Igor Levit to play 20-hour Eric Satie piece as 'silent scream'

German-Russian pianist to tackle ‘Vexations’ to highlight plight of artists hit by lockdowns

The German-Russian pianist Igor Levit will perform a rarely played, 20-hour Eric Satie composition to a global audience on Saturday to highlight the plight of artists around the world who have been silenced by coronavirus lockdowns.

Levit, who reached a global audience of tens of thousands during the lockdown with a series of 52 evening concerts broadcast live from his Berlin flat via Twitter, has said the work Vexations by the French composer represents the “silent scream” of musicians around the world.

He will perform it this time not in his flat but in the B-sharp studio in Berlin.

After the concert Levit will auction the 840 sheets of music, with proceeds going towards supporting out-of-work musicians.

As well as a sound engineer, a doctor will be on hand to step in if necessary during the performance, which is expected to be physically and mentally gruelling. He will stop for short toilet and food breaks, during which time pianists elsewhere in the world will briefly take over the performance.

“The sheer duration of over 20 hours of Vexations doesn’t feel like a nuisance or torture to me as the title would suggest, but rather a retreat of silence and humility, reflecting a feeling of resistance,” Levit said, before the performance, which will start on Saturday at 2pm CET and be broadcast via livestream by the news organisation Spiegel.de and The New Yorker magazine as well as on Levit’s Twitter feed @igorpianist.

“My world and that of my colleagues has been a different one for many weeks now and will probably remain so for a long time. Vexations represents for me a silent scream,” he said.

Levit, who began playing the piano at the age of three and has since built a reputation as a leading concert hall pianist, said he had long wanted to perform the piece, in which the same few notes are repeated 840 times. The first time it is believed to have been performed publicly in this way was at the Pocket theatre in Manhattan led by John Cage and Lewis Lloyd in 1963. That performance took about 18 hours and led to critics and audience members falling asleep.

“It has always been a strong wish of mine to be able to perform Eric Satie’s Vexations,” Levit said. “While it was written in the 19th century, this piece was revolutionary thanks to its atonal harmony. The few notes – a theme and two variations – fit on just one sheet. The repetitions heralded early on a future of aesthetic repetitiveness.”

Levit has said he does not expect people to listen to his entire performance.


Kate Connolly in Berlin

The GuardianTramp

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