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Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century

The recently published compilation “Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century” contains nine contemporary solo piano pieces from internationally renowned composers. All of the works in the collection draw their inspiration from 20th and 21st-century artworks. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell spoke with the publisher Nikolas Sideris about the project, who also shared his beliefs about society and the music industry in general.

Sideris and Editions Musica Ferrum generously give access to complete scores of new piano pieces from the compilation that are available to download and print for Piano Street members.

Digital scores to download and print:
No. 7: Aaron Miller: Beyond Icarus Scott

No. 9: Nikolas Sideris: The Kids are our Future

(Available for Piano Street Gold members.)

Printed scores
The complete book is available to order from Editions Musica Ferrum

Listen to the recordings by Myrto Akrivou of all nine pieces here.

Nikolas Sideris is a Greek composer famous for not only his classical compositions but also his work for the soundtracks of popular video games. He currently lives in London, England, and composes and publishes music there. He compared the inspiration he experienced in putting together “Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century” to the state of society and what he sees as a spreading global crisis. Sideris maintains that this crisis stems from the instantaneous dissemination of opinions, both well-reasoned and toxic, that is possible through the Internet. Born in 1977, he has always been interested in the decades of the 1960s and the 1970s. He calls this score of years “the time of absolute heroes¨. During that time, statesmen, top models and movie stars, first-rate popular musicians, and even Nobel laureates had much more of an impact on society than their counterparts today. Sideris says that the great leaders in all categories, not just those he listed, are gone, which has changed the basic direction of society. Now, the general public seeks to lead itself instead of being led. Sideris firmly believes that the public has failed and is now not only dissatisfied with the situation but also with itself.

Interview with Nikolas Sideris

Patrick Jovell: How do you see art in a commercial context?

Nikolas Sideris: We are demanding a sort of international commercial market for the survival of the fittest in a way.

This is again a worldwide problem where you get all kinds of symphonic orchestras closing down – in the U.S, for example. But it almost makes sense, I mean; I can understand the value of art certainly as a composer and a publisher and everything. But, art should have a way to sustain itself on its own. It shouldn’t be dependent on handouts from the government or from funds, and this is what I’m trying to do. I’m completely independent. I don’t have any money coming in from any government or funds or whatever. It’s all based on the quality of what I produce; the physical quality and the aesthetic quality.

PJ: One fact in the crisis of the U.S orchestras is that the sponsor generations now, the rich families has changed preferences. The younger generation of sponsors like rock ‘n’ roll. So, what can be done?

NS: Well, there have been attempts in making some sort of a hybrid mode of classical music and rock ‘n’ roll or merging classical and a little metal, or some rap and so on. I don’t think that his is working truly. We need to have a very clear idea of the major differences between the classical music, live music, and pop music. Pop music is being creative, created and produced to exist as a recorded means. So it’s perfect in any way to listen to it on a CD, in MP3, streaming on your iPad, iPhone, iPod or “iWhatever”. Classical music still goes on being a live event. It’s an event, it’s a social event.

I find it being completely different and two completely different forms of art. We call both music, but it shouldn’t be. How can you compare theatre to cinema or photography to painting? We should clearly distinguish between what is recorded music and what is live music.

PJ: According to worldwide statistics, evidently, the live concert is getting more and more popular compared to recorded music.

NS: Exactly, which is declining constantly. We try to pass it as real music, as real-life music, We use all sorts of techniques in the studio to give the impression that you are in the hall right now listening to that pianist, but it’s not the same and deeply inside I think we understand that and we devalue the recording itself. So there is a strong sense of value in going to listen to a pianist playing live. There is a vital difference, and unless we can actually understand that and respect that, I’m not sure where we’re heading.

PJ: You did fund “Beauty and Hope” through crowd funding like many do these days. Can you tell me a little about that?

NS: I didn’t want to find a sponsor. I wanted people to show their interest in the project. I wanted to get enough money; more like a pre-sale rather than a formal or fixed pattern project on paying something. So, my way was; “I’m going to do this, I have this plan so if you want, just pre-buy this music, the CD or whatever and help me out with this.¨

PJ: Who are the funders, do you know anything about the people supporting you?

NS: Quite a lot, not everybody, but I know a lot through various forums and Facebook and Twitter and through the online communities I’m part of. Also, a few Greek people who were reluctant to use their credit card saw that in the end, in the last day, I was forced to put a few thousand pounds that were given to me hand by hand from people who were not really sure how to do that. So, in total, there were officially 97 people, but actually there were around more than 112 people involved in the total funding.

PJ: You started the Editions Musica Ferrum in 2012, and your intention was that you had to get motivation to keep being a composer yourself. Your aim is to find composers working with you, under your umbrella. How is your philosophy as an editor?

NS: I’m very open to what I publish because I pay attention to small things on my musical criteria, what I love listening to. Something that I would love to listen to or play. Everybody is a living composer, and I’m dealing with around 50 living composers internationally. Composers come from Brazil, Columbia, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, UK, Greece and I need to know that they respect what I do. I respect what they do and so we can communicate.

Once in a while, I try to get a project that will sell well because not everything will start selling, it won’t go off the shelves immediately. I know that it takes an enormous amount of time to get things out there. So I’m being patient, I have a few projects which are running quite well, which generate enough income to keep us going.

PJ: Do you have an emphasis when it comes to chamber music, instrumental or choral music?

NS: It tends to go for piano because I’m a pianist myself. But under no circumstances, I’m just catering to that. For example I published a solo bassoon piece by Fabio Gianolla, and it’s an incredible piece, ancient Italian dances and modern dances. So it has a few dances of the old and a tango and dance from the Aborigines in Australia, and it’s fabulous work. It was worth getting it out. Chamber music or orchestral stuff yes, but again there is a limit in the sense of how much orchestral stuff I can do. Because I know that it won’t sell to the general public unless I can find a way to pitch it to different orchestras, it will not generate money. You have to think about money as well. But of course, I have a few orchestral works and I’m expecting more to come later on. It’s a combination of everything.

PJ: Are you an acting part when the composer is receiving commissions, or is it handled by the composer himself/herself?

NS: Well, the composer is more inclined generally because that would be a job for an agent and I’m not an agent by any means. I can’t be an agent of 50 people, especially as I’m a publisher and a composer myself. But for example, “The Beauty and Hope in the 21st century Score” was a commission from me to another eight composers plus myself. And there are a couple of more projects and ideas coming on which are invitations for more composers to take part. So, that also works.

PJ: Let’s talk about the pianist in the project; Myrto Akrivou. I understand that you knew her from years back?

NS: Not too many years. I moved back to Athens – I was in London from 2004 to 2008 – I did my PhD. When I got back, I realized that there are no opportunities for composers in Greece, and because I really wanted to present my music in the best possible way, I launched Musica Ferrum. Amidst launching it and trying to get it presented to more people, I started going to concerts and this is where I met with Myrto through this friend. We started working on some duets of mine which I call ¨Piano Stories¨ and they eventually got an award in Luxembourg in 2013 (in an International composition competition), so that went well.

Then I had this idea that it’s going to be a grand project, we’re going to get Myrto to Athens, and we’re going to do the recording, we’re going to do the CD, and they are going to be not so very hard pieces. Maybe I lied, I mean, they are definitely hard to play (laughs). She was reluctant at first, but then she gave in. She was a real collaborator because we worked in many different ways together. She wasn’t just the pianist, and she got the gig to do the recording. This is what I really wanted Myrto, because I knew that we would work really close together.

No. 3: “The Voice of the People” Carlos Alvarez Torno performed by Myrto Akrivou:

PJ: The contact between the music and the performer, I guess you gave this link free between the two to explore the material?

NS: I did obviously, I did ask them actually to keep it relatively slow, didn’t work really. But I did say at least try to keep pieces below 7 or 8 minutes in length so don’t write a 20-minute rhapsody (laughs). Besides you will not have enough time to learn it and it will be unfair to the rest, and there won’t be enough space in the CD. So limit yourseves. This commissioned the artists, the sketch artists came first, and I had received 8 out of the 9 illustrations. Because I had done the music before and art afterwards, I wanted to give a fair opportunity to the artists to fully express themselves and then add the music.

PJ: Also the sketch artists, they were working from different angles, didn’t they?

NS: Completely. I knew all three artists. We have worked together in the past and I knew for example that there’ll be a Pawlikowska (she’s an architect), so I knew she would go with that kind of way. I knew that William Chajin is a Colombian artist who was living in Japan, and he has a very political mind. So this goes to show in his art, and then Piero Pierini, I know his imagination and fantasy, also very political, but he went in a different way. A bit more social and philosophical maybe in his art. So it worked great as a correlation of everything.

PJ: So the main source is actually an idea which comes out from an artistic picture, a picturesque interpretation of the project so to speak.

NS: Then the music came. But again, I knew, and I trusted the artists, I trusted everything and the composers and the pianist. And I knew that I wouldn’t get a picture and make some music that goes to the picture, very descriptive and end it there. They were much more open about how to compose and I’m very proud of the result.

PJ: What were they inspired by in the artwork? Did you get any reactions on that?

NS: I had 8 out of the 9 illustrations and there were 9 composers and I couldn’t wait any longer, so I got all the images in an inviting website and I sent an email to all and told them: “Go on, register and pick the one you want¨. I was going to be left with the last. I didn’t know what it was going to be.

Then I also got an idea from which illustrations were sold because we were also selling the original sketches. So I got to know the public through which illustrations they were going after. In terms of the composers, I know who finished first, and their thoughts on the subject and some of them were really clear in what they were doing. I also can sense what Carlos Álvarez Torno did in his “The Voice of the People” and I have a very clear idea of what he was going after. It was very successful. It is clear what Christos Papageorgiou did with his 9/11, he is following the image quite strictly in a sense itself. I’m trying to get clear on what the composers do because I don’t want to influence them too much. I guess that I’m already influencing them by being their publisher, their friend and commissioning everything.

PJ: That’s a very fine line I guess?

NS: Yes, it’s a fine line, so I’m really trying to keep away from that, it’s what I do with most works because I met with Ben Crosland, a composer, last week in his home and he was asking all those questions. I told him: “You know, I don’t want to give you a very solid opinion on things because I want this work to be your own. I can give you some suggestions, but that’s as far as I’ll go. I don’t want to get into your domain, that’s your music¨. So I’m trying really hard to keep the teacher aspect out of it.

PJ: When you get the title like “9/11″ you have certain demands or expectations, while other kinds of situations or scenery will not trigger the same series of associations?

NS: That’s another point I was trying to make with this project that because of my indication, my PhD and everything, I did notice that most composers – at least from the people I know – tend to be very apolitical beings. They bother a lot about the new sonata and the new technique they may have discovered, stuff like that, but I don’t hear a lot of social art music. I’m not sure if it’s out there and I’m not getting it. Exactly like this is a political statement from the beginning to the end. That’s not present in the classical music world anymore.

You don’t get a revolutionary attitude, you don’t get heroic ideas and you don’t get the comments about what’s happening today. We don’t care as composers? We should care more. So I wanted to do something that shows that indeed we care. We do have thoughts about that.

PJ: Sure, this alludes to what Schumann said about Chopin’s music: “cannons concealed amongst flowers…”


Murray Perahia’s Major Transfer

On October 7 Murray Perahia released his first album for Deutsche Grammophon presenting Bach’ French Suites. He sees the French Suites as “Bach on the highest level”, adding, “I don’t think Bach wrote one note that didn’t have wider meanings and that wasn’t to be tackled with all one’s heart and soul.”

Perahia joins Deutsche Grammophon

Imagine if Cal Ripken Jr. decided, late in his career, to leave the Baltimore Orioles and go to the Yankees. Imagine Pele playing for Portugal instead of Brazil. Those are the sports equivalents of Murray Perahia moving to Deutsche Grammophon from Sony. For more than four decades, Perahia had been loyal to both Sony and its predecessor, Columbia Masterworks. He’d recorded almost all of the Classical and Romantic periods’ biggest composers: Chopin, Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart. He even did several Bach recordings.

What, then, could prompt such a fantastic and loyal artist to switch labels after such a long time? To begin with, Perahia has deep-seated genealogical roots. His family descends from the Iberian Jews who were exiled from Spain by the Moors in the Middle Ages. In fact, he spoke only Ladino when he was a boy. He has a similar connection to music. His musical ideas and ideals, developed from a career spanning six decades, are both deeply felt and colorfully presented. His interpretations of many legendary works are seen as standard-setting, yet their scope and emotional impact are varied. In much the same way as the Iberian Jews adjusted to life in the Diaspora, starting new traditions and developing new societies, Perahia likely wants to blaze new musical trails through familiar ground.

Deutsche Grammophon, for example, has hinted that the London-based virtuoso plans to revisit works he’s recorded in the past. Both they and he are excited about the prospect of re-interpreting Classical and Romantic masterworks through the application of a lifetime’s worth of experiences that are tempered with Perahia’s historical roots and perspective. Perahia contemplates each project thoughtfully and comprehensively, sometimes studying four or five different editions and scores of the same piece to glean varying perspectives before forming his own ideas. By moving to Deutsche Grammophon, Perahia probably seeks new musical canvasses to fill, which he could no longer do with Sony because he considered his work with them finished. In much the same way as he studies separate copies of the same piece, he will present new interpretations of pieces he recorded previously. To him, such a shift is part of a spiritual journey, and what went before is not to be superseded. Rather, both the old and the new will be considered part of the same whole. He said in a recent interview, “It’s very spiritual. Beethoven was a believer in God,” hinting that his journey will be also be part of the musical firmament.
Read more at gramophone.co.uk

Read an interview in SCMP


Italian and International Excellence in Cremona

Piano Street visited Cremona last weekend to meet with Italian and international pianists and piano brand representatives at the Piano Experience.

At the recent Cremona Mondomusica – an international music exhibition held every year at the end of September – about 300 exhibitors displayed thousands of fine, handcrafted musical instruments. The city of Cremona, situated in the region of Lombardy in northern Italy, is legendary for its distinguished history of violin making – it was the birthplace of the Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri families, whose 16th-, 17th- and 18th-century instruments still hold that special mystique, sell for many millions, and are played in the world’s greatest concert halls. The city still upholds its proud tradition – around almost every corner, you find a specialist violin maker’s shop.

US readers may be aware of Mondomusica New York, which is the largest American violin making trade show. Its European counterpart is held in a large exhibition hall on the edges of Cremona, and this year’s edition counted around 20 000 visitors. As you would expect, the fair presents an overwhelming array of violins, plus everything you need to make one – from wood to varnish – and, of course, all sorts of accessories like cases, shoulder rests, sheet music…

Piano Experience in Cremona

But Cremona Mondomusica isn’t all about violins. In fact, what you first encounter when entering the exhibition is a large hall devoted exclusively to pianos from some of the world’s leading brands. This part of the fair is called the “Piano Experience”, and that’s just what is – a quite overwhelming experience at that. Somebody described it rather fittingly as both a pianist’s heaven and a pianist’s hell: while it is wonderful to be able to spend the whole day trying out great quality pianos of all sizes, the effect of dozens of pianists playing bits and pieces of Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov that are echoing around the large concrete hall is a less wonderful experience for a musician’s sensitive ears.

The exhibitors who are in this pianistic crossfire for three whole days seemed not to mind very much. Alexander Kerstan, production manager of Steingraeber Pianos, described it as a “typical piano exhibition – very noisy, everybody is playing – of course, you cannot really test the pianos properly, because it’s just not possible to hear yourself! But actually, I think this is not the point – for the visitors, it’s important to see all the different brands and meet the manufacturers, to get a feel for the instruments, talk about prices and so on.”

For a smaller brand like Steingraeber, with their main sales in Germany, Cremona is of course an important opportunity to get a foot into the Italian market. But even someone like Giovanni Doria from Steinway Italia would never miss the opportunity of going: “Some other important brands, Fazioli for example, are actually missing this year, but I simply cannot understand their politics – we have had a lot of new contacts, lots of public – a lot of pianists have tried our instruments. It’s very important to get a chance to meet people outside of the shops. And Cremona is such an interesting location with its great tradition of instrument making.”

Pietro De Maria and Roberto Prosseda at the Piano Experience in Cremona

Roberto Prosseda, pianist and artistic advisor to Cremona Mondomusica, has good hopes of bringing Fazioli back to the 2017 edition of Mondomusica Piano Experience. When he speaks about the organizer’s vision, it seems to fit very well with the exhibitors’ motives and experiences. The all-important objective from Prosseda’s point of view is to get people to meet, “exchanging experiences and points of view – making new friends and, of course, discovering new instruments, new ideas, new projects…! You never know what you will discover in Cremona, but for sure, you will discover a lot! That’s why the exhibition also includes many symposiums, round tables and presentations, inviting key persons in the fields of music organization and music production, in order to help the system to improve, and to bring about a vision of the future.”

So what does Prosseda’s engagement as artistic advisor to the exhibition include? “I am one of nine artistic advisors, and my main focus is on planning the concerts. This year I am responsible for a Deutsche Grammophone/Decca showcase series, with 15 artists who will present their recent CD:s. I’m also involved in the Cremona International Music Awards, whose recipients this year are the violinist Shlomo Mintz and the film maker Bruno Monsaingeon. And I organize round table talks, for example about financing classical music, to which we have invited some important sponsors of classical music, to hear about their thoughts and about what they expect from musicians. I think the most important thing if you want success, not only in the musical world but in general, is to understand the points of view of other people. And in order to understand others, you need to meet them! You need to understand what they think, what they expect, what they are looking for. Again – meeting one another is the best way to achieve this, and that is what Cremona is all about.”

Read more about some of the seminars and presentations:

Visit the Piano Experience website:


Liszt’s Love Story with Lisitsa

Decca artist Valentina Lisitsa has during recent years recorded albums with Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, Schumann and Scriabin. She recorded Ives’ violin sonatas with Hilary Hahn (DG) and has explored contemporary territories with recordings of Philip Glass and Michael Nyman. Most recently, on August 26 this year, Lisitsa released a critically praised album with film music called Love Story (Decca) in which she looks back to the cinematic glory days of the big screen, performing the finest piano concerto music composed especially for film. A genre originally influenced by Rachmaninoffs popular piano concertos, these pieces are arresting original scores for piano and orchestra composed for movies of the 1940s and 1950s including Dangerous Moonlight, Stagefright, and The Apartment.

Another Love Story

As a present-day artist with an active YouTube presence, Lisitsa has also released a series of new videos featuring pieces from the core classical piano repertoire. In this video she is getting involved in a different type of love story, playing Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 S. 514 in which Faust gets seduced by Mephistopheles’ intoxicating violin playing on a wedding at the village inn.

Piano score to download and print:

Franz Liszt’s own program note:
“There is a wedding feast in progress in the village inn, with music, dancing, carousing. Mephistopheles and Faust pass by, and Mephistopheles induces Faust to enter and take part in the festivities. Mephistopheles snatches the fiddle from the hands of a lethargic fiddler and draws from it indescribably seductive and intoxicating strains. The amorous Faust whirls about with a full-blooded village beauty in a wild dance; they waltz in mad abandon out of the room, into the open, away into the woods. The sounds of the fiddle grow softer and softer, and the nightingale warbles his love-laden song.”


The Simultaneous Conversation

This summer, Daniel Barenboim launched a new YouTube channel. “I will talk about music – about pieces close to my heart, about pieces which I hope will interest you – and other subjects that preoccupy me, some social and some political, all subjects that have to do with the human being,” says Barenboim

In one of the first eposides, Daniel Barenboim describes music as different from human interaction through speech. If two people cross talk each other, then neither understands the other. Conversation only works if one talks and one listens and then switch roles. In music, the conversation isn’t verbal, so each participant’s voice is heard and understood at the same time.


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