The Estonian Piano Orchestra – broadcast review
25 June 2011
The Estonian Piano Orchestra, brainchild of
member Lauri Vainmaa, was created ten years ago by combining four piano-duet
teams, and promptly commissioned new works from local composers. Cunningly, perhaps, the best came
first. Jaan Raats’s ten-minute Concerto Op 126 – upbeat, motoric, foot-tapping
– recalled John Adams: piano teams anywhere, please repeat. Ulo Krigul’s bleak and unexpectedly
sparse 14-minute Aquaspherics introduced more adventurous techniques, some of
them (delicate, and scarcely audible) from inside the piano. One effect, a cascade of top-register
twitterings spiralling down the keyboards and falling off the bottom, recurred
in Urmas Sisask’s Voices of the Universe, Op 88 and formed one of that piece’s
best moments: elsewhere the material was – disappointingly, for such a cosmic
title – commonplace, and its 20 minutes failed to cohere.
The whole programme was completed by a non-piano interlude (Erkki-Sven Tuur’s orchestral Cystallisato), Sisask’s Ave Maria, and the best-known solo piano piece (Für Alina) of Estonia’s best-known composer, Arvo Pärt. Piano ensembles have a long history, studded with famous names like Czerny, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Grainger, Stravinsky and Orff. They deserve a separate article – meanwhile, the Estonian Piano Orchestra proudly displays a small country punching well above its weight. I look forward to its next commissions.
Gear up for a Prom-com
21 June 2011
Why did the chicken cross Kensington Road? To get to the Albert Hall, of course.
Aussie pianist-comedian Tim Minchin (pictured) hosts a Proms first on 13 August – a Comedy Prom. If Minchin’s previous form is anything to go by, you might have to take some extra pants. The prom also features BBC’s Maestro winner Sue Perkins and cabaret duo Kit and the Widow.
Some stuffed shirts might say the world’s greatest music festival is no place for laughter, but British pianist Danny Driver, who is taking part in the evening, says: ‘Music can encompass and express the entire gamut of human emotion and experience and this surely includes humour. I think it’s rather nice when audience members chuckle (quietly!) when the music being played takes a comical turn.’ He adds: ‘Such moments are to be found in anything from Bach to Ligeti. Haydn and CPE Bach, for instance, often indulge in deceptive trickery with sudden pauses and unexpected harmonic progressions; Bartók ridicules Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in his Concerto for Orchestra. Where there is humorous intention in a score, I don’t hesitate to bring it out, though always with good taste and a sense of appropriate balance in mind.’
On the night Driver says we can expect some surprises: ‘Reizenstein’s Concerto Popolare is a hodge-podge of themes from several famous piano concertos. However, the orchestra and soloist don’t always agree on which one is to be played at any given moment. A few popular tunes also make appearances, disguised to a greater or lesser extent, sometimes behaving badly, sometimes actually “infecting” parts of a well-known piano concerto.’
But the comedy element has a serious point too. Says Driver: ‘Comedy is not just about laughter, it’s also a deeply probing form of social commentary. Listening to the Concerto Popolare and its lampoonery of the “greatest hits for piano and orchestra”, and we might be faced by some surprisingly serious questions: why do we listen to certain works and not others, and how do we listen to them?’ So, not time to stick on the red nose and pull out the custard pie just yet...
Artur Pizarro to perform London recital to help the homeless
31 May 2011, London
Acclaimed concert pianist Artur Pizarro is to perform an exclusive recital at Chappell of Bond Street, London, on 30 June featuring works by Chopin, Debussy and Ravel.
Only 45 tickets are available and the event is the second in Chappell’s 200th anniversary fundraising concert series in aid of Centrepoint, the leading charity for homeless young people.
The evening will be hosted by presenter Mark Goodier, who will provide audience members with the opportunity to meet and hear Artur Pizarro discuss his chosen repertoire.
Tickets for this one-off event are £50.
Doors and pre-concert drinks/canapés from 7pm. Recital at
To book tickets, please contact Ruth Eldridge: firstname.lastname@example.org or Steve Parslow: email@example.com
International Piano magazine goes digital
23 May 2011
International Piano magazine is now available via digital subscription and as an app for the iPad and iPhone.
Digital subscriptions cost £24.99 for six issues and are available through distributor PocketMags.
The International Piano app for iPhone and iPad can be downloaded for £1.99,
and comes with one free issue of the purchaser's choice: further single
issues or subscriptions may be purchased within the app.
All subscribers are entitled to an accompanying e-subscription of the magazine.
All change at the International Tchaikovsky Competition
28 April 2011, Moscow
Historically fraught with controversy and claims of cloudy voting systems, the International Tchaikovsky Competition is nonetheless one of the most prestigious events on the classical music calendar, its former winners including Van Cliburn, Vladimir Ashkenazy and Boris Berezovsky.
And now its muddy past looks set to change, at least according to Richard Rodzinski, the competition’s new general director and former director of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition (pictured, middle).
‘It had fallen into disrepair,’ says Rodzinski. ‘There was this perception that it was dominated by conservatory professors and that the voting system wasn’t as transparent as it could have been.’ Rodzinski believes the competition was on its way to losing its international prestige.
So this year, there are new rules and a whole new set of conditions. Featuring 30 pianists, 27 violinists, 25 cellists and 40 singers (aged between 16 and 32), the competition takes place from 15 to 30 June in Moscow with a total prize fund of €300,000. Among the entrants are several world-renowned performers, all chosen by an independent jury (the piano jury includes Ashkenazy, Bronfman and Barry Douglas).
The main thing the jury is looking for this year, according to Rodzinski, is communicators: ‘People whose technique you take for granted but who are very good, well-rounded personalities. People who you would want to buy a ticket to see.’ He says the auditions have been promising so far: ‘From the screening auditions we can see that the standards are very high.’ There is still great difference in nationalities. For example, this year’s piano class is largely dominated by Russians; but there are only two Russian cellists. There are no British finalists across the whole competition.
There are also changes to the prizes on offer. ‘In the past they just gave you a medal, said “good luck” and hoped commercial management would pick you up,’ says Rodzinski. ‘Now we are focusing on offering the laureates
three years of guaranteed management [from Opus 3 and Intermusica] and hundreds of engagements [at performances conducted by chairman Valery Gergiev]. We are opening the door to a career now.’
Some of the competitors’ names might look a little familiar, many of them already enjoying a degree of international success. Russian Eduard Kunz is a competition veteran, having won the Grand Prix of the George Enescu Competition in Bucharest, the Paderewski International Piano Competition and the Richter Award from the Rostropovich Foundation. The South Korean Yeol Eum Son has already won silver at the Van Cliburn Competition and recorded for Universal, and Yunjie Chen scooped first prize in China’s National Piano Competition at the tender age of 12.
Others to watch in the piano class include the Russian former Liszt Competition winner Arseny Aristov and jazz pianist, singer and composer Andrew Tyson from New York, whose Chopin Competition entry prompted judges to say he was not so much playing Chopin as ‘recreating Chopin’. Praise indeed.
Report by Hazel Davis