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Features / Georgeson examines different ages of dance

Neil Georgeson during the 2017 classical season at Mareel.

SHETLAND piano virtuoso Neil Georgeson will be returning to Mareel this Thursday for his last appearance in Shetland Arts’ 2017-18 classical season.

Speaking to Shetland News, Neil explained that the concert, Dance Music, will be a look at “all different kinds of dance”. The musical choices range from the 12th century to the modern day, spanning a wide range of dance styles and composers.

Edvard Grieg’s Op.72 Hardanger fiddle tunes may be familiar to some of Shetland’s classical fans – Neil has previously used some of these pieces in concert with cellist Abby Hayward back in September, where he specially arranged them for piano and cello. Grieg was commissioned to arrange these traditional Norwegian folk tunes for piano as a method of preservation – folk tunes that were a big influence on the Shetland fiddle style.

In Dance Music, Neil will be playing a small selection of “brilliant” Hardanger pieces in Grieg’s original piano arrangement – different ones, he was keen to point out, from the Hardanger tunes played in the September concert.

Neil will also be playing an extremely interesting evolutionary medley, Minuets. Remarking that “it’s something I’ve never done before”, Neil explained that he will cover 250 years of the minuet (a slow, ballroom dance) in a seamless 18-minute performance.

“It’s the most central, most important dance in classical music,” Neil said. “Very aristocratic… It’s a kind of story. The story of the minuet over 250 years.”

Starting with a 17th century composition by Lully, Louis XIV’s composer, and moving through other distinguished composers such as Mozart and Ravel , Minuets will combine a number of these pieces. Some of these minuets, such as one by Austrian composer Joseph Hayden, had to be transcribed from a recording, as there is no actual sheet music available. Each minuet will flow into a later one so that the audience can experience the evolution of this very particular kind of dance over the centuries.

Following on the back of Minuets is a sherzo by Frédéric Chopin – a successor to the minuet. Neil noted that, while the sherzo is usually a light and playful bit of music (the word literally means ‘joke’ in Italian), Chopin’s take on the style is “darker, sharper and louder”.

Another fascinating-looking number is “the very earliest we have of keyboard pieces… a kind of medieval dance.” Taken from the Robertsbridge Codex (an anonymous collection of music from 1360), this piece is the single oldest extant keyboard composition, and would originally have been intended for the organ or clavichord.

Some of Neil’s previous concerts have been notable for their experimental elements, and Dance Music seems to be no exception. The concert will feature a bizarre piece by contemporary composer Patrick Nunn – through a complicated digital set-up, 3D sensors on Neil’s hands will allow his movements to alter the music from the piano.

Neil added that he and Mr Nunn collaborated on bringing this intriguing composition to Shetland – Mr Nunn even lent him the 3D sensors.

“It’s a really interesting piece,” Neil explained, “Kind of technological, with live electronics. Really fun. It’s great. Kind of… movement literally translated into sound.”

Another highlight will surely be a ‘ridiculously difficult’ take on Strauss’ Blue Danube. “One of the most instantly recognisable tunes”, Neil will be performing Adolf Schulz-Evler’s piano arrangement of the famous orchestral waltz, which he described as “big, loud, and such good fun”.

Neil’s previous concerts have been powerful, funny, engaging and mesmerising; but they have never been dull. For Dance Music, he promises something truly special – a tantalising offer that no music fan should pass up.

Alex Garrick Wright