VENUES: Harpa Concert Hall | Reykjavik, Iceland

Article by Ronald Hawkins (MGBH)

A venue is more than a place where an event happens.  It is where history is made and, often, a lifetime memory is created. Within the walls of these buildings, they capture the sounds from the ordinary to the extraordinary performances.
So, grab your passport and lets explore concert venues throughout the world!

The home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and The Icelandic Opera, HARPA CONCERT HALL is one of Reykjavik’s greatest and distinguished landmarks, which opened to public on May 4, 2011.  The name Harpa was the winning name out of 4,156 proposals entered by its 1,200 citizens. The requirement was to name the modern space an Icelandic word that is easy to speak in most languages – Har-pa, which means “harp.”

Designed by Henning Larsen Architects, Olafur Eliasson (MGBH), and Batteriiò, Harpa’s crystalline structure was inspired by Icelandic landscapes and traditions. Its dramatic design captures and reflects the light of the city, ocean and sky to thrilling effect (1).

The concert hall and conference center are located in the heart of the city, offering breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and the North Atlantic Ocean. It is the host to many diverse musical genres and music festivals year round. There are four performance spaces in Harpa: Eldborg , Nordurljos, Silfurberg, and Kaldalòn.


Eldborg is the largest hall in Harpa, accommodating 1,800 guests. It is truly a world-class concert hall hosting some of the biggest names from all over the world. Moving along the second floor situated between Eldborg and Silfurberg is the 520 theatre style recital hall, Nordurljòs. This space is ideal for chamber groups and smaller ensembles.

If you are looking for the best technology equipment at Harpa, check out Silfurberg – a conference hall named after a translucent crystal rarely found outside Iceland. The hall can accommodate up to 840 people. Interesting to note is the hall’s acoustics are configured for spoken word.

Lastly is the smallest hall in Harpa – Kaldalòn auditorium.  Kaldalòn is perfect space to accommodate 195 guest for concerts, conferences, meetings, screenings, and lectures. A curious fact about Kaldalòn is that its reverberation time may be altered, making this hall accessible for many different types of events.

Numerous music festivals have been held in the building including Iceland Airwaves, Reykjavik Midsummer Music, Dark Music Days, Reykjavik Arts Festival, Reykjavik Jazz Festival, Sónar Reykjavík, Tectonics, and Harpa International Music Academy (2).

Harpa has hosted a Master Pianists Concert Series where such world  known pianists as Jorge Luis Prats and Richard Goode, appeared in concerts. Young artists are also kept in mind, with Harpa granting an annual award – the Upbeat – for children and youth compositions.

Olafur Eliasson (MGBH)

Olafur Eliasson (MGBH), the artist behind Harpa

A recipient of a number of accolades, Harpa has been chosen one of the best concert halls of the new millennium by the prestigious music magazine Gramophone magazine as well as  the best performance venue in 2011 by Travel & Leisure magazine.  Most recently is the prestigious 2013 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award. Wiel Arets ((MGBH), Chair of the Jury, said: “Harpa has captured the myth of a nation – Iceland – that has consciously acted in favor of a hybrid-cultural building during the middle of the ongoing Great Recession. The iconic and transparent porous ‘quasi brick’ appears as an ever-changing play of colored light, promoting a dialogue between the city of Reykjavik and the building’s interior life. By giving an identity to a society long known for its sagas, through an interdisciplinary collaboration between Henning Larsen Architects and artist Olafur Eliasson (MGBH), this project is an important message to the world and to the Icelandic people, fulfilling their long expected dream.”



About the Author:

Ronald Hawkins is a Schimmel Artist who serves on the piano faculty at The Conservatory for the Arts, Calvary Music School and Encore Music Academy in in Chrystal Lake, IL (USA). His current projects include performing the Well-Tempered Clavier (Book I) by J.S. Bach and an unique multimedia program – Masterpieces: Arts that Inspired Music.





Nannerl Mozart: Neglected Sister or Wolfgang’s Childhood Muse?

Article by Jacqueline Leung (MGBH)

At times, “history” has been interpreted as “his story”. Although the ancient French root of the word “estoire” does not point to this particular meaning, it is, nevertheless, impossible to deny that up until the late 19th and early 20th century, the majority of historical documents which have been preserved, passed down, and studied, were written by men. In music textbooks, we have been taught that the reason female composers are so rare is because of lack of educational opportunities with their only role being a mother and wife rather than having an option to also pursue a career path.

On several occasions as I raised the topic of Nannerl (OBM), the common reaction would be, “Mozart (OBM) had a sister? I never knew that!” When the word “Mozart” is mentioned, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is the name, which springs to mind and, perhaps, by relation, his father Leopold Mozart (OBM). Maria Anna, or Nannerl as was her nickname, is rarely mentioned. Alongside Wolfgang and Leopold, at most, there would be a sentence referring to her as “an accomplished musician”. What were the events that rendered her to become a mere minor figure alongside her superstar genius brother after being recognized as his equal during their childhood and teenage years?

Maria Anna Walburga Ignatia Mozart was born in 1751, four and a half years before the most famous musical genius known to mankind. She began musical training with her father, who taught her to play the harpsichord at the age of 7. Subsequently, when Wolfgang’s precocious musical talents began to manifest itself by the age of 5, Leopold jumped at the chance to display his two “wunderkinder” around Europe like a circus act, enduring all the discomforts of 18th century travel to perform for royalties and aristocrats in some of Europe’s most lavish palaces and noble homes. In a study of letters where Maria Anna’s name was mentioned, there was nothing but words of praise. In letters to his wife from Leopold Mozart, it is evident that many members of royalty and aristocracy remember Nannerl fondly and regularly asked her father to send her their best regards. In a particular letter home dated 3 February 1770, Leopold mentioned that Pietro Lugiati (OBM), a wealthy man from a Venetian family and an official of the Venetian Republic lauded his “astonishing daughter” as an “object of universal admiration” and, in particular, praised her “rare talents” (1).  In another account from Count Karl von Zinzendorf of Munich (OBM), Nannerl’s performance was described as “masterly” (2). In order for the two children to be displayed as a pair of “wunderkinder” and for the performances to garner such praise, it should not be presumptuous to assume that Nannerl’s musical skills were on par with Wolfgang’s, at the very least.

… her perfect insight into harmony and modulations when she improvises is so successful that you would be astounded.

Some may argue that the aristocrats and royalty who adorned Nannerl with such flattery and commendation were not professionally trained musicians and were, therefore, less discerning. However, in her father Leopold’s own words, he proclaimed her to be one of the finest keyboardists in Europe, and “her perfect insight into harmony and modulations when she improvises is so successful that you would be astounded” (3). Up till now, studies have concluded that none of Nannerl’s compositions survived. Yet, when we read Wolfgang’s letters to his sister, we find evidence that she did, in fact, compose. In a letter written while Wolfgang was on tour, he wrote, “My dear sister! I am in awe that you can compose so well…the song you wrote is beautiful” (4). And in another letter from 19 May 1770, evidently having reviewed his sister’s composition, he commented, “You’ve written a wonderful bass for it, without a slightest mistake” (5).

The siblings had been extremely close since childhood. Not only did they share a secret language together, which is evident in some of the letters, but they also imagined a kingdom where they ruled together as King and Queen. As Wolfgang grew, Nannerl also matured. Unfortunately, she had reached the age at which it was unsuitable for her to travel as a performing musician. Her gender meant that her role in society was bound. When she reached marriageable age, she was instructed to remain home for protection while Leopold took young Mozart to perform all over Europe. However, for a young girl who has travelled across Europe and performed in Paris, London, and the Hague in front of Louis XV (OBM), King George III(OBM), Queen Charlotte (OBM), and Johann Christian Bach(OBM), the homebound lifestyle would take a toll. In Leopold’s letters to his wife, it is apparent that he was very much concerned with Nannerl and asked questions such as, “Is Nannerl keeping busy practicing the harpsichord regularly?”(6).

As a musical genius himself who possessed skills and talent rising above so many, he had great reverence for Nannerl.

For a pair of siblings who shared stage time and musical language as well as so many travel experiences, separation proved to be difficult. There are often references in Wolfgang’s letters of him wishing for Nannerl’s company. He longed to hear from her everyday. As a musical genius himself who possessed skills and talent rising above so many, he had great reverence for Nannerl. He once wrote, “I said to Papa at once: Oh! If only I were as clever and wise as she is!”

Musically, apart from being on stage together, they were collaborators and inspired each other. Wolfgang’s Prelude and Fugue in C, K. 394 was written for her and his Divertimento in D major, K. 251, nicknamed the Nannerl Septet, was written for her name-day. He also frequently sent her his latest piano concerti. Examining earlier compositions, K. 16, Wolfgang’s first symphony, received help from Nannerl who was responsible for putting some of the music from pen to paper.

The most well known group of compositions associated with her name is the Nannerl Music Book (Nannerl Notenbuch), recently published by Henle Verlag (MGBH). These compositions date back to the years between 1759-64 and originally were comprised of 48 pages. However, only 36 pages survived to this day with 12 pages missing. According to historical sources, the notebook was compiled by Leopold who wrote pieces for the young Nannerl to practice. Within the book, there also are compositions by the five year old Wolfgang with the authorship of miscellaneous pieces not verified. They are currently categorized as “Anonymous 1, 2 & 3”. In light of this, is it rather inconceivable that none of her compositions survived? For a girl who most certainly possessed such a high level of musical skills, would it be impossible that she also had written compositions in her own musical notebook? And what course of events made those 12 pages disappear so mysteriously?

K. 16, Wolfgang’s first symphony, received help from Nannerl who was responsible for putting some of the music from pen to paper.

According to practices of the time, women would not be earning from a performing career. When Nannerl’s performing tours abruptly ended, she became a piano teacher in Salzburg. Her father dictated her marriage. She was forced to abandon her true love Captain Franz d’Ippold (OBM) and married the twice widowed magistrate Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg (OBM). When her first child was born, she left him in the care of her father Leopold who wished to train another musical child prodigy. Subsequently, she bore two daughters but both died – one at infancy and one at age 16. Was this the real reason why the shadow was cast over Nannerl which propelled her into oblivion for the rest of her life and in the textbooks of musical history? Was little Wolfgang engineered by Leopold to be the sole breadwinner of the Mozart family because Nannerl would not be able to provide?

Of course, it is not my intention to conjure up radical conspiracy theories, yet it could open the doors to some important questions. Was Nannerl Mozart’s voice stifled and were her wings clipped because she was born at the wrong time? Is it really plausible that even with limited opportunities for education no women had musical talents to match their male counterparts for the past hundreds of years? As I dug deeper into this, I could not help but ask, how many other women composers’ works may have been made to disappear and how many were published under a man’s name with their talents unduly neglected?


(1) Davis, Elizabeth. “Was Mozart’s Sister Actually the Most Talented Musician in the Family?” Classic FM. 2 Nov. 2015. Web. 18 May 2016.
(2) Eisen, Cliff et al. In Mozart’s Words, ‘Maria Anna Walpurga Ignatia (Nannerl) Mozart’ <>. Version 1.0, published by HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.
(3) Milo, Silvia. “The Lost Genius of Mozart’s Sister.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 08 Sept. 2015. Web. 18 May 2016.
(4) Rusch, Elizabeth. “Maria Anna Mozart: The Family’s First Prodigy.” Smithsonian. 27 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 May 2016.
(5) Scheideler, Ullrich. “Preface.” Piano Pieces from the “Nannerl Music Book” Berlin: G. Henle Verlag, 2014. Web.
(6) Scheideler, Ullrich. “Critical Commentary.” Piano Pieces from the “Nannerl Music Book” Berlin: G. Henle Verlag, 2006. Web.


About the author:

Jacqueline Leung is a Hong Kong based concert pianist and educator. She was trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. She has performed on four continents and is in demand as a solo and chamber musician, lecturer and adjudicator. Alongside music, her passions include traveling and cooking. She also holds a MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong.

Condolezza Rice (MGBH) –
Piano In My Life

Interview by Peter Robinson (MGBH)

When one studies piano from childhood and puts effort to excel in this craft, it stays with him (or, in our case – with her) for life, regardless of the occupation she chooses as an adult.  Many times an opportunity of continuing with piano professionally is foregone due to limited career choices as a pianist.
Nevertheless, once a pianist – always a pianist.  Even if one becomes a Secretary of State.

Peter Robinson (MGBH), (PR): You have given a very substantial portion of your life to this endeavor. Why?
Condoleezza Rice (MGBH), (CR) : Classical music is one of the highest forms of the arts that human beings have ever achieved. If you look at the complexity of what these great composers were able to do, you wonder how the mind was able to create this. And we have to stay connected to this marvelous music. We have to stay connected to this heritage of this highest art form. And I understand that it’s not “popular,” but not everything is “popular.” We still have to preserve it, we have to perform it, we have to play it, we have to try to introduce our children to it and one of the ways that we do that is to make certain that we keep the arts in the schools and we keep the arts in a sense of a broad education. I know there is a lot of talk these days about stem and technology, but there is nothing more human in terms of what these composers were able to do.

Classical music is one of the highest forms of the arts that human beings have ever achieved.

PR: Take me to the Rice household, back in Alabama. Who persuaded you to start playing?
CR: Well, I was very fortunate. I come from a musical family. My mother (OBM), my grandmother (OBM), and my great grandmother (OBM) were all pianists. And my mother was a wonderful pianist and a church organist. And my grandmother was actually classically trained… in the South, right? In the early 1920s…

Condoleezza Rice Little Condoleezza playing piano

PR: How did that happen? That’s extraordinary!
CR: It’s kind of a mystery to me, too. She was the daughter of an African-American episcopal preacher or bishop, actually, very high up in the church. And he somehow found this Viennese master to teach his daughter piano. And, so, she learned to play very young. She taught piano lessons, and while my parents were teaching school, I would stay at her house from age 3,4, 5, until I could go to school. And I wanted to play. Her kids would come over to have a piano lesson. She charged 25 cents a lesson. And at the end of it, I would go to the piano, and I would bang at the piano. And my grandmother said, finally, “Angelina (my mother’s name), let me teach her how to play. I think she wants to learn to play. “ I was three. And my mother said, “Don’t you think she is a little young?” And my grandmother said, “Well, we are gonna find out.” And so, I, actually, never remembered learning to read music, which I do think it’s an advantage, because reading music, particularly reading piano music, is quite complex. You have two hands, you have clefs. They are moving this way and that way simultaneously. And, by the way, if people want yet another reason to play the piano…. I played Schumann (OBM) with the Omaha symphony a couple of years ago, and I realized I had to memorize the score because you can’t really play with the score. And a few weeks later I was talking to the head of neurology here at Stanford, and he said, “You memorized that score?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “You have no idea what you’ve done for your neuroplasticity!” So, for all of us that are looking for agelessness, learn to play the piano. But I started very, very young.

She charged 25 cents a lesson. And at the end of it, I would go to the piano, and I would bang at the piano.

My parents let me learn to play the piano. And there is one great story. I said as a 4-year-old, “I need a piano.” We didn’t have one at home. We had a little organ, you know, one of those little play organs for kids.   And I said, “I can’t play all the notes that I need on this little organ.” So, what my father said was, “Ok, when you learn to play What a friend we have in Jesus  perfectly, we’ll buy you a piano.” My grandmother said that the next day at her house I sat there for 8 hours. I wouldn’t even have lunch. When they came back, I knew What a friend we have in Jesus perfectly. And my parents had to go out and rent a piano, ‘cause they couldn’t really afford one. But I am lucky to have been exposed to music, classical music, very early.

PR: That’s an unusual story. Even at that, a lot of kids will start fairly early and then junior high comes along.  Sports kick in. They drop it. Or they go to college and drop it. Was there a moment when you knew, “This is a keeper for me. This is going to be part of my life”?
CR: Well, there was a moment when I almost dropped it. At age 10, having played by now for 6 and a half years, I went to my mother and said, “I am quitting. I am tired of playing the piano.” And my mother said, “You are not old enough or good enough to make that decision.” So, I kept playing. And when I had a chance to play this great music with George at his studio or to play with Yo-Yo Ma (MGBH) in Washington or play with the Omaha Symphony, I looked towards heavens, and I said, “Thanks, Mom, for not letting me quit.”

Condoleezza Rice At the age of 10.

PR: So, you are practicing the piano while working in the White House. Practicing the piano as a Secretary of State. Now, I’d like to probe that very odd notion a little bit. You are known as a person of unusual accomplishment. That’s not subjective, anyone would agree to that. Also, as a person of unusual discipline. I think that’s generally the case. But there is nothing about the sort of “dread sense of duty” that I pick up when you talk about the piano. What were you getting out of it? Why did you make the time?
CR: Well, the first thing… because I had decided at the end of my junior year that I was about to end up playing in those department stores while people shop, perhaps, I could find something else. I’ve gone to the Aspen Music Festival and met real prodigies, and I thought, “Oh, I am really ok, but not THAT good.” And, so, I went back to college at the end of my junior year, found International Relations and decided to go that direction. And that’s why, of course, ultimately I would end up Secretary of State because I made the switch. But in-between, finishing college and going to graduate school, I played, actually, very little. I taught piano lessons to make money for graduate school because it was better than waiting tables. Only barely, but better than waiting tables. And then, I was here as Provost. And in 1993, Paul Brest (MGBH), we was then Dean of the Law School, and plays the viola, said, “You play the piano. My chamber group would like to play some music with a piano. I said, “Paul, I haven’t played serious music in years.” But I started playing a little bit with him, and I thought, “You know, if I am gonna do this, I’m gonna do it right.” And I went to George Bart (MGBH) and said, “Who is the head of the piano department?” I’d just become Provost. They said, “George Bart.” So, I called up Professor Bart, and I said, “I’d like to come see you. I want to take piano lessons.”

PR: Was there one lesson when you could tell that George was taking you seriously?
CR: Oh, from the very beginning. I played about four bars, and he’d say, “No, no, no. Wait, here. Let’s do that again . . . and think about this.” But that Brahms (OBM), the wonderful thing about this, it’s a bear of a piece for a piano. It really is. And we would work two hours – three hours at a time on this piece, ten hours a week. And in life you have to find time for things that are fulfilling for you. And for me these were in many ways the most fulfilling two or three hours of the week because… people say, “Well, it must be relaxing.” It’s not actually relaxing struggling for Brahms. It’s really hard work. But it is transporting. When you are playing, when you are practicing, nothing else can be in your head. And that was the secret also when I was a National Security Advisor, Secretary of State. Even if you are trying to relax and say, “I am just gonna sit here and read a book. I am just gonna sit here and watch a television,” your mind is spinning. When you are playing the piano, there is no room in there for anything to spin. So, it truly does get you completely away.

Condoleezza Rice Condoleezza Rice playing with in a chamber group

And during those 8 years in Washington, I found a chamber group I played with mostly very fine musicians who were no longer professional musicians. And they were wonderful, because they didn’t care if I am “Secretary of the Moon.” They just wanted their pianist.

It’s really hard work. But it is transporting. When you are playing, when you are practicing, nothing else can be in your head. And that was the secret also when I was a National Security Advisor, Secretary of State.

PR: So, this is a crude way of putting it, but again, I am still on this question what it did for you, what you got out of it. Did it enable you to serve as a Secretary of State better? Were you a better Secretary of State because you were playing Brahms?
CR: Absolutely. Apart keeping my balance, keeping my center during all of the troubled times, when you are Secretary of State, and you are at the top of the food chain, so to speak, you can also lose a sense of who you were and who you are and that kind of core. And music, maybe because I started so young, maybe because I associate it with my mother and my family, is the core of who I am. And in those times you have to hang on to things, the core of who you are.

PR: You’ve mentioned Brahms. And I know from reading up on you and from talking to George, that you just love Brahms. And if I may say so, Brahms seems to me an odd hill, on which to make a stand. Bach (OBM) – way in the beginning. You know what it is. It represents the whole world onto itself. Mozart (OBM) – of course. Beethoven (OBM) – of course. And then, on the other side of Brahms, you have the people who are real romantics, people who are really just … wonderful tonal experiments: Chopin (OBM), Debussy (OBM). But Brahms, Madam Secretary, is not one thing or the other. He is kind of stuck in-between this classical world where form is everything and the romantic world where it’s subjective and impressionistic. He is just stuck there. I ask you to rise to the defense of your honest Brahms.
CR: Brahms, obviously, cared a great deal about a classical form. And that’s what I love about Brahms – it’s this effort to bring back Bach or Mozart. And when you look at what he did, it’s remarkable that you can compose within that discipline.

PR: …he saw himself as a reinventor of the tradition, in part. No?
CR: Well, I think he extended that tradition. Of course, he lived in a period, in which all of this expression was possible, and in which as these modulations and harmonies were modulations and harmonies that you find even anticipated in Mozart or Beethoven, but taken to their fullest extent in Brahms. And the really interesting thing is that… he died in 1897. So, had he lived a few more years, he would have experienced the 20th century. And I find myself all the time wondering how Brahms would have experienced 1910, 19…, because he anticipates some of what you’ll see in Schoenburg, even. And Schoenburg wrote a very famous article “Brahms, The Progressive?” in which he lays claim to Brahms as someone who was already pushing the envelope. So, I, actually, see Brahms as someone who took this classical tradition, this what someone might have experienced or thought of by the time Brahms was composing, as a straight jacket. He didn’t think of it as a straight jacket. He thought of it as enabling him to push this forward and move this forward. And you look at some of the harmonic and rhythmic uses that he makes and it’s just extraordinary. Brahms is also for me passionate without being overly sentimental. And I rather like that.

PR: Ah… That’s your formula.
CR: That’s my formula.

PR: Got it. Ok, that one clicks for me. Who is your current? Is Brahms still your man?
CR: Brahms is still my man. I love a lot of composers.

I don’t know that entry needs to be easy for everything in life. Sometimes having to work at something is not a bad thing.

PR: I know that you believe in free markets. Does it shake you a little bit, does it shake your faith in free markets that the markets don’t really reward this endeavor, particularly? As they said, the classical music is 2% of the marketplace. This is nothing new. Mozart died virtually bankrupt. In a certain sense, people treated him more as a celebrity rather than showed deep appreciation of his music.
CR: Brahms, by the way, did very well thanks to the piece that he hated – Brahms’ lullabies. But markets operate on information. And sometimes information is imperfect, economists will tell you. And I think information is imperfect about what classical music can provide. And that’s why I think it is so important to introduce kids to it, it’s important to bring it into the schools, bring students here who, perhaps, don’t know it when they arrive but when they find it compelling.   I just have to believe that when people really have a chance to encounter classical music, they’ll buy it.

Markets operate on information. And sometimes information is imperfect, economists will tell you. And I think information is imperfect about what classical music can provide.

PR: Ok, so, one more question along those lines. It was thought. I will put it in a passive voice. I’ll put myself in the middle of it – I thought. A lot of people thought, ten years ago, a dozen years ago, as first CDs came along, and then the Internet… Itunes, Spotify, and so forth, that we have this wonderful democratization of music. You know we are a long way from having to get dressed up in an evening gown, dinner jacket, and go to Carnegie Hall to hear classical music. You can download it at the touch of a button. And I was among those who thought, “People will find it. It’s so powerful, it’s so beautiful, and it’s so compelling.” We stand at the very beginning of an age of rebirth and interest and appreciation of this kind of music.” And it just hasn’t happened this way.
CR: Well, I’ll give you two reasons for that. One is, first of all, entry to it isn’t that easy. And I don’t know that entry needs to be easy for everything in life. Sometimes having to work at something is not a bad thing. Sometimes having to read great literature even though it’s not immediately like the plot line one finds in a half-hour sitcom. There are these great arts that take a little work sometimes …So, I think getting kids introduced to the arts in a way that allows them to access them rather than dumping it at them, is really very important. Then, secondly, I do think that we may underestimate the degree to which people go online and maybe they just listen to one piece, maybe they hear one performance. And finding way to capture that is not so easy. But I suspect that there are more people who hear this music in one way or another, maybe if it’s even in a movie theme or something. But we have to do a better job, we have to do it in the schools, we have to do it in places like this. We have to make it available. And I still think people will learn to love it.


About the Interviewer:

Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, where he writes about business and politics, edits Hoover’s quarterly journal, the Hoover Digest, and hosts Hoover’s video series program, Uncommon Knowledge™.



 This Interview has been transcribed with permission of Hoover Institute at Stanford University.


Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

The Art of Piano Performance is a category in Piano Performer Magazine that features pianists who show outstanding creativity and imagination in engaging audience and presenting musical pieces in innovative ways.  
Anna Sutyagina (MGBH), a German piano performer, amazes with her vision, desire, and ability to break the mold of traditional presentation of classical music.

PP: Dear Anna, from reading about you, I know that you studied at a school in the United States. What is the difference, in your opinion, between the mindset of an American and European piano performer/teacher? What about the difference in the feel of the audience?
Anna: The biggest difference is that in Europe the mindset is to preserve the tradition and in USA it is more to find your own way of interpreting the piece. My German teachers would always say that XY would play it better and would give me a reason why I couldn’t play this piece. American teachers were more concerned about my individuality. I also like the feeling “you can do it!” The best book that I am still consulting from time to time was The Musician’s Way – A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein (MGBH). I just love it! It was my “university” for learning about piano performance!

PP: What made you choose Germany as your home?
Anna: It was by chance. I had a student job as an interpreter for Fraunhofer Institute in Munich. It was my first exposure to Germans and German culture. My German colleagues were very nice, and we connected very well. I liked their way of working. “DAAD” exchange program scholarship was my luck – it gave me a chance to study in Frankfurt for one year, and I fell in love with this country.

PP: In your performances, you use a mixed media approach combining sound with color and textures. What is the idea behind it?
Anna: I love to be creative with my performances. There are so many great musicians who offer “pure music only” approach. When I go to concerts, I search for something unusual. There are film music concerts with the videos on the screen, but listening to a Beethoven (OBM) solo recital of Hammerklaviersonate visually enriched through the use of color, laser textures, and unusual effects is way more exciting!

PP: Can you, please, tell our readers about your Concerti Series?
Anna: The idea of Concerti Series came to me last year as I was trying to design a concerto program that would appeal to broad audience. I was going through the catalogues and could see that the usual program format would be maximum 3 composers per recital with the emphasis on larger works. This works perfectly for the big halls, but not for concerts that are more intimate. My Concerti Series tell a story. I would like to give the context for better listening and guide the audience through a 70-minute musical journey. Concerto Sentimentale is a musical journey through the world of emotions. Concerto Amoroso is a love story told by the grand piano. Concerto Misterioso is, perhaps, the most unusual program that takes listeners to discover mysteries of the night.

Concerto Sentimentale is a musical journey through the world of emotions. Concerto Amoroso is a love story told by the grand piano. Concerto Misterioso is, perhaps, the most unusual program that takes listeners to discover mysteries of the night.

PP:What is Münchner Klassik Salon?
Anna: Münchner Klassik Salon is a music company that puts together music concerts 4 times a year. We organize concerts in Munich Steinway Hall for about 100 people. Our motto is “search for old and new beauty ideals”. The idea is to offer the audience of Munich something different from traditional concert format. Two concerts are a combination of vocal and instrumental music. There are about 10 performing musicians of different nationalities, levels, and even genres. We can perform an operetta piece right after a Bach choral, and our audience loves it!  Other concerts are themed theatrical music performances like Henry Miller (OBM) in Paris; Ernest Hemingway (OBM): People in the Stream; Madame Pompadour (OBM): Game of love and power and others. We work with the theater group Post It Productions and a Stage Director Jörn Mensching (MGBH).

PP: You made beautiful videos featuring your piano performances. One of my favorites is your interpretation of Moonlight Sonata. Can you comment on the space suit and the dog? What is the story behind the video?
Anna: When searching the Internet, I was surprised to see that the Moonlight Sonata is the most recorded composition. I was going through 200 videos of it and then the idea came to me: instead of recording one more piece, why not do a persiflage, something satirical? And make fun of the title that was not even given by the composer himself. So, immediately, my imagination took me to the Moon with Neil Armstrong (OBM), and, because fantasy has not limits, I took a Laika (OBM), a Soviet space dog, with me. When I play Moonlight Sonata, I feel the sadness – as if I am playing it on the Moon, missing the Earth. I wanted to express the longing and sadness through my performance…

PP: How do you choose your repertoire? What makes you connect to a performance piece?
Anna: Choosing the right repertoire is, perhaps, the most important part of a pianist’s job, and it is always a challenge. I have experienced it many times in competitions. Playing the right repertoire is part of winning a competition. In a free market economy your repertoire choice will decide if you are booked or not.  To be able to earn a living as a pianist, you need to have at least 2 solo recital programs and 1 piano concert in store to start you going. It is a special thrill in playing at premieres:  nobody played it before, there is no tradition, you have absolute freedom to do whatever you love – the luxury of your own interpretation! I only play the pieces I can connect to. There must be a mixture of following: I can play it, I love listening to this piece myself, it tells something about me, and, more importantly, I can incorporate this piece into my programs that will be liked by audience. I try to change the perspective and always ask if others would love to hear me play it. What can I give to this piece to make it sound “mine”?

Playing a right repertoire is part of winning a competition. In a free market economy your repertoire choice will decide if you are booked or not.

PP: What do you envision the role of classical music to be in the 21st century, and how do you see its transformation?
Anna: The role of classical music is changing. I am very concerned about the average age of classical music concertgoer. Every time I see it, I get aware of the task we, musicians, have! It is up to us to define the role of the classical music in the 21st century. We cannot play the same repertoire, in the same impersonal way, in the same halls! I think the trend is going back to home concerts where classical music will be part of the social ritual to be enjoyed with the friends.  There are more and more salons popping up throughout major cities of the world.  This occurrence reflects a desire for individualization.  I also see classical music thriving on the Internet. It is becoming more accessible with, finally, having a chance to be explored and enjoyed by masses.

It is up to us to define the role of the classical music in the 21st century. We cannot play the same repertoire, in the same impersonal way, in the same halls!

PP: What do you think are the ways to engage younger audience in classical music?
Anna: The best ways would be to show them that classical music can be not only beautiful, but is also fun! Schools can help, too, by organizing “classical music days” from time to time or offering more classical music within their school curriculum.  Music can be used for memorization, consolidation of the learned material or as relaxation. There are so many ways!  It is important for us, musicians, to get creative.

What thought would you like to share with your fellow piano performers?
Anna: Always stay creative and search for new ideas.

SHARING IS CARING: Advice for Collaborative Pianists

Article by Michael Refvem (MGBH)

As collaborative pianists, we often have to meet high expectations with little appreciation of our role in performance. For centuries, the now antiquated term accompanist has been used to imply a role lesser than that of a soloist. In early film depictions of concert violinists such as Joseph Szigeti (OBM), the pianist is featured in a distance, almost made invisible by the camera.  Over the years, thanks to the advocacy of collaborative pianists like Gerald Moore (OBM) and Martin Katz (MGBH), the author of The Complete Collaborator, the role of a collaborative pianist has risen in prominence.

BeeSzigeti plays Schubert’s “The Bee”


Being new to collaboration with other musicians, a pianist may think that her/she has no say so in interpretive matters of a given work. A soloist, however, often needs input, especially from a pianist with experience. In music interpretation, it is important to trust instincts. “Does the tempo really need to be so fast?” “How is the balance?” “Are our interpretive ideas matching (articulation)?”



For a collaborative pianist, to fully understand the music piece, it is important to see the big picture. Thus, it is best to listen to a recording of a particular piece. This will help in understanding the structure of the composition as well as peculiarities inherent in other types of instruments and how they can affect your performance.

Do not begin your work with the piano part alone. Remember that the score is merely a blueprint of the completed art. The purist conception of a work begins with the sound itself.  Martin Katz takes this one step further in The Complete Collaborator (2) and recommends being able to sing the soloist’s music and play your part simultaneously!

Remember that the score is merely a blueprint of the completed art.

Pianists are often less aware of the necessity for wind and brass players to breathe and how their breathing can influence musical pacing (inserting a little bit of time between phrases to catch a quick breath). The physics involved in sound production for string players means that there is a split second between the movement of the bow and the full maturation of the sound. Pianists should also study the text in vocal scores and be aware of how the language impacts ensemble. My favorite example in German is the word klang (sound). Play with the ANG and not the KL as that is the point where the tone actually forms.



No matter what, it is essential to give it your best in your collaborative effort.

Sometimes pianists are approached to participate in a project last minute without being given sufficient time to work on a music piece. Unless you know the piece perfectly from, it is never wise to accept such task putting both his and the soloist’ performance at risk.

I can’t tell you how many times I have played Brahms’ (OBM) Clarinet Sonata in E flat Major, Op. 120, No. 2. It is one of those music pieces that pianists are expected to know. If I hadn’t initially learned the piece thoroughly, I would certainly be paying for it today. Having learned that in advance, however, I have ultimately saved myself a lot of frustration and a potential refusal of work.

It is also important to remember that a rehearsal time belongs to all collaborators and not just one. That is why arriving at rehearsal fully prepared is the core of the code of ethics for collaborative work.



There are so many benefits of collaborating with other musicians. In many ways, collaboration has helped me solidify my musical principles and hone in on my weaknesses.

Young pianists often lack awareness or ability to play with a steady pulse and good rhythm. Working with other musicians can bring attention to a proper rhythmic control when the elements have be played in sync.

Typically, expected timeframe for learning collaborative works is shorter than that of solo performances. Thus, pianists have to prepare a new repertoire under tighter deadlines, which can push them to potentially become better musicians by having to be more organized and systematic in their practice.

The essence of great collaboration rests in the act of communication.  Collaborating with an instrumentalist or vocalist is one of the most intimate of settings and thrives on the exchange of intricate musical ideas between the players. Paying attention to the part or parts of the other player(s) helps create an overall synergy, harmony, and a feeling of oneness. In contrast, playing with over-the-top bombast runs the risk of completely drowning your partner.

It is my hope that by adopting these principles, a beginning collaborative pianist can attain the next level of mastery as well as appreciation and recognition.




(1) “Szigeti plays Schubert’s “The Bee”” – YouTube:

(2) Katz, Martin. “Two. Breathing and Singing.” The Complete Collaborator: The Pianist as Partner. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009. 7. Print.


About the Author

Michael Refvem enjoys a multifaceted career as recitalist, chamber musician and concerto soloist. He recently moved to Montréal, where he enjoys walks in the old town and Mount Royal in his spare time.


Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

The name of Joey Alexander (MGBH), a 13 year-old jazz pianist and a native of Bali, has become known in the US after Wynton Marsalis (MGBH) invited him to play at the Jazz at Lincoln Center 2014 Gala, while Joey was only 11 years old.  After that in February 2016, Alexander became a runner-up through his nomination for the Grammy Awards Best Jazz Instrumental Album (for My Favorite Things, 2015) and Best Improvised Jazz Solo (for Giant Steps). He performed live at the Premiere Ceremony, the pre-telecast ceremony at the Grammy Awards.
In-between Joey’s rehearsals and recital schedule, got a hold of Joey in Sausalito, CA to ask him a few questions.

Joey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey AlexanderJoey Alexander