Houstoun to play Bach

18:05, Dec 10 2012

Keyboard practice" is a translation for the German words Clavier-Ubung, the original title composer J S Bach gave for his Goldberg Variations.

The 75-minute long work came to be recognised as one of the most ambitious compositions written for harpsichord and New Zealand pianist Michael Houstoun describes the variations as possibly the greatest ever composed for a solo instrument.

"There seems to be no end to their magnificence," he said yesterday in a text message to the Marlborough Express.

Next Tuesday he will perform the Goldberg Variations on the Marlborough Music Society's Steinway grand piano. It was relocated to St Andrew's Presbyterian Church on Henry St, Blenheim, last month and Tuesday's concert will be its first public airing at the new venue.

Houstoun used St Michael's Church in Christchurch to perform the Variations in April this year and reviewers identified the holy place as ideal for such "spiritually profound" music.

Asked if he has any sense of sacredness or spirituality when playing the 1741 music, Houstoun says it is a secular work, but listeners may make their own spiritual connections.


"Fully engaged concentration may indeed contain a pure spiritual dimension," he adds.

Houstoun last played the Steinway when he and Russian violinist Sergey Malov, winner of the 2011 Michael Hill Jeweller International Violin Competition, were society guests in June this year.

The Steinway was purchased by the society in 1952 and shipped to New Zealand from the Royal Albert Hall, London. There, it had been played by top pianists, including Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. Houstoun will not be drawn on whether he gives it higher status than other grand pianos he has used.

"All pianos are different, end of story. It's part of the fun," he writes.

● J S Bach's Goldberg Variations will be performed by Michael Houston at 6.30pm on Tuesday, December 18 in St Andrew's Presbyterian Church, Henry St, Blenheim.

The Marlborough Express