Magnificent Performance

By Gregory Taylor

Pianist Leon Bates talks to students at Westlake school in Oakland.

 Music has always been a passion of mine, both as a practitioner and spectator.  So, when the opportunity presented itself to attend the Four Seasons Arts, 52nd season opener, last Saturday at Holy Names University, featuring pianist Leon Bates – I ran to get tickets.  

You see, I like to think that I’m fairly familiar with the mechanics and nuances of the Piano, and although Jazz and Brazilian sambas are more my style of play, I have recently come to appreciate the classical pieces of Beethoven, Chopin, and Bach. 

 I just love the ambiance of a concert hall and the behavior it demands.  It elicits a certain dislocation of time to a snootier era of knee-high stockings, bustiers, and white wigs.  I arrived a tad late and politely entered the auditorium during an applause break so as not to make myself anymore conspicuous than I already had.  

I  excused myself once, twice, and excused myself again as I passed one seated patron after another until, thank God, I arrived at my assigned seat and quietly shape-shifted my corpus into it.

 Mr. Bates was already performing center stage seated pro forma at the keys of a long-black gorgeous Steinway.  I cleared my head and allowed the harmonious chord sequences to enter my brain like one would do when studying something elegantly technical.  I’m not an easy sell when it comes to a piano performance.  

I look for the flaws in a performance, perhaps to diminish my personal virtuoso inadequacies.  Piece after piece, the length and breadth of his technique was a testament to his dedication and commitment of hours and hours of daily practice.  The hall was bathed in Ravel, Chopin, and Mozart and the complex trills, fortissimo, and allegros were masterfully executed. 

 I always look for a personal signature to brand a performer.  That is, each performer seems to have an idiosyncratic mannerism to their performance.  Joe Samples has a moan while Thelonious Monk had an awkward percussive application of keystrokes.  Initially, I thought I observed an incongruent chewing of gum by Mr. Bates, but it was a facial expression that gave the appearance of gum chewing.  

A more humorous manifestation of his personal brand was the sporadic stamping of his foot, which served both for effect while doubling as a personal metronome.  Mr. Bates’ renditions were of the highest intensity on par with the likes of a Vladimir Horowitz—which is no small feat.

Leon Bates is a must see whenever he is in town.