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Arts & Entertainment

Simon Trpčeski kills at the Hollywood Bowl. Or, if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands.

The Hollywood Bowl, still glowing from Simon Trpčeski's rendition of Prokofiev's 3d piano concerto.
The Hollywood Bowl, still glowing from Simon Trpčeski's rendition of Prokofiev's 3d piano concerto.
John Rabe

Last night we wrapped up our season at the Hollywood Bowl by watching what I hope is a career-making performance.

Simon Trpčeski is a 33-year old Macedonian pianist who played the extremely difficult Prokofiev 3d piano concerto (with the LA Phil under Jakub Hrůša) like he was playing “Piano Man” at home for a bunch of friends.

(With the Russian National Orchestra in a photo from Trpčeski's website.)

The first thing you notice about Trpčeski is his charisma. He’s smiling, totally at ease. Then, when he starts playing, you notice how effortless it seems to him. Then, you notice how engaged he is with the orchestra, watching the soloists, waiting for his cues, almost – you feel – leading the piece from the piano. (One might also notice, since we’re noticing things, that it’s time for Trpčeski to give up the battle for the hair on the top of his head. Shave it off, Simon. You’re a handsome man with a nicely shaped head.)

But back to the music. The Prokofiev 3d debuted in 1921 and is very modern. There are hints of romantic Rachmaninov, but liberal doses of the more daring Russians like Stravinsky and Shostakovich, with unexpected changes of tempo, jarring notes, and overall weirdness. In other words, hard for me to follow on first listening. What I mean is, with Mozart and Beethoven you pretty much know where the music is going from the start, but the modern guys keep me on my toes. I usually need to hear a new piece two or three times before I get it. But not last night. Trpčeski brought the piece to us with liquid playing on the hard parts, soulfulness in the slow parts, and a one-ness with the equally bomb orchestra that comes with weeks of rehearsal, not the one afternoon they probably had.

Usually, at the Bowl, a few poor drunken souls will – horrors! – applaud between movements, causing blue-hairs in the audience to roll their eyes and add a few more crocodiles to the moats of their castles. But Thursday night, after the devilish first movement, the whole crowd erupted in applause and shouts. This wasn’t the accidental, embarrassed clappage of a few classical music neophytes; this was the hardened hearts of classical music veterans melted by a Macedonian master. “At last,” we thought, “Somebody is wowing us!”

It was nothing compared to the genuine ovation we gave Trpčeski, Hrůša, and the orchestra at the end. And then charmingly, Trpčeski stepped to the mike and announced he would play a piece by a fellow countryman, a devilish but perfectly executed miniature. More applause. Intermission. Toasts all around between strangers. We had seen something we’d remember.

I checked his concert schedule, and he’ll be playing the Prokofiev 3d with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra on October 24. If you can make it, go.