Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)
In the early nineties, Martin T:son Engstroem (MGBH) had an ambitious idea to create a summer festival in the heart of the Swiss Alps, far from the major cities where most festivals take place. Verbier had the intimate atmosphere he felt was necessary to encourage musical excellence, and at the same time be open to the world. He imagined a festival with a resident youth orchestra and an academy where renowned artists would teach the next generation and audiences would have a wide choice of activities from early morning until late at night. In 1994, his vision became a reality.* Today, in 2017, it is much more than that – it is one of the hottest events for the who-is-who in the world of classical music.
Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): What does it take to start a festival?
Martin T:son Engstroem (ME) : Starting a festival is very much learning as you go. There is no profession that prepares you for it. You have to know psychology, finances, organization, languages, music, and fund-raising – a little of bit of everything. And then you’ll need a big chunk of persistence. In addition, you have to believe in what you do. The first two years will probably go OK, but then it’s all about stamina.
PPM: Prior to organizing the Festival, you were a talent agent. Who are some of the artists who worked with?
ME: I worked with Germinal Hilbert in Paris from 1975 – 1987. I also worked with such artists, pretty much from the beginning of their career, as Giuseppe Sinopoli, Han-Na Chang, Kirill Troussov, Jonathan Gilad, Ilya Gringolts, Barbara Hendricks, Neil Shicoff, Jessye Norman, and Gino Quilico, to name a few.
Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it. The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.
PPM: What is your secret formula in discovering talent?
ME: Trusting my intuition. There are thousands of young talented musicians, but you look for talent PLUS personality and charisma. Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it. The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.
PPM: You used to work Deutsche Grammophon, didn’t you?
ME: Yes, I did. From 1999 till 2003, I was a VP of Artists & Repertoire. Thereafter, for 3 years I was a Senior Executive Producer and Head of Artists Development. I signed Lang Lang, Yundi, Anna Netrebko, Esa-Pekka Salonen and many others to the company. I was also instrumental in the signing of Yuja Wang, Daniil Trifonov, and Gregory Sokolov. Although I am presently not on their payroll, we still work very closely together.
PPM: So, having worked in the industry did help in attracting talent to your festival?
ME: Yes. Prior to starting the Festival, I already had a pretty important address book. I invited one of my best friends – Avi Shoshani (Secretary General of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) to join me, and together we covered most of the artists we wanted to come to our first event.
PPM: Under what circumstances did you meet Evgeny Kissin, and how did you convince him to be part of the Festival?
ME: It was Avi who brought Zhenya to Verbier. He loved it from the very first year and has been back 19 times (out of 24 Festivals).
PM: Who handles talent at Verbier?
ME: I myself am responsible for all the artists performing at the Verbier Festival. I also work closely with the artists in putting together the programs.
The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.
PPM: What types of sessions take place at the Verbier?
ME: Every day we have 4 paying concerts, 3 free student concerts, plus another 20 free events including open rehearsals, Master Classes, “meet the artists” talks, etc. The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.
PPM: Who are the typical attendees of the Verbier Festival?
ME: Our audience is very eclectic. The sheer fact that we are in the mountains and in a tent eliminates those who just want to dress up and show off their latest jewels. Our audience is younger than that of most classical music institutions. Our festival attracts the locals who would normally never go down the valley to see a classical music concert.
PPM: How did the idea of the Academy come along?
ME: Through working with my artist friends and challenging them to new collaborations. Since its inception, the academic part has grown enormously, and we now have 300 music students between the ages of 13 and 30 studying between 3-5 weeks each summer pending the course they have chosen.
PPM: How closely do you work with the Music Director of the Festival Orchestra? What decisions are you involved in?
ME: I have worked extremely closely with both James Levine and Charles Dutoit. Creating the right programs for our young orchestra musicians is key to its success. You need to schedule challenging repertoire – not only technically, but stylistically and musically as well. Maestro Dutoit has given “Master-Classes” in French repertoire having conducted Pelleas, Damnation, which will stay forever with these young incredible talented musicians and give them a base of how to interpret French music.
PPM: Where do the Festival volunteers come from?
ME: Lausanne Hotel School, music students, children of our public or children of our musicians.
PPM: You studied Russian at the University. Why?
ME: I have always been fascinated by the Russian culture – writers, painters, composers, and musicians. That culture has accompanied me since I was a young kid. I starting traveling to the Soviet Union from the age of 16 and still go back 3-4 times a year. My spoken Russian today is not very good, although I can get around.
PPM: What character traits does a person have to possess for you to be comfortable to do business with him or her?
ME: As a person, I am pretty open and curious. If I like someone, I will be his best friend, but I f I don’t trust someone or feel that he is not truthful – that person has lost me.
The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.
PPM: In your opinion, what does classical music give to the world and where is its place in the future?
ME: Classical music makes peoples lives richer. Music, Theater, and Literature are there to make us more complete and more harmonious as human beings. As parents, we owe it to ourselves to challenge our children to reach further and give “culture” a chance. They might not like it at that moment, which is OK, but they will appreciate the gesture later in their lives and, perhaps, will come back to it. The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.
interviewed by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)
The Van Cliburn Competition has been one of the most prestigious and well-organized ones in the music industry. We reached out to Mr. Jaques Marquis, the President and CEO of Van Cliburn Foundation to ask him a few questions.
PPM: How long have you been a president? How is Van Cliburn Competition different today from when it was originally started?
JM: I have been president and CEO of the Cliburn for four years. The Cliburn Competition started in 1962, and the world has changed a lot since then. The main changes have been: 1) the use of technology to increase local, national, and international awareness; 2) A big increase in our artistic programming with the additions of the Amateur Competition, Junior Competition, Cliburn Concerts series, school/education programs, community concerts, etc.
PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself.
JM: Born in Montreal, I was raised French Canadian, studied the piano and was part of a choir as a young child—including a boys choir doing the Mass every Sunday in the big church of Montreal. This is why I began to study music. After many years, I decided to get a bachelor’s degree in music (piano) and taught piano for a few years. Then I chose to get a bachelor’s degree in business — the idea was to combine these two different worlds. Today this would be the field of arts management, but at that time there were few programs for this.
After that I entered my first job with the orchestra as an accountant, then an artistic administrator, and later COO (Chief Operating Officer) (for 8 years). Next, I was hired as executive and artistic director of Jeunesses Musicales of Canada, which is an organization that promotes youth and music throughout Canada. It is also under the umbrella of Jeunesses Musicales International – a worldwide movement for youth and music. While at Jeunesses Musicales of Canada, we restarted the Montreal Competition. I led eleven editions of the competition and also produced up to 800 concerts per year (600 for youth and 200 for young artists at the beginning of their careers). I was also head of the foundation through which we organized five different fundraising events per year.
After eleven years, I decided it was time for me to expand my horizons. I reached out to the Cliburn because it was, and still is, one of the key international arts organizations in the world, and I thought I could learn more. I came and proposed my services as a consultant. After six months as a consultant, they offered me the position of CEO.
PPM: Let’s discuss a concept of competitiveness vs. collaboration in music and, specifically, in piano performance. Why does it have to be a competition? Why does a musician have to compete? Why pin one musician against the other instead of enjoying and appreciating everyone’s performance equally without judgment?
JM: Life is a competition! You have to be the best magazine. You have to be the best writer. Everywhere you go to have to win the audition; you have to get the job; you have to interview and when there’s a position at Exxon Mobile for the CEO, there’s only one leader.
Life is a competition! You have to be the best magazine. You have to be the best writer. Everywhere you go to have to win the audition; you have to get the job; you have to interview and when there’s a position at Exxon Mobile for the CEO, there’s only one leader.
I think that competitions are one way to gain a career. They are not the only way. I do think it is a good way to increase awareness of these exceptional young talents. Especially with the new media opportunities, we can increase awareness, and not only of the winners. Because we webcast our competition and promote it through many media avenues, we give finalists and semifinalists exposure, as well. They become better known in their own countries, too, by being a part of the Cliburn. There are a lot of ways that the Cliburn can help the careers of these young musicians.
I don’t think it’s “Why does a musician have to compete?” I think it’s about how a musician can increase opportunities for concert engagements, establish international relationships, have the possibility of being seen or viewed by conductors, presenters, jury members. We are developing a fantastic network for them.
PPM: Why is it hard to run an organization like this and why is it also easy?
JM: I think the challenges of any organization are having the right people in the right places. Having good people is a good thing, but having good people doing the right thing is better. At the Cliburn, we have done some restructuring of staff in order to be the most efficient possible. The non-profit and especially the artistic world has this perception that we are “artists,” but we are managers of artists. We have to be extremely efficient in the way we do it. The hard part is to sell and to explain to people the importance of our mission because not everybody is aware of the importance of competition for young artists. The fun part, the challenging part, is the creative part. The thing that brings us to the office every morning is getting to work with the artists. We have to create an environment in which everyone is pushing in the same direction in order to achieve our goals and objectives.
PPM: How does one get to compete in this event?
JM: To compete in the Cliburn you first have to have an extremely high level of piano playing. You send in an application including video so we can hear you play and see you perform. From this application, we decide whether to invite you to the live Screening Auditions — and these are crucial to the Cliburn. It’s a live audition in front of five screening jurors, and you will play for 40 minutes. These jurists are highly competent and are also concert pianists who know what it takes to remain relevant in the classical world.
If you progress beyond the Screening Auditions, you are invited to the Competition, which consists of Preliminary, Quarterfinal, Semifinal, and Final Rounds. The Cliburn is one of the most demanding competitions, but we also are one of the best in what we give to our winners. We are looking for the best of the best!
PPM: Who selects the judges? What criteria are used in their selection? Is there a set number of the judges on the panel or does it vary by year?
JM: I select the judges. I want them to be pianists — it’s essential that they know the repertoire. I want people who have been playing and struggling to play the repertoire, who know the tricks and the traps and the problems that can be found in these scores. So when a contestant is playing, jurors can know that they are tricking with the pedal or they are trying to avoid a certain part or going slower because they cannot play that section well. I want jurors who truly know the repertoire.
I also look for open-minded individuals to be on the jury. I need people who are able to listen to young pianists and think, perhaps, “I would never play it like this, but I can buy this proposal.” I don’t want someone who always says, “Oh, no. That’s not the way to do it.” In music, there are a lot of ways to express yourself. There is respect for the repertoire. There is respect for the history, the ways of playing at the time a piece was written, etc. But there are also a lot of places for interpretation. So I want my jury members to be very open to these young musicians. I also want them to share the important attitude that we want the contestants to succeed and not that we are there to cut them off.
Naturally, I need an odd number for voting purposes. I like the number nine, for a big jury with a good representation of American, European, Russian, and Asian pianists, since we always have quite an international group of competitors.
In music, there are a lot of ways to express yourself. There is respect for the repertoire. There is respect for the history, the ways of playing at the time a piece was written, etc. But there are also a lot of places for interpretation.
PPM: What prizes are there and what criteria are used in awarding them?
JM: The prizes are awarded based on the voting of the jury members. Yes, we have prize money, but I believe the most important prize for the Cliburn Competition is publicity/awareness and, secondly, the wealth of engagements booked for them based on their placement. We open a lot of doors for the winners in launching their careers.
PPM: How is Van Cliburn competition promoted? Is there an outreach program?
JM: We have an extensive marketing and promotions plan for the Competition that ranges from contestant recruitment and branding internationally to local/national/international promotion to encourage people to attend the Competition in person, to campaigns designed to attract people to all the other ways to enjoy the Competition and its artists—the webcast, the Fathom event in theaters across the United States, etc.
PPM: What happens to the winners after the competition? Does the organization follow up with them? Are they involved in the organization in the future? Does the organization help promote their talent?
JM: Yes, we assist our three winners with a career management plan for three years, and after that we help in securing a manager. We help them by booking engagements and concerts, managing their website, helping with their bios, providing photo shoots. Beyond that, we help them develop their repertoire. Through our networks, we help them talk to the people who can advance their careers.
PPM: Are there any interesting stories that happened during the last few competitions?
JM: Many of the anecdotes would probably involve the host family process. Each competitor in the main Cliburn competition is housed for three weeks in the home of a Fort Worth family. Our thirty families—who all have Steinway grand pianos installed and tuned in their homes before the competition—become like second families to the competitors. In 2013, one local family who did not intend to participate signed up again when they realized that they had hosted one competitor’s father back in the 1970s. This was Nikita Mndoyants of Russia, who became one of our six finalists in 2013, and his father, Alexander Mndoyants, who was a finalist in 1977—representing the USSR! This particular Fort Worth family became quite close to two generations of Mndoyants.
Many other anecdotes would involve the woman we call the “backstage mother” – Kathie Cummins. She is the last person our contestants see in those important moments before they go onstage. These musicians are often quite young and less experienced. Kathie keeps food on hand — you’d be surprised how many pianists need a banana right before they go on. But she’s also ready for other emergencies. The sewing kit comes in handy a lot. One young man had obviously purchased a new shirt for his recital but hadn’t tried it on. The sleeves were so long, down to his knuckles, that they would have gotten in the way of his playing! So Kathie brought out the safety pins and sewing kit and fixed things up really quickly. That kind of thing happens so often that we almost don’t think of them as anecdotes.
Kathie keeps food on hand — you’d be surprised how many pianists need a banana right before they go on. But she’s also ready for other emergencies.
PPM: Are Van Cliburn and Van Cliburn Foundation separate organizations? What is the primary function of Van Cliburn Foundation? What activities is it involved in?
JM: Van Cliburn Foundation is the legal name of the organization. We simply call it “the Cliburn” — much as we all refer to “the Chopin” and “the Tchaikovsky.”
PPM: What are the repertoire requirements for the contestants?
JM: There are very few requirements. They can do whatever they want, with a couple of exceptions (they must perform the commissioned work by Marc-Andre Hamelin as part of their Preliminary Round program, and they choose from a list of piano quintets to perform with the Brentano String Quartet in the Final Round). What is interesting about this is that we get to see how they program. If you want to play Liszt in every round, you’d better play it really, really well! A young pianist has to have a lot of repertoire, actually. A program that is well thought-through shows some depth and reveals a young competitor’s artistic vision.
PPM: Please, tell us about the Amateur Competition. What is the idea behind it? Why and when was it introduced?
JM: There are a lot of pianists out there who studied music when they were young but decided to become doctors, lawyers, educators, programmers, etc. Recently, we have increased the exposure our Amateur competitors get, with a fully produced live webcast and by bringing the orchestra in for the closing portion of the Competition … all to get the best amateur pianists in the world to come to the Cliburn to compete. It also further increases our international presence during the off year before the big Cliburn. The Cliburn Amateur was the first of its kind in the United States when it was created in 1999. The idea is to encourage the love of classical music through all stages of life. It is open to non-professionals over the age of 35.
PPM: Who were some of the most unexpected contestants of the Amateur Competition?
JM: The great thing about the Amateur Competition is the variety of the contestants—they typically range in age from 35 to 70s and have a great variety of careers (though there seem to always be a lot of doctors). They’re from all around the world and have various levels of professional training, but they come together in Fort Worth for their love of the piano. Once we had a British contestant who designed race cars!
PPM: What criteria are used in deciding who gets the Press Award?
JM: Members of the press who are in attendance vote for their favorite.
PPM: Let’s talk about the Junior Competition. It was launched in 2015. What motivated you to start this subdivision and what were the challenges?
JM: Firstly, to have a link to the best juniors in the world and ignite them with the Cliburn when they are young. If a pianist is excellent at age 20 or 25, then he or she was already very good at age 15, since most begin when they are 4 or 5 years old. So, one goal was to have very young pianists know about the Cliburn. Secondly, to keep our brand alive in schools, among presenters, and in the media. And, finally, the more competitions we organize, then the better we get as a team. Because it is a four-year cycle for the big Competition, we can have staff changes. With the addition of another competition, we as a staff have the opportunity to get better as a team as we work together using the same software and the same production routines on each competition.
PPM: With many child prodigies out there, why is the cut off age for the Junior Competition is 13, and not 6 or 7?
JM: Six or seven are too young. They can be very good, but they have not developed as individual musicians yet. Thirteen to seventeen is a crucial time for young pianists, and our goal is to create a warm, convivial atmosphere as part of the training process for the competitors. They attend seminars, lectures, master classes with teachers, master classes with conductors, master classes with former Cliburn winners. They live in dormitories during the competition — another goal is to establish international friendships with others in the piano world. Also, the Junior Competition is a training process, not a final process like the big international competition.
The great thing about the Amateur Competition is the variety of the contestants—they typically range in age from 35 to 70s and have a great variety of careers (though there seem to always be a lot of doctors). They’re from all around the world and have various levels of professional training, but they come together in Fort Worth for their love of the piano. Once we had a British contestant who designed race cars!
PPM: Where do you see the Van Cliburn Organization in 10 years?
JM: In ten years, I would like to see the endowment doubled — that will be key to sustaining growth and financial responsibility. Along with this, an increase in local education programs. As arts in the schools are threatened, we can increase our presence. We will be promoting and supporting career management for young exceptional pianists in the world. In ten years I hope that the Cliburn is the competition that can address music markets on every continent at once—all in one competition.
PPM: What would be your tips for prospective contestants?
JM: Talk to your teacher. Programming is the key — work on this. Be wise. Do not put all your big guns at the beginning. Don’t play for the jury or the award. Play because you believe in your artistic voice.
PPM: Thank you for your time in sharing this valuable information with our readers, Jaques.
JM: It’s my pleasure.
by Tanya Levy (MFBH)
In this issue we are introducing a new section that we named The Circuit, dedicated to piano festivals, competitions, and other events that discover and promote piano performers in the US as well as around the world. The first in this series is the Miami International Piano Festival (MIPF) celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Mrs. Giselle Brodsky (MGBH) – the Co-founder and Director of the festival shares her insights, experience, and aspirations.
PPM: It is exciting to have such an exquisite event in Miami. What was your inspiration for starting the Miami International Piano Festival (MIPF)?
GB: The fact that the classical music business today puts a catastrophic premium on the wrong values. What wins competitions and major recording contracts is flash and brute virtuosity. What goes begging is the individual voice, the personal statement. The encounter between artists and the public is hit and run. Overstimulated yet undernourished by heavily promoted performances that are dazzling but shallow. I wanted to give a voice to those artists that are genuine, individual and are visionaries.
[…] classical music business today puts a catastrophic premium on the wrong values. What wins competitions and major recording contracts is flash and brute virtuosity. What goes begging is the individual voice, the personal statement.
PPM: Did you have any experience organizing events prior to MIPF?
GB: Yes, I started a classical musical series in La Paz, Bolivia which is where I am from, and brought not only great pianists but ensembles like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. But, of course, nothing prepared me for the challenges I faced bringing artists that were not known in the US, but our audience knew right away that we stood by strong principles and presented great artists who had something to say.
PPM: Who was another co-founder of the MIPF?
GB: Edith Sorin (MBGH) one of the greatest pedagogues in South Florida and a true visionary. She was and continues to be our inspiration. She is now 100 years old, and we hope to celebrate this year her 101 Birthday on March 19, with the great pianist, Francesco Libetta (MBGH).
PPM: Whose idea was it to start a festival and how exactly did it start? What was the exact moment when you and Edith said, “You know what? Let’s have a piano festival in Miami that is different from others”?
GB: It was back in 1997 and after several conversations with Edith Sorin, we both decided to create an organization that would identify, guide, and support great pianists. We organized a private concert in my house and invited some of the most important movers and shakers in the cultural world in Miami and shared our dreams and plans to build our organization. Our ideas resonated with them, and we were given the first donations that enabled us to start Patrons of Exceptional Artists and later in 1998 our wonderful Festival.
PPM: Who are the artists that performed at the first festival and where are they now?
GB: The artists that performed at our first Festival in 1998 were Piotr Anderszewski (MBGH), Konstantin Lifschitz (MBGH), Gabriela Montero (MBGH), and Kemal Gekic (MBGH). They all now enjoy wonderful careers and are internationally recognized.
PPM: How do you choose the artist to perform at the Festival? Is it by invitation only or are pianists welcome to apply to be part of your program?
GB: As a rule, it’s by personal invitation. However, any qualified pianist is welcome to send his or her information for our artistic committee to evaluate and see if they meet our criteria.
PPM: What is the format of the festival?
GB: The Festival is structured in three separate series covering three counties – Dade, Broward, and Miami Beach. We offer more than 14 recitals every season, and each series offers a different kind of experience. The Aventura Series “Classical Sundays at Five” is intimate. The “Master Series” in Broward is thematic. And the “Discovery Series” in Miami Beach is where we keep discovering new artists.
Each artist was discovered and presented first in “The Discovery Series” and has been re-invited and introduced to a larger audience through the other series.
PPM: What artists are performing this season and how did you meet each of them?
GB: Each artist discovered in our Festival has a story, and I met each one under different circumstances.
With Konstantin Lifschitz, I learned about him by reading a review in the Boston Globe, the story intrigued me so much that I flew to Montreal to personally meet him and hear him live. Later I organized his debut in Miami. He has come to Miami numerous times and is now in the Faculty of our Academy.
With Piotr Anderszewski, a friend of mine had introduced me to his unique art. After listening to his CDs and reading about him, I knew that he was an individual, a truth seeker, and had a tremendous creative talent. In 2002, I nominated him for the Gilmore Award, which he won, and that jumpstarted his career worldwide. Piotr is very much a part of our piano family in the Festival and has delighted our audiences several times.
With Kemal Gekic, it was Prof. Frank Cooper (MGBH) who introduced me to his astonishing genius, after hearing him live in a Festival. I listened to his Listzt’s Transcendental Etudes CD and felt compelled not to only invite him, but to find a way of keeping him in our community. His debut in 1998 took place on the same day that Nato was bombing Novi Sad during the Bosnian war. That was where he taught. Because he was unable to go back to Serbia, I persuaded Fred Kaufman (MGBH), then the Dean of the Music School at FIU to invite Kemal to teach as the Artist in Residence where he was offered the position which he holds till today.
Each artist was discovered and presented first in “The Discovery Series” and has been re-invited and introduced to a larger audience through the other series. The Aventura Series is presenting Fabio Martino (MGBH), Pietro de Maria (MGBH), Kotaro Fukuma (MGBH), Francesco Libetta (MGBH), and Mishra Dacic (MGBH). The Master Series – Kemal Gekic and a two piano concert with Ilya Itin (MGBH) and Zlata Chochieva. The Discovery Series will introduce new artists: Mishra Namirovsky (MGBH), Julien Libeer (MGBH), Florian Noak (MGBH), and a prodigy Leonid Nediak (MGBH).
PPM: Who determines the repertoire? Do you make any suggestions to your artists?
GB: The repertoire is strictly chosen by the artist, and we never get involved.
PPM: Now, let’s talk a little bit about you. How did you enter the world of piano performance?
GB: I was introduced to the piano at the age of 7. When I was 12 years old, I studied with a composer Gustavo Navarre (OBM) who was also a pianist, and who had a tremendous influence on me. By the age of 14, I started to perform and realized that I wanted to be a pianist.
PPM: Do you also teach?
GB: Yes, I do teach in my private studio, and it has been my passion. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by the most astonishing pianists over these past 20 years. I feel that they not only had a strong influence on me as a pianist and teacher, but also helped me discover my own insights.
PPM: What teaching style/method do you adhere to and what is the most important thing you learned from your piano teacher(s)?
GB: While I was studying at the Manhattan School of Music, I realized that my relationship with the piano was not one of Love, but, in fact, was the one of Fear. And it is not until I met Dorothy Taubman (OBM) that I realized that it was really possible to have a love relationship with the piano. It is because of her invaluable contribution to my understanding of how technique really works that I began connecting the dots. She helped me realize that in order to make music and play with absolute freedom, one needs to understand that there are physical laws that cannot be broken and that the body hand and arms have to be perfectly aligned and work perfectly to enable the brain to communicate the sounds it wants and transfer them to the hands. Mrs. Taubman is the only pedagogue who was able to decode piano technique this way connecting always every movement to the musical idea.
Dorothy Taubman developed her own approach to piano technique and as a teacher was the biggest influence in my life.
Dorothy Taubman developed her own approach to piano technique and as a teacher was the biggest influence in my life. Her approach completely changed the way I heard, felt, and understood music. It is this new awakening that later on played a big role when I selected the group of pianists that would perform at the Miami International Piano Festival.
Spending time with so many great artists during all these years created a renewed sense of awareness in me and helped me discover the truth and logic in music. By simply watching them play or discussing music I developed my own insights and followed my inner instincts when I taught. The results were extremely successful.
My approach is not the same for every student, but, instead, individually tailored for each one. Through my experience I realized that every student understands and hears music in a slightly different manner, and I feel it is important to enable them to understand the score in a completely different way decoding its DNA, creating an awareness, and seeing how different patterns of notes translate into movement and then into sound. The results are immediate, and their progress astonishing.
For me teaching is an art form, a shared creative process between the student and the teacher and a constant fountain of discovery.
For me teaching is an art form, a shared creative process between the student and the teacher and a constant fountain of discovery.
It is because of my own personal journey of discovery by being exposed to so many extraordinary artists that I was eager to start the Academy, so pianists interested in a concert career could benefit from the insights of different artists. I am thrilled beyond words that has now became a reality, and that for the third time this summer we will host gifted pianists from all over the world.
Teaching is my TRUE passion an I spend my days teaching in my private studio not only guiding many gifted pianists but also constantly developing new insights.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about the Piano Academy. When does it take place and how long is the program? Who are the teachers? Who are the students? What is the value the students get from the program?
GB: The Piano Academy will take place for the third consecutive year at the beautiful campus of Nova Southeastern University from July 9 – July 30, 2017 attracting professional pianists from all over the world. The creation of the Academy is the result of my own personal journey of discovery through 20 marvelous years of inspiration at the Piano Festival, where I had the privilege of being surrounded by some of the greatest pianists of today .
All of the faculty members are regular performers at the Miami International Piano Festival. They have been selected for the academy faculty because they are exceptional artists who also have the motivation and skill to share their knowledge and experience with younger pianists.
The three week session will bring an exciting program and an incredible group of international performing artists that will provide inspirational experiences for participants through exposure to a variety of valid sources of information and instruction directed toward achieving artistic freedom – in the tradition of great pianists of the past.
Through this program, pianists will have the opportunity to take part in intensive Private and Open lessons with these master artists and teachers and participate in technique clinics, discussions with the faculty, explore the world of different composers and specific repertoire, and learn to improvise to strengthen their skills as performers.
In addition to the three week session for professional pianists, we will be running a parallel program for aspiring young pianists interested in following the path of a concert artist.
PPM: What sets Miami Piano Festival apart from other festivals across the US?
GB: It is a true a festival, as stated by Matthew Gurewitch (MGBH) in a wonderful article in the New York Times, Born To Be Contrary, “a Festival that is not there to supplant the existing A-list of virtuosos with a new A-list of interchangeable virtuosos, but to smooth a path for artists who bear messages that are perhaps more elusive and deeper.”
It is important to surround yourself with people that understand your mission and to follow your dreams with passion to get the message across and get people to support you.
PPM: This year, you are celebrating a 20-year anniversary of the festival. Looking back, what were the main challenges when you first started vs. today?
GB: The main challenge is finding creative ways of raising money and motivating donors to support us. It is crucial and important for our sponsors to support our efforts and recognize the powerful impact of this Festival in the lives of our artists and now the Academy, which will inspire aspiring pianists creating a smooth and clear path of success in their careers. The other challenge is to break through internationally and make sure that the activities of the Miami International Piano Festival are starting to resonate far beyond Dade and Broward Counties. It is important to surround yourself with people that understand your mission and to follow your dreams with passion to get the message across and get people to support you. This is what we have been trying to do for the past 20 years.
PPM: What audience does your festival attract?
GB: A wonderful and sophisticated audience in love with the piano and classical music. Our audience is mixed. We have, of course, the older classical music lovers, but also an impressive number of young students and even children that come to our concerts. Among our attendees we have professionals, amateurs, tourists, people that travel to hear our concerts from Miami to Palm Beach, several piano lovers from Canada who have become regular attendees and many piano lovers that come from all over the world and make our Festival a destination.
What Kemal did that night was quite astonishing and very much within the spirit of the Festival.
PPM: Are there any interesting stories that happened to the artists during performances or in-between as they traveled to Miami to perform?
GB: In 2015, we had scheduled a tribute to two great composers – Scriabin an Rachmaninoff. The artists to perform were Zlata Chochieva, Ilya Itin, and Misha Dacic, with a Grand Finale including all the three artists. Ilya Itin suffered an injury and was unable to practice for many days. He came to Miami and felt that he could only play his solo recital and that performing the final concert was simply unrealistic for him given those circumstances. So I immediately called Kemal Gekic. I explained the situation and asked him if he could replace Ilya on such a short notice and possibly play the same program. He immediately replied that although he had never played that repertoire before, he felt confident he could do it. He was happy to help and participate in this tribute with music that was also very close to his heart. What Kemal did that night was quite astonishing and very much within the spirit of the Festival. Personally, that was very meaningful to me.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about the secret weapon of MIPF – the man who gives an introductory lecture and sets the tone for the concert.
GB: We are so fortunate and honored to have Prof. Frank Cooper as the Lecturer in Residence at our Festival since 1998. He has been instrumental in our development setting an amazing tone in each concert with his illuminating comments creating and intimate and very special atmosphere for the artist and audience. Frank Cooper is known and admired for his ability to communicate the pleasures of any subject in the arts to his listener. He is a Research Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Miami and has been called by the Miami Herald “South Florida’s cultural maven” and “a Renaissance man.” He sets the tone of every recital by creating a mood, setting up the stage, so to speak. You have to be there, in the audience, to fully experience his magic.
I strongly feel that parents have to make more of an effort to expose their kids to such music by bringing them to concerts, so they can be in touch with their thoughts and emotions while they listen to great artists.
PPM: As a music educator, what do you think are some of the ways to implant appreciation for classical music into the psyche of today’s generation distracted by technology and pop culture?
GB: It is important to first educate the parents of small children and make them aware of how vital and important it is for them to support the learning of a musical instrument. Research studies have proven again and again that kids that are exposed to classical music, perform much better in school and professionally. I strongly feel that parents have to make more of an effort to expose their kids to such music by bringing them to concerts, so they can be in touch with their thoughts and emotions while they listen to great artists. Some time must be given to good art and reading. Unfortunately, in today’s world too much time is spent in front of computers, iPads and cell phones. These activities should be complimentary, but not exclusive. There should be time for everything.
PPM: What piece of advice would you give to the pianists who are just starting their music career?
GB: They have to follow a path and work as hard as they can to be ready when opportunities present themselves. Not to wait for patrons and sponsors to jump start their careers, but to prepare and be ready when the opportunities will come their way. In today’s world, artists need to be more proactive and find creative ways to share their vision and their thoughts about music through social media and approach their careers as a business always re-inventing and investing in themselves.
PPM: You project an image of a successful, goal oriented business lady who gets things done with class. What does Giselle do when she is off duty? What are your hobbies?
GB: My life is music, and my passion is the piano, but I love people, children, my family ,and my great artists and try to always connect on a very personal level. I give unconditionally, and I feel that everyone around me does the same.
Everyone involved in my life and my projects is very close to me. I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish so much alone. One really needs a village to realize a dream.
I adore animals, especially dogs. I have two poodles at home. I enjoy authentic food from different countries, and I am interested in all forms of art.
PPM: What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned over the years through working with artists and organizing the festival?
GB: I have learned to trust and believe in our artists and convey our message about them with great passion. Unfortunately, sometimes our passion and intentions don’t resonate with some presenters who are only interested in bringing artists that will secure ticket sales because they are known. But I will personally never give up championing those great artists that deserve great success and recognition.