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Garrick Ohlsson live in Fort Worth

Since his triumph at the 1970 Chopin International Piano Competition (the only American winner ever), pianist Garrick Ohlsson has established himself worldwide as a musician of magisterial interpretive and technical prowess. Although long regarded as one of the world’s leading exponents of the music of Frédéric Chopin, the Grammy Award-winner commands an enormous repertoire, which ranges over the entire piano literature.

In this season-closing concert of the Cliburn Live series in Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth, Texas on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, Ohlsson performs works by Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin. Thanks to the closely positioned microphones and sparse artificial reverb (if any), we get to hear the sound balance similar to what a top concert pianist hears from the piano chair when playing a Steinway D in a large hall.

Beethoven: Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, op. 110
Schubert: Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 (“Der Wanderer”)
Chopin: Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, op. 54
Chopin: Etude in E Minor, op. 25, no. 5
Chopin: Etude in G-sharp Minor, op. 25, no. 6
Chopin: Nocturne in C Minor, op. 48, no. 1
Chopin: Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, op. 23

In an interview from 2012 (examiner.com) Garrick Ohlsson explains one aspect of his continuous interest in exploring the richness of the whole piano repertoire:

“The heroism of the Liszt Sonata or of the Appassionata is really not of real life. It’s the same thing as great Shakespeare, with these violent tragedies, and really, all art in all cultures. It tells us about ourselves. When I’m playing Beethoven, or Liszt, or whomever, I get in touch with heroism, with sublimity, a demonism or a tenderness, that I have some idea about. It’s like an actor having to do a great role. You might discover that some of those qualities are in you a little bit.
That’s the affinity, that’s what you have a feeling for. And I think that’s the greatest privilege for it. For me, the function of Art is to bring me in touch with that greater world. Great writers do it, great film makers can do it, etc. I mean, I like great music because it’s better than real life (laughs) – although real life is just fine, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a distillation, a sublimity or a happiness, a pleasure or a great sadness. It distills the essence.”

Over a four-year period, CLIBURN LIVE webcasts over 250 performances live and on demand to the world—all three competitions (Amateur in June 2016, Cliburn in May/June 2017, and Junior in June 2019) and select Cliburn Concerts by some of the world’s top performing musicians (2-3 annually).

“The Cliburn’s mission is to share classical music with the widest audience possible,” said Jacques Marquis, president and CEO. “The viewership of the competition webcasts has grown exponentially every four years and is an extremely valuable tool to fulfilling that mandate. We have an expertise in broadcasting live concerts online and are presenting the finest artists annually in Fort Worth. It’s a natural extension to showcase Cliburn Concerts internationally as well—and a way to bring people from across the world to the Cliburn much more often.”


Schiff Horses Around in Master Class

In a piano masterclass on Schubert’s Moments Musical at The International Musicians Seminar at Prussia Cove, Andras Schiff noted, for one of his students, that, in Schubert’s time, horse-drawn conveyances were the norm instead of just a tourist attraction.


Can We Play Like Mozart Did?

Pianos during the 18th century were much different than their counterparts in the centuries from the 19th to the 21st. First of all, they were much smaller, normally comprising only five octaves instead of 7 1/3. Secondly, they were lightweight contraptions built using barely more materials than a harpsichord. Late 19th-century pianos were much sturdier and could withstand later compositional techniques. Liszt, for example, left a trail of destroyed pianos in his wake because the materials weren’t up-to-snuff.

The fortepiano that Mozart played almost daily during his last nine years.

The fortepiano that Mozart played almost daily during his last nine years.

It was different 100 years before when Mozart was making a world tour as a youngster. Instead of being hunched over the piano crashing one’s weight down upon it, performers were required to sit ramrod straight and keep their arms and elbows at their sides. Most playing was finger-driven with supple wrists that were raised and lowered with great delicacy. Tchaikovsky’s racing octaves, Rachmaninoff’s gigantic block chords and Liszt’s monumental tonal constructions were notably absent from pieces composed at that time.

Christina Kobb, who is heading up a project to promote 18th-century playing, such as might have been practiced by Mozart, notes that it is easier to play running 16th notes faster. It’s also simpler to play chords more accurately and smoothly. She maintains that pianists should, at the very least, familiarize themselves with the techniques to get better in touch with the thoughts and aspirations of the composers of the time.

Learn 18th century piano techique with Christina Kobb:

Read more at nytimes.com


No Great Music Without Great Tension

Anthony Tommassini, classical music critic for The New York Times, invites us all to a mini-lecture at the piano on dissonance. With a series of examples by well known composers, Tommassini elaborates on one of the most crucial components in Western music.

Two or more notes sounding together in such a fashion as to create great tension are said to be dissonant. These notes seem to yearn for release. In music theory terms, such release is called resolution. At the beginning of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C-Major, for example, the opening chord is dissonant. The chord that follows it is consonant. The notes in the opening chord that create the tension move to notes that no longer create tension, which is the resolution. Some dissonant chords don’t resolve. The “Dance of the Adolescents” from “The Rite of Spring” pounds along without relief. Some dissonances resolve so grandly that they provoke visceral responses of great joy. The ending of Bach’s massive Passacaglia and Fugue in C-Minor is a case in point. Not only does the dominant seventh chord resolve, but it also moves to the radiance of C-Major on the final chord.


Yuja Wang & Prokofiev in Factory Setting

Let’s go to New York City.
After letting her finish her coffee we can hear Yuja Wang, not at the usual Steinway showroom in Manhattan where most pianists pick pianos for their performances, but on the floor at the Steinway and Sons factory in Astoria, Queens. National Public Radio (NPR) chose the most natural setting for any pianist interested in top notch concert grands when recording Yuja Wang playing Prokofiev’s technically demanding Toccata in D Minor, Op. 11.

With all its hypnotic repetition of a single note and elaborate chromaticism Prokofiev’s biographer David Gutman argued that Prokofiev himself had trouble playing it because his technique, while good, was not quite enough to completely master the piece. However this fact is not universally accepted and his performance as reproduced in 1997 for the Nimbus Records series The Composer Plays is certainly virtuosic and technically skilled. What do you think?

Toccata (from Italian toccare, “to touch”) is a virtuoso piece of music typically for a keyboard featuring fast-moving, lightly fingered or virtuosic passages and sections generally emphasizing the dexterity of the performer’s fingers. Composers such as J. S. Bach, Robert Schumann, Maurice Ravel, Dmitri Kabalevsky and Aram Khachaturian have all composed well-known works in this form.


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