I HAD the privilege the other day to catch virtuoso British pianist Paul Lewis perform at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music.
He's touring Australia as part of Musica Viva's International Concert Season 2015. And I have to say, quite frankly, he shreds.
He also walks on stage in a funny way and breathes heavily when aroused at the keyboard, but that's just his style. Like all great performers, he has his idiosyncrasies.
MV is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and has just announced its program for 2016, which will include a show from Stephen Hough, whose father was born in Newcastle. Go Newie!
But enough of the overt plugs for Musica Viva Newcastle, which has done such a great job bringing unbelievably talented musicians to Our Town over many years. (Subscriptions are now open, by the way, so do yourself a favour.)
Instead, Viva la Newcastle for giving us access to such great cultural variety. Indeed, it was amazing to reflect that as we drove past the bright lights of Hunter Stadium on the way to the Con last Saturday night, Tariq Sims was probably helping break the wrist of the Knights' superstar halfback signing for next year, Trent Hodkinson. Talk about drama.
The same but different to a Paul Lewis piano recital at the Harold Lobb Concert Hall - a hallowed ground like Hunter Stadium, just a different field of dreams.
There was certainly no holding back in the opening exchanges as Lewis ripped into Ludwig van Beethoven's Piano Sonata No.30 in E major, opus 109 (c 1820). Or PSN30EMajOp109 as I'll refer to it from here on in after feeding the URL into Bitly.
(Why can't classical musicians come up with simpler names for their songs, like Tariq?)
I haven't witnessed such fireworks since Chief Harragon faced off against Spud Carroll in the 1990s. Leading me to remark to my partner at the end of the first bracket, if that's what they call the opening set in classical music: "I reckon he's played a bit." Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest he's had lessons.
Which is remarkable because it turns out Paul Lewis didn't really have that many lessons growing up in working class Liverpool (England). Just access to his dad's John Denver records and the local library collection. That filled up my senses just that little bit more.
The piano certainly did not seem foreign to him, although as he explained after the show in an impromptu chat with MV artistic director Carl Vine, every piano is its own beast. Sportsmen usually carry their favourite bat, ball or boot wherever they go, giving them that familiarity, but a concert pianist can't lug a personal Steinway around. (Unless they're very strong.)
They have to to slip into town like any away team and hope the locals provide.
In MV terms, that means a piano, maybe a dressing room with running water and hopefully a supper at the raging after party.
Lewis said he likes to arrive at his venue an hour or so beforehand and have a tinkle - to get a sense of the instrument.
A bit like a batsman getting a feel for the ground. Maybe blink at the light, toss some grass in the air to see which way the wind's blowing. Go through his process.
Humming Love Will Find a Way by Pablo Cruise used to calm my nerves playing junior cricket. Howzat by Sherbet may well have been more appropriate.
Fair to say Lewis has more runs on the board, having performed at all the great concert halls of the world, establishing a reputation at age 43 as one of the great pianists of his age.
His specialty this time round Down Under is Beethoven and Brahms. B&B as we aficionados like to quip.
I'm familiar with Beethoven through my readings of that classic text, Peanuts. Beethoven was the hero of Linus. (It's also how I became of aware of the Red Baron - thanks Snoopy.)
From Peanuts my classical musical education took a hiatus until last Saturday, when I learned from the concert program that Brahms was heir to Beethoven's mantle of rampant maniac genius.
Beethoven was considered gone for all money at age 50, back in 1820 Vienna. Deaf as a post, sick as a dog, hard up for cash, Big Beety pulled a sonata out of his butt (PSN30EMajOp109) considered to this day to be so utterly brilliant, revolutionary and just overall WTF, that Schubert (the 19th-century musician Franz, not 20th-century premiership-winning Eastern Suburbs winger Ian) was moved to famously remark: "What else is there left to write?"
Brahms had an answer to that, taking up Beethoven's baton as mad musical maestro with a penchant for obscure Scottish murder ballads.
Not to mention Robert Schumann's missus, Clara. And the rest is history.
Incredible to think Beethoven was deaf when he composed another classical stairway to heaven, Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor yada yada yada - let's call it Op. 111- the climax of the second set.
They say he simply wrote what he could hear in his head, leading me to wonder if Beethoven, with the benefit of a modern-day cochlear implant, might have reeled back and exclaimed: "Nein!" Given Lewis's incredible rendition, probably not.
That was definitely a 10 out of 10.