Review: Listening to portraits

23. April 2014
Monika Erdman

Theatre NO99 opened its doors on a warm spring night for piano jazz lovers. Stephan Oliva is French pianist and composer. That night he presented extremely refined musical portrait of Jean-Luc Godard and also his own compositions. 

The concert started with Michel Legrand’s soundtrack for “My life to live” (Vivre sa vie). Quiet and melancholic in the beginning, it started to flow with delicate blues notes and deep low bass lines. The melody was smoothly strengthening in pianist’s hands and eventually blew up with saturated passages and dissonance intervals. Over and over again the sentimental melody tried to break through the wall of loud terrifying sound, but always unsuccessfully. Like in the song, “love that can live yet never dies”. The piece finished unexpectedly and Oliva smiled shyly.


“Alphaville” is quite strange and controversial movie, and so was the piece “Alphaville suite” by Paul Misraki. Avant-garde coloured piece, disquieting and fussy; it subtly grew into beautiful waltz. Oliva played it gently and emotionally. The rich palette of feelings was hard to comprehend – to cry and to dance at the same time.


Jean-Luc Godard’s wife’s elegant portrait unfolded in Michel Legrand’s pieces “A woman is a woman” (Une femme est une femme) and “Band of outsiders” (Bande à part). It was equally easy and sophisticated. You could imagine a fully lived life, see a gorgeous woman smiling and observing her inner world, not only bright and happy.


An exciting piece “Breathless” (À bout de souffle) sounded like a struggle between light and dark, love and hate or other opposites. At first interrupting and then becoming one. Dark, messy and disharmonic lines fought fragile tender melody. We’d already heard something like that at the beginning of the concert. It was what Oliva probably tried to tell about Godard and his art. About the infinite, endless fight of opposites that cannot exist without each other and are nothing but parts of indivisible whole.


Like a good book that you don’t want to know how many pages are left, a good concert seems to last only few minutes. After performing his own compositions, Oliva finished. The audience had no words, just a tsunami of emotions.



Stephan Oliva

April 21 at Theatre NO99



Stephan Oliva (piano)