Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

I actually never dreamed of becoming a classical musician, and I feel very privileged to have had such a natural and in many ways unexpected career path. The piano choice was purely practical – it was an instrument that was offered to us by a friend so I could start lessons. Of course, now I can say that I was very lucky because I love my instrument for the endless colours and possibilities it offers, for the many sounds – big and small – and the vast repertoire.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Influence on my musical life and career can be linked directly to the influence on my life, and that has been mainly by my parents, who have instilled morals, discipline, and enjoyment upon my life. I gather inspiration from everything that surrounds me, the experiences I have, and those I encounter both on and off stage.

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

I cannot, with certainty, separate challenges from successes, as these are inextricably linked in my mind. On the one hand, I do not come from a musical family, but I have learned everything from scratch. When I persevere through the most challenging segments of my calendar, they make me stronger, and enable me to know what I am capable of and what I wish (not) to do.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I hope to be proud of every performance, and especially of every recording. The way I judge past performances includes elements such as the piano, the hall, and the audience, and these are intertwined with the memories I kept of that particular week – a very large cauldron. I have especially fond memories of some performances, such as the first time I performed in Warsaw, where all my grandparents heard me perform in a concert environment for the first time ever, or my BBC Proms debut in sweltering London summer weather.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I would not programme works I do not think myself capable of performing, and I hope to add something unique with my interpretation.

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

As a pianist I am in the position of having seemingly endless repertoire to choose from. I have certain pieces on the horizon that I would like to perform, and when there’s the opportunity to do so, I will add them to my repertoire. Recordings dictate the choices of repertoire somewhat, in that I need to prepare it beforehand and perform it after. Large multi-concert tours likewise; these decisions are mutual, made years in advance.

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

I’m terrible at picking favourites (favourite colour, country, person, city, etc.) and this extends to all walks of life. I enjoy the variety of concert halls, and believe it is a skill to adjust appropriately to each environment, from the ultra-accurate 21st-century “high-definition” halls, to some beautiful 19th-century acoustically warm ones, to the Italian opera houses which make you feel suffocated (acoustically, of course), not to mention everything in between. Every hall presents a challenge – and an opportunity – and overcoming the challenges while exploiting the opportunities is part of what makes a performance successful.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have too many to name – from those I’ve worked with and admire, to those I am friends with, to others who may inspire me in performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I flew to a remote community in Saskatchewan, Canada; an outreach concert from my performance with the Saskatoon Symphony. In La Ronge, most people had never heard a piano before – it was also sent for the recital. The concert was packed, the excitement was palpable, and the genuine appreciation was unlike anything I’ve felt before or since. Falling snow, children in “Sunday’s best” sitting on the floor of the school gymnasium in complete silence. A concert I will gather strength from for years to come.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is deeply individual, and I consider myself very fortunate to be where I am today.

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

Make sure you stay true to yourself, practice only just enough, and learn about other things beyond music.

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

Walking on planet Earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Enjoying the small things that make life magical.

What is your most treasured possession?

My memories.

What is your present state of mind?

Always the same – happy.


Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki has won acclaim for his extraordinary interpretive maturity, distinctive sound, and poetic sensibility. The New York Times has called him “a pianist who makes every note count”. Lisiecki’s insightful interpretations, refined technique, and natural affinity for art give him a musical voice that belies his age.

Jan Lisiecki was born to Polish parents in Canada in 1995. He began piano lessons at the age of five and made his concerto debut four years later, while always rebuffing the label of “child prodigy”. His approach to music is a refreshing combination of dedication, skill, enthusiasm and a realistic perspective on the career of a musician.

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(Artist photo: JL Holger-Hage)

Guest article by Wendy Skeen

A friend of mine attended András Schiff’s two concerts with the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment earlier this week in which he performed and directed Brahms’ two piano concertos. Here she shares her thoughts on the concerts – less a review, more a report informed by Wendy’s own experiences as a pianist, piano teacher and performance coach.

These two concerts were unusual in three key respects…

First, Sir András Schiff was both conductor and pianist. It’s not unusual these days to find concerts where the pianist directs the orchestra from the piano, but it’s rare to see that with Romantic repertoire such as these Brahms piano concertos. You might wonder whether it’s possible for a pianist to successfully direct an orchestra whilst also playing such fiendishly difficult repertoire. Well… it is possible… but it takes a pianist with colossal technique, musicianship and presence of mind (Schiff) and an orchestra comprising musicians of such high calibre and bravery (the OAE).

Secondly, these concerts involved much smaller orchestral forces than we’re used to hearing in Romantic repertoire. In a modern symphony orchestra, aside from the regular complement of wind and brass, there’s usually 16 first violins, 14 seconds, 12 violas, 10 cellos and 8 double basses. For these two concerts the string department had just 10 first violins, 9 seconds, 6 violas, 7 cellos and 4 double basses. One might have thought this would detract from the overall effect yet it engendered a much more intimate, personal and transparent ambience, even within such a large concert space. This allowed us to hear so much more in the music than we’re used to hearing. In fact, at the start of Monday night’s concert, Schiff gave a short speech where he told us that “we think we know this music, but we don’t know it well enough!” I think that everyone who was there knows exactly what he meant by that!

Thirdly, the use of period instruments, the most notable of which being the Blüthner grand piano which Schiff had selected for these ‘historically accurate’ performances. This instrument, which was built in Leipzig around 1867 and restored in 2013 by Edwin Beunk, had been transported from Berlin especially for these concerts. In a short introduction before Tuesday night’s concert, Schiff explained that the instrument was contemporary with when Brahms’ piano concertos were being written and performed. He also explained that it was straight-strung rather than having the bass strings running diagonally in the middle and upper register strings, as with a modern grand piano. As such, it offers pianist and listener “distinct registral differences”, rather like a choir, from bass, tenor and alto through to soprano. In the hands of a master like Schiff, this resulted in a beautifully broad palette of tonal shades and colours, allowing many more distinct lines to peak through the texture as a result of Schiff’s masterful voicing and phrasing. It felt like the musical equivalent of seeing a work of art after it’s been restored… the craftsman’s work revealing the beauty that lies beneath hundreds of years of time and history!

This is not to knock the modern-day concert Steinway. It’s just an entirely different experience hearing music played on period instruments. I confess it did take my ears a few minutes on Monday night to adjust and attune to that different kind of sound and balance. But oh my goodness… what a joy to just let go of past experiences of these pieces and allow the ears to open up to a different, equally valid approach.


Wendy-Skeen-200x300.jpgWendy Skeen is an enthusiastic amateur pianist. She is also an experienced piano teacher, performance coach, workshop facilitator and fully qualified Cognitive Hypnotherapist with a particular interest in the topic of performance anxiety. She studied piano at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and holds a diploma in Cognitive Hypnotherapy and Master Practitioner in NLP qualification from the Quest Institute. She also holds a CIPD Certificate in Training Practice and TAP Certificate in Learning Management. During the early part of her career Wendy worked in arts administration. After that she spent a short while working in sports management and PR. She then spent over twenty years working in adult education in a variety of learning & development and coaching roles before setting up her own piano teaching studio and hypnotherapy practice. Wendy regularly participates in performance workshops, performs in meet-up groups and accompanies instrumentalists and singers whenever she can. She also develops and performs music for her village’s theatre club productions. She is particularly interested in the topic of performance anxiety, especially as it applies to musicians, actors and athletes as well as business people who have to ‘perform’ (e.g. when giving presentations). Her focus is on helping people to find practical strategies that will work for them based on a tailored approach that takes account of each person’s specific ‘way of doing their performance anxiety’. Her one-day and weekend ‘Panic to Poise’ workshops are particularly popular with instrumentalists and singers.

Contact Wendy Skeen

 

Long read guest post by Jack Kohl

This address is in part about the musician who has studied as a concert pianist, but does not pursue the narrow and precise field for which he has been trained, yet does not quit; but does not often play solo recitals nor concerts, nor chamber music, nor strict lieder activities, nor teaches. No, this address will talk about the loner who picks up odd jobs in theater pits, in audition and rehearsal playing – seemingly taking advantage of his higher skills as a reader for performing the labors of a hack. But in these tasks he stays at the piano – free of the terrors of repeating precisely the work of another mind – at ease with music of greater ease, yet making better strides in considering the metaphorical implications of his trade than he could ever do in a classroom, or in practice aimed at a degree recital or a competition or even a concert to be televised before millions; or in the ostensible act of interpreting works that have been held now so long in human hands that they have, to the forward-looking and thinking mind, fallen apart like newsprint amidst wet fingers. Nor does he labor in the conceit that by some untried combination of ancient notes, something new can be composed that does not suggest something old.

Because the expectations for the level of rendering are not often high, and because what is rendered is rarely of an exalted quality, a hack is placed frequently in the best position to observe the metaphorical implications of musical utterance, a position beyond the wildest aspirations of the thinking but, alas, overcommitted virtuoso. The hack logs a count of unthreatened hours of which the virtuoso cannot dream. The hack does not look back on his errors – for he goes into the job knowing he will make them – and he does not prepare, for he does not fear to make the errors. He plays – though often badly – only in the present and never defers his thinking.

Some of my best metaphor hunts have come about from my habit of saying yes to most hack work – even to that for which I should prepare but do not. It takes a real practiced discipline – it takes real preparation – to go into a job unprepared in the traditional sense. But this is quite different from having no shame. I have come to feel most in practice when I have spaghetti fingers. To play well enough to attract notice neither in a good nor a bad way – to leave one free for observation and contemplation at a post suspected to be too busy for observation and contemplation – is the most highly cultivated of seemingly average skills. I rely a great deal on my powers of sight reading, the result of years of discipline – again, allowing me to play well enough to avoid notice, yet protecting me from being forced into specialty.

Though I started earlier, to gain that skill I had practiced unremittingly from age fourteen through thirty. For sixteen years, then, I sat in an almost foetal position – committed to that posture from adolescence to well into manhood. I maintained an umbilical connection to the musical canon before I could judge that canon for myself as an adult. I was not trained enough to judge music before I was trapped in it as a tradesman.

I can now report what I would tell the conservatory aspirant or recent graduate. As a young musician myself I had heard many a lecture on the trial by market that lay ahead for me. But if I were asked to speak to the young in my alma maters, I would put the question to them: Do enough of you subject Music – both new and old, popular and canonical, sacred and profane – not so much to a trial by market in relation to your own efforts as practitioners, but Music to a trial of yourselves, to a trial of you?

Of course I might be held somewhat suspect in all my observations in this address, for I have always worked to master a discipline so that it can at last be dropped and used only for analogy and not for trade. I have never aspired to the stasis of the expert. I have always aimed to toss over my shoulder, plow under, even that discipline of my greatest knowledge, even that of my supposed ultimate vocation – to render it but a point of reference for some unknown future thing. At my recent thirtieth high school reunion I identified my vocation differently to each person who asked what it is I do. The answer was always honest, and somehow the difference was not inspired by the identity of the inquirer.

But I became trapped early in a primary trade – for I always played just a bit too well for anyone to discourage me from my early and intense pursuit of the piano. Thus I have fallen into music as a profession that I cannot escape; it is my day job.

Once more, I work as a hack. Some of my former teachers, and many who are close to me, object to my use of the word hack for myself. Perhaps they are correct, for in using that word I am guilty of engaging in duplicity, guilty in part of false self-deprecation; for my hack work – the depth of field of witness to which I refer – has a very layered meaning for me.

And the supposed pride of pianistic pedagogical descent has never held my interest. I have offended one former professor by leaving teachers’ names out of my bio altogether. But would he wish to lay claim to my hack performances? And he cannot lay claim to what I see and witness in my hack renderings. Not even I can claim responsibility for those thoughts. That credit must go to what Samuel Taylor Coleridge characterized as Reason: “Reason is the Power of universal and necessary Convictions, the Source and Substance of Truths above Sense. . . .” I must cite Reason in my bio as my principal teacher.

But if I gave any name in my bio, my first teacher’s would be enough. For she showed me Middle C – and that key is as likely to be called B-sharp or D-double-flat. (That any one key on the piano can contain more than one viable and distinct note is due to the musico-grammatical phenomenon known as enharmonics, brought about by the full adoption of Equal Temperament tuning in the eighteenth-century. Equal Temperament divides the octave into twelve equally distanced half-steps, forcing formerly separate notes – like, say, C-natural, B-sharp, and D-double-flat – into a shared space. Enharmonic spellings stand in distant analogy to homonyms in spoken language.) Again, my first teacher showed me enough. For once we are shown Middle C we have been shown how to play the piano; then we spend too much time learning not the piano, but a literature.

That first lesson of Middle C and its enharmonic identities has never failed me, even in the midst of my most ostensibly grim days as a hack. I offer for an example my recent assignment to serve as a sub for Keyboard 2 in the pit of a regional level theater during a summer run. Descending into a theater pit sometimes seems promising to me. The outer edge of the pit – the wall separating the pit from the house – is often slightly curved, that edge suggesting only a small part of an imagined greater circle’s arc. Were one to follow the full implications of that circle, it would wrap around much of the outside of the theater’s neighborhood. Thus a pit is suggestive of a crater on a partially eclipsed moon. And a completely covered pit is like a fully eclipsed moon: hidden but there, having all the effects of a satellite without being seen at all.

When one descends into a true orchestra pit it feels very much like one is on the surface of a river or pond – of a surface that is, however, below the water. Thus, for the single man, the sunken Pre-Raphaelite maidens are above, on the stage, the hems of their skirts cupped in dance to the deck like upside down flowers over one’s head.

But to a trained pianist, the descent into a modern pit is just as often disheartening. The might of a grand piano always suggests to me an athlete in the posture of a one-armed push-up. But to descend into a pit unto a synthesizer is as to climb into a crypt with a deceased beloved and embrace a two-dimensional plastic rendering of her skeleton – as thin and as mass-produced as a page protector, replete with the latter’s unwelcome and threatening glare. Even the figurative foot of the deceased beloved, the pedal, slides away with every touch, is attached only by a wire, fastened as if only by a gruesome and exposed tendon. If I were to play – even mildly – with the Lisztian full torso conception of a pianist when sent to the frail bones of the synthesizer, I would be in fear of pushing the keyboard over or of pushing it off of its stand.

The sight of synthesizers is always disturbing. They represent a profoundly negative compression – the kind of negative compression humanity accepts increasingly with virtual reality. The synthesizers in a modern musical theater pit look like patients on tables, patients plugged into wires.

What kind of instrument is it that is as no instrument, that in having so little mass, also has no identity – but is instead a detectable imposter of all its poor multiple false identities? Strange that the principal instrument in such a pit is the one that would go silent, would be the most powerless at the loss of power. I call it the principal instrument for it is the keyboard family that has reigned in respect to our hearing, our sonic culture, since the rise of Equal Temperament. Did not the keyboard command, too, the inevitability of Equal Temperament tuning: the division of the octave into twelve equidistant half steps, presently referred to as 12-TET, permitting one to play in all twelve keys? But when the power goes out now, they (the keyboards as synthesizers) are useless. Even the electric guitar has some communication in a blackout with an acoustic actuality – and of course the electric bass, the reeds, and the drums do, too, in that ensemble into which I descended.

Again, in such a pit, I labored for weeks at Keyboard 2. Yet despite having a speaker (often called a monitor) so that I could hear myself, I could hear myself rarely at all. There were headphones attached to Keyboard 2, but I resisted using them. For some time, instead, I just relished my increasing rage. Surely when a drummer is miked yet plays, too, behind a plexiglass baffle, there is an element of madness in civilization.

For days I played without hearing myself, and for days it was as if I had returned to the time before the   eighteenth-century, to the time before Equal Temperament tuning, for the keyboard did not reign on this job. I heard instead an unconscious microtonal supremacy blaring from all instruments and from all the actors above. It was all at a professional level (as far as musical theater is concerned), but without hearing the Equal Temperament reference point coming from myself and my own playing, I lived in the midst of a subtle chaos of the senses – in a chaos without enharmony, a chaos of externally distinct B-sharps, C-naturals, D-double-flats (and every microtone in between).The reed player seated next to me remarked that my description of playing without hearing myself would be like a horn player performing with his bell inserted into a vacuum.

I gave way during one performance and put on the headphones. They placed me suddenly into the Equal Temperament frame of reference: C-natural, B-sharp, and D-double-flat were under one key again, and enharmony placed power within me once more rather than without me. I told the guitarist of this during intermission, and he did not seem to grasp the importance of what had struck me. The headphones threw me back into the grand alloy of Equal Temperament – because I could hear all the subtle lack of intonation in the production once the drums and other noises were pushed away. For me this experience of putting on the headphones was nothing less than a miraculous restoration – a re-entering of the Equal Tempered, the enharmonic world.

So what is it that a pianist detects when under one key one can hear many distinct notes, can feel many distinct notes? What is the miracle of enharmony – that C-natural, B-sharp, and D-double-flat can all reside under one key? I will omit theoretical examples for the same reason that an author of, say, a popular science book on physics will omit equations from his text lest he lose the earnest lay reader with technical proofs that are not required.

And I will not burden this address with attempts to draw too many comparisons between homonyms and enharmonics. When singers in musical theater rehearsals have complained to me that a C-natural and a B-sharp should be written as the same note, I have countered: Would not the costume department have trouble if in a memorandum the following message were written: “To to to tos to many buttons were added” instead of as “To two tutus too many buttons were added”? Again, I will not follow this path further; because homonyms are the result, we imagine, of a sort of convergent evolution in language over time; whereas enharmonics are separate though closely adjacent notes forced into the same locations by an act of human theoretical will, initiated at a self-aware moment in history. But I will say that touching one’s fingers to the lips of one speaking homonyms, feeling the slight differences of shape from emphasis and semantic placement – that might be akin to a pianist detecting the change of B-sharp into a C-natural, or C-natural into B-sharp.

I will endeavor to thrive on such analogies.

An enharmonic shift – the moment of its initiation – is as the magic of standing at midnight or during an unplowed snowstorm at the center of a normally busy perpendicular crossroad. Or who has not felt something akin to an enharmonic shift when transferring to a perpendicular track line at a subway stop?  An enharmonic shift makes a locomotive roundhouse of a key under the finger of the thinking pianist.

I think the idea of an enharmonic – again, say, C-natural and B-sharp – might be considered from the idea of the pianist hearing – and hearing by feeling with the fingers – one note as level and one as banked or on a slope. A stable tone would feel level; an unstable tone would feel sloped. Yet, again, both are found within the same level key on the instrument. I played in the ballroom of a cruise ship at one time in my life, on a grand piano. While still in port on the first day of the job, I could not understand why I felt suddenly odd and disoriented. But when I took a moment while playing to look across the room and out the window and could see that we were at last moving, then I could comprehend the respelled world – that what had seemed to be my alteration into instability had been really the new instability of the entire room. The room – the entire setting – had changed from stable note to unstable note.  A single piano key encompasses a microcosm of this: therein live a mighty ship and its ballroom and its grand piano – all, say, as a stolid and stable C-natural – but therein is also an unstable, watery, B-sharp.

A runner’s treadmill can suggest what a shifting enharmonic spelling feels like under a pianist’s finger. If I try to rest on it, my fingerings make the note seem as a treadmill belt that will fly me away if I try to remain still, if I try to resist the unstable tone’s quality to lead! Imagine, then, that a pianist almost feels a stationary ivory moving from side to side if that key is rendered into an unstable enharmonic identity – feels the key move as if it were a moving treadmill on which one tried to stand still! Imagine that a keyboard is sometimes almost as a treadmill whereon the arms and fingers of the player need no lateral motion, but the keys run as if on their own from side to side – acting like the belt of a moving sidewalk! (The lateral motion of the una corda pedal’s action is premonitory of this fanciful idea.) The unstable tone seems stable if one runs at the dictated pace of the musical work at hand; but it will throw one’s fingers otherwise, be hot to the touch, if resisted, throw one as when one must take to the sidebars of a fast-moving treadmill if one looks to make an instant stop – when one’s legs then are flailed like a too-long tether or chain attached to a rear bumper of a car.

Thus the stable enharmonic counterpart of the unstable note described above may be like running on solid ground. One can leave that note or remain on it by act of one’s own will.

When a player feels an enharmonic shift under the finger within one key on the Equal Tempered keyboard, the pianist shifts as from mortal to cyclops. The cyclops is as a symbol of the positive force of our Reason – of our ability, as children of the gods, to perceive depth though we are beings of concentrated and localized perceptions. The cyclops hears enharmony in one Equal Tempered key, hears herds in one atom of ivory. Thus could we have a keyboard with even less keys and hear as much? Perhaps therein is the hint of cyclops conflation! Perhaps the eighty-eight keys could all be one long undivided tusk?

No wonder we sit so long before pianos. The sitting implies the triumph of the Equal Temperament system. Thus, again, indeed the finest piano lesson – the one with most potential information and prophecy – always remains that first one: “Here is middle C; but it is also B-sharp and D-double-flat.”

Everything collapses into the premonitory wonder of just one note. Not for nothing does the sound of the solitary church bell, the sole barking dog, the isolated hooting owl, the creak of the lone cricket at autumn’s end, the cry of a lone distant locomotive; not for nothing do they work miracles, because they evoke so much within us, and evoke so much within for being so distant – and thus incapable of being hoarded and collected as on a keyboard. Nothing can harm their ability to inspire our greater inner power of division by Reason.

After reestablishing the wonder of a single Equal Tempered note; after, in effect, meditating the significance of my first piano lesson over the course of the pit job I describe above, I took off the headphones and stood up. I left the pit behind and decided to go for a run in the woods before the night was through.

Right at the start of this run, not very many yards into the trail, in a partially open area of the forest, lightning struck so close that for a moment I was forced into a crouch, a crouch as profound as that of a Bill Evans or a Glenn Gould before the piano keyboard. Yet as the day has passed that the great boom of Equal Temperament tuning should inspire us to crouch before the reports of the keyboard, we should not crouch before even the lighting from an actual piano-black sky.

But stand up and face the Cosmos like a tuning hammer, and perceive enharmony even in the seemingly irreconcilable, because it is already there within – demand that compression be realized from the without to the within by each individual will. Even before the lighting we should not crouch like a Gould or an Evans. Nor should we sit or even sit up straight on a piano bench; we should stand before the keyboard of the Cosmos as did my elementary school teachers leading us in the simple songs they learned in Teachers College. We should stand over it all and concentrate Creation from without to within. A positive compression should be worked by every individual ready for the good labor, and a new sort of Middle C will be positively compressed without, yet still recognized as a C-natural or D-double-flat or B-sharp within.

My own skeleton is an ivory, each digit of any finger both a C-natural and a B-sharp. Thus my own self is full of enharmonics.  And we walk on the other digits. An organist – from experience with the Equal Temperament pedal board – must feel enharmonics even on the stones of a beach, anywhere he places his feet with more insight than mere locomotion, with more than mere acquisition from the senses. If we really felt the enharmonic glory of the ground of our native places, we would not boast but be ashamed to share our travel photos. Enharmony suggests that a note moves based upon angle of approach – as if Italy or China were to move based upon my point of entry. And would this not obviate my travel if I at last determine the location of my planned destinations? Move rightly and all comes to me.

After graduating from the rudiments of art, from the rich, stationary, and infinitely vast skeleton key to Reason that is hinted at by even one Equally Tempered note and the system of enharmony, later piano works and their latitudinal franticness suggest to me the despair of the modern tourist.  The extant literature always seems a defamation, a profanation, of the greater promise in a single note, to what we see and hear within.

What greater invention than Enharmony has there been? What greater invention has there been than one that confirms we need no inventions? It is an invention that proves that our inner powers are always able to survive our external powers to summarize.

I do not know what the new grammars of the new arts and sciences will be, but I am certain that they will come from within, and I will close the piano’s fallboard and remain standing as the search begins.


Jack Kohl is a writer and pianist living in the New York City area. He is the author of That Iron String (A Novel of Pianists vs. Music), Loco-Motive (A Novel of Running), and You, Knighted States (An American Descendentalist Western), all from The Pauktaug Press.

 

www.jacksonkohl.com   

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My grandmother owned an upright piano and used it to play simplified arrangements of jazz standards. As a young child, I used to live in the flat above and enjoyed visits during her morning ritual, which consisted of drinking Turkish/Arabic coffee, cigarette in hand, and listening to Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie and Billie Holiday amongst other jazz artists from the Golden Era. She almost certainly passed on her pure love of music to my father, who had similar recordings playing on cassettes, LPs and CDs in our own flat most of the time.

I’m not sure that this led to me becoming a professional classical pianist though. I believe the joy experienced by amateurs while listening to or playing music is often lost on professionals (especially within the classical music industry) who often use music to serve rather personal goals in their lives, such as becoming the very best at something – a very questionable goal to aspire to in the subjective world of the fine arts, in my opinion. My family’s love of jazz certainly made me want to have music all around me and led to drum kit lessons with my father at the age of three and piano lessons at the age of five with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva – an exceptional teacher and composer who was based in Amman at the time. I moved to the UK as an eleven year old to pursue my professional training and education. This was probably what actually placed me on the path to becoming a professional, having received a solid technical foundation in the Russian School of piano playing from Agnes, a Georgian educated in Moscow.

My grandmother gave me her piano about a year after I started lessons because she felt that my electric keyboard had surpassed its usefulness. This will always be one of the most precious gifts anyone has ever offered me.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I’ve been very fortunate indeed to have received input from quite a few extraordinary musicians; I met Yo-Yo Ma as a ten year old during the first West Eastern Divan workshop, which was directed by Daniel Barenboim who has mentored me on many occasions since. He has also invited me to tour with him and the West Eastern Divan as a soloist, playing works that include Berg’s Chamber Concerto which certainly shaped my interest in the Second Viennese School. I am privileged to have been introduced to a genre by one of its top authorities.

I will certainly never forget the late Sir Colin Davis’ advice on how to start the angelic ‘Siciliana’ movement (II) as I prepared for our performance of Mozart’s Concerto no. 23 in A major with the English Chamber Orchestra at the Barbican Centre. Furthermore, my lesson with the late Pierre Boulez on his own ‘12 Notations’ for solo piano at the Royal Academy will remain one of the most important and cherished musical experiences of my life, of course.

However, it’s important to acknowledge that my piano, theory, composition and conducting teachers had the biggest influences on my development, as they helped shape my musicianship very directly. Since leaving Jordan, I have studied piano with Tatiana Sarkissova (who was my main professor in the UK), Hinrich Alpers and Tessa Nicholson, composition with Jonathan Cole and Graham Williams, conducting with Paul Brough, Denise Ham, Quentin Poole and Peter Stark. Though I have had many fantastic theory teachers over the years, the Chicago-based conductor and arranger Cliff Colnot was one of the best pedagogues one could ask for, as I discovered during the many hours I spent analysing full scores of the symphonic repertoire with him. We met during summer West Eastern Divan workshops Seville, Spain and during visits that I made to Chicago for intensive courses as a teenager.

Since moving to Berlin, I have spent a lot of time learning about early music from the renowned scholar, viol player and director of Phantasm, Laurence Dreyfus. I remember attending one of his lectures during his visit to the Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and subsequently reading his essay ‘Beyond the Interpretation of Music’ which, I can safely say, forced me to reconsider everything I had learned about studying and preparing repertoire of any genre.

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

Remaining moderately sane.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m quite concerned about the levels of narcissism within our industry – especially since the onset of social media – so I’m careful to avoid pride, as much as I can. For clarity, I do use social media but try my best to be as pragmatic about it as possible. Focusing on the experience of performing is more of a priority for me, rather than the many emotions and thoughts that follow. They are after all pretty useless unless they help me improve.

However, if I had to choose one memorable performance to discuss, I would say that it was particularly interesting to play Schoenberg’s op. 11 to a group of students at the Hind Al–Husseini College in occupied East Jerusalem, Palestine. It is very likely that some of these students had never been exposed to any classical music at all until then (within the frame of attending live concerts). So the discussion about ‘Drei Klavierstuecke op. 11’ that followed my performance was fascinating, particularly as they had the advantage, as listeners, of having no strong standard to compare atonality to.* I remember one student saying that she imagined a scene from a horror movie while I was playing. Considering the fact that Schoenberg moved to Hollywood in 1934, I thought that this was very perceptive indeed. After all he must have influenced a whole generation of film composers as one of the University of Southern California’s and University of California, Los Angeles’ most valued pedagogues.

I’m very pleased that this event took place.

*Arabic music is mainly monophonic, with intricacy and complexity in the melodic ornamentation and rhythm rather than the homophonic movement of parts – in other words it’s more of a horizontal tradition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure, tough one. Sorry!

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

I am naturally quite a curious person, so my approach to music has always been interest-driven. What I offer in recitals is usually linked to what I have been exploring as a listener, these days, now that I am no longer a studying in a traditional sense. Certainly my engagement with English Renaissance music developed because of my interest in Renaissance music in general. I was exposed to it at the Purcell School – we had to sing a fair amount of Palestrina, Lassus and Byrd in choir – and really enjoyed the counterpoint and modality back then, although I was probably too young to fully appreciate its beauty. However, it was a performance of Monteverdi’s ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’ at the English National Opera (especially the final duet) that really got me hooked as a listener. So by the time I met Laurence Dreyfus, I was ready to start working on and studying the genre more extensively.

There is no rich tradition of performing Renaissance keyboard music on the modern piano, (Sokolov and Gould are both true heroes of mine, as different as they are, but there aren’t many others who venture out into this territory) so the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani’s survey of John Bull’s keyboard works was a very important and revelatory recording to listen to. Thankfully, he was very generous when I emailed him with questions, and invited me to Prague for some coaching. It was heart-warming to see how very encouraging he was about playing this music on the modern piano and using the instrument idiomatically to serve it. He had many suggestions for further keyboard repertoire that I should explore.

In general, I avoid chronological programming, so called well-balanced programming where one tries to tick boxes across genres that are limited to music written between about 1750 and 1950, exclusively nineteenth century programmes and single composer programmes (unless it’s a performance of the Goldberg Variations, which I sometimes play on it’s own, but usually start the concert with some Boulez or Schoenberg).

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

Not really, but playing at Luzern’s KKL and the new Philharmonie de Paris, both with Daniel Barenboim, were exceptional experiences – the acoustics really allow you to take risks with soft dynamics. Both halls were designed by the architect Jean Nouvel.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Mozart’s K467 in Petra, Jordan as an 11 year old. Nothing quite beats Mozart in the middle of the desert, in front of a World Heritage Site as far as memorability goes!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Artistic fulfilment and paying all the bills simultaneously.

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

1) Constantly listening to and studying (not only practising) music with child-like curiosity.

2) Keeping a healthy check on one’s ego – it’s important to know when it’s appropriate to be the centre of attention (i.e on stage) and when it’s in one’s best interest to be a more generous spirit (backstage and everywhere outside the concert hall).

Karim Said’s new album ‘Legacy’ is available now on the Rubicon Classics label. Further information


Karim Said came to the public’s attention in 2009, playing concertos with the late Sir Colin Davis and the English Chamber Orchestra in London’s Barbican Centre and at the BBC PROMS with Daniel Barenboim and his West Eastern Divan. Karim has regularly toured with the Divan orchestra as a soloist, under Maestro Barenboim’s baton, performing at such halls as the Philharmonie in Berlin, Musikverein in Vienna and the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow. Mostly recently, Karim appeared with the Maestro as a soloist in the opening night of the Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin, playing the Berg Chamber Concerto.

Karim’s debut album ‘Echoes from an Empire’ (Opus Arte – 2015) was one of Gramphone’s ‘Top Ten recordings of Janacek’ (2016). The repertoire on this album was inspired by his London recital debut series at the Southbank Centre in 2013, where he played the complete solo works by Arnold Schoenberg over three recitals as part of the ‘International Piano Series’ and ‘The Rest Is Noise’ festival. As a chamber musician and song accompanist, Karim has collaborated with artists including Waltraud Meier, Dorothea Röschmann, Gabriel Croitoru, Adrian Brendel, and the Utrecht String Quartet.

Earlier this year, Karim launched the Etihad String Orchestra in his native Jordan as its first Music Director and performed with the European Youth Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko at the Dubai Opera House.

Born in Amman, Jordan in 1988, Karim commenced his piano with Agnes Bashir-Dzodtsoeva before moving to the UK in 2000, aged eleven. He studied piano, composition and conducting at the renowned Purcell School of Music and later at the Royal Academy of Music, both on full scholarships. At the Academy he studied with Prof Tatiana Sarkissova. In more recent years, Karim was coached by Hinrich Alpers in Berlin, where he is currently based. As a conductor, Karim attended masterclasses with Bernard Haitink at the Royal College of Music during his studies in the UK.

Karim Said was made an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music, London in 2017.

karimsaid.com


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Long read guest post by Jack Kohl

This address is in part about the musician who has studied as a concert pianist, but does not pursue the narrow and precise field for which he has been trained, yet does not quit; but does not often play solo recitals nor concerts, nor chamber music, nor strict lieder activities, nor teaches. No, this address will talk about the loner who picks up odd jobs in theater pits, in audition and rehearsal playing – seemingly taking advantage of his higher skills as a reader for performing the labors of a hack. But in these tasks he stays at the piano – free of the terrors of repeating precisely the work of another mind – at ease with music of greater ease, yet making better strides in considering the metaphorical implications of his trade than he could ever do in a classroom, or in practice aimed at a degree recital or a competition or even a concert to be televised before millions; or in the ostensible act of interpreting works that have been held now so long in human hands that they have, to the forward-looking and thinking mind, fallen apart like newsprint amidst wet fingers. Nor does he labor in the conceit that by some untried combination of ancient notes, something new can be composed that does not suggest something old.

Because the expectations for the level of rendering are not often high, and because what is rendered is rarely of an exalted quality, a hack is placed frequently in the best position to observe the metaphorical implications of musical utterance, a position beyond the wildest aspirations of the thinking but, alas, overcommitted virtuoso. The hack logs a count of unthreatened hours of which the virtuoso cannot dream. The hack does not look back on his errors – for he goes into the job knowing he will make them – and he does not prepare, for he does not fear to make the errors. He plays – though often badly – only in the present and never defers his thinking.

Some of my best metaphor hunts have come about from my habit of saying yes to most hack work – even to that for which I should prepare but do not. It takes a real practiced discipline – it takes real preparation – to go into a job unprepared in the traditional sense. But this is quite different from having no shame. I have come to feel most in practice when I have spaghetti fingers. To play well enough to attract notice neither in a good nor a bad way – to leave one free for observation and contemplation at a post suspected to be too busy for observation and contemplation – is the most highly cultivated of seemingly average skills. I rely a great deal on my powers of sight reading, the result of years of discipline – again, allowing me to play well enough to avoid notice, yet protecting me from being forced into specialty.

Though I started earlier, to gain that skill I had practiced unremittingly from age fourteen through thirty. For sixteen years, then, I sat in an almost foetal position – committed to that posture from adolescence to well into manhood. I maintained an umbilical connection to the musical canon before I could judge that canon for myself as an adult. I was not trained enough to judge music before I was trapped in it as a tradesman.

I can now report what I would tell the conservatory aspirant or recent graduate. As a young musician myself I had heard many a lecture on the trial by market that lay ahead for me. But if I were asked to speak to the young in my alma maters, I would put the question to them: Do enough of you subject Music – both new and old, popular and canonical, sacred and profane – not so much to a trial by market in relation to your own efforts as practitioners, but Music to a trial of yourselves, to a trial of you?

Of course I might be held somewhat suspect in all my observations in this address, for I have always worked to master a discipline so that it can at last be dropped and used only for analogy and not for trade. I have never aspired to the stasis of the expert. I have always aimed to toss over my shoulder, plow under, even that discipline of my greatest knowledge, even that of my supposed ultimate vocation – to render it but a point of reference for some unknown future thing. At my recent thirtieth high school reunion I identified my vocation differently to each person who asked what it is I do. The answer was always honest, and somehow the difference was not inspired by the identity of the inquirer.

But I became trapped early in a primary trade – for I always played just a bit too well for anyone to discourage me from my early and intense pursuit of the piano. Thus I have fallen into music as a profession that I cannot escape; it is my day job.

Once more, I work as a hack. Some of my former teachers, and many who are close to me, object to my use of the word hack for myself. Perhaps they are correct, for in using that word I am guilty of engaging in duplicity, guilty in part of false self-deprecation; for my hack work – the depth of field of witness to which I refer – has a very layered meaning for me.

And the supposed pride of pianistic pedagogical descent has never held my interest. I have offended one former professor by leaving teachers’ names out of my bio altogether. But would he wish to lay claim to my hack performances? And he cannot lay claim to what I see and witness in my hack renderings. Not even I can claim responsibility for those thoughts. That credit must go to what Samuel Taylor Coleridge characterized as Reason: “Reason is the Power of universal and necessary Convictions, the Source and Substance of Truths above Sense. . . .” I must cite Reason in my bio as my principal teacher.

But if I gave any name in my bio, my first teacher’s would be enough. For she showed me Middle C – and that key is as likely to be called B-sharp or D-double-flat. (That any one key on the piano can contain more than one viable and distinct note is due to the musico-grammatical phenomenon known as enharmonics, brought about by the full adoption of Equal Temperament tuning in the eighteenth-century. Equal Temperament divides the octave into twelve equally distanced half-steps, forcing formerly separate notes – like, say, C-natural, B-sharp, and D-double-flat – into a shared space. Enharmonic spellings stand in distant analogy to homonyms in spoken language.) Again, my first teacher showed me enough. For once we are shown Middle C we have been shown how to play the piano; then we spend too much time learning not the piano, but a literature.

That first lesson of Middle C and its enharmonic identities has never failed me, even in the midst of my most ostensibly grim days as a hack. I offer for an example my recent assignment to serve as a sub for Keyboard 2 in the pit of a regional level theater during a summer run. Descending into a theater pit sometimes seems promising to me. The outer edge of the pit – the wall separating the pit from the house – is often slightly curved, that edge suggesting only a small part of an imagined greater circle’s arc. Were one to follow the full implications of that circle, it would wrap around much of the outside of the theater’s neighborhood. Thus a pit is suggestive of a crater on a partially eclipsed moon. And a completely covered pit is like a fully eclipsed moon: hidden but there, having all the effects of a satellite without being seen at all.

When one descends into a true orchestra pit it feels very much like one is on the surface of a river or pond – of a surface that is, however, below the water. Thus, for the single man, the sunken Pre-Raphaelite maidens are above, on the stage, the hems of their skirts cupped in dance to the deck like upside down flowers over one’s head.

But to a trained pianist, the descent into a modern pit is just as often disheartening. The might of a grand piano always suggests to me an athlete in the posture of a one-armed push-up. But to descend into a pit unto a synthesizer is as to climb into a crypt with a deceased beloved and embrace a two-dimensional plastic rendering of her skeleton – as thin and as mass-produced as a page protector, replete with the latter’s unwelcome and threatening glare. Even the figurative foot of the deceased beloved, the pedal, slides away with every touch, is attached only by a wire, fastened as if only by a gruesome and exposed tendon. If I were to play – even mildly – with the Lisztian full torso conception of a pianist when sent to the frail bones of the synthesizer, I would be in fear of pushing the keyboard over or of pushing it off of its stand.

The sight of synthesizers is always disturbing. They represent a profoundly negative compression – the kind of negative compression humanity accepts increasingly with virtual reality. The synthesizers in a modern musical theater pit look like patients on tables, patients plugged into wires.

What kind of instrument is it that is as no instrument, that in having so little mass, also has no identity – but is instead a detectable imposter of all its poor multiple false identities? Strange that the principal instrument in such a pit is the one that would go silent, would be the most powerless at the loss of power. I call it the principal instrument for it is the keyboard family that has reigned in respect to our hearing, our sonic culture, since the rise of Equal Temperament. Did not the keyboard command, too, the inevitability of Equal Temperament tuning: the division of the octave into twelve equidistant half steps, presently referred to as 12-TET, permitting one to play in all twelve keys? But when the power goes out now, they (the keyboards as synthesizers) are useless. Even the electric guitar has some communication in a blackout with an acoustic actuality – and of course the electric bass, the reeds, and the drums do, too, in that ensemble into which I descended.

Again, in such a pit, I labored for weeks at Keyboard 2. Yet despite having a speaker (often called a monitor) so that I could hear myself, I could hear myself rarely at all. There were headphones attached to Keyboard 2, but I resisted using them. For some time, instead, I just relished my increasing rage. Surely when a drummer is miked yet plays, too, behind a plexiglass baffle, there is an element of madness in civilization.

For days I played without hearing myself, and for days it was as if I had returned to the time before the   eighteenth-century, to the time before Equal Temperament tuning, for the keyboard did not reign on this job. I heard instead an unconscious microtonal supremacy blaring from all instruments and from all the actors above. It was all at a professional level (as far as musical theater is concerned), but without hearing the Equal Temperament reference point coming from myself and my own playing, I lived in the midst of a subtle chaos of the senses – in a chaos without enharmony, a chaos of externally distinct B-sharps, C-naturals, D-double-flats (and every microtone in between).The reed player seated next to me remarked that my description of playing without hearing myself would be like a horn player performing with his bell inserted into a vacuum.

I gave way during one performance and put on the headphones. They placed me suddenly into the Equal Temperament frame of reference: C-natural, B-sharp, and D-double-flat were under one key again, and enharmony placed power within me once more rather than without me. I told the guitarist of this during intermission, and he did not seem to grasp the importance of what had struck me. The headphones threw me back into the grand alloy of Equal Temperament – because I could hear all the subtle lack of intonation in the production once the drums and other noises were pushed away. For me this experience of putting on the headphones was nothing less than a miraculous restoration – a re-entering of the Equal Tempered, the enharmonic world.

So what is it that a pianist detects when under one key one can hear many distinct notes, can feel many distinct notes? What is the miracle of enharmony – that C-natural, B-sharp, and D-double-flat can all reside under one key? I will omit theoretical examples for the same reason that an author of, say, a popular science book on physics will omit equations from his text lest he lose the earnest lay reader with technical proofs that are not required.

And I will not burden this address with attempts to draw too many comparisons between homonyms and enharmonics. When singers in musical theater rehearsals have complained to me that a C-natural and a B-sharp should be written as the same note, I have countered: Would not the costume department have trouble if in a memorandum the following message were written: “To to to tos to many buttons were added” instead of as “To two tutus too many buttons were added”? Again, I will not follow this path further; because homonyms are the result, we imagine, of a sort of convergent evolution in language over time; whereas enharmonics are separate though closely adjacent notes forced into the same locations by an act of human theoretical will, initiated at a self-aware moment in history. But I will say that touching one’s fingers to the lips of one speaking homonyms, feeling the slight differences of shape from emphasis and semantic placement – that might be akin to a pianist detecting the change of B-sharp into a C-natural, or C-natural into B-sharp.

I will endeavor to thrive on such analogies.

An enharmonic shift – the moment of its initiation – is as the magic of standing at midnight or during an unplowed snowstorm at the center of a normally busy perpendicular crossroad. Or who has not felt something akin to an enharmonic shift when transferring to a perpendicular track line at a subway stop?  An enharmonic shift makes a locomotive roundhouse of a key under the finger of the thinking pianist.

I think the idea of an enharmonic – again, say, C-natural and B-sharp – might be considered from the idea of the pianist hearing – and hearing by feeling with the fingers – one note as level and one as banked or on a slope. A stable tone would feel level; an unstable tone would feel sloped. Yet, again, both are found within the same level key on the instrument. I played in the ballroom of a cruise ship at one time in my life, on a grand piano. While still in port on the first day of the job, I could not understand why I felt suddenly odd and disoriented. But when I took a moment while playing to look across the room and out the window and could see that we were at last moving, then I could comprehend the respelled world – that what had seemed to be my alteration into instability had been really the new instability of the entire room. The room – the entire setting – had changed from stable note to unstable note.  A single piano key encompasses a microcosm of this: therein live a mighty ship and its ballroom and its grand piano – all, say, as a stolid and stable C-natural – but therein is also an unstable, watery, B-sharp.

A runner’s treadmill can suggest what a shifting enharmonic spelling feels like under a pianist’s finger. If I try to rest on it, my fingerings make the note seem as a treadmill belt that will fly me away if I try to remain still, if I try to resist the unstable tone’s quality to lead! Imagine, then, that a pianist almost feels a stationary ivory moving from side to side if that key is rendered into an unstable enharmonic identity – feels the key move as if it were a moving treadmill on which one tried to stand still! Imagine that a keyboard is sometimes almost as a treadmill whereon the arms and fingers of the player need no lateral motion, but the keys run as if on their own from side to side – acting like the belt of a moving sidewalk! (The lateral motion of the una corda pedal’s action is premonitory of this fanciful idea.) The unstable tone seems stable if one runs at the dictated pace of the musical work at hand; but it will throw one’s fingers otherwise, be hot to the touch, if resisted, throw one as when one must take to the sidebars of a fast-moving treadmill if one looks to make an instant stop – when one’s legs then are flailed like a too-long tether or chain attached to a rear bumper of a car.

Thus the stable enharmonic counterpart of the unstable note described above may be like running on solid ground. One can leave that note or remain on it by act of one’s own will.

When a player feels an enharmonic shift under the finger within one key on the Equal Tempered keyboard, the pianist shifts as from mortal to cyclops. The cyclops is as a symbol of the positive force of our Reason – of our ability, as children of the gods, to perceive depth though we are beings of concentrated and localized perceptions. The cyclops hears enharmony in one Equal Tempered key, hears herds in one atom of ivory. Thus could we have a keyboard with even less keys and hear as much? Perhaps therein is the hint of cyclops conflation! Perhaps the eighty-eight keys could all be one long undivided tusk?

No wonder we sit so long before pianos. The sitting implies the triumph of the Equal Temperament system. Thus, again, indeed the finest piano lesson – the one with most potential information and prophecy – always remains that first one: “Here is middle C; but it is also B-sharp and D-double-flat.”

Everything collapses into the premonitory wonder of just one note. Not for nothing does the sound of the solitary church bell, the sole barking dog, the isolated hooting owl, the creak of the lone cricket at autumn’s end, the cry of a lone distant locomotive; not for nothing do they work miracles, because they evoke so much within us, and evoke so much within for being so distant – and thus incapable of being hoarded and collected as on a keyboard. Nothing can harm their ability to inspire our greater inner power of division by Reason.

After reestablishing the wonder of a single Equal Tempered note; after, in effect, meditating the significance of my first piano lesson over the course of the pit job I describe above, I took off the headphones and stood up. I left the pit behind and decided to go for a run in the woods before the night was through.

Right at the start of this run, not very many yards into the trail, in a partially open area of the forest, lightning struck so close that for a moment I was forced into a crouch, a crouch as profound as that of a Bill Evans or a Glenn Gould before the piano keyboard. Yet as the day has passed that the great boom of Equal Temperament tuning should inspire us to crouch before the reports of the keyboard, we should not crouch before even the lighting from an actual piano-black sky.

But stand up and face the Cosmos like a tuning hammer, and perceive enharmony even in the seemingly irreconcilable, because it is already there within – demand that compression be realized from the without to the within by each individual will. Even before the lighting we should not crouch like a Gould or an Evans. Nor should we sit or even sit up straight on a piano bench; we should stand before the keyboard of the Cosmos as did my elementary school teachers leading us in the simple songs they learned in Teachers College. We should stand over it all and concentrate Creation from without to within. A positive compression should be worked by every individual ready for the good labor, and a new sort of Middle C will be positively compressed without, yet still recognized as a C-natural or D-double-flat or B-sharp within.

My own skeleton is an ivory, each digit of any finger both a C-natural and a B-sharp. Thus my own self is full of enharmonics.  And we walk on the other digits. An organist – from experience with the Equal Temperament pedal board – must feel enharmonics even on the stones of a beach, anywhere he places his feet with more insight than mere locomotion, with more than mere acquisition from the senses. If we really felt the enharmonic glory of the ground of our native places, we would not boast but be ashamed to share our travel photos. Enharmony suggests that a note moves based upon angle of approach – as if Italy or China were to move based upon my point of entry. And would this not obviate my travel if I at last determine the location of my planned destinations? Move rightly and all comes to me.

After graduating from the rudiments of art, from the rich, stationary, and infinitely vast skeleton key to Reason that is hinted at by even one Equally Tempered note and the system of enharmony, later piano works and their latitudinal franticness suggest to me the despair of the modern tourist.  The extant literature always seems a defamation, a profanation, of the greater promise in a single note, to what we see and hear within.

What greater invention than Enharmony has there been? What greater invention has there been than one that confirms we need no inventions? It is an invention that proves that our inner powers are always able to survive our external powers to summarize.

I do not know what the new grammars of the new arts and sciences will be, but I am certain that they will come from within, and I will close the piano’s fallboard and remain standing as the search begins.


Jack Kohl is a writer and pianist living in the New York City area. He is the author of That Iron String (A Novel of Pianists vs. Music), Loco-Motive (A Novel of Running), and You, Knighted States (An American Descendentalist Western), all from The Pauktaug Press.

www.jacksonkohl.com   

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

Nobody has forced me or suggested me to become a musician. My parents had many recordings as they were classical music lover. So I often listened to classical music since when I was a child and I liked it very much. That’s how I started to become close to and to love classical music.

Who or what have been the greatest influences on your musical life and career?

I would say meeting with many great musicians have been the most important influences on my musical life, people like Myung-Whun Chung, Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia and many others…..I learned a lot even while having a conversation with them.

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

Maybe participating some competitions….. I wanted to play for audiences across the world and I thought winning the competition was the easiest way to reach that goal. And it was true, the Chopin Competition gave me a lot of opportunities, but I’m still against competitions. Many great musicians like Arcadi Volodos or Piotr Anderszewski didn’t win any competitions.  The competition kills the musical idea, imagination and freedom. I felt so free after I won the Chopin competition because I realized that I don’t have to do this kind of thing anymore.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Brahms Quartet in g minor from the Rubinstein competition in 2014. It was the only performance which I enjoyed during that competition.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have no idea…

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

These days I simply play the pieces that I want to play. A few years ago, I wanted to show or express many sides of my musicality. But not anymore. I always feel comfortable when I play the music I love.

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

So many places where they have a good piano, good acoustic and good audience. Like Carnegie hall in New York, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Paris and Berlin’s Philharmonie, KKL in Luzern, Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg, Suntory hall in Tokyo…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Radu Lupu, Krystian Zimerman, Mikhail Pletnev, Alfred Cortot, Edwin Fischer, Arcadi Volodos, Grigory Sokolov, Carlos Kleiber, Myung Whun Chung any many others

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My debut recital in Korea in 2005 when I was 11. After the performance, I realized that I really loved sharing my music with the audience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Actually I still don’t know what being successful as a musician is and I don’t want to think about it. My goal is play better than yesterday and to be satisfied with my performance more often. I’m rarely happy with my performance…

What advice would you give to young or aspiring musicians?

Don’t expect the compensation after you decide to become a pianist or musician

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I love to be in a place where there no noise. I love silence. And having good food and drink with my family or friends.

 

Seong-Jin Cho’s new recording of Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, Piano Sonatas K. 281, k.332 (Deutsche Grammophon, CD 0289 483 5522 8) is available now
Seong-Jin Cho was brought to the world’s attention in 2015 when he won the First Prize at the Chopin International Competition in Warsaw. This same competition launched the careers of world-class artists such as ‎Martha Argerich, ‎Maurizio Pollini, or ‎Krystian Zimerman.

In January 2016, Seong-Jin signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon. The first recording was released in November 2016 featuring Chopin’s First Concerto with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda and the Four Ballades. A solo Debussy recording was then released in November 2017. Both albums won impressive critical acclaim worldwide. In 2018 he will record a Mozart program with sonatas and the D minor concerto with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin.

An active recitalist, he performs in many of the world’s most prestigious concert halls. In the 2018/19 season, he will return to the main stage of Carnegie Hall as part of the Keyboard Virtuoso series where he had sold out in 2017. He will also return to Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw in the Master Pianists series and will play recitals at the Berlin Philharmonie Kammermusiksaal (Berliner Philharmonic concert series), Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Hall (Los Angeles Philharmonic recital series), Zurich’s Tonhalle-Maag, Stockholm’s Konserthuset, Munich’s Prinzregententheater, Chicago’s Mandel Hall, Lyon’s Auditorium, La Roque d’Anthéron Festival, Verbier Festival, Gstaad Menuhin Festival, Rheingau Festival among several other venues.

During the next two seasons, he will play with the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, at the Barbican Centre, Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and Myung-Whun Chung at the Paris Philharmonie, Gewandhaus Orchestra with Antonio Pappano, Hong Kong Philharmonic with Jaap van Zweden, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra with Manfred Honeck, Finnish Radio Orchestra and Hannu Lintu, Philadelphia Orchestra and Yannick-Nézet-Seguin, Orchestra della Scala with Myung-Whun Chung. He will also tour with the European Union Youth Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda in venues like Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Royal Albert Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Robin Ticciati in Germany, the WDR Sinfonieorchester and Marek Janowski in Germany and Japan, and with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra and Antonio Pappano in Asia.

He collaborates with conductors at the highest level such as Sir Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Yuri Temirkanov, Krzysztof Urbanski, Fabien Gabel, Marek Janowski, Vasily Petrenko, Jakub Hrusa, Leonard Slatkin or Mikhail Pletnev.

In November 2017, Seong-Jin stepped in for Lang Lang with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra for concerts in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hong-Kong and Seoul. Other major orchestral appearances include the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Orchestre de Paris, Mariinsky Orchestra, Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, NHK Symphony Orchestra, Philharmonia Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Russian National Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, RAI Symphony Orchestra, Hessischer Rundfunk Sinfonieorchester.

Born in 1994 in Seoul, Seong-Jin Cho started learning the piano at 6 and gave his first public recital at age 11. In 2009, he became the youngest-ever winner of Japan’s Hamamatsu International Piano Competition. In 2011, he won Third prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at the age of 17. In 2012, he moved to Paris to study with Michel Béroff at the Paris Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique where he graduated in 2015. He is now based in Berlin.

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