Leeds College of Music to host special André Tchaikowsky symposium
29 October 2013
André Tchaikowsky at the keyboard
Pianist and lecturer Nico de Villiers outlines the life and work of composer André Tchaikowsky ahead of a symposium at Leeds College of Music on 1 November
Arthur Rubinstein referred to Tchaikowsky as ‘one of the finest pianists of our generation’. Indeed, it was Rubinstein’s assistance – and the guidance of the impresario Sol Hurok – that launched Tchaikowsky’s international performing career. Tchaikowsky studied in Brussels with Polish pianist Stefan Askenase and composition with Nadia Boulanger. By 1960 he had established a rhythm between performance and composition, which he balanced with his great interest in the works of Shakespeare and playing bridge.
Tchaikowsky harboured a life-long dream to be an actor, and posthumously joined one of the world’s most famous theatre companies when he bequeathed his skull to the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). It was to be used – so he hoped – in stagings of Hamlet. However, due to red tape regarding human remains, only a copy of Tchaikowsky’s skull had been used. His real debut came 17 years after his death in the hands of actor David Tennant, who agreed to hold the actual skull on stage in an RSC run of Hamlet in Stratford-upon-Avon and London’s West End in 2009. The Royal Mail subsequently included a picture of Tennant holding Tchaikowsky’s skull aloft in a series of stamps celebrating the golden jubilee of the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2011.
Even though his music shows influences of composers like Bartók, Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Alban Berg, the individuality of Tchaikowsky’s work lies in its duality, which constantly seems to juxtapose opposites. From his earliest works he claims certain colours and gestures, which he reiterates throughout his small, yet excellent oeuvre, developing each idea through every compositional mutation. His love for linear structures interweaves and contrasts through contrapuntal and fugal writing, and the harmonic density is passionately counteracted with argumentative expressions. His scores often include the indication pizzicato in the piano, an instruction usually reserved for string instruments. His melodic writing is often wound around certain harmonies, which make any leaps very surprising. Aggressive spiky chords are often contrasted with sections indicated as mesto (sad). The colour palette ranges from nebulous and stratospheric floating sounds to earthy feet-pounding and frustrated dissonant sound clusters.
A constant struggle – be it extrovert in exclamation, or brooding and introvert – is constantly present in his works. Life as expressed through his compositions is indeed a task. He worded this notion in his diary entry of 12 January 1980, referring to 'the daily task of being human'.
As a concert pianist, the recordings Tchaikowsky made for the RCA Victor label adds up to ten in total. As he was reluctant to perform his own compositions, commercial recordings of his own interpretations do not exist, and there are a limited number of other commercial recordings of his compositions on the market. This therefore makes the attention currently paid to his life and work even more justified.
A leading figure in the writing of the story of André Tchaikowsky is Dr Anastasia Belina-Johnson, Classical Pathway Leader at Leeds College of Music. Belina-Johnson draws on Tchaikowsky’s diaries and correspondence, as well as her own research conducted in Warsaw, in order to paint a clear portrait of not only the composer and concert pianist, but also the troubled existence and personal insecurities of the man behind the music.
On 1 November Leeds College of Music will present a symposium in which the legacy of André Tchaikowsky is established further. As a part of celebrating Tchaikowsky’s birthday, Belina-Johnson’s book, A Musician Divided: André Tchaikowsky in his own Words as well as a disc of some of Tchaikowsky’s piano music (published respectively by Toccata Press and Toccata Classics) will be launched on the day.
Mark Charles’ documentary André Tchaikowsky and The Merchant of Venice will be shown for the first time and director David Pountney will join a panel to discuss Tchaikowsky, his opera, and its Bregenz Festival premiere.
The whole André Tchaikowsky project will culminate in a recital at the end of the symposium. Renowned pianist Colin Stone will perform Inventions for solo piano. This set of works comprises of 10 miniatures (11 if you include the alternative version of the fifth Invention), and are all sketches of Tchaikowsky’s friends and colleagues.
Distinguished clarinettist Janet Hilton will perform the Arioso and Fuga for solo clarinet as well as the Clarinet Sonata, joined by Leeds College of Music lecturer and German pianist, Jakob Fichert. Before I perform the piano sonata of 1958, McCaldin and I will perform the Seven Shakespeare Sonnets. The recital is to be concluded by a performance of Tchaikowsky’s piano trio, Trio Notturno, to be performed by three Leeds College of Music lecturers: violinist Sebastian Müller, cellist Alfia Nakipbekova and myself.
The legacy of André Tchaikowsky symposium is presented by
Leeds College of Music on 1 November
Bösendorfer celebrates 185 years of piano making
25 October 2013
Austrian piano manufacturer Bösendorfer marked its 185th anniversary this week with the production of its 50,000th instrument.
At a press conference held at Vienna’s Musikverein, Brian Kemble, managing director for Bösendorfer spoke of the company’s continued commitment to craftsmanship on home soil. ‘We’re more Austrian than ever before; the entire manufacturing process takes place here – we have 114 staff in total – we have recently sourced an Austrian frame [for the pianos] and the rim of the soundboard is also Austrian spruce.’
The company was founded by Ignaz Bösendorfer in 1828 and its
instruments were inextricably linked to the Viennese style exemplified by
Mozart and Schubert. Following a period of ownership by BAWAG, Bösendorfer was
acquired by Yamaha in 2007. The Japanese owner demonstrated its dedication to
Austrian production by purchasing the – previously rented – premises and all
pianos continue to be made by hand in the Wiener Neustadt factory.
Several Bösendorfer artists were present at the conference, including long-standing collaborator Paul Badura-Skoda, who commented: ‘As a pianist I grew up with the Bösendorfer sound; it is not the loudest piano in the world but it has the most beautiful sound – especially when I play Schubert. For me it is the exact quality and precision. The sound quality has not changed – not louder or more sensational. The Bösendorfer sound does not develop as quickly from the hammer to the string, but it lasts a little longer especially in the higher register.’
The piano maker specialises in art cases that appeal to collectors. The 50,000th special edition model evokes the interior of the Musikverein, Vienna’s historic concert hall. Like the hall, the instrument is bedecked with gold leaf and caryatids – although the final effect is softly neo-classical, in stark contrast to the recent Bechstein ‘golden grand’ (‘The design to my taste was completely over the top’, remarks Kemble). The piano is a 225 model that sports four extra keys in the bass to contra F. On average a Bösendorfer takes a year to make and special models can take considerably longer. So ‘Opus No 50.000’ did not exactly roll off the production line. (In fact, Kemble reveals that it was only just completed in time for the launch).
One of Bösendorfer’s main challenges is to position itself against Steinway. The brand has found a dedicated ambassador in Valentina Lisitsa. The pianist, who has a dedicated army of online followers, has introduced a new audience to Bösendorfer and brings the instrument to international concert halls that might not usually favour the Austrian maker. The company now plans to take a more active role in competitions and institutions. ‘We are a boutique manufacturer and we don’t have plans to take over the piano world, but we do feel strongly there should be a diversity of sound,’ said Kemble. ‘We would like to expand, but small incremental growth’. Kemble did not provide a direct answer to questions on the company’s financial security, but did say the financial year-end summary looked ‘promising’.
Artists including Lisitsa and Badura-Skoda performed at a commemorative concert attended by Bösendorfer staff and dealers.
RNCM to award pianist András Schiff a Fellowship
18 October 2013
Three distinguished musicians and educators have been chosen as Fellows of the RNCM (FRNCM) and two of the College’s supporters as Honorary Members (HonRNCM). Hungarian pianist András Schiff will be granted the Fellowship during his concert at the RNCM on 19 November, where he will perform The Well-tempered Clavier Book 1.
Professor Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Principal of the Royal Academy of Music, and Dr Paul Goodey, Director of Performance at the RNCM, will both be awarded Fellowships during the College’s annual Congregation of Awards, held on 3 December. Dr Ursula Jones, co-founder of the English Chamber Orchestra, and Dr Joyce Kennedy, author of several books about opera, will become Honorary Members during the December ceremony.
Since 1974, the RNCM has awarded numerous Fellowships
and Honorary Memberships to world-renowned musicians, conductors, composers,
educators, and advocates, including Placido Domingo, Sir John Dankworth, Dame
Joan Sutherland, Dame Janet Baker, Sir Mark Elder, Hans Werner Henze and Sir
REVIEW: Benjamin Grosvenor at Wigmore Hall, London
17 October 2013
The Wigmore Hall’s acoustic sometimes constricts pianists with 3000-seater tones – but it shows off Benjamin Grosvenor’s infinitely nuanced sound at its luminous best. Here the 21-year-old British star proved beyond a doubt the pure-gold quality of his sonic imagination and his ability to realise it. He can transport his listeners to new dimensions in a way that this reviewer can compare only to a young Krystian Zimerman – palpable in his sublimely controlled Schubert G flat Impromptu, or Mompou’s sensuous Paisajes, where the voicing reached extraordinary levels of mastery.
Schumann’s Humoresque was a bold choice: a baffling work
that is too rarely performed. Grosvenor rose to all its challenges. Though
notorious for ‘not hanging together’, it cohered brilliantly; he created rapt
atmospheres, kept busy textures airy, yet defined the character of each
episode, his clarity of touch illuminating the intricate contrapuntal writing.
Medtner’s Two Fairytales needed extra earthiness, but never lacked charm; and after a shimmering account of Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, Liszt’s Paraphrase on the Waltz from Gounod’s Faust found Grosvenor swashbuckling with the finest virtuosi, delivering enough schwung to floor every Fledermaus in town. Mendelssohn’s Andante and Rondo Capriccioso was an engaging opener, risking all at quicksilver tempo; the Albeniz/Godowsky Tango made a tasty encore. Once Grosvenor also controls the silences at his conclusions, he’ll get the standing ovations he deserves.
Documentary about composer and pianist Michael Hersch to receive first screening
11 October 2013
The Sudden Pianist, a documentary by Richard Anderson about composer and pianist Michael Hersch, will be screened at the New York City Independent Film Festival on 19 October at the Producers’ Club. The film, which was also an official selection for the 2013 American Documentary Film Festival in Palm Springs, presents an intimate depiction of Hersch, who now rarely performs in public. A trailer of the film is available here.
The documentary features exclusive interviews and footage of Hersch performing his music, from his 1999 Carnegie Hall recital debut through to the present day. Directly after the screening, Hersch will play selections from The Vanishing Pavilions, a piece featured in the film, in the Michael Hersch Portrait Concert at the DiMenna Center for the Arts, marking his second public performance in New York in the last ten years.