On Friday, Stanford Live welcomed pianist and composer Chad Lawson to the Bay Area. Alongside Lawson were cellist Seth Parker Woods and violinist Judy King. Bing Studio’s serene ambience, dimly lit by hues of magenta and blue, coupled with Lawson’s intimate yet inclusive commentary, created an atmosphere of confidence that made for a raw and touching performance.
Lawson has become known as the contemporary artist creating “classical music for the Spotify generation.” Young people today have been less exposed to classical music compared to past generations, and Lawson is one of many artists working to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the genre by making it as accessible as possible.
His Friday performance reflected that role, as he frequently separated his pieces with dialogue that dissected the musical and emotional nuances of each. In his own rendition of a piece by Chopin, a composer even someone with little exposure to classical music would recognize, he slowly reduced the six most memorable pitches of the two-note melody, creating a minimal but recognizable melody.
Between tracks, the room was filled with laughter and warmth as Lawson spoke with his audience about his musical journey and the night’s repertoire. Yet the instant he began to play, the throbbing rhythm of his smooth, characteristic sound enveloped the studio in a blanket of calm. Just as he warmed viewers to each track with witty banter, Lawson subtly introduced layers of sound into the studio acoustics like drops of water rushing down a waterfall.
Lawson is a streaming star on Spotify whose one million monthly listeners exceed that of famous concert musicians like violin virtuoso Hilary Hahn and pianist Yuja Wang. His concert featured mostly tracks from his latest album, “to breathewhich is meant to be an invitation for all of us to “exhale”. This sentiment extends not only to the last two years of the pandemic, but also to all the struggles of our past.
Throughout his career, Lawson showed his talent as a songwriter for twisting and stretching popular classical melodies or pop songs; his cover of Billie Eilish’s “when the party’s over” has been streamed over 13 million times on Spotify. His take on difficulty, and the way he incorporates it into his music, has proven to be equally versatile. His message was that difficulties can take many forms; moreover, his observation that it has taken us an entire pandemic to “let go” and question everything we choose to wear every day was both relevant and validating.
Passing these calculations, Lawson ended his performance by inviting us all to stop and ask ourselves if we want to leave the pandemic with all that we have taken in it.
His final two tracks of the night, “Irreplaceable” and “To Hold the Stars in the Palm of your Hand,” used charming major chords to acknowledge the “people, places, and experiences only we can recognize and cherish.” after the world was paused.
Through the selection of new pieces from his latest album, Lawson hinted at continued breakthroughs in a new area of classical music. Today’s youth with little exposure to the genre no longer have to settle for generic, empty playlists that serve as background noise while they do their homework. With transparent communication about its stories and all their complexities, classical music doesn’t have to be overshadowed by other genres like pop and hip-hop. Instead, as Friday’s performance shows, this realm can become the new face of contemporary music, where we can all ask ourselves the tough questions about life and love that words can’t articulate.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes thoughts, opinions, and subjective criticism.