Pianist Igor Levit is one of the heroes of lockdown – a “key worker”(!), if you will, who provided comfort and distraction in those anxious, early days of the pandemic. At a time when the concert halls of the world were shuttered and silent, Levit gave hauskonzerts from his home in Berlin, broadcast live on Twitter. Each day he would announce a programme and a time to tune in. He streamed more than 50 concerts, performing on a 1920s Steinway B that had once belonged to the Swiss pianist Edwin Fischer. He dressed casually and gave a brief introduction to each performance in German and English – no need for the formality and etiquette of the Wigmore Hall here. He played Bach and Schubert (a tear-jerkingly wonderful D960), Beethoven and Feldman, and people tuned in from around the world. His daily house concerts provided an anchor in a troubled sea.

Maybe for the first time do I understand what it means to speak of music as something life-keeping. It really keeps me alive. . . . I don’t care if it’s wrong or right, whatever B.S. that means….” said Levit in an interview with Alex Ross of The New Yorker. His house concerts challenged our notions of what a concert really is, reminding us that we don’t have to sit in stiff, reverential silence in plush red velvet seats to feel the power of the collective shared experience of music. Separated by a global pandemic, confined to our homes, music connected us, delighted, soothed and comforted us.

Levit’s new album, Encounter, which comes just two years after the release of ‘Life’ (my album of the year in 2018), confirms the spirit of his hauskonzerts. Here is music by Bach-Busoni, Brahms-Busoni, Reger and Feldman that seeks to comfort the soul and provide inner strength while expressing a desire for encounters and togetherness in a world fractured by a global pandemic. Like ‘Life’, it is another very personal album for Levit, the repertoire carefully chosen: these are “works in which all questions about love and death, loneliness and the possibility of real love for others are examined“. The pieces on ‘Encounter’ were those which drew especially positive comments from Levit’s online audience.

The entire album has a processional quality, leading the listener to the hushed serenity of Morton Feldman’s final work for piano – and the final work on this disc – Palais de Mari, a 28-minute contemplation, meditation, or what you will, of exquisitely-placed notes and piquant chords that fall upon the ears and mind like the softest of summer showers. It works in the same way as Bill Evans’ ‘Peace Piece’ did on ‘Life’ – the sentiments of the music match the intensity and spirituality of the works that precede it, yet it also provides a contrast in its delicate minimalist textures and hauntingly spacious pauses.

No one questions the spirituality of J S Bach, but Levit thankfully steers away from an overly-reverential approach which colours so many performances of his music. Alert to the contrasting characters of the Chorale Preludes, elegantly and occasionally flamboyantly transcribed for solo piano by Ferruccio Busoni, Levit finds vibrancy and immediacy, authority, solemnity and joy, and draws on the full range of the piano’s sound and resonance to highlight the voices and layers of this music.

Brahms’ six Chorale Preludes, also transcribed by Busoni, are rarely-heard as a set, and Levit successfully sustains the devotional, introspective nature of these pieces, almost to the point of intimacy. Reger’s transcriptions of Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge (Four Serious Songs) are similarly pensive, and Levit’s sensitivity of touch and musical imagination save them from becoming overwhelmed by the richness of their textures.

Reger’s Nachtlied, a sacred motet for unaccompanied mixed choir, provides the bridge to Feldman in this transcription for piano by Julian Becker. Its textures are more transparent, its mood gentler and more prayer-like, settling the listener in for Feldman’s music, which gradually retreats into its own world with a sense of closure and inner calm.

The album was recorded in May at Berlin’s Jesus-Christus-Kirche and is best heard in one sitting, as if as a recital – because here Levit manages to create a very palpable, highly concentrated musical presence throughout the recording.

‘Encounter’ is available on the Sony Classical label and via streaming services

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My biggest influences have been my piano teachers:

• My first piano teacher in Toulouse’s conservatoire, Claudine Willoth, who understood I was different than the other kids and cultivated my curiosity for music in general, not only for the piano. At that time I wasn’t thinking of being a professional and was reluctant to practise scales or exercices. She didn’t insist and helped me to realise what I really wanted at that time : to compose music, to sightread some masterpieces ( too difficult for me at that time ), to improvise, to listen to all kinds of music.

• My second teacher in Paris’s conservatoire, Jean-François Heisser, who I met in Toulouse when I was only 13 and who convinced me I was could become a professional musician. From that point I started to practice seriously.

• My third teacher, in London, Maria Curcio, who convinced me I could go much further and become an international soloist. I was sometimes having 5 or 6 full days of lessons in a row. It was like that every month and she really prepared me to perform on stage, to open up and find my identity as a musician.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

They have all been ultimately very positive challenges. For example, when I first played a solo recital at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris, after which I realised I could probably consider myself as a soloist; when I played Bartok 2nd Concerto with Pierre Boulez, one of my biggest idols; all my big debuts in major venues and with major orchestras; and, more recently, creating my own festival (Festival et Académie Ravel) and Academy for young musicians, and, hopefully one day, a new concert hall, in one of my most beloved places, the French Basque Country.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Difficult to say, though I’m very proud of the last one, ‘Good Night!’,  I should say! Also the Saint-Saëns album which won the Gramophone 2019 Album of the Year Award. I could also mention an older recording, Liszt’s Années de pèlerinage. But I’m quite happy with everything, even if I know I could do everything better.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

It’s difficult for me to answer that. Probably music by Liszt, and generally-speaking music from the 20th and 21st centuries. I’m also quite at ease with the classical style and Beethoven’s music, though that’s one side my audience knows a little less, I think.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Meditation. Just before going on stage.

Elsewhere in my life, I enjoy being with friends, good food (I love to cook myself), travelling, and my relationship with all forms of art and all kinds of music, including pop. I also read a lot of books, articles, magazines, all kind of things, depending on my state of mind. This all probably goes someway in inspiring my interpretations but it is totally subconscious.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I built a very big repertoire and musical knowledge when I was a teenager. I continue to discover new things all the time but I mainly extract ideas from this big body of work. The question is more what’s next? To try to find a logical order. But I have ideas for the next 60 years at least! Regarding new repertoire, I’m mainly interested in contemporary compositions and discovering new composers. So I try to confirm some new commissions each year so that I can regularly give premieres. This stimulates me a lot.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

There are so many. I could mention Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for example, which gives me such an intense emotion each time I enter on stage and face the audience. Such an impressive and magnificent place.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

I think that artists and promoters should work much more to promote contemporary music and to help the audience discover it gradually so they get used to it – like visual art, for example. The younger generation needs to feel that there are living artists and composers behind it. The most contemporary music should be absolutely central in my opinion. It’s fundamental to get out of this museum experience feeling. Or if not, it should at least be in the style of a modern art museum…!

We also need to destroy the existing frameworks. The look and format of a concert should not just depend on old habits.

Why should a recital consist of two halves of 45 minutes each? Why should a concerto be played at the same part of the concert each time? Why always this same ritual of encores? Why does the orchestra have more or less the same layout? Why are the (bright) lights always more or less the same in every concert hall across the world? We should innovate much more to make the whole experience more alive. It’s also essential we maintain – now more than ever – a standard of very high quality. The worst thing for me is levelling down.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are too many.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Being happy. And proud to achieve what we can achieve. To continue to have dreams and to try to make them become reality.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

To remember that success is not about having your name written in gold letters at the top of a poster.

It’s a long quest and a process of building. You need to build your repertoire, your personality… to try to learn who you are as an artist. That all takes time. Search inside yourself, as most of what you have to say is already inside you from very early on.

Where would you like to be in 10 years ’time?

I don’t know exactly but certainly not where I am right now!

I like movement. I’d like to continue to travel, to develop my repertoire, to commission and premiere a lot of new works. To develop my Festival and Academy project and to create a real musical centre to experiment with new ideas. Maybe to teach again a bit. I’d like to be more linked to the younger generation and to today’s composers, as well as to other kinds of artists.

Bertrand Chamayou’s new album Good Night! is released on 9 October on the Warner Classics label.


Bertrand Chamayou is one of today’s most strikingly brilliant pianists, recognised for his revelatory performances at once powerfully virtuosic, imaginative and breathtakingly beautiful.

Heralded for his masterful conviction and insightful musicianship across a vast repertoire, the French pianist performs at the highest level on the international music scene. He is recognised as a leading interpreter of French repertoire, shining a new light on familiar as well as lesser known works, while possessing an equally driving curiosity and deep passion for new music. He has worked with composers including Pierre Boulez, Henri Dutilleux, György Kurtág, Thomas Adès and Michael Jarrell.

Read more


Artist photo: Warner Classics

Piano music commissioned and recorded during lockdown to support musicians struggling during the Covid-19 crisis

There have been many initiatives to keep the music playing and support musicians during these difficult times. What all of these initiatives demonstrate is that musicians are, despite straitened circumstances, determined to keep playing and to continue to share their music with audiences. It also sends a powerful message to government that the industry is determined to survive, to let the music play, come what may.

I have a personal interest in this wonderful project by pianist Duncan Honeybourne: Duncan and I are friends, and also colleagues – together we run a lunchtime concert series in Weymouth.

During the UK lockdown, Duncan decided to offer short video recitals from his home every day. He called them ‘Piano Soundbites’. The series proved very popular and within a few weeks, Duncan had the idea to approach composers to ask them to write new piano pieces for him, to be premiered as ‘Contemporary Piano Soundbites’ in his video recitals. Alongside this, Duncan set up a Just Giving page to raise funds for Help Musicians UK (formerly the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund). The response was incredible – the project, which was ranked in the top 10% of Just Giving fundraisers nationally during April 2020, has already raised well over £2000 for Help Musicians UK, supporting musician colleagues struggling in the current situation.

‘Contemporary Piano Soundbites’ celebrates the diversity of styles embraced by a broad cross-section of professional composers working today. Featured composers include Sadie Harrison, Graham Fitkin, John McLeod, David Lancaster, Francis Pott, Luke Whitlock and John Casken, as well as younger and emerging composers, and each piece is no more than 6 minutes long at the most. These piano miniatures represent an important contribution to the ever-expanding repertoire for the instrument, to be enjoyed by amateur, professional and student pianists alike.

pianist Duncan Honeybourne

“….it was an invigorating experience to record an entire disc of pieces which hadn’t existed less than four months earlier! Especially stimulating and exciting is the juxtaposition of several leading senior composers with some of their most gifted younger colleagues. Several young composers make their first appearances on disc.

My objective, as I stated in my invitation to composers, was fourfold: to imaginatively harness the zeitgeist of our present situation: to bring comfort and enjoyment to a large ready-made audience stuck at home, to aid musicians badly affected by the “cultural lockdown” and to add to the contemporary repertoire, creating an artistic keepsake of this extraordinary phase in our history.

My long term plan is that, as well as helping our colleagues at a time of need, the collection will provide a snapshot of reflections and musings by some of the finest and most distinctive composers of our time at a unique and unprecedented moment in our history. I hope the disc will make for a refreshing, enriching, stimulating and quirky listening experience too!”
Duncan Honeybourne, September 2020

The music was recorded in late July 2020 in the new Gransden Hall at Sherborne Girls School, Dorset.

The disc is released on the Prima Facie label and is available to order now

For review copies, sample tracks, interviews with Duncan and other press information please contact Frances Wilson


Meet the Artist interview with Duncan Honeybourne


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A film by Antonio Iturrioz

Leopold Godowksy (1870-1938) is regarded as one of the giants of the keyboard, renowned for his formidable technique and ingenious transcriptions of works by other composers, transforming already challenging pieces, such as Chopin’s Études, into works of extraordinary difficulty and invention, which few pianists are prepared to tackle. In addition to transcriptions, Godowsky was also a significant and prolific composer in his own right. He was the last in a lineage of great post-romantic composers that included Rachmaninoff and Busoni, and made a major contribution to the development of piano music. A ‘pianist for pianists’, the critic James Huneker referred to him as the “Buddha of the Piano”; popular during his lifetime, Godowsky and his music is hardly known or performed today.

The Cuban-American pianist Antonio Iturrioz is one of the few musicians to rise to the challenge of Godowsky’s music and, following an injury to his right hand when he was a young man, he spent several years studying Godowsky’s complete left hand transcriptions and original compositions. His 2010 film The Buddha of the Piano – Leopold Godowsky is the result of meticulous research into the composer’s life and music, and is the first and only film on Leopold Godowsky. Illustrated with archive material including photographs, scores and piano rolls, this engaging film summarizes Godowsky’s achievements as a pianist and composer, and reveals his busy, peripatetic life, and his thoughts on music and life, shining an important light on, arguably, the greatest pianist of all time. But perhaps what is most satisfying is the music which accompanies the film. Performed by Antonio Iturrioz himself, he demonstrates not only superlative technical fluency, endlessly rising to the vertiginous challenges of this phenomenal music, but also shows a deep appreciation of Godowsky’s unique artistry. Mr Iturrioz’s film, together with his performances, are a wonderful endorsement of Leopold Godowsky’s remarkable talent and his significant contribution to pianism and piano repertoire.

Antonio Iturrioz playing the restored 1923 Steinway Duo-Art Concert Grand which was used for the performances for his film

More information about Antonio Iturrioz’s film here


Concert pianist, documentarian and Steinway Artist Antonio Iturrioz, born in Cuba, came to the United States when he was 7 years old. Giving his first concert at 9, he played the Liszt First Piano Concerto for his orchestral debut at 15. His teachers have included his father, Pablo Iturrioz; Francisco De Hoyos, a pupil of Gyorgi Sandor; Bernardo Segall, who studied with the Liszt pupil Alexander Siloti; Aube Tzerko; and Julian White. He has taken master classes from Byron Janis, Alexis Weissenberg, Jorge Bolet, and Andre Watts.

While recuperating from an injury to his right hand, Iturrioz learned important and obscure works for the left hand, including the complete Godowsky arrangements and original compositions. This led to his first film, the unique documentary The Art of the Left Hand: A Brief History of Left Hand Piano Music, called “an important film” by Clavier magazine. His second, The Buddha of the Piano: Leopold Godowsky, the only film about Godowsky, has been shown at international piano festivals, colleges in the U.S., the Edinburgh Society of Musicians and at the American Liszt Festival in South Carolina. Highly praised by Marc-Andre Hamelin, Carlo Grante, and many others, Scotland’s greatest pianist of the second half of the Twentieth Century, Dr. Ronald Stevenson, said, “It is an important film for all pianists and pianophiles….You reveal with skill, clarity and sensitivity the intricacies of his polyphonic piano writing.” The film, translated into Italian and French, will soon be translated into Polish. Both films have been featured on national public television.

Iturrioz in 2013 gave the world premiere performance on one piano of L. M. Gottschalk’s complete two-movement symphony, La Nuit des Tropiques, (the first American symphony) having transcribed for the first time the second movement, “Fiesta Criolla,” for one piano.

The Steinway & Sons label released in fall 2018 the world premiere CD of this historic work. Andre Watts has called Gottschalk and Cuba an “extraordinary album of music!”

For more information please visit:

www.gottschalkandcuba.com

www.newinternationalgodowskysociety.com

www.theartofthelefthand.com

St Mary’s Perivale Beethoven Piano Sonata Festival

All 32 piano sonatas played by 32 pianists to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 1770
October 3rd and 4th 2020


St Mary’s Perivale is one of those wonderful little gems that once discovered you will want to return to again and again. For over 10 years now, this beautiful little 12th-century deconsecrated church has been home to a busy and varied programme of concerts, organised by the indetafigable Hugh Mather, a retired doctor with a passion for classical music. St Mary’s supports many young musicians at the start of their professional careers as well as presenting more established artists.

To celebrate the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven, St Mary’s will showcase 32 pianists, who will each play one of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas – an incredible body of work considered to be the ‘New Testament’ of piano music. The sonatas will be performed in chronological order by a tag team of pianists, which includes Florian Mitrea, Callum McLachlan (son of Murray McLachlan), Ashley Fripp, Mishka Rushdie Momen, Julian Jacobson, Sasha Grynyuk, Dinara Klinton, Mark Viner and Julian Trevelyan. Many of these pianists live in and around London, which makes getting to the venue easier for them (sadly many musicians have been hit by travel restrictions due to the pandemic).

By having 32 different pianists playing the sonatas audiences can not only enjoy the variety and breadth of Beethoven’s musical imagination but also each pianist’s individual “take” – their approaches, interpretative choices and personality – on the music. Each will have something special to offer and all will perform to a very high standard.

This is not a festival which has been put together in a hurry in response to the limitations placed on public performances by government policy towards the pandemic: Hugh Mather has been planning it for months, inviting and priming the pianists involved to ensure they are fully prepared.

It promises to be a really wonderful weekend of music making.

This major Beethoven festival takes places over the weekend of 3rd and 4th October and will be streamed live from St Mary’s Perivale. For full details please visit the St Mary’s Perivale website

St Mary’s Perivale

“Bach first became my beacon when I was about 10 years old. I remember sneaking a peek at my piano teacher’s notebook and seeing the words “plays Bach well” under my name. That vote of confidence shaped my musical identity…”

Eleonor Bindman, pianist


The Six Solo Cello Suites are some of the most celebrated and much-loved works in the classical repertoire, and they continue to fascinate and inspire performers and audiences alike. In this brand new transcription for solo piano, Eleonor Bindman pays tribute to this music’s enduring allure. The Cello Suites project grew out of Eleonor Bindman’s ‘Stepping Stones to Bach’, arrangements of orchestral and choral music which aimed to help amateur pianists play Bach successfully. The 2-volume collection includes transcriptions of some of Bach’s most popular music, including the ‘Badinerie’ from the Suite BWV 1067, the chorale prelude “Wachet Auf”, “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” from the St Matthew Passion, and three movements from the Cello Suites. Inspired by how gratifying it felt to play those, Eleonor researched existing piano versions of the complete Cello Suites and was surprised not to come across any that were really true to the original.

The only straightforward piano transcription of any movements of the Cello Suites, dating from 1914, is by Russian pianist and impresario Alexander Siloti (1863-1945), a student of Franz Liszt. Siloti’s transcription gave Eleonor the resolve to pursue this project and arrange the complete 36 movements as closely to the original as possible. Playing through other variously enhanced piano versions, including an arrangement of all six Suites by Joachim Raff (c.1869-71) and of Suites 2, 3 and 5 by Leopold Godowsky (1924), Eleonor became convinced that the Suites didn’t need any “improvement.”

In her transcription, Eleonor has made a number of adjustments due to the different capabilities of the instrument, including slightly faster tempi especially in the Sarabandes, which also help make the harmonic structure more discernible. Here too she endeavoured to imitate the cello sound most closely, which would not have been possible without the marvellous baritone register of her Bösendorfer piano on which her recording was made. Some transpositions have also been necessary, and a variety of embellishments in repeats, some conventional and some more original. The transcription offers scope for some adventurous interpretation, particularly in the wonderfully playful pairs of Minuets, Bourrées and Gavottes.

The Cello Suites are the essence of Bach, a meditation which mysteriously connects us to ourselves and to the universe at once. My new transcription of this beloved set shows a refreshing perspective to a pianist, unencumbered by counterpoint and zooming in on the individual line, patterns, tone quality, and the great composer’s vocabulary. I find the experience of playing the Suites on the keyboard not only aesthetically satisfying but also relaxing and joyful. We could all use an opportunity to enjoy our music-making without unnecessary stress, especially in current times. I am also eager to bring these 36 pieces to many pianists and students because they are immensely beneficial for working on tone and finger technique.” –Eleonor Bindman

The recording of Eleonor’s transcription, made on her own Bösendorfer piano, is released on 9 October 2020 on the Naxos Grand Piano label, and the sheet music is also in preparation. This is aimed primarily at amateur pianists (intermediate to early advanced level) who relish the opportunity of playing music other than Bach’s works specifically for keyboard and who would like to be free of the rigours of complex counterpoint. Like the works included in her ‘Stepping Stones to Bach’, Eleonor has provided pianists with yet more repertoire to explore, and her elegantly, meticulous transcriptions shine a new light on this wonderful music while also remaining true to the original.

To listen to sample tracks or pre-order, click here

For press information about Eleonor Bindman’s Cello Suites for Solo Piano, please contact Frances Wilson