Tag Archives: concert pianist

Daniel Trifonov in Chicago

Guest review by Patrick, a musicologist residing in the Midwest

img_0058Daniil Trifonov was annoyed. He walked out on stage with a pained expression, the cheery look of his youth victim of the trials, presumably, of a professional career. After two cursorily rude bows to the audience (which wrapped around the stage entirely), he jumped straight onto the bench, staring – grimacing – at the keys. Kinderszenen contained all of his trademark complexity of line and texture brought about by Trifonov’s utterly unique use of microdislocations – employed continuously throughout the whole set. This technique is the heart of his genius, allowing him to achieve extreme contrasts in texture, voicing, and phrasing of line. Can you think of any other pianist that developed the dislocation to such a degree? While it may seem like a product of his Russian education, is there another Russian pianist today that pursues the same innovation in performance technique? I doubt Trifonov learned in America either – I was certainly never allowed by my teacher to engage in such excesses. Neither can it be said that he is reviving some past performance practice – older Soviet pianists certainly employed dislocation to add emphasis to moments of arrival, but not in the pervasive manner employed here. Furthermore, the traditional type of dislocation – pressing the bass notes before the treble to create a sense of arrival – is decidedly not what one typically hears at a Trifonov concert. He must be taking a lesson from chamber music and vocal accompanying practice. After all, it is somewhat common among good accompanists to delay the bass arrivals until after the attack of the vocal notes fades into resonance. And this type of dislocation, with the bass (and also middle voices) delayed until after the treble, is what makes Trifonov’s artistry so special.

Back to the program: Kinderszenen was a feast to the ears of line and color. Dramatic passages were dispatched with great energy and aplomb. It must be said, however, that Trifonov’s typical lyricism seemed to be dulled this evening – perhaps a result of whatever annoyance was bothering him. The slower passages did not quite have that feeling of magical cessation of time, often miraculously whipped up by the pianist through an ingenious combination of tempo manipulation and textural contrasts. While these techniques were still very much present, there was the deadly feeling of impatience imposed over them. Notwithstanding, I cannot register a complaint, as what may have been lacking in the slower passages were more than made up for by the fire and drama brought to the climactic passages, especially as the recital progressed. The next piece, Schumann’s Toccata, testifies to Trifonov’s brilliance in program construction – after the lapidary miniatures of Kinderszenen, the audience was ready to be whipped into a frenzy, and the ploy worked – numerous people gave a standing ovation to the second piece on the program. The sound world of the Toccata (and of the Schumann in general) is very interesting. It seems to me that Trifonov has entered into a new phase of his career where he is exploring the mid-range of the piano. The Toccata was a great illustration of this, as the soprano and bass voices were hardly ever brought out in favor of a gritty voicing of the middle voice chords filling out the texture (another thing I would never have been allowed to do). This technique robs the Toccata of its flair as a dramatic showpiece with a thundering bass, but gives it a new lease on life by revealing its wacky side (I cannot help but now see a connection to Stravinsky’s Petrushka, occupying the place of finale in the other half of the program). As for the Kreisleriana, the masterwork of the first half, I can firmly declare that Trifonov is peerless in this work. No one other recording or performance that I have ever heard contains even half of his kaleidoscopic conception and range of texture, timbre, and tempo: my companion at the concert (a violinist herself) said that at several points she forgot that she was listening to the piano (an instrument she never took to that much) and instead thought there was a chamber ensemble on stage! Can you think of higher praise for a pianist than that?

img_0059
Cartoon of Trifonov by @pianistswkitten

After a massive standing ovation for the first half and the pause, Trifonov sprints back out the bench and dives into his selections from Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues. These selections were not chosen in their original order, but arranged for maximum effect – the creepily gorgeous opening prelude leads us through a luscious set of figural fragrances and fabrics before ending with a fugue containing a stormy finish. After this piece, the audience not only stood up to clap, but starting to yell bravos as well – something I have never heard before in the middle of a program – obscuring even the start of the Stravinsky! Even more so than the Schumann works, Shostakovich provided a canvas for Trifonov’s deeply original creativity – the range of sounds coming from the piano was tremendous, but equally matched by a phenomenal sense of dramatic pacing and climactic energy. The metaphor of Trifonov as a chamber ensemble with independent-minded players never seemed more apt. The final work on the program – Stravinsky’s Petrushka and the highlight of the concert – must be heard to be believed. No longer can Petrushka be considered an empty virtuoso vehicle, indeed so much life was added to it that many parts simply did not resemble what we are used to hearing. On top of all the qualities emphasized above (including some marvelously voiced chords and textures), it was Trifonov’s undeniable genius at rhythmic shaping that brought the piece to life. In short, the rhythms were so powerful, the syncopations so strong, the polyrhythms so present, that one could hardly avoid falling out of your seat – indeed Trifonov seemed perilously close falling off the bench has he was what could only be called dancing on the bench. And the music was dancing too, in every nook and cranny of the piece Stravinsky’s vision of the Russian countryside came to life. For the first time, that old wild smile began to appear on Trifonov’s face.

After tremendous applause that began before the piece even finished, the audience was treated to two encores (desperate attempts to garner a third through yelling at the pianist proved unsuccessful). The first was Nikolay Medtner’s Op. 38/8 “Alla Reminiscenza” played at a breakneck speed, building up to a tremendous flourish. Let it be known that I would graciously donate an arm and a leg to hear Trifonov perform the whole set. The second encore was a delightful piece by Prokofiev bringing the nearly 3-hour concert to a close. The concert showed once again that Trifonov is the premier recitalist of the age – it was only marred by a phone endlessly ringing during the Kreisleriana, which, after being supposedly shut off, went on to ring again exactly 30 seconds later.

Concert date: 26 March 2017, CSO Chicago

PROGRAM

Schumann – Kinderszenen

Schumann – Toccata, Op. 7

Schumann – Kreisleriana

Shostakovich – Selections from 24 Preludes and Fugues

Stravinsky – Three Movements from Petrushka

Medtner – Alla Reminiscenza from Forgotten Melodies [ENCORE]

Prokofiev – Gavotte from Cinderella [ENCORE]

Meet the Artist……Ivo Pogorelich, pianist

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

It was my parents’ choice. One day they took me to the school of music and I had no say in it. I was even made to play violin for a while. Soon, however, it was established that violin and I were not made for each other.

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

Rather than influence there was a fateful moment in my life when I met a musician who taught me and trained me to play the piano and by doing that determined my future life. Later on I became her husband. Her name is Aliza Kezderadze.

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

Art is my profession, career is my occupation. There are two types of challenges and threats. The external ones should sometimes be ignored, at other times confronted. What comes from oneself however is different. The general principle I followed was not to chew more than I can swallow. In other words “less is more”!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

These are two separate disciplines. Performance is, among other things, an act of a moment. On the recordings, all are my favourites and none is my favourite. All because of a tremendous effort that documenting music requires, none because I never listen to any of my recordings. Recently, I recorded two Beethoven Sonatas (available on IDAGIO idag.io/pogorelich). It seems I was able to express what was not expressed in that music before.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My loyalty goes to the composer I am occupied with. I do not have favourites.

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

I learn new pieces and I also play pieces I have played in the past.

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

There are various. Some of them are also blessed with spectacular acoustics like Teatro Cólon, Buenos Aires or Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Generally I am fascinated by musicians of traditional folk music, particularly singers. My favourite pianist is Art Tatum, a taste shared by Rachmaninoff who reportedly never missed an opportunity to attend his performances. I also like Oscar Peterson.

I have never heard them in concert but people of African origin have rhythmical pulse unique to them. Music sounds so spontaneous when they play.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It actually took place after one of the very noisy successes. There was a reception and it turned out that the host, a very prominent and powerful person, had celebrated his birthday by participating in the organization of the event. The entire society of the city was in the concert hall and a good many very well known faces at the reception. There was also a piano in the room and all of a sudden someone pointed to the piano with an inviting gesture, where it became clear that I was expected to accompany the “Happy Birthday to you” tune. I was mortified as I realized that I had never played the tune. So I bravely stood up and said “I am sorry but I do not have this piece in my repertoire”. The host was elated as no one in the room could imagine that I actually did not know the music. Everyone thought that it was cute and witty and they all applauded again.

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

Unfortunately there are not as many oranges in the world as there are glasses of orange juice we drink. Equally no advice of general character is good unless it is tested in practice. With all the best intentions of all of us and each of us, life is a lottery; however general principles are the same as I believe are implied in any professional activity. Self respect, modesty, determination being led in life by a clear heart and mind, could advance a person anyway. One must never forget that life is a struggle and one has to be ready.

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

Happy to be where I am, god willing; otherwise I would love to be in Somerset on a sunny day. Although I have lived in the UK for almost 20 years, I have never been there. The name to me as a foreigner evokes fairy tales, as it is acoustically reminiscent of summer and sunset. The name sounds so musical to me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The idea of perfect happiness is not seeking it on purpose.

What is your most treasured possession?

 I believe it is my imagination.

What is your present state of mind?

Right now I am sitting and observing half packed bags, being packed for a month long stay with concerts in China and Japan. As I can see the clothes, prepared for three distinct types of weather, very cold, moderate and hot and humid, I am trying to comprehend it.

Such is the life of an artist…..

Ivo Pogorelich’s new recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas, No. 22 in F major op. 54 and No. 24 in F sharp major op. 78 are available exclusively on IDAGIO

Ivo Pogorelich was born in Belgrade in 1958, the son of a musician. He received his first piano lessons at the age of seven and went to Moscow at the age of twelve to study at the Central Special Music School and then at the Tchaikowsky Conservatory. In 1976 he began intensive studies with the renowned pianist and teacher Aliza Kezeradze, with whom he was married from 1980 until her untimely death in 1996. Mme. Kezeradze was able to transmit the spirit and matter of the school of Beethoven and Liszt, originated in Vienna and than carried through to the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, flourishing towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th. Century. Ivo Pogorelich won the first prize at the Alessandro Casagrande Competition at Terni (Italy) in 1978 and the first price at the Montreal International Music Competition in 1980. In October of the same year he entered the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw where, when prevented from participating in the final contest as a soloist with the orchestra, a fierce controversy resulted in the renowned Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich, a member of the jury, protesting and leaving the competition, joined by other members of the jury panel, with the words “He is a genius”. This event drew the attention of the whole musical world to the young pianist.

Ever since his debut recital in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1981, Ivo Pogorelich has created a sensation with his performances in all the great concert halls throughout the world; starting in the U.S. and followed by performances on all four continents. He has received invitations to play with numerous major orchestras such as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, all the London Orchestras, the Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, New York Philharmonic Orchestras of the U.S. and major orchestras elsewhere. Wherever and whenever he plays, his stunning interpretations of the music confirm the originality of his talent and intellect. The New York Times once wrote “He played each note exactly, with such a feeling, such expression, he was an entire orchestra– it was as if he played 200 years ahead of our time”. In this spirit Ivo Pogorelich is known today as a poet of the instrument.

More about Ivo Pogorelich

 

Meet the Artist……Martin Roscoe

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

I started piano aged 6 and didn’t show much interest in the first few months but a family trip to London when I was just 7 included a night at the Proms, with Malcolm Sargent conducting the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique which just blew me away. When I got back home they couldn’t get me off the piano ! As far as a career was concerned I really had no idea what was entailed … I just drifted into it…one thing led to another. 

Who or what have been the most important influences on your career as a musician?

My teachers to start with: Marjorie Clementi, who sorted out my technique when I went to her aged 13 and who taught me to listen to myself for the first time. Gordon Green, who taught me how to practise in so many imaginative ways, and whose infectious love and enthusiasm for music overall was very inspiring. He really was a great human being. When I was a student Alfred Brendel’s early recordings were a great inspiration, and also the playing of so many pianists… Richter, Rubinstein , Kempff and Curzon to name a few of the most important.


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

Recording all the major Schubert works for Radio3 in the 1980’s and more recently recording all the Beethoven Sonatas for Deux-Elles. Playing at the Proms was a great experience , but very challenging!

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival – tell us about your programmes

With Ronan O ‘Hora I’m playing the immense Busoni Fantasia Contrapunctistica, and with Kathryn Stott the Percy Grainger Fantasy on themes from Porgy and Bess. A tremendous contrast between the towering intellect and gravity of the Busoni and the great fun and panache of the Grainger.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto at the Proms in 1989, and my recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas

Which particular works/composers do you think you play best?

Beethoven and Schubert for sure. Mozart’s Concertos, Brahms, Dohnanyi, and Debussy.

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

I’ve started to play themed programmes in the last few seasons….The piano and nature for example this year including Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata and shorter works by Liszt, Schumann, Dohnanyi Ireland and Debussy all inspired by nature. Next year The piano and Art …works by Liszt, Debussy and Granados culminating in Mussorgsky’s Pictures. Also a lot of all Beethoven programmes when recording the sonatas. Now all Schubert programmes in preparation for recording his works.

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

S0 many – but Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall for concertos…. The clarity and immediacy make it so exciting. For solo it’s difficult to beat Kings Place. For chamber the warmth of sound in the Wigmore is very special

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Too many to list….but for listening I’m still as obsessed by Wagner now as I was when I discovered his music as a teenager. Haydn Quartets are an endless treasure trove…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, where to start ? Just recently I heard two stunning performances from very contrasting pianists whose work I love and admire…….Richard Goode and Martha Argerich

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Taking part in the final concert of Kathy Stott’s Piano 2000 festival at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester…all the Rachmaninov Concertos in one evening. I played No.2

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

Fidelity to the score and the communication of the music without personal interference. Meaning is more important than style, yet a sound knowledge of style is also necessary. An interest in all the works of the major composers, not just the piano music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from playing Schubert and Beethoven, walking on the hills of Scotland and the Lake District, cooking, watching films, and listening to Wagner

With an extraordinary career spanning over 4 decades, Martin Roscoe is unarguably one of the UK’s best loved pianists. Renowned for his versatility at the keyboard, Martin is equally at home in concerto, recital and chamber performances. In an ever more distinguished career, his enduring popularity and the respect in which he is universally held are built on a deeply thoughtful musicianship allied to an easy rapport with audiences and fellow musicians alike.

Read more about Martin Roscoe here

Inside the gilded cage

An attitude still prevails today that classical musicians, and perhaps mostly especially pianists, exist in some kind of gilded cage or ivory tower, where, separated from the humdrum demands of everyday life, they hone their art and craft in glorious seclusion. For those looking in from the outside, the life of the classical musician may seem extraordinarily special and privileged: one has the opportunity day in day out to engage with the most sublimely beautiful and profoundly emotional music ever written, and share its wonders with others in concert.

b8294f1f0c2372e9afbc28efc67fc95f
Liszt’s music salon at his home in Weimar

Some years ago, several years before I started this blog, I interviewed a concert pianist in his home in leafy suburbia. Apart from the fact that he had a special piano room separate from the rest of the house, his existence, at first sight, was not dissimilar to mine. There was evidence of family, children and pets; he answered the door in his socks, and spoke about his “work”(conjuring magic out of that big black box of wood and wires) as if it were any other nine-to-five job. He lived in an ordinary street, in an ordinary suburb of London. I think, naively, I had been expecting his music room to be a Lisztian salon, rather than an office, and he an effete artist detached from the real world. His very ordinariness was something of a surprise to me. I have subsequently realised, from my many interviews and interactions with classical musicians via this blog, my reviewing and my own experience as a musician, that this “ordinariness” – treating one’s work as  “normal job” – is a way of protecting oneself against the exigencies of life as a classical musician. Because in order to succeed in this fast-paced and highly competitive profession, one has to be prepared to put in the work, hard work, every day, while also maintaining a healthy degree of perspective about what one does. In addition, one has to deal with the cynics out there who do not regard music as “a proper job”.

For the professional musician, work (and “work” often simply means “practising”) shapes every hour and is the cadence by which one sets one’s life. Without it, one can feel directionless, without focus. Yet practising, four to five hours every day, can also be a form of captivity. When one is wrestling with something new and tricky, when the same page of the score confronts one day after day, it can feel as if one does not move forward in the night.

In addition, there is all the painstaking work to be done away from the keyboard, reading, analysing and annotating scores, marking up fingering schemes which once learnt remain embedded in the memory and the fingers forever. Note-bashing is simply no substitute for the hard graft of learning new work in depth: working, with pencil and score, cutting through the music to the heart of what it is about. Living with the piece to find out what makes it special, studying style, the contextual background which provides invaluable insights into the way it should be interpreted. The endless striving to find the emotional or spiritual meaning of a work, its subtleties and balance of structure, and how to communicate all of this to an audience as if telling the story for the very first time. There is new repertoire to be learnt, old repertoire to be revised, overhauled, finessed, or just simply kept going, a vast catalogue “in the fingers” which can be made ready for some kind of performance within a matter of days, depending on one’s schedule. On top of that, one must attend to the “business side” of the profession – contacting promoters, agents, concert organisers, updating one’s website, creating publicity material, general admin  – all of which is time-consuming and can seem like an irritating distraction from the real work of studying the music.

The life of the concert pianist can be tough, restrictive and lonely, the grinding solitary hours of practise only intermittently relieved by work with colleagues. Then there is the traveling, living out of a suitcase in cheerless hotel rooms, sometimes a different place each night, playing an unfamiliar instrument in a foreign concert hall of uncertain acoustic. Having to produce a faultless performance every time, even if one is tired, jet-lagged or, worse, ill, on a strange, and possibly inferior, piano. Never having permission to be less than perfect; always feeding the artistic temperament. The pressure to achieve matched only by the pressure to sustain – and always, the uncomfortable knowledge that one’s reputation is only as good as one’s last performance. No wonder some musicians reach burn out to decide to take a sabbatical (Kissin, Aimard, and now Anderszewski) or even leave the profession entirel. The punishing schedule (trans-continental travel and 200-plus concerts a year) has been blamed for the late John Ogdon’s mental breakdown.

Only a very small minority of professional musicians can be considered “well off”, financially, when measured against other professions (doctors, lawyers, accountants, for example). The Lang Langs of this work are definitely a rarity. The rest work hard to maintain a reasonable standard of living, and many teach to supplement meagre concert fees. There are mortgages and bills to be paid, tax returns to be made, cars to be serviced, parents’ evenings to attend. (The fact that one is playing Chopin at Wigmore Hall to pay for new curtains may feel like an insult to the music and the musician’s craft. But recall that Chopin himself wrote his most heavenly pieces and sent them off with crotchety notes to his friend and factotum Julian Fontana, demanding the best prices from his publishers because he had bills to pay.) Without the safety net of working in a “normal” profession, where one might enjoy in-work benefits, things like pension plans, health insurance and savings need to be taken care of and factored into one’s financial planning. Injury is perhaps feared the most by musicians as it can mean loss of work – and when one is self-employed regular paid work is crucial.

Professional musicians are often envious of the freedom that amateurs musicians enjoy – being able to play whatever repertoire they like, whenever they like, without the pressure to produce specific programmes for concerts and to satisfy the demands of promoters and agents. Simply to enjoy the music for what it is….

So why do we do it? Why do we submit to the demands of the job, forgoing many of the trappings of a “normal” job (social life, holidays)? Because it is a huge privilege to be able to play this great music, works that rank alongside Aristotle and Shakespeare in their magnitude and importance. One feels like a conservator, taking responsibility for them, sharing them with others. It is a cultural gift – a gift to oneself, and a gift to those who love to listen to the piano. All the falseness of ego disappears when one lays oneself on the line before a full house at the Wigmore or Carnegie Hall. To meet a Beethoven or Schubert piano sonata head-on, for example, it is not about you, how fast you can play, how technically accomplished you are. It is about getting over yourself, becoming ego-less, humble before the greatness of the music, getting under the skin of the music and developing a sense of oneness with the composer. There are so many things in these wonderful works to be explored and understood, things which have the power to continually surprise and fascinate. That’s why we do it.

Further reading:

Give me a break: classical musicians who step away

Meet the Artist……Beth Levin, pianist

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

We owned an old Lester upright in the basement and I went to it very early on – played the music in the piano bench, composed a bit – it was a magical spot. My first teacher had come over from Europe to study at Curtis Institute and she gave me wise first steps at the piano. I didn’t think of it as a career then, but it was already at the center of my life.

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

My father always played the recordings of Richter and even in car rides would test me on the music and the artists emanating from the radio. He had a great ear and such a warm spirit.

My teachers – Maryan Filar, Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Shure and Dorothy Taubman – were perhaps the most important influences on me as a musician and also as a human being.

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

Some of the greatest challenges have been learning and performing the Goldberg Variations, the final three Beethoven Piano Sonatas and the Brahms D minor and Chopin E minor Concerti to name a few. This repertoire demands and allows the performer to go deep, to grow and be changed forever.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I like the most recent –  Beethoven Op. 109-111 Sonatas on Parma Recordings.

And I’m also proud of the Bach Goldberg Variations on Centaur Recordings.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I probably play the Romantic repertoire the best. But I like to think I can handle music of any time.

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

I’m very influenced by friends – one recently suggested I learn Kreisleriana of Schumann and the big Schubert C minor Sonata. Having just played the late Beethoven program, this sits well with me. And I adore Schumann and Schubert.

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

I may be happiest in intimate spaces such as Bargemusic in New York – but  any stage is a happy challenge if one feels at home.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love playing chamber music-(I’ll perform a cello/piano program tomorrow). A Brahms trio is heaven for me, or any of the great piano quintets…..
I adore and appreciate listening to singers – often from the past – and to strings.  One phrase of Casals’ Bach can be life-changing.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Hearing Stokowski live in Philadelphia and hearing Leonard Shure play a recital in Boston come to mind as outstanding memories.

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

Love for the music…….and of course titanic rhythm, deep phrasing and respect for the score.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m working on a modern work of Andrew Rudin – his Piano Sonata. And Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Also the Barber cello Sonata, Beethoven’s ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata and the Brahms G minor Piano Quartet. I played the ‘Emperor Concerto’ recently and that is still with me.

What is your present state of mind? 

Because I play tomorrow I’m in a calm state of mind but ready to boil over at the right time.

Interview date: 8th March 2014

Beth Levin’s artistry invokes an uncanny sense of hearing for the first time
works long thought familiar, as though the pianist herself were discovering a piece in the playing of it. Such a style of refreshment and renewal can be traced back to Levin’s unique artistic lineage. As a child prodigy, she made her debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 12.

She was subsequently taught and guided by legendary pianists such as Rudolf Serkin, Leonard Shure, Dorothy Taubman and Paul Badura-Skoda (who praised her as “a pianist of rare qualities and the highest professional caliber”). Her deep well of experience allows Levin to reach back through the golden age of the Romantic composers and connect to the sources of the great pianistic traditions, to Bach, to Mozart, to Beethoven.

Levin has appeared as a concerto soloist with numerous symphony orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Boston Civic Symphony and the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. She has worked with noted conductors such as Arthur Fiedler, Tonu Kalam, Milton Katims, Joseph Silverstein and Benjamin Zander. Chamber music festival collaborations have brought her to the Marlboro Festival, Casals Festival, Harvard, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Ankara Music Festival and the Blue Hill Festival, collaborating with such groups such as the Gramercy Trio (founding member), the Audubon Quartet, the Vermeer Quartet and the Trio Borealis, with which she has toured extensively.

Beth’s full biography can be found on her website

www.bethlevinpiano.com

Meet the Artist……Stephen Hough, CBE

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

I think the piano was its own inspiration.  We had no classical music in my home at all but an aunt had a piano and it was love at first vamp.  I picked out tunes on its yellow keys and wanted to take lessons.  it was a short step (over a long time) for that to become my career.

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

Definitely my main piano teacher Gordon Green.  Also Derrick Wyndham (both taught at the RNCM) then later Robert Mann (former 1st violinist of the Juilliard Quartet) with whom I played and recorded all the Beethoven sonatas in the 1980s.  I was 23 and had everything to learn; he was a great partner and, indirectly, a teacher.  I would also cite Alfred Cortot and many other pianists from the first decades of the 20th century whose playing I got to know well through recordings.  They were always and remain my favourites.

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

Just doing it – day after day.  Specifically the extreme contrast between being as tough as a old boot offstage (travel, hotels, paperwork etc. etc.) and as sensitive as a bejewelled ballet shoe when at the piano.  It requires a unique kind of schizophrenia!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ah tough to say!  The Hummel concerto record was the first one where I felt good in the studio, despite very little time.  We had less than six hours for each concerto, to rehearse from scratch (correcting parts along the way) and record.  it was seat of the pants but I still remember the exhilaration and excitement of playing those pieces and making the first complete recording of works which were absolutely central to the repertoire of Liszt, Chopin, Schumann etc.  Later Mompou was a joy to record and more recently my own 2nd piano sonata (on the CD ‘In the Night’).  Strange to record your own music!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really can’t say.  But I do feel able to slip into different roles.  I feel as involved and connected playing Mozart and Beethoven as I do playing Chopin and Liszt as I do playing Schoenberg and Webern.

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

Some of it ties in with recording plans, sometimes there are anniversaries, or specific requests.  With concertos it depends a lot on the programming being done by the conductor and management of the orchestras.

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

Not really.  Many famous halls are famous because they’re great – main stage of Carnegie New York or Concertgebouw Amsterdam or Musikverein Vienna.  The Wigmore of course is special.  I also love Severance Hall in Cleveland … too many to name though.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Impossible to say!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mainly those who died before I was born – Cortot, Rachmaninov, Friedman, Kreisler etc.  I’ve worked a lot with Steven Isserlis and he is one of my favourites, for personal as well as musical reasons.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my debut at the Hollywood Bowl when I raced over from Cheshire to replace Pogorelich at the last minute.  it was my first taste of the fast-lane, crazy side of having a career.  Paganini Rhapsody with Sir Charles Groves.

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

Study the score intensely then play as if you’re improvising.

What are you working on at the moment?

Always three sorts of work: refreshing pieces for upcoming concerts; revising works not played for a while; and learning new ones.  All the Beethoven concertos are around me at the moment and they fall into all three of these categories.

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

Same place but deeper.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Surprised by happiness when not looking for it – and sharing it with someone else.

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Many things.  To choose one would be to squeeze it dry of magic.

What is your present state of mind?

Content yet tired and a little anxious – but grateful for life and health and food and friends.

Named by ‘The Economist’ as one of 20 Living Polymaths, British pianist Stephen Hough is a rare renaissance man of our time. Over the course of a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading concert pianists, he has also excelled as a writer and composer. Mr. Hough combines an exceptional facility and tonal palette with a uniquely inquisitive musical personality, and his musical achievements have resulted in many awards and accolades for his concerts and a discography of more than fifty recordings.

Stephen Hough was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List.

Stephen Hough’s full biography

www.stephenhough.com

 

The Lady in Number 6

“Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love”

The inspiring and moving story of the oldest living Holocaust survivor and concert pianist Alice Herz-Sommer.

Now 109 and living in a tiny flat in London, Alice still plays the piano for several hours every day, practicing her beloved Bach and Beethoven. Once a renowned and celebrated concert pianist who performed to enthusiastic audiences around central Europe, Alice was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where, like thousands of others, she endured unspeakable hardships. Yet it was music that enabled her to look beyond the horrors of day-to-day life in the camp. She played more than 100 concerts inside the camp, and still talks with great passion about the experience.

Allice’s extraordinary story has now been made into a full-length documentary by Oscar®-winning filmmaker Malcolm Clarke

Full details about Alice and the film about her life here

Meet the Artist…..Leon McCawley

Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

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

My parents didn’t come from a musical background but bought an upright for my two older sisters to learn so I am eternally grateful for that decision. For some mysterious reason I was drawn to the sound of the piano as an infant. I finally got my way and started piano lessons at the age of 5. It was my own choice and by the time I was 12, I had decided that I wanted to be a concert pianist.

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

My amazing teachers: Heather Slade-Lipkin, Eleanor Sokoloff and Nina Milkina. I feel very fortunate to have studied with the right teacher at the right time in my development. My playing is also very inspired by my wife, the artist Anna Paik. As she works hard on achieving a subtlety of different colours and nuances in her studio upstairs, I’m not that far away from these creative concepts in my own studio downstairs.

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

An artistic career will inevitably have its ups and downs and often many aspects of it are out of one’s control. The greatest challenge is remaining true to oneself, to forge an individual path without any compromises and not to be shattered by any frustrations that one may experience along the way. I feel so fortunate that I am pursuing my childhood passion and making my living out of something that I thoroughly enjoy. When I face any challenge, I always remind myself of this.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

With every recording I feel I am growing and learning more as a musician, as in every concert season. Recording the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for Avie Records in 2006 was a huge undertaking and I am very glad to have accomplished this early in my career. I am happy to have a wide variety of repertoire in my discography: Barber, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann to the less familiar Hans Gál and British composer Ronald Corp. I have two more discs out this year of Brahms solo piano works (Somm) and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (Naxos).

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

We have so many good ones in the UK so it’s hard to single out one. I love Wigmore Hall, The Sage Gateshead, King’s Place and Symphony Hall Birmingham to name but a few. I have happy memories of playing in the Rudolfinum in Prague and also the fine acoustics at the Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

From the past, I aspire to the pianism of Sergei Rachmaninov and Artur Rubenstein. I’m a great fan of Murray Perahia and always try and attend his concerts in London whenever I can.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing at the Musikverein when I won the Beethoven Competition in Vienna back in 1993 is high up there. Also the sheer thrill of walking out on stage at the vast Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms is special.

What is your favourite music to play?

I love the music of Schumann and am currently wrapped up in his glorious Carnaval. As a pianist there is endless scope and I am constantly updating my repertoire from season to season.

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

Concentrate on your own goals and try not to be affected by all the pressures around you or make unhealthy comparisons with other musicians.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Lounging on the sofa with my cat on my lap!

What is your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring: a gold band with a blue sapphire, designed by my wife.

English pianist Leon McCawley leapt into prominence when he won both First Prize in the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and Second Prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition at the age of nineteen in 1993.

Since then, McCawley has given highly acclaimed recitals that include London’s Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Lincoln Center New York, Prague Rudolfinum and Vienna Musikverein. McCawley performs frequently with many of the top British orchestras and has performed several times at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. He broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 in recital and with many of the BBC orchestras. Further afield he has performed with Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Vienna Symphony among many others. Conductors he has worked with include Daniele Gatti, Paavo Järvi, Kurt Masur and Simon Rattle.

McCawley’s wide-ranging discography has received many accolades including two “Editor’s Choice” awards in Gramophone and a Diapason d’Or for his boxed set of The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas.

McCawley studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also worked with Nina Milkina in London.

Leon McCawley is a professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music and is married to the painter, Anna Hyunsook Paik.

www.leonmccawley.com

(Original interview date: April 2012)

 

Piano Olympics

In our celebrity-obsessed, ‘image is everything’ times, it seems that the fledgling concert pianist’s path to the modern concert arena – the ‘Three C’s’ of Conservatoire, Competition and Concerto – has turned professional piano playing into a kind of Olympian activity whose creed is “faster, higher, louder”, and has reduced the vast and wonderful repertoire to a relatively small stable of over-played warhorses, most notably, perhaps, the ubiquitous Rachmaninov Third Concerto. Today’s young piano superstars are using technique as the be all and end all, rather than as a means to serve the music. Thus, while we might be impressed by flashy technical prowess and grand gestures, we are often being offered only superficial display.

Just as the four-minute mile has been shaved down by 17 seconds over the 50 years since Bannister’s record-breaking run, certain pieces in the standard piano repertoire seem to be getting faster – and/or louder. I ran an informal poll amongst my Twitter followers and Facebook friends to see what other people thought about this. As one person said, “….people are generally and more easily drawn to the more obvious things in life (just take a look at anything in the media today). Faster and louder is definitely more obvious than subtle and artistic. It also requires less work….”

Thus, certain pieces are wheeled out over and over again by young, ‘generic’ pianists, not because they are necessarily the hardest in the repertoire, but because they are the most impressive, both visually and aurally. And here I must admit that I was absolutely gob-smacked by the speed at which Marc-Andre Hamelin’s hands moved around the keyboard at his late-night Liszt Prom, even though I didn’t like the actual piece (Fantasia and Fugue on B-A-C-H) that much. But in his Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude, Hamelin proved that he is not just a brilliant technician: his account was ethereal, luminescent, profound and emotional, and it spoke of a long association with the music, something which younger players may not appreciate with their desire to rush from showpiece to showpiece.

My informal poll revealed a general consensus about certain works, acknowledged amongst pianists to be some of the most challenging in the repertoire, in terms of technical difficulty and/or length. These include, in no particular order (links open in Spotify):

Beethoven – Op. 106, ‘Hammerklavier’. The daring opening leap should, of course, be played with one hand!

Ravel – Gaspard de la Nuit

Stravinsky – Trois Mouvements de Petrushka

Chopin – Etudes (especially Op 10 Nos 1 & 2, Op 25 Nos 6 & 11)

Liszt – Transcendental Etudes (especially Feux Follets, Wilde Jagd)

Liszt – B minor Sonata

Brahms – Paganini Variations

Rachmaninov – 3rd Concerto

Prokofiev – 2nd Concerto

Bartok – 2nd Concerto

Alkan – Concert for Solo Piano

Messiaen – Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus

Godowsky – transcriptions of Chopin Etudes

Sorabji – Opus clavicembalisticum (a piece which lasts around 4 hours)

Of course, while being hugely technically and physically demanding, many of these works, when played well, sound effortless (which, of course, is what we as pianists are all striving for!). And yet even the simplest piece, such as Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica, which I heard played as an encore at an eccentric little arts venue in Highgate some years ago, can sound sophisticated and refined – ‘Olympian’ even – in the right hands!

As a postscript, my own personal ‘Olympian’ works include:

Chopin – Etude Opus 10, No. 3. As my teacher said, the difficulty lies less in the technical demands, and more in the fact that this Etude is so well known, so one wants to do it justice.

Messiaen – Regard de la Vierge, no. IV of the ‘Vingt Regards’. For someone who had not really attempted any true atonal music before, the difficulty in this piece lay, initially, in “tuning” my ear into the discordant harmonies. Also, at first sight it looks utterly horrendous on the page!

Debussy – Prelude & Sarabande from ‘Pour le Piano’. The Prelude requires playful, fleet and pristine fingers, while the big, hand-filling chords of the Sarabande presented their own problem for the tenosynovitis in my right hand. Exercises and solid technique have enabled me to play this piece comfortably and without pain.

More on ‘Pianistic Everests’ from Tom Service