As I sat in the second row of the rapidly filling Muttart Recital Hall on the campus of Alberta College in Edmonton last week, with the stage empty but for a single piano bench and footstool, I relished the thought that a few hundred people would be gathering to hear one man play the guitar. Such is the magic that results when a virtuoso is in town to bring our favorite instrument to life. Mr. Zanon's reputation had preceded him, and the excited buzz of conversation among the arriving throng rose in pitch and anticipation as the clock crept slowly toward the hour of 8 pm.
A man rushes down the aisle just seconds before the hour, taking a seat his family had been saving for him in the front row. They exchange excited greetings and hugs. He points to his watch, and though he speaks in Spanish I guess from the triumphant smile on his face that he must be saying, "See, I told you I would make it on time!".
Finally, the overhead lights in the hall dim and the stage lights go on. Conversations hush and there is a short silence before we hear approaching footsteps. Fabio Zanon appears from stage left and walks confidently to center stage where he bows slowly, acknowledging the applause.
He settles onto the piano bench, tunes his guitar quietly for a moment and then speaks to the audience, introducing the first piece he will be playing, Mertz's "Opern-Revue Op. 8, No 3 Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti". In a baritone voice that carried well Fabio said that Mertz's works were among the best written for the guitar, but that they had been sadly neglected. He said that it was common for composers in the first half of the 19th century to write pieces taking the themes from operas of the day. Fabio said he imagined Mertz coming come home after seeing Donizetti's opera, and writing this piece with the inspiration of the opera still fresh in his mind.
Then, he played. I mean he PLAYED!!!! What a heavenly interpretation! Zanon played with his eyes closed much of the time, his face changing expression as the music moved along, first a deep soulfulness, then happy, then his brow furled as he attacked some loud basses. His swayed to the music, sometimes sitting straight up, other times leaning over his guitar to embrace it and the music.
The audience was entranced ...... all, that is, except a small 2 year old boy in the center front row who wanted to talk and play with his mom. His playfulness had gone unnoticed in the din of conversation prior to the Zanon's appearance on stage. It was a distraction that many performers might have scowled at. Fabio seemed to take no notice until he finally looked directly at the child, without missing a note, and ..... smiled! He understood children. Naturally they make noise. No big deal. For a few seconds the child was held by his friendly gaze and was completely silent. Then Fabio sank back into the rapture of his music and finished the piece. The child went back to his playing.
Great applause followed the end of the piece, while Zanon held his pose and let the final note ring to completion. He got up slowly, the applause continuing, and walked a full circle around the back of his chair until he was back front and facing the audience, where he took a deep bow. While walking that circle he appeared to be "letting go" of the music and bringing himself back to reality, almost as if coming out of a trance. (He did this after most of the pieces he played - it always seemed to take him a few seconds to "come out of it").
After the applause had died away, and just before Fabio sat back down, the father of the little boy did the honorable thing and started to leave with his child in hand. Fabio noticed and rushed to the edge of the stage, kneeling without concern for the clean knees of his trousers, to say something to him. He pointed up to the back rows, and from his smile it seemed that he was telling the man not to worry about it and that it would be fine if they sat further back .... a private moment between them in front of 250 people which revealed in a very public way that Fabio Zanon has a big heart. After that the audience was HIS!!!!!
So went the entire recital, with Fabio introducing each piece, telling amusing and interesting anecdotes about the music and the composers. He drew quite a laugh when he told us about D. Scarlatti, who was under the domination of his father and the church until well into his 50s. Then his father died and Scarlatti married a 16 year old girl. After that, said Mr. Zanon, Scarlatti didn't write as much for the church (much laugher), but did write his sonatas for harpsichord.
Technically, Mr. Zanon's playing was excellent. He holds his right hand in a somewhat unorthodox way, with the "m" finger out in front and the "i" finger often directly behind rather than beside it. He did most of his runs alternating "i" and "m". His "a" finger, much more so than can be seen on his video, was often curled into the palm of his hand while in repose. He never had a problem, however, when it came time to use it in trills, runs, tremolos, arpeggios and ornaments. He had a marvelously dexterous thumb, which he moved sometimes from the base joint, other times from the tip joint, sometimes from both.
His stage presence was marvelous, and his rapport with the audience was complete and intimate. The mysterious "high-brow" barrier that often exists between performer and audience in classical recitals was non-existent. He spoke to everyone between pieces as if he was conducting a casual masterclass. He went to start one of the Scarlatti sonatas and a terrible, horrendously dissonant noise came out of his instrument. Everyone in the hall winced, including Fabio. He took a few seconds to "tune" his guitar and then played the piece flawlessly. After the applause had died out he looked at the audience, shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said, "Wrong fret!". Another priceless moment.
The most difficult piece that Zanon played, from the audience's point of view as listeners, was the Ginastera Sonata, Op 47, the last piece on the program. This hurdle was made easier by Fabio's very clear explanation of what the composer was thinking when he wrote it and what to listen for. Fabio said that this Sonata is one of the most important works in the classical guitar repertoire. He played it brilliantly (by now, no surprise to the audience), and he was rewarded with a standing ovation that called for encores.
For his second encore Fabio played a tremolo piece by E. Saniz De La Maza, "Campanas del Alba". With the smoothest, silkiest tremolo I've ever heard he made it into one of the most beautiful and touching encore selection you could imagine.
What a future Fabio Zanon has ahead of him!- John Sloan