Anika Vavic (photo credit: Marco Borggreve)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I was lucky to have very motivating teachers from the very beginning of my musical career. I attended Ivo Pogorelich´s recital in Belgrade when I was 9 years old (alone, because it was sold out so my parents couldn’t accompany me) and the atmosphere in the concert hall fascinated me so much – so much that I felt a desire to perform professionally. I remember Pogorelich performing a Chopin programme, and it was so fantastic I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt and thought that I saw a lion making music with that Steinway piano.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

My teachers Noel Flores, Lazar Berman and Mstislav Rostropovich, and the ‘old school pianists’ such as Sofronitzky, Rachmaninov, Richter, Gilels to name some, as well as Radu Lupu, Sokolov, Barenboim.

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

My “Rising Stars” tour was certainly thrilling where I had the opportunity to perform at the Carnegie Hall and Concertgebouw for example. Another fantastic experience was my debut performance at the great Vienna Konzerthaus performing Tchaikovsky´s Piano Concerto No.1. Also, the first time I performed with Valery Gergiev was very special.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

In general, all the performances where I felt I was going beyond the “concept”, including my visualized 3D model of the composition I was performing [and discovering a new angle of the piece while performing.  I love the Schumann “Kreisleriana” I recorded for the last CD – that’s a recording that I will still love in 20 years.

 Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

My favourite venues are the Vienna Musikverein, Vienna Konzerthaus, the new Mariinsky Concert Hall and definitely the Conservatory in Moscow.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing any piece by Bach, Haydn Sonatas, Beethoven (especially op. 101), Schumann, Ravel, Brahms, Scriabin, everything by Prokofiev… I love listening to Brahms’ Double Concerto with Oistrakh/Rostropovich.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The musicians who serve the music and not themselves are my favourite: Oistrach, Rostropovich, Richter, Gilels, Rachmaninow, Sofronitzky, Sokolov, Lupu, Maazel, Gergiev, Jansons…. Unfortunately such musicians seem to disappear with the rise of the younger generation, and the whole music making fashion.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I remember performing Bach´s Italian Concerto among other compositions and enjoying sitting on the grand chair in this great hall in Belgrade, and all the attention that I received along with it. I was 11 I think, and I thought, ‘that´s how Pogorelich must feel on this same chair and piano we are “sharing” as colleagues’.

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

Honesty and real love towards music, and looking back to the old times where there was ‘no selling of emperor’s new clothes’ as it is today with making music – my advice to aspiring new musicians is to take it from there and keep the musical morality.

What are you working on at the moment?

The phenomenal 4th Piano Concerto by Rodion Shchedrin for my performance with Valery Gergiev, and Prokofiev´s 3rd Piano Concerto as I will be performing this piece at the Proms this month and the Enescu Festival in September.

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

Continuing the collaboration with my dear colleagues Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Jurowski, Paavo Jarvi, but also performing with Mariss Jansons, for instance.

What is your most treasured possession?

Vivid recollections of beautiful moments.

Anika Vavic performs Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major with Vladimir Jurowski on Friday 30th August. Further details here

Pianist Anika Vavic made her performance debut at Vienna’s Konzerthaus in 2003, and as a result, was chosen for the 2003/04 season highly commended “Rising Stars” concert cycle, leading to further performances in some of the world’s most famous concert halls. Together with the Musikverein, the Österreichischer Rundfunk produced a CD of her recital program from the season; Anika’s first release. Her latest disc, featuring works by Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Prokofiev was released in 2010 to great acclaim.

Anika works regularly with orchestras such as the Mariinsky Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the MDR Orchestra Leipzig, and performs at festivals such as the ”White Nights” festival in St. Petersburg, the Istanbul Music Festival and Valery Gergiev’s Mikkelli Festival in Finland.

Her upcoming engagements include concerts with the Mariinsky Orchestra in July 2013, her debut performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms and at the Enescu Festival in August 2013 and her return to the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in March 2014. [Biography courtesy of Wildkat PR]

www.anikavavic.com

Christina Pluhar (image credit © Marco Borggreve)

Early music and Baroque crossover ensemble l’Arpeggiata, under the direction of theorbo player Christina Pluhar, gave a five-star performance of toe-tapping Tarantellas, jazzy improvisations, and soulful songs in their Proms debut at Cadogan Hall. Read my full review here

 
The concert opened with this Ciaccona by Cazzati:

As English as Earl Grey tea, wasps at a picnic, warm beer, wet summers, Rupert Brooke, and Andy Murray not getting past the semis at Wimbledon, the Last Night of the Proms is a fine tradition and a much-loved national treasure.

Music snobs and cynics may criticise the Last Night (and indeed other programmes in the Proms season) for “dumbing down” classical music. Others may regard all the flag-waving and singing of Rule Britannia! as rampant jingoism verging on unpleasant nationalism – and if the Prommers were skinheads and card-carrying BNP members, maybe that would be true. But in fact, watching the Last Night on television on Saturday night, the overriding sense is of a wonderful shared experience and a real celebration of music and music making. And not all the flags were Union Jacks, not by any means…..

Photo credit: BBC

The Proms has grown, from its relatively humble origins at the Queen’s Hall in London at the end of the nineteenth century, to an internationally renowned music festival. When the Proms were first conceived, the motivation was to bring classical music to a wider public and to encourage those who might not normally go to classical music concerts to attend. This is still the Proms’ USP, and something it is clearly doing right, given the record attendance figures this year. Latterly, the Proms has become more populist: this year we’ve had a Horrible Histories Prom, a Comedy Prom and a Spaghetti Western Prom, but alongside these more popular programmes we’ve also had many premiers of new works, fine orchestras and soloists from all around the world, and night after night of fantastic music.  I have been to four Proms, reviewing for Bachtrack, and have enjoyed every single one of them. After the stuffy, hidebound, reverential atmosphere of the Wigmore Hall, with its (mostly) snooty, superannuated audience, the Royal Albert Hall is a breath of fresh air. At each Prom I attended, there was a wonderful sense of people coming together to enjoy and celebrate music.

It’s hard to get a ticket to the Last Night: like Wimbledon, tickets are allocated by ballot and you have to submit your request months in advance. Thus, the sense of occasion is even greater, if you are one of the lucky ones to be there. Even if you are not, the tv and radio coverage is so good these days that you can join in the festivities from your living room, as I did last night. Or attend a Prom in the Park, a relatively new innovation which aims to bring music to an even wider audience.

The programme started seriously enough with a new work by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, followed by some lively, spiky Bartok, before the first Main Event of the evening, Susan Bullock singing Brunhilde’s self-immolation scene from Wagner’s Ring cycle. I can live without Wagner, though certain friends insist that I can’t, and while I admired Susan Bullock’s performance – and her striking scarlet dress – I found the extreme vibrato in her voice obscured the music. She’s clearly a popular performer, and interviewed afterwards by Katie Derham, she admitted that the atmosphere in the hall was remarkable.

Next up was Chinese posterboy rockstar pianist Lang Lang. He’d dashed from the Prom in the Park across the road in Hyde Park, where he’d played the most ridiculously flashy account of Liszt’s ‘La Campanella’ I have ever heard, to perform more Liszt, the First Piano Concerto, in the main hall. I admit I have very little patience with performers like Lang Lang. Sure, he’s a fine technician, but there’s no real substance nor depth to his playing – and this was more than evident in the Liszt Concerto, which he reduced to another display of unnecessary piano pyrotechnics. Added to that, his gurning and grinning, his affected gestures, and his Liberace-like smiles at the camera…. He’s a big crowd-pleaser and received rousing and sustained applause. He returned after the interval to wreck Chopin’s ‘Grande Polonaise Brillante’, more schmaltz and sugar plums, before offering the most sycophantic, sentimental Liszt (the ‘Consolation’ No. 3) as an encore.

Next, Britten’s ‘Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’, a welcome relief after Lang Lang’s extreme attention-seeking, with Jenny Agutter reading a rather toe-curling new version of the text written by poet Wendy Cope. The rest of the programme is, traditionally, devoted to the massed singalong, beginning this year with ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ (from The Sound of Music) and ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, Susan Bullock returning to the stage in a vivid electric blue gown, to lead the singing. Then it was Elgar, twice, the audience urged by conductor Edward Gardner (the youngest conductor to conduct at the Last Night) to sing up and drown the piccolo. And finally, Rule Britannia!, sung by Susan Bullock, wearing a hilarious parody of Britannia’s costume, complete with flashing daffodils on her breastplate, and Jerusalem. All good wholesome fun, and entirely uplifting.

So, the Proms is over for another year, yet predictions are already being made about next year’s programme. I’ve heard rumours that Barenboim will conduct all nine of Beethoven’s Symphonies, and, being the Olympic year, the 2012 season is likely to be really special. I’m looking forward to it already!

Meanwhile, the autumn season at the Wigmore Hall has just begun, and I have a full diary of concerts to look forward to, beginning tomorrow lunchtime with young French ‘piano babe’ Lise de la Salle. Other highlights include Robert Levin playing Mozart with the OAE, Garrick Ohlsson, Louis Lortie, Peter Donohoe and Mitsuko Uchida. You can find links to all my reviews for Bachtrack on this blog, as well as plenty of other piano-musings. And don’t forget to check out Bachtrack’s listings for concerts, opera and ballet around the world (click on the graphic on the left).

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester by Rupert Brooke (spot the quote which inspired this post!!)


Photo: Matt Henek

The final week of the 2011 Proms season began with a flamboyant and exhilarating concert given by the superb Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, who celebrate their 110th anniversary this year. They were joined by pianist Hélène Grimaud, playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto, the piece with which she made her Proms debut in 2001. Read my review for Bachtrack.com here.

Were you at the Proms last night? Even if you weren’t, you probably know by now that the concert, given by the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, with Zubin Mehta and Gil Shaham, was interrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters who barracked and sang, thus forcing Radio Three to abandon its broadcast of the concert. It is not the first time a concert given by Israeli musicians has been interrupted by protest – and it won’t be the last either. Although more rigorous security checks were in place ahead of the concert, these did not prevent protesters invading the hall: they had booked their tickets way in advance. Hints that there would be trouble at this concert were made ahead of event, via Twitter (where I heard about it) and various other social media and news channels, and petitions had been made to the BBC, suggesting the concert be cancelled.

Reading various reactions, including a hefty handful of tweets and links from Norman Lebrecht, I felt an uncomfortable sense of déjà vu. Last March I attended a lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall, given by the Jerusalem Quartet, four young Jewish string players who reside in Jerusalem. There was a rag-tag group of noisy protesters outside the hall when I arrived, being fielded calmly by John Gilhooly, the hall’s Director. Stupidly, perhaps, I thought little of it, because I never believed the “sacred shoebox” of the Wigmore Hall could be invaded by protest, anger and violence. I was wrong. At least six protesters were dotted around the hall (they had also purchased their tickets in advance), and each made their best effort to interrupt the performance, knowing that it was being broadcast on Radio Three. One protester, a perfectly respectable-looking middle aged woman, was sitting next to me. She stood and heckled loudly, and was immediately attacked (this is the only word I can think to use) by a gentleman sitting in front of me. He dragged the woman by the hair across my lap and roundly demanded that she shut up so that we could enjoy the concert. But of course we couldn’t: by now the Mozart quartet was spoiled, for all of us, and certain members of the audience, angry that their lunchtime music had been disturbed, were now heckling the hecklers. Eventually all the protesters were removed, and we tried to settle down to try and enjoy the rest of the performance. But the dynamic within the hall had changed because a space which had, until then, been sacrosanct, a place of refuge and comfort to escape the exigencies of everyday life, politics, war, celebrity gossip, had been invaded by anger and protest. I suspect that the concert-goers at the Proms last night felt very much the same. One thing is certain: the protesters have not particularly helped their cause by invading the Proms in way that they did.

The UK is, supposedly, a free country. To me that means we have the right to protest, to express our views freely. It should also mean that certain places, such as the Wigmore Hall, are permitted to remain separate from the important issues of the day. It is naive to deny that there is no relationship between the arts and politics, but that does not excuse the invasion of art spaces and venues by those who chose to deny the rest of us our freedom, our human right, to enjoy music or art, no matter who is performing it, or who created it. Places like the Wigmore Hall should be refuges, places where no one can reach you, and the Wigmore guards that privacy most assiduously. It is this preciously guarded freedom which the protesters last night, and last March, set out to destroy. Incidentally, the members of the Jerusalem Quartet, who behaved with great dignity and calmness during their interrupted recital, spoke to the audience and the protesters simply to state “we are musicians, not soldiers”.

I am not sufficiently conversant with the politics of the Arab-Israeli situation to comment here: what I do know is that such issues should be kept out of the way of music. Leave music alone, please. The Wigmore Hall is my “church”, and the wonderful music I hear there regularly transports me to another, better world: it is one of the few places left where we can escape governmental politics and protest.

For a fuller account of last night’s concert, read this review from the Arts Desk. Some video clips of the concert, and plenty of comments, are on Norman Lebrecht’s blog.