The erotic gaze of the piano player

The playing of pianist Pantelis Polychronidis, my “other self,” reminds me of cultural and psychological associations between the musician and the listener’s body, like the figures in “Titian’s dumbfounding Venus With an Organist and Cupid, dating to 1550-55. Venus lounges on a red velvet blanket, which Titian renders with stunningly free brushwork; gashes of purple and mauve run through the velour. Her son whispers in her ear, making her turn away from the musician in her bedchamber — who indiscreetly gazes at her uncovered genitals. The goddess of love has an untroubled face and a slight paunch in her belly. They make her seem more mortal, and make the painting even lewder.”

Since we became friends, I am fascinated by the erotics of piano performance – not so much the sensual relation of musicians to their instruments as their desire for their listeners, and the ways their playing embodies it. Pantelis is often captivated by beautiful women, real and imaginary, and loves to admire them and share his admiration with me in a warmly poetic language. Thus when I see him perform, I can’t help marveling at the way he addresses many pieces to goddesses of supple grace and radiance. Trying to think of famous contemporary pianists with a comparable erotic disposition and delivery, the first names that come to mind are Daniil Trifonov playing Scriabin and Lucas Debargue Liszt as well as Hélène Grimaud playing Chopin and Yuja Wang Schumann.

August 12, 2016

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