© Neda Navaee

I seldom select concerts to review based on performer. An interesting programme is usually what will pique my interest, and this was certainly true when browsing the Wigmore’s spring season of concerts: it is unusual to find Ligeti and Messiaen in the same programme. I didn’t know the performer and was unaware at the time of booking the concert that he was first prize and gold medal winner of the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition.

Winners of competitions are often paraded before audiences with the promise of greatness. Generally young performers poised on the brink of an international career, too many may offer a bland synthesis of music, technically polished but lacking in insight or maturity. Not so Antonii Baryshevskyi, a young pianist from Kiev, whose impressive Wigmore Hall debut combined pristine technical facility and consummate musicality in a challenging and highly varied programme.

Read my full review here

Teacher and pupil took the stage at London’s Wigmore Hall on Friday 20th February in a joint concert by Maria João Pires and Pavel Kolesnikov featuring late works by Schubert and Beethoven, and Schumann’s love letter in music to Clara Wieck, the Fantasy in C, Opus 17.

Pavel Kolesnikov © Colin Way
Pavel Kolesnikov © Colin Way

Pavel Kolesnikov, the young Siberian pianist who has already garnered many prizes and much praise for his playing, is a soloist of the Music Chapel in Brussels, studying with Maria João Pires as part of her ‘Partitura Project’ which offers a benevolent relationship between artists of different generations and seeks to thwart the “star system” by offering an alternative approach in a world of classical music too often dominated by competitions and professional rivalry. In keeping with the spirit of the Partitura Project, the pianists shared the piano in two works for piano four-hands by Schubert and each remained on the stage while the other performed their solo. From the outset, this created a rather special ambience of support and encouragement.

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It is a mark of the popularity of the BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, and the high calibre of the performers, that these hour-long recitals are regularly sold out. Indeed, when I arrived at the Wigmore to hear Steven Osborne in a programme of music by Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky, there was a long queue of people waiting for returns. I relinquished my spare ticket (concert companion was indisposed) so that someone else could enjoy Osborne’s superb pianistic mastery and sensitive musicality. The theme of the concert was pictures: Mussorgsky’s popular and evergreen Pictures at an Exhibition preceded by a selection of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux from the lesser-known Op.33.

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Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega
Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega

 

Listen to the concert on BBC iPplayer

Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux – an earlier article on the Opus 33

My first concert of 2015 was an all-Scribian recital by American pianist Garrick Ohlsson, who, by his own admission, is a ‘Scriabinophile’, an obession which grew from hearing Sviatoslav Richter playing the ‘White Mass’ Sonata in the 1960s.

To mark the centenary of the composer’s death is Garrick Ohlsson’s ‘Skryabin Focus’ at Wigmore Hall, and the two-concert celebration opened with a recital held, appropriately, on the composer’s birthday, which in the Julian calendar (to which Russia then subscribed) is Christmas Day. This fact alone suggests we are dealing with an unusual personality, and as time went on, and Scriabin’s egocentric obsessions increased, he began to regard himself as a second Messiah whose music would have a purifying, unifying and life-changing effect on all mankind. Add to this his interest in spirituality, the theosophy of Madame Blavasky, the writings of Nietzsche, his synaesthesia (which is what originally drew me to his piano music) and his assertion that there was an aesthetic connection between musical harmony and shades of colour, and we have an extreme personality at work. This heady mix produced music which is languorous, sensuous, demonic, enigmatic, erotic, febrile and over-heated. Hyper-everything, his music is lush, gorgeous and inspired, always ecstatic. It is these aspects which many listeners, and artists, find off-putting, and the reason why Scriabin’s music is so rarely performed today.

Read my full review here

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

When I was 8 years old, I had a chance to play for a renowned pianist in Korea and I was very nervous for a whole week. One day before meeting her, I had a nightmare that she told me not to play piano and I cried a lot. That was the point when I realised that I want to play piano my whole life, no matter what. In fact, she was very lovely in person.

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

My piano teacher for 5 years from age 10. She was a very active performer and I went to her every concert. From the moment when she would enter the stage with the conductor until the end of concert, the audience was enchanted by her. She was my absolute idol. She always told me that your music starts when you enter the stage and at her concerts she demonstrated to me what she meant. She was magnificent and it was my dream to be a pianist like her.

I am grateful that I have met so many wonderful musicians who are a big influence in my life and not just in music: especially Leon McCawley, Deniz Gelenbe, Gabriele Baldocci, Pascal Roge, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, Ola Karlsson and Peter Grote.

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

For a long time I played piano for someone else. One day I lost that person and I was really lost for a year. Slowly I learnt to love music again and play piano for myself. Now I will always have a reason to play my music because it is finally truly who I am.

Which performance are you most proud of?

I am fortunate to have played at prestigious concert venues all around the world. I enjoy playing at big halls, and was surprised when I had a life-changing experience at a lower standard hall. After the recital an elderly lady came to me crying. She was speaking Spanish, which I could not understand, but I could feel how happy she was. I was really touched and proud that I could make people happy, or happier, with my music. After that point I was reminded of the origin of music and my purpose in being musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The music that means something to me.

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

I aim to have a mixed repertoire so that there is something for me and for the audience.

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

Wigmore Hall in London, Palau de la Musica in Valencia and the Berlin Philharmonic are amazing and at the top of my favourites list.

On one occasion I played a solo recital on a big stage (the stage itself has a capacity of 500 people) in Korea. It was interesting for me as it was hard to control the acoustic. It was very challenging but gave me joy.

Favourite pieces to listen to?

I love listening to Chopin piano concerto recordings. Every pianists has a different interpretation.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Alfred Cortot and Jacqueline du Pre

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no.3 for Alzheimer’s patients and a solo recital at an army base. I never had such a concentrated and enthusiastic audience.

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

Know yourself. Physically and psychologically.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am preparing two world premieres for a Wigmore Hall recital this month, by Stephen Montague and Gwyn Pritchard. These works were commissioned as part of my project to commemorate lives lost at sea – an idea that came to be after the tragic disaster of the Korean ferry MV Sewol on the 16 April 2014. I sometimes forget the many different sides of nature and tend to label it based on what is visible on the surface. For the second part of my recital I have selected pieces related to this idea, including the two premiered pieces.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Spotify subscription and Edwin Fischer’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Identified by Gramophone as the ‘talent of tomorrow – today’, Jenna Sung gives her debut Wigmore Hall recital on 16th November 2014 as a prize for the 2013 Jaques Samuel Pianos Competition. The programme includes works by Haydn, Skryabin, Chopin and Ravel, together with the premiere of new works by Stephen Montague and Gwyn Pritchard. Further information and tickets here

Jenna Sung’s biography

Brouillards swathed the Wigmore audience in mist, yet the sound was never foggy”

Photo credit: Guy Vivien
Photo credit: Guy Vivien

Occasionally one comes across an artist who seems so at one with the music, that one can almost hear the composer at the artist’s shoulder saying ”yes, that is what I meant”. Such was the effect of French pianist François-Frédéric Guy’s performance of Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata, the Op.111, at London’s Wigmore hall on Friday night: a performance replete in insight and an emotional intensity which comes from a long association with and admiration for this composer and his music.

Read my full review here