She lives in a small town in New Jersey, has a parakeet named Mozart, loves ice-cream, chess, and bird-duck-goose-watching. Other than that, she is just an ordinary child prodigy.
PPM: Which city do you live in and what do you like about it? HZ: I currently live in a small town in New Jersey – the Garden State! There are lots of wild animals in New Jersey that live in my backyard including squirrels, chipmunks, deer, turkey, wild cats, groundhogs, bunnies, ducks, and a whole bunch of birds (cardinals, blue jays, doves, robins, sparrows, finches…)!! Recently, there’s been a duck couple visiting my yard every few days! The lady duck has been really bossy towards the gentleman duck (whom I named “Rachmaninoff”), quacking aggressively every time she needs his help. Rachmaninoff has been a real gentleman who always follows her quacking instructions without hesitation. They like wading in my backyard stream or taking a walk on the grass – they’re sooo adorable!! One of my favorite hobbies is bird-duck-goose-watching, which makes living in NJ perfect for me!! I also love how I pass by the beautiful Hudson River, full of bikers and joggers, every time I commute to New York for Juilliard.
PPM: Do you have siblings? HZ: I don’t have any siblings, but I do have a cousin!
Rachmaninoff has been a real gentleman who always follows her quacking instructions without hesitation.
PPM: How did you start your piano studies and who was your first teacher? HZ: It all started when my grandma, who was a university professor, decided to buy an upright piano for herself to learn it as a hobby after she retired. I immediately fell in love with the piano, and it became my favorite toy every time I visited her place! There was a piano showroom in a mall close to where I lived, and whenever my parents took me shopping in the mall (I loved shopping :D), I was always so attracted to the showroom that I would drag them towards that direction. The showroom happened to offer piano lessons as well though they were taught by amateurs. Since I was so intrigued by the pianos and refused to budge, my parents finally signed me up for some lessons. After a couple of lessons I had already memorized all the pieces in my first piano book, and since the teacher didn’t do anything other than letting me play through everything and I was quick at sight-reading, my non-musician parents figured that playing the piano couldn’t be easier so why bother taking me to the lessons? They never took my piano study seriously. So, they actually didn’t buy me a piano for the first year. Buying me piano scores, they decided, was equal to taking me to the lessons. I was only 3 and, unfortunately, don’t remember my first teacher’s name… but I do remember that I had total freedom for the next one or two years happily playing all the pieces I loved including Chopin (OBM) Nocturne in E flat when I was 4 – one of my favorites.
After a couple of lessons I had already memorized all the pieces in my first piano book…
PPM: When did you have your first public performance? HZ: I had my first public performance when I was three years old. Hahaha, there’s no way I can still remember how I exactly felt about my playing but I do remember I had a lot of fun, it was a hot summer day, and I got a big ice cream afterwards!
PPM: Do you go to school outside the house or are you home schooled? HZ: I go to regular school in NJ where I have a bunch of friends! I am an A+ student (and, no – I don’t have a tutor). My teachers are all so funny, nice, kind, and supportive! I love school!!
I love composing all types of music for different kinds of instruments. I often perform my own piano pieces in my recitals.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about the music you write. What have you written so far and where did you perform your compositions? HZ: I love composing all types of music for different kinds of instruments. I often perform my own piano pieces in my recitals. Many people come to me after my performance and tell me how my composition touched their hearts. It makes me very happy that my music speaks to them. I performed a shortened version of one of my pieces on The Ellen Show at my second appearance when I was 9. I have some of my music on my Youtube channel, so feel free to check it out!
PPM: Who picks your concert wardrobe? What are your favorite outfits? Harmony Zhu (HZ): I love picking my own concert wardrobe! One of my favorite dresses is a bright red one that I wore to my performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin (MGBH) on the Opening Night Gala Concert for their 2017/18 season last October.
PPM: What do you like to do on weekends? HZ: I go to the Juilliard School on Saturdays, which has made Saturday my favorite day of the week! On Sundays it really depends. With my million hobbies, I could be doing anything from reading, drawing, dancing, and singing to playing ping pong to going to my friends’ places (sometimes we have a sleepover, or go see movies, etc.)…
I have a parakeet whom I named Mozart, her nickname being Momo! She is now three years old. Momo was born to be musical as she always chirps along to the beat of my playing.
PPM: Do you have any pets? HZ: I have a parakeet whom I named Mozart, her nickname being Momo! She is now three years old. Momo was born to be musical as she always chirps along to the beat of my playing. When I play most Chopin pieces she chirps softly and happily as she is a big fan of Chopin’s melodic music. When I have to play something loud like most Prokofiev pieces, she doesn’t like it and would chirp angrily at me as if I were making a huge mistake. She is never shy of voicing her musical opinions!
PPM: Who are your favorite composers and why? HZ: My favorite composers are Chopin, Rachmaninoff (OBM), and Prokofiev (OBM). I love Chopin for his mostly “sentimental” music. Rachmaninoff’s music, especially his orchestral music, is so grand and carries such rich colors. I love the tension and energy in Prokofiev’s music. My favorite work by Prokofiev would be his 3rd Piano Concerto.
PPM: What is the biggest challenge for you in practicing piano? HZ: When I practice, I always tend to start improvising, which makes it hard to concentrate on just practicing. 🙂
PPM: What is your favorite food? HZ: Ice cream!!! I love all kinds of ice cream, but my favorite is cookies and cream…
PPM: What are your favorite subjects in school? HZ: That‘s a tough question to answer – I love all my school subjects! If I had to choose a favorite few I’d say those would be math, history, Spanish, art, and P.E..
PPM: If you could meet any classical composer from the past, who would it be and what questions would you ask him? HZ: I would love to meet with every major classical composer and ask them to play their own pieces for me – I’m so curious how they would have played their own pieces! I’d also like to show them music of later genres to see how they would respond. For example, I really want to ask Bach (OBM) what he thinks of his music on a modern piano with pedal.
PPM: You’ve recently traveled to Israel. Please, tell our readers about your experience. HZ: I had a spectacular experience in Israel! I went to Israel to perform three concerts in Tel Aviv and Haifa with the Israel Philharmonic. The Israel Philharmonic musicians are so warm and kind, and it was such an honor for me to collaborate with them! Besides the wonderful musical experience, Israel’s beautiful beaches, fascinating history, and stunning nature were all extremely intriguing to me! In my free time, I got to visit the lowest place on earth and float effortlessly in the Dead Sea (it lives up to the hype!), climb the breathtaking Masada Fortress in the Israeli Desert to learn about the history of the Jewish revolt against the Roman empire that happened 2000 years ago, and explore the Holy City of Jerusalem, a city where old meets new and holy meets secular. It felt like travelling back in time!
She was home schooled by her mother until she was 10 years old. Performed on stage with an orchestra when she was 9. She is a composer, a poet, and an organizer of the Festival Baltimore. Take a sneak peak into her world.
Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Asiya, why did you choose piano as your profession? Asiya Korepanova (AK): I was born into a family of musicians – a composer and a pianist. With me being the only child, they did not want me to become a musician considering how hard it is to be one. Watching my mother practice piano when I was barely 3 years old, I would always try to take her seat and “practice” as soon as she would leave the piano. My dad, a composer himself, would listen to a lot of music. I grew up in that environment watching him get emotional over different pieces, analyze them, and fall in love with them. So, later on, when I was 6, I became obsessed with listening to symphonic music on LPs and successfully destroyed many records due to overuse! At that point it was clear that music was something that I could not imagine myself without. That was the beginning of my musical life. My mother became my first teacher in music and arts and home schooled me until I was 10 years old.
PPM: What does your first and last name mean? AK: Asiya is a Persian name and means “one who tends to the weak and heals them.” In Hebrew, Asiyah is the word that represents the physical dimension of the world, according to Kabbalah. Korepanova is a popular last name from the region I am coming from – Udmurtia.
Composing from an early age helped me as a performer immensely and formed my views on musical text in a very particular way.
PPM: Do you compose music? AK: Yes, I do. I double majored in piano and composition as a student of the Central Music School in Moscow, where I was lucky to study with the Moscow Conservatory’s legendary Head of Composition, Albert Leman (OBM). Composing from an early age helped me as a performer immensely and formed my views on musical text in a very particular way. It made me much more aware of structure and inner details of musical composition and gave me much more freedom in interpreting those details. I have explored different chamber groups and solo instruments. I am also fond of writing transcriptions. It is, in a sense, a very specific way of interpretation. You are putting a piece through your mind, adopting it for the piano and becoming a co-composer, which brings an incredible feeling of belonging. I am putting up my shorter transcriptions regularly as a part of my “Midnight Pieces” Series on my YouTube channel, but my main works in this field are complete Rachmaninoff’s (OBM) Cello Sonata and Richard Strauss’ (OBM) Ein Heldenleben.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your project – Festival Baltimore. AK: Festival Baltimore is a wild dream coming true. I have always been extremely interested in how composers’ styles evolve during their lifetime. Because of that, it feels very special to me to hear or play a complete cycle of works of a composer, e.g., complete Beethoven’s (OBM) cello sonatas or Liszt’s (OBM) 24 Etudes. During the performance, you witness this composer’s lifetime passing through their music before your ears and your imagination.
The festival is based in a state-of-the-art Linehan Concert Hall on UMBC’s Campus in Baltimore, MD. Performing at this venue is a true joy. Its gorgeous acoustics and beautiful architecture along with comfortable practice and rehearsal spaces are very inspiring. I am very grateful for the partnership with the UMBC Music Department.
This year, which is our second season, we presented programs such as Richard Strauss’ complete chamber works with piano; complete Robert Schumann (OBM) works for viola, clarinet, and piano; complete Mendelssohn’s (OBM) piano trios and sextet, and many more. There were incredible collaborations with great artists such as violinist Gary Levinson (MGBH), clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein (MGBH), and violist Michael Klotz (MGBH). We also included one-of-a-kind works, such as Bartok’s (OBM) sonata for two pianos and percussion and George Crumb’s (MGBH) Makrokosmos III. More importantly, Festival Baltimore includes an academy where students come for intensive workshops on pieces within a cycle and the composers institute headed by Matthew Evan Taylor (MGBH), where composers learn to adopt to their musical language the old cycle forms such as suites, sonatas, variations and passacaglias. Academy culminates in a filmed and recorded performance, and students can use the recordings any way they want. This year’s students performed complete Tchaikovsky (OBM) string quartets and complete Rachmaninoff piano duos. I could not be happier about this endeavor.
PPM: Please, name 3 living musicians that you would like to share a stage with in the future? AK: Bernard Haitink (MGBH), Herbert Blomstedt (MGBH), and Andris Nelsons (MGBH).
PPM: What was your most memorable performance? AK: I would say, debuting in Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium with an orchestra or performing solo on stage of the Chatelet Theatre in Paris were the most memorable. However, my experiences of performing in a prison, in public schools or with the State Svetlanov (OBM) Symphony Orchestra on the street during the City Day in Moscow were as intense and fulfilling as those in the best concert halls. I think the most memorable performance for a musician is the one where he is able to fully realize his vision. It is very hard to achieve. So, these performances stay in your memory forever, no matter what the circumstances are.
Maestro Spivakov has always been a very inspiring figure, and probably every musical child in Russia dreams of meeting him and working with him.
PPM: What was it like for you to work with Vladimir Spivakov (MGBH)? AK: Maestro Spivakov has always been a very inspiring figure, and probably every musical child in Russia dreams of meeting him and working with him. He has a very warm personality and is quite open with people he collaborates with. I first worked with him directly when I was 17 years old as a soloist with “Moscow Virtuosi” in a tour to Ukraine and Kazakhstan. I was amazed how he never made me feel that he was a legendary maestro and I was an aspiring young artist. Instead, it felt like a serious work of two musicians trying to convey the maximum joy from Mozart (OBM) and Haydn (OBM) concerti. I had a wonderful time being able to step onto professional stage and travel to different countries to perform under his tutelage.
PPM: You have worked in collaboration with many prominent artists. What is your advise to those who are just starting to think of collaborating with others? AK: I think it is really important to be able to listen and understand what your partner tries to express through music. Sometimes the ideas may be the opposite of yours, sometimes they match. In each case you need to have flexibility to adjust while still staying true to your own voice. Sometimes you also need to be able to convince your partners to adopt your ideas, and it takes sensitivity, ability to inspire and spark interest.
I have drawn some pictures for Divine Comedy, which I read at 7. I wrote poems dedicated to some artworks of great masters that I loved, wrote romances to my own poetry, wrote poetry for Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” that the studio of my music school professor was performing.
PPM: You have developed and performed several multimedia projects with your own poetry and drawings. Please, tell our readers about them: what was your inspiration and what they were all about? AK: I have been drawing and writing poetry since a very early age. It has always been a happy activity for me. I would usually get inspired towards the late night, and my parents let me stay up seeing I was in the “zone.”
I have drawn some pictures for Divine Comedy, which I read at 7. I wrote poems dedicated to some artworks of great masters that I loved, wrote romances to my own poetry, wrote poetry for Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons” that the studio of my music school professor was performing. But it was only during my late teens that I thought of writing and drawing at the same time for something I played.
My first project, Euphoria after Liszt, is based on 12 Transcendental Etudes (and I am actually about to expand it to 24 etudes, since last year I started to play the whole set in recitals). It includes a set of 12 poems and 12 drawings – one for each of the Transcendental Etudes. It has been an incredible experience performing Liszt with projections of my drawings and narrating my poems before each etude. That project was created in 2007, and since then I also treated the first book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier and Tchaikovsky’s 18 pieces, Op. 72 the same way. Bringing different art forms together benefits each of the arts and inspires each other.
By now, I have performed over 55 different concerti with the orchestra and still have many more on my list.
PPM: Your first performance with orchestra was when you were 9 years old, wasn’t it? Please, tell us what you remember from that experience? AK: Yes, I was. It was definitely the most exciting day in my life at that moment. It brought a very strong sense of purpose as I also was performing my own cadenza in the first movement. At the dress rehearsal, I was so mesmerized by the orchestral introduction in the second movement that forgot to enter my part! Thankfully, at the concert everything went smoothly, and I just thoroughly enjoyed the process of what would become one of the most intense parts of my musical upbringing. By now, I have performed over 55 different concerti with the orchestra and still have many more on my list.
PPM: Would you share a few stories that happened during your performances? AK: Once I had a balloon from a graduation party the day before descent on stage from the ceiling right above the piano, while I was playing a very poetic piece by Tchaikovsky! It looked like it was staged, when it wasn’t. Another time I had a stage light explode above the stage right at the last chord of the second movement of Prokofiev’s Second Concerto – it was so dramatic. The most amazing story happened about seven years ago, after my performance of Rachmaninoff’s Paganini Rhapsody in Sarasota, Fl. An older gentleman came up to me and told me that he was 98 years old and as a boy heard Mr. Rachmaninoff premiere this piece himself! I was fascinated!
They were absolutely stunned with the music. So, I kept playing other serious pieces for them -–Ravel’s (OBM) Ondine, Bach-Busoni’s (OBM) Chaconne, and such.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your non-profit organization? AK: After winning the Nina Wideman (MGBH) Competition in Shreveport in 2012, I got booked for a series of performances throughout the country for the 2013-2014 season. That’s when I was first asked to perform at one of the art schools during my tour. I was performing a challenging solo program at a time and seeing a huge crowd of kids, I thought that playing a highly energetic final movement of Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata would be fun for them to watch and hear. They were absolutely stunned with the music. So, I kept playing other serious pieces for them -–Ravel’s (OBM) Ondine, Bach-Busoni’s (OBM) Chaconne, and such. The kids would come up to me after the performance telling me how there were bored during their piano lessons because their study pieces were not interesting and how they wanted to get back to playing piano. For me that was a turning point – I started asking organizers of my concerts to let me play at local schools and continued playing “grown-up” music for them with invariably excited response. Last year, I started a non-profit “Music for Minds” to help me not only play for kids more often, but also involve my colleagues. The non-profit also has a secondary role of running classical music festivals with unusual programming, open for children to listen to. At Festival Baltimore, each of our concerts is free for kids up to 18 years old.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your upcoming DVD release where you perform at Tchaikovsky’s birthplace. AK: I performed 18 pieces, Op.72 at Tchaikovsky’s birthplace on his memory day, November 6 on the year of his 175th anniversary. The live recording of this recital is coming out as DVD. I share almost the same birthplace with Tchaikovsky. I was born just 25 miles away, and this connection means the world to me!
PPM: What does your performance schedule look like for this year? AK: For me, the season starts on August 17th at the Bargemusic Series in New York City. Full schedule is regularly updated on my website. Overall, next season I am bringing Liszt’s 24 etudes back on tour through several cities in the US and working on editing and releasing my recording of the three Rachmaninoff’s Piano Sonatas featuring my transcription of the Cello Sonata. There will be a tour supporting the release as well. I will be returning to Miami Piano Festival with a program called “Heroes:” Beethoven’s Eroica Variations, Wagner-Liszt’s (OBM) Tannhäuser Overture, and my transcription of “Ein Heldenleben” Symphonic Poem by R. Strauss (OBM). Besides that, there will be other recitals and performances with orchestras in the US, Canada, and Russia, and several chamber music projects, including the third season of Festival Baltimore in June of 2019.
PPM: What do you enjoy doing during your down time? AK: I am often sleep deprived, so I love to catch up with sleep when I can. Reading is amazing, too. I love making things by hand, all sorts of DIYs – bead jewelry, knitting, sewing, and embroidery. Drawing is a passion, of course. And, I love cooking for friends!
I strongly believe musicians need to know music broadly and specifically. Unfortunately, it happens more often than we want to think, that record collectors know music better than us.
PPM: What is your teaching philosophy, and what methods do you employ in teaching? AK: One of the hardest things is to teach a person how to listen to himself and understand what is missing or needs improvement. In masterclasses, I often find musical and passionate people with completely wrong physical habits on the keyboard and the opposite – perfect technique with no artistic vision. I have discovered for myself that if you play a piece, it helps to know all the works that were written by that composer within five years of that work’s creation, and, preferably, all other works of the same key, and same genre. That knowledge sometimes can teach you more than hours of tutoring – it informs your understanding of the style, phrasing, gives you interpretational insights, flexibility and ideas. Diving into composer’s output also makes you feel like you almost know them. As a result, you intuitively start making better musical choices.
I strongly believe musicians need to know music broadly and specifically. Unfortunately, it happens more often than we want to think, that record collectors know music better than us.
When I teach, I make students become aware of their body and the way different muscles work. I help them build independence of fingers and guide them in being attentive to the author’s text. After the basics are done, we proceed with working on the structure of the piece, understanding its shape and direction of different episodes. That type of work eventually shapes the interpretation.
PPM: What is your favorite food? AK: Oh, I love so many things! I love complex baked multilayered pies, where you make your own dough. I enjoy doing it when I have time. When run short on time, but still feel like baking something, I enjoy making oatmeal cookies, which I have a special recipe for. I smash a banana into a puree, add 4 tablespoons of oatmeal, a tablespoon of flax seeds, a tablespoon of chia seeds, 2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, 4 dried figs cut in small pieces, 4 dried apricots cut in small pieces, some raisins, mush all that together, form little cookies and bake for 20 min at 350 degrees. The cookies turn out sweet and fulfilling.
PPM: What personal and professional qualities do you value in a person the most? AK: I value curiosity, willingness and ability to learn and grow, ability to see situations from different perspectives, and consistency. I value when people do what they do with love and dedication.
Classical music has unparalleled properties. Most of them quite far from the sense of pure “entertainment” – healing, inspiring, energizing, exciting, uplifting, fulfilling, and bringing wisdom, sense of time and beauty into one’s life. My dream is to mesmerize as many people by classical music as humanly possible.
PPM: What is your dream as an artist? AK: Classical music has unparalleled properties. Most of them quite far from the sense of pure “entertainment” – healing, inspiring, energizing, exciting, uplifting, fulfilling, and bringing wisdom, sense of time and beauty into one’s life. My dream is to mesmerize as many people by classical music as it is humanly possible.
“Fail not to practice the reading of old clefs;
otherwise, many treasures of past times will remain a closed fountain to you”.
– Robert Schumann (OBM)
In the West, reading musical notation is probably the most common method of learning and performing music. Nevertheless, some musicians are more practiced at playing without musical notation than with it, and many successful musicians from the worlds of jazz, pop, and folk do not read music. What incentive is there for students to spend the time and effort required to become literate with music notation?
Formal musical knowledge may not be an essential part of musicianship, but it does enrich it. Everyone who can read a book has the intellectual capacity to become an effective music reader. Just like in reading, we graduate from learning to read to reading to learn. If you need motivation or are looking to motivate others to learn how to read music, consider the following.
Most ensembles and choirs require communication with other musicians through notation. Even jazz ensembles, and particularly big bands, rely heavily on written notation.
Notation is the basis of music theory, which provides a pathway to a depth of musical understanding not possible without it. Theory helps us understand the conceptual and talk declaratively about music. It can open a new world of musical understanding.
The ability to read music enables exploration of libraries full of new music otherwise not available to us.
Much music, particularly western art music, is too difficult to learn by ear. If we want to play the extraordinary but complex repertoires of the great composers, reading music is the only means.
Learning from notation demands a precision and a series of checkpoints that will improve other aspects of musicianship.
Beware of the attitude that spurns reading music. I am yet to meet a non-reader who does not regret their lack of ability to read music.
Beware of the attitude that spurns reading music. I am yet to meet a non-reader who does not regret their lack of ability to read music.
The beauty of this skill is that it speeds up the learning process and offers new and wider opportunities for making music with others. Poor sight-reading has been identified as one of the reasons students stop lessons. The most effective way to become a successful sight-reader is to practice it regularly. There is a correlation between proficient sight-reading and the time spent on it; you do not become fluent at reading anything without regular practice. As with reading a book, in time students will recognize clusters of notes as phrases rather than as individual entities. When I was learning piano, my sight-reading was comparatively weak. The teacher’s advice was to obtain a stack of suitably difficult music and sight-read every day. Once the piece had been played, the sight-playing experience was over.
The most effective way to become a successful sight-reader is to practice it regularly. There is a correlation between proficient sight-reading and the time spent on it; you do not become fluent at reading anything without regular practice.
Improving sight-reading requires a continual increase in the difficulty of the material. Learning to sight-read involves a different approach than learning for a performance. Maintaining fluency and momentum is paramount. One must not look back, nor stop to correct mistakes, for in sight-reading mistakes are tolerated. Practicing with a metronome, backing tracks, or better still live ensemble partners, can help induce this necessary fluency. Successful sight-readers keep their eyes on the music more often than poorer sight-readers. This is one of the reasons many pianists struggle with sight-reading, for it is difficult to keep the eyes on the music while moving one’s hands to the correct keys. C. P. E. Bach (OBM) advised, “If you want to improve your sight-reading, practice in the dark.” This can be simulated by closing the eyes during practice or wearing a blindfold. Improving the sense of touch allows the eyes to spend more time on the page.
C. P. E. Bach (OBM) advised, “If you want to improve your sight-reading, practice in the dark.” This can be simulated by closing the eyes during practice or wearing a blindfold. Improving the sense of touch allows the eyes to spend more time on the page.
Sight-reading involves playing the current measure while scanning the next, moving fingers to the keys without looking, using prior musical knowledge to comprehend the music, and relating to the music on an emotional level. Better sight-readers have a greater knowledge of musical styles and repertoire, which provides a database of familiarity. This familiarity enables sight-readers to make educated guesses to maintain the flow of the music. Effective sight-readers scan the music beforehand, considering tempo, key signatures and difficult passages. Students are unlikely to practice sight-reading at home if they don’t see it being valued during lessons.
Rhythmic reading is the most important and the most challenging component of sight-reading. This can be practiced in isolation, even away from one’s instrument. To become rhythmically strong, I recommend an approach which relates rhythm to pulse. Here is the rhythm from an excerpt of Brahms’s (OBM) Academic Festival Overture.
Isolate and write out the rhythm for practice, as shown above.
Add the pulse counts, as shown above. Over time, this will be less necessary, but to begin with, do not assume the student can do this.
Ensure the student understands the distribution of accents. “S” means a strong accent; “W” means weak.
Clap the rhythm while counting the pulse out loud.
Clap the pulse and sing the rhythm to “da”.
On a table, tap the left hand to the pulse and the right hand to the rhythm.
On a table, tap the right hand to the pulse and the left hand to the rhythm.
This article is an excerpt from the book “Learning Strategies for Musical Success” (Purchase through Amazon) by Michael Griffin, an educator, speaker, and pianist, based in Australia. He is also the author of and “Developing Musical Skill – For Students.”
It started six years ago with the four God-fearing men deciding to make music videos for YouTube audiences. During these years, they developed deep friendships, travelled the world together, and created inspiring audio/visual masterpieces that captivated hundreds millions of viewers and listeners. Today, the Piano Guys are ready for their next adventure – live performances throughout the world’s best concert halls and arenas. Paul Andersen (MGBH), Jon Schmidt (MGBH), Steven Sharp Nelson (MGBH), and Al van der Beek (MGBH), sit down with Piano Performer Magazine to tell their story.
Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): The story of how you all met sounds short of a miracle. At what point of your career was each of you before forming a group? Were you looking for a change? Paul: I’d have to admit that I’m always looking for a change. I don’t like work to be repetitive. I was continually trying new things to keep my job exciting. I’ve always loved photography and videography. So before The Piano Guys I spent time taking a lot of photos of pianos I’d sell to people that had beautiful homes and had a dream to eventually put pianos outside, showing off Southern Utah. It was awesome how it eventually led to that, then putting pianos in crazy locations all over the world! Steven: Only Jon (MGBH) was in music full-time. Paul (MGBH) owned a piano store. Al was doing some studio engineering projects and freelance graphic design work. I was in a venture capital group while moonlighting as a musician. You’re absolutely right. Our meeting, our genesis, was nothing short of a miracle. And we feel it was for a purpose. To find and fulfill our life “missions.”
Our meeting, our genesis, was nothing short of a miracle. And we feel it was for a purpose. To find and fulfill our life “missions.”
PPM: What was your first video about, what challenges did you face, and how did you solve them? Steven: It was an original tune called “Michael Meets Mozart.” We actually hired out most of the video work to a good friend and fellow YouTuber. We didn’t really know what we were doing, but we just went after it with all we had. It was, in essence, our best shot at an experiment in a new way to produce music
visually. We prayed for help, then got to work, reminding ourselves to have fun and do our best. These
are the same rules I give my children in everything they do — be it sports, music or schooling.
We prayed for help, then got to work, reminding ourselves to have fun and do our best. These
are the same rules I give my children in everything they do — be it sports, music or schooling.
PPM: Jon, please, tell our readers about your career as a pianist before The Piano Guys. Who was your first piano teacher? What venues did you perform at? Jon: I started learning piano at the age of 7. My first piano teacher was a lady in the neighborhood. I took lessons for a few months, and I remember not getting it at all. At that age, reading music was just too much for me, and I just started using my ear and read the finger numbers. So, the first year was kind of a disaster. And I remember the piano teacher often in tears. So, that I think gave me a real desire when I was a teacher to try to figure out how to help kids not to experience what I had experienced. After that first teacher, I started taking piano lessons from my older sister – 11 years older than me – the best pianist in the family. I admire her piano skills immensely. She can sightread anything. He was the accompanist for the Utah Symphony Choir, and she literally could sight any piece of classical music without missing a beat. She started with Mabel Borg Jenkins (OBM), one of whose students was Grant Johannesen (OBM), who became a world renowned concert pianist. So, I was classically trained by her from the age of 8 till the age of 19. I am really lucky that I was able to have that background in my family. She encouraged me to try out for a music scholarship when I was 16 years old, and I did it because she wanted me to.
I did it with the Military piece of Chopin (OBM), and, to my surprise, I was awarded the scholarship! And then I turned it down, because I didn’t really want to become a musician. That wasn’t on my radar at all. At 19, I stopped training classically and was writing and doing things for fun. I started writing music by ear as a teenager, and that kind of took over – my own creative pursuits took over my classical training. I was always the school entertainer in high school. Right around 21, I started to perform benefit concerts. I started doing one for my high school that I attended to raise money for some event. And then surrounding high schools contacted me to do fundraisers for their events. And within a year it became a local phenomena. It’s really strange how all these kids showed up to these piano concerts, but I did do some highly energetic things – I was still kind of a kid myself in my early twenties. So, I think I kinda related that way. And the music I was playing was written when I was a teenager influenced by a lot of the pop music that I was listening to. My self-produced and self-promoted performance led to a career that grew all over my home state and, actually, surrounding states. It became a regional act within 5-7 years. And then I put my compositions into sheet music, and it became a bestseller in the home state of Utah, which, by the way, I have heard he more pianists per capita than any other state in the US. So, that was a good state for me to live in, as I produced books of sheet music. That’s how things grew.. And pretty soon I was recording more CDs. The local radio was playing my music at Christmas time.
She encouraged me to try out for a music scholarship when I was 16 years old, and I did it because she wanted me to. I did it with the Military piece of Chopin (OBM), and, to my surprise, I was awarded the scholarship! And then I turned it down, because I didn’t really want to become a musician.
PPM: Steven, when did you start learning cello, and what was your cello career was like before forming a band? Steven: I started cello when I was 7 years old. All my siblings played instruments. It was the Nelson way of life! I grew up immersed in music. My first cello teacher was a very sweet woman named Kate Reaves (MGBH). She was the kind of teacher just right for a severely ADHD kid like myself who needed extra patience. My first few years were slow, but they were meaningful. When I switched to my next teacher who was a very prominent professional cellist, the first thing he did was rip off my fingerboard tape marks. I was mortified! But tough love was what I needed at that stage. It was like Denzel Washington (MGBH) in “Remember the Titans,” but in a much more cello-ish sort of way. 🙂 My ADHD was my greatest weakness that turned out to be my greatest strength. Since I couldn’t apply myself to 6 hours of practicing a classical piece of music every day, I instead learned multiple instruments, learned how to improvise, joined bands, orchestras and string quartets, in which I was constantly being exposed to new music. I tried to play as much, if not more, than I practiced. If I was in front of people, I found my skills multiplied 10 fold over just playing to a wallpapered practice room. I played soccer for 8 years, and the same was true in this sport. I needed to scrimmage to apply the skills I was learning. We need to scrimmage more in music. The more informal, even spontaneous opportunities we have to play in front of people or in a group setting, or for a music video, the more likely we are to feel purpose in our progression which can catalyze it more than adding more hours to our practice sessions.
PPM: Steven, in your videos you play a traditional brown cello, a stunning white one, and even an acoustic one. Are they all yours or do you borrow them for the shoots? How many cellos do you own and what specific purpose does each one of them fulfill? Steve: I now have 29 cellos! I know. Its ridiculous. But they each have a different sound and different personality. I name them all! And I experiment with them all in different ways to create the layers of sound you hear in our music.
I now have 29 cellos! I know. Its ridiculous. But they each have a different sound and different personality. I name them all!
PPM: Al, your bio mentions that you also play piano. Besides being the producer and the fashion police of the band, do you also contribute to the music aspect of The Piano Guys? Al: I grew up in a very musical home. All 7 children learned to play instruments – mine was violin. We all sang together in four part harmony and performed as a family. I started songwriting when I was about 14 years old and play several instruments by ear (guitar, piano, drums). My main role in the group is music producer and songwriter. I also am featured vocally on many of our tracks.
PPM:You started out with a mission to create inspiring music videos. What made you think of starting performing live? Al: Our manager thought it would be a good idea, and we agreed. 😉 Nothing can replace the thrill of being in front of a live audience. Part of who we are and our mission, is fulfilled by meeting our fans face-to-face and hearing their inspiring stories.
Nothing can replace the thrill of being in front of a live audience. Part of who we are and our mission, is fulfilled by meeting our fans face-to-face and hearing their inspiring stories.
PPM: In how many locations have you shot your performance videos so far and where were they? Steven: If you go to YouTube and search the Piano Guys, click on our channel to find out!
PPM:It looks like a big logistical complication to bring a grand piano to location. How do you work out these details? Jon: Luckily, Utah is a very diverse state as far as scenery. And the majority of our videos have been filmed in Utah. Paul with his store has been a huge asset, because he had all the equipment for transporting pianos. And it is amazing how you can just take legs off of piano, put it on its side, wrap it up, put it on an 8-wheel piano dolly, and it’s amazing where it can go. With 6 or 8 guys, you can push it over rocks and uneven ground. So, you get the trailer as close to the location as possible, and then you go the rest of the way with piano dollies. If you happen to be in the sand dunes like we were with one video, then we would put the piano dolly on a wooden plank and leapfrog a wooden plank in front of it and go on like that. We did that with a piano for about a length of a football field from the trailer to the place where we wanted to film for a video called “Don’t You Worry, Child, ” which was filmed in the sand dunes in Utah, but it looked like we were in the middle of India.
And one time we went and bought cables at Home Depot, and Paul had a friend that had a helicopter. We attached one end to the helicopter and tied the other end to the piano that was wrapped up and tied a big granny knot, crossed out fingers, said a prayer and said, “Well, if it falls, at least we’ll have a viral video,” But it didn’t, and we lifted it up to a 1000 ft cliff.
When we are outside of Utah, luckily, we can just call somebody and let them worry about it. In China, somebody arranged for us to have a crane to get it onto one part of the Great Wall of China. And then they arranged to have 30 guys to literally carry it to the spot on the Great Wall of China where we wanted to film. And again, they carried it for about a football field, up steps. That was quite amazing!
In Hawaii, Paul knew a piano store owner and was able to talk him into carrying a piano. Ten guys carried a piano – from the road onto the beach. Yeah, it’s real blue collar, but it’s been quite the adventure!
PPM: How many people are involved in production and post-production of your shoots? Paul: I like to keep things simple, so we can get things done quickly. We want to get back to our families as soon as possible. So, most of our videos were filmed in under a day, sometime only in a few hours. A typical video shoot would include Jon, Steven, Al, and myself. Then Shaye Scott (MGBH) – a second cameraman, Kyle Fisher (MGBH) who films the Behind The Scenes, then Jeremy (MGBH) and Frank (MGBH) who move the piano and help with anything else. After filming, editing usually takes 1 to 2 weeks depending on how complicated the shoot was.
PPM: What was the most challenging video shoot for you so far and why? Paul: All the Wonders of the World have been extremely challenging, but the most difficult is tied between Fight Song in Scotland, Jungle Book in Mexico, and How Great Thou Art in Brazil. I could write a book on all the challenges we face in putting a piano in places they’ve never been before. That’s definitely one of our biggest challenges we face when filming. It’s weird to me that some people just don’t want to move a piano to crazy locations, I don’t get it. 😉
PPM: When did you start touring, and where was your first live performance as the Piano Guys? Steven: Our first live performance as an official group was in Utah (where we all live) in 2011. Jon and I had been performing together for many years, so there it was more of a brand change and an infusion of new music into our set list.
PPM: Who books your performance tours and what is it like to have such an intensive performance schedule? Al: We have fabulous managers and booking agency. It’s very hard for us to be away from our families for more than 2-3 weeks at a time. We wish we could tour more, but being husbands and fathers is our priority.
We wish we could tour more, but being husbands and fathers is our priority.
PPM: Paul, everything started in your piano store. Do you still own it? Paul: I don’t own the store anymore. I probably could’ve sold it for a lot of money, but didn’t have the time, because the videos started taking off, and we started doing a lot more shows. I loved spending time with the other guys so much though that piano sales were declining. Things were touch and go for awhile there, but once we launched our Founders program, where people were able to donate to us, that gave us all a boost to know that this was something we could invest more time in.
PPM:Who chooses your repertoire, and what is your daily rehearsal schedule like? Jon: This has been quite a journey in the last six years since we’ve started. We’ve produced so much new music. The Piano Guys put out new sixty videos at that time, which averages out ten a year. That was even more intense at the beginning, and that does not include album releases that weren’t videos or concert music that we’ve learned. So, it’s been six years of intense practicing. It’s just like nothing I have ever experienced in my whole life. My family is just amazed at how much I have been at the piano in the last six years. It’s really incredible, especially when you have a video deadline when you have to look like you’ve played your song your whole life and just forget about everything for the video shoot. And we have used sheet music only once with a couple of vocalists, but as far as the performance, we feel like it helps significantly the feeling of the performance not to be looking at sheet music. I always start with the hardest parts, because I know it’s gonna take a month at least, two months sometimes, hundreds of hours to get those, and knowing that in all likelihood I will probably be performing these at some point live. So, it’s another reason to invest a lot of time. And when there is a deadline, I look back over the last six years, there is a lot of all day rehearsals from the minute you wake up to the minute you go to bed, and luckily, I can go hour after hour without a break and just keep going. But after two or three years of this, I started getting some back muscle issues. I do finger stretching and finger exercises to keep my fingers strong. Luckily, I haven’t developed any tendonitis. It’s just a huge miracle to be able to avoid injury with all the practicing I am doing. I feel like it’s part of a mission of sorts. I look at the comments that come in on the videos, and a lot of them say that the music has been inspiration or it has been a comfort, and that is the biggest motivation for all of us – that we feel that it’s provided a real positive in people’s lives. And we actually feel it – kind of a spiritual calling with what we are doing as well. Especially, as we read people’s comments – it’s unbelievable and gratifying. And getting ready for concerts, for me maybe takes longer than most, but I feel a real obligation to people who pay significant ticket prices. And I have to say on the side note that the prices that people pay for concerts is embarrassing to me, but promoters work with booking agencies, and for promoters to be interested, there has to be a certain price level that is kind of set, and it’s out of our control. So, it’s a labor of love, it really is. But some songs have required hundreds of hours – 300-400 of hours to perform as single songs.
PPM: You have over 6,000,000 subscribers and over 1,502,950,188 views on YouTube. Would you share a few marketing tips with someone who is just trying to get their channel out? Paul: Be willing to take risks, work really hard, study what other Youtubers are doing. Then find what interests you personally, and put your own spin on it. Study all you can about the major sharing platforms that most people are using at the time. They all have certain strategies that help get your content seen more and really study and learn about how their algorithms work. What’s great is that all the information you could ever want is on Youtube!
PPM: How does one sponsor one of your videos and what is a minimum contribution? Paul: We’ve been really picky with sponsorships in the past, just so we can keep control of what we put out there, but I think we are getting more open to them going forward. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can go from there. Every deal is different on pricing, but we’ve tried to cater to everyone. We even have our own club where individuals can get their name at the end of a video. You can check it out on our website ThePianoGuys.com. It’s called TPG Living Room, or Club VIPG. It’s really affordable!
We even have our own club where individuals can get their name at the end of a video. You can check it out on our website ThePianoGuys.com. It’s called TPG Living Room, or Club VIPG. It’s really affordable!
PPM: Please, share a story or two that happened during one of your travels together. Al: We are like brothers, so we love to prank one another. One time we played a prank on Jon where Steven pretended he got severely cut by one of his cello strings. When Jon came back stage, Steven was moaning in pain and clinching his hand that we had covered in ketchup. We told him that Steven couldn’t continue the concert and that Jon would have to do the second half by himself. After a few minutes into the prank we started to laugh, and Jon was relieved he didn’t have to perform alone.
PPM: What role does spirituality play in your life and how does having a relationship with God help you cope with challenges and dark moments? Jon: Spirituality plays a huge role in all our lives. I remember reading a book of an artist named Minerva Teichert (OBM), and she said in that book that she never picked up a brush without saying a prayer asking for help from God and inspiration. And whenever she ran into a problem in her painting, she would turn to prayer. And I say to myself, “I am an artist like her. Maybe I don’t do a tool brush, but I use music. Why don’t I do it!” And from that time forward, I started praying before I start to write. And that has been a huge blessing! It’s amazing how many times I can even get up off my knees, and a musical solution is playing in my head that is totally unanticipated after spending an hour or two sometimes of struggling to find a solution. And Boom! There it is! And that has happened so many times! It’s a real testimony in my mind of a power of prayer. And the solutions that we’ve had together, too… It’s really great to all share this faith-based approach in our writing. Together we all do that, we all do the exact same thing. We pray before shows, pray that people can feel inspired and comforted, and all of the things that music has the power to do. We believe that music is one of the ways of God to reach out to his children, one of thousands of different ways, to comfort them, to inspire them, to give them faith. And we feel deeply honored to be involved in that. We feel a sense of mission that I think is #1 on the list of motivations for why we are doing what we are doing. I would have to say that the whole concept of comfort is a big priority in God’s mind. And it’s an honor to be involved.
I remember reading a book of an artist named Minerva Teichert (OBM), and she said in that book that she never picked up a brush without saying a prayer asking for help from God and inspiration. And whenever she ran into a problem in her painting, she would turn to prayer. And I say to myself, “I am an artist like her. Maybe I don’t do a tool brush, but I use music. Why don’t I do it!”
PPM: What is your collective artistic dream as a music band? Steven: Oscar Hammerstein (OBM) once said, “It is a modern tragedy that despair has so many
spokesmen, while hope has so few.” Our dream is that our music can reach as many people as possible and be a “spokesman” for hope. That, as people listen and watch, they feel the worth of their own souls; and as Handel (OBM) once said, “they aren’t just entertained, but bettered.” As they listen and watch, we hope they can feel gratitude for the beauty of the earth, for God’s love, for family, and for all that is good in this world.
Oscar Hammerstein (OBM) once said, “It is a modern tragedy that despair has so many
spokesmen, while hope has so few.” Our dream is that our music can reach as many people as possible and be a “spokesman” for hope.
PPM: Where do you go out to eat when you are travelling? What foods does each of you like? Al: Most of us are very healthy eaters and eat clean foods that give lots of energy. Paul loves Mc Donald’s or anything else fast food. We make green smoothies after every show and love to eat at local favorites. Some of our favorites are sushi, Thai food, Indian, and Korean food.
PPM: In one of your videos you perform in an ice cave. Please, tell our readers about that video shoot. Paul: The set was built in Midway, Utah. It actually wasn’t the coldest shoot we’ve been on, but we usually use a portable heater to keep Jon and Steven’s fingers warm, so they could play. Other than that we’d just bundle up. The instruments don’t stay in tune real well in the cold. Luckily, we pre-record all the music in the studio, so things always sound great in the videos! We just happened to have a white broken digital grand piano left over from my store, so it just seemed obvious to freeze it for that shoot. The people that built the city of ice carved the cello for us the day before the shoot. They were awesome in helping us out, letting us have the run of the place. You can check out their work on their website here: http://www.icecastles.com
We filmed it in a day and a half. We had about twelve people on set as we filmed. We hired a drone operator for that shoot, because I hadn’t learned to fly them yet. We also rented the RED cameras on this shoot to try them out. We’ve gone back to filming on our little DSLR since then as it makes filming a lot more simple.
PPM: Do your families get together during weekends, holidays or birthdays? Al: Occasionally we’ll do things outside of work, but because we spend so much time together as a group, we don’t get together outside of work very often. We feel like our “guy” time is when we’re on tour. When we’re home, we spend as much time with our families as possible. We love it most when our wives/families can join us on tour.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your creative process. Who is involved in writing and arranging music? Jon: Steven, Al, and I do the music end of things. Paul has a little bit of input as well, but mainly he is on the video side. There is a lot of praying for ideas. I know when we get a good idea because it feels like something that we refer to as “chills up,” “chills up your spine.” We try to just have it be exclusively that. Stuff that we just feel that is inspired.
PPM:You have an interesting approach of taking on many classical pieces and mixing them with contemporary pop hits. Which of you came up with this idea? Jon: I would have to say that before Piano Guys, that it something that really was intriguing to me when people used classical music as a spice in their writing. I really loved it when I would notice Billy Joel (MGBH) infusing classical elements into what he did, which he did a lot, actually. He was a real inspiration to me. And I know his father was a concert pianist, so he has a great respect for classical music. Another group that did this was very inspirational to me with their early albums of original music was a group called Mannheim Steamroller. They are famous for their Christmas arrangements, but their original music is a total blend of classical elements with the modern ones. And when I heard it, I just was lit on fire. I remember listening to it as a teenager, and Mannheim Steamroller’s early albums kind of took my high school by storm. It was very interesting to see how popular it became with young people. So, I wanted to write in that same style. And I would have to say that my compositions were very inspired with that, and I would blatantly mix classical and rock-n-roll or classical and pop. So, that kind of was something that I established in my eight albums before the Piano Guys. And when we came together, Steven also loved that philosophy and was well-established in classical and his knowledge. And Al brought the elements of modern that Steven and I weren’t so familiar with. But Al also respects classical music. It was just a cool meeting of the minds…. As we would arrange these popular tunes that our kids loved. As we were trying to impress our kids by arranging the tunes by the artists we loved, we just couldn’t help but going to it. If you think of us as three chefs cooking, one of our favorite spices was classical, and we couldn’t help but go to it. And in certain circumstances, it wasn’t stylistically, where we would just add a theme by one of the classical composers right into the arrangement. And that was just so fun. Or if we were arranging a classical piece, it would be fun to put a modern twist on it. And some people are uncomfortable with this. We’ve run against criticism, “You’ve ruined Beethoven. You’ve ruined Rachmaninoff.” A thought I have had on that, however, is that Beethoven (OBM) and Brahms (OBM) and other composers often took themes that they didn’t write and did variations. They put their own spin on themes by other composers. And I have been very intrigued by that kind of thing. It’s so cool to hear Mozart’s (OBM) variations on a theme that sounds like “Twinkle, twinkle little star” or Beethoven’s variations… There are several composers that did that and they are so fun to listen to. I have actually wrote an original piece or tune called “All of me,” and it’s been fun to see several different versions that people have done. One guy did a minor version of “All of me.” He took a very major upbeat piece and did it all in minor and gave it a subtitle “None of Me,” a song of… anger… So, it was just very interesting to listen to that. And I wasn’t offended in the least. So, I hope that classical composers that we’ve put a modern twist on would have liked it.
PPM: What does your concert and recording schedule look like for the upcoming year? Are there any upcoming CD releases that you would like to tell our readers about? Jon: At the moment, we are working on a new album, which is scheduled to come out in the fall. We are working on filming note reading. It’s sort of like a note reading bootcamp that I developed when I was a piano teacher and seeing young students struggle with note reading the way I struggled with it when I was young using the same old methods that I think have a lot of drawbacks, to tell you the truth. And so, I developed something that I felt was a huge improvement and tested it out to students and showed it to teachers over several years. And then turned it into an official note-reading program that I published in a book called “67 Fun Songs.” And I’ve gotten such great reviews and great response from teachers and students on this note-reading method. Anyway, we’ve improved it and put lots of great tweaks and formatted it for video. So, it literally feels like I am your coach. And so, we are in the middle of filming that right now, and we are very excited.
We’ve got an Australia tour coming up. We have sold two tours in the Sidney Opera House already. This is very exciting for us. We have a summer tour up in Canada, and I hear that there is talk about a tour to the Orient. So, a really amazing year ahead!
In this issue, we are introducing a new section titled Crossover Piano, dedicated to outstanding individuals who use their piano training and skills to help them achieve success in their careers. Our first interviewee – Darlene Koldenhoven (MGBH), a Grammy Winning Artist, used her piano skills to help advance her career as a singer, music arranger, composer, and producer. She is known globally as the featured soprano soloist in the PBS television special and DVD, “Yanni, Live at the Acropolis”, and in Grammy Winner Ricky Kej’s “Shanti Samsara” concerts/videos in Bangalore, India  for environmental consciousness. Koldenhoven has an MVP award from the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (The GRAMMYS®) for “Best Studio Singer” for singing on thousand of recordings in movies, television, albums/CDs, commercials, video games, live shows and more.
PPM: Rather than just a pianist, you are known as a crossover artist having accomplishments both in vocal work and piano composition. When did you affair with the piano start, and how did it progress over the years? DK: I fell in love with the piano at age 7, when the upright arrived in the house. I was not allowed to touch the piano in any way, so I would sit under the piano bench coloring, while my mother attempted to learn beginning piano. One day, early on, I was becoming extremely frustrated with her, because she kept hitting the wrong note. I got up and said, “Mom, you keep playing the wrong note. It’s THIS note!” (E instead of F) and pointed out the correct note. How I knew that, I’ll never know. She looked at my finger, looked at the music, saw it was correct and was shocked! She whisked me off to a wonderful piano teacher, Celia Bosma (OBM), with whom I studied classical technique and music until college. A few years before I moved to LA, I started learning and playing jazz, rock, blues, new age and began the art of improvisation, which led to composition. I’d listen to all the jazz piano greats and would try to play as fast as the amazing Oscar Peterson (OBM)! I now play a mix of classical piano, new age piano, sometimes, Latin jazz, and accompany myself in my concerts.
PPM: What was your experience as a student at the Chicago Conservatory College? DK: It was a great education in many ways. The largest class I had was 15 people, at best. Teachers were professionals in the symphony, choir or soloists. It was a hands-on education, and they let me create my own schedule after my first year when it all seemed too easy because of the great musical education I had growing up. So, I graduated in 3 years with two majors (music education & voice) and two minors (piano and conducting) and began teaching music in the Chicago suburban school system at age 20. When I was 19, just after I appeared with the Chicago Symphony in Orchestra Hall (as it was called at the time), I auditioned for the Chicago Symphony Chorus under the direction of the late great Margaret Hillis (OBM). I sang “Ombra Leggiera” from the opera “Dinorah” by Meyerbeer (OBM) and proceeded to the sight-singing part of the audition. I still remember being in this tiny room with her and two other judges when she looked up and said to the others, “Well, this is the first person of all the hundreds we auditioned that has sung the sight-singing part perfectly.” And I became the youngest member at 19 of that truly great choir, backing Beverly Sills (OBM) at Ravinia, the summer home of the symphony. I met Ms. Sills backstage on a break where she asked me to sing for her. I sang my aria unaccompanied, right then on the spot. She was great in encouraging me to pursue a career in singing. Later on, while teaching elementary school music full-time at two schools, I completed a two- year Master’s Program in one year and graduated Magna Cum Laude.
I remember waving good-bye to mom out the window, realizing I was on the path to a great musical adventure that would eventually become my whole life.
PPM: Who were your role models growing up? DK: There was one musical role model who influenced my life tremendously, and his name was Mr. C. Willard Clutter (MGBH) – my 9th grade junior high music teacher. He led me to my first voice teacher at age 16, Virginia Parker (OBM), at the Chicago Conservatory College where I continued to study for my Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees. He was also my vocal coach, helping me win vocal competitions in high school at age 16. One was a scholarship from the King’s Choraliers in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I was only 16 when it was my first time flying alone on a plane to Grand Rapids to perform for 2,000 people. I remember waving good-bye to mom out the window, realizing I was on the path to a great musical adventure that would eventually become my whole life.
PPM: Who got you your first grand piano? DV: When I was 14 and my sister was 5, our father unexpectedly passed away. With no will, he left us with very little money. At 19, my $2,000 bought me a Baldwin 5’4 grand piano that you see in the photo. I used to walk by the Baldwin store on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago every day on my way to college. One day, while preparing a Mac Dowell (OBM) piano concerto, I realized I needed a better instrument to be able to compete. So, I went in and came out with my 1970 Baldwin. I’m still in love with that tone and touch to this day where it gets played or recorded daily in my studio. A few years later, I started “baby-sitting” for a 1926 Steinway Golden Era Model L with new German Steinway action, which now resides in my living room.
The TV was blaring, and it looked like there was a huge plane crash. It was the flight I was supposed to be on!
PPM: Years ago, you came to Los Angeles from Chicago to pursue a music career. How was that transition for you? Can you share some stories that happened to you along the way? DK: Making the transition from Chicago to Los Angeles was a bit of a culture shock. With competition at its peak, everywhere you go, you’d overhear some conversation about the entertainment industry. The hardest part of my transition from Chicago to Los Angeles was learning to be social. I was raised in such a sheltered environment that I had zero social skills, which is what the entire business is largely built on.
Along the way there have been many interesting stories, but the one that happened during my transition I will always remember. I was at Universal Studios in Chicago visiting a college friend for lunch when their top keyboardist, Terry Fryer (MGBH), asked me to do him a favor and stay in town to sing on a demo for Ramsey Lewis (MGBH) that weekend. I had my bags backed and was headed out the door to Los Angeles on American Airlines flight 191 on May 25, 1979, when he stopped me and convinced me to stay I was two hours away from boarding that flight, but drove to mom’s instead. When my grandmother opened the door in tears, she turned white, and almost passed out. The TV was blaring, and it looked like there was a huge plane crash. It was the flight I was supposed to be on! To this day, that flight remains on America’s worst aviation disasters to happen on American soil. The engine fell off upon take off, and no one on board including two people on ground survived.
PPM: How has piano training helped you as a vocalist and an arranger? DK: It’s helped me immensely. With the piano, you have the whole orchestra at your fingertips. I accompany myself and others, test out my creative ideas. It’s the best instrument for learning and teaching music theory. I find that many of my voice students want me to teach them piano because they see, over time, how important the piano is for study, learning ear-training, and the fun of accompanying yourself when you sing. It helps one learn a song faster when you can “plunck it out” on piano first and play the chord changes. It even came in handy while I was working on the “Sister Act” films with Whoopi Goldberg (MGBH). One day, the accompanist for the choreography rehearsal didn’t show up, and I filled the chair. Knowing how to play the piano came in handy on many occasions of over a thousand recordings I’ve done in movies, records, television, commercials, and so forth. When I first came to Los Angeles, one of the jobs I took was a piano “stunt double” for an actor who had to look as if they were playing. I also coached actors – Linda Hamilton (MGBH) and others – on piano.
PPM: What does new age music signify for you? DK: New Age music to me is music, which sole purpose is beauty and relaxation. When the vocal is used, we usually mix it into the fabric of the music as opposed to having it way out front like a pop vocal mix. The mix, in New Age music, is critical and in my albums. My engineer Steve Shepherd (MGBH) and I have long discussions about weaving it all together so as to maintain the proper balance to engage the listener into a relaxed and focused state. I also apply some of my sonic therapy techniques into the composition, orchestration and mix of my music.
Standing on stage at the Acropolis in Athens looking up at the Parthenon with a huge moon, realizing that I was on the same stage as the apostle Paul (OBM) and many historically famous people once were, was a real honor and thrill.
PPM: Under what circumstances did you meet Yanni (MGBH) and what was it like working with him? DK: The first time I met Yanni (MGBH) was at his house when a vocal contractor Morgan Ames (MGBH) asked me to come to audition for him. He had the music for “Aria” on the piano, a loosely based arrangement of a duet aria I sang in college, “Sous le dome épais from Lakmé”. I sight-sang his charted arrangement. When I was done, he rose up from accompanying me on the piano and said excitedly, “This is exactly how I’ve heard this piece sung in my head!” When I got the job, at the first rehearsal, Yanni handed me his chart and said, “Here, I don’t have an ending or the nonsense syllable lyric, so come up with something.” Half an hour later, I had those “lyrics” and the vocal arrangement for the end of the piece that you hear today. Yanni was very nice to work with. Interestingly, he doesn’t read traditional notation, but came up with his own. I was hired to sing, and sing I did. Standing on stage at the Acropolis in Athens looking up at the Parthenon with a huge moon, realizing that I was on the same stage as the apostle Paul (OBM) and many historically famous people once were, was a real honor and thrill.
PPM: You produce your own music. What skills did you have to learn in order to be able to comfortably do this? DK: I have produced all of my albums on my label, TimeArt. So, I have total control musically. The skills to be a producer vary from knowing music theory, to arranging, to engineering and mixing, having basic knowledge of piano and how other instruments work, to having a knack for hiring the right talent for the job and, psychologically, getting the most out of the performers. Then there are the financial and organizational aspects of which to keep track. It depends on what one is producing, but, basically, this sets the groundwork for producing music.
Before I begin, I ask, “What does the world need to hear today?” and say, “Thank you for the inspiration!”
PPM: Where do you draw your inspiration in composing music? DK: My inspiration for composing music comes from God, or, what some would say, Universal Consciousness, and from curiosity about life and the human interaction. I’ve had several occasions where a whole song, words and music, or even an entire lyric only, would just spill out of me. One day when I had finished listening to Tomatis 8,000 frequency, I came home and put my hands on the piano, and within seconds, out came the entire “First Light” from my Color Me Home album. So, for me, it definitely comes from a higher source. Before I begin, I ask, “What does the world need to hear today?” and say, “Thank you for the inspiration!”
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your most recent CD recordings. DK: Of my last two albums, “Tranquil Times” is my first solely instrumental album featuring the piano with mostly original compositions and all my arrangements. Album #9 is “Color Me Home” with all my own original compositions, songs, arrangements as well as the vocals. The CD comes with a puzzle and a coloring book. Coloring while listening is great for release, focus, relaxation, and creativity. I will be releasing album #10 this year called “Chromatones,” where you’ll hear more of my piano and synth work. This will be my second album with no vocals. It is coming out on June 1st with pre-sales on April 25th.
PPM: What does it take to promote your own album and how has this process changed for you with the social media revolution? DK: Promoting your own album is not cheap and is a full-time job. I did not write any music or perform it during the entire 2017 due to marketing and promotion taking all my time. In 2016, I was doing the album, in 2017 – promoting it. In 2018, I will be doing appearances and releasing the new album. Social media is another platform of promotion including blogs, contests, links, likes, subscribes, and more. Each one pays differently and operates differently, all playing into the whole. Get help with all this. Otherwise, it can be really difficult trying to balance it all and maintain yourself as a creative performer. When it comes to promoting for the Grammys, back when I won mine, you were disqualified if you gave out your albums to voters. Today, it’s all about social media and carefully not getting disqualified for what may seem as bloc voting or exchanging votes. However, social media, for as much time as it takes out of one’s life, can be very liberating in terms of promoting one’s music and offers many opportunities we didn’t have a while back.
PPM: You are also a sonic therapist. What is sonic therapy and how do you work with your clients in that area? DK: Sonic therapy uses the power of music to retrain the brain and body. One of the main methods I use the was developed by Dr. Alfred Tomatis in Paris, beginning in the 1950’s, that he called “audio-psycho-phonology,” or what I call the ear-brain-voice connection. Simply, we listen to mostly Mozart, processed and filtered in a special way as to exercise the muscles of the middle ear to regulate the impulses going to the brain, through the use of special air and bone conduction headphones. Clients either come to my studio or they can do it at home under my supervision. As a voice teacher and vocalist, I use it to remediate issues and enhance the vocal quality. Tomatis’ research proved that the voice can only produce what the ear can hear. So, it is imperative to have “a musical ear” in order to think and produce musically. I work with clients who have a difficult time matching pitch and rhythm to open their ears. I developed what I call the “Listening Eye” Technique. With a simple eye movement, the ear can open up to receiving the musical signals and begin to understand and reproduce them through the voice. I have had success reviving slack vocal cords using a combination of the APP and special vocal exercises. I have also helped relieve clients of their ADD, depression, dyslexia, PTSD, and the aging brain/body/voice, even eliminating unwanted foreign accents. My practice is called Listening Matrix, and there’s info on my website – ListeningMatrix.com. Sometimes I use my 12 tuned Quartz Singing Bowls and a quartz tuning fork for clients who need deep relaxation and a focusing of energy. I have also had clients lay under the piano while I play relaxing tones and have taught clients how to use their own voice to assist in relieving various maladies, such as certain kinds of tinnitus, which the Tomatis method also helps.
PPM: What piece of advice would you give to a beginning performer who is just trying to figure out his/her path to success? DK: Practice, practice, and practice. First, work on excellence in all areas. Start building a team of supporters because even if you were capable of doing it all yourself, one cannot do all that, get on stage and perform. Learn the business of music. There several great books out there for this such as “This Business of Music” by Donald S. Passman, Esq. Make sure your image matches your music. Listen to a lot of great music. Listen really deeply. Now we have social media to help with our promotion, but don’t get bogged down or distracted with it. Work on having great social skills verbally and make cold calls confidently. Ask a question designed to get the answer you want/need. Pay the money and study with great teachers, as you will save time and money in the long run. Now we have Skype or FaceTime. Indeed, I have students from around the world using these platforms. Persevere. Be curious about continuous education. Hire the best musicians and engineers. They are totally worth it to make you sound great, make your life easier, and they usually are the best ones to work with. Be disciplined and organized, and if you can’t, hire someone to help you with it. Manager and agent roles, legally, are different in each state – so, check that out. People think they need a manger first. Actually, that comes later, and most won’t even talk to you until you have accomplished some things on your own first. Keep that inner smile. Makes you look great on camera, in person, and invites good social contact. Imitate others musically as a springboard in building a musical education and vocabulary until you can master your own style. Get a lot of experience. Take action – don’t just dream. Be cool and easy to work with.
I wake up every day by asking first thing, what I am grateful for today. Life is so much better when one comes from a place of gratitude, no matter how trivial or gross.
PPM: You seem like a very positive person. What tools do you use to stay positive or come back to the positive mindset after a setback? DK: Being positive is a choice in perspective. I do have my “human” moments when all bets are off.. Eating healthy food, breathing clean air, getting exercise, vocalizing, and playing piano daily is what keeps me positive. I wake up every day by asking first thing, what I am grateful for today. Life is so much better when one comes from a place of gratitude, no matter how trivial or gross.
PPM: How do you keep fit and healthy? DK: Being a touring singer/pianist performer requires I stay in good health. I am dairy and gluten free and eat read meat about once every two months. I eat high protein, low carbs, walk and vocalize daily, no caffeine except for what is in the dark chocolate I eat almost every day. At home I don’t eat before bed. On tour, I do my best to avoid that, but sometimes it is more important to avoid a hypoglycemic episode. I eat small portions six times a day. I use a humidifier as much as possible as Los Angeles is a desert, so I also drink a lot of purified and electrolyte water. The only TV shows I watch now are comedies and documentaries. There’s already too much stress maintaining a career, and laughter is the best medicine. I also get 6-8 hours sleep nightly. A new favorite recipe I came up with is simple and tastes great: grilled pineapple with lots of Trader Joe’s Chili and Lime powder. I don’t follow recipes per se, but enjoy the creativity of cooking. I also make my own gluten and dairy free pizza using Daiya brand cheese.
PPM: What are some of your favorite restaurants in LA? DK: I eat out occasionally, but mostly cook and bake at home because of my dietary restrictions. But when I do eat out, I enjoy Hugo’s and Tender Greens in Studio City.
PPM: Do you have any pets? DK: Yes, I have two rescue dogs. Little Poochini loves to sing with the piano, with me and has a different song for the Ice Cream truck, the phone, and whatever I’m working on. My late Dalmatian could also match pitch, rhythm and dynamics like Poochini. The other dog just looks at him like he’s crazy but over time, now she tries to get in the act but just can’t seem to sing although its funny to watch her try.
When one is playing piano, reading music and singing at the same time, all areas of the brain light up, so to speak, and become a free source to maintain a healthy brain, well into our senior years.
PPM: Can you discuss the healing aspect of music and the role it plays in your art? DK: It was my mother who realized that as a young child, I would be using music to calm myself down when I would get frustrated or angry or lonely. I’d go sit at the piano and practice my lesson for hours beyond the practice time. Music saved my life so many times in so many ways. When I almost passed away from toxic mold and had practically no neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, the doctor said the only way I could be functioning at all was because of music. No matter how ill I was, playing piano when I couldn’t sing from all the mold in my lungs and brain, is what kept me going. About twenty years ago, at the peak of my career, I popped the tendon and broke the ring finger on my right hand. That took 5 years to recover, and today I still cannot straighten or bend that finger. Friends were sending me the left-handed concertos and music like that. I finally got my speed back, but certain keys and distances are more difficult to play precisely. When one is playing piano, reading music and singing at the same time, all areas of the brain light up, so to speak, and become a free source to maintain a healthy brain, well into our senior years.
People often tell me there is a profound healing quality to my voice. “Emmanuel” on my holiday album “Heavenly Peace” especially comes to mind. When I presented that track for my beginning singing class at Citrus College several years ago, I just played it, said nothing, and watched many of the young students in the class have tears roll down their face. The response was, “What just happened to me?”
Just a few months ago when I was singing in Bangalore, India with Ricky Kej (MGBH), audience members came up to tell me that was the first time they actually felt in their chest the feeling of a human voice. My first voice teacher would always tell me to project. Now I take that a step further and project with a certain energy into the vibration sending it directly out to the audience. It was fascinating seeing many of the one thousand guests grab their chest, whisper to each other about what just happened to them then break out in spontaneous applause during the song in the way they did.
My first voice teacher would always tell me to project. Now I take that a step further and project with a certain energy into the vibration sending it directly out to the audience.
PPM: Thank you, Darlene, for such an engaging interview! May God send you many blessings of health and good fortune, and may you continue using your gift to heal others through your music.
He is from Germany, she is from Canada. They could have become competitors, but, instead, chose to complement each other’s talent. Their love for music united them, and the Bergmann duo emerged to bring delight to the hearts of audiences across the globe. Curious to know more? Here is our interview with Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann (MGBT).
PPM: Elizabeth, you are from the town named Medicine Hat. What is it known for and what was it like growing up there? EB: Aside from its cool and unusual name, Medicine Hat was a pretty good place to grow up in. It was one of those places where as a kid, you could get on your bike, spend all day outdoors, and your parents didn’t worry about you. It was a safe place. We still visit my home town at least once a year since my parents still live there. It has a population of about 65,000, located in southern Alberta, and in the summer, it boasts some of the hottest temperatures in Canada. There are a couple of stories/legends about how it got its name. One of them I usually tell is: “The Cree and the Blackfoot were having a battle and the Cree medicine man lost his headdress in the process- it was seen floating down the South Saskatchewan river. So, the place where that happened became known as “the place where the Medicine Man lost his hat.” Later it was called the “Medicine Man’s Hat” and then Medicine Hat.
So, the place where that happened became known as “the place where the Medicine Man lost his hat.” Later it was called the “Medicine Man’s Hat” and then Medicine Hat.
PPM: Marcel, please, tell our readers a little bit about your childhood. MB: I grew up in the heart of Munich (Bavaria, Germany). I am an only child, but my parents made sure that I had a lot of opportunities to interact and play with other children. I enjoyed being creative from an early age – playing around with words, language, drawing, painting…then, of course, music. Growing up partially in the 60’s and then the 70’s, there was an atmosphere of change in Germany – similar to many other places. People tried out new ways of living, dealing with relationships, jobs, social justice etc. I realized from a very early age that I lived in a very political, kind of “politicized” environment, and all of that had a profound impact on my life later on. My father worked as a journalist and filmmaker for the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation, and my mother was a high school teacher, with French and German as her principle teaching areas. My parents were and still are very much involved and interested in literature, art, music, theatre, and film. As a result, I absorbed a lot of knowledge and experience in that area as my parents took me to public performances from a very early age. I always loved those occasions and looked forward to them with much excitement and anticipation.
PPM: Has anyone in your family played piano or had musical background? EB: My parents never had the opportunity to have music lessons as children, having grown up during WW II and, subsequently, being refugees. They both came from large families (10 children on my mother’s side and 7 on my father’s), and money was sparse. Music lessons were a luxury item, however, my grandfather taught himself to play harmonium, and my uncles all played brass instruments in church as they grew up. MB: My mother had piano lessons for a few years when she was growing up. Her mother had had piano lessons when she was young, and so, despite the limited resources after WWII, my grandmother felt that this was an important part of a good education. On my father’s side, my uncle played the trumpet in various Dixieland bands for about 30 years. He was basically self-taught, but was determined to learn to play the music he loved. Although he had another job for most of his life, he played many concerts with the “Old Merry Tale Jazz Band” as their main trumpet player. They also produced a fair amount of records over their 25 year existence, and my parents and I listened quite a lot to his music at home and went to occasional concerts when they happened to play in Munich.
PPM: How did you start your acquaintance with classical piano? EB: When my parents were in Canada and first got married, one of the first things my mother bought was a piano. My parents were very determined about providing the opportunity for music lessons for my sister and I. I started out with classical piano lessons at age 7. I couldn’t wait to start! I had voice, theory, guitar, and piano lessons and sang in a girl’s choir. In my spare time I accompanied choirs and played the organ in church. Both my sister and I pursued careers in music. She became a music therapist and has specialized in working with children with autism spectrum disorder. MB: My parents signed me up for an Orff class that provided some basics about music, notes, rhythms etc. when I was about five. I was drawn to the piano and always quite excited when the teacher would sit down and play something. I also loved percussion and was always very drawn to rhythm, pulse, and grooves. My parents said the interest that I showed toward the piano at that time lead them to buy an instrument and get me started with piano lessons around age 6.
PPM: What made you choose piano as a profession? EB: I was very involved in music throughout my childhood and had success at it, especially participating in local music festivals. I knew from around age 13, I wanted to be a pianist – and that was it. MB: As I got so much overall enjoyment out of being at the piano, I had a desire to explore and study the repertoire more extensively and in-depth, deciding to follow up with further studies in Hannover and Montreal that eventually lead to a professional career. My concert experiences as an audience member as well as listening to my favorite piano recordings were also a big influence and inspiration.
PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers how your duo started? EB: We met at the music school in Germany (Hannover) where we studied with the same teacher (Arie Vardi (MGBH)). We instantly became friends and soon realized we had a lot in common including our musical approach. We became a couple first and then started playing together. Our first collaboration was playing the Bach (OBM) C minor 2 piano concerto in Greece. We were at a summer music festival, and there was a concerto competition as part of it. We could have prepared a solo concerto each, but our teacher encouraged us to do something together. In the end, we were chosen to play with an orchestra and had such a great time during that performance that we decided to pursue it further. That is when it all started.
PPM: What’s the story behind your William Bolcom (MGBH) album? What made you choose this composer and those particular pieces for your CD? EB: We became familiar with his Recuerdos pieces that he wrote for the Dranoff Two Piano Competition and really liked them, deciding to take them into our repertoire. Then, later we were asked to play a half recital as part of the Calgary International Organ Competition where Bill was in the jury. So, we prepared the Frescoes, which is a very cool and terrific piece for 2 pianos, harmonium and harpsichord, and his fun ragtime – The Serpent’s Kiss. We played that repertoire for that specific concert without having had any time or an opportunity to have played it for him prior to that. You can imagine how nervous we were to have the composer sitting there in the audience and not knowing if he would like it. Luckily, we were on the right track with our interpretation, and he very much enjoyed what we did at that concert. We really hit it off and spent some time together during that competition. Later, CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) recorded some of that same repertoire and a CBC producer Harold Gillis (MGBH) suggested to us that we propose to record Bolcom’s complete 2 piano works to Naxos. Coincidentally, we had a friend in Munich who worked closely with them (Naxos) and through him, we were able to make that connection.
You can imagine how nervous we were to have the composer sitting there in the audience and not knowing if he would like it.
PPM: If you could share your experience with a young piano performer who is interested in recording an album, what would be your advice? MB: I feel that there should be a personal connection and particular interest in the repertoire chosen for a recoding project. The more strongly a musician feels about the chosen array of pieces, the more convincing the results.
There are some important steps to help prepare for the actual recording sessions, e.g. recording all of the relevant pieces several times at home and listening very carefully to those pre-studio/concert hall renditions. Also, it’s very helpful to have a clear plan about what to start with, how much time to allocate to each selection, etc. Naturally, some of those parameters might change during the actual recording process due to various aspects that can shift as things are going along.
The first rehearsal was difficult: I was quite nervous. To complicate matters, the rehearsal numbers of my edition didn’t match up at all with what the conductor had in his score. My poor parents sat there, just as nervous as I was!
PPM: Do you remember playing with an orchestra for the first time? What was that experience like for you? EB: Absolutely! It was one of the most exhilarating experiences as a young musician I could have asked for, and it remains an exciting one today. It felt wonderful to be enveloped by the sound of all those musicians. Once you have played with an orchestra, you are hooked. MB: When I was 17, I had the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra for the first time, and that turned out to be one of the most amazing and formative experiences of my entire musical life. I played the first movement of Beethoven’s third piano concerto. The first rehearsal was difficult: I was quite nervous. To complicate matters, the rehearsal numbers of my edition didn’t match up at all with what the conductor had in his score. My poor parents sat there, just as nervous as I was! But in the end, things did come together quite well, and the second rehearsal went much more smoothly. During the actual performance, I felt like in a kind of a trance – something I had never experienced quite that strongly before. It was a wonderful feeling, and I remember that I was completely stunned by the applause after I came out of that magical moment.
PPM: Who are you favorite classical and contemporary composers? EB: That’s a difficult question to answer, but I would have to say some of the composers who have had the biggest impact on me are Bach (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Brahms (OBM), and Mozart (OBM). As for contemporary composers, there are so many who are very interesting, so it’s hard to name them all. Of course, I always enjoy my husband’s music! MB: Not an easy one to answer as there are so many great ones – and the numbers have been steadily growing over the centuries. But here’s, at least, an attempt, albeit it’s a bit of a reduced version. Classical: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Chopin (OBM), Brahms (OBM), Bruckner (OBM), Tchaikowsky (OBM), Mahler (OBM), some Strauss (OBM). I developed more and more appreciation for Handel in recent years – and especially for Haydn (OBM), who is often, unjustly, neglected as one of the greatest creative minds of the classical era. Onward from there: Debussy (OBM), Ravel (OBM), Varese (OBM), Poulenc (OBM), Milhaud (OBM), Messiaen (OBM), Dutilleux (OBM). Albeniz (OBM), Granados (OBM), de Falla (OBM), Villa Lobos (OBM), Ginastera (OBM), Piazzolla (OBM). Berg & Webern (OBM), some Schoenberg (OBM) (especially his seminal Pierrot Lunaire) and various works by Hindemith (OBM) (especially his earlier, jazz-influenced pieces, such as the Kammermusiken, are quite amazing) As for the Russians – Rachmaninoff (OBM), Scriabin (OBM); then Stravinsky (OBM), Prokofjew (OBM), Shostakovich (OBM); Bartok (OBM), of course… From America: Ives (OBM), Copland (OBM), Barber (OBM), Gershwin (OBM), Bernstein (OBM); Crumb (MGBH), Bolcom (MGBH), Corigliano (MGBH), Foss (OBM). There are many contemporary composers that I could list here -to name a few: Ligeti (OBM), Berio (OBM), Schnittke (OBM), Denisov (OBM), Takemitsu (OBM), Feldman (OBM).
PPM: What’s your favorite aspect of being a piano performer? EB: Communicating with an audience and bringing joy, excitement and inspiration through music. I love the uniqueness of each concert experience – you never know what will happen exactly. MB: Maybe that you can play almost anything, any musical work, on this instrument. Also, there is such an amazing, inexhaustible repertoire, which nobody can even dream of ever covering in its entirety. I personally feel that I can express myself artistically in so many different ways at the piano, including improvising and performing my own arrangements and compositions.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your Classical Coffee Concert Series. EB: The Coffee Concerts were founded by a friend of ours who asked us to take them over, and we gladly agreed. The concerts are preceded by coffee, tea, and pastries and then followed by a 75 minute concert with no intermission. These are informal concerts where we talk about the music. We usually have a guest artist join us. We repeat the program typically 6 times as we travel to the various venues in the area. MB: This format is becoming more and more popular as many people don’t like to drive at night or head to downtown Vancouver, and they love the fact that they can find a classical music in their own community. In addition, they enjoy the “up close and personal” aspect of the concert.
This format is becoming more and more popular as many people don’t like to drive at night or head to downtown Vancouver, and they love the fact that they can find a classical music in their own community. In addition, they enjoy the “up close and personal” aspect of the concert.
PPM: Where do you spend your holidays? EB: It varies. Sometimes, we spend some time off in Canada and sometimes in Europe. It usually ends up being a combination of both as my parents are in Canada and Marcel’s are in Munich. We usually try and see our extended family during our time off as well. MB: When we plan a specific holiday/ leisure trip, the destinations vary from places like Paris (which is a city we always love to return to) to tropical destinations, such as Cuba or Mexico. We really enjoyed the all-inclusive resorts at those southern destinations. We’d love to go back to Greece sometimes. France and Italy are always on top of the list, whenever possible…
PPM: Over the years, besides being performers, both of you have taken on projects that require organizational and administrative skills – as artistic directors of White Rock Concerts and Dranoff Competition and Festival, for example. How does that aspect of musical profession fulfill you? EB: Being an Artistic Director allows one to better understand the other side of the music industry. Wearing several “hats,” so to speak, helps us in our own concerts by getting to know all aspects of producing a concert from programming to budgets to marketing to subscriptions and ticket sales. It also helps us establish balance in our own programming, discover and think about creating other ways of bringing classical music to our audiences.
PPM: Where do you currently live, what are some of the most favorite things about the city/town you live in, and what do you do on an occasional night out? EB: We live in the Greater Vancouver area in White Rock/South Surrey. It is a beautiful place, right next to the ocean with many wonderful parks. As everything is so close in our area, we can easily stroll down to the beach by walking through a park with majestic and magnificent trees and eagles soaring above us. In general, we love to walk and spend time in nature. This area is perfect for that! MB: On a night out, we love to go down to White Rock and have dinner outside by the promenade on Marine Drive, in one of our favorite restaurants. Or else, drive into Vancouver for a concert and go out – often with some friends- afterward.
PPM: Was there ever when you thought to yourself, “I would rather be….. than a pianist”? EB: No, actually not. I never have wished to be anything else. However, there are times, especially on the weekend, when I wonder what it is like to have a ‘regular’ 9 to 5 job and have evenings and weekends off. MB: I think that thought crosses most people’s minds at some point and time. At times, I felt it would be great to be a writer as you can have a more flexible life in many ways, not being confined to always needing an instrument. I also often imagined how it would be to work as a painter/sculptor/visual artist…as there is something profoundly satisfying in creating something with a more tangible shape or form… something that can be captured in a kind of solid state. Being a composer and arranger although, of course, not full-time, helps connect with that primary creative source though.
PPM: How do you choose your repertoire as a duo? EB: We often discuss ideas together while we are driving (which we have to do quite a bit, travelling to the various venues). A lot of creative ideas come to us while we are doing something mundane like that. We always have a pen and paper handy in the car. We spend a lot of time discussing how to balance out programs, etc. for the coming season and how to be more efficient with our planning. Sometimes, we map it all out on a huge roll of paper to get a clearer overview. MB: We frequently feature selections from my arrangements of West Side Story or from my own rendition of Porgy & Bess. Then, we add some of my other arrangements of more contemporary repertoire, such as Tangos by Piazzolla (OBM), jazz tunes by Dave Brubeck (OBM), Chick Corea (MGBH), or Pat Metheny (MGBH). What I personally enjoy about performing those selections is having built-in opportunities for free variations and improvisational elements, while still following a well-established overall form and structure. Besides those various options, we also design certain programs around a specific theme – for instance, on the occasion of Leonard Bernstein’s (OBM) centennial, we put together a program that focuses on his legacy and musical influences.
PPM: What personal qualities do you look for in a friend? EB: Honesty, openness, understanding, humor, and the ability to share and listen. MB: Loyalty, commitment, honesty…enthusiasm. Similar interests, at least in some areas. Philosophical inclinations.
There is order, patterns, and structure evident in nature, similar to that in music. A beautiful moment in nature can move you in a profound manner just as a string quartet of Beethoven can.
PPM: How is nature and music connected in your world? What inspires you in nature? And how do you connect spirituality and music? EB: The sounds of wind blowing in the trees, the eagles and other birds and rhythm of waves of the ocean create a calmness and natural pulse. Spending time in nature helps keep me grounded. Nature has inspired creativity in people forever, and it continues to help us as performers to clear our minds from the day to day clutter and allows inspiration for room to flourish. There is order, patterns, and structure evident in nature, similar to that in music. A beautiful moment in nature can move you in a profound manner just as a string quartet of Beethoven can. Words can’t really describe what is happening. Being in nature is an absolute necessity for me – kind of like a meditation. Likewise, music can also be a meditation when one is “in the zone” or “in the flow” both as a performer and as a listener. Music can be an incredible healing source as it allows us to tap into energies and ideas that are positive and life renewing. There are certain “truths” in nature and those are revealed about life and humanity I believe when music is presented in an honest way. All of this can and should have an empowering effect on us and the world. Nature and music feed our souls. MB: Since having moved to Canada, I have become a huge “nature buff.” I discovered the joy and excitement of hiking, especially in the Rockies. Walking has also become a very regular and most important activity, especially in more recent years. When I walk by myself, I often get some ideas in regard to my current compositions or arrangements. So, while I am out in nature, the creative juices are flowing at the same time as well. Music happens, undoubtedly, in a metaphysical realm. There always remains something intangible about the fleeting moments, in which sounds are created and vanish. Music has its own internal time that has little or nothing to do with measurable clock-time. So, by its very nature, music has the power to transport all of us into a different realm and dimension. I feel that there is a strong connection between spirituality and music, especially in the moments when things just seem to “happen,” without willing or controlling them too much. Those are usually the best moments in performances – as something emerges from a different place. I frequently experience this spiritual aspect when I am composing or arranging – often, I forget everything around me when being in the creative flow.
Music has its own internal time that has little or nothing to do with measurable clock-time. So, by its very nature, music has the power to transport all of us into a different realm and dimension. I feel that there is a strong connection between spirituality and music, especially in the moments when things just seem to “happen,” without willing or controlling them too much.
PPM: What are some of your most memorable performance moments? EB: Playing for the great Yehudi Menuhin (OBM). We performed Schubert’s Fantasy in f minor at a concert for an organization in Germany called “Live Music Now.” Menuhin was present at this concert as he was the honorary patron. He was a remarkable human being, and his sheer presence in that front row made us play our best. MB: As a soloist, definitely the performances with orchestra- as well as a couple of concerts during my post-graduate years in Hannover. As for our duo concerts – there are many. Our first performance, playing Bach’s double concerto in c minor with a festival orchestra in Greece, will always hold a special place. Playing with our Dutch friends – Jeroen and Sandra Van Veen (MGBT) – on four pianos in the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam has also been one of those unforgettable moments. We played there several times, and it is always a joy to perform in a hall with such a history!
PPM: What’s coming up for you, guys, in 2018? MB: Lots of concerts & touring – including three weeks in China in May and early June. Festival appearances in Ottawa and Parry Sound in the summer. The upcoming fall season will be very busy as well – besides many local concerts, we will also play in Detroit for the first time and will be returning to Ontario for a few more performances. Also, Vancouver Opera is featuring one of my pieces –Requiem For a Lost Girl– as part of their festival this year, which I am very excited about. I am also working on a commission for the VSO School of Music that will feature their “piano orchestra” – about 40 students on 20 pianos! Plus, there are always many more composition and arrangement- projects that I am hoping to complete this year still.
PPM: What’s the most exotic place/venue that you have performed at? EB: Several years ago, we played a 4 piano concert on a beach on the northern coast of Holland with our Dutch piano duo friends. The piece was Canto Ostinato by Simeon Ten Holt (OBM). It was magical to watch the sun go down as we neared the end of the 2 hour long piece, and I played barefoot. It was a fabulous experience! MB: Once we performed Visions de l’Amen by Olivier Messiaen (OBM) at an old church-ruin in Erfurt. There were these gigantic, medieval structures of an old cathedral. The whole ceiling was gone, so the view was completely open toward the night sky. The concert was in October, and the evenings were already quite chilly. We had to dress as warmly as we could, given that we still had to wear clothes that were suitable for a performance. It was a magical atmosphere indeed.
We sat down, adjusted our chairs, and realized something was very wrong. The stage was on an angle and no adjusting of the chairs could make us feel comfortable.
PPM: Do you have any interesting stories of something that happened during one of your performances? EB: A truly strange moment was when we played at the winners concert of a competition in Caltanissetta, Sicily. They were still building the stage in this old theatre as the concert was supposed to begin. It was televised live, and we had no time to try out the pianos. We sat down, adjusted our chairs, and realized something was very wrong. The stage was on an angle and no adjusting of the chairs could make us feel comfortable. It felt like we were going to fall off the stage. We never did, but it certainly felt odd. MB: Another time, we were playing in Sicily again, and 3 major things happened that could have thrown us off. The first, was that we broke a string- which made a massive sound. The second was the huge bouquet of flowers fell off the stage and the third thing, was strange clicking noises coming from the piano. I thought it was my cuff links, but we realized later it was the action of the keyboard. These things can be very distracting at the moment, but you must play on and pretend nothing has happened.
PPM: Name one thing that your parents taught you in childhood that you still come back to and say, “Wow! I am so blessed to know this!” EB: Perseverance, discipline and determination – stick with it, don’t give up… eventually you will figure it out and don’t forget to breathe! MB: “Always be curious and open- minded.” I feel my parents opened my eyes and perception for a whole universe of possibilities for exploration, growth, and development. I am deeply grateful for their guidance and encouragement during my childhood and adolescence, that they let me pursue my own path while always being there with their help and advice.
“Always be curious and open- minded.” I feel my parents opened my eyes and perception for a whole universe of possibilities for exploration, growth, and development.
He is not merely the world’s best selling pianist. The media calls him the Prince of Hearts and Romance. For 40 years to date, his music and charisma has been conquering the world audience – one listener at a time. Today, with an impressive discography of over 170 albums, Richard Clayderman (MGBH) continues to tour around the world with his repertoire that he had mastered over the long and miraculous course of his career. Some label his style as “elevator music.” However, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And considering the amount of fans that his music gained over the years, Richard Clayderman is delivering what most people want and laughing all the way to the bank.
PPM: Your stage name – Richard Clayderman – is a pseudonym. What is the story behind it? RC: When I first met my two producers – Olivier Toussaint (MGBH) and Paul de Senneville (MGBH), which was over forty years ago, they were not completely satisfied with my real name – Phillipe Pagès. It was not so easy to pronounce in other languages. So, they asked me about other last names in my family. I knew of a Clayman or Claydman on my mother’s side, who had lived in Sweden in the 19th century. That’s all I knew about my great-grandmother. My producers became very interested in this name, and we decided that Clayderman would be ideal. As far as my first name was concerned – Phillipe – we thought that it didn’t really work so well with the new last name Clayderman. After trying on a few first names, we picked Richard. That is how “Richard Clayderman” was born.
PPM: Who was your first piano teacher? RC: My father was a piano and music teacher. He gave lessons in the small apartment we lived in, in a suburb of Paris. Very often, I would hear the piano when he was teaching, and I was very fascinated with this black and white keyboard. He noticed that I was interested in the piano, so he taught me a little and slowly realized that I really enjoyed it. One day, he noticed that I was becoming more than interested… that I was really very captivated by the piano. So, he took me to one of his friends who was a teacher at the conservatory. That’s how I came to attend the conservatory, and that’s how I was initiated into classical music and had an opportunity to advance my training.
PPM: Tell us about your mother. As a child, what are some of the most vivid memories? RC: My mother did not have background in music. She used to earn her living by cleaning offices as well as taking care of the housekeeping for a number of buildings where we lived. She was very involved in my education in terms of making sure I did my homework after school or practiced my piano. When I would play with kids outside, she would come and tell me, “Fifi, (my nickname is Fifi, for Philippe) you have to go practice piano.” She would always remind me how important the piano was. And I practiced very nicely… I never rebelled against practicing the piano… I truly enjoyed it.
PPM: Do you have any siblings? RC: I have an older sister. We’ve always been very close, and we still are. I call her often. When I was practicing the piano, she was practicing the flute. She was a good flute player, but didn’t continue to play music professionally. She has always been very important in my life. She is three years older than me and always has good advice. She’s married with a child and lives on the Riviera in Antibes very close to where I used to live when I lived on the Riviera. So, for ten years, we lived next to each other. At the end of my garden, there was a little door, and this is how we would get to her house.
PPM: Who were some of your favorite composers during your study at the Paris Conservatory? You didn’t finish it, did you? RC: Mozart, Beethoven (OBM), Chopin (OBM), Ravel (OBM), Schumann (OBM)… I was fascinated by all of these composers. I must say, however, that my favorite was Chopin. Unfortunately, very soon, my father became terribly ill, so I had to earn my own living and could no longer continue my studies at the conservatory. I ended up earning a living by accompanying other performers. From the age of 17 until I met my producers, I was an accompanist. I was lucky, because during those years, I had an opportunity to work with some of the most famous singers of that time – Johnny Hallyday (OBM) and Thierry Le Luron (OBM). And, a couple of years prior to meeting my producers, I accompanied a famous French star – Michel Sardou (MGBH) – who imitated politicians. He was also a singer and had all sorts of talents and performed many shows in France, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, and other French speaking countries. As his piano accompanist, I had the opportunity to learn a lot.
Originally, we expected sales of maybe 50,000 singles, but this ballad has sold more than 20 million albums, which has been quite surprising. That is how I started my career and our working relationship, and this year I am celebrating my 40th anniversary.
PPM: How did you meet your producers and under what circumstances did you start working together? RC: One of the producers, Olivier Toussaint, called me one day on the phone. He explained to me that I was the lucky winner of the audition and offered me the opportunity to make a recording of the ballad called “Ballad For Adeline,” which became very successful in many countries around the world. That’s how I started my career. Originally, we expected sales of maybe 50,000 singles, but this ballad has sold more than 20 million albums, which has been quite surprising. That is how I started my career and our working relationship, and this year I am celebrating my 40th anniversary.
Last December, during a concert that took place in China on December 28th, everyone surprised me, and my birthday was celebrated in front of the audience with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday.
PPM: Your Zodiac sign is Capricorn – goal-oriented and kind. Do you like celebrating your birthdays? RC: When I was a kid, I was definitely very happy to celebrate my birthday. However, as my birthday is December 28th , it has always been combined with Christmas! Nevertheless, I was always so happy to have a cake and blow out the candles. Nowadays, I must admit that I’m not so enthusiastic about it… As a child, I was happy to be one year older, but today not so much. For the past twenty years, all of my birthdays have been celebrated while I was on tour, and particularly, when I was on tour in China. Last December, during a concert that took place in China on December 28th, everyone surprised me, and my birthday was celebrated in front of the audience with the orchestra playing Happy Birthday. The audience was delighted to be part of the celebration. Of course, I had to look happy… but I wasn’t so happy to mark another year on the calendar!
PPM: Have you written your own compositions throughout your career? RC: Not really. In fact, I am just an interpreter, and my two principal composers since my debut have been Paul de Senneville (MGBH) and Olivier Toussaint. They have that kind of talent, which I do not have at all, but we work closely with each other. It’s a team effort. On my end, I add my own style, personality, and sensitivity to the pieces.
The only other job that I had for a short period of time was a job as a bank clerk. I found out that the banking business was definitely not my cup of tea.
PPM: What other jobs have you had prior to becoming a professional pianist? RC: The only other job that I had for a short period of time was a job as a bank clerk. I found out that the banking business was definitely not my cup of tea.
PPM: After forty years on stage, do you still practice piano daily? RC: It is important for me is to have a piano wherever I am or, at least, a keyboard. On tour, I’m always provided with a digital piano keyboard in either the dressing room or my hotel room, so that I may practice for as long as I want without disturbing my neighbors. It‘s true that the quality of the keyboards have undoubtedly improved considerably over the past 20 years, and the touch of the digital pianos is very good, and I can practice whenever I want. I wish I could have a digital piano on the planes in order that I take advantage of being in the air and practice my piano.
When I first went to China, there were lots of bicycles and just a few cars… Today, there are lots of cars and very few bicycles.
PPM: What was it like for you to visit and perform in China for the first time? Do you remember your first impression of the country and its culture? RC: The first concert I had in China was in Shanghai in 1987. This was a 25-minute-long concert for television, but the real concert I did was in Beijing in 1992. Originally, I think it was planned that the concert takes place in a 3,000-seat theatre, but they had to change that and rent the biggest theatre at that time in Beijing. This was called the Capital Theatre, which had twice or three times the capacity of the 3,000 originally planned. They were planning one show, but in the end, I performed three shows in a row, and this was the beginning of my incredible story in China.
At that time, it was quite a discovery. We knew a little bit about China, but it was quite a mystery. Nowadays, China is recognized as a super country, very powerful and rich. At that time, it was still poor, and I was very surprised…my promoters were very surprised that so many people came to the concerts. Since then, every year, I perform between 30 to 40 concerts in China’s main cities. I have been visiting China twice a year. Every time I noticed the difference in the development in terms of the number of cars, construction, buildings, and an incredible increase of everything in this country, which makes it very difficult today because of traffic jams. When I first went to China, there were lots of bicycles and just a few cars… Today, there are lots of cars and very few bicycles.
PPM: What personal qualities do you admire in people? RC: I admire people who have the ability to remain humble, who do not boast, and who are able to speak about their career and success with humility.
PPM: You started a family pretty early. What was it like balancing family life and career? RC: Indeed, I was very young when I married my first wife. I was 17, and in retrospect, it was too young to have a baby. I was on the road, on tour, most of the time, and hardly at home. That’s why my marriage lasted just a few years, and we got divorced. I have regrets about that period in my life, as I didn’t really have time to spend with my daughter. Later on, I remarried, and with my second wife we had our son Peter. At that time already I could devote more time to raising him, and I think he was brought up very well. We were living on the Riviera at that time, and I would fly back between tours as much as I could to spend time with him and take care of him. I would take him to school, restaurants, and have fun with him. It was the right time. I was in my thirties, so it was the right time to have a child. Not earlier.
I hear that many men hit their wives, and when I hear that, I can’t believe it. I wonder how that is even possible. In some cultures, it is a tradition for men to beat their women. For me, this is unacceptable.
PPM: What is the most important factor that brings peace in the relationship of a husband and a wife, in your opinion? RC: I know some couples who need to argue in order to keep living. They cannot have a peaceful relationship. They love each other, but they fight continuously. As far as I’m concerned, I like peaceful relationships. I think what drives a peaceful relationship is love as love is essential to keep “a blue sky” in the relationship. I’m the opposite of aggressive or angry. In addition to love, it’s a matter of respect, which is very important. I hear that many men hit their wives, and when I hear that, I can’t believe it. I wonder how that is even possible. In some cultures, it is a tradition for men to beat their women. For me, this is unacceptable.
PPM: What is your favorite season of the year and why? RC: Honestly, I love all seasons. My third wife and I used to have a dog named Cookie. We would walk together for hours in the forests and along the seaside in all seasons. I noticed that each time I was happy to discover another season. In some countries, especially those close to the equator, they do not have seasons. I love the change of seasons. Sometimes when I’m in Paris in the winter, I like to fly to another part of the world, like Latin America… Argentina or Brazil, and when it’s so cold in Paris, it’s very warm in these countries. So, I love to experience these changes and to be able to discover a new season.
I don’t drink wine, beer, champagne or any kind of alcohol. I have never drunk alcohol and I never will. I like still water.
PPM: Do you have a favorite food/cuisine? RC: I like simple food like mixed salads. I like steak, chicken, lamb cutlets with rice. I also like Italian food like pasta and pizza. I don’t drink wine, beer, champagne or any kind of alcohol. I have never drunk alcohol and I never will. I like still water. For breakfast, I like fresh orange juice. I never drink coffee but I like tea in the morning. I’m not a fish lover… no lobsters or oysters and things like this. I am very French when it comes to being a cheese connoisseur – Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, goat cheese – I enjoy them all. I also like pastries. especially tiramisu. In any case, I try not to eat too much to keep fit and avoid gaining too much weight.
PPM: You make an impression of a kind and humble person. Do these two qualities come to you naturally or do you have to work on them? RC: Actually, it is my nature. I’m not nasty with people. I don’t like to boast, so that’s the way I am. I was like that when I was young, and I’m still like that today.
PPM: Who were some of your role models throughout your life that influenced your personal development? RC: For sure, my father has been my role model. He was very kind and very humble and not showy at all, and, no doubt, I am his son. It is unfortunate that he had a kidney disease and passed away when I was 22. He played a very important role in my life as a man and as a piano player. My biggest regret is that he passed before I started my own career. Sometimes I think of how he would have been so happy and delighted, and, perhaps, proud, if he had been able to see my career unfold over the past 40 years.
PPM: What are some of your favorite things to do during your time away from piano? RC: When I am back in France between tours, I go and buy lots of DVDs. My suitcase is full of piano parts and DVDs. When I have time, I enjoy watching movies, but I like when movies are dubbed in French vs. have subtitles. I enjoy reading biographies of famous people like TV presenters, actors, and comedians. I also like watching TV.
PPM: How do you handle difficult moments in your life? RC: I like to keep things to myself. I don’t really like to share my problems with others, except for my sister. I can speak intimately with her, more so than with any other people. I keep things private, and, I guess, this is my secret garden.
PPM: What is your favorite vacation spot and why? RC: I tour continuously around the world, from Europe to the United States, from Asia to Latin America, and Australia. So, my most valued vacation spot is my house in the suburbs of Paris. My house is close to a forest, so I feel good there. Sometimes it’s nice not to have to catch planes, go through security, check into hotels and airports, get taxis and drive from one place to another. I enjoy staying put… in the same place!
PPM: How has your relationship with your audience transformed over the years of your career? RC: When I started doing my concerts, for many years I was very shy and didn’t feel so comfortable on stage. So, I was stuck behind the piano and afraid to get closer to the audience. Although for the past 15 to 20 years, I feel more comfortable, and I go and offer the audience some sheets from the piano scores I use at my concerts. You cannot imagine how people enjoy this, as this is my way of shaking hands with people. They feel close to me, because they understand that I am close to them. And as I cannot talk to them easily, given the language barriers, this is my way of forming an emotional connection to my audience.
This is something I could never have dreamed of, and after 38 years on the road, I still wonder how this has been possible.
PPM: Would you call the way your career unraveled miraculous? RC: The first concert I performed at was in Vienna in 1979. At that time, my producers and managers didn’t really expect that I would embark on a career as a recording artist or performer. However, much to our surprise, since 1979, I have been offered the opportunity to perform in an incredible number of countries… something like 70 different countries around the globe, and I’ve performed close to 3,000 concerts. It is quite unique for a piano player, and especially rare for a French artist, as very few French artists were offered the opportunity to perform in so many countries around the world. This is something I could never have dreamed of, and after 38 years on the road, I still wonder how this has been possible.
PPM: Do you have any plans of coming to perform in the US any time soon? RC: In fact, I do. I will be in the US on tour from September 28th through October 6th performing in Seattle, San Jose, Los Angeles, Boston, and New York.
How often have you heard someone say, “that student is talented”? Perhaps you say this yourself? Why talented? One could use words like competent, accomplished, capable, able, strong, skilled or phrases like “very good at it” and “has much potential”. The uniqueness of “talented” and its relative “gifted” brings an implication of natural ability requiring less work and effort. No other word implies this. Therein lies the danger. Some people think the word encourages effort and builds self-esteem, but a significant body of research suggests otherwise.
The question “how come you are you good at playing the piano?” might generate two responses. One – because I am gifted, talented, a natural. How do I know? Because everyone tells me so. Two – because I work at it. “I am who I am through my own efforts,” said Beethoven (OBM). Learners with a “talent mindset” develop less effective learning dispositions than those with the “learning mindset” that attributes achievement to the quality and quantity of effort. Stanford University research concludes that the “learning mindset” person works harder, persists for longer, likes to be challenged, learns from criticism, seeks feedback, pursues excellence and as a result, broadens their potential. The “talent mindset” person works less hard (because talent means I shouldn’t have to work as hard as others), is likely to quit much sooner, is less adventurous in seeking challenges, seeks feedback less readily, is paranoid about protecting this “talent” image at the expense of learning, and as a result, underachieves over time. Hence, if we want to develop healthy learning dispositions for our students, we should cultivate a learning mindset, which we do through our words, feedback, and the way we praise. Sticks and stones might break our bones, but words can do real harm!
Stanford University research concludes that the “learning mindset” person works harder, persists for longer, likes to be challenged, learns from criticism, seeks feedback, pursues excellence and as a result, broadens their potential.
In one sense, it does not even matter what the truth of the “talent” argument is, because perception controls reality. Nevertheless, what is the evidence for genetic talent? The world’s largest investigation about this – the international Human Genome Project spanning 16 years or so, found none. No variant genes associated with intelligence or innate talent in music or anything else were discovered, and the report concluded they would probably never be found. It was discovered that among our 19000 genes (rather than the more than 100 000 they expected to find), 99.9 percent of them are identical. Our brains, which control muscular movement and expression, are very similar in capacity and capability. Brains are shaped by early childhood experiences and by what we do. Intelligence is a result of working the brain to make new connections and then strengthening them. Whilst everyone has about 86 billion brain cells, people vary enormously in the number of brain connections they have – up to 80 trillion- based on what they do. Hence the variation in ability and intelligence. Some people read books, move their bodies, work harder than others, sleep more, and best of all for connecting the whole brain – play the piano. Again, some people practice thirty minutes a day, three days a week. Others might practice four hours per day, every day. Some children choose to spend six hours per day looking at a phone, time that could be used cultivating the intellect. In a sense, we are neurological engineers of our brain. As Aristotle (OBM) said, “We become our repeated self.”
Whilst everyone has about 86 billion brain cells, people vary enormously in the number of brain connections they have – up to 80 trillion- based on what they do. Hence the variation in ability and intelligence.
Hence, when the world expert on expertise in any domain listed the factors uncovered from years of investigation into exceptional performance, he did not list talent. Rather, 1) early childhood experiences, 2) the quality of effort – deliberate practice as he called it; and 3) the number of practice hours. The last factor deserves more respect than it usually receives. It is the single most significant factor in differentiating achievement in anything– provided the practice is of a quality nature.
What is quality practice? Eighty percent of pianists aged 14 and under mostly practice a piece once through, from start to end (always at the very start!) without stopping to fix anything. This, of course, is a run-though – not practice. Those who make progress, practice in chunks, isolating phrases for specific attention. They rarely go from the beginning. These pianists practice slowly, and engage in much repetition – blocked, variable, and spaced depending on requirements. The focus is 100 percent. They practice “only on the days that they eat” (thanks, Dr Suzuki (OBM)) and think about what it is that needs to be the focus of a practice session.
Those who make progress, practice in chunks, isolating phrases for specific attention. They rarely go from the beginning. These pianists practice slowly, and engage in much repetition – blocked, variable, and spaced depending on requirements.
Andres Ericsson (MGBH), a researcher in the psychological nature of expertise and human performance, says, “In every case, talent is identified retrospectively, and the emergence of prodigious skill follows rather than precedes unique opportunity and substantial work. No one has found a way to predict talent before they witness it.”
She plays so well because she has a talent.
How do you know she has a talent? That’s obvious. She plays so well.
Parental support plays a role in every case of prodigy. There are no known cases of child prodigy not hot-housed by parents.
Exceptional performers almost exclusively are of a “learning mindset” disposition. Lang Lang (MGBH) wrote “Journey of a Thousand Miles” to help people understand how classical pianists get so accomplished. He started piano at age three, was soon doing six to eight hours per day, this became ten hours prior to turning nine, and the rest is history. “I believe you have all the talent and creativity you need. What you can control is how hard you work. You can make sure you work harder than anyone else.”
The word “talented” is used regularly in music education. The idea that it is a positive ascription is not supported by evidence. Rather, it can cultivate undesirable learning dispositions and precipitate quitting. On a more global scale, eliminating this word from music teachers’ vocabulary might help future generations to consider taking up and continuing the challenge and joy of learning music, rather than accepting the permanent defeat and incapacitation of “I’m not musical”.
The word “talented” is used regularly in music education. The idea that it is a positive ascription is not supported by evidence. Rather, it can cultivate undesirable learning dispositions and precipitate quitting.
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.”
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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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.
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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):
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 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.
(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
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 aficionados – 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: 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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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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Not every California teenage pianist gets a title of the Young Steinway Artist. Umi Garrett (MGBH) became one at 13. A recipient of many acclaimed piano awards, she was only nine years old when she recorded and released her first album “Just For You”. Her performance of Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66 from this album appears on the soundtrack for the major motion picture Jobs. Her second recording, Music in Life, was recorded in 2013, at the age of 12. She spends a lot of time in solitude playing piano, but does he best to live the balanced life of a normal teenager. In this interview she shares with the readers what it’s like to be Umi Garrett.
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Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): How did your relationship with a piano start? Umi Garrett (UG): When I was four, my friends started taking after school (rather, after kindergarten) group lessons in piano. They seemed to be having lots of fun, and I was always fascinated by music and instruments, so I asked my parents to let me start. Eventually, we got an upright piano, and then a grand piano a few years later, and my love for piano and music continued to grow. I don’t think my parents could even imagine that this is what would happen when they let me start taking music lessons. Nevertheless, here I am now, still just as fascinated by the piano as I was 13 years ago.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your piano teachers and what you’ve learned from each of them. UG: My current piano teacher, Professor John Perry (MGBH), has taught me that there is more to being a pianist than staying inside and practicing. He has taught me that it is important to form experiences and make connections with people in order to better make connections with the audience through music. He has also taught me, in addition to my other piano teacher, Mrs. Mina Hirobe-Perry (MGBH), how to produce a better, more beautiful sound that can reach every corner of the concert hall. My past teachers has taught me a lot about technique, but my current teachers have taught me not only how to play well technically, but how to create art to share with the audience.
PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about your family. Do you have any siblings? Who are your parents? UG: People always ask if my family is musical, and the truth is, I’m the only musician in my family. It’s fun being the only musician in its own way – I can be the first person to play some pieces for my family and I can teach them about classical music. I’m the only child, but I’ve always wanted siblings. However, I’m pretty close with my parents. I often spend time with them going shopping or playing games. They’ve always been incredibly supportive of my musical and other endeavors, and I’m very lucky to have parents like them.
PPM: Which performance venue has been your favorite so far? UG: I’ve played in so many beautiful venues, that it’s hard to choose. However, my favorite venues are when I played in elementary schools in Tohoku in 2013 and 2015 in Japan. Tohoku, the Northern region of Japan, was hit with a devastating earthquake and tsunami in 2011, and I had the amazing opportunity to play for and spend time with some of the children in the area who survived the tragedy. Music has an incredible therapeutic and healing quality that I hoped I could help the children with. I visited 4 schools in 2013 and 2 schools in 2015, and every time, I was so touched by the children’s strength and hopefulness for the future. Seeing their smiling faces after playing my pieces will always be my favorite memory from a performance.
Music has an incredible therapeutic and healing quality that I hoped I could help the children with. I visited 4 schools in 2013 and 2 schools in 2015, and every time, I was so touched by the children’s strength and hopefulness for the future. Seeing their smiling faces after playing my pieces will always be my favorite memory from a performance.
PPM: Who are your favorite composers? What types of piano pieces do you like to perform the most and why? UG: I love playing all types of pieces, for that reason – each one is unique and requires different technical skills as well as emotional understanding. My favorite composers are always changing, and it also depends on if I’m listening to these composers’ pieces or playing these composers’ pieces. Right now, my favorite composer to listen to is Brahms (OBM) (and especially his symphonies). His music is so powerful, yet so beautiful. My favorite composer to play right now is Beethoven (OBM). I am obsessed with playing his music. The more I play his pieces and the more I study his scores, the more gems I find in his music – like a hidden melody or rhythm pattern. It’s almost like treasure hunting and I love it. I love the passion and intensity of his pieces. I also love the challenge of getting into the mindset to play Beethoven – I almost have to change my personality for a few minutes while I play, from cheerful to moody. That’s the cool thing about performing music. You can be a completely different person when playing different pieces.
PPM: Can you share any funny stories or awkward moments from your performance experiences? UG: I was performing in a student recital with two of my friends in a music festival in Italy a couple years ago. The unique thing was that the concert was held outside, in a courtyard space. There was a nice and bright spotlight up above the keyboard because it was already dark, and in the background there was a beautiful church in the distance. Everything was going perfectly until, right when I was about to play, the church bells began ringing, and didn’t stop for at least a whole minute. It was funny because it almost perfectly coincided with the rhythm of the piece I was playing, and then the chamber music of piano and church bells was completed with an ambulance, full sirens going, driving right past the courtyard. Oh, and also, remember the spotlight I mentioned? Well, not only did I like it because I could see the keys, these flying ant bugs loved it, and they’d fly up to the lightbulb, hit it, and drop like flies (literally) onto the keyboard. It was more funny than an inconvenience, though, and we all had a nice laugh about the bugs, the church bells and the ambulance afterwards. It was definitely an experience!
Oh, and also, remember the spotlight I mentioned? Well, not only did I like it because I could see the keys, these flying ant bugs loved it, and they’d fly up to the lightbulb, hit it, and drop like flies (literally) onto the keyboard. It was more funny than an inconvenience, though, and we all had a nice laugh about the bugs, the church bells and the ambulance afterwards. It was definitely an experience!
PPM: Please, tell our readers about your CD recording experience/s. Do you have any upcoming albums? UG: I love recording for my CDs. The recording takes a really long time and is exhausting, but it’s a really rewarding experience. It’s unlike a concert, because in a session, it’s just you, the piano, and the microphones. Whereas in a concert it’s you, the piano, and the audience.
My favorite thing about music is sharing it with the audience in performance, but there is something really intimate and personal about recording music. It’s also really exciting because you feel the anticipation of the new CD release and hope that people will like it. Speaking of new CD releases, I’ve got a new CD!! It’s called Storybook, and it’s filled with my favorite pieces. I’ve been working on it for over a year now, and I am so happy with it. I named it Storybook because of how each piece in the album has a special, personal story behind it, but also because I want to inspire people to think of their own stories with the music.
Speaking of new CD releases, I’ve got a new CD!! It’s called Storybook, and it’s filled with my favorite pieces. I’ve been working on it for over a year now, and I am so happy with it.
PPM: Do you compose your own music? UG: I don’t compose my own music, but I enjoy improvising whenever I can. I think it’s really fun and therapeutic to just go to the piano and play whatever is on your mind. I also love improvising with friends, especially ones who play different instruments, because you start getting more ideas and colors to share and pass around while you play.
PPM: What does being a piano professional mean to you? UG: To me, being a piano professional means to always do my best, regardless of the circumstances. In February of 2015, I was diagnosed with terrible tendonitis in both arms, preventing me from practicing for an entire week before an important performance of Chopin’s Concerto No. 1. My solution was to prepare by repeatedly listening to recordings of the piece, studying the score, and reading many of Chopin’s letters. I discovered a passage, in which Chopin wrote of the exact concerto that I was to perform. Reading, “It is… a thousand happy memories…a kind of reverie in the moonlight on a beautiful spring evening” was more helpful than practicing the piece a thousand times. I was able to put myself in Chopin’s shoes when performing and form an emotional connection with the audience. Being professional means to overcome difficulties and create the best music that I can.
PPM: How often do you visit Japan? Do you have relatives there? UG: Not as often as I’d like to. I used to go once or even twice a year when I was younger, but now I only visit if I have performances there. That’s a bit of a bummer because my mom’s whole side of the family lives there, including my grandparents, but it’s not all bad because every time I go to Japan, I can play for them at my concert. I think at one point I hadn’t gone back in about two years, but this summer I actually got to go to Japan just for vacation for the first time in five or six years, which was great. I visited my grandparents in Tokyo and ate lots of amazing food, visited friends, and actually went sightseeing a little bit and went up the Tokyo Tower for the first time. Most of the time I’m in Japan, I’m rushing through the city to rehearse and travel, which is a lot of fun in its own way, but getting to have a little time to myself and relax was just amazing.
PPM: What is the biggest difference between the Japanese and American culture, in your opinion? UG: I’ve noticed that American people tend to be more direct about what they want and need, while Japanese people are more indirect in expressing their true feelings. I don’t think one is better than the other, but I definitely find it interesting. Also, things in Japan are a lot more compact and smaller. Doorways are smaller and cars look like tiny little boxes. After you’re in Japan for a while, it starts looking normal, but if you just arrived there from America, everything looks “fun sized.”
PPM: Not so long ago, you performed on a cruise. What was that travel experience like, and what memories do you carry from that trip? UG: I was invited to perform on a Crystal Cruises transatlantic cruise ship a couple nights a week. The cruise started in Edinburgh and went to Hamburg, Amsterdam, made its way up towards Iceland, passed by some other Northern islands, Nova Scotia, then finished in New York. Iceland, though, was definitely one of my favorite stops on the route. Reykjavik was interesting to visit. The memories just keep getting better and more vivid as time goes on – you start remembering these little things that you saw and experienced, like the cute, yet unpronounceable, street names or the smell that comes from the small crepe shops on the side of the road. One thing that I remember really vividly is that it was SO cold, which was crazy, because it was the middle of August. But then again, it’s not so crazy, because Iceland is so far north. In any case, if you ever plan to go to Iceland, even if it’s in the middle of summer, bring LOTS of warm clothes.
The memories just keep getting better and more vivid as time goes on – you start remembering these little things that you saw and experienced, like the cute, yet unpronounceable, street names or the smell that comes from the small crepe shops on the side of the road.
PPM: What’s your favorite clothing style to wear in your every day life and who picks your wardrobe for concert performances? UG: My concert performance wardrobe is picked out by my mom and I. Usually, we buy dresses especially for concerts, but my favorite performance dress right now is one that I got for prom last year. A lot of performance gowns can be uncomfortable, so it’s really awesome when you can find a dress that feels awesome and looks awesome, too. Outside of concert clothes, comfort is definitely a big part in my wardrobe, especially because until recently, I’ve never been really interested in shopping or fashion. Now, I’m starting to see it as a way to express myself and my personality, but I’m still experimenting and playing around with styles. But if I had to describe my wardrobe in one word, it would definitely be “comfy.”
PPM: In the past you’ve been home schooled. What type of homeschooling was it? How was this experience for you and what advantages and disadvantages do you see in it? UG: I was home schooled for seventh and eight grade, and I did online schooling. Of course, every person and student has their preferences, and I’m sure some really enjoy online schooling, but my experience with it wasn’t the best. I’m a fairly social person, and I enjoy being with my friends for the majority of the time. I’m also the only child and a pianist (which is a lonely profession in itself, because it requires hours of solitary concentration). So, almost all of my social interactions come from school. As you can imagine, homeschooling was really lonely for me. It did have its advantages, though. The schedule was flexible, and I could go to school in my pajamas if I wanted to. For me, however, the disadvantages outweighed the advantages, and I started going to a non-virtual high school (a real high school) starting freshman year, and I’ve been loving it!
PPM: Would you name five favorite things in your room? UG: My five favorite things in my room are the map that has pushpins to show all the places I’ve been, the wall of postcards that I’ve bought and friends have sent me, a drawing of flowers made by my best friend, all of my stuffed animals that I refuse to give away even at 17, and the wall decorations I currently have. So if you’ve watched Stranger Things, you know that there’s a wall in the show that’s covered with Christmas lights and has the alphabet written underneath it. I’ve always wanted to replicate it, and with the help of my friend, we managed to make it, and right now it might be my favorite thing ever. The only downside to this decoration, though, is that when people who haven’t seen the show come into my room, they want to know why I have the alphabet taped onto my wall and tease me, asking if that’s the new topic I’m learning in school. It’s okay, they’ll see what it truly is when the lights start flickering.
My five favorite things in my room are the map that has pushpins to show all the places I’ve been, the wall of postcards that I’ve bought and friends have sent me, a drawing of flowers made by my best friend, all of my stuffed animals that I refuse to give away even at 17, and the wall decorations I currently have.
PPM: What do you enjoy doing on a weekend when when you are not practicing? UG: On a typical weekend, if I’m not practicing, I’m probably at home or at a friend’s house eating food and watching Netflix. I also really enjoy reading and baking sweets. My friends and I also go shopping or to Dave and Busters where I destroy the block-stacking game and win a couple hundred tickets at a time.
PPM: What are some of the things that make you smile and what are you pet peeves? UG: Last Christmas, I asked for a Polaroid camera, and ever since then, I’ve been carrying it around with me and taking pictures of my friends and I. I usually take two or more so I can give them to my friends and still have some memories left over. Looking at these pictures always makes me smile. I don’t have a lot of pet peeves, but when people directly bite into a chocolate bar instead of breaking it off into the pieces (likes it’s supposed to), it makes me want to take their chocolate bar away, because, clearly, they don’t deserve it. I mean, come on, the little indentations are there for a reason.
PPM: What qualities in people do you respect the most? UG: I have so much admiration and respect for people who stand up for what they believe in.
PPM: What are some of your favorite places in California? UG: I really love Long Beach. It’s near my home, but I don’t get to go there often, so it’s a treat when I can. I love the ocean and the beach, and Long Beach has these amazing little cafes, art stores, and gelato shops that I just love. I just love walking on the beach and in the town. Besides Long Beach, my other favorite place is obviously Disneyland. Disneyland is perfect.
PPM: What is your favorite food? UG: I’ll honestly eat anything and everything. If someone offers me food, I’ll take it, even if the person is a complete stranger. If I have to choose though, I would pick Japanese food. I can’t get anymore specific, though, since there’s too many Japanese foods that I like: ramen, sushi, dumplings, mochi, and basically everything else. I also love pasta and pizza and In-N-Out burgers. Also, ice cream.
PPM: Do you celebrate Japanese holidays? If so, which ones? UG: Since I’ve been born and raised in the good ole United States, I’m pretty Americanized, but I still celebrate New Years’ in a sort of Japanese way. And by sort of Japanese way, I mean that I pester my mom every year to make me the traditional Japanese New Years’ dishes because they are SO good.
PPM: What does gratitude mean to you and what are you most grateful for in your life? UG: I’m most grateful for the friends and family in my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Even and especially during stressful times, they are always by my side, supporting me and keeping me motivated. So to me, gratitude means to care for and to be supportive of my friends and family like they have been for me.
PPM: What makes you feel most centered and grounded? UG: My friends and family, especially through crazy times. They remind me to take a breath and live in the moment.
PPM: What is your dream as a pianist? UG: My dream as a pianist is to be able to use my music to help others. Music can have such a positive impact on people and I hope that my music can have these effects.
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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).
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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.
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).
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
This writer contributes to the magazine on the volunteer basis. If you like his article, please, consider making a small donation to the author to express your appreciation of his work.
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.”
In this section we continue our tradition of promoting up-and-coming artists. This interview features a young pianist from Croatia – Ivan Krpan (MGBH) – a winner of the prestigious Bussoni Competition. This young musician strikes the audience with his refined and sophisticated performance style. Here is a sneak peak into his life.
PPM: Please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself and your family. IK: I was born in Zagreb – the capital of Croatia. I have an older brother Martin and a younger brother Fran. Both of my parents are musicians. My mother is musicologist. She works on the Croatian Radio. My father is a violinist. He is a professor at the Music Academy of Zagreb. My brothers and I grew up surrounded with music, and all three of us started going to music school when we were seven years old (I started a bit earlier – when I was six). Today Martin studies violin in Leipzig, and Fran studies cello at a local music school. Unlike Martin and I, he is very interested in sports and plays water polo.
PPM: Who introduced you to piano and under what circumstances? IK: We had a piano at home, and my mother showed me how it works when I was a child. That’s how it all started.
PPM: What is music/classical piano education like in Croatia and how is it structured? IK: We have a very good music educational system in Croatia. There are primary and secondary music schools that are separate from regular schools. They offer not only lessons in playing an instrument, but also a lot of music theory subjects. Primary music school has a 6-year curriculum, and pupils learn to play an instrument as well as study solfeggio. In higher grades, there is also orchestra or choir. Secondary music school offers a 4-year program, which is more complex then that of a primary school. It consists of a many subjects, with the main one playing an instrument. The rest of the classes are music theory, solfeggio, harmony, polyphony, chamber music, choir or orchestra, history of music, musical forms, and so on. One can obtain a comprehensive and well-rounded music education here in Croatia. It can be very challenging to attend both regular school and music school, because there are a lot of subjects and not much free time for students. The good thing, however, is that music schools in Croatia are not very expensive. So, anyone who is interested is able to attend a music school. After secondary music school, there is Music Academy which is part the University of Zagreb. It is a five-year program. After five years one can obtain a Master’s Degree. I am attending the last, fifth, year of Music Academy.
The good thing, however, is that music schools in Croatia are not very expensive. So, anyone who is interested is able to attend a music school.
PPM: What competitions have you participated in so far? Which teachers have you studied with and who are you currently study with now? IK: I participated in many national and international piano competitions such as Mladi Virtuozi Competition in Zagreb, EPTA Competition in Belgium, Piano Competition in Encshede (The Netherlands), Chopin Piano Competition in Moscow, and Mozart Competition in Zhuhai (China). The biggest competition I took part in was Ferruccio Busoni Competition in Bolzano. I had two teachers – Prof. Renata Strojin Richter (MGBH) in Blagoje Bersa Music School in Zagreb and Prof. Ruben Dalibaltayan (MGBH), who I am currently working with at the Music Academy of Zagreb.
PPM: In 2014, you won the 1st prize at the EPTA in Bruxelles. What was it like for you? IK: I remember this competition because it was my first competition after I entered the Music Academy with Prof. Dalibaltayan. So, that was significant for me. During the competition I stayed with a host family, and that’s how I met Anne-Sophie Snyers (MGBH), her husband Edouard (MGBH), and their three children. They are really nice people, and I will always remember this competition because of them. It was very good experience for me.
PPM: What musicians do you admire the most and why? IK: It’s hard for me to answer this question. A lot of people ask me about my favorite composers or musicians or music, and I always tell them that I cannot really say. That’s because I can’t choose one or two people, but I enjoy the array of composers out there. You can compare good musicians and composers to friends: one is this way and the other one is totally different, but they have their reasons to be who they are, and I appreciate each one of them, but cannot say who is better. In fact, it is the diversity that connects them, so I enjoy getting to know all of them.
You can compare good musicians and composers to friends: one is this way and the other one is totally different, but they have their reasons to be who they are, and I appreciate each one of them, but cannot say who is better.
PPM: What are your performance plans for the 2017/2018 season? IK: There are a lot of plans for this season. First of all, I have a concert next week in Zagreb with my girlfriend Paula Ropuš who is also a piano student at the Music Academy. We play a piano duo. In December, I will play Liszt’s Concerto No. 1, also in Zagreb. In February, there will be few recitals in Italy. In March, I will play at the Edvard Grieg Museum in Norway. In May, I will give few performances in South Korea.
PPM: What is your favorite place in Europe and why? IK: My favorite place in Europe is Zagreb. I love that city not only because it is my home, but also because it’s really beautiful.
PPM: What was it like traveling to China? What cultural differences did you find most surprising? IK: First of all, it was exhausting. It was really a long flight and a big time difference. But I am glad that I was there, because I learned a lot. The cultural differences are quite significant, so there were a lot of strange situations with people there. In general, Chinese were very precise – so precise in everything that I had a feeling they are always scared that they will make some mistake. In Croatia, everything is a lot more relaxed.
PPM: Do you have any sort of ritual before you go on stage? IK: I don’t do or say anything special before I go on stage. However, I always take time to prepare mentally, and I always try to achieve the same thing: to be relaxed and to clear my mind. I can never fully achieve that, but I try get as close as I can.
PPM: What’s your favorite cuisine? IK: My mom’s, of course. 🙂
PPM: What are some of your favorite books? IK: I read a lot, so it depends on what am I interested in at the moment. I am interested in many things. Sometimes, I read old literature, for example, epic poems. Sometimes, I read about religion or history. Sometimes, I read about art or music. Nothing specific that I could mention here though.
PPM: What other things do you love besides playing piano? IK: I love going on nature walks.
PPM: Who are the people you admire the most and why? IK: I admire the people I learn from. That would be my parents, my professor, and my girlfriend. I admire them for one reason – they showed me how to live and how to love.
PPM: What was is like to prepare and participate in the Busoni competition? IK: The Busoni Competition was a big challenge, but it was also a joy. It was the biggest competition I participated in and it was exciting – after all, it is one of biggest piano competitions in the world. The competition lasts for two years: first is preliminary round and then there are four rounds the following year. The repertoire requirements are very demanding. You have to play lot of music pieces – the preparation process is not easy. During the competition I stayed with a host family. My hosts were Eva Bernhard (MGBH), her daughter Ana Lea (MGBH), and her husband Franz (MGBH). They are beautiful people. The time spent with them was really a joy for me. All in all, I learned a lot during the Busoni Competition, and it gave me a lot of opportunities to play abroad.
PPM: What languages do you speak? IK: I speak Croatian and English.
PPM: What do you like to do on Sunday afternoons? IK: Every Sunday is different. Last Sunday, I played piano. Sometimes I go for a walk or go out with my girlfriend.
I think that art in general has to be spiritual, because it is a way to express oneself. A way to express not only one idea, but the whole story of life with all its diversity.
PPM: How is music connected to spirituality in your life? IK: Music is a very spiritual thing for me. I can say that music has a central role in my life, because it somehow stands in the middle and connects everything that I experience. I think that art in general has to be spiritual, because it is a way to express oneself. A way to express not only one idea, but the whole story of life with all its diversity. So, I think that an artist’s job is no less but to give himself or herself to others. This is the most beautiful thing there is. You can also look at it from the religious perspective, and you will find a lot of similarities.
PPM: What affects your repertoire choices? IK: I always try to play music that I feel connected with. Sometimes, when it’s not the case then I play works that I am interested in and during the process of practicing I make a connection with that music, so in the end it’s always about the connection and about love.
PPM: Do you have a career dream? IK: My dream is to play, explore music, and enjoy the process.
PPM: Thank you, Ivan! And may God help you fulfill your dream.
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In the early nineties, Martin T:son Engstroem (MGBH) had an ambitious idea to create a summer festival in the heart of the Swiss Alps, far from the major cities where most festivals take place. Verbier had the intimate atmosphere he felt was necessary to encourage musical excellence, and at the same time be open to the world. He imagined a festival with a resident youth orchestra and an academy where renowned artists would teach the next generation and audiences would have a wide choice of activities from early morning until late at night. In 1994, his vision became a reality.* Today, in 2017, it is much more than that – it is one of the hottest events for the who-is-who in the world of classical music.
Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): What does it take to start a festival? Martin T:son Engstroem (ME) : Starting a festival is very much learning as you go. There is no profession that prepares you for it. You have to know psychology, finances, organization, languages, music, and fund-raising – a little of bit of everything. And then you’ll need a big chunk of persistence. In addition, you have to believe in what you do. The first two years will probably go OK, but then it’s all about stamina.
PPM: Prior to organizing the Festival, you were a talent agent. Who are some of the artists who worked with? ME: I worked with Germinal Hilbert in Paris from 1975 – 1987. I also worked with such artists, pretty much from the beginning of their career, as Giuseppe Sinopoli, Han-Na Chang, Kirill Troussov, Jonathan Gilad, Ilya Gringolts, Barbara Hendricks, Neil Shicoff, Jessye Norman, and Gino Quilico, to name a few.
Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it. The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.
PPM: What is your secret formula in discovering talent? ME: Trusting my intuition. There are thousands of young talented musicians, but you look for talent PLUS personality and charisma. Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it. The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.
PPM: You used to work Deutsche Grammophon, didn’t you? ME: Yes, I did. From 1999 till 2003, I was a VP of Artists & Repertoire. Thereafter, for 3 years I was a Senior Executive Producer and Head of Artists Development. I signed Lang Lang, Yundi, Anna Netrebko, Esa-Pekka Salonen and many others to the company. I was also instrumental in the signing of Yuja Wang, Daniil Trifonov, and Gregory Sokolov. Although I am presently not on their payroll, we still work very closely together.
PPM: So, having worked in the industry did help in attracting talent to your festival? ME: Yes. Prior to starting the Festival, I already had a pretty important address book. I invited one of my best friends – Avi Shoshani (Secretary General of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) to join me, and together we covered most of the artists we wanted to come to our first event.
PPM: Under what circumstances did you meet Evgeny Kissin, and how did you convince him to be part of the Festival? ME: It was Avi who brought Zhenya to Verbier. He loved it from the very first year and has been back 19 times (out of 24 Festivals).
PM: Who handles talent at Verbier? ME: I myself am responsible for all the artists performing at the Verbier Festival. I also work closely with the artists in putting together the programs.
The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.
PPM: What types of sessions take place at the Verbier? ME: Every day we have 4 paying concerts, 3 free student concerts, plus another 20 free events including open rehearsals, Master Classes, “meet the artists” talks, etc. The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.
PPM: Who are the typical attendees of the Verbier Festival? ME: Our audience is very eclectic. The sheer fact that we are in the mountains and in a tent eliminates those who just want to dress up and show off their latest jewels. Our audience is younger than that of most classical music institutions. Our festival attracts the locals who would normally never go down the valley to see a classical music concert.
PPM: How did the idea of the Academy come along? ME: Through working with my artist friends and challenging them to new collaborations. Since its inception, the academic part has grown enormously, and we now have 300 music students between the ages of 13 and 30 studying between 3-5 weeks each summer pending the course they have chosen.
PPM: How closely do you work with the Music Director of the Festival Orchestra? What decisions are you involved in? ME: I have worked extremely closely with both James Levine and Charles Dutoit. Creating the right programs for our young orchestra musicians is key to its success. You need to schedule challenging repertoire – not only technically, but stylistically and musically as well. Maestro Dutoit has given “Master-Classes” in French repertoire having conducted Pelleas, Damnation, which will stay forever with these young incredible talented musicians and give them a base of how to interpret French music.
PPM: Where do the Festival volunteers come from? ME: Lausanne Hotel School, music students, children of our public or children of our musicians.
PPM: You studied Russian at the University. Why? ME: I have always been fascinated by the Russian culture – writers, painters, composers, and musicians. That culture has accompanied me since I was a young kid. I starting traveling to the Soviet Union from the age of 16 and still go back 3-4 times a year. My spoken Russian today is not very good, although I can get around.
PPM: What character traits does a person have to possess for you to be comfortable to do business with him or her? ME: As a person, I am pretty open and curious. If I like someone, I will be his best friend, but I f I don’t trust someone or feel that he is not truthful – that person has lost me.
The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.
PPM: In your opinion, what does classical music give to the world and where is its place in the future? ME: Classical music makes peoples lives richer. Music, Theater, and Literature are there to make us more complete and more harmonious as human beings. As parents, we owe it to ourselves to challenge our children to reach further and give “culture” a chance. They might not like it at that moment, which is OK, but they will appreciate the gesture later in their lives and, perhaps, will come back to it. The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.
Built relatively recently, the Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown Los Angeles, CA opened its doors on September 24th, 2003. It catches the eye not only with its sail-like exterior, but also with the beautiful and breezy interior. It’s no surprise as the hall was designed by the two very talented men – the architect Frank Gehry (MGBH) and a master acoustician Matsuhiso Toyota (MGBH). It seats 2,265 people and serves, among other purposes, as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The walls and ceiling of the hall are finished with Douglas-fir and Alaskan yellow cedar while the floor is finished with oak. The round auditorium features a sailing ship motif that the architect Frank Gehry likens to Noah’s Ark. Columbia Showcase & Cabinet Co. Inc., based in Sun Valley, CA, produced all of the ceiling panels, wall panels, and architectural woodwork for the main auditorium and lobbies. (1) The Hall’s reverberation time is approximately 2.2 seconds unoccupied and 2.0 seconds occupied. (3).
The Library of Congress/Ira Gershwin Gallery, housed inside Walt Disney Concert Hall, was designed by Hodgetts and Fung Design Associates and made possible by a generous gift from the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trust for the Benefit of the Library of Congress. The gallery is situated on the second floor of Walt Disney Concert Hall and rotates its collection bi-annually. (3)
With the initial donation of $50 million made by the widow of Walt Disney, Lilian Disney, in 1987, the County of Los Angeles added $110 million and sold bonds in order to build the garage. The Disney family later added $34.5 million with another $25 million from the Walt Disney Company.
Disney Hall consists of the Main Performance Hall and two smaller performance spaces.
BP Hall is an intimate space with chairs, wood floors, walls, and ceilings that hosts pre-concert talks, musical performances, receptions, and private events for up to 500 guests.
The Walt Disney Concert Hall Founders Room features a signature Frank Gehry sculptured plaster ceiling which rises 50 feet to reveal a skylight. This 4,800-sq. ft. dining room includes custom lighting, millwork, private dining patio with travertine stone, and landscaping of the exterior patio area. The exclusive Founders room hosts pre- and post-concert parties for major donors.
A REDCAT Theater performance space holds avant-garde and experimental music, dance, theater, movies, and art.
Since its opening, such pianists as Lang Lang (MGBH), Pierre-Laurent Aimard (MGBH), Daniil Trifonov (MGBH), Armen Guzelimian (MGBH), Keith Jarrett (MGBH), Helene Grimaud (MGBH), Benjamin Grosvenor (MGBH), Garrick Ohlsson (MGBH), Alessio Bax (MGBH), Murray Perahia (MGBH), George Li (MGBH), Krystal Zimerman (MGBH), Scott, Dunn (MGBH), Alpin Hong (MGBH), Emanuel Ax (MGBH), Eduardo Delgado (MGBH), and Yundi (MGBH) graced the stage of the main hall with their performances.
In an interview with Deborah Borda (MGBH), Frank Gehry shares his experience of working on Disney Hall.
DB: It’s fair to say that the Walt Disney Concert Hall has changed the way how a concert hall should involve people. When I first saw the design, I was absolutely blown away hoping to be a part of it. When you worked on it, did you design the hall inside out of from the outside in?” FG: Inside out. When people look at the buildings I designed, they assume I designed from the outside in. That I make a form and jam stuff in. And I think a lot of my colleagues do that, maybe. But I don’t.
DB: What’s the one thing that stands out in your memory the most about the opening concert? FG: I can’t help to remember taking the bow with Esa-Pekka […Salonen, the Music Director of Los Angeles Philharmonic] and the confetti and all that stuff. I never experienced that before. Architects don’t do that very often.
DB: But you must have also had a special pride. We had designed those programs together. You were the artist. That’s why you were up on a stage. I don’t know if people know, but you are one of the most regular concert attenders I know. What do you think now looking back ten years later, is the most successful aspect of the hall? From your point of view. FG: Well, I think the clarity of the sound has got to be number one. And the relationship between audience and performer is right up there. It’s subtle. So when the orchestra is full on, they feel a receptive audience, because the audience can hear them. They feel it. It’s like a theater. You feel how you are coming across. And when the orchestra hears that, it makes them play better, believe it or not. I think.
Inside the main concert hall we can see a beautifully designed 6,134-pipe organ, sometimes referred to as “French Fries.” Composer Terry Reily called it “Hurricane Mama.”
The organ was built by the German organ builder Caspar Glatter-Götz (MGBH) under the tonal direction and voicing of Manuel Rosales. It cost $ 3 million to build, which was a gift to the County of Los Angeles from Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. How many instruments have a building attached to them? The building not only didn’t exist, its design kept changing. “There were many hurdles that had to be overcome. And they were civic hurdles and architectural hurdles,” Deborah Borda (MGBH), the President and CEO of LA Philharmonics. “We studied all organs that we could find in history and did a thorough analysis of what they looked like,” said Frank Gehry. “And it seemed like there were a lot of variations possible.” Mr. Gehry went back and worth with Manuel Rosales on the shape of the tubes. “I was told to walk off this project. This would ruin my career. This was insane. The organ would be a complete disaster. Nobody would pay any attention to it. It took two and a half years to reach this design and well over forty different models.[…] The organ went through many hoops to please the artistic sense of Frank Gehry. I had to make sure that whatever he designs, works ultimately as a musical instrument,” shares Manuel Rosales in an interview. “Because in the room like this, you don’t put sculpture, it’s focusing on the music, so we thought there was a rationale for the organ to have some spunk,” shared Frank Gehry in his conversation with Deborah Borda.
The concert hall houses celebrity chef Joachim Splichal’s (MGBH) landmark fine dining restaurant Patina designed by Belzberg Architects. Open for dinner and late-night supper, French-born and trained executive chef Tony Esnault’s exquisite dishes are made from the best ingredients available from local and regional farmers, ranchers and fishermen. Chef Esnault also offers a special tasting menu at the private Chef’s Table for nine, which offers guests an unobstructed, behind-the-scenes view into kitchen dynamics.
Accommodating 240 seated guests, including a private dining room for up to thirty, Patina welcomes guests into a warm, inviting interior undulating with organic ceiling curves and ripples of carved walnut walls. Patina also features an impressive bar display where guests can unwind before dinner or enjoy a late-night cocktail on the patio. (4)
On the third level of the building, visitors will find the community garden that features outdoors performance space and beautiful Southern California landscaping. The community garden is open for public and can be a cozy refuse from the loud noises of the busy city life. In the middle of the garden is a beautifully carved fountain in the shape of a rose, subsequently named, “A Rose for Lily” in honor of the main donor for the Disney Hall – Lilian Disney.
A concert hall, an educational space, a park, an office, and a cultural landmark – all rolled into one. Walt Disney Hall represents the best of the city of Los Angeles and the performing arts, an LA’s Phil is proud to call it home. (5)
(1) http://www.woodworkingnetwork.com/articles/columbia_showcase__cabinet_co_inc_-_an_acoustical_journey_127691448.html#sthash.S9HM2Erb.dpbs – retrieved March 16th, 2017
(2) http://www.nagata.co.jp/e_sakuhin/factsheets/wdch.pdf – retrieved March 16th, 2017
(3) https://www.musiccenter.org/about/OUR-VENUES/Our-Theatres–Concert-Halls/ – retrieved March 16th, 2017
(4) http://www.laphil.com/visit/patina-walt-disney-concert-hall – retrieved March 16th, 2017
(5) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAEd1uDOZJE – timing 7:00 – retrieved March 16th, 2017
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Since its opening night, blessed by performance of Peter Ilyich Chaikovsky (OBM), Carnegie Hall in Manhattan, New York has been one, if not the most, of the world’s prestigious classical performance venues. Such pianists as Vladimir Horowitz (OBM), Sergei Rachmaninoff (OBM), and Arthur Rubinstein (OBM) played an important part in contributing to the grandeur of this place. Many books have been written about the famous Carnegie Hall and events that happened there over the years. In this article, we would like to review the history of this amazing venue, give tribute to its founder, and reveal a few secrets.
And here [are] 2,700 odd people who had been sitting for an hour…waiting. And suddenly the house lights go out and the stage lights go on and PHYSICALLY, backstage, it felt like putting one’s hand in an electric socket. And I brought him downstairs and to the edge of the stage and he turned around and faced me. [He] said “I’m looking at you,” and I thought ‘what do I do now? … Oh! Ok!’ So I turned him around and put my hand in the lower part of his back and pushed him out onto the stage. Well… the wave, the sheer sound wave of all those people getting up and greeting him was physical. You really were just physically hit by it… and then he gestured to the piano and started to sit down, and the silence was just as loud as the applause had been a moment ago. – Schuyler Chapin (MDBH), The Art of Piano: Great Pianists of the 20th Century 
Such is the story of Vladimir Horowitz’ legendary return to the concert stage on May 9, 1965, after a 12 year sabbatical from public performance . It is no surprise that this epic re-launch took place at Carnegie Hall, the most prestigious stage in the world. Few concert halls have lived up to the legacy and mystique of Carnegie Hall, a legacy built by the international stature of the great artists to perform there since its inception.
[…] in the 1890’s, New York City’s midtown was centered around 14th to 20th streets – Carnegie Hall (established in 1891 as “The Music Hall”) sat between suburbs and farmland.
Today the neighborhood surrounding Carnegie Hall is one of Manhattan’s most exclusive. But in the 1890’s, New York City’s midtown was centered around 14th to 20th streets – Carnegie Hall (established in 1891 as “The Music Hall”) sat between suburbs and farmland . And while the hall has been named after Andrew Carnegie (OBM) since 1893 , it may be more appropriate to refer to it as Mrs. Carnegie’s (OBM) hall. It’s believed that Carnegie, then a newlywed, built the music hall as a wedding gift to his wife, Louise Whitfeld Carnegie, says Gino Francesconi (MGBH), director of Carnegie Hall archives. 
Carnegie Hall opened with a five day music festival featuring composer Pyotr Illyich Tchaikovsky (OBM) conducting several of his works including the first Piano Concerto. Carnegie Hall has seen thousands of performances throughout its history including notable premieres such as Antonín Dvořák’s (OBM) Symphony No. 9 (“From the New World) (1893), Gustav Mahler’s (OBM) Symphony No. 2 (“Resurrection”) (1908) and George Gershwin’s (OBM) Concerto in F (1925). The hall has also been no stranger to popular music since 1938, when Benny Goodman (OBM) and his Orchestra made their debut. The Beatles also famously performed two concerts at Carnegie Hall in 1964. 
William Tuthill (OBM) was the chief architect of the hall, and his design decisions reflect the tastes of the day. The building is in the Italian Renaissance revival style with simple masonry arches integral to stability (before the days of structural steel), but also features an Edwardian sensibility with its gold leaf patterns and red velvet upholstery on the seats. Sadly, these aesthetics lost their charm decades later. And in the mid-1950’s when the hall was looking for new ownership, it was slated for demolition. Carnegie Hall had been offered for sale to the New York Philharmonic, but the symphony already had plans to relocate to Lincoln Center, which was being constructed nearby. Under pressure, a group led by violinist Isaac Stern (OBM) famously saved Carnegie Hall from the wrecking ball. 
When most people talk about Carnegie Hall, they are usually referring to the Stern (OBM) Auditorium dedicated in honor of the great violinist in 1997 (2,804 seats) . The accompanying recital spaces, Zankel (OBM) Recital Hall (599 seats) and Weill (OBM) Recital Hall (268 seats) are no less elegant. Zankel Recital Hall opened in 2003, after being converted from being a cinema and features cutting edge design that can be reconfigured to several different arrangements .
Weill Recital Hall, the smallest of the three halls, is where several emerging concert artists make important debuts to the international music community and has been in use continuously since 1891 .
Unless you’ve gotten a bird’s eye view of Carnegie Hall, you probably didn’t know about the new rooftop garden terrace. It was added during the recent Studio Towers Renovation Project along with the Resnick Education Wing, all of which opened in the fall of 2014. The remodel provides space to host receptions before and after concerts as well as foster the developing talents of New York City music students. 
Acoustically speaking, Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium is well known for it’s seemingly miraculous properties, but after a renovation in 1986, concert-goers swore that the sound was a bit off.
Acoustically speaking, Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium is well known for it’s seemingly miraculous properties, but after a renovation in 1986, concert-goers swore that the sound was a bit off. And they were right! The culprit? A slab of concrete found underneath the stage nearly a decade later. “They opened the stage floor, found the cement, took it away and the sound came back,” said Francesconi.  Having seen a number of performances there myself, I can attest to the hall’s unique ability to accommodate performances of all types. Perfect for an entire symphony orchestra, the hall is equally suited for an intimate solo recital or chamber music setting.
[…] after a renovation in 1986, concert-goers swore that the sound was a bit off. And they were right! The culprit? A slab of concrete found underneath the stage nearly a decade later.
Looking back, it seems inconceivable to think that Carnegie Hall was ever at risk of being lost forever, but thanks to its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1964 and New York City Landmark in 1967, this fabled venue will continue to present some of the world’s greatest musicians for generations to come. 
 Sturrock, Donald (1999). The Art of Piano: Great Pianists of the 20th Century (Documentary). Quote by Schulyer Chapin dictated by the author. Start at 26 minutes and 13 seconds. https://youtu.be/vpiMAaPTze8?t=26m13s
Michael Refvem enjoys a multifaceted career as recitalist, chamber musician and concerto soloist. He recently moved to Montréal, where he enjoys walks in the old town and Mount Royal in his spare time.
I was introduced to the talent of Jarrod Radnich (MGBH) by one of my friends’ children who came over to me and, with intriguing excitement in his eyes, asked, “Would you like to see something cool?” He opened his laptop and showed me a video of Jarrod Radnich’s arrangement performance of “The Pirates of the Caribbeans” theme. As Jarrod was playing, I watched the 12-year-old boy’s eyes filled with amazement and awe. At the end of the performance, the boy exclaimed, “Did you see that!?” I must admit: that 12-year-old boy passed his excitement to me, and once I had a minute to sit down quietly at my desk, I watched all Jarrod’s YouTube videos…. more than once. To me, this 34-year-old Southern Californian embodied an epitome of a true performer who not only engages the audio senses of a listener, but also brings so much more in delivering a rich multi-sensory experience of piano performance for a diverse audience. A creative talent not so common in the piano world. All that inspired me to reach out to Jarrod Radnich for an interview.
Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Please, tell our readers a little bit about yourself. Where and how did you grow up? Jarrod Radnich (JR): I grew-up in the artistic and eclectic desert town of Joshua Tree in Southern California, just north of Palm Springs. My backyard was literally the Joshua Tree National Park (it was designated as a national monument at the time), and the town’s total population was less than 3,000, with quite an expanse between neighbors and, even more so, other young people my age. My parents used to live on the beach. When they decided to start a family, they wanted to move out of the city. They weren’t kidding either. We were so far out that we couldn’t even get cable TV… so I’d rock climb, write music, practice, and have a lot of time to myself.
I was playing with Legos when my mom came in my room and asked if I wanted to start learning the piano. I glanced up, said, “sure,” and went back to building my Lego masterpiece…
PPM: How did you decide to become a pianist? JR: Actually, although most people find this difficult to believe, there was never a time where I decided I wanted to become a pianist. Instead, my early passion for composing was the driving force in my decision to be a professional musician, and the pianist part just came naturally with that. Inherently, I have great angst when I compose, for I “hear” so much more than what can be created on the piano as it exists now or any other singular instruments for that matter. Having said that, the piano is truly unique and unparalleled. At its core, it’s inherently a percussion instrument — rhythmic and innately primal; but it can also be hauntingly lyrical, creating melodies woven into beautifully rich harmonic textures. My introduction to the piano came as a result of my astute first grade teacher, Debbie Bernardini (MGBH). Being concerned because I was getting all of my homework done before the school day was over, she suggested to my parents that I needed something to challenge me. She recommended that I take piano lessons. The next day I was playing with Legos when my mom came in my room and asked if I wanted to start learning the piano. I glanced up, said, “sure,” and went back to building my Lego masterpiece… and that’s how it all began.
PPM: What did your parents do for living and how did their choice of occupation influence you? JR: While an avid surfer in his recreational time, my father is inherently an artist and became a highly sought-after general contractor and creative tile specialist, co-writing the California licensing tests for both tile and wrought iron installation. He now designs and builds incredible custom hot rods. Back when I was growing up, my mother worked with my father in their construction business and also as the executive director of the local chapter of the American Red Cross. I believe it was these environments where I learned the value of an intense work ethic and learned the importance of volunteerism, which is how I spend a significant portion of my time. I also was exposed to creative thinking and artistic expression.
PPM: Do you have any siblings? JR: I’m the youngest of two brothers, although it’s funny that most people don’t realize we are brothers — with virtually no visual resemblance and our temperaments are quite different. My paternal grandfather was one of the founders of the Bonneville Raceway (salt flats), and my brother definitely got the Radnich car gene — he’s the fleet maintenance manager for a substantial fleet of heavy-duty vehicles for a major telecom construction firm. He’s also creative, hard working, and appreciative of our upbringing. I, too, enjoy fast and exotic cars, and am thrilled to have recently added the new Lamborghini Huracan to my garage!
PPM: Do you have a family of your own? Children? What are your views on importance of a family? JR: I’m engaged to a spectacular woman and thrilled about it. Right now my only “kids” are two furry 115 lb playful Malamute mixes who believe that they are lapdogs. I believe family is a state of mind — blood is important, but ethics and character matter most.
PPM: In one of your interviews I read that you became a piano teacher at….. 11? How did that happen and who was your first student? JR: I had already been performing for several years, accompanying school plays and the like, and parents would ask if I would teach their children, many who were in my elementary school. Within two years, I had a regular weekly roster of over 30 students, from youth to adults, and was ironically getting paid more money than my school music teachers. But it wasn’t the money that was important to me. There is an excitement in being able to help someone else realize their musical goals — and even surpass them. Teaching is such an honor and a responsibility, and I am appreciative of having been given the gift of being a great teacher myself — and when the passion is real, it naturally spreads and you pass along that gift.
I’m honestly an introvert, but enjoy hamming it up on stage and keeping the interest of the audience.
PPM: When and under what circumstances did you have your first public performance? How did you feel before and after? JR: Ironically, my first public performance was as an “actor” in the first grade production of PETER PAN. I was Michael, and, it’s painful to admit it, but I caused a scare with my first grade teacher because I apparently acted so authentically, that she thought I was asleep on stage. I’m honestly an introvert, but enjoy hamming it up on stage and keeping the interest of the audience. I don’t actually recall my first piano performance, but it was probably in elementary school accompanying a play performance. Those were always fun because, as is typical of a boy at that age, I got to get out of my regular class to work on the play.
PPM: Where was the “Game of Thrones” video filmed? JR: That video was filmed in San Luis Obispo at Morro Bay State Park. We obtained the permission and licensing from the California State Parks and the California Film Commission to film just off a fire road and to move that gorgeous Mason & Hamlin piano out onto the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was pretty incredible having the humpback whale pod circling around and not continuing on their trek — some say they stayed for the music. Truthfully, those weren’t CGI… and some say the same was true of the dragons. It was a fun, intense video to shoot, and it played for the Emmy Awards.
PPM: Your company, Mastermind Studios, produces your own videos. Are you your own creative director as well? JR: Yes, but it’s a team effort. My manager/co-producer and I discuss which projects we want to get involved in, and we’ve got a lot of significant projects underway right now. As is the case with all of my compositions, I conceptualize the visuals as I create the piece itself. We have a phenomenal production team with incredible talent in creating beautiful content and footage. We discuss and collaborate on angles and techniques, scenes, and concepts. Then my co-producer and I go back into the editing studio, choose which footage we want to use to work within the story board, and, finally, do the post production video editing and mixing that builds the visual rhythm and movement to match each part of composition as it unfolds.
PPM: Let’s talk a little bit about creativity. How does a process of bringing out an idea from the ether and implementing it in physicality work for you? JR: First, I must determine exactly what it is that I want to say — what it is that I want to communicate through sound. This initial vision is critical when beginning to compose a new work because it’s the raw, core message that gives the piece direction and authenticity. While many notes can be written to underscore drama either on film or stage, I believe that the melodic themes unto themselves must carry the ethos of the piece in a way that is both familiar, yet intriguing. If you want a piece to be successful, it must be able to loop in your listeners’ minds, so the stripped-away melody, free from embellishment, must be incredibly tangible. In discussion particular to composition for the piano, I heavily experiment and improvise on the piano, turning themes inside and out, looking at various small motifs and elements on which to build upon. I also write-out the many contrapuntal elements that I am working with so as to find the best way to bring them to life within the confines of only two hands.
I heavily experiment and improvise on the piano, turning themes inside and out, looking at various small motifs and elements on which to build upon.
PPM: Do you have a favorite video (that you produced) and why? JR: They all have been tremendously exciting to produce, but I’d have to say that I especially love the artistry of BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY and also the rawness of GAME OF THRONES.
PPM: Can you tell our readers an interesting/funny story that might have happened on set during filming any of the videos? JR: Where to begin! From a hand print on the piano halfway through the Disney STAR WARS shoot that required frame-by-frame editing to fix, to our lead videographer, Thor, almost literally falling off the cliff during GAME OF THRONES, to the necessity of wearing three pairs of tights all at the same time for the CINDERELLA shoot …There are always back stories.
PPM: Do you practice piano every day? And how many hours a day? JR: I don’t have a set practice schedule. It tends to vary depending on project and performance deadlines. Although it’s rare, there are times when I may go for a week without practicing. Other times, well, I practice for 10-16 hours a day and go for a week without doing much else.
PPM: What was the first music piece you ever wrote? JR: Since I was quite young, I’ve composed many pieces of music that I never named and were all a part of learning, but whose melodic lines and ideas may have matured and found their ways into pieces I composed later. My first copyrighted piece was a song composed for a ninth grade girlfriend (sappy, I know). Ironically, the piece was later used for a TV special when I competed as the top pianist in the L.A. Music Center’s Spotlight Awards, and again when I created the score function on the Disklavier… it ended-up in every Disklavier in the world.
My first copyrighted piece was a song composed for a ninth grade girlfriend (sappy, I know).
PPM: Do you have a pianist/piano performer role model that you grew up with as a child? JR: Victor Borge (OBM). I loved that guy and everything he brought to the world. He was classy, brilliant, entertaining, and knew how to hold an audience and give them the gift of enjoyment.
PPM: Can you, please, tell our readers about your StarLIGHTS Series music/book software project? JR: StarLIGHTS is one of many recreational music making projects I have been involved in, and the concept for that particular series originated by my longtime friend Dr. Barry Bittman (MGBH) of the YAMAHA Music and Wellness Institute. The series’ purpose is not to be educational so much as to be a catalyst for people to get involved in the music making process so that they may benefit from the many health and wellbeing improvements created by participating in such recreational music making.
PPM: In your bio it is mentioned that “as a teenager he musically directed “Babes in Arms” (McCallum Theatre). What was that project about? JR: I had sat in for another show’s rehearsal when their pianist was unexpectedly out. Having had a jazz background before studying classical, I made a good impression with the director, and at the age of 17 ended-up musically directing, performing and writing all the Big Band charts for BABES IN ARMS at the prestigious McCallum Theater.
PPM: Who are some of your favorite classical composers? JR: Hands down, Ravel (OBM), Rachmaninoff (OBM), and Beethoven (OBM). In each of them I am drawn to their music’s passion, intensity, and color.
PPM: What is PianoTube? JR: PianoTube LIVE is an invention of Mastermind Studios that utilizes YouTube to take any pianist’s performance recorded on a PianoDisc system and broadcast it as a truly live performance on any other PianoDisc equipped acoustic piano or pianos. This means that, for example, my actual keystrokes with their nuances are digitally communicated and then physically executed on another piano somewhere else that is playing the YouTube video — right before the eyes and ears of those people at the other piano. One can record and upload their performance or stream it live simultaneously to literally millions of pianos around the world through the YouTube distribution network without an issue of requiring significant bandwidth. The Music Trades magazine called it a “dazzling” innovation.
PPM: What commercials have you written music for? JR: As a ghost writer, that information remains confidential. One public commercial is a public service announcement for the Great American Shakeout – an earthquake preparation reminder. In that I wrote the music and also sang.
PPM: How is writing music for commercials different from writing for other projects? JR: It completely varies depending on the project. Inherently, the entire piece lives in a much shorter lifespan, so everything has to be very efficient and development (if there is any) has to occur very quickly.
PPM: What music have you written for Disney? JR: I’ve had a lot of great projects with Disney, and it began when I was first commissioned to compose and record original arrangements and create two new featured attractions at Disneyland all as a part of the Dream Home of the Future exhibit. Perhaps, most famously, I arranged a medley of music from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, and my subsequent performance of that piece was used in the exhibit for the about seven years, playing to thousands of visitors a day. The success of that and the other exhibit arrangements spawned the further creation and “opening of the vault” for permission to create advanced level piano arrangements of Disney Classics like never before, and is part of a partnership with Musicnotes.
PPM: Are you still the President of the Hi-Desert Cultural Center? If so, what are your responsibilities there? And what are your goals for this organization? JR: I volunteer most of my time helping to rebuild this iconic arts center in my community. We are currently engaged in major renovations on the main 300+ seat historic theater and a large expansion of the Center’s back performance hall to include another theater, classrooms, and practice space. We offer first-rate arts education to over 250 area youth in our after-school programs where no child has ever been turned away due to inability to pay. We are now part of a team forming a new school for arts and technology. Additionally, the Cultural Center has now become one of the top producing theater organizations in Southern California and is home to the Joshua Tree Philharmonic, an inter-generational community orchestra of which I am the volunteer maestro.
[At Hi-Desert Cultural Center], we offer first-rate arts education to over 250 area youth in our after-school programs where no child has ever been turned away due to inability to pay.
PPM: What are your hobbies and how do you spend your “down time”? JR: You jest. Downtime? What is that? All kidding aside, right now I am volunteering and heading-up a team creating a new school with a focus on arts and creative-based technologies, so I haven’t had much downtime this past year. Generally, I decompress in nature and have a passion for botany… and exotic cars.
PPM: Do you exercise regularly? JR: I joke that conducting or playing the piano the way I do is definitely a sport! Seriously, I do some running, hiking, smart weight lifting. I used to surf a lot growing up and that’s something I definitely want to get back into.
PPM: Do you eat healthy? What is your favorite food? JR: I definitely eat healthy, and my body prefers the cave man diet — keeping it organic with as few ingredients as possible. I never cared for soda or anything carbonated and don’t eat fast food. As for a favorite food, some authentic tacos sans corn, or for a very special meal you can’t go wrong with steak accompanied by a red wine reduction, escargot or caviar, and a glass of Burgundy from the Puligny-Montrachet region of France followed by a Grande Marnier soufflé… oh, and some brussel sprouts (tossed in olive oil and then browned with butter and balsamic vinegar, and a dash of nutmeg and salt).
I definitely eat healthy [… ] keeping it organic with as few ingredients as possible.
PPM: Do you practice any form of religion? What is your understanding of and relationship with God? JR: Music is a spiritual experience, and as a Christian I have always had a close relationship with God and acknowledge that higher power. There are few great musicians I have met that do not acknowledge and revere that there are forces far greater and more complex than ourselves.
PPM: Thank you, Jarrod. We wish you happy holidays and a successful year full of blessings and many projects where you can share your talent with others and bring them joy from listening and watching to your beautiful performances.
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In this issue we are introducing a new section that we named The Circuit, dedicated to piano festivals, competitions, and other events that discover and promote piano performers in the US as well as around the world. The first in this series is the Miami International Piano Festival (MIPF) celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Mrs. Giselle Brodsky (MGBH) – the Co-founder and Director of the festival shares her insights, experience, and aspirations.
Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): It is exciting to have such an exquisite event in Miami. What was your inspiration for starting the Miami International Piano Festival (MIPF)? Giselle Brodsky: The fact that the classical music business today puts a catastrophic premium on the wrong values. What wins competitions and major recording contracts is flash and brute virtuosity. What goes begging is the individual voice, the personal statement. The encounter between artists and the public is hit and run. Overstimulated yet undernourished by heavily promoted performances that are dazzling but shallow. I wanted to give a voice to those artists that are genuine, individual and are visionaries.
[…] classical music business today puts a catastrophic premium on the wrong values. What wins competitions and major recording contracts is flash and brute virtuosity. What goes begging is the individual voice, the personal statement.
PPM: Did you have any experience organizing events prior to MIPF? GB: Yes, I started a classical musical series in La Paz, Bolivia which is where I am from, and brought not only great pianists but ensembles like the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. But, of course, nothing prepared me for the challenges I faced bringing artists that were not known in the US, but our audience knew right away that we stood by strong principles and presented great artists who had something to say.
PPM: Who was another co-founder of the MIPF? GB: Edith Sorin (MBGH) one of the greatest pedagogues in South Florida and a true visionary. She was and continues to be our inspiration. She is now 100 years old, and we hope to celebrate this year her 101 Birthday on March 19, with the great pianist, Francesco Libetta (MBGH).
PPM: Whose idea was it to start a festival and how exactly did it start? What was the exact moment when you and Edith said, “You know what? Let’s have a piano festival in Miami that is different from others”? GB: It was back in 1997 and after several conversations with Edith Sorin, we both decided to create an organization that would identify, guide, and support great pianists. We organized a private concert in my house and invited some of the most important movers and shakers in the cultural world in Miami and shared our dreams and plans to build our organization. Our ideas resonated with them, and we were given the first donations that enabled us to start Patrons of Exceptional Artists and later in 1998 our wonderful Festival.
PPM: Who are the artists that performed at the first festival and where are they now? GB: The artists that performed at our first Festival in 1998 were Piotr Anderszewski (MBGH), Konstantin Lifschitz (MBGH), Gabriela Montero (MBGH), and Kemal Gekic (MBGH). They all now enjoy wonderful careers and are internationally recognized.
PPM: How do you choose the artist to perform at the Festival? Is it by invitation only or are pianists welcome to apply to be part of your program? GB: As a rule, it’s by personal invitation. However, any qualified pianist is welcome to send his or her information for our artistic committee to evaluate and see if they meet our criteria.
PPM: What is the format of the festival? GB: The Festival is structured in three separate series covering three counties – Dade, Broward, and Miami Beach. We offer more than 14 recitals every season, and each series offers a different kind of experience. The Aventura Series “Classical Sundays at Five” is intimate. The “Master Series” in Broward is thematic. And the “Discovery Series” in Miami Beach is where we keep discovering new artists.
Each artist was discovered and presented first in “The Discovery Series” and has been re-invited and introduced to a larger audience through the other series.
PPM: What artists are performing this season and how did you meet each of them? GB: Each artist discovered in our Festival has a story, and I met each one under different circumstances.
With Konstantin Lifschitz (MGBH), I learned about him by reading a review in the Boston Globe, the story intrigued me so much that I flew to Montreal to personally meet him and hear him live. Later I organized his debut in Miami. He has come to Miami numerous times and is now in the Faculty of our Academy.
With Piotr Anderszewski (MGBH), a friend of mine had introduced me to his unique art. After listening to his CDs and reading about him, I knew that he was an individual, a truth seeker, and had a tremendous creative talent. In 2002, I nominated him for the Gilmore Award, which he won, and that jumpstarted his career worldwide. Piotr is very much a part of our piano family in the Festival and has delighted our audiences several times.
With Kemal Gekic (MGBH), it was Prof. Frank Cooper (MGBH) who introduced me to his astonishing genius, after hearing him live in a Festival. I listened to his Listzt’s Transcendental Etudes CD and felt compelled not to only invite him, but to find a way of keeping him in our community. His debut in 1998 took place on the same day that Nato was bombing Novi Sad during the Bosnian war. That was where he taught. Because he was unable to go back to Serbia, I persuaded Fred Kaufman (MGBH), then the Dean of the Music School at FIU to invite Kemal to teach as the Artist in Residence where he was offered the position which he holds till today.
Each artist was discovered and presented first in “The Discovery Series” and has been re-invited and introduced to a larger audience through the other series. The Aventura Series is presenting Fabio Martino (MGBH), Pietro de Maria (MGBH), Kotaro Fukuma (MGBH), Francesco Libetta (MGBH), and Mishra Dacic (MGBH). The Master Series – Kemal Gekic and a two piano concert with Ilya Itin (MGBH) and Zlata Chochieva (MGBH). The Discovery Series will introduce new artists: Mishra Namirovsky (MGBH), Julien Libeer (MGBH), Florian Noak (MGBH), and a prodigy Leonid Nediak (MGBH).
PPM: Who determines the repertoire? Do you make any suggestions to your artists? GB: The repertoire is strictly chosen by the artist, and we never get involved.
PPM: Now, let’s talk a little bit about you. How did you enter the world of piano performance? GB: I was introduced to the piano at the age of 7. When I was 12 years old, I studied with a composer Gustavo Navarre (OBM) who was also a pianist, and who had a tremendous influence on me. By the age of 14, I started to perform and realized that I wanted to be a pianist.
PPM: Do you also teach? GB: Yes, I do teach in my private studio, and it has been my passion. I feel blessed to have been surrounded by the most astonishing pianists over these past 20 years. I feel that they not only had a strong influence on me as a pianist and teacher, but also helped me discover my own insights.
PPM: What teaching style/method do you adhere to and what is the most important thing you learned from your piano teacher(s)? GB: While I was studying at the Manhattan School of Music, I realized that my relationship with the piano was not one of Love, but, in fact, was the one of Fear. And it is not until I met Dorothy Taubman (OBM) that I realized that it was really possible to have a love relationship with the piano. It is because of her invaluable contribution to my understanding of how technique really works that I began connecting the dots. She helped me realize that in order to make music and play with absolute freedom, one needs to understand that there are physical laws that cannot be broken and that the body hand and arms have to be perfectly aligned and work perfectly to enable the brain to communicate the sounds it wants and transfer them to the hands. Mrs. Taubman (OBM) is the only pedagogue who was able to decode piano technique this way connecting always every movement to the musical idea.
Dorothy Taubman developed her own approach to piano technique and as a teacher was the biggest influence in my life.
Dorothy Taubman developed her own approach to piano technique and as a teacher was the biggest influence in my life. Her approach completely changed the way I heard, felt, and understood music. It is this new awakening that later on played a big role when I selected the group of pianists that would perform at the Miami International Piano Festival.
Spending time with so many great artists during all these years created a renewed sense of awareness in me and helped me discover the truth and logic in music. By simply watching them play or discussing music I developed my own insights and followed my inner instincts when I taught. The results were extremely successful.
My approach is not the same for every student, but, instead, individually tailored for each one. Through my experience I realized that every student understands and hears music in a slightly different manner, and I feel it is important to enable them to understand the score in a completely different way decoding its DNA, creating an awareness, and seeing how different patterns of notes translate into movement and then into sound. The results are immediate, and their progress astonishing.
For me teaching is an art form, a shared creative process between the student and the teacher and a constant fountain of discovery.
For me teaching is an art form, a shared creative process between the student and the teacher and a constant fountain of discovery.
It is because of my own personal journey of discovery by being exposed to so many extraordinary artists that I was eager to start the Academy, so pianists interested in a concert career could benefit from the insights of different artists. I am thrilled beyond words that has now became a reality, and that for the third time this summer we will host gifted pianists from all over the world.
Teaching is my TRUE passion an I spend my days teaching in my private studio not only guiding many gifted pianists but also constantly developing new insights.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about the Piano Academy. When does it take place and how long is the program? Who are the teachers? Who are the students? What is the value the students get from the program? GB: The Piano Academy will take place for the third consecutive year at the beautiful campus of Nova Southeastern University from July 9 – July 30, 2017 attracting professional pianists from all over the world. The creation of the Academy is the result of my own personal journey of discovery through 20 marvelous years of inspiration at the Piano Festival, where I had the privilege of being surrounded by some of the greatest pianists of today .
All of the faculty members are regular performers at the Miami International Piano Festival. They have been selected for the academy faculty because they are exceptional artists who also have the motivation and skill to share their knowledge and experience with younger pianists.
The three week session will bring an exciting program and an incredible group of international performing artists that will provide inspirational experiences for participants through exposure to a variety of valid sources of information and instruction directed toward achieving artistic freedom – in the tradition of great pianists of the past.
Through this program, pianists will have the opportunity to take part in intensive Private and Open lessons with these master artists and teachers and participate in technique clinics, discussions with the faculty, explore the world of different composers and specific repertoire, and learn to improvise to strengthen their skills as performers.
In addition to the three week session for professional pianists, we will be running a parallel program for aspiring young pianists interested in following the path of a concert artist.
PPM: What sets Miami Piano Festival apart from other festivals across the US? GB: It is a true a festival, as stated by Matthew Gurewitch (MGBH) in a wonderful article in the New York Times, Born To Be Contrary, “a Festival that is not there to supplant the existing A-list of virtuosos with a new A-list of interchangeable virtuosos, but to smooth a path for artists who bear messages that are perhaps more elusive and deeper.”
It is important to surround yourself with people that understand your mission and to follow your dreams with passion to get the message across and get people to support you.
PPM: This year, you are celebrating a 20-year anniversary of the festival. Looking back, what were the main challenges when you first started vs. today? GB: The main challenge is finding creative ways of raising money and motivating donors to support us. It is crucial and important for our sponsors to support our efforts and recognize the powerful impact of this Festival in the lives of our artists and now the Academy, which will inspire aspiring pianists creating a smooth and clear path of success in their careers. The other challenge is to break through internationally and make sure that the activities of the Miami International Piano Festival are starting to resonate far beyond Dade and Broward Counties. It is important to surround yourself with people that understand your mission and to follow your dreams with passion to get the message across and get people to support you. This is what we have been trying to do for the past 20 years.
PPM: What audience does your festival attract? GB: A wonderful and sophisticated audience in love with the piano and classical music. Our audience is mixed. We have, of course, the older classical music lovers, but also an impressive number of young students and even children that come to our concerts. Among our attendees we have professionals, amateurs, tourists, people that travel to hear our concerts from Miami to Palm Beach, several piano lovers from Canada who have become regular attendees and many piano lovers that come from all over the world and make our Festival a destination.
What Kemal did that night was quite astonishing and very much within the spirit of the Festival.
PPM: Are there any interesting stories that happened to the artists during performances or in-between as they traveled to Miami to perform? GB: In 2015, we had scheduled a tribute to two great composers – Scriabin an Rachmaninoff. The artists to perform were Zlata Chochieva, Ilya Itin, and Misha Dacic, with a Grand Finale including all the three artists. Ilya Itin suffered an injury and was unable to practice for many days. He came to Miami and felt that he could only play his solo recital and that performing the final concert was simply unrealistic for him given those circumstances. So I immediately called Kemal Gekic. I explained the situation and asked him if he could replace Ilya on such a short notice and possibly play the same program. He immediately replied that although he had never played that repertoire before, he felt confident he could do it. He was happy to help and participate in this tribute with music that was also very close to his heart. What Kemal did that night was quite astonishing and very much within the spirit of the Festival. Personally, that was very meaningful to me.
PPM: Please, tell our readers about the secret weapon of MIPF – the man who gives an introductory lecture and sets the tone for the concert. GB: We are so fortunate and honored to have Prof. Frank Cooper as the Lecturer in Residence at our Festival since 1998. He has been instrumental in our development setting an amazing tone in each concert with his illuminating comments creating and intimate and very special atmosphere for the artist and audience. Frank Cooper is known and admired for his ability to communicate the pleasures of any subject in the arts to his listener. He is a Research Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Miami and has been called by the Miami Herald “South Florida’s cultural maven” and “a Renaissance man.” He sets the tone of every recital by creating a mood, setting up the stage, so to speak. You have to be there, in the audience, to fully experience his magic.
I strongly feel that parents have to make more of an effort to expose their kids to such music by bringing them to concerts, so they can be in touch with their thoughts and emotions while they listen to great artists.
PPM: As a music educator, what do you think are some of the ways to implant appreciation for classical music into the psyche of today’s generation distracted by technology and pop culture? GB: It is important to first educate the parents of small children and make them aware of how vital and important it is for them to support the learning of a musical instrument. Research studies have proven again and again that kids that are exposed to classical music, perform much better in school and professionally. I strongly feel that parents have to make more of an effort to expose their kids to such music by bringing them to concerts, so they can be in touch with their thoughts and emotions while they listen to great artists. Some time must be given to good art and reading. Unfortunately, in today’s world too much time is spent in front of computers, iPads and cell phones. These activities should be complimentary, but not exclusive. There should be time for everything.
PPM: What piece of advice would you give to the pianists who are just starting their music career? GB: They have to follow a path and work as hard as they can to be ready when opportunities present themselves. Not to wait for patrons and sponsors to jump start their careers, but to prepare and be ready when the opportunities will come their way. In today’s world, artists need to be more proactive and find creative ways to share their vision and their thoughts about music through social media and approach their careers as a business always re-inventing and investing in themselves.
PPM: You project an image of a successful, goal oriented business lady who gets things done with class. What does Giselle do when she is off duty? What are your hobbies? GB: My life is music, and my passion is the piano, but I love people, children, my family ,and my great artists and try to always connect on a very personal level. I give unconditionally, and I feel that everyone around me does the same.
Everyone involved in my life and my projects is very close to me. I don’t think I would have been able to accomplish so much alone. One really needs a village to realize a dream.
I adore animals, especially dogs. I have two poodles at home. I enjoy authentic food from different countries, and I am interested in all forms of art.
PPM: What are some of the lessons that you’ve learned over the years through working with artists and organizing the festival? GB: I have learned to trust and believe in our artists and convey our message about them with great passion. Unfortunately, sometimes our passion and intentions don’t resonate with some presenters who are only interested in bringing artists that will secure ticket sales because they are known. But I will personally never give up championing those great artists that deserve great success and recognition.
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In 2015, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University called for character education to be embedded in the UK curriculum. The report linked strong character traits such as resilience and perseverance to higher educational achievement, employability, and social, emotional, and physical health. Character matters. It is critical for personal happiness, maintaining relationships, and essential for an ordered society. Character strengths help people thrive and become the best version of themselves. But how is it taught, cultivated and nurtured? The family is the first place where moral cultivation begins. If adults wish to raise children of good character, they should start by showing them through their own actions.
Children may not listen to their parents, but they never fail to imitate them. – James A. Baldwin (OBM), 1924 –1987, American social critic.
UK Education secretary Nicky Morgan (MGBH), in her quest to help schools teach character, says one way is to learn a musical instrument. Supporting her claim, the Jubilee Centre study found that students involved in choir/music or drama performed significantly better on character tests than any other school-based extra-curricular activity. There is nothing new in this modern-day appeal for character education to be embedded in schools, nor in the relationship between character formation and musical learning. The great thinkers Rousseau (OBM), Kant (OBM), and John Locke (OBM) viewed the aim of education to enable children to think for themselves with the aim of becoming virtuous. The views of Confucius (OBM), Pythagoras (OBM), and Aristotle (OBM) are also worth noting. Confucius (551–479 BC) believed the real purpose of education was, rather than to get a job, to become a better person. The cultivation of the self should be a daily renovation, and is a life-long process, requiring constant work and practice. A zitherist, Confucius considered music education indispensable for character cultivation:
Wouldst thou know if a people be well-governed, if its laws be good or bad? Examine the music it practices.
Because of the deep influence music exerts on a person, and the change it produces on manners and customs, the ancient kings appointed it as one of the subjects of instruction.
A man who is not good, what can he have to do with music?
Wouldst thou know if a people be well-governed, if its laws be good or bad? Examine the music it practices.
Confucius suggested that the teaching of music, along with poetry, history and ritual, be the foundation for teaching moral behavior. This involved integrating songs and music into the curriculum that reinforced Chinese (Confucian) values and moral virtue. His view has support throughout history, for instance from Napoleon Bonaparte (OBM): “A moral book might change a person’s mind but not his heart, and therefore, not his ways. However, a piece of moral music would change his heart, and where the heart goes the mind will follow and the person’s ways will change”. To be a person of character is a choice from less virtuous alternatives. Accordingly, moral choice would be arrived at through a change of heart influenced by music. Like Confucius, English philosopher Roger Scruton (OBM) equates a decline in musical taste with a decline in morals, arguing that “beauty should be restored to its traditional position in music.”
In China, Confucianism is undergoing a renaissance, particularly evident in education. A major reason modern-day Chinese parents value learning a musical instrument is that it provides a vehicle for visible application, thoroughness and commitment. Likewise, Aristotle (385-322 BC) believed that character is formed by doing. One can only learn about commitment by being committed to a cause. One learns to delay gratification by exercising the patience and experiencing the discomfort that comes with the wait. Aristotle believed that the development of character strengths took time, being taught and learned through opportunity and practice. The repetition of the act becomes a habit, evident in thoughts, feelings, and actions, resulting in consistent patterns of action.
Human excellence, in morality as in musicality, comes about as a result of habit. – Aristotle, Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics
Therefore, a person cannot be considered a “good person deep down” unless character traits are in action.
Therefore, a person cannot be considered a “good person deep down” unless character traits are in action.
Aristotle’s teacher – Plato (OBM), believed that music permeated the recesses of the soul nurturing goodness, but that improper music had a “dangerous capacity to inspire lawlessness and boldness”.
Pythagoras (OBM) (570-490 BC) may well be the first person on record who employed music as a therapeutic agent. He believed that beauty and truth combined in music, and could “quell the passions of the soul”. In his philosophy, medicine and therapy were based on music. Pythagoras believed that an appreciation of beauty aided recovery from illness, a position now supported by modern-day research. He called the medicine obtained through music purification. Hence, music played an important part in Pythagorean education because music could purify manners, character, and physical ailments. Those who committed crimes were prescribed “pipe and harmony” to shape the mind so that it became cultured again.
[…] music played an important part in Pythagorean education because music could purify both manners, character, and physical ailments. Those who committed crimes were prescribed “pipe and harmony” to shape the mind so that it became cultured again.
At night, Pythagoreans sang certain songs to induce sleep and sweet dreams. In the morning, they sang different songs to awaken and prepare for the day. Sometimes the music was instrumental, played on the lyre alone. Pythagoras considered the study of music essential for a rational understanding of God and nature. Therefore, in Ancient Greek society, the primary goal of studying music was for learning moral behavior. If education is about integrating thought, Pythagoras and the Greek thinkers who followed him led the way.
Contrast this regard for music by the Ancient Greeks and classical China to the Roman Empire that followed. Music was not valued beyond entertainment, and became peripheral in education and culture. Rather than arts, science, and intellectual thought, Rome’s focus was conquest and pleasure. One of the main reasons attributed for the decline of the Roman Empire was a decline in moral character. If only they had listened to Confucius.
Music is the only one of all the arts that does not corrupt the mind. – Montesquieu (OBM), 1689 – 1759, French Philosopher
There is no definitive set of character traits, but consider perseverance, commitment, and self-discipline. Character is the X factor in expert performance. Many people desire to learn music but give up too early without ever fully exploring their potential. Often, the reason given is lack of talent. A more likely explanation is the lack of character traits required for the challenge. Being a musician is a testament to character. Almost 2500 years ago, Plato believed that “music training is a more potent instrument than any other.” Hopefully, the world will again give music the place it deserves in education. There are positive signs. In April, 2015, it was announced that for the first time in USA education history, music will be a core subject in draft federal education policy (Every Child Achieves Act of 2015).
Listening to classical music boosts concentration, self-discipline, listening power, social intelligence, and aspiration.
Listening to music has long been argued as a method for developing children’s listening skills. Listening to classical music boosts concentration, self-discipline, listening power, social intelligence, and aspiration. Good music cultivates the mind. Equally, another study found that listening to music with lyrics about alcohol makes people more likely to drink. Yet another study found a link between music embodying aggression, sex and violence, with antisocial behavior. Music influences behavior. These studies might serve to argue against the popular contention that there is no such thing as good or bad music.
Next to the Word of God, music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts and spirits. – St Augustine of Hippo
About the Author:
Michael Griffin is an educator, speaker, and pianist. He is the author of ‘Learning Strategies for Musical Success’.