Edinburgh Fringe 2019
An hour of excellent music that proved to be surprisingly educational as well.
Why is it that the best-known pianists all seem to be men? Why is it that 97% of classical performances over the last 12 months in Europe featuring a piano have involved men? Why is it that only 30% of Aussie bands have more than one female instrumentalist? Why is it that Felix Mendelssohn gets all the credit, whereas his dear sister Fanny could knock out tunes the equal or better than anything he could produce? And Mozart’s sister was apparently quite good on the ivories as well.
According Australian Emma Knights, it’s nearly always “piano men” that get prominence, the kudos, the acclaim whereas there are plenty of “piano women” that deserve equal, if not higher billing. Knights has been playing the piano since she could reach the keys. In fact, she reckons she’s practically married to her instrument, so much does she enjoy its company.
All this and more comes pouring out in her semi-autobiographical show, The Piano Men, the “beta” version of which I saw last year. Then it was parked in a stuffy hotel room with the worst acoustics I’ve encountered in a long time and where there was just room for Knights, an electric piano and a few of us in the audience. But what a difference a year makes. This year we’re in Stockbridge Church with all its elegance and, more importantly, resonant acoustics. And Knights has a real grand piano on which to let loose her considerable skills as a pianist.
So, we take a gentle journey through the piano men that have influenced Knights on her journey to becoming a much in demand musician, be it as an accompanist, band member or, as here, solo performer. It’s an interesting show that’s educating, entertaining and amusing. Knights has an open, easy-going style of delivery, be it singing or narrating and is clearly a consummate pianist, happy playing everything from classical to rock and roll – and anything in between.
Somehow, in just an hour, she manages to cram in extracts or full versions of nearly thirty pieces of music, ranging from Away in a Manager to a rousing Great Balls of Fire. We get piano solos as well as songs – her own compositions as well as those of others. Knights has a pleasant, lilting voice, very clear, expressive and well-suited to the melancholic ballads she treated us to – Elton John’s “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” being delivered with particular tenderness. And her style as a raconteur/narrator is both easy on the ear as well as being informative – I ended up knowing a good deal more about both male and female pianists.
This would be a show I would recommend going to see but Monday’s performance was her last at this year’s Fringe. Let’s hope she has been encouraged enough by her experiences to return, especially if she brings with her more of her own compositions.