REVIEW: Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players at St John’s Smith Square
27 October 2014
Howard Shelley (pf); London Mozart Players
St John’s Smith Square, London
Part of Mozart Explored 2014-15
8 October, 1.05pm
It was pleasantly disorientating to sit down to a lunchtime concert that featured a chamber orchestra, particularly one as distinguished as the London Mozart Players (LMP). The ensemble has teamed up with pianist-conductor Howard Shelley to bring a six-part series of Mozart concertos to London’s St John’s Smith Square, with instalments taking place once a month until April 2015.
Pianist-conductors need to perform facing the orchestra, rather than side on, as the piano would usually be positioned during a concerto. But this means playing with the lid down, in order to maintain eye contact with the ensemble, which can affect the sound quality. The enterprising Shelley has come up with a solution: a bespoke Perspex piano lid that reflects the sound back to the audience behind him and provides a ‘window’ between him and the orchestra.
Shelley prefaced the October concert – which was well attended – with a short lecture about the concerto and its links to Haydn. Shelley discussed tonal centres and key deviations in great depth, illustrating his musings on tonic-dominant tonality with examples at the keyboard. It was interesting, but I’m not convinced a lunchtime concert was the best place for it. Perhaps this well-heeled audience is very familiar with Grade 5 theory of music, but personally I would have liked an explanation of the transparently lidded piano and how this set-up closely reflects that of Mozart’s era, which was not mentioned at all.
But it is unsurprising that Shelley feels the need to share the minutiae of Mozart’s writing, as this is clearly music that feeds his soul. This may surprise IP readers, many of whom are familiar with Shelley’s recordings of lesser-known Romantic piano concertos for Hyperion’s best-selling CD series. However, this concert, together with Shelley’s recent release of Dussek piano concertos for Hyperion’s new Classical concertos project, shows that the pianist is just as comfortable in core repertoire.
In the first movement, Shelley found a depth of colour and touch that felt completely fresh. He is enchanting to watch; at ease both on and off the stool, as the LMP wind section superbly illustrated its emancipation. The cadenza was that of Denis Matthews, which was finely calibrated and filled the hall with effortless brilliance. A sudden autumnal downpour enhanced the brooding moments in the second movement. This intense rainstorm caused a leak in the roof, and although the audience remained dry, the percussive watery addition was a momentary distraction. In the third movement we were treated to filigree melodies and impeccable phrasing and, in harmony with the music, the sun returned.
This was musicianship and ensemble-playing at its best, and it was a delight to see the LMP – who have had a challenging time of late (the group was taken over by its players after the withdrawal of council funding pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy earlier in the year) back on their feet. However, it would be incorrect to say that everything is rosy – we were encouraged to donate to the orchestra via text message after the concert (another forward-thinking initiative) and reminded that the concert would probably still make a loss of £3-4k, which seems unthinkable. But then, tickets are a snip at £10.
City workers, Londoners and day-trippers – you are warmly urged to go and see this fantastic series. At the cost of less than a round of drinks it will be the best lunch-break you’ve ever had.
Howard Shelley and the London Mozart Players present The Mozart Explored Series 2014-15: 5 November; 3 December; 4 February; 4 March; 1 April, concerts begin at 1.05pm and tickets cost £10. For more information click here
Pascal Rogé’s ‘mafia’ claims rejected as Rina Sala Gallo competition threatens legal action
6 October 2014
Pascal Rogé resigned from the jury after the semi final© Mary Robert
Participants read Rogé’s comments about their performances, made public on social media and Slipped Disc, before the final had taken place© Rina Sala Gallo Association
Rina Sala Gallo Association has called for Pascal Rogé to issue an apology after he abandoned his duties as jury member at the international piano competition in Monza.
The French pianist resigned from the jury after the semi final, accusing the Italian jury members of rigging the results.
Rogé wrote on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog: ‘It’s purely mathematic: you put three Italian jury members plus two more “very strongly Italian influenced” and then you have a “majority” that can manipulate the results to their whims.’ Rogé believed that the two best candidates were the Korean and Japanese candidates, who he claims were ‘far above’ the rest of the pianists.
Rogé called for more transparency within the voting system, suggesting that voting online via iPad did not provide enough information on the way the points were added or calculated. The jury comprised Riccardo Risaliti (Italy, president of the jury); Vovka Ashkenazy (Iceland-Russia); Jeffrey Biegel (USA); Nora Doallo (Argentina); Roberto Prosseda (Italy); Pascal Rogé (France); Graham Scott (UK).
Rogé said he was willing to bet ‘two magnums of Chianti’ that the top three prizewinners would be the Italian participants and concluded: ‘Does the word “Mafia” ring a bell?’ Rogé was correct: The Italian pianists Fiorenzo Pascalucci and Federica Bortoluzzi won first and second place respectively, while Japanese pianist Atsuko Kinoshita took third place. However, the results – now available in detail online – show that the marks Rogé awarded are inconsistent with his Slipped Disc statement. The competition says Rogé failed to respect competition rules, divulged false information and discredited the competition.
Prosseda told IP that the results speak for themselves. ‘In a democratic system the result stems from a combination of different points of view. All the marks are published online so everyone can check how we voted.
‘I’m not a professional juror and this was my first time on an international jury at a competition. The atmosphere was very relaxed and friendly. Mr Rogé was always on his own and I did not have any contact with him, so for this reason I was quite surprised when I read his statement. How could he know who was voting what?’
Prosseda says that it was very disruptive to read Rogé’s disparaging remarks about participants, who were mid-competition. ‘I cannot say if the competitors would have played in a different way, but of course they read Mr Rogé’s words before playing in the final. I am not here to judge any behaviour but the fact is that the rules of the competition were very clear: no juror had to say any comment to anybody about the competitors before the end. It was a strict rule that we obeyed. The jury should be at the service of the music.
‘I was astonished to see how many people on social media were commenting on this without any facts. It just lacks respect; we’re in the European Union, I don’t feel Italian, I am European. It’s stupid to equate Italians with Mafia.’
An official statement from the Rina Sala Gallo Association comments: ‘In three rounds, 46 in all, [Mr Roge] gave the highest mark 14 times and the lowest mark 21 times. However the official rules of the competition, which every juror received via e-mail, states clearly the elimination of the lowest and highest marks during the first three rounds of the competition. This also appears on the website.
‘As a result, the final outcome, which was based on the averaged combined marks for all three rounds, were entirely opposite to what he wanted and expected. He, thus, in the Third Round, managed to invalidate the votes he gave to Yano Yuta (10.00) and Yejin Noh (10.00), whereas his vote (8.50) for Atsuko Kinoshita, the candidate whose performance of Schubert and Debussy he denigrated on his Facebook page, and made known to all those who had access to it, actually facilitated her admission into the Final. Similarly, his intention to exclude Pascalucci and Bortoluzzi, the Italians he has alleged to have been “favoured” by the “mafia”, by giving them the lowest marks, also produced the diametrically opposite effect.
‘Maestro Rogé opted to turn the tables and promptly left, to discredit the work of his colleagues, who quite to the contrary, acted in accordance with the rules that they had accepted and signed.
‘In light of the above, the Rina Sala Gallo Association requires that Maestro Rogé issue an immediate, and written, apology for failing to fulfill the duties that his position required, i.e. to respect the rules, and for having abandoned the jury – unilaterally terminating the contract he had signed – and divulging false and misleading information, and discrediting the Competition, which will now make a legal claim for damages.’
Mozart piano sonata manuscript discovered in Hungary
1 October 2014
The manuscript to Mozart’s Piano Sonata No 11 in A major, K331 has been uncovered in Budapest. Musicologist Balazs Mikusi rediscovered the autograph in Budapest’s National Szechenyi Library, where the document had lain for many decades. Mozart is not believed to have ever visited Hungary and it is still a mystery how the manuscript wound up in the national library, established in 1802 by Count Ferenc Szechenyi.
The final page of the original manuscript has long been known to Mozart scholars, but no original manuscript of the rest of the piece had ever been seen in modern times. Mikusi, who curates the music collection at the National Szechenyi Library, found a substantive part of the A major piano sonata K331, composed in 1783, whose opening movement is beloved by music fans the world over.
The manuscript was revealed to the public on 26 September. Hungarian pianist and conductor Zoltan Kocsis played the sonata from the autograph at the National Szechenyi Library, performing on a modern-day fortepiano.
The Guardian has issued a plea to the library to make the manuscript available online.
Pianist prepares for Proms premiere with scales, finger exercises – and kung fu
4 September 2014
Andreas Haefliger has revealed that he practised kung fu ahead of his performance of a new concerto by Zhou Long at the Proms.
The centrepiece of Prom 61 on 2 September was the European premiere of Postures for piano and orchestra, written by Zhou Long and performed by Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, under the guiding hand of conductor Lan Shui. The composer, who was in the audience, wrote in the programme notes that he considers the piano ‘a rhythmic and hammered instrument’ and that Postures ‘reflects the movements of some animal gestures in kung fu’.
In an interview with IP, due to be published early next year, Haefliger revealed that his preparations for performing the work even included studying kung fu. This research enabled him to immerse himself in the rhythmic gestures that are vital to this music, particularly in the first movement, ‘Pianodance’, which uses a form of shaman dance from northeast China.
Postures demands a highly physical performance from the soloist. In the second movement, ‘Pianobells’, the pianist must strike the low strings inside the belly of the instrument, recalling the timbre of Chinese bells. The percussive writing reaches its zenith in the third and final movement, which reflects the Monkey King character of Peking Opera. Haefliger moved easily between the pianistic components to give a convincing performance.
This was one of the most exciting new piano concertos to be showcased in recent years and Long’s writing creatively aligns traditional elements with contemporary colour. After recent accusations that the BBC is editing out new music from Proms on television it is a shame to discover that this work is not slated for broadcast either. Happily, is it available to listen to via iPlayer for the following four weeks.
Apply now for the International German Piano Award
4 September 2014
Misha Namirovski won the prestigious prize earlier this year
The deadline for applications for the annual International German Piano Award is fast approaching, with the final cut off set for 28 November.
The award is open to pianists of all nationalities and takes place 16-18 April 2015 in Frankfurt. The first prize includes €20,000 plus a concert with Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra. There is also an audience prize of €2,000, plus a reward from Montblanc.
This year marks the competition’s fifth anniversary. Pianists are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, see here for more details.
This year’s winner was Misha Namirovski (pictured). Previous laureates include Amir Tebenikhin, Lukas Geniusas and Dmitri Levkovich.
The purpose of the International German Piano Award is to support artists who have an outstanding artistic expression. The association assists with concert schedules, the production of recordings, websites and marketing materials.
German-speaking readers may want to sign up for the organisation’s International Piano Forum newsletter to find out more about the competition and its ancillary events.