Thanks to the pre-concert publicity, anyone going to an Amadéus Leopold gig knows they are in for something to entertain the eyes as well as the ears. So it came as no surprise that among the gothic paraphernalia on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall for his performance as part of Yoko Ono’s Meltdown festival, you could just make out, through the fog of dry ice, a coffin strewn with red petals.
The pianist dawdles onto the stage wearing an eye mask that would have suited Batman’s sidekick rather well, and takes his seat at the keyboard. He doodles with repeated semitones, first rising, now falling; first pianissimo in the middle of the keyboard, then in thunderous octaves at opposite extremities. Repeat. And again. Just when you thought they were milking an arid idea for rather too long, the coffin slowly swings open to reveal the star of the show, dressed as a Scottish Widow but with the black robe ending just below the knee, emphasising the shapely calves and funky black ankle boots.
And underneath the hood, a black Hannibal Lecter mask.
As Amadéus Leopold (born Yoo Han-bin in Seoul, 1987) reaches for his fiddle, the piano strikes up the first few bars of Arvo Part’s Fratres, and the soloist joins in. You immediately know you are in the hands of a superb musician, but all the fog and theatre are rather at odds with Part’s stark minimalism.
The lights go down to enable Leopold a quick costume change before the next number – Paganini’s 24th Caprice. He ditches the robe and hood, and re-emerges into the light in a black PVC body-cum-corset. Still wearing the mask. For each variation, he strikes a different pose – for the fifth one he even sits down waving his legs in a bicycling motion. Here the spectacle and bravura gestures are fully in keeping with the theatrical virtuosity of the music itself.
We wonder what can follow that. As the next costume change occurs, the pianist plays a dramatic arrangement of the opening of Bach’s D minor Chaconne, which then morphs into Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre. Leopold, now without the restraining mask, bites into a blood capsule, and red gore dribbles down his front. He collapses theatrically back onto the coffin, thus ending the third piece.
It was all very visually arresting, but it was difficult to marry up the music (executed with a rock-solid technique and tremendous panache) with the camp staging. This particular audience member sneaked out at this point to return to the opening of the Moon Jar exhibition at the KCC and something easier on the eye. And I’ll be looking forward to the final three K-Music concerts this week for something rather less confusing and rather more rewarding.