Alice Herz-Sommer, pianist and oldest known survivor of the Holocaust, has died aged 110
26 February 2014
Pianist Alice Herz-Sommer, the oldest known survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who became an icon through her positive outlook, died on 23 February aged 110.
Born in Prague in 1903 Herz-Sommer suffered four years of oppression after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, followed by two more in Terezín, the garrison town turned concentration camp outside Prague. There, Herz-Sommer gave well over a hundred concerts. When liberation was followed by further oppression under the Communists, she and her son, later to make his own name as the cellist Raphael Sommer, moved to Israel, where she established a reputation as an outstanding teacher.
A CD of private recordings made by Herz-Sommer in her 60s, 70s and 80s was released on ‘AHS Recordings’ with the German edition of her biography in 2006. They revealed that, hidden behind this story of miraculous survival, she was also one of the great pianists of the past century. Herz-Sommer was a ‘grand-student’ of Liszt, having studied with Conrad Ansorge, one of Liszt’s later disciples.
Herz-Sommer’s basic philosophy – ‘Life is beautiful’ – enabled her to draw strength even from the many adversities that confronted her over the years. In his recently published interview with Herz-Sommer, Martin Anderson observed: ‘You come away from a visit to Alice feeling younger yourself, with a spring in your step: she is not religious, but she radiates gratitude for being alive and her conversation is infused with a profound human decency.’
REVIEW: Charles Owen, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, Milton Court, London
19 February 2014
Charles Owen© John Batten
The newly opened Milton Court hosted a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations BWV 988 as part of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Faculty Artist Series – Charles Owen, professor of piano at the Guildhall, chose to play all the repeats.
Each movement had its individual character but we never lost sight of the overall progression of the journey. Charles Owen is a pianist who makes spontaneous decisions and is prepared to take a risk in performance and thus breathe new life into a familiar work. The mesmeric una corda-inspired sound world he conjured up in Variation 19 was unique, for example. Owen employs instinctive pacing, epitomised in Variations 10 – when he irresistibly conducted with his free right hand the stating of the subject before it too joined in the Fughetta – and in Variation 14, which couldn’t contain its excitement and almost exploded onto the scene.
There were a few moments, to my ear, in the early Variations when the rhythmic discipline of left hand accompaniments nearly overstated the independence of the hands; but otherwise they combined to produce the desired effect whether it was playfulness in dance, jubilant flourish or sparkling cascade.
Milton Court is a state-of-the-art concert hall and musicians can ‘tune’ the hall acoustically by manipulating wooden panels and other such devices. In fact, the acoustic was left in default mode, with the pianist choosing only to set the gentle tone of the lighting for this evening. By the end, the hall was illumined with stars – the characters we had got to know on our shared journey.
The Faculty Artist Series continues with an evening celebrating the life of James Gibb (1918 – 2013), former Head of Keyboard Studies at the Guildhall School on 21 February
Harold Taylor, author of The Pianist’s Talent, has died
6 February 2014
Essential reading: The Pianist's Talent by Harold Taylor
The pianist Harold Taylor (1925-2014) who died on 24 January will be perhaps best remembered for his widely admired book, The Pianist's Talent (Kahn and Averill) in which he seeks to reconcile the teachings of F Matthias Alexander and Raymond Thiberge, and is a fine and precise study of the art of teaching and performing.
Taylor was born in Macclesfield in 1925 and graduated from the Royal Manchester College of Music (now the RNCM) followed by later studies in Paris under Thiberge and Alfred Cortot. He subsequently developed a career as pianist, lecturer-recitalist, writer and teacher, and as Head of Music at Bromsgrove College was responsible for running the Bromsgrove Festival.
His knowledge of pianism and pianists was encyclopaedic and he brought to his teaching both expertise and a sympathetic understanding.
Wanted: 19th century Broadwood piano for Elizabeth Gaskell’s house
5 February 2014
Novellist Elizabeth Gaskell's house during restoration© Lee Baxter
Renovators of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Manchester home are seeking a donation of a mid-19th century Broadwood demi grand piano and have called on International Piano readers to help.
The Victorian writer’s property has been authentically refurbished and will reopen to the public in October. Living at 84 Plymouth Grove for 15 years until her death in 1865, Gaskell and her husband entertained contemporaries including Charles Dickens.
Part of the £2.5m restoration has involved research into how the house looked when the family resided there. Curators are seeking a Broadwood demi grand piano because this was the model that Charles Hallé used to teach Elizabeth Gaskell’s daughters at the house. The instrument will take pride of place in the drawing room and will be used for musical and educational events. The donor will be fully credited alongside other sponsors of the house.
If you are able to help, please contact John Williams, project manager for Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s House at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royal Northern College of Music pianists set new world record
28 January 2014
Students from the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) have broken the Guinness World Record for the largest number of pianists playing the same instrument simultaneously.
The musicians performed five-minute work Ticcatoccatina for 32 hands – that’s 16 pianists! – composed by postgraduate composer Tom Harrold. The performance took place at the RNCM in Manchester last Thursday. The group successfully beat the current world record set by 15 musicians in Vallouise, France on 13 June 2004.
The World Record attempt was held in aid of Your RNCM, the College’s £3m campaign to transform its 40-year-old Concert Hall into a state-of-the-art venue. The event was sponsored by International Piano magazine and witnessed by Murray McLachlan.
The pianists involved were Daria Bitsiuk, David Bainbridge, Yun Chen, Greta-Nike Gasser, David Gibson, Lee Jae Phang, Pui Lau, Silvia Lucas Rodriguez, Lok Pang, Ben Parker, Simon Passmore, Daniel Portal, Graham Proctor, Ho Kwong, Matthew Shervey and Chun So.