© 2017 by THAT VIRGINIA

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Take a Deep Breath: Suzana Bartal


We were not late this time. We didn’t take the wrong exit off Route 8. June picked me up at a Park & Ride and we had a smooth drive up to New Haven. We had clear skies, clear highway, everything was going well. We found parking right in front, and we got there early enough to pick our seats. So far so good. We sat right up front, in the second row. First to the left of the stage, but quickly moved to the center - we didn’t want to watch the performer’s back only. I am glad we moved.


I want to say the pianist’s facial expressions were my favorite part of the recital. We saw Suzana Bartal, a Yale alumna from Romania, perform four very intricate and complex pieces: Felix Mendelssohn’s Prelude and Fugue in E minor, Op. 35, No.1, Kaija Saariaho’s Prelude (2007), Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, Op. 54, and Claude Debussy’s Préludes, Book II.


Bartal is impressive for many reasons. First of all, she performed most of the pieces by heart; the only piece she used sheet music for was Mendelssohn’s Variations sérieuses, Op. 54. She closed her eyes and let the notes flow through her effortlessly as if the music was taking over her. From our second row seat, we could hear the depth of her breathing - it was as if she breathed for both herself and her piano. She moved, sometimes gracefully, sometimes as if in a rage, traveling up and down her piano keys that she knew as well as the back of her hands. She didn’t have to think about it. Deep breath. Her hair flipped in different directions as her body moved with the music. Exhale. Her hands moved so fast I couldn’t keep track of them. It was truly fascinating to watch the intensity of her performance.


My favorite piece was the 37-minute long Préludes, Book II by Claude Debussy. The piece consists of twelve different preludes, each invoking a different emotion, painting a different picture. Bartal moved quickly through the parts, pausing for effect in between one and the other. Her hands never hesitating. Deeper breath. She played so hard I felt like the piano would collapse. Exhale. The keys were hit softly, so quiet it was hard to hear.


Bartal’s performance ended to a standing ovation. The theater was not very full - it was a modest crowd - but those who were there had gone on a journey with Bartal through all pieces and movements, and were left in awe of her skill and passion. June and I had exchanged looks throughout the performance, sometimes gasping for air as we took it all in. She bowed down several times as we clapped.


On our drive back, June and I discussed the beauty of music, nature, and space. We both love to observe the sky, and we talked about how we feel so small on Earth in the grand scheme of things. Deep breath - did you see that? In the darkness of a clear October night, a shooting star quickly traveled through the sky above the highway - almost as if it were trying to compete with Bartal’s speed on the piano. Exhale. I think the pianist won.


If you are curious, here is the second part of the recital [the 37 minutes long Préludes, Book II by Claude Debussy]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDdJagYdPEU Enjoy!