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Top Picks of 2016

We wish you a Happy New Year with a list of highly recommended reading from Piano Street’s Classical Piano Blog. These are the 10 most read, discussed or shared articles of 2016.

Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century

The recently published compilation “Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century” contains contemporary solo piano pieces from many internationally renowned composers. Nikolas 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. Read more >>

Valentina Lisitsa on Searching for the Rachmaninoff Affinity

When Valentina Lisitsa came to Stockholm to play Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, it was a welcome fact not only for all her fans but also for anybody well aware of the enormous challenge this concerto means for any performer. In 2013 Lisitsa released her Complete Rachmaninoff Concertos (including the Paganini Rhapsody) on Decca and therefor this was a rare chance for Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell not to talk to her about YouTube but… Sergei Rachmaninoff. Read more >>

Google Builds One-Tone Piano

In their most recent “Be together – not the same” commercial for Android, Google doesn’t exactly choose the easy way of hammering home their message about the beauty of diversity. The video shows the pianist Ji playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata on two different instruments, one normal piano and one that Google modified to have all 88 strings tuned to middle C. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

Elisabeth Leonskaja In Conversation

When Johannes Brahms was celebrated in Malmö, Sweden, legendary pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja played both piano concertos at the very same concert. Piano Street talked to Ms. Leonskaja after one of the rehearsals. Read more >>

Ditching the Intermission?

British pianist Stephen Hough addressed the issue of shrinking and ageing classical music audiences. Admitting that it’s a complicated issue, and acknowledging that many ideas have been floated – better education, more creative repertoire, lower pricing etc – he went on to focus on one of the more practical aspects of the subject: the intermission. Read more >>

Explosive Piano and Percussion Rendezvous in Beijing

The rare combination of Yuja Wang and famous drummer and multi-percussionist Martin Grubinger performed together at the Concert Hall of NCPA in Beijing on August 18th. In this exceptional and particular formation, a special version of Bartók’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion was presented along with “One Study One Summary” by John Psathas. Read more >>

Piano Music to Cleanse the Soul – Pietro De Maria on Bach’s 48

At the Cremona Mondomusica Piano Experience in October, the Italian pianist Pietro De Maria performed selected preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC), as part of the exhibition’s Decca/Deutsche Grammophon showcase series. After the concert, Piano Street’s David Wärn had the chance to talk to De Maria about the challenges pianists face when tackling Bach’s legendary “forty-eight”. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

Trifonov Live in Carnegie Hall

Hear Trifonovs captivating recital at Carnegie Hall as of December 7th in works by Schumann, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and encores by Medtner.

The music on this program requires poetry and passion that only a master pianist can deliver. “Daniil Trifonov’s playing has it all … he leaves you struggling for superlatives,” said The Guardian. Read more >>


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The Audiovisual Study Tool (AST) Updated

In a significant improvement of Piano Street’s Audiovisual Study Tool (AST), Naxos Music Library is now fully integrated allowing users to conveniently stream recordings without logging in separately to a Naxos Music Library account.

Moreover, 623 pieces by 8 composers have been added to the AST. Sheet music connected to recordings of piano pieces by Clementi, Haydn, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Satie, Scarlatti and Schubert are now available one mouse click away, along with the piano music by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and others.

About Naxos Music Library

As the leading online streaming service specialised on classical music, NML contains more than 126,260 CD-length recordings, equivalent to 1,931,800 tracks, with an average addition of 1,150 CDs every month.

The new integration allows Piano Street users (Gold member level) to stream the complete catalogues or selected recordings of over 800 labels such as BIS, Capriccio, Chandos, CPO, CSO Resound, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Erato, Dynamic, Finlandia, Grand Piano, Hänssler Classic, Harmonia Mundi, Hungaroton, LSO Live, Marco Polo, Naïve, Naxos, New York Philharmonic, Nimbus, Nonesuch, Ondine, Orfeo, PentaTone, RCA Records, Sony Classical, Supraphon, Teldec, Universal Classics, Vanguard Classics, Warner Classics, Warner Classics – Parlophone (former EMI Classics) and many more.

Log in for instant access (Gold members only), or read more about the AST here:

The Audiovisual Study Tool (AST) allows you to:

  • Learn piano pieces faster
  • Improve your interpretational skills
  • Broaden your repertoire knowledge
  • Improve your sight reading
  • Effortlessly enjoy the great art of classical piano music

In the new AST version, 2200+ pieces by 28 of the most popular piano composers are included.

When logged in to your Gold membership account, look for the AST icon in the digital sheet music library to instantly open the AST for that piece:


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Take your seat: New Year’s Eve Celebration in the Berlin Philharmonie – LIVE STREAM

Free tickets for Piano Street’s members

Thanks to a continuous collaboration with the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall, all Piano Street members enjoy free access for 7 days to the Digital Concert Hall. Log in to your Piano Street account to get your free voucher code (value $10) which gives you instant access to the Digital Concert Hall. Take the opportunity to hear a live concert with pianist Daniil Trifonov, Sir Simon Rattle and Berliner Philharmoniker on Saturday December 31 and to access all concerts in the archive for seven days!
No Piano Street account? Sign up for free here to get your concert ticket!

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New Year’s Eve: LIVE STREAM from Berlin

Saturday, December 31, 2016
5 P.M. Berlin time (London: 4 P.M. / New York: 11 A.M.)

Before the champagne corks pop to celebrate the turn of the year 2016/2017, you can experience first-class virtuosic piano playing when Daniil Trifonov steps up to the podium at the New Year’s Eve concert of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

Dmitri Kabalevsky:
 Overture to Colas Breugnon op. 90
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor op. 30
William Walton: 
Orchestral Pieces from Façade
Antonín Dvořák
: Slavonic Dances (Selection) op. 72

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Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov received acclaim when he won First Prize at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein Competitions in 2011 at the age of 20. Trifonov has since then been in demand as a concert soloist and for solo recitals throughout the world. He has performed with many leading orchestras and conductors at prestigious concert halls and festivals.
The 2016–17 season brings the release of Transcendental, a double album that represents Mr. Trifonov’s third title as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist, and is the first time that Liszt’s complete concert études have been recorded for the label. Winner of Gramophone’s 2016 Artist of the Year award, his upcoming performances include Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto with Riccardo Muti in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s 125th anniversary gala finale. Having scored his second Grammy Award nomination with Rachmaninoff Variations, he now performs Rachmaninoff in his Berlin Philharmonic debut led by Sir Simon Rattle at the orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concerts, scheduled to air live in cinemas throughout Europe. Mr. Trifonov also performs Rachmaninoff in his debuts with the Melbourne and Sydney Symphony Orchestras, returns to the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Gustavo Dudamel and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, and appears in the Munich Philharmonic’s Rachmaninoff Cycle tour with longtime collaborator Valery Gergiev.

Sir Simon Rattle was born in Liverpool and studied at the Royal Academy of Music. For some years Principal Guest Conductor of the Rotterdam and Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestras, in 1980 he became Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, stepping up to Music Director from September 1990 until August 1998. He is also Founding Patron of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and since the early 1990s, has been a Principal Artist of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. As guest conductor, he appears regularly in the United States, London and Europe, with close links to a number of orchestras most notably with the Vienna Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestras. In September 2002 he became Chief Conductor and Artistic Director of the Berliner Philharmoniker where he leads regular tours in Europe, North America and the Far East and has recently conducted in Lucerne, Salzburg and London’s BBC Proms. His most recent opera includes the Staatsoper Berlin, Wiener Staatsoper, the Metropolitan Opera and the Royal Opera House Covent Garden.
From 2017, Simon Rattle will take up the position of Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra.

About the Digital Concert Hall

In 2008, the Berlin Philharmonic, in partnership with Deutsche Bank and Sony, started posting its live performances on the Internet via the Digital Concert Hall, or DCH. Seven high-definition cameras capture all the musical action within the Philharmonie. Highlighting the intriguing interpretations of principal conductor Sir Simon Rattle, the fantastic audio quality of the multimedia files is at once accurate and thrilling. The operators inside the video studio make the recordings available a few days after each performance. More than 1.5 million people have taken advantage of the streamed offerings over the last five years. With access to a combination of almost 400 recordings that include concerts, educational programming and interviews with conductors, soloists and orchestra members, site visitors can enjoy the entire gamut of Berlin Philharmonic musical experiences. The institution has been awarded with the LeadAward 2009 in the category ‘WebTV’, in gold, with the DMMA OnlineStar 2009, in bronze and numerous other awards.

Each season, around 40 concerts are broadcasted live and they can also be viewed at a later date in the concert archive. The archive already contains hundreds of recordings with all the great artists of classical music. There are also fascinating documentaries and bonus films. The site also provides extensive program notes for each piece; conductors and soloists often speak about both the program in question and about their careers. Many world-renowned pianists count themselves among the interviewed, and keyboardists the world over can virtually pick their brains regarding a wide range of material. The website catalogs everything, and web surfers can use a powerful search tool to find artists, pieces and specific performances they want. Concerts and projects from the orchestra’s education programme are also transmitted (free of charge) and made available in the video archive. This creates the potential to introduce famous works of music visually in the classroom.

A vast number of piano concertos with top performers are available in the DCH archive. Artists include: Argerich, Zimerman, Kissin, Wang, Pires, Vogt, Barenboim, Volodos, Uchida, Perahia, Schiff, Aimard, Grimaud, Matsuev, Bronfman, Andsnes, Ax, Pollini, Hamelin, Lang, Fellner, Berezovsky, Pressler, Cooper, Anderszewski, Thibaudet, Gerstein, Lugansky, Buchbinder and Katia and Marielle Labèque.

The 2016 classical music calendar will be brought to a close by what promises to be the highlight of the year, the Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concert. Music lovers in the Berlin Philharmonie concert hall on 31 December will be joined by audiences at live screenings in more than 240 cinemas in 15 European countries, including no less than 114 cinemas in Germany.

Log in to your pianostreet account to get your 7-days ticket! >>


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Piano Music to Cleanse the Soul – Pietro De Maria on Bach’s 48

At the Cremona Mondomusica Piano Experience in October, the Italian pianist Pietro De Maria performed selected preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (WTC), as part of the exhibition’s Decca/Deutsche Grammophon showcase series. After the concert, Piano Street’s David Wärn had the chance to talk to De Maria about the challenges pianists face when tackling Bach’s legendary “forty-eight”.

David Wärn and Pietro De Maria at Cremona Mondomusica

- You have previously recorded the complete works of Chopin. What was it like to go from Chopin to Bach?

- Well, after all the romanticism of Chopin, I needed to cleanse my soul…! Actually, Chopin was very fond of Bach – he used to work on the 48 preludes and fugues to prepare for his concerts, and he recommended them to his pupils.
To me, Chopin is the most “baroque” of the romantic composers. There are two reasons for this: firstly, the importance of counterpoint in his music; and secondly, the importance of ornamentation. Ornamentation is fundamental in Chopin, just as it is in in Bach. So, playing Bach after Chopin felt like a natural continuation.

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- You started the concert here in Cremona by playing the first prelude in C major. What are your thoughts about this famous piece, that so many pianists have studied over the centuries?

- One interesting fact is that it features all the twelve tones of the chromatic scale, which of course makes it an extremely fitting introduction to the cycle. It also creates a connection to the last piece of the book, the fugue in B minor, where Bach makes even more conspicuous use of the chromatic scale. I like to speak of the B minor fugue as the first 12-tone composition in history, because already in the theme, all the twelve tones are present.
Out of the first 12 preludes, eleven had already been composed for the Clavierbüchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann, Bach’s favorite son. But most of the preludes Bach wrote for Wilhelm Friedemann were much shorter and underwent a major revision before being printed in the WTC. They became bigger – like the C minor prelude, for example. At the end of that prelude, the tempo changes: there is an adagio, then an allegro, and a pedal point on G which increases the tension – it wasn’t like that in the first version. And the first version of the C major prelude didn’t feature all the twelve tones.
This is interesting, because it illustrates how in the WTC, Bach gave the preludes their autonomy. Preludes by earlier composers, like Buxtehude, can’t stand by themselves – often there is no interruption between prelude and fugue. But in Bach, each prelude is an important piece of music in itself.

- You seem to take great interest in Bach’s use of number symbolism.

- Yes, I find it fascinating to note how Bach uses numbers to put his signature to things and tell us of his intentions. The theme of the first fugue, for example, is made of 14 notes, Bach’s own number (B=2 + A=1 + C=3 + H=8). And then this theme is played 24 times, once for each major and minor key.
Another interesting fugue in terms of number symbolism is the C-sharp minor fugue in Book I. For me, this is a choral fugue. In the WTC, there are only two fugues with 5 voices, which is what you find in the big sacred works. This already gives you an idea of the spiritual significance of this piece. And for the first theme, he uses the four-note “cross motif”, with its obvious reference to Christ. All in all, he uses three themes in this magnificent fugue, which I think should be interpreted as a symbol of the divine Trinity.

Sheet music to download and print:

The Well Tempered Clavier, Book I

The Well Tempered Clavier, Book II

- What are the differences between the first and second book?

- The most obvious difference is that the preludes of Book II are longer, and often in two parts, with repeats. That poses some problems for ornamentation, but it also makes it closer to our time.
In a way, Book I has become more popular. I don’t know why – I think the second book is closer to us. When I speak to my colleagues, most of them also seem to prefer the second book.

- What do you mean by “closer to us”?

- I mean in terms of musical form. Many of the preludes in Book I are in the ancient style – like the first prelude – and many are in a toccata style. The second book was written 20 years later. There was a new generation of composers around, a lot of things happening in terms of style, and Bach was always open for influences.
In Book II, a lot of preludes are already small sonatas, like Scarlatti sonatas. And in some of them, towards the end of the prelude, you have a kind of recapitulation, which is really astonishing at that time. And he uses more and more dance rhythms – the F major fugue for example, is a gigue.

- What kind of background knowledge do you think is needed to tackle Bach’s music?

- Well, in that respect Bach is more complicated than many other composers. You really have to know something about how this music was played at the time. For me, it was fundamental to read Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments, as well as books by Couperin, Quantz…. Even if you play this music on a modern piano, it’s important to know a lot of things, for example about the correct way of playing ornamentation.
I am sure you have seen Bach’s ornament table, which he wrote at the beginning of the Clavierbüchlein for Wilhelm Friedemann – at that time his son was nine years old. But only a few ornaments are explained there; there are also other ones that are not shown. That’s one of the reasons why you have to turn to other sources.

- Even if you know a few things about baroque performance practice, it can be quite hard to know which rules to apply in a given situation…

- Of course, it helps if you know a lot of Bach’s music – not only the instrumental music. One of the problems is that Bach almost never notated any dynamics, articulations and so on. So, what you must first do is to find the character of the music. After that, you find a fitting articulation, according to the character you think that piece has.
Now, in some of his cantatas, or in the B minor mass, or in the Passions, sometimes you find similar passages – for example, the B minor fugue of the first book is very similar to the Kyrie in the B minor mass, which is also a fugue. If you know these things, it is easier to find the character.
Sometimes you even find some articulation signs. I’m thinking of the C-sharp major fugue of Book I – there is a cantata, Alles nur nach Gottes Willen, BWV 72, which has a similar theme, the same sort of lines, played by the oboe. In the cantata, Bach writes some staccato dots, some slurs and everything. That’s very helpful; to have an example how they would phrase something at the time, how they would articulate.

- What are your thoughts on ornamentation in the preludes and fugues?

- In the first book, there is not so much space for ornamentation. I mean, there are normal places, like important cadenzas, where it is almost mandatory to do a little trill or something – this is unproblematic. But in the second book, most of the preludes are written in two parts, which are repeated, like in the Scarlatti sonatas. And I think that when there is a repeat, you have to do something.
Still, it’s important for me not to do too much. You have to be kind of sober when you play Bach. By the way, I think this is true of Mozart as well – it has become a habit to do lots of ornamentation whenever you have a repetition in Mozart, or when you have long notes. I don’t like that. There are people who overinterpret in that sense. For me, it was very interesting to listen to András Schiff’s most recent recording of the 48, because he never does too much.
Of course, I do my own ornamentation sometimes. But in some pieces, I save all embellishment for the repeats: I don’t do anything the first time – then, when the music is repeated, I use Bach’s ornamentation. Especially when you play on a modern piano, you can do many other things to accent or highlight certain notes. Ornamentation is not always needed the first time.
It’s also very interesting to compare different sources. Sometimes I do ornamentation that doesn’t come from Bach’s manuscript but from copies made by people in Bach’s circle. There is the Altnikol copy – Altnikol was a pupil and son-in-law of Bach; Kirnberger was also one of his pupils; and there was Anna Magdalena, his wife. In the urtext editions, you don’t find all these differences – you find only Bach’s manuscript, which – of course! – is very important. But sometimes, it’s really most likely that during lessons, he would write something on the pupils’ copies.

- Like Chopin also often did.

- Yes! This is one of the big problems with Chopin as well, because even the urtext editions don’t take into account everything Chopin wrote in the copies of his pupils, which is sometimes fundamental.

- What about dynamics? They aren’t notated and Bach’s instruments didn’t have the dynamic range of modern pianos.

- In Book I, Bach wrote some staccato dots and some slurs, but never a dynamic sign. In Book II, there is one prelude, in G-sharp minor, which has some dynamics: he writes forte, and then piano when the same material is repeated, creating an echo effect. This is something you can use in other pieces as well.
In my view, Bach wrote the Well-Tempered Clavier – unfortunately, in Italy, we say “Il clavicembalo ben temperato.” Clavicembalo means harpsichord, which is incorrect because it is too specific. I don’t think Bach had a specific instrument in mind for the whole collection.
Of course, it’s true that he didn’t have the modern piano in mind! It seems that he loved the clavichord; he was the best organist; and sometimes, some preludes – very virtuoso preludes – could be wonderful on a harpsichord, even some fugues. Sometimes, there is an intimacy which would suit the clavichord very well. And sometimes – I didn’t play it today, but the F major prelude from the second book is a very organ-like prelude, with lots of very long notes!

- I think it was András Schiff who said that Bach belongs to everybody – not just the harpsichordists!

- Yes, and another thing Schiff says is that the main reason he plays the 48 on a modern piano is the F minor prelude from the second book, because it’s almost impossible to do that kind of appoggiatura on a harpsichord.

- So, for example, if you think Bach may have had the clavichord in mind for a certain prelude or fugue, do you try to reflect the soft expressivity of that instrument in your playing?

- Yes; or I play with more brilliance and less legato when I think of a harpsichord. I don’t really want to imitate an instrument but the piano gives you all these possibilities of varying the sound, and I think you can do a lot in this respect.
The pedal could be a problem, but only if you play with too much pedal in a passage that has too much going on with voices and texture. As long as you can hear all the layers and the voices clearly, I think a little bit of pedal helps. I’m not against it.

- Do you feel that you have to limit the dynamics because of the character of the music or because Bach’s instruments had a narrower dynamic range?

- Well, a little bit. But I also do that when I play Haydn or Mozart or even Clementi sometimes. You can’t play as fortissimo as you would play Liszt, of course – this is just common sense, it simply wouldn’t fit the music!
Actually, there are people who say that it isn’t possible to play Bach on a modern piano, but I think they are a little narrow-minded. I think Bach was much more open-minded: he transcribed lots of music for different instruments. He took one of Vivaldi’s violin concertos and made a concerto for four pianos out of it! And he transcribed a lot of his own music. I think the fact that this music touches us so deeply, even when played on instruments very different from the ones Bach knew, is a sign of its greatness.

NEW! Click the album covers to listen to the complete albums:

Pietro De Maria received the Critics’ Prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1990, and went on to win first prizes in several other competitions, such as the Géza Anda competition in Zurich. De Maria’s repertory ranges from Bach to Ligeti, and he is the first Italian pianist to play Chopin’s complete piano works in six concerts. More recently, he has been focusing on Bach, presenting both books of The Well-Tempered Clavier as well as the Goldberg Variations in concert. His recordings of Chopin and Bach have received excellent reviews in international press.
Read more at www.pietrodemaria.com


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Trifonov Live in Carnegie Hall 2016

Hear Trifonovs captivating recital at Carnegie Hall as of December 7th in works by Schumann, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and encores by Medtner.

The music on this program requires poetry and passion that only a master pianist can deliver. “Daniil Trifonov’s playing has it all … he leaves you struggling for superlatives,” said The Guardian. Schumann’s Kinderszenen tenderly reflects on childhood, his Toccata is dazzlingly virtuosic, and his Kreisleriana is wildly inventive. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier and Chopin’s Preludes provided the inspiration for Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes and Fugues. Shostakovich’s music, however, is hardly derivative; the composer’s melancholy, acerbic wit, and technical genius shine through. For pure high-octane excitement, it’s difficult to top Stravinsky’s Three Movements from Pétrouchka, a touchstone for any pianist.
The full recital is available at medici.tv

Shostakovich: Prelude and Fugue in D Minor No. 24

Nikolai Medtner: Fairy Tales Op. 26 No. 3


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