Simon Ghraichy – 33


Albums like this are like a puzzle. On top of enjoying mad chops, trying to figure out why Simon threw down these specific tracks in this particular order is one of the fun parts of going through this motherfucker. So, enough stalling, let’s dive in.

First track on this bitch is “Recuerdos de la Alhambra: which was composed for the classical guitar but has been transcribed for the piano by Simon. This song is OG for tremolo, an effect where you hammer on a single note all sexy and smooth styles. Fast plucking a string and quickly fingering a key aren’t the same fucking thing. But Simon figured out how to work it so that this tremolo doesn’t sound forced and it isn’t about all about that breakneck speed. The tremolo is smooth as melted butter. It floats in the air like a dried leaf in the wind. This piece was written to represent the fountains inside the Alhambra, which is a badass Spanish palace. You can feel, through his playing, the water pouring out that sexy bitch.

Next track comes from Charles-Valentin Alkan’s “La chanson de la folle au bord de la mer” (Trans. “The Song of the Madwoman by the Seaside”). Water again? Guess we found the theme of this album. On this track, instead of the beautiful water coming from a fountain we get the story of a woman icing herself in the sea. Is it dark? What the fuck do you think? Immediately after this is the song “Alfonsina y el mar” by Ariel Ramirez, which is a tribute to Alronsina Storni, who drowned herself. Sure the subject is grim, but the notes aren’t that heavy. It feels like an answer to the previous song.

At the heart of this album is Schumann’s Humoreske which clocks in at around 27 minutes. You can go ahead and look for something about water in Humoreske. You won’t fucking find it. And with Chilly Gonzales’s “Robert on the Bridge” and Philip Glass’s “Raising the Sail” coming later in the album, you know the water theme is there. So it becomes time to ask the question behind the question, what the fuck is up with Simon and water? I read somewhere that Simon had a fear of water as a kid which, sure? This probably contributes to the theme. But I don’t think that’s it. This feels like a shallow puddle answering the call of an oceanic depth. While listening over Simon’s rendition of Humoreske, one thing becomes very clear: this shit’s emotional as a motherfucker. This piece is bipolar on fast-forward. It has ups and downs, ins and outs, it goes sideways and upways. It’s all over the fucking place. Yet, it never feels forced. You feel each moment. The emotions follow each other in a natural order. All of this led me to think of the piano player, the interpreter, and their relationship to water.

One thing about our liquid buddy is that it takes on the shape of whatever it goes into. The same goes for a good piano player. It’s their entire fucking goal. Simon himself has said, “I don’t compose, and I don’t improvise; I perform.” Simon’s entire job is to fill the space that motherfuckers like Mozart, Schumann, or Bach have left behind. To find hidden meanings within pieces, the caverns left untouched, is Simon’s life’s goal. It’s his motherfucking vocation. And at 33, how old Simon was when he recorded this album, it seems like that’s the theme he’s reflecting upon.

It’s kinda insane that the classical audience expects poor fucks like Simon to throw themselves entirely into dots of ink splashed onto a piece of paper. And the further they lose themselves inside a piece, the more we appreciate it. I don’t know what this kind of behaviour would do to a person long term. But, as an audience, we don’t fucking care. In this album Simon is telling us who he is. Within this beautiful music, his amazing technique, and this watery theme, Simon is telling us that his identity is whatever the piece in front of him requires him to be. Sure, there’s a kind of sadness to this theme. But when a pianist dives so deeply into a piece they lose themselves, we don’t throw them a life vest: we stand as an audience and bellow, “Bravo.”





5 thoughts on “Simon Ghraichy – 33

  1. Answer me this, if you can, my good Mr Brightly. Why aren’t classical *albums* where pieces are selected from heaps of different artists to tell a new story (the DJ mixes of classical, if you will), more common? Where the focus is very much the performer, rather than an interplay between performer and composer? Perhaps this is more of a thing than I’m aware of, as such a novice – it’s easier to look for lists of ‘best Bach recordings’ than it is to find ‘best classical perfomers with artistic intentions’. But it seems like this format is an ideal way to both refresh and personalise classical music? I’d appreciate some insight!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hmm … I’m always surprised on the assumption that I’m a dude.


    I’m sure you’ve heard when Philips and Sony developed the CD back in the ’70s, they set that shit at 74 minutes to ensure that a single disc could play the entirety of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony? This shit isn’t a confirmed fact but it does lead me to my point rather nicely.

    The format of a classical album has been a highly contested subject since the birth of recorded sound. This shit is no different now that CD’s are done. I know, the term CD sounds old as fuck. But that’s how many classical fucks still call an album. A fucking CD. I blame the classical world’s reluctantcy to adapt for your problem.

    These “DJ mixes of classical” kind of albums (as you so eloquently put) got somewhat popular when players became more of a thing. Many listeners believe that the greatest players are the ones that put the smallest degree of personal interpretation into the piece. But who decides what “smallest degree” means? Tons of motherfuckers go down, and went down, this road. It’s a popular road with lots of grants along the way. It’s just more difficult to sell “Bob plays piano” compared to “Beethoven: played by Bob”. It takes a huge shift to move into a player deciding their own tracks and theme. It’s a much more modern idea that lots of people with lots of old money don’t like. Personally? I think everyone’s got to change their idea on what an album is. Four hours. 10 minutes. I don’t fucking care as the idea is fucking complete. Unfortunately, most players got to get kinda big before they can release their dj mix. And, even then, it’s still a courageous move.

    Hope this helps.


      • Oh, and re: ‘Hmm … I’m always surprised on the assumption that I’m a dude.’

        Well, when you pointed that out, it surprised and disconcerted me too. I think it’s a mix of things – one of the handful of comments you got before I started chiming in was someone calling you ‘Father Brightly’, and in general you seem to exude ‘big dick energy’, not that that’s a strictly male thing to be honest. Then there’s my unconscious assumption that people on the internet writing about music, tend to be dudes – not so much for exclusionary reasons, in fact I probably know more knowledgable musical females IRL than dudes, who tend to be metalheads or Radiohead-heads (actually, I might just know women with more interesting taste than men), but it’s just a simple fact when you look at Discogs, the Steve Hoffman forums, RateYourMusic, etc etc.

        But also, I think it’s partially the (bad) tendency to default to male pronouns. I’ve been reading ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’, by Ursula K Le Guin, and in the intro there’s some discussion from later interviews about the book, where she wished that instead of using the default pronoun ‘he’ for the androgynous alien race, she had found a better way to use language. This reminds me of that; an unconscious centralising of maleness.

        So, whatever gender you are or aren’t, my apologies – and please excuse the mildly defensive mansplaining, haha.


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