The Piano Duo: Berlinskaia & Ancelle –
Upclose and Personal

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

These two musicians are equally fascinating as individuals as well as a piano duo. She – Ludmila Berlinskaia (MGBH) – comes from Russian cultural elite, he – Arthur Ancelle (MGBH) – is a self-made Parisian, a seeker of truth at his core.  Together they are unstoppable.  They share their sophisticated and refined approach to performance with their audiences along with passion: passion towards music, passion towards life, and passion towards each other.  We hope you will enjoy this interview and discover this piano duo for yourself.

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Where did you grow up, and who introduced you to piano?
Ludmila Berlinskaia (LB): I was born and raised in Moscow.  I was sort of born into music, as my father was a cellist and his quartet often rehearsed at home.  My grandmother was an opera singer, who would sing arias to me instead of the usual childhood songs and lullabies.  Both my father and my grandmother took me to a piano teacher when I was 6.
Arthur Ancelle (AA): I was born and raised in Paris. I also come from a family with musical background.  Both my grandmother and great grandmother were opera singers, and we had a piano at home, as my father, though being an actor, was coaching singers.  I was soon attracted to the instrument, and my parents took me to a piano teacher when I was 3 years old.

PPM: What is the first musical memory of your childhood?
LB: Besides the fact that music was around me from the very first moments of my life, I believe my first real memory was when my father took me to watch the opera “Evgeny Onegin,” by Tchaikovsky (OBM).
AA: As far as I remember, music has always been around me, and I remember not being able to sleep as a very small child without listening to my favorite tapes – some Mozart and Haydn Symphonies.  But I would say, the very first musical memory is a funny French song that I would ask my parents to play over and over on the vinyl player at home…

PPM: How did you meet, and what inspired you to create a duo?
AA: I believe I was a difficult student all my life: I was rarely satisfied, always looking for more, always questioning what I was taught, because I had strong intuition, and I was looking for the most genuine, authentic answers to my “musical quest.”  I have traveled to the USA, Switzerland, Russia in order to find the great musical master.  And she happened to live in Paris, right under my nose!  I heard Ludmila perform in Paris, was struck by the magic of her playing, and asked her if I could play something for her.   I had already finished my Master’s Degree and would take my Artist Diploma in her class. (NB: Diplôme Supérieur de Concertiste in the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris).
LB: Arthur came to me as a mature artist already.  It was really interesting for me to teach somebody who understood quickly, reacted immediately, and had such a strong personality.  It brought teaching to another level of experience, it was very emulating!  But none of us was prepared for what was awaiting us.  Soon after Arthur got his diploma, we realized that we had fallen in love.  We decided to get married very soon.  It felt so natural, necessary!!! One evening, we listened to Francesca da Rimini by Tchaikovsky (OBM) interpreted by Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra led by Evgeny Mravinsky (MGBH).  Arthur fell in love with this piece and on the spot decided to write a transcription for 2 pianos as a gift for our wedding.  This is how our piano duo was born.

 

One evening, we listened to Francesca da Rimini by Tchaikovsky (OBM) interpreted by Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra led by Evgeny Mravinsky (MGBH).  Arthur fell in love with this piece and on the spot decided to write a transcription for 2 pianos as a gift for our wedding.  This is how our piano duo was born. – Ludmila Berlinskaia

 

PPM: Ludmila, how did your father being a musician effect your desire to become musician yourself?
LB: It was never a question, really… Because of my father, I was surrounded by the greatest musicians of the Soviet Era.  Since I was born, they would often come to our place, I would go to concerts all the time… I was taken to learn the piano, entered the Gnessin School soon thereafter, and it was just a natural progression for me.  Until … at 13, I was chosen to play a lead role of a sci-fi movie.  The film was titled The Big Space Travel and was directed by Valentin Selivanov (MGBH).  My parents were against it.  I had been offered several roles in the past and declined, but didn’t want to miss this opportunity.  It took almost a year to shoot the film.  The experience was extremely exciting and exhausting at the same time.  The film became one of the biggest hits of the 70’s, and I received many offers to pursue a career as an actress.  However, I suppose that the charismatic figure of my father influenced my choice to turn them down and devote my life to music.

PPM: In your opinion, what are the advantages and what are the challenges of playing as a duo vs. a soloist for each of you?
LB: Playing as a piano duo is like playing chamber music. You can say that the tension is shared, but the freedom is limited to the ensemble. Performing with two pianos gives an opportunity to show the richness of the instrument, showcase the palette of sounds, the spectre of dynamics, touch, and the registers… In some way, if each pianist knows him/herself well, it allows both to show their best qualities as pianists. With Arthur, we always try to use each other’s qualities for a better result as an ensemble.  For instance, I know I can always rely on his deep sense of musical form, while he makes his best to give me as much freedom as possible to express my imagination.
AA: I’ll start with the challenges. Playing with two pianos is the most difficult form of chamber music, because the instruments are the same. Just like 2 violins or 2 clarinets, for instance, it requires perfect match, perfect understanding because the way of producing the sound is the same.  We need to work not only on strategy of sound, but also, which is even more important, on how to finish the sound as well as on the pedaling… We both agree that the 2 pianos should melt into one another to give the impression of a single instrument full of colors, intonations, dynamics, etc.  We don’t like the “stereo” approach of that genre, where one can distinctively hear who is playing what. Nonetheless, each pianist should keep their very individual sound and expression within this ensemble.
As for the advantages, I’d say that sharing the stage diminishes a bit of the pressure and, depending on the repertoire, of course, can relieve us from the weight of certain technical difficulties that cannot be avoided in the solo piano repertoire, thus enabling us to free the music from a sort of inertia that can happen when the musical writing is too dense.
The main advantage in our case is the incredible bond between us: we feel music the same way, we breath together, we barely look at each other, trusting each other completely, and it gives much freedom to our ensemble for the unexpected, improvisation on stage!

The main advantage in our case is the incredible bond between us: we feel music the same way, we breath together, we barely look at each other, trusting each other completely, and it gives much freedom to our ensemble for the unexpected, improvisation on stage! – Arthur Ancelle

 

PPM: Ludmila, what was is like for you to study at Gnessin School of Music?
LB: I studied in Gnessin Special School of Music from age 6 to 17.  Unlike other special schools, there was only one class for each “generation,” so we all studied together all these years.  The building of our school used to be a mansion dated back to 19th century, in the center of Moscow, not very far from the Kremlin. In each class, there were no more than 15/18 students, so one can say that it was extremely difficult to be admitted there.  I must say that I took entrance exam both for Gnessin School and Central School of Music, both with success, and without any interference from my father.  When I was asked which one I would like to enter, I answered “the house with white columns.”
The entire school was working altogether for one purpose – to give the best education to each of us in order to help us become great musicians.  All teachers – music teachers and those who taught language, math, history, etc. – worked together in a very sensitive and intelligent way.
Mornings were free in order to practice our instrument.  Courses took place in the afternoon.  Of course, from the very beginning of our musical education, we followed solfeggio, harmony, history of music, choir, chamber music, and “rhythmika,” a sort of musical gymnastic.
If anyone of us was preparing for a special event – a concert or a competition, for instance, – everything was organized to help him succeed: adapted timetable, support, preparation, etc.
Obviously, everybody knew each other.  We were like a family, it was like being at home.  After the 4th and the 8 the year, we had placement exams, to make sure everyone of us matched the level of excellency.
We worked very hard, of course, but we learned early to be responsible and benefitted from a certain freedom.  As an adolescent, I used to flee from courses I disliked in order to spend hours in the museums, for example…
My piano pedagogue was Anna Pavlovna Kantor (MGBH) (now well-known for having been E. Kissin’s teacher) who was like my second mom.  Her and my parents talked on the phone every day.  She was attentive to every step of my musical development.
Among my close friends from this small class many became famous musicians – Alexander Kniazev (MGBH) and Alexander Rudin (MGBH), who twice shared prizes in the Tchaikovsky competition!

PPM: Ludmila, please, tell our readers about your experience of playing with Svyatoslav Richter (OBM).
LB: First of all, I should say that Maestro was surrounded by a very, very small circle of intimate friends. For some reason, he “chose” me when I was 13/14 years old.  I was admitted to rehearsals, parties, soon began to turn the pages for him, traveled with him numerous times…
When he created his famous December Nights Festival, I was soon invited to perform.  One day, he suddenly asked me whether I’d be able to learn Schumann’s Bilder Aus Osten in a week. I answered positively, not yet knowing who’d be my partner!  First, I was terribly frightened, but he admirably cooled me down by starting to make conversation while rehearsing.  Very quickly, it became so natural to play with him, because he had this very gentle and sensitive way of leading.  I learned enormously, just watching him and being next to him, about the use of the body, the pedaling, timing, etc.
Not only was he an extraordinary soloist, but he was an amazing chamber music player, entirely devoting himself to the music and his partners.

PPM: Ludmila, what makes you attracted to the music of Shostakovich (OBM)?
LB: Shostakovich’ music is in my veins since I was born.  All of his quartets were part of my practically every day life, thanks to Borodin Quartet.  My father adored this music, so, for me it is intimately linked to my father. To me, this music is indissociable from passion, in the religious meaning of the word; there’s suffering and beauty in the abnegation; often, this is what people find hard to listen to in his music, and this is what particularly attracts me.  His musical language feels extremely natural to me. His harmonies, phrasing, modulations….. I couldn’t explain it.  It is a part of me…

PPM: Arthur, you are known for interpreting contemporary French musicians as well as American contemporary composers. Please, tell our readers a little bit about this endeavor: what composers inspire you and why?
AA: In France, I admire pianists such as Nicholas Angelich (MGBH), Jean-Frédéric Neuburger (MGBH), Pierre-Laurent Aimard (MGBH), who are real connoisseurs of international contemporary music.
I have always been curious about every type of music, and it’s been natural to me to have a desire to discover new music since I was very young.  To me, there is no truth in art but the truth of its creator:  to feel the power of the self-expression catches my curiosity.  That was particularly attractive in Philippe Hersant’s (MGBH) Ephémères, in which the composer let go of the academic language he had mastered to fully express his own inner feeling.  I felt the same power in pieces by American composers Frederic Rzewski (MGBH) or Sebastian Currier (MGBH), for instance, who aren’t very well-known in France. They have their own musical language, and I was particularly seduced by either the atmosphere one can create or by the narrative content suggested by the musical rhetoric.  For example, in Currier’s formidable Theo’s Sketchbook, I like the mix of adventure and simplicity, if I may generalize, the American way of writing music, which I enjoy while performing Corigliano (MGBH), Feldman (OBM), Glass (MGBH), Levinson (MGBH), and many others.
In French contemporary music, I like very much the quest for the extreme, to break the form, explode the sound, but the composer who has “accompanied” me everywhere and for all adventures is Henri Dutilleux (OBM), who passed away only a few years ago.  I have performed his pieces, particularly being fond of his Piano Sonata, on four continents, and his music has been extremely well received everywhere I played it. Though the musical language may seem unusual for people who aren’t acquainted with it, the power of its expression, the authenticity of the feelings conveyed by this music conquers all.

PPM: Arthur, would you, please, tell us about your album that you recorded back in 2015.  What was the experience like? Were there any unexpected turns?
AA: This was my first solo recording, and it meant a lot to me.  Actually, it was such an adventure: I broke my right wrist 3 months before the recording.  Surgery was inevitable in this case, but because of many reasons, it was impossible to postpone the recording.  Between every take, I had to wrap my wrist with bags full of ice!  I only had a few hours during each 3 sessions to record a very big program (Chopin’s (OBM) 4 Ballades, Dutilleux’ Piano Sonata and 3 Preludes).  So, I knew I had to give my very best on every take – no time to warm up!  It was very enlightening and helped me a lot afterwards for my public performances.  I especially remember that I was never happy with the beginning of the 2nd Ballade.  My hand was hurting, and the piano was more fitted for Dutilleux than for Chopin.  I asked the piano tuner, the wonderful master Masahiro Michimoto (MGBH), to sit next to me and to ” live” the Ballade with me!  Thanks to him, I found the atmosphere I was looking for – the two characters of the Ballade, Eusebius and Florestan (the Ballade is dedicated to Schumann…) came to life!

 

This was my first solo recording, and it meant a lot to me.  Actually, it was such an adventure: I broke my right wrist 3 months before the recording.  Surgery was inevitable in this case, but because of many reasons, it was impossible to postpone the recording.  Between every take, I had to wrap my wrist with bags full of ice! – Arthur Ancelle

 

PPM: What was your first public duo performance like?
AA: We started in a very unusual way as a duo.  Before our first public performance, we recorded our first album together!  It was our wedding gift. We asked our friends and family: please, no tea pots, books or travel gifts.  Instead, help us make our first recording together. We recorded the transcription I had written for us, Francesca da Rimini, and Economou’s wonderful transcription of the Nutcracker!
LB: A few months later, when the disc was ready, we presented it in a concert in Paris – Salle Cortot.  We performed Arensky’s (OBM) 2nd Suite for 2 pianos “Silhouettes,” Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini and Nutcracker, and Schumann’s crazy Andante and variations for 2 pianos, 2 cellos, and a horn.
Actually, I don’t really remember this concert, do you?
AA: Not really, besides the stress of performing every piece for the first time and the excitement of feeling our oneness on stage!

PPM:Let’s talk about the healing power of music.  Do you use music for healing? What composers and pieces do you find most suitable for this purpose?
AA: My mother said that wanted me to learn to play an instrument, because she thought it could heal love disappointment.  I suppose she was right, and music helped me get over difficult situations, disappointments, and traumas.  As for physical healing, I am convinced that music has a deep influence on our bodies, due to many factors: the way the sound is produced, of course, the combination of sounds and the infinity of waves related, and the energy of the ” media,” in our case, the interpreter.  My mom recently offered me a book by Masaru Emoto (OBM), a Japanese researcher, who claimed that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water.  The pictures, the experiments are really mind blowing and give a strong insight about how music can affect the living and the substance.
LB: When my son was a baby – he, too, was born in a musical family – I remember that whenever I played some recordings of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies for example, he would start crying! I discovered we were alike – I can’t just listen to music and listen to too much of it.  It has such a deep impact on me. It can really destroy me or heal me.  When I hear too much music, I’m physically exhausted.  When I hear bad performances, I feel hurt.  When I hear great music, I feel rejuvenated.
In 2015, when I was preparing my Scriabin (OBM) solo album, I plunged deeply into the composer’s universe.  So deeply that the rest of the world didn’t exist.  For me, he had the power to create a profound connection between me and my cat, Katya.  At that time, Katya was very ill.  She couldn’t move much, but whenever she’d hear Scriabin’s music, she would come to me immediately, whatever his piece was.  Our bond was so strong, I knew this music was doing her good.

Slava (Rostropovitch) was like always – never tired, while I was exhausted by the 3rd concert.  We played Fauré’s « Après un rêve » for the 3rd time that evening, and he reached such a level of genius that I forgot I was accompanying him and stopped playing.  He understood, turned to me, saw that I was crying, wiped my tears, and we continued to play together… – Ludmila Berlinskaia

 

PPM: Please, name some of the most unforgettable moments from your performance life as a duo as well as a soloist.
LB: There are many incredible moments that are vivid in my memory, of course.  In the 90’s, I used to play a lot with Rostropovitch (OBM).  Once, we had to perform 3 concerts in a row on the same evening, in the Royal Palace in Madrid, for 3 different audiences. The last concert was in front of Queen Sofia (MGBH). Slava was like always – never tired, while I was exhausted by the 3rd concert.  We played Fauré’s « Après un rêve » for the 3rd time that evening, and he reached such a level of genius that I forgot I was accompanying him and stopped playing.  He understood, turned to me, saw that I was crying, wiped my tears, and we continued to play together…
As a duo, I particularly remember resting at home a few days after a very intense recording – our Liszt (OBM) album. The phone rang, “Would we replace someone 2 days later in the Great Hall of Moscow Conservatory?” We didn’t hesitate, though we couldn’t precisely play what we just had recorded as this program was already programmed for the following season in the same hall. We had to practice a full recital program in one day, fly to Moscow, and we didn’t understand what was happening to us when we got on the stage!! Overall, it was a very big success, and we enjoyed it very much!
AA: Two of my unforgettable moments on stage are linked to Moscow Philharmony.  In 2013, thanks to the two incredible producers, Lena and Katya, we gathered some of Russian’s best soloists around our duo, star dancer Sergei Polunin (MGBH), and Gérard Depardieu (MGBH) in one concert!  Polunin had invented a new choreography of Debussy’s (OBM)  “Faune” around our 2 pianos. Depardieu was performing The Carnaval of the animals in a hilarious French text. And I would say that the strongest emotion for me was to perform Ravel’s (OBM) La Valse, starting in darkness after the projection of a small film edited by Stanislav Ershov with black and white images from that period.
A few years before, I was invited to perform in the same venue for a festival of modern and contemporary music. I started with Dutilleux’ Sonata. After one page the lights went off, only the security lamps were still functioning. I played the entire Sonata (23 minutes!) in the dark!!

A few years before, I was invited to perform in the same venue for a festival of modern and contemporary music. I started with Dutilleux’ Sonata. After one page the lights went off, only the security lamps were still functioning. I played the entire Sonata (23 minutes!) in the dark!! – Arthur Ancelle

PPM:How does being a pianist help you become who you are today?
AA: I suppose that as an artist, I look at the world in a special way, with less barriers, less preconceived thoughts.  We always need to keep our minds open for the new, the change, the different. Being a pianist helps forge discipline and listen to your body in a very sensitive way.  I’m sure that being a pianist affects millions of details in our life: the way we think, act, react, interact, but I haven’t tried to dissociate or analyze…
LB: I think it’s not about being pianist.  I could have been an actress, a painter, whatever…. The most important is self-accomplishment and energy.  Maybe, with being a pianist, there is a specificity that one should practice all the time.  You have to be in shape, to take care of yourself, and it definitely affects the way to live on a daily basis.

PPM:Do you have any rituals before you go on stage?
AA: Not really.  Perhaps, the only thing we do before entering the stage is wishing each other “to break a leg” in the Russian and French version of it.

PPM:What composers/musicians and in what way influenced you the most during your student years?
LB: I would say Sviatoslav Richter and my father, though I never received a single “lesson” from them. Richter effected me not only as a pianist. His whole universe, his vision of life, his total independence from any institution, school of interpretation or circle of musicians; his total absence of jealousy, his absence of fear. He was driven by his love for music and curiosity, the latter being open to every form of art.
From my father, I admired his incredible honesty towards himself as a performer, it was a great daily lesson.
I mention these two great figures, but the wonderful influences were numerous during my student years, and it would take a few pages only to enumerate them.
AA: This question is very hard for me to answer.  As I mentioned before, I was a difficult student, absorbing everything and questioning everything. I wasn’t as lucky as Ludmila and couldn’t benefit from such a rich artistic entourage.
I would say that I always felt intimately connected to the music of Chopin, the only music that always seemed natural to me whatever the piece, whatever the period of my life, though the way I felt wouldn’t match any interpretation I could hear from any other artist.  I am thankful to every professor I had, every advice I received, every concert performance I attended for the lessons they taught me.

 

Richter effected me not only as a pianist. His whole universe, his vision of life, his total independence from any institution, school of interpretation or circle of musicians; his total absence of jealousy, his absence of fear. He was driven by his love for music and curiosity, the latter being open to every form of art.
From my father, I admired his incredible honesty towards himself as a performer, it was a great daily lesson. – Ludmila Berlinskaia

 

PPM:What styles of music do you enjoy listening to besides classical?
LB: As long as quality and talent are there, every type of music is enjoyable!!! When I was young, my father would bring back various recordings from his journeys.  This way I discovered Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald… Although, in the USSR, we had great jazz artists as well!  I always loved folk music – the roots of every music style, but I also enjoy, for instance, a famous Russian band of alternative rock Vezhlivy Otkaz (which could be translated as “polite rejection”), in which my childhood friend Max plays, who received the same education in Gnessin School.  I also enjoy Serge Gainsbourg (OBM), whom I met right when I settled down in Paris…
And a special mention to the music for cartoons that has been – both in the USA and in the USSR – an incredible art form for decades!
AA: I’m curious about everything, but my musical erudition is too narrow, in my opinion.  I love Jazz, from traditional geniuses like Art Tatum (OBM) or Oscar Peterson (OBM), to the guitar of Bireli Lagrene (MGBH); I love such French chansonniers as Brassens (OBM), Bécaud (OBM).  As a teenager, my interest towards various genres would change every 6 months – from Queen to Metallica, from Céline Dion (MGBH) to the Corrs, from Notorious B.I.G. (MGBH) to Eminem (MGBH), from ABBA to Beatles, from Okoudjava (OBM) to Vissotsky (OBM). And I would love to enter deeply into the mysteries of oriental traditional music.

PPM:Who is the biggest fan out of your family members?
LB: My children – Mitia (MGBH) and Masha (MGBH).
AA: My biggest fan, and the woman to whom I owe the fact that I am a pianist today, was definitely my grandmother Colette (OBM). She believed in me so strongly and did everything she could to help me. Besides her, I’m happy to say that I receive full support from every member of my family, my mom even travels sometimes only to hear me play!
When we started our duo, however, our two first supporting fans were certainly Ludmila’s daughter, Masha and my father.
LB: … actually, we probably are one another’s biggest fans!

PPM: What are your pet peeves?
LB: Impudence, arrogance, insolence from any person. I’m very sensitive to any smell, and sometimes some odor can drive me totally crazy!
AA: I’m quite agoraphobic, so I tend to avoid all places where there’s a big concentration of people. For example, when I’m shopping, if there isn’t a vast amount of space around me at any time, I start to sweat and rush out!  I’m quite fussy about many things, like wine temperature, al dente pasta, precision of expressed facts, but I can still control myself despite the annoyance it can cause.

PPM: Describe your ideal vacation.
AA: Right now, I don’t really remember when we had our last vacation, and I only dream of being home, taking care of our house without having to plan, answer, react or practice. Wherever it is, the dream vacation is a place with Ludmila, without Internet or telephone, let it be visiting a city I don’t know (Prague, Stockholm, Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Marrakech…), the most sacred sites of the world or resting in a cozy Chalet in the Swiss Alps or exploring the Seychelles Islands.
LB: I have no ideal vacation.  I like to have a taste of everything: calm, movement, nature, urban discovery, human creation.  For sure, it’s impossible for me to stay more than 2 days in the same place just so I could rest! I need to discover, I need emulation!  For me a vacation is synonymous to having time to create, to do things I usually don’t have the time to do.  Drawing, creating perfumes, writing…

PPM: What is your dream performance venue?
AA: My dream performance venue is not necessary an existing hall.  It’s a concert hall with great acoustic, great instrument and an intimate feeling, where I’d be able to perform whenever I feel like, pieces I feel like playing “now,” should the concert last 20 minutes or 4 hours.  Only the urge of creation would dictate the event, whether I can invite an audience several weeks or just a few hours in advance. This way, the concert would become the real open window on my search as an artist.
LB: There are plenty of incredible halls all over the world, some in which I already performed – Wigmore Hall, Concertgebouw, Great Hall of St. Petersburg Philharmony, Théâtre des Champs Elysées – and many I wish to discover as a performer. My dream venue, however, is a concert hall I would like to develop with my own taste in terms of design, acoustic, and in which I’d perform my own concerts.

PPM: What project/s are you currently working on as a duo as well as individually?
AA: Projects are not something we are ever short of.  When we started our duo, we developed our repertoire around the pieces we liked, and, let’s admit it, around my transcriptions.  Our first 3 albums consisted mainly of transcriptions: the 1st one around Tchaikovsky, the 2nd was about Prokofiev’s (OBM) ballets, and the last one dedicated to Liszt and his relationship with Saint-Saëns (OBM), notably the extremely challenging B minor Sonata transcribed for 2 pianos by Saint-Saëns.
Now we are starting a very ambitious project with our dear label Melodiya, which consists of 4 successive albums, only with music originally composed for 2 pianos, in 4 thematics : French Belle Epoque, Russian Late Romantics, “B like Britain,” and American Explorers.  We start recording in February, and we are extremely excited about this project, as we would like to shine the spotlight on the great repertoire for 2 pianos.
As a soloist, I usually have “phases.” Recently, I have been fully focused on the music of Haydn (OBM), which I find, to quote Laszlo Somfai’s (MGBH) words, “better, richer, more interesting music than we have yet known“!  I just recorded an album with Melodiya dedicated to Haydn, which will be available worldwide in April, and the only purpose of this recording is to bring pure joy and happiness to the listeners.
LB: During this 17/18 season, there seem to converge many forces linked to various aspects of my life … I have written a book, a sort of autobiographic novel, which should be published next season, and Melodiya gave me “carte blanche” for my new solo album, Reminiscenza, which will be available worldwide in December/January.  There I perform masterpieces that have accompanied me in various steps of my life and mean something special to me.
And as a duo, besides the very exciting project that Arthur mentioned, we decided to develop several video projects, as the image has become essential to every artist’s life and career.  We mean to explore both the way to film piano playing and the purely narrative power of music.

PPM:Where is your home base? Russia or France? How often do you travel?
LB: We live in France, in Paris, and we travel to Russia at least 6 times a year.  I never felt like I emigrated, as, despite the fact that Paris became my home base in the early 90’s after I followed my previous husband, Anton Matalaev (MGBH), founder of Anton Quartet, I kept an intense artistic life in Russia throughout the whole time.
AA: Besides our numerous journeys to Russia (for concerts and recordings), we travel quite a lot, performing in Europe (all over France, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany…) as well as in Asia (Japan, China).  Though we gave concerts individually in the USA, we haven’t yet performed in America together.  We would love to do it!
And when we get back, we take care of our class in the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris, where Ludmila teaches and where I was appointed as her assistant.  Last spring, Dimitri Malignan (MGBH), who has been Ludmila’s student since age 13, won the “Prix Cortot,” awarded (not necessarily every year) to the very best pianist of the school.  The previous student who had received this prize is well known to you I believe is Lucas Debargue (MGBH).

PPM:What are some of your favorite places in Paris and Moscow?
LB: Though I witnessed all the incredible changes step by step, Moscow remains the city of my youth, and I cherish the center, inside the 1st ring, with the boulevards, the small streets and endless courtyards, its numerous concert halls, theaters, and museums…
AA: … that you helped me discover over the past 7, 8 years.  Both Tretiakov Galleries are among my favorite museums in the world now, but I also love the countless small museums.  It would take too long to name them all, so I’d definitely recommend Richter’s apartment/museum and Zverev Museum.
LB: Up until about 5, 6 years ago, Moscow didn’t sleep at all, you could find everything you desired at any time of the day or night. Fortunately, some social laws now protect people who had such difficult working conditions, though compared with Paris, one can still find a place to eat easily at any time of the day…
AA: Yes, Moscow changes so quickly, I’ve never seen any other place like that.  We have a “fan club” with most of the members based in France.  They follow us depending on the cities where we perform.  Many of them fell in love with Moscow, and some already traveled “with us” 4 times to hear us play there.
LB: Earlier we talked about the healing power of music.  To me, Paris has a healing power. You just need to walk there and let go.  I adore architecture, I love to “collect” for my imagination the very numerous “faces” on buildings: you could live in Paris and never ever notice any of them.  When you start to, though, you realize there are thousands and thousands of them.  Apart from that, I love… cemeteries, like Père Lachaise or Passy.
AA: Paris is the city of MY youth… every single arrondissement is linked to special memories.  I love them all.  Special mention to the Latin Quarter, where I lived many years, with its cinemas, which allowed me to discover hundreds of movies of the past on big screens.  I discovered all of Pasolini (OBM) at the Accatone Cinema.  If you love great cuisine, Chef n° 1 is definitely Pierre Gagnaire (MGBH), in my opinion. Although I suggest you spend a delirious evening in the “Passage des Panoramas,” at Coinstot Vino, the boss will open the world of natural wines to you.
For musicians, there no trip to Paris without visiting La Flûte de Pan, where you’ll find all the scores you dreamed of.

PPM: What are some of the most daring things that you’ve ever done in your life or hoping to do?
LB: Hmm… I’m not sure I should mention all the most daring things I’ve done in my life! I’d love to jump with a parachute once in my life, for sure!
AA: Maybe one day, I’ll have the strength to stop everything, sell everything I possess and meditate.  I have been thinking of that more and more for the past few years.  And then, who knows what would happen?

Maybe one day, I’ll have the strength to stop everything, sell everything I possess and meditate.  I have been thinking of that more and more for the past few years.  And then, who knows what would happen? – Arthur Ancelle

PPM: What did you dream of as a child and have your dreams come true?
LB: As a child or even in later years, I never dreamed of anything specific, I just tasted every moment of my life as it came – difficult or happy. Life is full of surprises, it’s wonderful!
AA: I always day dreamed or fantasized, but never something concrete.  I’d say my dreams helped me become a better person on a daily basis. Things happened to me beyond my dreams as a musician, like being published by Jurgenson for Tchaikovsky or being a Melodiya Artist, for instance.  I guess the only real “dream” of mine that I had all along has become a reality – to have true love in my life!

PPM: Thank you, guys, for sharing your world with us! On behalf of our staff and readers, I will you happy holidays and a blessed 2018!

 

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Comparing Notes: John Sousa’s (OBM) Stars and Stripes

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

Let martial note in triumph float
And liberty extend its mighty hand;
A flag appears ‘mid thunderous cheers,
The banner of the Western land.
The emblem of the brave and true.
Its folds protect no tyrant crew;
The red and white and starry blue
Is freedom’s shield and hope.

  • – P. Sousa (OBM), 1896.

 

The famous Stars and Stripes March was written by Philip Sousa (OBM) in 1896 for the Unites States Marine Band.  In his autobiography, “Marching Along”, Sousa wrote that he composed the March on Christmas Day 1896.  He was on an ocean liner on his way home from a vacation with his wife in Europe and had just learned that David Blakely (OBM), the manager of the Sousa Band, had passed away.  He composed the march in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. (1)

Symbolic of flag-waving in general, it has been used with considerable effectiveness to generate patriotic feeling ever since its introduction in Philadelphia on May 14, 1897, when the staid Public Ledger reported: “It is stirring enough to rouse the American eagle from his crag, and set him to shriek exultantly while he hurls his arrows at the aurora borealis.” (2)  Since then, the Stars and Stripes have been played times and times over by bands not only in America, but also in Europe and Asia.

The March has become so popular, that it got the attention of the piano community after Vladimir Horowotz (OBM) made a piano arrangement of this music piece to celebrate his becoming an American citizen.  His arrangement grew legs and has become part of the repertoire for many pianists.  Each one of them added their own personality to this arrangement.

In this section, we present eight different performance of this piece by various pianists. Please, leave a comment below with your thoughts: how does each pianist contribute his own tone to it? Which one appealed to you the most?  And remember the old saying: if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all.

We hope you enjoy this uplifting and inspiring march!

Happy Holidays! 🙂

 

1. Performance by a Georgian pianist Giorgi Latsabidze (MGBH):

 

2. Performance by an American pianist David Pasbrig (MGBH):

 

3. Original performance by Vladimir Horowitz (OBM):

 

4. Performance by a Russian pianist Valery Kuleshov (MGBH):

 

5. Performance by an American pianist Ian Gindes (MGBH) – from his most recent album “American Visions”:

 

6. An eight-piano arrangement performance by Leif Ove Andsnes (MGBH), Nicolas Angelich (MGBH), Emanuel Ax (MGBH), Evgeny Kissin (MGBH), Lang Lang (MGBH), James Levine (MGBH), Mikhail Pletnev (MGBH), and Staffan Scheja (MGBH): 

 

7. Performance by a Chinese pianist Lang Lang (MGBH):

 

8. Performance by an American pianist Claire Huangci (MGBH): 

 

REFERENCES: 

(1) J.F. Sousa, “Marching Along: Autobiography.” GIA Publishing (December 12, 2014), ISBN-10: 1622771389

(2)  Paul E. Bierley (OBM), The Works of John Philip Sousa (Westerville, Ohio: Integrity Press, 1984), p. 84. Online Source: http://www.marineband.marines.mil/Portals/175/Docs/Audio/Complete%20Marches%20of%20JPS/Volume%203/Scores/54_BrideElect.pdf?ver=2016-12-09-153430-087

FEATURED INTERVIEW: Arthur Rubinstein – “If you love life, It will love you back.”

Edited by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

  It’s been over thirty years since one of the most interesting pianists of the 20th Century has left this world, but there will always be those curious about him not only as a pianist, but also as a human being – his personality and his character.  This edited and abridged interview is comprised of questions from various sources and is designed to provide a reader with insights into the heart and soul of the master.  With our Winter Issue coming out both around the date of his birth – January 28th – and the date of his passing – December 20th – we decided to dedicate this feature to Arthur Rubinstein (OBM).

 

Interviewer: Tell us about your family. What was your childhood like?
Arthur Rubinstein (AR) (OBM): The name Rubinstein is terribly common like the name of Jones or Brown. My mother pretended that I even played before I was born, you know. You know, as a little boy I wouldn’t talk.  I didn’t like to talk. I wanted to sing. I knew everything by a song. For instance, to get a piece of cheese, I would sing a Polish song about cheese. My father was a head of a little textile factory, but he was not a businessman. He was a very poor businessman. He was inclined to be a philosopher rather. He read books and studied languages. When he went bankrupt, he was honest. He paid all his debts. He didn’t make a fortune on his bankruptcy like others did. So, it disrupted the whole family, and my sisters and brother had to live somewhere else, and that was very sad.

I: Did anyone in your family play the piano?
AR: When I was less than 4 years old, I knew the pieces, which my elder my sisters played.  They were 18-19 years old, and they played the piano very badly, and I knew their pieces.  But knowing the pieces was not enough. My great pride was that I knew exactly when they turned the pages.

I: How did you get introduced to music?
AR: I was very lucky to have an uncle – a man who studied in Germany, who knew the German language very well. He had a great idea to write to Professor Yoachim (OBM), who was a violinist. He was the chief of the Academy of Music in Berlin. And Yoachim answered, and that was a wonderful beginning for me.

My mother had a chance to take me to him. I was four years old. He was very impressed, but, of course, he was hoping that I would be a violinist. So, when I returned home, my father gave me a tiny violin and a teacher, but I couldn’t stand it.  I broke the violin in pieces and was spanked for it.  I really couldn’t ever stand to be a violinist, because for me music was polyphony. I wanted to hear everything in music, the whole sound.  Afterwards, Joseph Yoachim understood that I didn’t want to play the violin, and he supported me for my complete educational time in Berlin.  He even paid part of my education fees.

So, when I returned home, my father gave me a tiny violin and a teacher, but I couldn’t stand it.  I broke the violin in pieces and was spanked for it.  I really couldn’t ever stand to be a violinist, because for me music was polyphony.

Q: When did you start playing in public?
AR: I started to play in public at the age of six at the charity concert in Lodz, but afterwards Joachim introduced me personally and I played with Berlin Philharmonic at the age of 12 in the Beethoven Hall.  I played two concerts with orchestra and solo pieces. Mozart (OBM) was the first concert. At that time critics wrote that I was a born Mozart player. And years later people wanted only Tchaikovsky (OBM), Rachmaninov (OBM), and similar. Later on, only music of Spain, and later – only Chopin (OBM). My goodness! At age 60, I will play everything!

Q: What does music interpretation mean to you?
AR: When I play something, even the ritual fire dance, I am convinced that there is no other music in the world.  Otherwise, I wouldn’t be an authentic pianist. An interpreter has to forget during his play that there exists other music. When I play a piece of Schumann (OBM), I believe for myself that he is the only composer in the world, and I don’t think of Chopin.  Sitting at the discussion table where people talk about musical history, I will feel things differently.  Then I will say to you that Bach (OBM) is much more important for the music history in comparison even to Beethoven (OBM), and even more so than Chopin. But judging the importance of piano music, Chopin embodies the first class – nobody has ever written so beautifully for the piano as him. He totally devoted himself to the piano and couldn’t compose for any other instruments.

I: For a pianist of your class, do you practice every morning?
AR: No, no. I will make it clear to you. Take a look at me. I should be punished for this.  For the fact that I never practiced the piano enough.  I was always satisfied with the least necessary, to play what spoke to my heart, but it was never elaborated.  It was always missing something, which resulted in wrong notes, many inaccurate passages, many unclear details with regards to the sheets, cause I played too fast in front of the audience.  You see that was always my biggest flaw, and I should be punished for it in my many years. But… what happens? The strangest thing in the world! When I married my wife, I started feeling more responsible.  I felt that the approach “after me the deluge” doesn’t work any more. Now I have a wife and children, and I am responsible for them.  After my death I don’t want anyone to be able to claim “your husband got a supreme talent, but never worked hard enough.” Then I started to work harder, you see, there this magical thing that happened.   Where other pianists reach their peak at their 30s, e.g. Horowitz (OBM) or Richter (OBM) or Backhaus (OBM) or Gieseking (OBM) – they were accomplished pianists in their mid-thirties.  Afterwards, when they got much older, they started to lose some quality. They have taken too many breaks or worked too hard, were worn off or a little tired, wanted to live another life. I, however, until today, can achieve simple technical progress.  Sometimes, I start playing scales or passages, and half an hour later I feel a little progress in my technical skill. This cannot happen to Horowitz.  He has achieved such technical peaks 10, 15, and 20 years ago, and there is no space left to improve, or… he destroys his hands.

I: Do you ever get tired after a concert?
AR: I am a strange pianist, you know. Many of my colleagues play very impressive programs and get heavily tired, begin to sweat, etc. For me, I am tired BEFORE the concert. The whole day before the concert I am tired. I start yawning like a lion. The whole day! My arm hurts or I am mentally tired. However, closer to the concert I feel great! After the concert, I am not only not tired any more; I can play the concert four times over again. That’s why I still play in public. At my age of 78, I should slow down and get ready to retire, but I cannot do it because I still feel the opportunities to improve, because it simply doesn’t make me tired. Travelling doesn’t make me tired. What makes me tired is boredom and boring people. Those things wear me off.

I am a strange pianist, you know. Many of my colleagues play very impressive programs and get heavily tired, begin to sweat, etc. For me, I am tired BEFORE the concert.

I: Have you ever composed your own music?
AR: You know I composed like every musical boy. I had talent for music, so I was composing, innocently.  I wrote a sketch for a concerto, some sonata.  I remember some love songs, which I showed off to some charming ladies. When I became 15-16, I discovered suddenly that I didn’t have the right inspiration, that it was not inspired, that it was borrowed from somebody – it was a little Brahms, a little Chopin, Mozart, a little this and that. I think that to write music, it must be absolutely necessary.  It must be there. You can’t miss it any more.  For instance, I can miss very well some unknown island, but I can’t imagine the world without Beethoven or without Mozart. You know, when I make music, it is so heavenly, I am in love with music.

I: What qualities are important to you in a person?
AR: Human beings are born without signing a contract. I always honor my signature. I have great respect for a promise given or my signed signature.

I: You are known to be a very happy person. What do you attribute your happiness to?
AR: I was very, very unhappy when I was twenty years old. You know, I was miserable.  I was at zero point in my life.  I was at the bottom.   I was finished completely in my opinion.  The woman I loved didn’t love me.  I had no money.  I had horrible debts everywhere.  I owed my money to the hotel.  They wanted to throw me out. I mean, it was terrible.  It happened in Berlin. There was one thing – I was dreaming, funnily enough, that I was the richest man in the world, that I composed a symphony, which had a fantastic success. They applauded me, and everything went wonderfully well. And then, I woke up… There was again a letter under the door, “You owe me this much… If you don’t pay tonight…” and so on and so forth. And then I wanted to take my life. I didn’t succeed. (laughing) The cord broke, I went on the floor. But then after this, I was reborn again.  So, suddenly, I saw the world with completely new eyes.  It was absolutely fresh and new to me. I saw that what in heaven am I unhappy for? Why should I be unhappy? One can be happy miserable, one can be happy sick, one can be happy in a hospital.  Even if you die, you can still be happy! It’s still life, you see.  I was convinced of that. And that kept me going.

Why should I be unhappy? One can be happy miserable, one can be happy sick, one can be happy in a hospital.  Even if you die, you can still be happy! It’s still life, you see.  I was convinced of that. And that kept me going.

I:  In your book “My Young Years” you say that you adopted very early in life a motto in Polish….
AR:  The translation is very strong in Polish, but it means, “I will never give in.” And I learned it because I was present in Lodz, my birth town, during the pogroms with the Russian Cossacks made in the streets.  I was very young. I was a school boy of around seven, and we would run away from the Cossacks who would beat up the population and make them bleed, and so on and so forth. We were terrified absolutely.  And I learned something – that I must wake up courage in me.  I tried to be courageous, not be afraid of anything. And I am not afraid of anything.  I was never afraid of anything at all.  Not afraid – I suffered about it, I took it in very much, I was unhappy about this or that…<…> but I was always rather courageous. And I found out that it probably belongs to my race, you see. I must tell you that since childhood I was a very proud Jew.  And to remain Jews, I admired their courage that they had for 2000 years in exile.  I admired the incredible character of the Jews to stick to their religion, to stick to their race.  And they are the only old race that is preserved everywhere.

We were terrified absolutely.  And I learned something – that I must wake up courage in me.  I tried to be courageous, not be afraid of anything. And I am not afraid of anything.

I: Would you explain to me, to someone who is not a musician, how you produce the tone that you do?
AR: I can’t tell you that.  I learned from a Czechoslovakian singer who was very famous. It was Emmy Destinn (OBM). Emmy Destinn struck me with her marvelous voice, which acted on me sensually, which made me cry by her sheer voice, the sound of voice, not the quality of the composition, but the quality of the voice that did something to me.  She had that. And she had, of course, as all singers, to take a breath at the right moment.  We have to take, in a way, a breath at the right moment when we speak. To make a phrase clear, we have to pay attention and stop and cut the phrase into the pieces, which make sense, isn’t it so? That same thing came to me as an idea when she sang.  I started suddenly to feel a feeling that I needed to take a breath at the piano.  I sometimes press my finger only, which means nothing, because there is a hammer, percussion hammer, nothing can change much in the piano (it’s a percussion instrument, isn’t it?), but it has a vibration.   If you let the string stay without letting the hammer down on it, it vibrates in the air.  You have the pedal to keep it a long while – if you want to, if you can. And there is a certain a certain pressure, which makes it being struck in a certain way – not hard, but just the way you want.  And it sings in you.  Well, I found it for myself that I couldn’t teach it for any money in the world.  I tell you – young people sing, sing inside. You have no voice – it doesn’t matter.  You have the best voice if you feel singing inside.

I: Do you believe in God?
AR:  Of course, I believe in God, but my God is not a gentleman with a beard. It is a power, an incredibly extraordinary power. I was preoccupied all my life, and I still am, with one question that matters, one single question: what are we here for? Who made it? Who started it? I am glad to believe, but there must be a sign to show us why. People think that happiness is to laugh all the time or to enjoy a good cutlet or beefsteak, and they go to bed nicely, and win the game sometimes…. This is stupid. There is nothing in it. That’s not life. Life is biting into it. To take it absolutely as it is.

Of course, I believe in God, but my God is not a gentleman with a beard. It is a power, an incredibly extraordinary power.

I: Can I ask you this: what emotion do you feel when you when you contemplate that death is going to extinguish so rare a machine as you are? A computer with so much heart and so crammed with music and experience? What do you feel?
AR: You know, I didn’t give it much thought. There is such a thing, which I do believe, in a word, which is not ever clear to anybody, you know, we use the word “soul” easily in every language. Every language uses it, and we don’t know what it is really, where to place it.  And I think this thing is in us, in metaphysical power somehow, which just emanates. You know I feel that always, as I told you before, in my concerts. We don’t give it much thought, but there is something floating, something unknown around us in here; and I think that has no place to disappear.  And I think that after our death, if we had an amount of it in us somewhere, it’s around.  By the way, it was once a very rainy day in London and I was with a great singer Emy Destinn.  She asked me very innocently, “How did Chopin play?” I didn’t hear Chopin play at all, so I could only imagine something.  I was just going to tell her, “Don’t ask me such silly questions.” But by some instinct I went to the piano and played a little piece of Chopin that I never played in concert.  And it wasn’t me who played. I played the piece through, and we both got a little pale, you know? I wasn’t playing it myself. I wouldn’t have played it like that.  Make what you want of it.

I:  Can we talk about your music? When people say, as they do, that you are the greatest pianist of this century, do you believe them?
AR:  Not only I don’t believe them, I get very angry when I hear that, because it is absolute sheer horrible nonsense. There isn’t such a thing as the greatest pianist of any time. Nothing in art can be the best.  It is only… different. Let me tell you my theory about it.  I think that an artist (whatever it is – a painter, sculptor, musician, performer, composer, whatever – somebody who has a title of being an artist) must have an uncompounded personality, must be the one and nobody else. There is Joe Smith and nobody else like that. For me, one says, “Oh, it’s the second Listz.” (OBM) A second is already wrong, you know? If he is a second, he is no good at all.  He is an imitator.  An artist in any way must be a world by himself.  If I were questioning somebody, for instance, “Arthur, who is the greatest of all times: Leonardo Da Vinci (OBM), Rafael (OBM), Michael Angelo (OBM), Tizian (OBM), Velasquez (OBM), Rembrandt (OBM)?” What would you do? Each one of them is a world by itself. A world! <…> Look here. If I am a pianist, I am a pianist of my kind, which pleases so many people who like this kind of my playing. But then there are others who get emotional and get moved by other pianists – by this one, and that one, and that one. Who can say that this one is the greatest? It’s nonsense.

You know lately more than ever I am thinking, “What was the reason for any success I have had in my life?” Because I certainly don’t play the piano as well as most pianists.  I never worked so much as they do. They play the piano too perfect.  I know young people who play the piano, and one can’t play it better.  But when I hear them play that way, I have my little question for them. I ask them, “When will you start to make music?” Make music, you see, that is something that pre-occupied me.  To make music is something metaphysical. A painting is visible, a sculpture is visible, a poem is visible on the paper, well, (written) music is visible, but not audible.  I mean it exists only because there are necessary to it the other types of musicians – the interpreters.  I belong to this group.  I call the interpreters good talent, the composers – geniuses, if they are the great composers. But what happened to me is something quite strange, which I observe very often, you see.  I observed the fact that I come on stage for a concert, as a picture of what happens of the stage it is rather ridiculous because a little man like me appearing there in the evening dress <..> And the public fills the hall.  They come out of their good dinner, the women look at each other, at the other women’s dresses.  Men think mostly about some business or some games or sports or G-d knows what.  And there I have this crowd – not entirely quite musical, not really knowers of music, but who like music, who love music.  And that is a very difficult proposition – I have to hold them in attention by my emotion, nothing else.  I can’t look at them.  I can’t make faces. I have to play.  Look there, straight ahead of me.  But… there is a certain antenna there, there is a certain secret thing, which goes out, emanates, not from me – from my emotion, from the feeling.  If you’d like to call it soul, this soul projects something, which I do feel that it’s doing it.  It suddenly puts the audience into my hands, there is a moment where I feel them all here in my hands.  I can hold them with one little note in the air, and they will not breathe because they wait what happens next.  That is a great, great moment. Not always does it happen, but when it does happen, it’s a great moment of our lives.

It suddenly puts the audience into my hands, there is a moment where I feel them all here in my hands.  I can hold them with one little note in the air, and they will not breathe because they wait what happens next.  That is a great, great moment. Not always does it happen, but when it does happen, it’s a great moment of our lives.

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

(1) The Love Of Life Documentary.

(2) Arthur Rubinstein Interview at his home in Paris, 1965 (German with English Subtitles)

(3) Rubinstein at 90 Interview by Robert McNeal:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFEsLdERZwI

The Piano Crossword

 

 CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE PDF VERSION

 

If you’d like, send the answers of this crossword puzzle to: magazine(@)pianoperformers.org
with the subject “Crossword Submission-Winter 2017-18.”

The names of our first five winners will be announced in the next issue of the Piano Performer Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE PDF VERSION

 

The Art of Piano Performance:
Michael Allen Harrison And The Ten Grands Extravaganza

Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

He performed for presidents, recorded over 40 albums, his music has been played on space shuttles Endeavor and Discovery. His Snowman Foundation raised over $3 million dollars to provide access to music for all kids.
Today he has another creation to present to the world of piano afficionados – the Ten Grands Extravaganza Show.
Meet Michael Allen Harrison (MGBH) and get inspired!

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Please, tell our readers about yourself: where did you grow up? Do you have any siblings? Who introduced you to piano? Who was your first piano teacher? What influenced your choice of choosing a career of a pianist vs. any other profession?
Michael Allen Harrison (MAH): I grew up in Portland, Oregon. My brother is a guitarist, and my sister plays the flute.  My parents thought pianos lessons would help with my shyness.  My neighbor was my first teacher.  As the time went by, she suggested that I get a better teacher and referred my parents to Aurora Underwood (MGBH).  Aurora was one of the great legacy teachers. I studied with her until college, and she was one of the greatest influences in my life.  In college, I started to be recognized for my composition skills and was asked to write the music for a children’s theater project to the story of the Velveteen Rabbit. The show was a huge success and soon thereafter the phone just started ringing.  I call my career path “By Request.” Soon I got a call from the Ballet Company here in Portland and became the company pianist.  I got calls to play for singers, piano bars, weddings, concert series, funerals, jazz clubs, company parties, retirement homes, keyboards in a cover band, Symphony guest artist, etc… I said “yes” to everything.

PPM: What is the Ten Grands Project all about?
MAH: I created Ten Grands as a fundraiser for music education.  Ten Grands accomplishes several things. It delivers great music from all genres. So, it has a wide appeal.  The show includes classical, jazz, new age, pop, classic rock, movie scores, musical theater etc.  The stage is classy and glamorous providing a beautiful platform to present an incredible piano extravaganza and deliver the message of how important music is to our community and how vital it is in a complete education for our children.

PPM: What inspired you to create the Ten Grands Project and where does it get its name from?
MAH: In the late 1980’s Oregon voters passed a bill called Measure 5.   Measure 5 started the beginning of less funds for the community and especially the Arts in schools.  I witnessed a slow decline over the years and decided to stop complaining about lack of funds and try to do something to bring it back.
I had a project idea called the Portland Pianists. The idea was to put together the top ten pianists in Portland and record a CD, put together a concert and see what happens.  I mentioned the idea at the first Snowman Foundation board meeting, and one of my board members shouted, “TEN GRANDS!”  I drew the stage concept on a napkin to Greg Tamblyn (MGBH), my co-producer and stage manager.  He did his magic, and 9 months later the first show was born.  The show sold out, and we raised $150,000.00, gave several pianos to schools, individual kids, community centers and awarded several scholarships for private lessons.

 

 I mentioned the idea at the first Snowman Foundation board meeting, and one of my board members shouted, “TEN GRANDS!”  I drew the stage concept on a napkin to Greg Tamblyn (MGBH), my co-producer and stage manager.

 

PPM: What criteria do you use in selecting pianists for the Project and how often are they rotated?
MAH: I make a huge effort to find the best talent and the best attitude.  The cast becomes a show family. We care about music and the message.  No divas or bad stage parents are allowed.  We have several established professionals on stage, young prodigies and sometimes a community member who does not do music as a profession, but has professional skills. For example: Sgt. Jim Quakenbush (MGBH) of the Portland Police Department often performs with us.  He was a piano performance major in college, decided to follow a different path of service, but never lost his love for classical music.  He often plays for kids in the community in full uniform… He’s a very unique guy, and everyone loves his talent and spirit.

PPM: What kind of repertoire do you choose for the shows?
MAH: Each pianists chooses their own featured solo in the style of which they are known for.

 One of the things we do that is the most fun is we reach out to the teaching community and find out if any of their students will be at the concert.  With no one knowing, we pull a name out of a hat at the concert, announce the name and ask them to come on stage a play for us… Always fun… always memorable!

PPM: What is The Ten Grands show like?
MAH: We’ve been doing this show in Portland at The Arlene Schnitzer Concert for 18 years.  In Seattle at Benaroya Hall for 10 years and now expanding to other cities.  We will be in West Palm beach on February 18th.   The show requires a big stage in a large hall because of all the pianos, the platforms, chandeliers,    3, 000 roses, curtains, staging, and lighting.  The young people we include get so inspired by the experience of being on a big stage with such high production values.  They feel very special and grown up.  They have all very much been inspired and carry great memories with them.  I always feel like I’m giving and witnessing a concert at the same time.  I play a big solo, I lead and participate in the Ten Piano arrangements.  The rest of the time I become an audience member sitting on stage listening to all the other great artists.  It’s a very unique experience for the artists on stage and the audiences that attend. The show has heart for the community and passion for great music.  One of the things we do that is the most fun is we reach out to the teaching community and find out if any of their students will be at the concert.  With no one knowing, we pull a name out of a hat at the concert, announce the name and ask them to come on stage a play for us… Always fun… always memorable!

PPM: What is your team’s performance and rehearsal schedule like?
MAH: Everyone practices their parts at home.  I send them MP3’s of the arrangements to practice with.  We get together the night before and run the ten piano arrangements.  The next day we sound check at the concert hall, run the group numbers and a few hours later we present the show.  It’s amazing what we accomplish in a very short period of time.

PPM: What cities have you toured with the Ten Grands Project so far?
MAH: Portland, Oregon, Hillsboro, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, West Palm Beach, Florida. Depending on our success in Florida, we plan to head north to Philadelphia and New York .

PPM: You have made many music arrangements for ten pianos.  Please, tell our readers a little bit more about this aspect of your work.
MAH: The ten piano arrangements can be tricky.   It’s really important not to give each player too much to play, because it can get too thick and hard to hear the nuances of the composition.  I treat each arrangement in a way similar writing for a full orchestra.  I also have to consider each pianist’s skills. Some of the Jazz or New Age players don’t read music as well as the classical players but are great improvisers.  So, it makes each arrangement a little challenging, but really interesting.

PPM: Besides being a pianist and an arranger, you are also a composer. Would you, please, tell our readers a little bit about this facet of your career?
MAH: I started composing around age 16.  That’s when I wrote my first Sonata.  In college I studied with Tom Svoboda (MGBH) & Eric Funk (MGBH).  Eric was especially encouraging and invited me to join the composers club.  We would meet every Wednesday night at his house to listen to and analyze scores.  We would be challenged to write pieces in every genre and era.  Eric would provide musicians to play our pieces for us, and we would have great open discussion and hear suggestions.  We did not receive any college credit, but I learned the most and felt the most fulfilled and supported by that group.  We also wrote everything back then by hand.  I use Finale now, and it’s much faster.  The tools at our disposal now are remarkable.  The old school training however is still the best foundation before you head to the computer.

PPM: Who are some of your favorite classical and contemporary composers and why?
MAH: Well… Chopin (OBM)… Best ever composer for the piano.
Beethoven (OBM)… Best story teller and incredible infinite melodies.
Mozart (OBM)… I love the child-like playfulness in many of his compositions.
Earth Wind And Fire… Best all time, feel good band.
The Beatles & Brian Wilson (MGBH)… Pop song writing on a genius level.
Gershwin (OBM)…. Best modern fusion composer of Jazz and Classical.
John Williams (MGBH)… Star Wars!!! Need I say more?

PPM: Please, tell our readers about the pianists and other instrumentalists you are working with this season.
MAH: This year both the Ten Grands Portland and Florida showcase a fabulous diversity of talent: Tom Grant (MGBH) – a Jazz Legend, Joshua Humlie & We Three  (MGBT) – Singer Songwriters, Hailey Potts (MGBH) – a Young Composer,  Mac Potts, (MGBH) –  a Blues & Jazz Extroadinaire,  Jim Quackenbush (MGBH) – a Portland Police Officer, Colleen Adent (MGBH) – A Legacy Teacher,  Cayla & Ashley Bleajoa (MGBT) – Young Composers,  William Chapman Nyaho (MGBH)  – a Seattle Professor & Concert Pianist, Andrew Gu (MGBH) – a Classical Prodigy, Rosa Li (MGBH) – a Classical Concert Pianist,  Jure Rozman (MGBH) – a Classical Concert Pianist, Tanner Johnson (MGBH) – a Violinist,  and Julianne Johnson (MGBH) – a Vocalist.

PPM: Can we briefly discuss your solo recordings as a pianist? Are you planning to offer your fans the recordings with the Ten Grands Project?
MAH: I have recorded over 60 albums since 1984.  My recordings range from Original Classical Compositions, New Age, Jazz, Smooth Jazz, Easy Listening, Ballet, Musical Theater, Jazz Standards, Film Score, Commercials, etc.  Each Ten Grands Show releases a CD with donated performances by each artist. We plan to record our first CD of the best ten piano arrangements in 2018.

PPM: What is your the Ten Grands’ performance schedule for 2018?
MAH: On February 18th we are going to perform at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.  On March 31st  we have a performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland, Oregon. On May 12th – at the Benaroya Hall in Seattle, Washington. On August 4th we have a show called  Ten Grands On The Green.  For that show we are still deciding on location.

PPM: Besides the visual impact of ten grand pianos on stage, there is also an aspect of impressive stage decor.   Who does your stage design?
MAH: Greg Tamblyn (MGBH) and Gene Dent (MGBH) designed the stage.  Greg is also my co-producer and stage manager.  He’s the best in the business.

Music has the power to change the life of one child that we all know.  The power to create, however, goes far beyond the development of one individual student.  It ripples out into the community spreading itself without limitation, for music is a respecter of no person.

PPM: Let’s talk about the Snowman Foundation. What is it all about?
MAH: Concert proceeds benefit the Snowman Foundation and the Play It Forward Program, which helps bring music education and instruments to organizations that serve disadvantaged youth.  Play It Forward has been honored to touch hundreds of lives this year, through the thoughtful donations of instruments and sponsorships.  We celebrate the families, schools, churches, and music outreach programs that are keeping music alive for our youth.  We are so proud to support them through generous donations of instruments and giving.
We are now working towards expanding our scholarship funds that provide musical instruments and scholarships for music lessons tied together, offering students with desire and talent, but no financial means to, finally, have the music lessons that have only lived in their dreams.
As we continue to give the gift of music to our community, we see students thrive and music programs grow. Generous donations of instruments and scholarship funds will go to help countless students in ways that we can only imagine.
Music has the power to change the life of one child that we all know.  The power to create, however, goes far beyond the development of one individual student.  It ripples out into the community spreading itself without limitation, for music is a respecter of no person. And that may be its greatest power that its boundaries are indeed limitless.

PPM: Besides being a pianist, a composer, an Art Director, and an arranger, you are also a teacher.  How would you describe your teaching style?
MAH: I give a different menu to each student depending on his or her level of natural talent and desire. My goal is to create an appetite for excellence.  Classical training is the main menu item.  Mostly scales, arpeggios, theory, and a big piece to prepare for recital.  The most important foundation is to understand the language and develop technique, so when the student accomplishes a great piece of music they are able to express themselves freely.  The result is they get to make beautiful music and share it with us.  That’s where the fun and magic happens.  The preparation and focus on the content is what brings it all to life!!!

There are three areas to focus on in being nice to yourself in the art of practicing – Mind, Body, and Spirit.  They are all connected to feelings.  The biggest obstacle is feeling frustrated.

 

PPM: Please, tell our readers bout the TedEx talk that you gave at Mr. Hood and the concept of “being nice to oneself” in learning an instrument.
MAH: There are three areas to focus on in being nice to yourself in the art of practicing – Mind, Body, and Spirit.  They are all connected to feelings.  The biggest obstacle is feeling frustrated.  If your mind is moving your fingers faster than you understand the information, it feels frustrating, and practice is not feeling fun at all.  When you slow your mind down to a tempo of understanding and then tell your fingers to move at that tempo, your heart feels better, and you start to find out what it is.  Then repeat that section several times at that tempo of understanding.  As it becomes familiar, slowly increase the tempo with the attitude of how good can I get this.  Keep repeating until it becomes second nature and you are loving it. Most students end up memorizing the section, and it sticks forever.  Go on to the next chunk and repeat the process.  Before you know it, the entire piece is mastered and you can’t wait to share it because you feel proud of what you learned and you also just plain enjoy the way it sounds and how it rolls out of your Mind, Body and Spirit.  The feeling of frustration is the biggest factor that keeps any student away from practice or any kind of learning.  Learning this process of being nice to yourself can help in any discipline of learning.

PPM: You seem like a person who works around the clock.  How do you manage your time in being able to accomplish your plans? What is your advise to those who juggle many projects at a time?
MAH: My dad always said this to me, “Find something you love to do… Do it well… Give back… If you don’t find something you love, love what you’re doing!!!” It’s simple, really… It’s all about attitude, creating great content.  That’s when the magic happens, and you never get tired of the work.

The other important thing is to fall in love with a great person that understands who you are and you believe would be a great gift to your children. I always ask our kids, “Who are you going to gift your kids someday for a parent?”

My dad always said this to me, “Find something you love to do… Do it well… Give back… If you don’t find something you love, love what you’re doing!!!” It’s simple, really… It’s all about attitude, creating great content.  That’s when the magic happens, and you never get tired of the work.

PPM: How do you spend your down time?
MAH: With my lovely wife Marietta (MGBH) and our 6 kids.  All of them are out of the house in college or graduating from college. Our youngest Esther (MGBH) is 8 years old. She is enjoying being the only child with older siblings out of the house.  She gets most of the attention at the moment and is the little shining angel of the family.  I do enjoy playing golf with my buddies, and I’m a huge Green Bay Packer fan.

PPM: What qualities do you value in people the most?
MAH: I really admire people who give unconditionally.

PPM: What message would you like to send through your work to others?
MAH: My most common message in everything is to be nice to yourself.  I believe the nicer we are to ourselves the nicer we are to the world!

My most common message in everything is to be nice to yourself.  I believe the nicer we are to ourselves the nicer we are to the world!

 

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The Circuit: Gilmore Keyboard Festival

Interview by Tatyana Ivanova (MGBH)

Probably one of the most well-known and established international keyboard festivals in the US, the Gilmore’s brings an opportunity connect the most prominent members of the global piano community  with the audience and share their newest repertoire.  Curtis Cunningham (MGBH), the Marketing and PR Director of the Festival, sat down with us to discuss the Gilmore’s agenda for the upcoming season.

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): What criteria is used in identifying the artists who are to be invited to participate in the festival?
Curtis Cunningham (CC): Quality and musical interest are foremost, along with the ability to sustain a wide range of repertoire. Pianists are nominated by a large and diverse group of international music professionals. An anonymous six-member Artistic Advisory Committee appraises the nominees over a period of time and assesses their musicianship and performing abilities through numerous performances under varying conditions. Throughout the four-year process, candidates for the Award are unaware they are under consideration.

 

An anonymous six-member Artistic Advisory Committee appraises the nominees over a period of time and assesses their musicianship and performing abilities through numerous performances under varying conditions. Throughout the four-year process, candidates for the Award are unaware they are under consideration.

 

PPM: What is the structure of the festival and how many days does it usually last?
CC: The 2018 Gilmore Keyboard Festival lasts for 18 days, starting on April 25, 2018 and running until May 12, 2018.

PPM: Do all the festival events happen at the same venue?
CC: Although the Festival events take place at over 15 different locations in West Michigan, it is centered in Kalamazoo.

PPM: Who are some of the regular attendees of the festival?
CC: Our audience members are of all ages. Our recitals are generally children above the age of 6 through senior citizens. Most of out attendees are from Michigan and the Midwest, but people travel across the country and the globe to attend the festival.

PPM: Are there social events / parties organized around the performances? If so, what are they like and what does it take to get on the list?
CC: Donors to the Gilmore are invited to special events throughout the festival and year. These type of events range from private receptions to private performances. You can become a donor for as little as $100.   Invitations to events can depend on your donor level.

PPM: Please, tell our readers about the Gilmore Festival Radio Series.
CC: The Gilmore Festival Radio Series is produced by the WFMT Radio Network in collaboration with The Gilmore.  The series includes many festival performances and exclusive interviews with artists, audience members, and the Gilmore staff. This inside look reveals a glimpse into the artists’ approach to their craft and the inner-workings of the Festival. In 2016, we created 13 one-hour programs.

PPM: What kind of educational events take place during the festival?
CC: The Gilmore will be holding a variety of “family concerts” throughout West Michigan featuring pianist Alpin Hong (MGBH). The concerts are designed to introduce children (and sometimes their parents) to classical music and jazz. The Gilmore also presents several in-school concerts throughout West Michigan during the Festival.
Twelve master classes are also offered. Master classes combine the rigors of practice with the intensity of performance.  We call it “learning through performance.” College and university students from throughout the Midwest are nominated by their professors to participate in the classes, given by many of the pianists performing in the Festival.
Last but not least, The Gilmore offers a variety of adult enrichment classes through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Western Michigan University. These ticketed events cover subjects such as “A Walk through the 2018 Gilmore Keyboard Festival” and “Learning to Listen to Music.” Instructors include the Gilmore staff and local experts.

 

Twelve master classes are also offered. Master classes combine the rigors of practice with the intensity of performance.  We call it “learning through performance.” College and university students from throughout the Midwest are nominated by their professors to participate in the classes, given by many of the pianists performing in the Festival.

 

PPM: One of the key points in the mission statement of the festival is supporting the creation of keyboard music. How is it accomplished?
CC: The creation of new music for the keyboard is an important part of The Gilmore’s overall mission. Every Gilmore International Keyboard Festival includes the premiere of newly commissioned works for keyboard instruments. Commissions for 2018 have yet been announced.

PPM: How often does the festival take place, and what happens in-between behind the scenes?
CC: While the Gilmore Artist Award happens every four years, The Gilmore Keyboard Festival itself takes place every two years. In order to create a festival with nearly 100 events in 18 days requires a good two years of planning, research and execution. Besides the Festival, The Gilmore also presents a recital series for young artists, the annual Rising Stars Series, and a Piano Masters Series, presenting recitals by major pianists in the off-Festival years.

PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers about the pianists for this upcoming season? Are there any new categories of events compared to 2016?
CC: Highlights next spring include performances by Gilmore Artist Award recipients Rafa Blechacz (MGBH), Kirill Gerstein (MGBH), Ingrid Fliter (MGBH), Leif Ove Andsnes (MGBH), and the yet-to-be announced 2018 Gilmore Artist. The Festival debuts of 2018 Gilmore Young Artists Wei Luo (MGBH) and Elliot Wuu (MGBH); and tenor Lawrence Brownlee (MGBH), who will make his Festival debut with pianist Justina Lee (MGBH), performing classics of the song literature and ending the program with African-American spirituals.
The 2018 Festival showcases a broad spectrum of keyboard virtuosity and repertoire performed by artists who range from legendary pianist Murray Perahia (MGBH) to the 2018 Gilmore Young Artists, Wei Luo and Elliot Wuu. Making their Festival debuts are pianists Michael Boriskin (MGBH), Michael Brown (MGBH), Benjamin Grosvenor (MGBH), Kim Heindel (MGBH), Justina Lee (MGBH), John Musto (MGBH), and Yury Shadrin (MGBH). Returning are Leif Ove Andsnes (MGBH), Katherine Chi (MGBH), Leon Fleisher (MGBH), Ingrid Fliter (MGBH), Kirill Gerstein (MGBH), Alon Goldstein (MGBH), Paul Lewis (MGBH), Murray Perahia (MGBH), Lori Sims (MGBH), Daniil Trifonov (MGBH), and Orion Weiss (MGBH).
For jazz fans, The Gilmore will present ten jazz ensembles next spring in 21 concerts and jazz clubs, including notable artists Paolo Alderighi (MGBH), Bill Charlap (MGBH), Emmet Cohen (MGBH), James Francies (MGBH), Gregg Kallor (MGBH), Justin Kauflin (MGBH), Christian Sands (MGBH), Jeremy Siskind (MGBH), Dr. Lonnie Smith (MGBH), Stephanie Trick (MGBH), and David Virelles (MGBH), and some keyboard outliers such as Nellie McKay (MGBH) and accordionist Julien Labro (MGBH). In addition, the large and lively band Snarky Puppy will bring its high-energy, innovative music to southwest Michigan for the first time. In a special theater presentation, The Gilmore will bring 11 performances of Liberace! to the Festival in a collaboration with Farmers Alley Theatre. This musical tour-de-force with a rollicking piano score will have audiences cheering the life of a uniquely American icon.

A new addition this year is the live-streaming of some of our performances.

PPM: How big is the event and how many attendees do you expect this year?
CC: OVER THE SPAN OF THREE WEEKS this spring, the concert halls of West Michigan will be occupied by some of the most accomplished pianists in the world. Kalamazoo’s biennial Gilmore Keyboard Festival is the largest gathering of keyboard artists in North America, featuring more than 50 pianists and 200 artists in nearly 100 concerts and events. Over 15,000 attendees are expected to flock to The Gilmore this year.

 

OVER THE SPAN OF THREE WEEKS this spring, the concert halls of West Michigan will be occupied by some of the most accomplished pianists in the world.

 

PPM: Where do the festival volunteers come from?
CC: Festival volunteers come from all walks of the community. Most are music lovers that offer their time because of their passion for the arts and serving the community.

PPM: What makes the Gilmore Festival different from other festivals around the US and Europe?
CC: The Gilmore Keyboard Festival was the first of its kind to offer awards on a non-competitive basis. Unlike most other open competitions throughout the world, the nominees have no idea they are being considered until the Award is granted. The festival itself concentrates on the celebration of keyboard music in a highly concentrated manner.

 

Unlike most other open competitions throughout the world, the nominees have no idea they are being considered until the Award is granted.

The festival is also heavily supported by private and public donations that allow world-class performers to perform for extremely reasonable ticket prices. This allows patrons to attend a variety of different events.

 

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VENUES: THE PHILHARMONIE DE PARIS –
GRANDE SALLE PIERRE BOULEZ

 by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

Located in the Parc de la Villete at the northeastern edge of city is the Paris Philharmonic, or, as the locals call it, Philharmonie De Paris.  It consists of two parts that compliment each other – Philharmonie 2, originally named the City of Music, and Philharmonie 1, the newest addition to the complex. Philharmonie 2 opened its doors back in 1995 and was originally called the City of Music, or le Cite de la Musique. Part of François Mitterrand’s (OBM) Grands Projets, the Cité de la Musique reinvented La Villette – the former slaughterhouse district.

While both structures are interesting and host an impressive amount of inspiring and uplifting cultural events, our overview will focus on Philharmonie 1 and its Grand Hall, or Grand Salle, Pierre Boulez (OBM), named after a prominent 20th century French composer.  (Note: To avoid confusion, there is another Pierre Boulez Hall, or Boules Zaal, designed by the famous architect Frank Geahry (MGBH), located in Berlin, Germany).

 

The exterior of Philharmonie De Paris 1

 

The credit for the idea of creating this marvelous addition to the City of Music should be given to the Minister of Culture and Communications Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres (MGBH), The Mayor of Paris Bretrand Dehnoe (MGBH), and The Director of The Cite de la Musique Laurent Bayle (MGBH) who announced it back in 2006.  As the result, an international competition among the finest architects had been held.

A year later, in 2007,  a world-class architect Jean Nouvel  (MGBH), who previously designed the Lucerne Culture and Conference Centre, Copenhagen’s Koncerhuset, and the Louvre Museum in Abu Dhabi, won the competition.  This is part of his vision that he presented in his proposal:

“The word “philharmonic” easily brings to mind the love of harmony. We play successive harmonies –urban harmonies. …  First, harmony with the lights of Paris, a ray of sun among grey clouds and rain. An architecture based on measured, composed reflections, created by way of a tranquil surface in the form of cast aluminum cobblestones that sketch out Esherian graphics under our feet.  Second, harmony with the Parc de la Villette, the continuity of Tschumian themes, a horizontal garden shelter under the building, punctuated by “Tschumi’s follies”, shadows reflected in the architectural brilliance and the creation of a small hill –La Villette Hill– a walkable mineral surface which, like the Buttes-Chaumont, plays the role of an observatory, looking out over the urban landscape.  Third, harmony with the Cité de la Musique with oblique sections and paving of force lines that were already there.  Fourth, harmony with the city’s ring road and suburbs, with the creation of a sign providing a dynamic and far-reaching view; a shimmer of light in the darkness of night, punctuating the Philharmonie’s surface and its programs….The Philharmonie de Paris <…> is supported in this endeavor by powerful but serene aesthetics, marked by the single use of cast aluminum, with its pearly nuances and delicateness, adding to the mystery of the hall’s presence which, in the grey and silver folds of the building, shines through.” (1)

The project took much longer to complete than expected. It went over budget by over a hundred million dollars.  However, both the wait, the effort, and the money were worth it.   This stunning masterpiece was finished and opened its doors in January of 2015.

During its first season, Philharmonie 1 attracted such outstanding pianists as Martha Agrerich (MGBH), Daniel Barenboim (MGBH), Helene Grimaud (MGBH), and Maurizio Pollini (MGBH).

In 2016, during its 2nd season, Daniel Barenboim and Martha Agrerich came back to perform there and were joined by Christian Zacharias (MGBH), Nicholas Angelich (MGBH), Murray Perahia (MGBH), Alexandre Tharaud (MGBH), Maria Joao Pires (MGBH), Yuja Wang (MGBH), Nelson Freire (MGBH), Andras Schiff (MGBH), Maurizio Pollini (MGBH), Lang Lang (MGBH), and Mitsuko Uchida (MGBH).

 

INSIDE…….

The Pierre Boulle Grand Hall seats 2,400 people.  The seats themselves were particularly designed to ensure the audience’s comfort: the distance between seat rows is at least 90 cm, and all seats are 52 to 55 cm, i.e. 20.5-21.5 in. wide.   Although large in size, the hall feels remarkably intimate.  This feeling can be mathematically explained: the distance between the conductor and the farthest spectator is only 32 meters.  The hall’s organic shapes and the warmth of the wood create an ambiance conducive to taking in music. One listens better in a state of well-being; such is the “psycho-acoustic” postulate of the Philharmonie. This is why certain materials are more present than others, even if they do not necessarily contribute to the quality of sound. (2)

Below you can see the chart of the Grand Salle Pierre Boulez.

 

One of the features that makes the Philharmonie unique among European concert halls is its versatility.  The aim was to be able to adapt the auditorium to different genres of music, while always providing optimal viewing and listening conditions.

 

The symphonic configuration of Grand Salle Pierre Boulez

 

In the symphonic configuration, the audience surrounds the orchestra. The tiers behind the stage can accommodate a choir if required for the work being presented, but are more often filled by spectators. These seats are popular with music aficionados, who enjoy the proximity to the musicians and being in front of the conductor. (3)

 

Cine-concert layout of Grand Salle Pierre Boulez

 

But in the case of concert-format operas or “ciné- concerts”, these seats are not used. The modular concept allows these back tiers to be eliminated and the stage to be moved back, increasing the parterre. (4)

Another innovative feature is that the seats in the parterre can be removed to leave standing room for contemporary music concerts, increasing capacity from 2,400 to 3,650 people.

The balconies of the Grand Salle Pierre Boulez

An audacious system of balconies based on cantilevers and clouds was a teamwork between Jean Nouvel, Marshall Day Acoustics and Ducks Scéno. The 283 m² stage featuring motorized platforms can accommodate any orchestral ensemble, even the most imposing. (5)  In addition to the local team, the architect employed the services of a renowned acoustics specialist Yasuhisa Toyota (MGBH) from Japan, who also worked on the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, CA.   The acoustic program (prepared by Kahle Acoustics) required an acoustic response that combines high sound clarity and ample reverberation.   It also required an approach that favors lateral reflection and great intimacy – and in a new type of venue.  The solution found was a daring system of floating balconies that create an intimate space and an exterior volume that prolongs the reverberation.  This new model combines lateral reflections, direct sound and reverberation, resulting in high clarity and transparency, as well as warm resonance.  The cloud-shaped reflectors, the back walls of the balconies and the parterre walls all contribute to this lateral reflection “envelope.”

The hall is soundproofed from the outside noise through the “box within a box” concept by leaving space between the walls. With the combination of two spaces that fit into each other, an interior floating room hosts the audience, creating visual and acoustic intimacy between the audience and the musicians and an outer space with its own acoustic and architectural presence. An innovation that is simultaneously architectural, scenographic and acoustic.  The architect and the hall’s main acoustic consultant, Sir Harold Marshall, designed this hall in collaborative sessions focused on combining architecture, acoustics, and scenography. (6)

 

Rieger organ at the Grand Salle Pierre Boulez.

The hall also houses a magnificent Rieger organ, 15 metres high and 20 metres wide, that was specially designed for the symphonic repertoire.

The season starts on September 1st featuring afternoon and evening performances.

One of the features unique to the Paris Philharmonie is that it offers free video concerts that are available online. Of almost 700 videos, including 50 full concerts.  If interested to watch performances online, you can find them HERE by clicking the link.

 

…..AND OUT, or THE BIRDS

The exterior of the Philharmonie 1 is as amazing as its interior. Its covering is composed of 340,000 birds, divided into seven different shapes and four shades ranging from light grey to black.  More than 200,000 birds in aluminum sheeting are installed on the facades to symbolize a grand take-off.  To adorn the Philharmonie’s esplanade, the ramp and part of the main concert hall’s acoustic roofing, the ground pavement birds are designed in cast aluminum assembled on a pre-cut granite structure.  Some of the pavement birds have been even moulded in concrete. (7)

 

The beautiful aluminum sheeting of the building exterior

 

All in all, the Philharmonie de Paris is a true destination.  If you are visiting Paris, whether you are a music aficionado or just a curious tourist,  it is definitely worthy of putting it on your list of “must go’s”.  The concerts as well as educational programs are very reasonably priced, and by visiting the complex, you will experience the true spirit of Parisian cultural life.

 

 

References:

(1) Philharmonie De Paris. Online Press Kit.
https://philharmoniedeparis.fr/sites/default/files/dp_philharmonie_-_gb_-_final_0.pdf
(2) Ibid.
(3) Ibid.
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ibid.
(6) Ibid.
(7) Ibid.

 

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The Piano Brain: Teacher Questions In The Music Lesson

Article by Michael Griffin (MGBH)

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Have you ever thought about the role of questions in your music lessons?

Whilst teacher questions serve to check for understanding, the most important benefit is that they engage the student in thinking to a much greater degree than do instructions. Thinking precedes learning. If there is no thinking, there will be no learning.

An example of an opportunity for deep questioning is in the giving of feedback. Quality feedback is essential for student progress. Feedback needs to be quick, often, consistent and accurate. However, before the teacher imparts their wisdom to the student, intelligent questioning allows for self-evaluation. All learners need to be able to monitor and evaluate their progress without the aid of a teacher. After all, most students have a lesson once per week, and are their own teachers for the remainder. Monitoring and evaluation, along with goal setting and reflection, are the essential metacognitive components for self-directed learning. For self-evaluation, the question could be as simple as “What do you think?” or “What are your thoughts?” The best teachers continue this questioning process, driving deeper learning for understanding and insight. They tell their students almost nothing, prompting and probing, drawing as much as possible from the student without providing answers.  It’s a little like delaying the final perfect cadence!  These teachers do not accept shallow or superficial responses, for they have high expectations of the student. Intelligent questions suggest no teacher judgement, allowing for greater freedom of response. Some useful questions include:

  • What makes you say that?
  • What questions are surfacing for you? What are you thinking?
  • Is what you are doing working? Why? Why not?
  • Tell me what you hear. How does it sound to you?
  • What can you do to learn this passage thoroughly?
  • Can you explain to me what you are doing?
  • Can you show me how to do this?
  • What goals would you like to set this week?
  • What’s your plan for tackling this?
  • Where will you go next?

Feedback and associated questions should apply to both the competent and less-competent aspects of playing. Many teachers are clear with feedback on the weaknesses of the playing, but less specific on what was good about the playing. Learners need to develop an acute awareness of both.

When asking questions, teachers should increase the “wait” time for an answer before butting in. The longer the wait time, the more opportunity to think and explore possibilities. Students can be very quick to say, “I don’t know”, effectively quitting the thinking process. We cannot accept this.

Sometimes an instruction is more appropriate than a question. For example, “Have your music ready, please” rather than an unnecessary question, “Have you got your music ready yet?”

Questioning is the essence of Socratic teaching. Plato tells the story that Socrates would teach without imparting information or answers. He would ask questions alone, allowing students to construct their own learning.

I cannot teach anyone anything, I can only hope to make them think. – Socrates

The best teachers ask questions in most of their interactions with students, even as much as 90% of the time. Studies on instrumental music teachers reveal that this is for many, an area for improvement, because many music teachers issue more instructions and commands than questions. This type of “control” teaching does little to engage students in the metacognitive process. Teaching and giving answers are not synonymous. When teacher talk dominates the lesson, at best shallow learning results. Metacognitive teaching approaches, such as questioning, foster how to think rather than what to think, resulting in a greater capacity to generate ideas and solutions.

 

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About the Author:

Michael Griffin is an educator, speaker, and pianist, based in Australia.  He is the author of “Learning Strategies for Musical Success” and “Developing Musical Skill – For Students.”

FEATURED INTERVIEW: LUCAS DEBARGUE – THE UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY

Foreword and interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

There is a conceptual paradox present in our society.
When it comes to raising children, for the convenience of the mothers who need or want to work, we have organized the system of daycares and then schools that focus on mass production – the mass production of uniformly thinking people that follow the rules, who robotically live on an auto-pilot without thinking too deep and too much. This is what our system designed to do.  If a child is different, he acquires a label as the one with “special needs,” and our educational system makes every effort possible to push him or her back into the artificially created mold with all the methods available.  If it works, it is called “success, and if it doesn’t, it’s called “failure.”
On the other hand, we look for and celebrate individuals – the people who are different, who are thinkers, who are deep. The kid, who was labeled as a “failure” in the middle school, grows up and invents something incredible or becomes a prominent musician. And then everything changes. We raise people like him to celebrity status. We practically worship them. We go to their concerts or lectures, read their books, inhale their thoughts, and are ready to follow them on the spur of a moment.
Why is that?
In this interview we feature a musician who did not follow a traditional path of “learning piano since he was 4.” He comes from a world different than that of most classical pianists, but still (or because of that) amazes the audience with his originality and individuality.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we present to you Lucas Debargue (MGBH).

 

 


PPM: What is your most prominent childhood memory?
LD: The first time I fell in love…

PPM: Which city and neighborhood did you grow up in? What was your childhood like?
LD: I had the chance to grow up in a house not far from the forest, one hour drive up north of Paris.  I had a very happy childhood and had no special interest in music before I was 9.  I loved drawing, reading.  I didn’t have too many friends, but the ones I had were very close ones.

PPM: When was your first introduction to classical music?
LD: Mozart, 21st piano concerto. I was 9 years old.

PPM: How did you transition to jazz?
LD: It was not a transition, but a very natural inclination to the world of jazz and improvisation when I was around 20, mostly due to the discovery of the music of Thelonious Monk (OBM).   Also, I met a guy in the conservatory who had a very strong harmonic sense.  Thanks to him I felt the need to learn more about all of it.

PPM: Please, tell us more about your family.
LD: I have 3 little brothers.  My parents are divorced.  My mother is a surgeon-assistant, and my father is a kinesiologist.  I have many wonderful memories of family meetings, when we were all 7 relatives playing together in my grandparents’ garden.

The ones who let the strongest impression on me were those who were first of all wonderful human beings.  Their personalities went beyond the codes and “limits” of their profession and, so, they had the possibility to share their passion, which is the most important thing a teacher can do, I think.

PPM: Which teacher (s) in school influenced you the most and in what way?
LD:  It was during the years between 2002 and 2005, the jazz band coach in Compiegne, who has now passed away.
During the same years, I had a gym teacher, who humiliated me terribly and made me realize what a poor team player I was.
My literature teacher, school year 2006-2007.
My harmony teacher in the CNSM of Paris, 2012-14.
And, actually, some others.  The ones who let the strongest impression on me were those who were first of all wonderful human beings.  Their personalities went beyond the codes and “limits” of their profession and, so, they had the possibility to share their passion, which is the most important thing a teacher can do, I think.

PPM: Which books of your adolescence helped build your character?
LD: Kafka’s (OBM)  Metamorphosis. Dostoievski’s (OBM) Crime and Punishment.  Balzac’s (OBM) Illusions Perdues.

 

For me it has no sense to spend days repeating difficult passages.  Everything has to be clear in the mind, and for this a keyboard is not necessary.

 

PPM: Do you have a daily piano practice routine? If so, what is it like?
LD: Not at all.  My aim is to practice as less as possible. And when it’s unavoidable, to prepare my working sessions very precisely.  For me it has no sense to spend days repeating difficult passages.  Everything has to be clear in the mind, and for this a keyboard is not necessary.  It’s even better to not lose energy and time moving the fingers on a musical substance that is not yet well-learned.  Would an actor stage himself before knowing is role very well?

When I have a big repertoire to prepare like I do now –  (Scriabin’s (OBM) Prometheus, Ravel’s (OBM) G Major Concerto, Chopin’s (OBM) and Szymanowski’s (OBM) Solo Recital, Prokofiev’s (OBM) 2nd Concerto – I need, of course, to work on it every day.  I have been working on it for a while though.  I couldn’t be in the situation of being not prepared a few days before a concert.  The last few days are for checking if everything is running smoothly and, maybe, to find some new musical ideas.

I think it’s very important to learn some orchestra scores or string quartets and to read books to get more in touch with composers and the spirit of their time.

PPM: Is becoming a celebrated pianist a dream come true or is it an unexpected result of a challenge that you took upon yourself by entering a competition?
LD: I cannot say it was a dream… I never dreamt to become a soloist.  However, I know that I have been a musician for a long time, and this a very “real” feeling.  Maybe one should be careful what he or she dreams about. Precisely, because these are dreams, they have a high chance of never realizing: one can get obsessed by his ambitions and lose many opportunities around.  Better to know what you need and go for it without wasting time.

Knowing that I was a musician and that music had to take the biggest part of my life was the only strength that helped me achieve my preparation in such a big city like Paris, where I was absolutely unknown and not very much supported by anyone.  I had no piano at home and no way of earning a living.  This was a very serious test of how important music was for me: to take the time to get lessons at 22 years old instead of being all over the place looking for a job, which was essential in my situation.

 

I feel fed up by invitations to take drugs and “lose control”, and also politically correct and narcissistic conversations. I don’t make friends easily, but I remain loyal to the few I have!

 

PPM:  Which character traits are important for you to work on and which character traits do you appreciate in others?
LD:  Concentration.  Mental strength.  Loyalty.  Honesty.  Deep sensitivity to art and nature.  Not being scared about talking about difficult matters.  Youth and freshness (nothing to do with age: I know a lot of teenagers or people of my age that are way more creepy, spooky or simply boring than my grandmother).

The time that many people of my age spend on Tinder, Instragram or listening to electro music (and all the variations on electro music with the drugs directly associated) is a time that fascinates me, because I cannot find it or resonate with it in my own life.  I cannot even say I hate it: it’s just too far from me and what I love.  And this was already the case years before I made the Tchaikovsky Finals, even before I got the idea to prepare myself to perform.  I am passionate about the people my age and always eager to listen to their experiences, but I cannot bear being pushed to share these experiences with them.  I wouldn’t have the idea to present Shostakovich (OBM) 4th symphony as the “ultimate musical experience”  in front of a group of young people; even if it’s exactly what I personally think.  I keep it for me and for the ones who could understand my point.

In others, I appreciate everything that can speak to me and, at the same time, take me somewhere I haven’t been and feel curious about. I feel fed up by invitations to take drugs and “lose control”, and also politically correct and narcissistic conversations. I don’t make friends easily, but I remain loyal to the few I have!

PPM: Do you have a favorite place to travel to?
LD: Some places in France and Italy. Russia. I also loved visiting Montana during the Tippet Rise festival in 2016.

PPM: What was your experience at the Verbier Festival like this year?
LD: Very exciting. Frustrating in a way, because it was too short to enjoy all the aspects of it! But I should come back next year …

PPM: What jazz clubs did you enjoy performing at the most?
LD: Paris: Chat Noir at Pigalle, Hotel Shangri-La at Alma Marceau; Chicago – Showcase; Rio de Janeiro –  clubs in Lapa.

PPM: What is your favorite holiday?
LD: Hmm…. Christmas?

PPM: Are you a night or a morning person?
LD: Both, but very much depending on the context…

If a musician is not creative, what is he all about?

PPM: What does creativity in music mean to you?
LD: “Creativity in music”  is just a pleonasm for me!   If a musician is not creative, what is he all about?  I would say the same about performers, composers, conductors, and improvisers … Moreover, I put creation on the higher level than creativity.   Creativity is almost a trait of character, while creation needs a lot of work, patience, and will over it.

PPM: Which composers affected you the most as a person and a musician?
LD: When I was 15, Rachmaninov (OBM), Prokofiev (OBM), and Scriabin (OBM).  They’re still close to  my heart but not as much as before.  Also, Beethoven (OBM) and Shostakovitch (OBM).

PPM: Do you cook? What are some of your favorite foods? What are some of your favorite restaurants to go to?
LD: I would like to cook more, but one needs time for it … And my kitchen in Paris is too little. Favorite restaurants are the simplest.  The best and the simplest, like the wonderful food you find in Italy.

PPM: Would you, please, share a few funny or just interesting stories that happened during performing life over the years?
LD: Once, right before the performance, I realized that I was wearing sport shoes.  Someone had to call my friend who was sitting in the hall to run to the car and bring me the proper ones.

PPM: With music being your passion, what are your hobbies?
LD: I don’t really have that many hobbies.  Spend all day in a library, maybe?  Very seldom – Tekken on PS3 with a very good mate.  Hard time for the thumbs.  Bike with my father, but this is also very rare. Hiking.

PPM: What is your favorite sport to help you keep in shape?
LD: Running and swimming.

PPM: Would you share your life philosophy with our readers?
LD: “Swing until death.”

PPM: Do you compose your own music?
LD: Yes.  Since 2014 I composed 2 cello and piano sonatas – one little and one big; 1 violin and piano sonata; 1 piano trio (created in Moscow Dom Musiki, Sankt Peterbourg Mariinsky, and on September 29th in Paris, Vuitton Foundation); 1 concertino for piano, drums and string orchestra (created in June 2017 with Kremerata Baltica); 3 melodies for voice and piano; and a set of Toccatinas and Fugues for piano “Variations chorales.”  My first big piece for solo piano I am just working on now.

PPM: Are you planning a tour to the US any time soon?
LD: Not a tour per se, but I will be coming to the US with Martin Frost, Torleif Thedeen, and Janine Jansen to perform at Carnegie Hall on December 5th. It’s going to be a wonderful program – Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time (we just recorded it with Sony Classical, same team, should be released in November), Bartok’s (OBM) Contrasts, Szymanowski’s (OBM) Mythes
And prior to this,  I am very much looking forward to playing the program of my new album –  Schubert and Szymanowski – in Chicago on November 19th!

PPM: Thank you, Lucas! We are looking forward to welcoming you in the US.

 

 

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