Better understanding fills classical concerts

Catherine Geels performs in Auckland. Photo: Supplied
Catherine Geels performs in Auckland. Photo: Supplied
Visiting New Zealand for the first time, pianist Catherine Geels could not let the opportunity to see what is believed to be the world’s longest piano in Dunedin go by, she tells Rebecca Fox.

Pianist Catherine Geels is on a mission to change the way people view classical music concerts.

Based in Belgium, Geels is a concert pianist and teacher. A few years ago she noticed fewer people were attending classical concerts.

''I thought I need to change the form of the concert.''

Catherine Geels
Catherine Geels
So she began to make changes. Geels began to speak about the pieces she was playing during the concert.

''I would give analysis of the pieces. If people understand music they appreciate it more.''

She also began to theme her concerts - playing music that fits around one idea.

And she began to notice increasing crowd numbers.

''The concerts were very full.''

Having good crowds attend classical concerts is important to Geels, who believes the arts play an important part in people's lives - that business and science are not enough.

''It's an amazing pleasure to share my passion, what I love. It's better for the public to understand what I do.''

Classical music is not a foreign language, as some might think.

''I love seeing the face of happy and connected people. It's a real pleasure and important.''

Geels is visiting New Zealand as her daughter's boyfriend is a New Zealander and his family asked her to visit.

''We met in Belgium and they heard me on piano and said I must come to New Zealand to play.

''I thought it was a little far to come for one concert.''

However, her daughter had heard about Adrian Mann's long piano and told her mother about it.

She then wrote to Mann about visiting and possibly playing it. He was happy for her to do so and to play a concert while she was here.

Her New Zealand ''tour'' has been themed ''A Journey on Love'', a nod to it being February and Valentine's Day month.

But it also ties in with her favourite music to play - the romantics. Different pieces will capture different varieties of love - filial love, romantic love, friendship - and the different stages of love: from passion to separation and youth to mature.

She will play pieces from Chopin, Liszt and Debussy, as well as lesser-known pieces from female composers, including Clara Schumann (born Clara Josephine Wieck), Virginie Tasset and Melanie Bonis.

Geels played her first New Zealand concert in Auckland last weekend and enjoyed the experience.

''They liked the music and the commentary.''

As the youngest of four children, Geels followed in her older siblings' footsteps in looking to play an instrument, and the piano has been part of her life since she was a 9-year-old, although the flute was her first love, but she soon came to love the piano.

''It's very powerful. A flute has only one song.''

Geels went on to study at the Academy of Woluwe St Pierre (Brussels), and then at the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

She then studied in Spain where she gained her professional diploma with the highest distinction, the Extraordinary Prize, and the Prize for Chamber Music at the Superior Conservatory of Music in Alicante.

Back in Belgium, she continued studying and training at the Conservatoire de Music from Antwerp, and the Royal Conservatory of Brussels.

Since 2008, Geels has been professor of piano at the Academy of Music of Arlon.

She teaches piano to people ''from 5 to 80 years old'', but says teaching children is challenging.

''Children want quick results. They don't want to work very much, they want it to be easy.''

A Journey On Love - Classical Piano

Alexander Pianos, 291 Stuart St, Dunedin, Otago

Saturday 16 February 2019 7:00pm – 8:45pm

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