It’s the most captive of audiences, as Michael Mizrahi performs Friday night on a floating barge at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. And even if people run from the site of the recital, he can always blame it on sea sickness.
“It’s an unusual setting and I think you feel it more in the audience than you do on stage. It’s a little unsettling, but you get used to it. In the audience, you have the Manhattan skyline that’s moving around behind the performer and that’s kind of weird.”
But as the old saying goes, the juice is worth the squeeze, and with the forecast showing no rain or high winds, it should be a perfect night for a little classical music, and few are better at bringing it to the masses than Mizrahi, who has the ability to take compositions and make them his own.
“I think that’s the power of a good interpretation,” he said. “There are three essential elements in any performance: the composer who wrote the music and the audience that’s hearing the music, but in some ways, the most important role is that of the performer who’s mediating the music. The composer’s notes on the page don’t exist until the performer plays them, and the performer puts a little bit of him or her self into it and you get a unique mix. That’s why audiences still go to hear live classical music after many centuries of these pieces being performed.”
And while there is the stereotype of classical music being something your parents or grandparents listen to, Mizrahi – a founding member of NOW Ensemble and Moet Trio – isn’t buying it, especially since his crowds are usually comprised of a wide range of demographic groups, from young to old and everything in between. And playing on a barge doesn’t hurt in terms of bringing in the curious who want to do something a little different on a Friday night.
“In terms of the audience makeup, I’ve played concerts for 2,000 people, I’ve played concerts for ten people and it’s been audiences of all stripes,” he said. “I would say it skews younger and I think a younger audience might be more likely to see a concert like this on a barge and say I want to check that out or pick up an album called The Bright Motion with some composers they haven’t heard of before and take a chance on that. I think any kind of new style or new music is always going to have a younger audience initially, but I think what’s great about this repertoire is how much it is in dialogue with the music of the past, and I try to program the new pieces alongside older ones.”
Mizrahi’s 2012 album, The Bright Motion, won critical and popular acclaim, and not surprisingly, as he has an uncanny ability to take the listener on a journey they may not expect to go on melodically. The same goes for his performances.
“I think that’s a big part of any successful composition, that there’s some set of expectations that either the piece itself develops or it’s part of a larger tradition that has a certain set of expectations, and then those expectations are played with,” Mizrahi said. “Sometimes they’re fulfilled. And that’s what makes every piece unique. I would say as a performer the challenge is for me to convey that, even though I know exactly what’s happening because I’ve played the piece in the practice room a hundred times. So it’s not a surprise to me, per se, but in that moment, I try to be as surprised as the audience so that I can really convey that.”
Friday’s performance will include compositions by Bartók, Beethoven and Chopin, as well as newer pieces by artists such as Missy Mazzoli, Asha Srinivasan, Patrick Burke and Mark Dancigers, giving listeners a taste of old and new.
“Many of the pieces on the program I’ll be playing at the barge were written within the last two or three years, and in the case of one of the pieces (by Dancigers), it’s the world premiere,” Mizrahi said. “And I think there’s a huge influence on me playing new music from all the work I do with the older music. If I play Chopin, ideally it feels like a brand new statement in 2015, even though it was written 200 years ago. And then when I play the actual pieces that were written in 2015, then those pieces feel like they’re part of the living tradition of music for solo piano.”
In other words, classical music is alive and kicking and in good hands with folks like Michael Mizrahi, who couldn’t picture doing anything else with his life, simply because music is his life.
“Music, for me, encompasses everything,” he said. “When I’m playing, it’s really a mirror or whatever mood I’m in. Every aspect of life that’s worth living, I’ve found in music kind of a microcosm of everything. And it’s not predictable. Every day is a little different.”
Michael Mizrahi plays at Barge Music on Friday, May 1. For tickets, click here