A heavenly masterclass from Abdullah
Legendary South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim walked on stage at the Butterworth Hall to an eruption of applause and it kept going until this wonderfully-warm, charismatic artist bowed in acknowledgement.
An audience in thrall to Ibrahim before a single note had been sounded? This was surely going to be a special occasion.
And so it was. The audience sat spell-bound, listening intently while one sonorous piece flowed into another, Ibrahim moving effortlessly from key to key, tempo to tempo, style to style, returning from time to time to some heavenly refrain from iconic pieces such as African Melody, which on each occasion stunned the audience into silence.
Words fail to adequately describe either the ethereally-resonant beauty of tone that Ibrahim produced on the piano, or the mesmerising quality of the unhurried pauses he created between the notes he played. His silences not only spoke, they resonated.
This is a musician with an extraordinary sense of rhythm and timing: a marvellous ability to retain a steady, rock-solid pulse while weaving complex cross-rhythms left and right, channelling the music with intense expression, inhabiting it entirely.
He hummed along on occasion and sang sotto voce as he played, every sound seeming to resonate through his entire being.
There were many different genres of music, ranging from African-American spirituals, blues and jazz (Art Tatum, Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington) through ‘church hymns’ (How Great Thou Art) to classical.
The whole evening was, in effect, a master class in learning to listen: in the parlance of the day, a heavenly master class in mindful listening by a master musician, and what also felt like Abdullah Ibrahim’s extended hymn of praise to the glory of being.