Southbank Centre’s Brutalist arts venues, the Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room, will reopen on Monday 9 April, following over two years of refurbishment and redesign.

While many of us missed the QEH and Purcell Room during their closure, St John’s Square, not far away on the north side of the river, near Westminster, has benefited from increased exposure as it has been the home of most of the SBC International Piano Series concerts and some chamber recitals too, and it is good to see this fine building now firmly on the map of London concert venues. Meanwhile, the newly refurbished QEH and Purcell Room look fabulous, judging by these pictures, and details such as French polished wood, hand-upholstered leather and aluminium seats and energy efficient climate control promise stylish comfort for the contemporary concert goer. The original brutalist concrete structures have been fully restored and the foyer area (previously rather grim despite attempts at funky lighting) has been revitalised with plenty of natural light  and better views of the Thames

Y29tcG9zaXRlIDIuSlBH

The Queen Elizabeth Hall and Purcell Room open with a programme of events paying tribute to the historic legacy of the venues, and the legendary artists who have performed there over the past fifty years. A dynamic blend of contemporary and classical work sees vibrant performances, events, installations and a free programme of activities for all ages. The reopening programme runs from Monday 9 April until the end of May 2018. Further details here

Francesco-032 by Marie Staggat

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

There has always been a piano at my house, perhaps a strategic move by my mother. Soon I found myself curious about which sounds I could trigger out of the instrument. Then I realized the piano is itself a world.

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

Growing up I found the most inspiration in three musicians of the twentieth century: Paco de Lucia, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Joe Zawinul. And the discovery of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

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

Not to repeat myself, not to fall into a routine.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Pride is not a feeling I measure I measure my achievements with. Perhaps my album ‘Idioynkrasia’ (inFine, 2011) is my most personal, and ‘Piano Circle Songs’ (Sony, 2017) the most challenging.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

When I was 5 years old, I said to my piano teacher: “I only want to play the music of Bach, and my own music” She thought I was a cute little boy, and taught me how to play the piano.

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

The complete works for keyboard of J S Bach is a project for a lifetime, not necessarily a season.

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

I like a variety of venues, and also alternating them. There are some fantastic concert halls in Japan for instance, really pristine acoustics. D-Edge, a club in Sao Paulo, Brazil, has a great sound system and vibe.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably a show at Jeita Grotto in Lebanon. Stalactites and stalagmites, plus a 7-second reverb.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be in line with what you do artistically. (Whether this works out commercially speaking is another question)

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

Wake up, listen up, be yourself.

What is your present state of mind?

Aspiring serenity.

 

 

Francesco Tristiano’s ‘Piano Circle Songs’ is released on the Sony label. Francesco performs music from his new album, with Canadian pianist and songwriter Chilly Gonzales with whom the project was developed, at the Southbank Centre on 20 September 2017 – details here

Francesco Tristiano’s biography

 

Artist photo by Marie Staggat

Brahms and Messiaen do not immediately strike one as natural concert programme companions: Brahms teems with polyphony and darkness while Messiaen is about light, timbre, vertical chords, vibrant colour – indeed Messiaen hated Brahms, declaring that “it’s always raining” in Brahms’ music.

But unlikely or daring juxtapositions can create interesting and unexpected contrasts and connections, as one work shines a new light on another, enriching both listener and performer’s experience – and this was certainly my take on this remarkable concert by Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich at St John’s Smith Square which combined Brahms’ Sonata in F minor, Op 34b with Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen.

If there are connections to be made between the music that made up this large-scale programme it is that both works are mighty musical edifices, two great mountains which transcend mere notes on the page and which demonstrate each composer’s wish to remain in long moments of emotional distress, relaxation or ecstasy. Both works also display a high level of perfectionism in their structures and organisation, replete with many details, motifs and musical pathways which could easily become blurred in a lesser performance.

Read my full review here

 

(picture credit Neda Navaee)

 

The Southbank Centre (SBC) yesterday announced its 2017/18 programme and there’s an embarrassment of riches for lovers of the piano and its literature with concerts featuring established international artists and rising stars. I am particularly looking forward to performances by Maurizio Pollini, Vikingur Olaffson, Leif Ove Andsnes, Mitsuko Uchida and Artist-in-Residence Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who will be performing Ligeti’s Etudes.

Young virtuosos

This year’s rising stars, Katia Buniatishvili, Alice Sara Ott and Benjamin Grosvenor offer a kaleidoscope of contrasting personalities and styles, while Bertrand Chamayoux makes his International Piano Series debut in the opening concert of the season.

Music from the North

As part of the festival Nordic Matters, Vikingur Olaffson makes his debut in this year’s series  with Brahms’ Piano Sonata No.3 and its five movements containing echoes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony, alongside that most quintessential of Nordic performers, the Norwegian Leif Ove Andsnes.

The unmissable virtuosos

Enjoy a tremendous range of musical masterpieces while being thrilled by virtuosity with world-famous figures such as Maurizio Pollini, Stephen Hough and Paul Lewis.

A new partnership

Two recitals continue Southbank Centre’s partnership with Mitsuko Uchida. Renowned for her outstanding interpretations of Schubert, this piano legend embarks on the first of her recitals featuring the piano sonatas, from the boundless energy of the G major Sonata to the emotional depths plumbed by the sonata in B major.

Offering a different perspective, Southbank Centre Artist in Residence, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, throws light on 20th century scores with his performance of Ligeti’s Etudes as part of a weekend to celebrate the composer’s music.

These events go on general sale at 10am on Thursday 23 February.

Source: SBC website

Maurizio Pollini (© Cosimo Filippini)
Maurizio Pollini (© Cosimo Filippini)

How does one define “greatness” in a pianist? Is it the willingness to tackle a broad sweep of repertoire from Baroque to present-day? Profound musicality and penetrating insights, founded on pristine technique? A fearless approach to risk-taking in live concerts? Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini is the sum of these parts – and much more – as his recent concerts in London have demonstrated. Here is an artist who is equally at home in the elegance of Bach, the intimacy of Chopin’s miniatures and the spiky modernism of Pierre Boulez, always bringing supreme pianism and fresh insights to his performances.

For his second International Piano Series concert at a packed Royal Festival Hall, Pollini trod a more traditional path in an all-Beethoven programme. Traditional, but also ambitious: to perform three of the most well-known, revered and technically demanding of Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas would be a challenge for any artist. For a man of seventy-two (and he looks older and frailer) this was a monumental programme, which scaled the highest Himalayan peaks of pianism…..

Read my full review here http://bachtrack.com/review-maurizio-pollini-beethoven-apr-2014

(photo credit: David Crookes)

In a welcome return to London after several years’ absence, acclaimed Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky opened the 2014 International Piano Series concerts at Southbank Centre with an impressive and absorbing recital of music by two of the finest composers of preludes for the piano, Debussy and Rachmaninov, interspersed with Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, and Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata. Opening his concert with two pieces by Debussy not included in the printed programme, rather in the manner of a nineteenth-century virtuoso, he closed with an imposing and well-judged account of Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Sonata, demonstrating an appreciation of both the scope of the music and the vastness of the country of its origin. This was an evening of pure pianism, delivered without flashy gimmicks or unnecessary gestures, just honest, committed playing of the highest order.

Read my full review here

The International Piano Series continues at the Southbank Centre