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.
Newly formed Ernö Dohnányi Society seeks members
28 January 2014
Erno Dohnanyi (1877-1960)© Tully Potter Collection
A society dedicated to the music of Ernö Dohnányi (1877-1960) has been formed, with pianist Martin Roscoe named as honorary president. The group, which is currently internet-based, plans to adopt a formal constitution and organise regular meetings in due course.
Roscoe, who has been championing Dohnányi for many years, believes that the repertoire has much to offer: ‘I think he is a composer who deserves to be better known; there are only a handful of pieces that are ever played. For example, the Variations on a Nursery Song used to be a popular piece in the 1950s but it only gets a rare outing now.
‘The repertoire is beautifully crafted, it has a lot of variety and although it comes from the grand Romantic tradition of Liszt and Brahms there is an individuality that speaks to audiences. And there is a lot of piano music; I’m in the process of recording it for Hyperion – I start recording the third disc in April and the final one in May next year. A lot of it is approachable for amateur players, although some is extremely difficult.
‘There is also some fantastic chamber music – and two piano concertos,’ adds Roscoe. ‘Dohnányi was a hugely important figure in the first half of the 20th century in Europe as a pianist, conductor and composer, and as head of the Franz Liszt Academy he taught many famous pianists such as Annie Fischer. A colossal figure.’
Those interested in becoming members are invited to contact Tom Teague at firstname.lastname@example.org or Robert Aston at email@example.com.
REVIEW: Boris Berezovsky, International Piano Series 2013-14, Royal Festival Hall, London
16 January 2014
International Piano Series 2013-14
Boris Berezovsky opened his Southbank recital with an unexpected reading of Reflets dans l’eau and Mouvement from Debussy’s Images Book 1, before he embarked on the published programme.
The insertion was disarming, introducing us to the sound world through a different door from that we anticipated. Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit picked up the watery theme of tonight’s opener and added a darker shade to the setting for the water-nymph Ondine’s other-worldliness. The contradictory elements of Ondine’s complex character – latent and then frenetic devilish power and her tragic slinking exit – were captured convincingly.
In his selection of Rachmaninov’s Preludes, Op 32 Berezovsky battled the piano’s tendency to produce a muddy texture in big chordal passages, but there was pathos when the left hand brought out the melody. The Sonata No 2 in B flat minor was also moving and the music was never secondary to the virtuosity, allowing the lyricism of the second movement and the building momentum towards the climax of the third to speak for themselves.
We were treated to encores. October from Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons contained some lovely accompaniment but the melody could have lingered more. Liszt’s Concert Study Gnomenreingen suits Berezovsky down to the ground. He took it at an incredibly fast pace with a brilliant lightness of touch; diminutive dancers darted straight out of his fingertips.
REVIEW: András Schiff’s 60th birthday concert at Wigmore Hall
13 January 2014
‘We are the luckiest 550 people in London tonight’ exclaimed John Gilhooly, director of the Wigmore Hall, at András Schiff’s 60th birthday concert on 21 December. Birthday presents are usually offered to the celebrant, but here it was the audience who received a very special gift, the Goldberg and the Diabelli Variations performed by one of the world’s most inspiring artists. At the close of the recital, Schiff received the prestigious Gold Medal of the Royal Philharmonic Society, presented by the HRH the Duke of Kent. Gilhooly, chairman of both the Wigmore Hall and the RPS, highlighted Schiff’s achievements as pianist, educator, and festival director and praised him alongside earlier gold medallists Rubinstein, Horowitz, Arrau, Brendel and Uchida.
Schiff’s programme choice was symbolic: he made his Wigmore debut in 1978 with the Goldberg Variations, and his interpretations of Bach since then have become legendary. By contrast it is only in the last two years that he has performed and recorded the Diabelli Variations, following a much-lauded Beethoven sonata cycle on CD and concert platform. Performing those monumental works side by side underlined their special connection: Beethoven’s 33 variations were both inspired by and aimed to surpass Bach’s 32 variations (counting the Arias).
The concert was mesmeric from start to finish. Alert to every characterisation and contrast imaginable, each individual variation was full of detail, colour, shading and voicing. The 80-minute journey traversed a lifetime of experience with a myriad of moods: lilting and dance-like, quicksilver and racy, contrapuntally steely or springy, the textures finely layered to bring out each line of the canons, ornamentation both delicate and, as with trills and mordents, more emphatic. The passagework flowed seamlessly from one keyboard extreme to the other, shifting from the ebullient and optimistic to the contemplative and reflective.
Overall the brief fast variations (such as the breathtaking toccata-like var. 20) astonished. Schiff became an explorer, pushing at the boundaries of sound and colour. This was especially evident in the tender ‘Alla breve’ var. 22, and the expressive heart of the set, var. 25, played as an expansive nocturne with an air of inner mystique, the chromatic sinewy voicing creating an ambivalent angst that delighted in its own anguish.
Romanticism of a different cast took flight with the Diabelli, a masterly account full of Bachian polyphonic felicities, both tender and ebullient, and shot through with Schumannesque oppositions. The abrupt contrasts of dynamics as from the initial majestic march to the quieter third variation (Beethoven’s original variation 1 from his first 1819 version), was vividly presented. The rumbling bass figures that add ominous chromaticism were handled with just the right emphasis – above all Schiff does not dwell on gestures, and his sound colour is clear, lucid – eschewing any type of pedal blurring. In contrast with the Beethovenian soundworlds of greats like Kempff and Schnabel, Schiff’s sonority self-consciously aims at that of a ‘restorer’, an idea pursued in his double Diabelli recording on two early pianos from 1821 and 1921. Overall this was a reading with finely drawn characters and moods – exhilarating energy in the fast movements, and flowing impressionism in slower variations.
At one point during the witty var. 13, with dry chord pairs swapping high and low registers, one of the pregnant silences was interrupted by an audience member’s loud coughing: unperturbed by this invasive interruption Schiff smiled at the audience to remark ‘very good’ and at a similar silence a few seconds later, gave a telling look; eliciting further audience laughter; it was his way of telling us to relax before switching to the restraint of the ensuing var. 14 with its double dotted rhythms that commanded rapt attention. Further humour emerged in the Mozart parody of var. 22 with uncanny harmonic detail in the glistening grupetti. The final group of variations achieved a visionary sense of arrival and climax, the three purposeful minor variations followed by a tongue-in-cheek fugue that featured startling new voices; the final ethereal minuet attained translucent heights, highlighting its connections to the Arietta of Op. 111.
Indeed we almost believed Schiff when he joked that he was going to play Op. 111 as an encore, but he instead regaled us with a magical miniature, composed in memory of his mother by György Kurtág, his friend and mentor, present in the audience, also a recipient of the RPS Award. It symbolised Schiff’s unique artistic achievement, one which, while saluting its origins, also looked ahead to the future. On the occasion of his 60th birthday we may all wish Andras Schiff many happy returns to the concert platform and, echoing HRH the Duke of Kent’s congratulatory remarks, ‘many more years of glorious music making’.
Piano teachers use crowd funding site to commission new works for pupils
9 January 2014
Commissioning new music is not without expense and heartache, but that hasn’t deterred teachers Betty and Stephen Power from creating contemporary music for their pupils. This year the Powers plan to commission a work from rising star Charlotte Bray and are seeking support online for the funds to pay for it.
The Powers are members of the Cambridge Suzuki Young Musicians (CSYM), a small group of students and parents that has commissioned works from a variety of leading composers including Graham Fitkin, Colin Matthews and Rachel Stott. CSYM pupils were given the opportunity to rehearse with the composers in workshops and masterclasses, and to premiere the pieces in public concerts. Previously, this activity has been funded by a grant from the Britten-Pears Foundation, but the group has now established a ‘crowd funding’ web site to raise funds for the latest commission.
‘Over the past twelve years we have held summer schools where our students have had contact with living composers,’ explains Stephen Power. ‘In 2010 we asked seven composers to write 2-piano pieces for us. We raised money through concerts, practice-a-thons, and were helped with five of the composers by the Britten-Pears Foundation. The intention was to have a set of pieces, one at around Grade 4/5 standard, most around 6/7, and one Grade 8/diploma, that would follow the examples set by Bartók in Microkosmos. Composers Martin Butler, Gary Carpenter, Phil Cashian, Michael Zev Gordon, Colin Matthews, Tarik O’Regan and Rachel Stott produced some wonderful pieces that I hope will someday be taken up by one publisher. Some have been published separately.’
Power met Bray at a concert given by Aldeburgh Young Musicians at Snape Maltings in Suffolk. He invited her to work with his students last summer and there Bray coached the students in her Urban Nocturne for two pianos, and six of her pieces as well as composition. Power believes that it is vital for young people to play contemporary music from an early age, despite the difficulties in securing the necessary resources.
‘Funding has never been easy, and I do think that crowd funding will be useful in the future. Not only to raise money for commissions, but also as a means to spread the word about this music: music that can be played by students, and that is of high quality and uncompromising, deserving a wide dissemination.’
Power hopes that crowd funding – combined with fundraising through pupil concerts and the generosity of audience and family – will raise enough for the Bray commission and for his next project; a commission for a piece for four pianos by Graham Fitkin for 2015.
You can support the project here.