Alchemy of the Piano

A musical journey though one man's life with universal appeal

★★★★
music review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 09 Aug 2015

Will Pickvance enjoys playing music as an end in itself. Though it is apparent from the moment his fingers first touch the ivories that he is a musician of prodigious skill, it is equally clear that he plays as much for his own joy as anyone else's. Such an attitude lends his performance an unconcerned, unpretentious air, leaving the audience undoubtedly impressed, but never alienated from the friendly, savant-like talent before them. This is vital for the back-and-forth upon which the show hinges: in explaining what the piano has meant in his life, Pickvance expresses that life through music.

With Thelonious Monk's assertation that "there are no wrong notes" as his credo, Pickvance presents his autobiographical reflections free-form, with many tangents and improvisations. From a fascinated but undisciplined childhood, noodling aimlessly on the keyboard, delighted by the secrets he might accidentally unlock, to an equally meandering adulthood, Pickvance determines not only to articulate why the piano is such a passion, but the technicalities of how it has achieved such a hold. In this, he succeeds utterly.

Pickvance can be very funny, but it isn't a comedian's humour: it comes from a natural, conversational honesty, free of any artifice where getting laughs might trump human connection. Still, the recollections of his time as house pianist at Skibo Castle, a retreat for the rich and famous, are worth the price of admission alone. For fellow musicians, Alchemy of the Piano will be hilariously recognisable; for everyone else, it will be simply and brilliantly illuminating.