Long ago, before concert hall and YouTube performances, piano music was presented much the same way that it is in this video: at home and for friends. There's an intimacy and communication that more formal performances can't duplicate, and sometimes (as in the case of this performance), you get lucky and the magic is captured on film.
This short performance features Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's Für Alina and Spiegel im Spiegel, along with two short Debussy selections. Für Alina, dedicated to a friend's daughter, was written as a consolation for Alina's mother when Alina left home to live in England with her father. Spiegel im Spiegel (mirror in a mirror) was originally written for piano and violin, although it has been arranged for many other instruments as well. Both pieces reflect Pärt's unique composition style known as "Holy Minimalism" or "Mystic Minimalism," and both require the pianist to settle into stillness, accept the beauty in simplicity, and play the space around the notes more than the notes themselves. When performing them (or listening to them), there's a sense of time both standing still and expanding simultaneously. I suppose that could be one of the reasons why the music of Pärt is so frequently requested as deathbed music.
The pianist Widney Moore had a long career as a gallery owner and an award-winning textile artist. Later in life, after reading Noah Adams' book Piano Lessons, she decided to learn to play the piano. Each year she prepares a program to take to Sonata--the Vermont piano camp for adults that Adams made famous in his book--and she plays the pieces for Portland friends before she leaves. And while she would never describe herself as a professional pianist, she's a true musician who plays with tenderness, beauty, and peace. When she was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer last November, we feared she'd not live to play another program. Yet, miraculously, here she is, playing better than she ever has--playing with the simplicity and clarity and gratitude that only a life well lived can bring to music.
While I watched Widney play this program last month, I was struck by the power of Pärt's and Debussy's music in the hands of a pianist who has lived the depth of every note. This simplicity, this calm acceptance--this is the "holy grail" we all seek in our playing: true purity of heart.