There was no better place than Cafe Oto for classical pianist Nils Frahm to play in London. With dimmed lights, candles, old furniture, and a beautiful piano sitting at the front, Nils himself admitted that he would rather be here at the cozy Cafe Oto than a bigger venue — even though his show was sold out and the room was so packed you could write your name in the steam on the windows. He’s played here ten times and, by the response he got after finishing his show, I’m sure his passionate supporters would be more than happy to welcome another ten.
Nils took the stage to a mixed crowd of both young and old, a testament to his broad appeal. In branding culture, they talk about going back to the roots of your story to really understand your consumers. I couldn’t help but make the comparison that Nils seems to have struck a chord with some sort of root in music; the 29-year-old has people returning to classical from decades of silence to appreciate the simplicity of piano once again.
The anticipation before Nils struck the first note was palpable, listeners began moving up to the front and silence enveloped the room right after he joked about how crowded it was. The first song was the featured “Said and Done,” an excellent beginning to what proved to be an excellent show.
With piano notes heavily resounding throughout the atmospheric cafe, Nils brought us to his own little world. We moved as he moved, holding our breaths as he held his breath and closed our eyes in deep concentration as he closed his. This was active listening — a return to really embodying the music the artist is producing live. I’ve always been envious of musicians and their ability to immerse themselves in their own little musical worlds, disconnecting from reality, but luckily with Nils he transports you to another place and time. He was like the grand piano-puppetmaster, moving the keys as if they themselves were turning alive, not lacking an ounce of verisimilitude along the way.
I recently went to a lecture on the death of classical music, but after seeing this show I have to disagree. It’s just taking a new shape, a new form. It’s less highbrow, more about the people, more about the art of producing such simple yet beautiful music. It’s no surprise that I heard people outside saying they were crying at the start of the first song. I found myself nodding, like many others, to many of Nils’ songs, nodding to what only I can imagine is agreement that together we have all returned to a time when classical is finally appreciated for its magical qualities.
Find out more about Nils on his studio’s website, Durston Studio, and check out his newest album, Felt.