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27 of 38 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bitter-sweet little tragedy, 21 Nov. 2011
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This review is from: Set the Piano Stool on Fire [DVD] (DVD)
This is a rather scary review to write, since I've gotten the whole thing wrong, judging from a lot of influential people, not least some of whom are featured in this documentary. The film portrays Alfred Brendel's teaching relationship with the young pianist-composer Kit Armstrong. But where many people see a beautiful portrayal of an astonishing new talent promoted by one of the perhaps twenty finest pianists of the last hundred years, I see a bitter-sweet tragedy unfolding. For some, it could be the tragedy of Brendel retracting from the public ear, which also is a major component of this film; for me, it's Brendel's input in trying to convey in Kit the 'meaning of life' and 'the nature of humans and humanity' as foundations for understanding music.

Kit, on camera and in front of the recording microphone, clearly shows dire symptoms of autism; a condition which may have propelled him through extraordinary paths in becoming a polyglot, a mathematical bright-head and a technically astonishing young pianist. Some laughs are sounded as other aspects of human (adult) life is briefly discussed, but in the case of Kit it seems, from this film, that these will remain laughs of embarrassment.

Brendel says they have tried to 'set the piano stool on fire', in making Kit grasping the necessity of conviction, of delivering something to an audience. This has, at the end of the film, failed. I predict this will never come about. What puzzles me, then, is why Brendel took Kit on in the first place. If I'm not entirely wrong in my assumptions, it's most puzzling why Brendel didn't choose to break his tutorship, as any responsible mentor would. Kit's manager says in the film, that the relationship between the mentor and protégée is one of reciprocal meaning and benefit; they both benefit from their collaboration. I hope so, because it would explain why Brendel has gone to such great lengths with Kit - there is then meaning not revealed in the film. But musically, there is very little speaking for Kit apart from his tender age, which in the end means nothing, so it's still puzzling. And a little bit tragic. Or else, I've misunderstood everything.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 18 May 2012, 09:20:27 BST
[Deleted by the author on 19 May 2012, 06:19:11 BST]

In reply to an earlier post on 18 May 2012, 13:31:57 BST
Last edited by the author on 21 May 2012, 17:29:35 BST
Some extracts from an interview with Kit.

What do you enjoy most about performing Beethoven's Piano Concerto No 1? What should audiences expect from your performance during the upcoming concerts in Germany?
It's become a tradition for me to perform this concerto on my birthday. I played it last year in Hanover with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra. It's also a concerto that has many happy memories for me. I played it under Sir Charles Mackerras in 2005 soon after I turned 13.

I hope to bring something new to the audience in this well known piece. I will try to do that by presenting to the audience the composer's original ideas while bringing to the forefront certain aspects of the concerto. This balancing act is an interpretative decision and thus a liberty, the goal is to make the performance a revelatory experience for the audience.

Your mentor, Alfred Brendel, is famously reluctant to take on pupils. Do you feel that teaching piano is something that you will do in the future and what particular advice given to you by Brendel would you impart to your students?
Having the opportunity to study with Alfred Brendel is, as you can imagine, a great honour. His generosity to me has been quite extraordinary and a great inspiration to me. As a result of this experience teaching is not something he has simply inspired me to do in the future, but I really see it as a pleasing moral obligation. He has taught me about character in music, about looking at other disciplines, such as visual art, theatre and poetry and to draw the lessons from those disciplines into music. He is, and continues to be, a great influence to me as a musician and as a man.

Many musicians have a routine that they go through before a performance. Do you have any rituals?
I like to relax before a concert by wandering around the city where I'm playing and going to museums and then finding a restaurant beloved by the local people and enjoying a very nice pre-concert supper there. I especially like it if the local speciality happens to be lobster!

(DOES THIS READ LIKE AN AUTISTIC PERSON SPEAKING?)

Posted on 18 May 2012, 13:34:38 BST
Last edited by the author on 21 May 2012, 17:34:01 BST
"clearly shows dire symptoms of autism"
In my opinion this statement might be considered libellous.
Do you hold any qualifications to back up this judgement?

Piano Trios

There's the first CD to show for Brendel's efforts.

Posted on 9 Jun 2012, 10:24:50 BST
Klara K says:
I have not seen the DVD but find your observations nuanced and highly fascinating.

Posted on 15 Jul 2012, 23:23:39 BST
P. W. Fussey says:
Your review makes the film sound more interesting and meaningful than the more positive ones! Complex personalities, tragedy, failure on the part of the protagonists: you have certainly made this film sound interesting.
So why the three stars?

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jul 2012, 23:25:56 BST
P. W. Fussey says:
Perhaps.

Posted on 3 Nov 2015, 12:05:57 GMT
Geezer47 says:
This is truly unbelievable. Kit Armstrong is a charming, even charismatic young pianist with a great sense of humour and without any difficulty to relate to other people - for example, he regularly talks to the audience after a performance to announce and explain his choice of encores, obviously enjoying the interaction. His talent and hard work have made him a truly outstanding musician with a full range of expressions from soft and emotional to forceful and determined. How anyone has the nerve to call him autistic is beyond me.

Posted on 23 Jun 2016, 04:53:59 BST
alainalors says:
You are clearly not a qualified psychotherapist, since professionals in this field do not make assumptions they cannot ultimately verify. Moreover, you just as clearly lack musical sensitivity and judgment, since your only comment on the young pianist's ability is totally wayward - and highly derogatory to boot. Kit Armstrong is an exceptionally gifted musician as well as a fascinating individual whose talents range from performance and composition to mathematics. Failure to recognize this and to understand the reasons why Alfred Brendel chose to tutor him reveals a deep ignorance, not only of Brendel's motivation, but also of his fundamental character traits. In sum, you HAVE, in fact, got the whole thing wrong.

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Jun 2016, 07:24:29 BST
[Deleted by the author on 23 Jun 2016, 07:29:17 BST]
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