We enjoyed last year’s Piano Guys concert so much we went again this year. Added bonus – it was at the Royal Albert Hall. Their popularity is in no doubt – the evening performance had sold out so they put on a matinee performance as well; I think that sold out too.
They started with ‘Batman Evolution’; I was a happy bunny! Just 2 guys on stage with piano and cello – magic. Watching the sheer pleasure Jon Schmidt (piano) and Steven Sharp Nelson (cello) get from playing music is, in my opinion, quite a moving experience. In fact, by the end of the second piece, ‘Let It Go’, Liam was in tears. For certain numbers, they were accompanied by the video visuals on the screen behind them, which enhanced the pieces.
They played a couple of solo pieces. The studio version of ‘Beethoven’s 5 Secrets’ features the cello with the backing of an orchestra of youngsters. For the live version that he played, Steven was joined on stage by about 8 young violinists from a local music school. When we applauded, he made sure the focus was all on them.
When Jon played his solo piano version of Elvis Presley’s ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’, he asked us to excuse him as he removed his ear pieces so he could fully enjoy the acoustics in the hall. Seeing the joy on his face as he played moved me to tears.
These guys were born to play live; they know how to entertain. Apart from the music, there’s so much banter, it felt like we were spending a relaxing afternoon with them in their own home, instead of a crowded concert hall.
Before the intermission, Al van der Beek joined them on stage for ‘It’s Gonna Be Okay’; he's the vocalist, and the song is one of my go-to songs whenever I need a mood lift. We sang along with some rousing audience participation.
Then they were joined by their fourth member, Paul Anderson, who’s responsible for their stunning videos, and all four of them performed the exuberant ‘Ants Marching/Ode To Joy’ around the piano.
Apart from the banter, there were some light-hearted insults between Jon and Steven, a friendly rivalry between piano and cello. Jon showed off his prowess by playing the piano upside down, at one point using his feet, even hitting notes with his forearm – there were no duff notes; everything sounded perfect! For his part, Steven plays his cello like a guitar, uses a talkbox with it, slaps it and hits it for percussions sounds – basically coming across like a one-man band.
The concert was brilliant with each piece beautifully played. Although I don’t think any one piece stood out over the others, I will give special mention to the last one they played, ‘Fight Song/Amazing Grace’. Steven introduced it by talking about his father whom he clearly admires. His father had brought the family up, more or less, as a single parent while he nursed his wife for 18 years; she had brain cancer. After she passed, he married again, and Steven praised his step mother, or ‘bonus mom’ as he called her. I can’t remember when, I think it was fairly recently but, sadly, she also died from cancer. Steven said he asked his father how he coped with that kind of loss; I can’t remember it verbatim but his father’s reply was something like, when what you’re going through becomes too much to bear, give it to grace. Steven was smiling as he said it, but he had tears in his eyes. And I wasn't the only in the audience in tears.
Although he didn’t say anything, I wonder if Jon was thinking of his daughter, Annie, who tragically died last year in a hiking accident; she was only 21.
On stage, during the last segment, they were joined by bagpipers; the first time Gordon and Liam have heard bagpipes 'live'. Here’s the video for ‘Fight Song/Amazing Grace’.
(As photography wasn’t allowed, the pictures in this post were taken from the programme.)