in Cape Town. Both were born in South Africa and they grew up within a few kilometres of one another, although in the different worlds of a country divided by apartheid. They met while studying music at UCT, which is why they chose the title Where Worlds Collide for their album and CD launch concert at the Baxter’s Concert Hall. This collision happened on many levels, as the audience learned soon after they were seated.
Kathleen Tagg, who moved to New York in 2001, has become well known not only for her brilliance and versatility, but also for playfully exploring the sounds and sonority of the piano by manipulating its hammers and strings while she performs. She uses objects such as scarves, jewellery, hair pieces and paper in original and unorthodox ways to extract the most fascinating tunes from the instrument.
Andre Petersen, one of South Africa’s most sought after pianists and lecturers, is a remarkable artist whose name has become synonymous with local jazz. When he performs, he instantly has everyone in awe of his talent, skill and his love for the piano.
To have these two remarkable musicians perform together is not only rare, but is also the result of a highly unlikely project, considering the fact that they reside on different continents and thus “depended on Skype and a lot of coffee” for their collaboration.
The concert opened with an intriguing opening performance by dancers from the Rainbow Academy, before Shado Twala welcomed the audience and introduced the pianists. Tagg and Petersen enthralled the audience with their charm and skilful interpretations of music by composers such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Bheki Mseleku, Moses Molelekwa and Allan Mzamo Silinga, amongst others, as well as their own compositions. They told stories in between performances, offering interesting background information relating to the songs they were playing.
There were several noteworthy pieces. Abdullah Ibrahim’s ‘African Dawn’ is a vibrant and essentially African piece of music, telling stories of despair, conflict and hope – something that remains relevant to the South African political landscape of today. Tagg’s composition ‘As the Flowers Bloom’ was inspired by homesickness while residing in freezing New York City. Petersen’s more lighthearted ‘D’julle, Ons en Hulle’ has traces of African rhythm, Ghoema and jazz, and George Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’ is beautiful.
Watching two of South Africa’s most celebrated pianists perform alongside each other on grand pianos and experiencing how they interact with one another and their instruments is breathtaking in itself. The fact that they place scarves and other objects (including a pair of bright green pantyhose) on the pianos’ strings in order to achieve variation in sound while performing in perfect synchronicity and with the utmost reverence is incredible to say the least. The most fascinating aspect of their performance, however, might have been the sense of lightness and playfulness they emanated throughout the evening. The passion and joy that both these pianists so obviously feel for their music and the piano was conveyed to every person in the audience. Even though some of the pieces might have been unconventional, strange and even exhausting to the unaccustomed, harmony-seeking ear, there was no doubt that we were in the presence of musical genius. The audience leapt to their feet after the last song on the programme, and the standing ovation had the pianists – who seemed genuinely surprised by how well they were received – return with a final performance of the popular duet ‘Tonk’ by Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn.
While listening to the concert, I couldn’t help remembering these words by Carl Jung: “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
Two greatly creative minds playing with an object they love was exactly what we witnessed. Where worlds collided, something exceptional was born.
The Where Worlds Collide CD launch concert took place at the Baxter Concert Hall on 18 March 2016. For more, please visit www.taggpetersenduo.com.