The Piano Duo: Berlinskaia & Ancelle –
Upclose and Personal

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

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

  • – P. Sousa (OBM), 1896.

 

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

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

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

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

We hope you enjoy this uplifting and inspiring march!

Happy Holidays! 🙂

 

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

 

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

 

3. Original performance by Vladimir Horowitz (OBM):

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

REFERENCES: 

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

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

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

Edited by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

SOURCES:

(1) The Love Of Life Documentary.

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

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

The Piano Crossword

 

 CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE PDF VERSION

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE PRINTABLE PDF VERSION

 

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

Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Circuit: Gilmore Keyboard Festival

Interview by Tatyana Ivanova (MGBH)

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Generation Z: Interview with Umi Garrett

Interview by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

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. 

 

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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VENUES: THE PHILHARMONIE DE PARIS –
GRANDE SALLE PIERRE BOULEZ

 by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

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

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

 

The exterior of Philharmonie De Paris 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

INSIDE…….

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

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

 

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

 

The symphonic configuration of Grand Salle Pierre Boulez

 

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

 

Cine-concert layout of Grand Salle Pierre Boulez

 

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

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

The balconies of the Grand Salle Pierre Boulez

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

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

 

Rieger organ at the Grand Salle Pierre Boulez.

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

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

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

 

…..AND OUT, or THE BIRDS

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

 

The beautiful aluminum sheeting of the building exterior

 

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

 

 

References:

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

 

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The Piano Brain: Teacher Questions In The Music Lesson

Article by Michael Griffin (MGBH)

Dear Reader,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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About the Author:

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

On The Rise: Ivan Krpan of Croatia

by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

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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THE CIRCUIT: Verbier Festival – In The Heart of Swiss Alps

Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

In the early nineties, Martin T:son Engstroem (MGBH) had an ambitious idea to create a summer festival in the heart of the Swiss Alps, far from the major cities where most festivals take place.  Verbier had the intimate atmosphere he felt was necessary to encourage musical excellence, and at the same time be open to the world.  He imagined a festival with a resident youth orchestra and an academy where renowned artists would teach the next generation and audiences would have a wide choice of activities from early morning until late at night. In 1994, his vision became a reality.* Today, in 2017, it is much more than that – it is one of the hottest events for the who-is-who in the world of classical music.  

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): What does it take to start a festival?
Martin T:son Engstroem (ME) : Starting a festival is very much learning as you go. There is no profession that prepares you for it. You have to know psychology, finances, organization, languages, music, and fund-raising – a little of bit of everything. And then you’ll need a big chunk of persistence. In addition, you have to believe in what you do. The first two years will probably go OK, but then it’s all about stamina.

PPM: Prior to organizing the Festival, you were a talent agent. Who are some of the artists who worked with?
ME: I worked with Germinal Hilbert in Paris from 1975 – 1987. I also worked with such artists, pretty much from the beginning of their career, as Giuseppe Sinopoli, Han-Na Chang, Kirill Troussov, Jonathan Gilad, Ilya Gringolts, Barbara Hendricks, Neil Shicoff, Jessye Norman, and Gino Quilico, to name a few.

Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it.  The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.

PPM: What is your secret formula in discovering talent?
ME: Trusting my intuition. There are thousands of young talented musicians, but you look for talent PLUS personality and charisma. Talent is God-given, but succeeding in life depends on what you do with it.  The one who makes it has an equal part of talent, discipline, and luck.

PPM: You used to work Deutsche Grammophon, didn’t you?
ME: Yes, I did. From 1999 till 2003, I was a VP of Artists & Repertoire. Thereafter, for 3 years I was a Senior Executive Producer and Head of Artists Development. I signed Lang Lang, Yundi, Anna Netrebko, Esa-Pekka Salonen and many others to the company. I was also instrumental in the signing of Yuja Wang, Daniil Trifonov, and Gregory Sokolov.  Although I am presently not on their payroll, we still work very closely together.

PPM: So, having worked in the industry did help in attracting talent to your festival?
ME: Yes. Prior to starting the Festival, I already had a pretty important address book. I invited one of my best friends – Avi Shoshani (Secretary General of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) to join me, and together we covered most of the artists we wanted to come to our first event.

PPM: Under what circumstances did you meet Evgeny Kissin, and how did you convince him to be part of the Festival?
ME: It was Avi who brought Zhenya to Verbier. He loved it from the very first year and has been back 19 times (out of 24 Festivals).

PM: Who handles talent at Verbier?
ME: I myself am responsible for all the artists performing at the Verbier Festival. I also work closely with the artists in putting together the programs.

The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.

PPM: What types of sessions take place at the Verbier?
ME: Every day we have 4 paying concerts, 3 free student concerts, plus another 20 free events including open rehearsals, Master Classes, “meet the artists” talks, etc. The atmosphere at the Verbier Festival is very warm, and we welcome music lovers with open arms.

PPM: Who are the typical attendees of the Verbier Festival?
ME: Our audience is very eclectic. The sheer fact that we are in the mountains and in a tent eliminates those who just want to dress up and show off their latest jewels. Our audience is younger than that of most classical music institutions. Our festival attracts the locals who would normally never go down the valley to see a classical music concert.

PPM: How did the idea of the Academy come along?
ME: Through working with my artist friends and challenging them to new collaborations. Since its inception, the academic part has grown enormously, and we now have 300 music students between the ages of 13 and 30 studying between 3-5 weeks each summer pending the course they have chosen.

PPM: How closely do you work with the Music Director of the Festival Orchestra? What decisions are you involved in?
ME: I have worked extremely closely with both James Levine and Charles Dutoit. Creating the right programs for our young orchestra musicians is key to its success. You need to schedule challenging repertoire – not only technically, but stylistically and musically as well. Maestro Dutoit has given “Master-Classes” in French repertoire having conducted Pelleas, Damnation, which will stay forever with these young incredible talented musicians and give them a base of how to interpret French music.

PPM: Where do the Festival volunteers come from?
ME: Lausanne Hotel School, music students, children of our public or children of our musicians.

PPM: You studied Russian at the University. Why?
ME: I have always been fascinated by the Russian culture – writers, painters, composers, and musicians.  That culture has accompanied me since I was a young kid. I starting traveling to the Soviet Union from the age of 16 and still go back 3-4 times a year. My spoken Russian today is not very good, although I can get around.

PPM: What character traits does a person have to possess for you to be comfortable to do business with him or her?
ME: As a person, I am pretty open and curious. If I like someone, I will be his best friend, but I f I don’t trust someone or feel that he is not truthful – that person has lost me.

The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.

PPM: In your opinion, what does classical music give to the world and where is its place in the future?
ME: Classical music makes peoples lives richer. Music, Theater, and Literature are there to make us more complete and more harmonious as human beings. As parents, we owe it to ourselves to challenge our children to reach further and give “culture” a chance. They might not like it at that moment, which is OK, but they will appreciate the gesture later in their lives and, perhaps, will come back to it. The crazier the world becomes the more we need things that speak to our senses.

 

References:

* https://www.verbierfestival.com/en/about/history/

 

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VENUES: DISNEY HALL

Article by Alex Davydovich (MBGH)

 

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.

Walt Disney Main Performance Hall

 

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.

BP Hall at Walt Disney Performance Hall

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.

 

Walt Disney Hall Founder’s Room

 

A REDCAT Theater performance space holds avant-garde and experimental music, dance, theater, movies, and art.

Walt Disney Hall Map

 

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.

 

 

Frank Gehry’s Sketch of Disney Hall

 

 

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.

 

Disney Hall Pipe Organ, “The French Fries”

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)

 

Walt Disney Hall Community Garden, the Famous “Rose for Lily” Frank Gehry Fountain

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)

 

 

 

REFERENCES:

(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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VENUES: CARNEGIE HALL

Article by Michael Refvem (MGBH)

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.

American Council of Piano Performers


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 [1]

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 [2]. 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.

 

vladimir-horowitz
Vladimir Horowitz’ historic recital

 

 

[…] 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 [3].  And while the hall has been named after Andrew Carnegie (OBM) since 1893 [4], 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. [5]

 

carnegie_hall_in_1895
Carnegie Hall, 1895

 

 

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. [6]

 

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. [7]

 

 

Beauty shots of Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage
Beauty shots of Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage

 

 

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) [8]. 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 [9].

 

Carnegie Hall, Zankel Hall, Polshek Partnership Architects
Carnegie Hall, Zankel Hall, Polshek Partnership Architects

 

 

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 [10].

 

Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall
Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall

 

 

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. [11]

 

gardenterracecarnegiehallpianoperformermagazine
The Carnegie Hall Rooftop Garden

 

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. [12] 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. [13]

 

 

 

 

References:

[1] 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

[2] Schultz, Rick (January 04, 2007) Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall: What the fuss was all about. The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 16, 2016. http://articles.latimes.com/2014/jan/04/entertainment/la-et-cm-vladimir-horowitz-carnegie-hall-20140105

[3] 1893 The Music Hall becomes Carnegie Hall. The Carnegie Hall Corporation. Retrieved December 16, 2016. https://www.carnegiehall.org/History/Notable-Events/

[4] Spencer, Luke (June 09, 2015). The Most Incredible Parts of Carnegie Hall Are Offstage. Atlas Obscura. Retrieved December 16, 2016. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/carnegie-hall

[5] ibid 4, History of the Hall. Retrieved December 16, 2016. https://www.carnegiehall.org/History/Timeline/Timeline.aspx?id=4294968566

[6] Conry, Tara (April 27, 2015). Secrets of Carnegie Hall. AM New York. Retrieved December 16, 2016.

http://www.amny.com/secrets-of-new-york/carnegie-hall-secrets-1.10233196

[7] The New York Preservation Archive Project. http://www.nypap.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/carnegie-hall-1895.jpg

[8] ibid 6

[9] ibid 4, Isaac Stern and the Saving of the Hall. Retrieved December 16, 2016. https://www.carnegiehall.org/Article.aspx?id=4294967976

 

[10] REF: ibid 4, Joan and Sanford I. Weill Hall. Retrieved December 16, 2016. https://www.carnegiehall.org/Information/Weill-Recital-Hall/

 

[11] REF: ibid 4, Judith and Burton Resnick Education Wing. Retrieved December 16, 2016. https://www.carnegiehall.org/resnick/

[12] REF: ibid 7

[13] REF: ibid 10

 

 

About the Author:

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

FEATURED INTERVIEW: MEET JARROD RADNICH

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

I was introduced to the talent of Jarrod Radnich (MGBH) by one of my friends’ children who came over to me and, with an 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.

American Council of Piano Performers

 

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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THE CIRCUIT: Giselle Brodsky’s Miami Piano Fest

 Interview by Tanya Levy (MFBH)

In this issue we are introducing a new section that we named The Circuit, dedicated to piano festivals, competitions, and other events that discover and promote piano performers in the US as well as around the world.  The first in this series is the Miami International Piano Festival (MIPF) celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.  Mrs. Giselle Brodsky (MGBH) – the Co-founder and Director of the festival shares her insights, experience, and aspirations.

American Council of Piano Performers

 

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.

 

(left to right ) Kemal Gekic, Zlata Chochieva, Fabio Martino, Pietro de Maria

 

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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THE PIANO BRAIN: MUSIC, CHARACTER, AND MORAL DEVELOPMENT

by Michael Griffin (MGBH)

American Council of Piano Performers

white-spaceIn 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’.

 

 

 

GENERATION Z: JACOB VELAZQUEZ

Interview by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

Jacob Velazquez (MGBH) from Miami, FL comes with a special and unique story.  Around the same time his family discovered his talent, they also learned about his autism spectrum.  Instead of feeding the Darkness, they chose to feed the Light.  With many studies indicating that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) respond well to music, the family decided to use Jacob’s diagnosis as an opportunity to inspire others.  Jacob frequently talks about autism during his performances and interviews, gives concerts dedicated to this charitable cause, and simply embodies the idea of making lemonade out of lemons.  

We interviewed Jacob (in black), his mother Tina (MGBH) (in blue), and his father William (MGBH) (in brown) for the magazine.  And here is what they had to say.

American Council of Piano Performers

 

 

Piano Performer Magazine (PPM): Jacob, do you play piano every day? 
Jacob Velazquez (JV): I take lessons two days per week with my teacher and i practice most other days with my dad.

PPM: What are your hobbies?
JV: My hobbies are playing drums, playing outside, watching TV and reading books.

PPM: What are your favorite toys and games do you like to play with?
JV: My favorite toy right now is my Elf on the Shelf. He’s not really a toy because he comes alive at night and moves around the house. My favorite game to play is chess.

PPM: Do you go to a traditional school or are you home schooled?
JV: I go to a traditional public school.

PPM: What music are you currently working on?
JV: I’m working on the Hayden (OBM) Concerto in D Major, Fantaisie-Impromptu by Chopin (OBM), and a Christmas medley I’m doing for a fundraiser for Autism Speaks.

PPM: How did you decide to record your first album?
JV: We met with a music producer Hal Batt (MGBH) when I was six. He came up with a concept and we decided to record it.

PPM: Do you play piano for your schoolmates?
JV: Yes, sometimes.

I would love to work with Taylor Swift (MGBH), Bruno Mars (MGBH), Yanni (MGBH), Joh Katodo (MGBH), a drummer from Australia, and  The Miami Symphony Orchestra.

PPM: What musicians do you dream of working with?
JV: I would love to work with Taylor Swift (MGBH), Bruno Mars (MGBH), Yanni (MGBH), Joh Katodo (MGBH), a drummer from Australia, and  The Miami Symphony Orchestra.  

PPM: How long does it take you to memorize one page of music?
JV: One to a few days depending how difficult the piece is.

PPM: Who and at what age taught you to read music?
JV: My first teacher, Ms. Jaffird (MGBH), taught me to read music when I was 4 years old.

PPM: Do you write your own music?
JV: I’m not writing yet, but I like to improvise.

PPM: What are your biggest challenges when it comes to piano and piano performance and how do you overcome them?
JV: My biggest challenge with piano is mastering my technique. I just have keep practicing and try to remember the things my teacher tells me.

PPM: Have you ever been nervous on stage? If so, how did you handle it?
JV:  I don’t get nervous on stage. It’s not scary, its just fun!

PPM: How do you use your imagination when performing on stage or recording your music?
JV: I use my imagination to be enthusiastic and funny. I like to entertain people.

PPM: Do you have siblings? If so, please, tell the readers a little bit about them.
JV: I have a little sister named Skylar (MGBH).  She’s 4 years old, and she likes to be like me. She just started taking piano lessons. She also likes to dance and sing. I have two older brothers. Brandon (MGBH) is 23, lives in California and works for the Coast Guard. He loves music and dancing and he’s a really great D.J.  Tyler (MGBH) is 21.  He goes to college at Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL.  He plays piano, too, and also loves to dance.

PPM: Tina, we know that for children to be successful, it is important for parents to keep on top of things. What does it take to be a mother of a talented child pianist?
Tina Velazquez (TV): I don’t think what I do is much different than most other parents; scheduling their child’s after school activities, running them here and there, encouraging them to do their best, making sure their lives are balanced between school, play, homework, extra curricular activities etc.

PPM: Who maintains Jacob’s website, takes calls from reporters, manages Jacob’s performance life?
TV: My husband and I have worked on the website together however I am the one who maintains it for the most part.  I’ll typically screen the initial call to find out what they’re looking for. When Jacob was younger, say 5 and 6 years old, he didn’t do much talking it was mostly just about performing.  Now he loves talking to reporters and anyone else who will listen!  I filter all of the initial inquiries through Jacob’s webpage and social media.  My husband and I always make the final decision together based on what we feel is best for Jacob.  Willie and I work with Jacob to manage all aspects of his performances.

PPM: Do you have a job outside being the boss and the nurturer of your household?
TV: I volunteer in my daughter’s preschool classroom, however, my family takes up most of my time.

PPM: Can’t avoid this question: how did you start talking to Jacob about his diagnosis?
TV: I decided to start talking to him about it when he was about 5 years old.  At that time I felt he could understand & wanted him to here it from me. I got some children’s books that explained autism from his counselor at The Center for Autism & Related Disabilities.  We talked about how a person with autism’s brain worked a little differently than someone without autism, and how that made them unique.  I also showed him a quote from Taylor Swift “If you’re lucky enough to be different, don’t ever change.”  I continue talking to him about it whenever I feel it’s necessary.

PPM: What is your message to other families with autistic children?
TV: Millions of families this year will receive the news that their child is on the autism spectrum.  These families have two choices at that point, in my opinion.  1) Let this diagnosis take away your hope for your child’s future; or  2) let this be a driving force and  fight to ensure your child will become anything and everything they deserve to be in this life.  As a member of the autism community, I feel drawn and responsible to encourage my fellow families to put their focus on the things their child can do, rather than the things they cannot.

PPM: And under what circumstances did Jacob decide that he would take on upon himself to represent and inspire the children with autism through his performance?
TV: It’s kind of funny because when you talk with Jacob, you can get the sense that he’s not really listening.  He’s usually jumping on/off the couch or making drum beats on the table.  I wasn’t even sure if he heard or grasped some of the things I discussed with him about autism, until he began talking about it during a performance.  He pretty much reiterated everything I had been telling him.  He got a great response from the crowd and has been talking about it ever since.

PPM: Do you speak with Jacob about fame and success and what it means in the real world?
TV: Jacob and  I often talk about how everyone has their own talents and things that they excel at while, at the same time, we all have things we struggle with.  Jacob happens to be gifted musically which, along with his hard work, has opened the doors for him to travel to a lot of fun places and meet some great people.

PPM: What tools are you equipping him with to handle the potentials flip side of fame?
TV: With each event, my husband, and I always try to prepare Jacob based on what we are expecting him to be presented with.  With that being said, Jacob is blessed with a very humble disposition. He truly cares about others and is the first to notice and celebrate the successes of friends, family and fellow musicians.  Jacob gives sincere words of approval to others when they are practicing.  He loves when people cheer for him, not so much because he is proud of himself, but because he is truly pleased that listening to his music has made them happy. We’ve witnessed him step back to allow fellow performers to get praise.  This is how Jacob sees himself in relation to others with regard to his music.

PPM: How do you manage balancing his professional career at such early age with being a kid?
TV: Being a kid is Jacobs #1 job.  We have turned down events before because he had a friend’s birthday party to attend just needed some down time.  I am Jacob’s mom, his advocate, and his biggest fan.  My husband and I manage all aspects of his life. We wouldn’t give up this control because no one will ever truly consider Jacob’s best interest the way we will.

Being a kid is Jacobs #1 job.  We have turned down events before because he had a friend’s birthday party to attend just needed some down time.

PPM: William, from video interviews we know that you play piano, and Jacob has been hearing you play since he was a little baby. Are you a professional pianist? Where did you get your training?
William Velazquez: I very much enjoy playing the piano, however, I am not a professional pianist.  I began playing when I was 7 years old on an organ we had in the house. Soon after I attended a local piano school, and at 10 years old I attended a conservatory school of music for 2 years. Afterwards, I had private lessons at my parents house for several years.  In high school I played keyboard in a band we named Excelle. We played local gigs in the New York area.

PPM: When your family discovered Jacob’s talent, did he ask for lessons? How did things progress from that moment on?
WV: At the time we noticed Jacob’s ability he was very speech delayed, but we felt he would benefit from piano lessons.  At first, it was difficult finding someone willing to teach a 4 year old, but, fortunately, we found someone, and Jacob began training with her.  I have also taught Jacob a few short pieces.

PPM: Do you participate in your son’s “piano life” (recordings, practice, performances) or if it mostly a responsibility of your wife?
WV: I enjoy practicing with Jacob and playing for him as well. He and I have worked on a few medleys together. I recently worked with him on the National Anthem, which he performed at the American Airlines Arena for the Miami Heat game.  I was also very involved with his album and his concerts.

Being on the autism spectrum, Jacob has struggled with his emotions.  I think music is helping him express his own emotions as well as better understanding others.

PPM: How do you think Jacob’s piano life helps in building his character?
WV: Being on the autism spectrum, Jacob has struggled with his emotions.  I think music is helping him express his own emotions as well as better understanding others.

PPM: What is the most surprising thing you learned about your son through the piano discovering  journey?
WV: I am amazed of how much he has progressed in such a short period of time, and how quickly he is able to memorize a piano piece regardless of the size.  I also recently discovered that Jacob has perfect pitch, which means he can identify notes and chords being played on the piano without looking.

 

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PIANO ARCHITECTURE: THE FAZIOLI STORIES

by Esther Basha (MGBH)

With many piano manufacturers around the world, the Fazioli company keeps surprising us with not only with the high quality of sound, but also with its astonishing designs.  With a story behind each piano design, Fazioli has become one of the world’s top piano manufacturers.  Its sought after pianos found their place in many music halls, private homes, and have been seen in many movies.  

American Council of Piano Performers

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Located in Sacile, Italy, the company was started in the late 1970s by a visionary Paolo Fazioli (MGBH), a pianist with a degree in mechanical engineering, who, after joining a family business, decided to leave and start a piano factory at the time when dozens of piano manufacturers were closing their doors.  He began designing his first grand piano with the help of Professor Pietro Righini (OBM), Professor Guigliermo Giordano (OBM), Virgilio Fazioli, and Lino Tiveron (MGBH).

But we are not here to bore you with the history of the company and chronology of its events, which you can read on Wikipedia – click here.  Rather, we are here to tell you exciting stories of each of the custom pianos created in the house of Fazioli.  Here we go.

We will start with three piano that have one thing in common – all three of them have found their permanent homes in Vancouver, BC.

Fairmont Piano by Fazioli
Fairmont Piano by Fazioli

 

 

THE FAIRMONT PIANO

The custom made Fairmont Fazioli piano was created as a centerpiece for the lobby of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel in Vancouver, BC.  With the cost of $225,000, it features a unique three-dimensional design under the lid.  Vancouver-based MGB Architects + Designers created the case for the white piano and the intricate walnut inlay under the lid that echoes a 180 feet-long origami sculpture by Joseph Wu (MGBH) that juts out from Oru Restaurant into the hotel lobby.

All the hinges are plated in the 18K gold with the soundboard from the same forest as the wood of Stradivari’s (OBM) violins.  The piano cover has a slow fall feature.  The hotel even has a dedicated Fazioli Suite, designed by Terry Zacharko (MGBH).  The room features a number of different photographs of the piano making process.  It even has some pieces of a piano.  All the photos in the suite are hung by the Fazioli piano wire.  The suite contains some interesting artwork that relates to Fazioli and the design of pianos in general.  Mr. Fazioli was very pleased with such gesture. “To dedicate one suite to one piano maker is really, really something very special,” he commented in an interview.

 

 

Telus Garden Piano by Fazioli
Telus Garden Piano by Fazioli

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THE TELUS GARDEN PIANO

The Telus Garden Piano was a brain child a local architect Gregory Enriques (MGBH), commissioned to design the case for a Fazioli piano that was going be placed in the lobby of the Telus Gardens Building.  “When we originally designed the lobby,” says Enriques, “the piano was in the back of our minds, but we didn’t really have a defined spot.  And when I was approached to design a piano, I said, “I am not so sure…”  I have seen some of the custom pianos that have been designed, and a lot of them are just adapting an existing piano.  And I said, “If we are going to do something, let’s make something very specific for this building.   And Telus Garden has a very specific aesthetic, which is about a certain sense of geometry and a certain materiality.  And if we can find to make the piano in-sync with that, we thought it would be very exciting.  So, if you look on the outside of the building, you will see these giant V-shape columns, which hold up the office component of the building.   And so, I thought, if we can hold up the piano using the same sort of geometry rather than a traditional leg, it would not only be more modern, but it would also be keeping with our specific space. And so, you have a piano, which has V-shape legs, is made out of Douglas fir, very much like the beams of the lobby.  And what you have is a traditional piano in terms of acoustics, but the outside of the piano has completely been reinvented to be of this place.  Even the chair, the little stool, the seat that it sits on is a little Z-shaped chair, which relates to the geometry of the piano, and we are very excited about what’s going to become in terms of focal point of the space.  The acoustics of the space are actually very well-suited for the piano because of the nature of the trusses on the ceiling.  It’s pretty much like a concert hall,” adds the architect.

Telus Garden Building, Vancouver, BC

 

 

 

Red Elm Piano by Fazioli
Red Elm Piano by Fazioli

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THE RED ELM PIANO

The Red Elm piano was a custom order for a private client – Zhai Zai Chen (MGBH) – residing in Vancouver, BC. Designed by Ernest (MFBH) and Grace Collins (MGBH), the same architects that designed Mr. Chen’s house, the 10-ft four-pedal piano was scheduled to arrive to his house with a matching cabinet ( built by Joe Edwards (MGBH)) and a painting (by Michael Soloman (MGBH)).

“I design any conceivable type of furniture from ultra-contemporary to the most beautiful historic pieces,” said the architect during the interview, Ernest Collins.  “The client’s house was originally built 13 years ago.  It has a Georgian quality to it.  But certainly in the 17th, 18th, and 19th century, there would be salons where people would play the piano and gather around and sing.  So, it was really lovely to rework that particular room, which I used as a music room as well,” commented Grace Collins.  “Mr. Chen wanted to take it to almost a salon level where people would feel welcome to come in and sit around the piano while someone was playing.  And so, when he decided to invest in this piano, he felt it was important that it should speak to the house even on a bigger level than just being a beautiful piano.  So, we started researching motifs that were used by the great English furniture makers.  And one of the motifs that we both particularly liked was the Chip and Dale medallion that Chip and Dale developed in a lot of their cabinetry.”

During an interview,  Manuel Bernaschek (MGBH), the owner of the Fazioli gallery in Vancouver, spoke about the idea of the painting.  “One of the ideas that we had…because the client liked the idea of a painting underneath the lid… we suggested commissioning a painting that goes in the same room as the piano, but not necessarily on the piano itself.  The idea behind the piano was that the music room was sort of like many paintings form 1400s-1500s that showed many people sitting around the piano and enjoying the music.  So, we wanted to mimic something like that.”

 

Here is a story from Michal Soloman, the painter.  “It was abut a year and half ago…. I wanted to do some whimsical paintings of a piano and my little cousin dressed up as a fairy with little butterflies and things.  I decided to go to a piano store on Broadway.  I went in there and asked the woman if I could take some shots of some pianos, just the keyboards and things.  And she said, “Yes.”  And she was interested in art.  And said, “When you [finish] these paintings, I’d like to see them afterwards.”  Eight months later, I went in there with a painting.  And brought these big paintings in. They were a lot bigger than I thought they would be.  And she said, “Yes, let’s bring them down to Richmond.”  And then a few months later Manuel phoned and said, “I have this Fazioli sale happening.  And the client wants a painting of a family.  Would you be interested in doing it? There is going to be like 19 people in this painting.” So, I said, “Yeah, of course.” And I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  So, I went into the photoshoot with the family, I’ve got them posted all over my wall […].  The biggest challenge of the thing was that the client wanted to see a lot of the house. So, I had to take a shot from far back.  And I never really painted small heads like that before.  To make a great amount of detail had been a huge challenge.”

 

Manuel Bernaschek talks about the project.  “One interesting aspect to this work was […] to have Mr. Fazioli somehow painted into the scene.  So we thought, if the piano was gonna be there, why not have Mr. Fazioli playing the piano, and the whole family sitting and enjoying.  So, the client gave us a deadline of July 31st, and we knew it was a little bit tight with the piano because we knew it would take 12 months to make the piano.  We ordered the chairs, the cabinet, the painting.  Our plan was [for all of the pieces] to come in on the same day and have this WOW! effect. We really looked forward to blow him away.”

 

….. to be continued

 

 

References:

  1. http://vanmag.com/uncategorized/a-500k-pianos-new-home/
  2. http://westbankcorp.com/fazioli/fazioli.fairmont-pacific-rim.html#.WGQuFiMrKCQ

  3. http://westbankcorp.com/fazioli/fazioli.fairmont-pacific-rim.html#.WGQuFiMrKCQ

VENUES: DALHALLA

by Alex Davydovich (MGBH)

Whether you are a piano performer, singer or a festival organizer, the choice of venue will determine at least 50% of the event’s success.   In this section of Piano Performer Magazine, we present to you the most beautiful and sought after performance venues that make any performance stand out.  

 

Located at the bottom of a quarry next to a beautiful emerald lake with potable water, Dalhalla is one of the most beautiful performance venues in the world.

The lake is on average about 2.2 m deep, and its emerald green color comes from small limestone particles in the water, which are broken by the light. With the level rising by about 15cm per week through groundwater and rainwater, the water is pumped up and led away regularly. During performances, however, the pump is used to create a spectacular fountain. The lake also serves to separate the audience from the stage.  Many audience members as well as some performers have even known to swim in the lake.  So, if you feel like the music makes you too hot, go ahead – cool yourself down!

The performance season at Dalhalla starts in June and ends in September.  With its stage area counting over 600 square meters, the orchestra pit fitting 90 musicians, and capacity of 4100 seats, Dalhalla has been known to host such prominent pianists as Jamie Cullum (MGBH), Daniel Haglund (MGBH), Robert Wells (MGBH) and students to name a few.

If you arrive early, you will be able to enjoy the Dalhalla restaurant. With a capacity of 180 seats, it offers wine and champagne at the lounge, and sandwiches, barbecue, desserts, coffee, and tea at the restaurant.

Here is a little bit of the history of Dalhalla.

In 1991, Margaret Dell Fors (MGBH), a former opera singer and radio producer, who had long been looking for a summer festival site, and Asa Nyman (MGBH), then the Head of Culture in Rättvik, discovered an abandoned limestone quarry. The location was perfect, far away from buildings, well-shielded against noise pollution from road traffic and industry. The place itself was a feast for all senses, like a scene Valhalla taken from Wagner’s world, in Dalarna – thus the name Dalhalla.  In June of 1993, Margaret and Asa organized a successful test concert with invited audience, press, and TV.  In August of the same year the Dalhalla Friends Association was founded.

On July 23, 1994 the first exclusive concert featuring an opera singer Birgit Nilsson (OBM), a Dalhalla Friend’s honorary chairman, took place.

The official opening of Dalhalla, with 2,600 seats initial capacity, took place on 21 June 1995 with a major opera concert.  Swedish Television broadcasted the concert, and Dalhalla became known throughout the country and abroad. (1)

Dave Lawler (MGBH), was impressed with what he found at the facility when the jazz pianist and vocalist played at Dalhalla this past summer. “You’re going to a very remote area and don’t know what to expect, so to find a Meyer Sound system there was amazing. It’s high technology in the wilderness; quite a contrast.”

The primary house system at Dalhalla is self-powered, consisting of two Meyer Sound M2D compact curvilinear arrays of 12 cabinets each. “We knew that Meyer Sound was a reliable system,” says Park, “and its being self-powered helps make it very efficient to run and convenient to set up.” (2)

 

References:

 

(1) http://www.dalhalla.se/en/about-dalhalla/history-of-dalhalla/

(2) http://www.meyersound.com/news/2007/Dalhalla/

The Art of Piano Performance: Dotan Negrin

by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

As I was browsing the Internet, page after page, I stumbled upon an interesting phenomenon of a pianist who turned his passion for playing piano into a life journey. Literally. He quit his day job, packed up his piano, grabbed his dog, and got on the road to play piano around the world. Five years fast-forward, here we are, with Dotan Negrin (MGBH) curious about every detail of his inspirational life-changing experience.

 American Council of Piano Performers
PPM: Where did you grow up and when did you start playing piano?
DN: I was born in NYC and raised in long Island. I started playing piano when I was 19 years old while studying Theater in college. I never intended to be a traveling pianist. It all happened by accident.
PPM: Who were your teachers?
DN: I studied with a variety of jazz teachers over the years and of course spent countless hours exploring harmony and melody on my own. One of my favorite teachers was grammy winning, Laurence Hobgood (MGBH).
PPM: What was your childhood dream?
DN: My childhood dream was to become a Broadway and film actor. I loved to perform and the thrill of being on stage.
PPM: Tell us about your family and their influence in your life.
DN: My father was born (MGBH) in Greece and my mother (MGBH) was born in Israel. Both my parents had a strong love for the arts growing up. My father would listen to a lot of opera and classical music, and my mother loved to paint. We attended many concerts and Broadway shows around New York City.  My favorite was Rhapsody in Blue, because I played clarinet in middle school.
PPM: Did you go to college? What is your “official” profession?
DN: I went to college from 2004-2008 in Philadelphia at the University of the Arts. I got a BFA in Theater. If I had to choose and “official” labeled profession, I would consider myself a Creative Entrepreneur. I wear many hats and have a variety of skills that I have developed over the years.
PPM: What was the job that you quit to start traveling with the piano, and what was the exact moment that made you decide to quit your job and embark on a piano journey?
DN: I was working as a real estate agent in 2009 mainly because my father thought it would be a good idea for me to get into real estate. After 3 months I quit because I didn’t want to spend my life sitting in an office. In 2010, I got a job working as an assistant for an artist. He hired me to drive from NYC to Miami to deliver some large plexiglass photography. I thought it was great that I was getting paid to travel. I worked for him for 5 months before feeling unfulfilled again. I didn’t like that I was giving my life away to someone else at the age of 24. I believe that in your 20’s you should have the freedom to explore and take risks, especially when it comes to doing what you love.
I didn’t like that I was giving my life away to someone else at the age of 24. I believe that in your 20’s you should have the freedom to explore and take risks, especially when it comes to doing what you love.
At that time I was inspired to travel the world and I wanted to figure out how I could incorporate what I learned as an actor and build a traveling performance. So I decided to start playing piano on the streets of NYC to experiment. I had such an incredible time, and I was meeting so many people from all over the world that I knew this was the dream! Eventually I bought a box truck on eBay, packed up my piano, and hit the road.
PPM: When and where did you make your first trip to and how did your first traveling experience go?
DN: In 2011, I traveled around the United states in 5 months and visited 36 states. My first traveling experience was scary at first, but completely liberating. It was the first time in my life where I was solo and allowed the freedom to explore without anyone telling me what I can and cannot do. I drove south to New Orleans, spent 2 weeks there. Drove to Los Angeles in 1 month, along the coast to Seattle in another month. Then I took the last month to drive back to NYC through Utah, Colorado, and the Midwest.
PPM: What cities and countries have you travelled with your piano?
DN: I have traveled to more than 450 cities over the last 5 years and 22 countries and 47 states. Paris, London, Amsterdam, NYC, Miami, Los Angeles, Rome, Zurich, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Costa Rica, Mexico City…
PPM: Is there a specific repertoire that you usually play? What are your favorite music pieces to play for your audiences?
DN: I spent a lot of my time improvising and composing original pieces. When I arrive to beautiful locations, I like to see how the location inspires my creativity.  I spent a lot of time playing Scott Joplin (OBM) Ragtime and Jazz standards. Lately I’ve been taking pop songs and rethinking them or playing them with vocalists or other instruments. My favorite thing to play is my original pieces because they come from deep inside of me and sometimes my hands take control and I like to see where they go next.
My favorite thing to play is my original pieces because they come from deep inside of me and sometimes my hands take control and I like to see where they go next.
PPM: Just curious, what are the logistics of transporting the piano in your case? Have you been traveling with the same piano?
DN: I have one main piano in the USA, but when I traveled to Europe, I had to purchase a used piano. I have gone through about 10 pianos over the course of 5 years. Some of the pianos I bought were not in good condition, so I would give them away and get a better one. Other times, the piano would get ruined from all the traveling.
PPM: What makes you choose one city over another when you travel? Do you have a travel schedule that you set up in advance or do you just travel on a whim?
DN: I usually just look at the map and see what is in the area. If there is a beautiful wooded area, I might head there based on my mood. When traveling, I usually spend MondayWednesday in the mountains and ThursdaySunday in the cities to play on the streets or at venues. Sometimes, I just travel on a whim and go where my heart takes me. Improvisation is a huge part of my life.
PPM: Are you planning to be home with your parents on Thanksgiving?
DN: Yes, I am currently taking a break from traveling to save money and work on transitioning to doing more videos with Youtube. I live in NYC for now and will leave in the winter to go to Austin, Texas.
PPM: Now that we mentioned Thanksgiving,  what are some of the things you grateful for in your life?
DN: I am grateful for my family and parents who shared music with me at a young age. My parents were very open about letting me explore and make my own mistakes. This journey has not been easy, and my family has always been there for me. I am also grateful to be alive in such an incredible point in time with the Internet and the ability for me to meet and connect with amazing people from all over the world.
PPM: Can you share some of the funniest stories that happened to you on the road?
DN: There were many incidents where people invited me to have dinner with their families. One time in Portland, ME, I met a drummer, named Daniel (MGBH), while playing piano on the street. He told me that he was going to his family reunion on a small island off the coast of Maine and invited me to join him. I was a bit unsure if I should go, but the next morning I decided to make the trip. I drove north 2 hours to a city called Rockport and took the ferry to Vinalhaven Island where I met Daniel.
We arrived at the home, and there I was having dinner with 3 generations of this family who I just met. It turned out that the entire family played a musical instrument or sang. The dinner was delicious with vegetables farmed by them and fish they caught themselves. After dinner, Daniel told me that him and his brother were playing a gig at the local bar. When I showed up at the bar, they surprised me with a keyboard and asked me to play with them. I thought I would play one song, but I ended up playing the entire 3 hour-gig with a 5-piece band. I didn’t even know any of the songs. I was just following the root notes the bass player was playing. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, because all I did was say “yes” to an offer, which led me on a spontaneous journey with incredible discoveries.
It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life, because all I did was say “yes” to an offer, which led me on a spontaneous journey with incredible discoveries.
PPM: What are the logistics of your travel?
DN: I mainly travel by van. The van has become my home and I’ve spent many nights sleeping in that van next to my piano. Logistically, it’s much easier than having to always look for a place to sleep, and it is certainly much cheaper. When I traveled through Europe though, I took a plane and then rented the van.
PPM: Do you always travel with your girlfriend?
DN: No.  She came with me on 2 trips only. Sometimes I travel with my dog or with a friend.
PPM: Do you use airbnb.com or mostly hotels?
DN: I never use hotels or airbnb. I use couchsurfing.com to meet other travelers and stay at their house for free. I also spent a lot of time living out of my van and sleeping in the woods or in dark places. Sometimes I meet people, and they invite me to stay their home and have dinner.
PPM: What has been your favorite venue to play so far?
DN: My favorite places to play have been mainly been outdoors. I once played for 250 people in Peru at the Plaza Independencia, which is their main square. I played on the edge of a cliff in Big Sur as well.
PPM: Who are some of the interesting people that played your piano (alone or with you)?
DN: The most interesting people I’ve played piano with were the people who just came up to me and started jamming. One of them was Frans Bak – a Danish composer. Here are some videos that were captured of amazing spontaneous jam sessions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsn8ZGb80-g
PPM: What is your 5 year plan? Do you have one?
DN: My 5 year plan is to develop my skills and build my audience using the web and social media to where I am working on a variety of different projects at once. I would like to build my team who helps me create great video content that inspires people and educates people about the benefits of music in their lives. One of my biggest goals has been to have my own television show where I go on location around the world to discover how music affects different people in different parts of the world.
PPM: Have you done recordings of your performances?
DN: I have done many LIVE recordings of my performances and even many videos at youtube.com/pianoaround. I am currently finishing a solo piano album of cinematic recordings.
PPM: Tell us about your Good Year commercial. How did it happen? 
DN: Goodyear saw me on National news in USA and contacted me to see if I would like to help them promote their new tires. They loved my story of traveling to go after the thing I love in life, and we collaborated on a 60-second commercial that aired in Latin America. They flew me to Costa Rica, Peru, Miami, and Mexico to perform in front of thousands of people.  It was a great experience. The commercial was filmed during 4 days in Costa Rica.
Those who are most successful have failed the most. So its important to keep your head up and stay focused on achieving your goals. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. Risk, Fail. Risk Again.
PPM: Here is a boring, technical, down to earth question: How do you support yourself while traveling?
DN: I support myself while traveling in a number of ways. Normally, I don’t stay in hotels, so I’ve eliminated a huge expense. I do performances on the streets of cities and in venues. I also do live streams through an app called Periscope on Facebook, which have opened up doors to new ways of making money.  Social media and Youtube have also been a great way for me to support myself. I also sell merchandise and music on my web site at: pianoaround.com/store
PPM:In life, at some point, each person is faced with the 2 ultimate questions: “Who am I and why I am here (on this Earth)?”  Who is Dotan Negrin and why is he here?
DN: I am a Storyteller. I am here to inspire and to remind the world that we are all here for a reason. I am here to inspire people to let go of fear and grab onto life and do what you love.
PPM: You have been an inspiration to many who live in a closed box world doing the “shoulds and musts” wishing they had the strength to break out of their boundaries and limitations and follow their dreams.  Can you share a few thoughts on the “how to’s”?
DN: Your biggest enemy is yourself.  You will talk yourself out of everything that is difficult. You can settle and spend your time doing something that you are not passionate about or you can take the leap of faith and go after what you love. You must realize that you get what you put into it.  It’s the same with learning piano. The ones who are really talented have put more time into it and have spent more time practicing. The same is true with Life.
Those who are most successful have failed the most. So its important to keep your head up and stay focused on achieving your goals. Don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. Risk, Fail. Risk Again.

Piano Concepts: Apostol Tnokovsky, The Hydra, and The Wave

by Tanya Levy (MGBH)

There are many piano designs out there ranging from traditional to modern. Each one represents a unique vision of an artist reflecting his personal style.  The two designs of an up and coming talented Macedonian product designer Apostol Tnokovsky (MGBH) strike us with their elegance as well as unique and original  form. We have reached out to author of these concepts to find out more.

 

PPM: There has been a lot of hype on the Internet about your gorgeous piano designs – both Hydra and Wave.  Have you been approached by piano companies to actually start manufacturing these designs? Has there been a prototype made?
AT: I have been in communication with several manufacturers, both big and small custom piano builders, but nothing serious came out of it as of yet. I’m still in contact, however, with few other companies, and I truly believe that one day the pianos will be produced. A time ago, I’ve collaborated with a local company. They’ve built a 1:5 downscaled model of the Wave piano, just to calculate the production costs. At the end, it came out that I only had a budget to customize a low end piano model. However, besides a beautiful design, I want a perfect sound as well, so I decided to wait for a better opportunity.

PPM: While we know that the inspiration for Hydra was Lady Gaga’s (MGBH) performance and her boxy outdated piano, what was the inspiration for the Wave?
AT: The Wave piano is also inspired by a famous pop artist, but this time I didn’t want to publicly link it to a celebrity. I learned from my experience with the Hydra piano. I announced that the concept was inspired by Lady Gaga, and everybody expected that she would play it in her next music video.  So I don’t want the same kind of pressure with the Wave concept design.  In the past few years I’ve been approached by many music artists, TV producers, hotel managers, event managers who requested my pianos, but I haven’t found a way to produce them yet.

PPM: While we can see the outer design of both pianos, how are they designed inside? Are they both acoustically sound?
AT: Both concepts are designed as stage pianos for pop artists, and their primary goal is to create strong visual impact on the stage. Certainly, they have to sound perfect, but there is no major innovation in the sound. The Hydra piano should be created as typical body customization of existing piano, and for the Wave piano a more complicated operation is required to adapt the whole existing acoustic mechanism into the slimmer casing, but for sure it can be done.

PPM: How much would it cost to make each piano? What materials did you design them to be made out of?
AT: Both pianos should be made out of wood. With the Wave design we metal arc stands. The companies that I’ve consulted gave me a price range from $100, 000-120, 000 for the Wave, and $150,000-180,000 for the Hydra. These prices are for customization of a premium brand piano model. The price that I got for the Wave form the local company that made the downscaled model, was around 35, 000 € for customization of low end piano model.

Downscaled Version of the Wave Piano by Apostol Tnokovsky

 

PPM: You designed beautiful products besides pianos. Which ones of them can we see on the market?
AT: I’ve done some things for a few local businesses in Macedonia.  Internationally, I designed a collection of shoes and bags for the Italian brand WMATY. There are a few concepts pending for production, but I rather not talk about them until they are on the market.

PPM: Please, describe your creative process. Where do you generally find your inspiration?
AT: I don’t believe there is a formula to a creative process.  Sometimes is hard to find a solution. You think for days and nights until you get to the right idea, but sometimes you just get inspired by moments in life, and the idea strikes you like lightning. The ideas for my best concepts came to me out of nowhere…from some place up in the skies.

I don’t believe there is a formula to a creative process.  Sometimes is hard to find a solution. You think for days and nights until you get to the right idea, but sometimes you just get inspired by moments in life, and the idea strikes you like lightning. The ideas for my best concepts came to me out of nowhere…from some place up in the skies.

PPM: Do you travel a lot?
AT: I really like to travel, but I also like being home.  So, sometimes, at the last moment I try to find an excuse not to go on a trip. But, luckily, I have my wife, and she is more of an action person. She even sometimes arranges our trips without telling me. I’m so happy to have her in my life.

PPM: What are your hobbies?
AT: I love watching movies, playing video games.  I’m a true fan of Manchester United. I try not to miss a game. In the past year, however, my primary hobby has been my 1-year-old daughter  I’m so grateful to have her and try to spend as much as I can of my free time with her.

PPM: What personal and professional qualities do you consider to be essential factors of success?
AT: Talent and persistence… Some say it’s hard work, but if you don’t have talent for something, if you don’t have that special thing, that “X” factor, you can work hard day and night to achieve the level of above average. I bet that there are basketball players that train a 100 times harder that Michael Jordan (MBGH) does, but his talent has made him stand out as the best player in history. Of course, nothing is easy in life.  Sometimes things don’t run as smoothly as we would like them to, but you always have to be persistent and never give up on your dream.

 Sometimes things don’t run as smoothly as we would like them to, but you always have to be persistent and never give up on your dream.

PPM: Do you have a role model?
AT: I must say, Luigi Colani (MGBH).  I admire his freedom of expression.  So far I haven’t seen anyone with a style so strongly defined as his. He is a rear artist who has managed to stay true to himself, to his style, and his believes. I’m trying hard to do this, but I don’t think that I can ever achieve such freedom of expression as him.

PPM: What is your dream as a designer?
AT: To make an impact on the world by making it easier and more beautiful place to live in and to be an inspiration to other talented people around the world to do their best to succeed.

As a designer, I’m truly obsessed with the shape of a sphere – it’s perfect in every way.

PPM: How, in your opinion, form/object shape effects consciousness? How does it effect you?
AT: Well, if we analyze ourselves as customers, the shape of the objects has a big influence on our choices. A shape of a product is the first thing that attracts us towards them. As a designer, I’m truly obsessed with the shape of a sphere – it’s perfect in any way. On the other hand, I like to use very fluid and organic forms in my designs and to mimic nature as much as I can.

PPM: Have you approached Lady Gaga or her management with your piano design?
AT: I’ve talked to few people close to her. They liked the concept very much, and the plan is to include the piano in the future for a project (concert stage, music video) where it would fit properly.  Let’s face it: she is one of the biggest pop artists of our time, so I guess I have to be patient.

I believe that anything in this world is possible. I don’t believe that as creative person you are blessed with a good idea without a reason. I think that every one of us has a small part in the great Divine plan.  So you have to be patient, and everything will fit into place. Sometimes it takes a very long time and it’s frustrating, but you must have hope and never give up.

PPM: In your opinion, what are the factors that affect the process of materializing an idea or concept?
AT: I believe that anything in this world is possible. I don’t believe that as creative person you are blessed with a good idea without a reason. I think that every one of us has a small part in the great Divine plan.  So, you have to be patient, and everything will fit into place. Sometimes it takes a very long time, and it’s frustrating, but you must have hope and never give up.

PPM: How important is team effort in your work?
AT: It’s very important… I have the idea, but I do not know all the processes for all the products I’ve designed. So, many times I have to consult and work with people from different fields and trust their expertise.

PPM: Did you play any music instruments growing up? Do you play now?
AT: I took some guitar lessons when I was younger…I play my acoustic guitar from time to time, but my playing is on a very amateur level, so I don’t have an intention gathering a band any time soon.  🙂

I took some guitar lessons when I was younger…I play my acoustic guitar from time to time, but my playing is on a very amateur level, so I don’t have an intention gathering a band any time soon.  🙂

PPM: What meaning does music have in your life? What kinds of music do you like to listen to?
AT: Music has impact on everybody’s life…As Dick Clark (MGBH) said,”The music that you listen, is the soundtrack of your life”. Can you imagine a film without soundtrack? It would be boring and plain.  As for the kinds of music I listen to… I love the Beatles, and I also like jazz artists like Miles Davies (OBM), Duke Ellington (OBM), and Charlie Parker (OBM).

PPM: Many people associate piano with classical music and classical period.  How do you think piano design affects perceptions and expectation of the type of music played on it?
AT: As the music changes over the years, the design for the instruments that is played on should change correspondingly. It is true that the classical piano is used for playing classical music, and for the classical music the most important thing is the perfection of sound. But when it comes to modern pop music, the instruments on stage should be modern, too. I believe that on a pop stage every element should contribute to the visual impact of the show.

PPM: Do you have a joke?
AT: The Father says to his Son, “Son, I’m going to pay you 10$ a day if you practice your piano.”  Son, “Sorry, Dad…The neighbor already pays me $15 a day not to.”

 

See more of Apostol Tnokovsky’s designs here: https://www.behance.net/gallery/13685405

 

 

GENERATION Z: The Story of Yoav

by Esther Basha (MGBH)

The 21st Century has brought us many piano child prodigies from all over the world.  A young Israeli pianist, Yoav Levanon’s (MGBH), however, with experience of performing at Carnegie Hall at 7, prefers not to be labeled as such.  After an interview with Yoav, I understood why.  His answers are full of insight and maturity.  As one music critic referred to him as a “big artist in a small body.”  Now, it is your turn to discover Yoav Levanon.

 

PPM: What is your life like in Israel?
YL: I live in Israel in a small village, a peaceful environment, where farmers cultivate the land around my house, I hear the birds singing, and I can just walk between strawberries and oranges, water melons and avocados. Just name the time in the year, and I will tell you what you have around my house. I have a very supportive family and a lovely cat Archibal. I have friends among school mates and other musicians. Some of my musician friends live abroad and meet with me during masterclasses in Europe.

I practice each and every day. I play long hours. I know what I want to achieve and when my practice is more effective or less effective.

PPM: When and with whom did you first start learning to play piano? 5. How many hours a day do you practice? Do you practice every day? What is your practice routine?
YL:
Ever since I remember myself, I have always played piano. Professionally, with a piano teacher, I started just little over 3. I knew how to read notes and rhythm before I knew all the numbers…. I practice each and every day. I play long hours. I know what I want to achieve and when my practice is more effective or less effective. I do not have to watch the clock. The most important is to listen to myself and to obtain the sound and music that I feel inside. Practicing for me is more than just to play what’s written and by following the teachers. I have a vision for each piece that I must achieve. When I achieve it, I feel that I express something that is special, unique for me and my vision of the piece.

PPM: Do you have a favorite composer? Who is it and why?
YL: It is very strange, but I lately noticed that almost all my favorite composers have the letter “H” in their names: I like Chopin (OBM), Bach (OBM), Beethoven (OBM), Brahms (OBM), Schubert (OBM), Schumann (OBM), Mendelssohn (OBM), Tchaikovsky (OBM), Rachmaninoff (OBM)……… but I also like to play pieces by Liszt (OBM), Debussy (OBM), Frank (OBM), Scriabin (OBM), Bartok (OBM), Prokofiev (OBM), Kapustin (OBM) …… I am always intrigued by new pieces that I play and I am amazed by the beauty, the wisdom or the feeling and/or complexity. So many beautiful pieces and great composers to admire. I have probably to grow up until I may answer this question fully. Or, maybe, they are all great and I never pick just one as “favorite” trying to avoid being “unfair” to others.

I like to fly remote controlled helicopters and drones. I like reading. When having some more time – work on my Lego robot and Arduino kit, an electronics platform for making interactive projects.

PPM: What are your hobbies?
YL: I like to fly remote controlled helicopters and drones. I like reading. When having some more time – work on my Lego robot and Arduino kit, an electronics platform for making interactive projects.

PPM: How often do you travel? When you travel for performances in other cities, who primarily travels with you? Or mom or your dad?
YL: I travel for masterclasses and to perform. I learn from my parents that they get a lot of proposals to perform in different countries as well as to participate in masterclasses and competitions. We speak about such opportunities. We peek up very few, that can contribute to advance me and enrich my professional experience. Both Mom and Dad support me on my travels. More often I am accompanied by my Mom.

PPM: Which performance was your favorite so far and why?
YL: My performance at the San Carlo Theater in Naples, Italy. I love the Chopin concerto no 1. It was amazing to perform it with maestro Daniel Oren (OBM) and in front of a fully crowded and magnificent theater. I was invited to perform as an adult artist (under highly rewarding contract). I had admiring audience that was captivated by the music and amazing critics after the performance.

I would be nervous if I am pushed to play when I feel that I am not ready. Therefore, I always care to prepare myself to the point that I am satisfied, before any performance. When on the stage, I take the time, before the start of the performance, for quick, silent, “mind” rehearsal that help for concentration and shift into the music smoothly.

PPM: How do you feel when people compliment about your performance?
YL: The feedback of the people is an important reward after a performance. I had many occasions when people were coming to shake my hands with tears in their eyes after the concert. This is the highest reward – I knew that I touched their inner feelings and made them happy.

PPM: Do you play other types of music besides classical? Do you write your own music?
YL: I like to hear classic music, opera and Jazz. Yet, I do concentrate on classical music. Being focused on classical music performance, beside my love to the different pieces and composers, gives me the opportunity to best master the piano.
I compose my own music, for my personal joy, but I have not yet recorded any of it.

PPM: Do you get nervous before a performance? How do you handle it?
YL: I am lucky that I always liked the stage and performing in front of audience. I would be nervous if I am pushed to play when I feel that I am not ready. Therefore, I always care to prepare myself to the point that I am satisfied, before any performance. When on the stage, I take the time, before the start of the performance, for quick, silent, “mind” rehearsal that help for concentration and shift into the music smoothly.

It was amazing to play at 7 at the Carnegie Hall in New York.

PPM: What countries have you traveled to so far with your performances? What was your favorite traveling experience?
YL: I played in the US, Hungary, Italy, and Israel. I enjoyed all performances and traveling. It is so difficult to point out a specific one……let me think… It was amazing to play at 7 at the Carnegie Hall in New York. And it was a unique experience to play with the Franz Liszt Orchestra at the Europe’s biggest synagogue in Budapest….And the tour in Israel with maestro Vladimir Spivakov (MGBH) and the “Moscow Virtuosi,” not to mention the latest performance in the most beautiful San Carlo Theater in Naples, Italy.  Every one is a sweet memory and can be the favorite one  :).

PPM: Do you play any other instruments?
YL: I have natural opera singing capabilities. Some people that hear me think that I take part in singing and opera performances. I can also demonstrate beatbox complex rhythms performance. As a whole, my voice is my second instrument.

PPM: What do you hope to accomplish in 5 years?
YL: To be able to best perform each piano piece and join the elite club of top piano performers.

PPM: Do you have a joke or a funny story?
YL: Oh, I have plenty curios stories, also from the young ages… here are a couple of them…
Once when I was 5-6 years old I was asked to perform for some guests. When everyone was seated and ready to listen to the “concert,” I insisted to turn the lights down claiming that: “As I feel it, this piece has to be played only in the darkness.” They asked me what I was going to play. It was the Nocturne by Chopin in C-sharp minor. I played it in almost a complete darkness, to the surprised audience. Only a few years later I learned the definition of “Nocturne” – “a musical composition that is inspired by, or evocative of, the night”.

Once I ate the piano…. literally…

Once I ate the piano…. literally…

When I just turned 5, I won my first National Piano Competition, and my teacher gave me as a present a tiny little grand piano. It was a real piano – with the keys, and legs, and everything, but, it was made of … black and white chocolate. I kept it for a while and finally ….I had to eat it. (So, I ate it).
Since then, I can truly say, that I play, live, breathe and …(sometimes even) eat the piano.
And also, I have pretty funny story that happened to me just lately, at my last stay for playing concert in Italy.
I had to play two concerts, day after day. After my first concert I run to a restaurant to grab my lasagna before they close. The waiter, who already recognized me from a day before, asked about my father who was missing. Along with my lasagna, the waiter brought the San Carlo season’s program, saying, “You, probably, do not like classic music, but, you should join your father as there is a great music in the theater.” When he opened the brochure to show me the great music events that are scheduled, he saw my picture all over the second page. We could not stop laughing when he was telling the story to everyone in the restaurant……..it was hilarious.

 

 

Member Spotlight: Samuel Quinto – The Master of Latin Jazz

by Tanya Levy (MGBH)
With this issue of Piano Performer Magazine, we are starting a new section featuring members of American Council of Piano Performers (ACPP).  ACPP is a non-profit professional membership organization for US and International piano professionals based out of Beverly Hills, CA.  The Piano Performer Magazine is the latest project of ACPP.  
Mr. Samuel Quinto is the first International ACPP member to be featured in this magazine.
PPM: You left college where you pursued a degree in civil engineering to follow your musical dream. What was that “Aha!” moment when you realized “It’s either now or never”?
SQ: When I was twenty-four, my sister put my name on the list at the college. I had to take a test to get in, and I passed. So, in January, I started my studies, but I never liked it. I didn’t enjoy engineering, but I did, however, enjoy playing music. In Salvador, we don’t have too many places to play piano. So that’s why I went to school—it wasn’t because I liked it, it was more to fit in.
Wanting for me to have a stable career, my family pushed me towards engineering, but the pull of music was too great. Then I received an invitation. I left my schooling to perform as a pianist nightly at The Marriott Hotel in Bahia. I focused on my music with a passion, studying Brazilian piano greats such as Cesar Camargo Mariano (MGBH) and Amilton Godoy (MGBH).
PPM:What was it like producing your first CD? Please, share your experience with our readers.
SQ: It was wonderful and very intense. I lived in Portugal for three years. Every morning I taught jazz piano at a school. In the afternoon I worked as a pianist in a ballet company and the night played in hotels, casinos, and pubs. A good friend of mine, a drummer named Gil (MGBH) gave me the suggestion to form a trio with a friend bass player named Alexandre Silva. I thought this idea was wonderful because my mind would simmer with wonderful thoughts and new ideas every day. As there was no specific job Latin Jazz in Portugal until then, we decided to go this way. Alexandre wasn’t able to follow up on it so we invited Edamir Costa who kindly accepted our invitation. We decided to record a demo CD, which contained 4 pieces to get a record label. The Numérica label suggested that the trio should record new material as well as other previously recorded tracks. Latin Jazz Thrill was released in 2007.
 
PPM: Many pianists/musicians seem to have a goal to make it big vs. finding pleasure in sharing their talent with the audience organically available to them. Why do you think that is?
SQ: I feel that anything that is not measured cannot be managed. All projects should be measure by appropriate indicators according your project evolution. You may love to make music regardless of the number of people in the audience. This shows that a project was done for career development and you need to maintain an attitude of balance and a certain strategic flexibility.
 
PPM: In your experience, what is the ratio of personality vs. talent as a factor of career success?
SQ: No doubt the personality far exceeds the talent. There are many talented artists who are unknown and they seem very well accommodated in this situation. What will boost your career is strong willpower. Remember that in adversity you have found strength that will carry you far in your career.
 
PPM: What is your professional goal?
SQ: I’m always looking for great challenges. Earlier this year my father was hospitalized by 21 consecutive days and I was there with him. I just get up one day and say, I’m going to write an improvisation method book and I was doing it while I spent every night at the hospital. It was a great challenge because I did not feel capable to do that. There is a very big difference between to teach and to write in an organized manner, in a way that everything looks very easy. This will serve to show that you must know your goals and do the right programing in order to achieve them.
 
PPM: What is the biggest challenge for you as a musician?
SQ: The biggest challenge is to achieve a continuous, ascending creative process among many commitments and activities.
 
PPM: When and how did your first introduction to piano happened? Who were your teachers? What methods did they use in teaching you?
SQ: I grew up in a Baptist family so, I got into music through the church. We had many groups that played gospel music in my church. I grew up listening to this type of music, and it made me a specialist in it. In my church, I played piano, guitar, drums, bass, and saxophone—whatever I could get my hands on.
I’m self-taught; I never had classes on piano or any other instrument. My parents didn’t have the conditions to allow them to pay for classes for me.
 
PPM: Where do you live now?
SQ: I live in countryside of the state of São Paulo in a beautiful and calm city named Atibaia around 65 kilometers away from the city of São Paulo. With a wide veranda overlooking the mountains, my house is a place to be in contact with Nature.
 
PPM: Please, describe a typical week in the life of Samuel Quinto.
SQ: I am grateful I can be home almost every morning there I stay with my wife Larissa, our baby Elis (1 year and 4 months of age), our dog Azul that means Blue in Portuguese and our cat Buchito. In the afternoons I have many commitments. I have activities ranging from writing to All About Jazz reviews, interviews to the Royal Society of Arts. I write arrangements on request for choir and orchestra. I work also with musical production. Have sometime to practice piano for my solo concerts. I’m working on my new musical that shows some Atibaia’s historical period. I give masterclasses and workshops usually taking place on the weekend. I have a company with a partner and great friend of mine Eng. Daniel Silas. We work with acoustic treatment project.
 
PPM: Is there a specific musician that you would like to collaborate with?
SQ: There are several! But I would love to play with Bobby McFerrin. I’m a huge fan!
  
PPM: What does creativity in piano performance mean to you?
SQ: It means putting your soul on public display. I think creativity is closely associated not only the techniques studied, but rather a challenge to balance them in your mind as you feel the music.
 
 
PPM: Do you have a piano joke or a funny story that happened to you?
SQ: I have a lot! LOL! Once was teaching a group of children in a Baptist church here in Brazil, I showed some photos of me in concert in Europe in order to motivate them to study harder to get going further. I asked them: Do you know why I’m showing these pictures? A little girl answered like this: To humiliate us. The children and I had many laughs together.
 
PPM: Tell us about your classical compositions.
SQ: My first symphonic composition, written in 2011, was the Symphony No. 1 in A flat Major “Pascha Aeternam” for the Orchestra, Chorus and soloists in 4 movements, that has emphasis on Easter. I wrote the Christmas Oratorio for Choir in 5 voices and Symphony Orchestra; my second symphony, the Symphony 2 in C Minor, titled “Symphony Lightly Beautiful” for choir and Orchestra in five voices, yet the Motet Angelical, inspired by the Bruckner’s motets in 5 voices; string quartets; Opera Samson and Delilah (unfinished), Minuets and preludes. 
In 2013, I adapted the Symphony No. 1 for the opera format. Opera Pascha Aeternam has in its structure with theater, classical and modern ballet, choir and soloists a total staff of 148 people, and it was presented at the Second Baptist Church in Mossoro, as well as the Municipal Theater Dix-Huit Rosado for a total estimated audience more than 1,500 people, receiving rave reviews in RN state newspapers. 
 
PPM: Let’s talk about a spiritual aspect of music and Latin Jazz in particular. How does music affect you on a spiritual level?
SQ: It is very easy to see how we are affected by music. Since ancient times it has been observed how music has the power to connect people to God. I understand that music is a language created by God. I use many of my compositions as a form of gratitude to Him allowing me to understand a little of this language every day more and more.
 
PPM: How does a family life get integrated into a busy schedule of a piano performer? Do you have a family? How do you see yourself balancing both?
SQ: It took me a lot to reach this stage I Am. Now I know enough to balance the time dedicated to my family. My daughter loves to play the piano with me. She plays a few notes in a language that still can not understand very well, but I think one day I will get. 
 
PPM:What would you like your fans to know about you?
SQ: I wanted everyone to know that I love learning about new cultures, talk to people around the world, helping people in their musical development and learn from the experiences of each of them. That’s why my contact is on my website so we can talk, meet people who have a lot of value to add not only to me and my music, but also to the society.
 
PPM: What are your hobbies besides piano?
SQ: I love to practice sports! I play soccer, volleyball and tennis. I love cinema, theater and go to the beach. 
Click here to see Samuel Quinto’s profile on www.pianoperformers.org:

Feature Interview: Elisso Bolkvadze

Interview by Esther Basha (MGBH)

A recent recipient of prestigious UNESCO Award Artists for Peace, the beautiful Elisso Bolkvadze (MGBH) juggles her busy life of an internationally recognized piano performer, organizer of Batumi Music Fest, Director of Lyra Charitable Foundation for young musicians and Co-Director of Michel Sogny’s (MGBH) SOS Talents Foundation. Does she have time to stop and smell the roses? We caught Ms. Bolkvadze during one of her rare quiet moments for a feature interview.

 

PPM: Please, tell our readers how you grew up. Who introduced you to music? Who were/are your parents? Did you grandparents play any instruments?
EB: I was born and raised as the only child in a family of intellectuals, where poetry and literature was highly cherished.Both of my parents were very enlightened. My mom worked as an editor of an academic journal, where she was translating world literature to Georgian language. My dad was an editor of humor magazine – “Niangi” (Crocodile), founded in 1931. It was quite an acclaimed edition during the Soviet period, well known for its satire and high quality literature work. I am really blessed and proud to be a daughter of my parents. Neither my parents nor my grandparents played any instruments or where related to the music industry. I was fascinated by music and singing since early age, so my mother decided to take me to music classes. My mother is still alive, while my beloved father has passed away.

PPM: When did you know that you wanted to become a professional pianist?
EB: I, actually, never aimed to become a professional pianist. I just had this enormous love and desire towards music that led me to where I am now.

PPM: Is there one single person that had a profound effect on your life, career, life views? 
EB: Yes, there are two people who truly influenced my life and career. Firstly, my dear father, who was a great role model for me his entire life.  Secondly, Michel Sogny (MGBH), whom I met in Paris in 1995 during the Marguerite Long competition. He is an exemplary professor, philosopher, writer, musician, and composer. He is also the founder of a unique approach to piano learning, which I highly support. His method is simple, motivating, and makes piano learning enjoyable.

PPM: Do you have a family of your own?
EB: No, unfortunately, I don’t have a family of my own as of yet.

PPM: From your interviews that I have read so far, I could tell that you are very a grounded person. What helps you stay grounded?
EB: I am flattered and happy if I came across as a grounded person. That is a compliment for me. Probably, modesty is the outcome of my upbringing. My career achievements never effected my personality, as since early age I had defined beliefs and vision. Success is good, but it never had an impact on my character.

PPM: What is the biggest difference of being an artist in the Soviet Union vs. in the post- Soviet space?
EB: There are both positive and negative sides of being an artist in the Soviet Union.  In my opinion, the positive side was being managed under one system, which functioned on its own. Artists did not have to struggle individually to achieve exposure and recognition. The system was centralized. The negative side was that this very centralized management had a total power. The leaders of the system would decide who was allowed perform during festivals and concerts. At present, we have to take care of ourselves. We have to work hard and be creative to be distinguished. We need to develop on our own to realize our potential.

PPM: In what ways do you consider the art of piano performance therapeutic?
EB: I truly believe that music is therapeutic. I would say piano performance is especially therapeutic by putting a listener as well as a performer into a  serene state of mind. It gives us peace and balance. It gives us an opportunity to completely detach from reality.

PPM: Do you connect your craft with spirituality and your relationship with the divine energy of Light /G-d? 
EB: Yes, I do. I almost always feel proximity to the Divine while performing at concerts. I vividly remember the two occasions when I was on stage in a complete trance. I was totally consumed by music. I have to point out, however, that I experience this state while only performing on stage, and not during the practice sessions. This feeling is indescribable. You feel this lightness in your body, and music sounds so rich…

PPM: Would you agree with a statement that there are music pieces that help performers connect with their female energy and those that help them connect to their male energy? If so, how do you integrate this concept into your choice of repertoire?
 EB: Yes, I do agree. I would say objectively there are some music pieces that are more suitable for male performers like, for instance, Prokofiev’s (OBM) Sonata #7 and 2nd concerto, Tchaikovsky’s (OBM) Piano Concerto #1, and Stravinsky’s (OBM) Petrushka. I choose my repertoire based on my personality and prefer music pieces that I can identify with.

 

PPM: Who is your favorite Georgian composer?
EB: My favorite composer is Zaqaria Paliashvili (OBM). He composed outstanding opera pieces including Abesalom & Eteri & “Daisi”.

PPM: Do you have a daily routine when you are not traveling? What is your day usually like?
EB: Nowadays, I don’t have much of a routine. I always plan in advance, and everything still changes last minute. Even if I wanted to follow the schedule, it’s impossible. Being an Artistic Director of Batumi Music Fest, I juggle that with directing Lyra  – a charitable foundation, which aims to help young talents in Georgia, along with SOS Talents Foundation of Michel Sogny. I am also adjusting to my duties as a UNESCO Artist for Peace. My day is quite busy consisting of numerous phone calls, never ending emails, and piano performances.

PPM: What are your favorite foods? Can you name some of the traditional Georgian dishes that you cannot do without?
EB: My favorite Georgian food is Khachapuri. This is basically a dough with cheese that looks like Pizza but doesn’t have toppings. It’s delicious! I absolutely love Georgian traditional cuisine. We also have a dish, which is primarily made for New Year’s, called “Satsivi” – chicken or turkey in walnuts sauce. A must try!

PPM: As  a founder and organizer of the Batumi festival, what was your main challenge the first time around? In your opinion, what are the key ingredients of a successful festival?
EB: I have to admit I could never imagine the amount of obstacles I would have to face while planning the Batumi Music Fest. Honestly if I knew what it takes I would never go through with it. But year after year our team became more and more professional. We overcame difficulties and gained experience. We try to never make same mistake twice. Batumi Music Fest received appreciation and positive feedback among audience.  And this keeps us going. One of the reasons we gained recognition is through a distinguished program. I would also add that the key to success lies in good marketing. It is really important.

PPM: Do you teach piano? If so, what method do you use?
EB: Yes, I often give Master Classes. I always follow and introduce the method of Michel Sogny, which gives a unique and instant outcome.

PPM: Can you recall any funny stories that happened to you during your performances, travels, or while teaching?
EB: Yes! One time I had to perform in Washington at the Kennedy Center. This was approximately 12 years ago. I flew through Moscow when at the airport they confiscated my visa and told me I was not able to take my flight. There was a huge misunderstanding and I had to spend the night at the airport undocumented. Finally, hours later, they let me on board. I arrived to the States two hours before my concert and went directly to the Kennedy Center to perform. I will never forget this experience.

PPM: You are currently represented by IMG Artists. How important, in your opinion, is it for a piano performer to have an agent/manager/publicist?
EB: IMG Artists is a great agency. It’s important to be represented by a good agency, but, once again, I believe it’s very important as well to work on ourselves as we define our destiny. Being active is vital.

PPM: Where do you currently live?
EB: I currently live in Paris. I find myself incredibly lucky to live in Paris.  Paris is the city for everyone! Everyone desires to visit Paris and living here is a great opportunity!

 

 

 

REVISITING HISTORY: The Story of Anna Magdalena Bach

by Jacqueline Leung (MGBH)

In this issue of Piano Performer Magazine, we are inviting you to revisit history and look at Anna Magdalena Bach (OBM), the second wife of the Grand Maestro, from a different angle.  A wife, a mother, an accomplished musician in her own merit, she intrigues and sparks curiosity.  Her story makes us realize that an idea of a musically accomplished woman in addition to her traditional role of a nurturer is not a concept so exclusive to modernity.  Or, perhaps, she was one of the first to pave the way for many towards this modern trend.

For the past three hundred years, teachers and students of the keyboard have used the Anna Magdalena Notebook as a trustworthy source of pieces suited to beginner and elementary level players.  Existing in two books dating 1722 and 1725 respectively, Notenbüchlein für Anna Magdalena Bach consisted of minuets, polonaises, marches, and the famous Aria of the Goldberg Variations. It was given to her as a gift by her husband Johann Sebastian Bach (OBM). Early drafts of his five distinguished and elegant French suites first appeared in this notebook as well as several vocal pieces and compositions by eminent contemporary composers. Chiefly known as Johann Sebastian Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena has been a subject of five German books in recent years. She was also the star of a fictitious diary written by an English author Esther Meynell (OBM) in 1925. The Anna Magdalena Notebook even inspired a Hong Kong movie titled Anna Magdalena in the late 90s.

The world famous Minuet in G from the Notebook formed the basis of a Cantonese pop song and, of course, the 1965 hit Lovers Concerto by the US pop girl group The Toys.

Lately, the name of Anna Magdalena Bach has been a hot topic and has made appearances in mainstream media since an Australian Professor Martin Jarvis (MGBH) argued that Anna Magdalena could have been the composer of the famous Cello Suites, and not Johann Sebastian Bach himself. But for most musicians, Anna Magdalena is habitually brushed aside as a complementary figure in the life of the great J.S. Bach and the dedicatee of the Notebooks. Apart from this, little is known about her, and it was, therefore, an appeal to embark on an investigative journey to discover more about her and, possibly, the status of female musicians in the 1700s.  The investigation has not been so easy. Hard evidence, surviving letters, and documentation on Bach are comparatively scarce. The information about her available in English is even more limited. Despite these constraints, details of her life as a woman who was married to one of the greatest composers ever lived, could provide a window for modern readers to understand the domestic musical life of the Baroque era.

Anna Magdalena was in fact a professional singer employed by the court prior to her marriage to J. S. Bach.  This was a higher category of employment compared to most musicians of the time and was most definitely awarded due to a high level of musical ability.

Anna Magdalena Bach, née Wilcke, was born into a musical family in 1701. Based in Weissenfels- the Saxony-Anhalt region of Germany, her father was a court trumpeter and her mother – a daughter of an organist. The details of the meeting between J. S. Bach and Anna Magdalena are unknown and much of what is known about her is focused on her post marriage life. Anna Magdalena was in fact a professional singer employed by the court prior to her marriage to J. S. Bach. Documentary evidence shows us that she had the official position of a chamber musician which she held for 2 years. This was a higher category of employment compared to most musicians of the time and was most definitely awarded due to a high level of musical ability.

At age 20, Anna Magdalena married J.S. Bach, who was 16 years her senior. The ceremony took place at their home by command of the Prince in 1721. As a young wife, she immediately assumed the role of a stepmother of four children and was possibly responsible for their musical education when Bach was unavailable. J.S. Bach’s first wife Maria Barbara (OBM) passed away suddenly in 1720 while Bach was away. One of the children from that marriage was his most famous son Carl Philip Emanuel Bach (OBM), who was still young at the time of his mother’s death. Anna Magdalena soon became a mother herself.  Alongside being a mother, a stepmother, and a co-leader of a busy musical household, she was listed as a godparent of J.C. Hahn (OBM), a son of a footman to the Prince. The Bachs were not known to have written any diaries and, therefore, documentation on their domestic life is, unfortunately, scarce.  Yet, there is a precious letter, in which Bach describes his domestic situation and family musical ensemble to his friend Georg Erdmann (OBM), the Imperial Russian residence agent in Danzig, which provides a rare glimpse of life inside the Bach household.

Upon examining the obituary on Johann Sebastian written by his second eldest son, Carl wrote extensively on his birth mother Maria Barbara.  Apart from a brief paragraph, Anna Magdalena was only referred to as a “widow [who] is also still living”  on the list of surviving Bach family members.

When she entered the Bach household, she gave birth almost every year for 13 years. Seven of her offsprings did not survive, but her surviving children included the celebrated son of Bach, Johann Christian (OBM), who was described as “the apple of Sebastian’s eye and his favorite pupil.”

Life must have been difficult for Anna Magdalena. When she entered the Bach household, she gave birth almost every year for 13 years. Seven of her offsprings did not survive, but her surviving children included the celebrated son of Bach, Johann Christian (OBM), who was described as “the apple of Sebastian’s eye and his favorite pupil.” Moreover, the Bach house was a musical hub in Leipzig at the time, and many guests frequented the house. Not only did the lady of the house prepare to take care of her guests’ wellbeing during their visits, she also organized numerous musical evenings for the family and visitors.

Bach’s eldest son Carl described the Leipzig household as a “pigeonry.”  For a period of time, Johann Elias Bach (OBM), son of Johann Sebastian’s first cousin took up the position as the master’s secretary, where he was in charge of correspondences, administrative work, and other tasks. It is evident that he was fond of Anna Magdalena. In August 1741, when Johann Sebastian was away, he wrote a letter to Bach on behalf of the household regarding his wife’s illness and referred to her as “our most lovable mama” (4).  On another occasion, Johann Elias wrote a letter on behalf of Bach to obtain carnation flowers and a singing bird for his aunt “to brighten up her hard life” (5).  It is through Johann Elias’s account that we learn of Anna Magdalena being ‘a great connoisseur of gardening” who very much appreciated life’s simple pleasures.

Upon receiving the flowers, it was noted that “she values this unmerited gift more highly than children do their Christmas presents and tends them with such care as is usually given to children” (6).  Heinz Gärtner (MGBH), the biographer of the musically talented Johann Christian, noted that ‘”Christian’s temperament and Anna Magdalena’s likable personality are clearly evident.”  He describes Johann Christian’s manner as cheerful and ingenuous, “pure and naive” in contrast to the calculating, shrewd business sense of his brother Carl.  As one of the oldest sons, Carl left home early to pursue his career in Berlin, so he was no longer financially dependent on the Bachs. However, Anna Magdalena and Johann Sebastian’s eldest son Gottfried Heinrich (OBM) caused the couple many troubled days. Despite showing promise in music, he was described as “feeble minded,” and was not able to attend normal schooling like his other male siblings. He was mentally handicapped and “did not fully develop” requiring Anna Magdalena’s constant attention.

Upon receiving the flowers, it was noted that “she values this unmerited gift more highly than children do their Christmas presents and tends them with such care as is usually given to children”

As noted earlier, Anna Magdalena pursued a career as a professional singer in the Cöthen Court Chapel between 1721 and 1723. There had been remarks stating that she ceased her professional engagements after her marriage. However, surviving accounts authenticate her performances alongside her husband during birthday celebrations of Princess Charlotte (OBM) and the funeral procession of Prince Leopold (OBM).  In J.S. Bach’s letter to Georg Erdmann (OBM), he refers to Anna Magdalena as his “present wife [who] sings a good, clear soprano.” As a part of a husband and wife team, she helped garner almost half of the annual household income, earning 200 thalers at first, which was then increased to 300 thalers subsequently, granted by the Prince. Her role in Johann Sebastian’s life also involved being his copyist, in which she prepared fair copies of the cello suites, violin partitas and sonatas, organ trio sonatas, major sections of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and Kyrie and Gloria of the B minor Mass, several cantatas, vocal and instrumental works. Yo Tomita (MGBH), the eminent Bach scholar, noted that her copies are “often the most important primary sources when Bach’s autographs do not survive.” Other notable scholars such as Paul Badura-Skoda (MGBH) remarked that the handwriting of husband and wife are extremely similar, and Tomita observed that their handwriting intertwined “in such a manner that they must surely have discussed something about the copies they were making together.”

As a part of a husband and wife team, she helped garner almost half of the annual household income, earning 200 thalers at first, which was then increased to 300 thalers subsequently, granted by the Prince.

Indeed for the untrained eye, it is a challenge to distinguish the differences in manuscript writing between the husband and wife. As a loving husband, Johann Elias remarked that his cousin constantly looked out for gifts for Anna Magdalena and he even had her painted by court painter Antonio Cristofori (OBM).  Unfortunately the painting has been lost, but this is testament that this practice was rather unusual for a woman of her social standing.

After Johann Sebastian died in 1750, Anna Magdalena outlived him for 10 more years and passed away at the age of 59. Due to the size of the family, J.S. Bach’s possessions were divided between his nine surviving children and Anna Magdalena.  Her financial state very quickly took a downward turn as we read petitions of hers as a “most sad estate of a widow.” She wrote to the council appealing for a death benefit and on two occasions fought for the guardianship of her own children, promising never to marry again.  At this juncture, she was left with two sons and two daughters aged 9-18. There is an absence of documentation of her life after this period, except that she was left in a desolate state and was only offered a funeral as an “almosenfrau” – an impoverished woman.  On her funeral notice posted in Leipzig in 1760, the figure ¼ was written in the margin, indicating a funeral of the simplest category with only a quarter of students singing in comparison to a funeral of normal practice at the time. It is puzzling, indeed, to learn that none of her surviving children were able to provide for her in her final years, but as the author Heinz Gärtner noted, this was, perhaps, a reflection of the general status of women at the time.

On her funeral notice posted in Leipzig in 1760, the figure ¼ was written in the margin, indicating a funeral of the simplest category with only a quarter of students singing in comparison to a funeral of normal practice at the time.

Anna Magdalena Bach juggled multiple important roles during her lifetime. Professionally, she was a talented singer, assistant, copyist, and public performance partner alongside her husband. Domestically, she was his companion, mother, wife, manager of a busy household and occasional performer on musical evenings. Her manuscript copies are some of the most important sources of Bach’s music when autographs are missing, and it is difficult to imagine the state of Bach research without her pertinent contributions.

Although it may never be possible to prove whether she did in fact compose any music, Anna Magdalena’s life, nevertheless, provides a lens for modern day researchers to examine the state of professional female musicians and the status of women musicians in the late Baroque period.

 

 

References:

 

(1) Bach, Johann Sebastian, and Vivian Langrish. Eighteen Selected Pieces from A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach: Pianoforte. London: Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, n.d. Print.

 

(2) Bach, Johann Sebastian. Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. Ed. Ernst Günter Heinemann. N.p.: Henle Verlag, 1983. Print.

 

(3) Badura-Skoda, Paul. “Let’s Get Rid of the Wrong Pralltriller!” Early Music 1st ser. XL1 (2013): n. pag. Web.

 

(4) Gardiner, John Eliot. Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven. N.p.: Deckle Edge, 2013. Print.

 

(5) Gärtner, Heinz, and Reinhard G. Pauly. John Christian Bach: Mozart’s Friend and Mentor. Portland, Or.: Amadeus, 1994. Print.

 

(6) Geiringer, Karl, and Irene Geiringer. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Culmination of an Era. New York: Oxford UP, 1966. Print.

 

(7) Jezic, Diane, and Elizabeth Wood. Women Composers: The Lost Tradition Found. New York: Feminist at the City U of New York, 1988. Print.

 

(8) Lockwood, Lewis, Edward H. Roesner, Alvin Harold. Johnson, and Robert L. Marshall. Essays in Musicology: A Tribute to Alvin Johnson. Philadelphia?: American Musicological Society, 1990. Print. The Notebooks for Wilhelm Friedemann and Anna Magdalena Bach: Some Biographical Lessons

 

(9) Tomita, Yo. “Bach Network UK | Facilitating Bach Dialogue Internationally.” Bach Network UK Welcome to Bach Network UK Comments. N.p., 2007. Web. 04 Sept. 2016. Anna Magdalena as Bach’s Copyist

 

(10) Wolff, Christoph. The New Bach Reader: A Life of Johann Sebastian Bach in Letters and Documents. New York: W.W. Norton, 1998. Print.

 

About the author

 

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