Ukrainian pianist Lubomyr Melnyk is credited with inventing the Continuous Music keyboard technique, a rapidly played style that sometimes reaches 19 notes per second.
Many pianists have strict regiments, but few attempt to channel Tai Chi through fingertips. For Lubomyr Melnyk, that ancient Chinese martial art is surprisingly similar to his own Continuous Music keyboard technique, which he invented while playing for Parisian modern dance troops in the mid-70’s.
“The intricacies of Continuous Music are very closely related to Tai Chi, which I consider to be one of the greatest things that have ever come from China,” the Ukrainian pianist says of his unique playing technique, which consists of extremely rapid notes.
He adds: “I think of classical pianists as kung-fu masters. But Continuous Music is more like the Tai Chi Master. It’s supreme because it is completely transcendental to time and space and physical matter.
Below, the eccentric keyboardist discusses his playing style, the mercy of modern dancers, the evils of concrete and more.
Tell us more about how Continuous Music is like Tai Chi.
Overcoming the normal limits of the physical world is part of Continuous Piano Music. Through training the fingers, the hands, the entire body, you become like water and air. Only in this higher state of the technique, can the pianist achieve the super-human speeds and delicacy of touch, the softness, and the strength, which are part of playing the piano. In Continuous Music, the mind and body must coordinate to combine very complex things, and to bring the left and the right into one total unity. This can only be achieved through years of practice and devotion.
In an interview with 15questions.net you described: “Working… at the Paris Opera in the early 1970s along with the extreme hunger and poverty I experienced at that time, brought about pivotal changes for me.” What specific hardships did you face, and how did they affect your music?
It was like a complete re-birth for me. Because of my poverty and hunger, my entire being was open to contact with the metaphysical, and with beauty. So I saw new worlds arising out of the piano, new worlds of sound and musical form, and new worlds of my own physical body. I remember those years as though they are happening today.
Once you became more successful, and satisfied some of those hungers, how did your playing and composing change? Some artists worry about “losing their edge” after they become successful.
So you consider me to be successful? Oh dear, I really disagree with that. Many times when I play, there are still very few people, and my music is too difficult to play and too difficult to listen to for the average person. And of course, this makes me very curious to see how the people of China will react to my piano-playing. You know, I am really quite afraid of this first time performance!
I think that your question about the effect of my limited success on my music is good to think about. In some ways, I see that I have to adjust my concert music to be a little easier for people to listen to and enjoy. I want people to enjoy my concerts. And so, I keep some of the more difficult and metaphysical, transcendental pieces reserved for very special audiences and situations. But really, all my music is from my heart and soul, so I do not feel any shame or sadness over the music I do in concert. I love all of Continuous Music!
You recently told The Beijinger magazine that your ideal venue would have wooden floors, walls and ceilings, and no lights. What are the advantages of playing in a wooden room, how does it compliment the acoustics and you playing in particular?
I prefer wood, because it is as natural as we can get in our buildings, and it is as far away from concrete as possible. There is nothing so anti beauty and anti music as concrete. Music is the most complex entity of our existence, and it needs a good home. Concrete has a metaphysically evil existence that creates a total psychosis in humanity. It provides a horrible shell that erases all true space around us. My music needs true and absolute space for its full beauty to live. And although it may be a small detail, still, I really prefer never to play inside concrete buildings. But I cannot avoid them, unfortunately.
You’ve been praised for collaborating with dancers. How did such partnerships come to pass?
When I was in Paris and experiencing the birth of Continuous Music, modern dancers were the only people who showed any interested in me and my work. The classical world had no interest at all. They were just too busy looking at the great people behind them, instead of looking ahead for what wonderful things were coming!
Lubomyr Melnyk will perform tonight at 7:45 p.m. at the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra Chamber Hall (1380 Middle Fuxing Road, Xuhui District, near Baoqing Road/徐汇区复兴中路1380号，近宝庆路). Tickets are 100RMB.
To buy tickets, or for more information, visit this site.
By Kyle Mullin