Piano lessons were never like this. But then, I never had Chopin as a teacher.
Hershey Felder’s Chopin, on the other hand, is both a fine pianist and an engaging teacher, and he’s back in town with his one-man show about “Monsieur Chopin.” You can see him through Oct. 6 at San Diego Repertory’s Space Theatre. Joel Zwick directs.
The second in a series of seven subjects (so far) in Felder’s series which began as a “Composers Sonata.” This installment is a reworked version of the show he presented here in 2008.
Freyderyk Chopin, born in Poland, had a short but tumultuous life which included both the lasting sadness of his 14-year-old sister Emilia’s death and a decade-long rocky affair with renowned French writer George Sand, which ended badly.
Tonight he strides in wearing a formal black coat and tie. He tells us he is here for “the lesson,” and asks which of us students would like to work with him. Lacking volunteers (I am told there have been a few during the show’s run,) Chopin begins to tell us his story, punctuated by illustrative keyboard examples.
Chopin’s works are legendary and known to every serious piano student. Tonight we will hear at least parts of the “Polonaise in G Minor,” the “Grande Valse Brillante,” the “Funeral March” and a mazurka or two.
He tells of a fever dream he had while composing in a dank Spanish monastery and makes fun of bombastic fellow composer Franz Liszt. But mainly, he demonstrates what he is best remembered for: developing the technique of playing the piano, revolutionary at the time but adopted by every pianist since. He demonstrates his rubato technique on the mazurka he plays.
Known today for his compositions, Chopin made his living teaching and performing in Paris salons.
Felder closes the evening with a half-hour of questions from the “class,” in which he will have the chance to show off Felder’s quick wit and improvisational ability. The questions are mandatory, because “if you do not ask questions, you learn nothing.”
Felder is always an engaging performer, and this show is no exception. The set is Felder’s, a lovely drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, candelabras and a sparkling chandelier, a few tables and a settee and, of course, a grand piano.
I have only one cavil. This is, I believe, the first time Felder has used the more intimate Lyceum Space. It makes sense for the piano lesson setup, but a two-hour show without intermission in this space is asking a bit too much of the audience.
"Hershey Felder as Monsieur Chopin" plays through October 6, 2019 at San Diego Repertory’s Space Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.
Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.
When: 7 pm Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 pm. Thursdays-Fridays; 2 and 8 pm. Saturdays; 2 and 7 pm. Sundays. (Some exceptions; check with theater.)