Monday, August 10, 2009

Friedrich Gulda: Variations on Light My Fire

Friedrich Gulda, arguably the greatest Beethoven pianist in the second half of the 20th century, plays his variations on The Doors' Light My Fire. This giant of the keyboard was given the moniker 'Terrorist Pianist' for his propensity to include jazz and rock standards in his classical recitals. Gulda himself attributed his passion for performing jazz to an encounter he had with Dizzy Gillespie in early 50's Chicago. Fairly soon thereafter, he was as likely to be heard at Newport as he was at Carnegie Hall. Like his contemporary, Glenn Gould, his clashes with noted authorities in classical music were notorious. When his alma mater, the Vienna Academy elected to confer on him the prestigious Beethoven Ring, Gulda became the first musician in history to return it in protest of what he regarded as their constricting educational practices. Gulda was also forced to cancel a concert at the famous Salzburg Festival because the festival objected to his inclusion of jazz musician Joe Zawinul on the program. In the late 70's, Gulda sharply curtailed his activities on the classical circuit and thereafter rarely performed any concerts in which he could not freely combine his dual pursuits. In this vein, he founded the Eurojazz Orchestra, a big-band combo whose concerts freely intermingled jazz compositions with classical.

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