In Memoriam - Address of Mike Reynolds

Ladies and gentlemen; -

Family and friends of Nicholas, music lovers who knew him, knew of him, honoured him, respected and admired him –

Music critics who were sometimes harsh on him –

Audiences who always loved him –

In my brief address tonight, brought to you from London through the medium of another language and somebody else's voice, I want to try and find the words that take us back to the life and music of Nicholas Economou, the creative joy that he brought us and the meaning of his thirty years of music-making in a life cut off so tragically just as he had reached forty.

And I want my words to be reminiscent of the Nicholas I knew, direct, simple and to the point not getting in the way of the music you have gathered here to hear and enjoy, but linking it back to the music that he made and to the achievements that marked his life and his work, here in Cyprus, in Russia, in Europe and elsewhere.

 

The first time I ever heard him play was a very unwilling encounter on my part. Friends had urged me to listen to this extraordinary young man from Cyprus, a pianist who combined Mediterranean warmth with steely Russian technique and virtuosity. I was cautious and uncommitted - my arguments then, over twenty-five years ago being the same as those put forward on all sides today ; there are too many promising young pianists - they are all technique nowadays - what is so special about him and why should the world take notice? - But I agreed to meet him and suggested that if he liked to perform he could do so at a private concert I was arranging. I gave him thirty minutes maximum at the end of a musical soiree. Nicholas agreed and undertook to perform Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky.

 

The fifty people who heard his performance that night underwent a musical experience that none of them will ever have forgotten. My own caution, my reserve, my cynicism about young pianists and the chances they stood in the modern music industry were totally swept away as Nicholas delved passionately into the series of extraordinary musical portraits that make Pictures such a vivid and compelling work. Those of us who knew the score and the technical challenges it poses waited for the hurdles at which this exuberant and passionate young pianist must surely fall. But as he sailed over each and every obstacle with increasing ease something inside the whole audience relaxed and we became caught up instead in the musical argument: the use of the piano as a means of expressive communisation, the language of melody which inspires the composer to set his thoughts down on paper but which so often eludes the performer who comes along afterwards. As Nicholas played to us that night we heard only melody. And I, a total stranger to him until that evening, felt that I was being reunited with a lifelong friend.

 

After the performance a restrained and polite gathering of English and German people became an excitable fan club. My musical soiree became - and this often happened when Nicholas was around - quite a party. In our heads we planned concerts for him all over Europe. We saw no limit to what he might be able to achieve. Here after all was a complete pianist, with absolute technical control, sheer mastery of the sound he could produce, total involvement in the music that he made. In our enthusiasm we overlooked perhaps one vital thing - the fact that genius is difficult to control, and for the possessor of that genius highly uncomfortable to live with. But that is with the benefit of hindsight, and if the vast majority of 'commercial' pianists recording today had no more than the spark of genius that was in Nicholas's little finger, the world would be a more melodic and musical place.

 

In recalling Nicholas through the medium of words I cannot attempt to catalogue his achievements - as pianist, as composer, as conductor and arranger - but I can highlight the spirit that characterised his life and works and draw attention to those features which made him such an extraordinary person. First of all, he had the gift of friendship. In the world of the performing arts where there is so much rivalry, back-stabbing and general ill will, Nicholas was truly extraordinary in the breadth and depth of his true friendships. He was a musician's musician, crossing the boundaries between classical, jazz and pop as if they did not exist. How else could he have surrounded himself with some of the world’s finest players each summer for the memorable series of piano festivals he created and ran in Munich? How else could he have played Rachmaninoff duets with Martha Argerich one evening and free improvisations with Chick Corea the next? How else could he have created that extraordinary sense of musical communication with Maya Plissetskaya, Mischa Maisky, Thomas Quasthoff and the countless other world-class artists with whom he so often and so fruitfully collaborated? in all of these musical relationships - and many others I have no time to mention - Nicholas was the generous giver, the source of the music-making that sprang up all around him wherever he was. The musical world is a quieter and poorer place without him.

 

Of course, he should have achieved greater recognition from the general public. Those of us who knew him and followed his career feel that we all now share an incredible secret which the wider world has missed out on. In part this failure to become a major ,label' Star was of Nicholas's own making: he simply refused to jump through most of the conventional hoops that business and commercial people in the music world insist upon. His irreverent attitude created immense problems for career development in die conventional sense. And die sheer originality of his interpretations did not always help. 'Too fast' was the comment of one of Germany's leading critics about a Beethoven sonata played by Nicholas. But just listen to him playing that sonata: the cantabile of the second movement, the wit and sparkle of the succeeding trio, the complete architecture of the amazing last movement however fast it flashed by. Beethoven would have smiled, whatever the critics might say. And then listen to him in Schubert and Schumann, in Liszt at the height of his virtuoso powers - and then in Economou's own works, songs and scenes of childhood, happy evocations of the pastures in which he grew up. "I'm just a peasant" Nicholas would delight in saying, and then sit down at the piano and play a Mozart slow movement with such intense subtlety of line and lyricism of expression that you could feel yourself being transported into a different world. And how he delighted in communicating his own love and enjoyment of such a vast repertoire of music.

 

Words are not what you have come to hear tonight - music, in memory of Nicholas Econornou, has brought you together. His life exemplified the joy that music can bring to others and the problems that it can bring yourself if you arc blessed with a talent which is so far outside the norm that the only label we can apply to it is genius. There was genius in the music Nicholas made and we are all enriched by his legacy - the live performances he gave and - alas - the relatively few works he recorded. Musically he brought Cyprus to the world and the world to Cyprus. We remember him with fondness and with admiration undimmed. And because music goes on, Nicholas too goes on - that is his gift, and we thank him for it

 

Mike Reynolds, 25. 11. 1996