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.
Lang Lang wins International Artist of the Year at Classic Brits
3 October 2013
Lang Lang: International Artist of the Year© JM Enternational
Lang Lang has won International Artist of the Year at the Classic Brit Awards 2013, held at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
The pianist – who opened the ceremony with a rousing rendition of Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ from Gayane, with violinist Nicola Benedetti – was praised for his efforts in broadening the popularity of the piano. Through his volunteer work with children he is said to have encouraged more than 40 million children in China to learn to play the instrument.
Dressed in a deep red suit, Lang Lang accepted the accolade with obvious enthusiasm and took to the stage again for a solo performance of Chopin’s Grand valse brilliant Op 18, complete with the flashing lights and abstract visuals that often accompany his artistry.
Pianists were to the fore at this year’s event: Daniel Barenboim received Male Artist of the Year, and sent a video acceptance message in his absence. Ludovico Einaudi performed Experience from In a Time Lapse and was nominated for Composer of the Year, but missed out to Hans Zimmer, who performed a medley of his recent film scores at the piano, supported by the London Chamber Orchestra.
Elsewhere, Nicola Benedetti triumphed as the winner of Female Artist of the Year and German operatic tenor Jonas Kaufmann won the Critic’s Award. The event closed with a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, whose posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to his widow Nicoletta Mantovani by one of the remaining Three Tenors, José Carreras.
The Classic Brits – formally ‘Classical Brits’ – have been dubbed 'unashamedly populist' and ‘fundamentally tacky’ by cultural commentators. Last year the critic Paul Morley wrote that ‘the ceremony was the bewildered, if sparkly love child, of the Eurovision song contest and the Last Night of the Proms, with somehow a dash of the 1970s Miss World, Brucie’s Strictly Come Dancing, and William and Kate’s wedding’. Benedetti used her award acceptance speech to urge viewers to listen beyond the music on offer at the ceremony.
The awards will be broadcast on ITV, Sunday 6 October at 10:20pm