In May 2019 I visited the Steinway factory in Hamburg, Germany, to choose a new model C-227 grand piano for the Atterbury Theatre in Pretoria. On the day of the selection I coincidentally received an invitation from German pianist Joja Wendt to perform as guest artist in his concerts at the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg on 3 January 2020 and I accepted without hesitation. To have received this invitation from a colleague whom I have admired for such a long time was a dream come true and an opportunity I knew would be a highlight in my career.
As one of the most iconic buildings with architectural clout designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the Elbphilharmonie, which took almost a decade to complete and officially opened in January 2017 at a final cost of 866 million euro, has some of the best acoustics in the world thanks to master acoustic engineer Yasuhisa Toyota.
For those who might not be familiar with Joja Wendt: He was born and bred in Hamburg and is one of Germany’s top piano performers playing classics, jazz, boogie-woogie, pop and rock. He performs in big venues all over the world and has a huge following with sold-out concerts.
For our duet he suggested the Hungarian Dance No. 5 by Hamburg-born composer Johannes Brahms. For our arrangement Joja suggested some crazy things: he would play the bass part and I the treble but we would sit the wrong way round which meant that we were playing over and under each other’s hands and arms – much to the delight of the audience who could watch our every move on a larger-than-life UHD-projection of the keyboard above the stage. Some more choreography included shaking hands while playing or clapping with one hand while playing with the other – very tricky stuff which understandably makes for a duet like never seen before.
Just when the audience thought they had seen it all, Joja produced a bottle of wine from nowhere and I produced a wine glass. He pulled out the cork with his mouth, spat it into the auditorium and while we continuously played, he filled my glass, took out a glass for himself and filled it with red wine. The final note of the Brahms was replaced by the clink of wine glasses. The audience went into hysterics and I could not stop laughing!
Joja was so friendly on and off stage and it was true honour to perform in this top venue in front of a sold-out audience. It reminded me how important it is for us as musicians to make the audience feel comfortable and let them have fun and just enjoy the music. I have been inspired and hope I can pass on the creative energy and joy I experienced to the audiences who will attend my concerts this year.
For more information about Joja Wendt, click here.