There are cats and kittens all over the internet. For some people it’s what social networks like Facebook and Twitter were created for: sharing pictures and video clips of cats doing funny things, cats doing cute things, cats doing daft things….. Or pictures of our own furry friends for us to collectively coo over.
Many of my pianist friends and colleagues own cats (I know this because they post pictures of their feline companions on Facebook and Twitter) and it strikes me that cats are good companions for pianists, being self-sufficient and far less demanding or attention-seeking than dogs. (My own cat, a blue Burmese called Freddy, used to sit on the lid of the piano when I was practising, or join me on the piano bench, leaning gently against me as I played.)
Just when we thought there wasn’t room for another blog or website featuring cats and kittens, along came Pianists With Kittens, a delightfully witty Tumblr photo-blog which contains pictures of famous pianists with kittens and cats Photoshopped into the pictures. It’s a simple idea, but it works because it is executed so well. The choice and the placement of the cat or kitten is both thoughtful and humorous: Garrick Ohlsson seemingly in conversation with a hairless cat, a wide-eyed cat peeping round Maurizio Pollini, a stripey ginger kitty hangs from the arm of Vestard Shimkus, a tabby dives over the shoulder of Nikolai Lugansky, the tail of a disappearing cat in a picture of Lang Lang madly emoting, a kitten flying through the air, as if tossed out of the piano by the extravagant gestures of Yuja Wang. There are many famous pianists featured on the site – late greats such as Richter, Ciccolini, Kempf, Hoffman, Gould, Lipatti, even Chopin and Mozart, as well as living artists, and each picture is accompanied by a YouTube clip allowing one to listen to the featured pianist. Those of us who follow Pianists With Kittens on Twitter have taken to nominating pianists to be featured on the site, and I was honoured last autumn to be featured myself on the site, with my beloved cat Freddy of course. Now it is quite an accolade to be included on the Pianists With Kittens site.
I caught up with the creator of Pianists with Kittens to find out more about how this charming site came to be
Who or what inspired you to create Pianists With Kittens?
The idea for Pianists With Kittens came first from a scholar-pianist friend, Alex Stefaniak, who learned in the course of his research that Clara Schumann was a fan of kittens—no less a source than Franz Liszt reports that she used to return to the piano with bloody hands from playing with them! So I made a (clumsy) photoshop of her with a kitten and immediately my friends requested other pianists.
By popular demand, the Tumblr came into being and then the Twitter account. (NB: Pianists will want to keep an eye out for Prof. Stefaniak’s book on the Schumanns and virtuosity. Should be out in the next year.)
What is your own musical background? Are you a pianist?
I grew up with classical music on 24/7, so it always seemed a neccessary accompaniment to life, not something to study for a “career.” Now I’m a professional in the music world, but piano is still my hobby.
Do you own a cat/kitten?
A cat and a kitten. The older cat sits at my side when I play piano.
What is your earliest memory of the piano?
Classical piano music was probably on while I was in the womb, but I first became aware of the instrument as such when my parents brought one into the house. I was 6 and started lessons the next year.
Who are your favourite pianists (living and dead)?
I think my tastes in dead pianists are not particularly controversial. Seems that posterity has done a good job with this already. Richter tops my list as I’ve previously written here. Among his contemporaries, I’ll always give a listen to Yudina and Gilels, Sofronitsky, Lipatti. Young Horowitz belongs on this list too.
Among the 19th-century babies, of course Rachmaninoff himself. I love anything Carl Friedberg plays, his Brahms and Schumann were revelatory to me. And the other “fried”– Friedman, for his Chopin. I think just about everything Myra Hess touches is gold, such warmth in her German rep – love her Op109. I like to imagine that warmth is what Clara Schumann must have conveyed in her playing.
Cortot is a favorite. There’s nothing new to be said about his amazing pianism, and I love his wrong notes as much as the right ones. His name always seemed paired with Chopin, then I heard his Schumann and liked it even more.
Notably absent from this list are some greats of the Golden Era. I find too much of that repertoire superficial (part of that impression is because of recording technology: hard to record a complete 50-minute Schubert sonata à la Richter).
Among the living, it gets more difficult. There’s a whole generation that leaves me pretty cold (the Perahia-Schiff-Uchida generation). My tastes still tend to the Eastern European, so I’d rather hear Leonskaja, Virsaladze, Pletnev, even Pogorelich than those who often grace concert halls in the West—and forget the States! And for the new century so far, Daniil Trifonov.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
When I was a small child (3 or 4) and taken to a local college symphony concert: they played the Candide Overture and I thought it was just the coolest thing.
Favourite pieces to play/listen to?
Too hard to name favorite pieces! I play Bach and Mozart all the time and I love them; can spend hours reading through WTC. Brahms, too, as much of it I can play. As for listening, whatever requires so much pianistic finesse/technique that I can’t stumble through it satisfactorily myself: Chopin, Russian rep, the “Impressionist” pieces.
If you could play one piece what would it be……?
I have small hands, so. . . if I magically were to become a great concert pianist with a great orchestra and conductor around, then maybe one of the Brahms or Rachmaninoff concerti.
Follow Pianists With Kittens on Twitter at @PianistswKitten