Celebrated eccentric pianist comes to townOn November 14, 1955, Canadian concert pianist Glenn Gould performed in Sherbrooke. It was relatively early in his career, and the first time he had appeared in the city. He had not yet achieved his world-wide fame. Sherbrooke did not have a proper concert hall then; the auditorium of the St. Charles Seminary was used for such occasions. It was really like a university convocation hall -- long and narrow with a flat, wooden floor and a plain wooden stage. I recall that the acoustics of the place were quite good. I was assigned to review the concert for the Record. Here is what appeared in the paper the next day:
Glenn Gould Featured Symphony Concert
Glenn Gould, hunched on an ordinary chair over the keyboard of his grand piano, drew murmurs of comment from the first Sherbrooke Symphony Concert audience of the season at St. Charles Auditorium last night.
The brilliant 23-year-old Toronto-born pianist presented a fantastic figure. Unkempt, sandy hair tossing wildly, he jerked rhythmically with the music of the orchestra. His long, thin arms dangled limply at his sides, almost touching the stage floor. When he launched into the opening bars of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 4, he closed his eyes, tilted his head, and swayed low over the keys.
Those who weren't busy buzzing about his gestures heard one of the most masterfully-played piano concertos ever to be performed in Sherbrooke. Gould's technique and mechanical skill have already been hailed by critics throughout North America. It was obvious last night why.
Gould plays with an intense but wonderfully liquid hand. His touch last night was breathtaking. In the first movement of this well-known work, he was strident but smooth, rippling the notes with exquisite ease, but with deep feeling. He drew music delicately out of the piano in the haunting second movement, and then swung briskly and precisely into the humor and gaiety of the final rondo.
From beginning to end, the pianist appeared completely lost in the depths of the concerto. Meanwhile, his playing dominated the orchestra.
(Comments on the orchestra in the rest of the program, etc......)
I was writing some editorials for the paper then, as well as reporting, and I wrote one about the audience reaction to Gould's performance. The Record's editor ran it as the lead editorial:
The Thin Mask
There is little doubt that Toronto-born Glenn Gould,
It may be some slight consolation for the politer members of that audience to know that the guest pianist was far too engrossed in his playing to heed what was a comparative uproar. If, however, he had felt some insult, he would have been justified.
Thomas Archer, well-known music critic and columnist for the Montreal Gazette has said of Gould: "His is a priestly attitude if ever there was one, and it is all the more impressive because, despite his extravagant visual gestures, there is no pose in what he does. He is in deadly earnest."
A truly appreciative audience would have recognized this from the very first bar that Gould played. Its members would have paid him the compliment of being impressed; of endeavouring to share in some of his "priestly attitude." The Sherbrooke audience Tuesday night paid him no compliment at all.
When audience reaction is expressed as it was at this concert, then the pseudo mask wears thin indeed.
So there! Readers greeted this broadside with complete silence. There were no letters to the editor. No one outside the newsroom commented to me about it. And if there was any other reaction, the editor never told me.
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