Reflecting on Kemal Gekic’s breathtaking and inspiring performance and the power of bringing the composer’s spirit to us.
I have known Kemal for 23 years and I vividly remember my impression when I heard his groundbreaking interpretation of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes for the first time. Listening to him was different. It was more powerful, emotional, daring - in some ways superhuman. I knew then that I wanted to meet him and hear him live so we invited him to perform in Miami in 1999. His stunning, and emotionally charged debut at the onset of the Bosnian war left all of us gasping for air, in tears and almost disbelieving the power he had to communicate images and emotions through his way with music.
I awaited for his recent performance with much anticipation for there was much I wanted to share with our audience that day. Unfortunately, I was not able to do it, so Professor Frank Cooper graciously welcomed the audience on my behalf and, after introducing the program, he invited Kemal to the stage. I quietly sat in the audience and was ready for the journey he had prepared for us.
His presence and demeanor are unusual, commanding, theatrical. Before he strikes a note, he hypnotizes the audience and manages to bring them to his space. Kemal is not just an interpreter; his unique gift brings the spirit of great composers to us, sharing their vision and emotions. This is something few artists, if any, can accomplish.
The program started with Handel/Liszt Sarabande and Chaconne from the Opera Almira. His approach was creative, imaginative and with an enormous range of sound. He vividly told the story, and the audience was able to understand the script. Schubert’s Klavierstuck in E-flat Major D.946 followed, a piece written by Schubert at the end of his life. Kemal was not only able to capture the profound melancholy and nostalgia of Schubert, but he delivered Schubert’s spirit to us. I personally just could not control the tears in my eyes.
As Kemal plunged into the masterworks of Rachmaninoff (a Prelude and Etudes-Tableaux), again it was the composer’s spirit that appeared to us. Power, beauty, and emotion! Kemal’s understanding of the score went beyond the notes. He connected with the composer’s thought process - Rachmaninoff at the highest possible level. Kemal’s capacity to navigate Rachmaninoff’s dense harmonies and complicated designs so organically worked magic.
Then came beloved Chopin. Kemal’s reading of Chopin’s music is unique - improvisatory, organic, spontaneous. Stellar technique at the service of music showed us the contrasts of delicate embroidery and roaring passion in the Polish master’s pieces. Thus was Chopin’s spirit evoked for our rapt audience.
Schumann’s Romanze, Op, 28, touched the hearts of all.
This memorable recital ended with a real rarity, Liszt’s Hexameron: Brilliant Variations on a Theme of Bellini. After hearing Professor Cooper’s illuminating comments, the audience was able to enjoy the rainbow of demands composed by celebrated contemporaries Thalberg, Pixis, Herz, Czerny, Liszt, Chopin, especially in Kemal’s interpretation. His imaginatively virtuosic performance entertained, then thrilled through its rich colors and wide-range dynamics.
Kemal’s playing parallels the finest of the greats of the past – marvelously in our day. His presence in our Festival these 23 years has been an honor, and will continue to be.
Need more be said?
— Giselle Brodsky, Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the MIPF