When I was asked to review a concert at the exclusive club, The Box in Soho, I did think this to be a highly unusual venue for a classical recital. The Box normally features cabaret and vaudeville acts. It is sumptuously furnished with beautiful velvet drapes, chandeliers, rich tapestries, and an amazing collection of vibrant coloured lights. The cabaret room was set with a small stage resplendent with Steinway concert grand in readiness for the artist; a young pianist and composer in his early twenties called Jean-Philippe Rio-Py.
Jean-Philippe’s story is unusual too. He grew up in a strict religious sect in the South of France where he found an old piano at the age of 4, affording him the opportunity to discover his love for the instrument. Entirely self-taught, his music is all original and he has recently been awarded a place amongst the Young Steinway Artists.
The concert itself lasted just over half an hour, which would generally be considered much too short for most classical audiences; but then this was not the usual classical-loving clientele. I felt as though I had walked into a film set – this was an invitation only event complete with bouncers on the door! At the before and after ‘concert party’ (where Vodka cocktails were free flowing) there were many celebrities, beautiful people and photographers.
After a while Jean-Philippe ambled onstage and there was a hushed silence. He began confidently with his own brand of music. It would not be considered classical music – not in the traditional sense. His music is reflective and repetitive, reminding me of Philip Glass. For an entirely self-taught pianist, he has ample skill, although his technique would be considered rough by many.
Jean-Philippe produced a warm rich sound from the beautiful Steinway and had real rhythmic dexterity. He played around 10 works – all unannounced so the audience wasn’t aware of any titles or their significance. Most of the pieces consisted of arpeggio passage work, esoteric sounds, and changing, throbbing harmonic progressions. His music is built on that of the Minimalist composers and I thought many works were similar stylistically to Michael Nyman and Ludovico Einaudi.
Jean-Philippe’s music would be the perfect foil for films; in fact I would predict that this genre will be where we may hear him in the future. The last work he performed was really interesting using John Cage’s techniques which involved Jean-Philippe’s manually stopping dampers inside the instrument with a mesmeric rhythmic effect – for this virtuosic powerful ending, he received a standing ovation from his illustrious audience.