The word “accompanist” can be a loaded one in the world of classical music.
A pianist who usually appears on stage along with another musician is typically called an accompanist–a term that, for some pianists, suggests they are simply there in a supporting role to the big star. It suggests that the pianist’s contribution is quite unimportant.
Horror stories abound, like the one about the very grand lady going back stage after a violin and piano recital, and telling the the pianist she hoped to hear him play some time!
So to step out of the shadows, some pianists prefer to be called “collaborators” or “collaborating pianists.”
Fair enough. Talking to a young pianist at the Verbier Festival a few days ago, I was interested that he is happy to be known as an accompanist, reminding me that “accompanying” is defined as “to go along or in company with; join in action,” which suggests a partnership.
And I saw an exciting and new (five years) partnership in recital on Sunday morning: violinist Kyung Wha Chung and pianist Kevin Kenner. Chung told me after the concert that they can surprise each other (in a good way) even in performance. Kenner, enjoying the thoroughbred Steinway grand, brought something new to the start of the Franck sonata, a work that’s a trademark for Chung.
A partnership of equally creative musicians is a wondrous thing to behold, as it was in this recital.