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The Brain’s Piano Spot Discovered

Brain mapping has come far in the world and we can read a lot about recent research in this area. Scientists have for instance been able to map the mutual brain connections utilized in language development and musical training. A newly-charted region in the human brain, which so far has not been seen in other animals, may be responsible for extremely fine motor control such as our unique ability to play piano.

Professor George Paxinos of Neuro Research Australia (NeuRA) said the discovery of a previously unknown part of the brain was ”starting me in the face for 30 years”. The size of a pea, the area is embedded in a major neural connection that links the spinal cord and the brain and is strongly linked to the control of our limbs. Paxinos spent more than forty years hand-drawing extraordinarily detailed maps of the human brain with the aid of a 4B (very soft) pencil. Human brains resemble monkey brains but they are bigger.

When Paxinos was searching for this new region in other animals, he just wasn’t able to find it. Thus, it seems to be a unique human part of the brain related to movement control. ”Monkeys, you don’t see them playing pianos, do you?” Paxinos joked. As one of Australia’s most important scientists, his atlases of the brain are among the most renown publications in neuroscience and are used in surgery for example.

So, how is brain mapping done? When starting a new atlas, a sample brain is cut horizontally into about 200 ultra-thin slices. These are photographed in extremely high resolution, and expanded to 100 x 100 centimeter prints before being placed on tables around a hall-size space.


/nilsjohan

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Paderewski Festival Celebrating Poland’s Past And Present

The annual international music festival celebrating the legacy of Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860-1941) opened in Warsaw in late October and is now running for almost a month. This year the event also marks the centennial of national independence, which Poland regained after World War I. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell visited the festival in Warsaw and the Paderewski Birthday Celebration Concert at the Philharmonie there.

Paderewski was one of the biggest music superstars of his time, drawing the largest crowds in history at a time when the solo piano recital was still in its infancy. Serving as Polish prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in the years 1918-19, Paderewski represented Poland at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and signed the Versailles treaty on behalf of the newborn republic.

Paderewski, the Pianist and Composer

Paderewski was said to be the highest paid pianist in his times and his career spanned the world from Africa to Australia and across the European continent; crossing the Atlantic more than thirty times. He gave over 1500 concerts in the U.S., appearing in every state. He was the first to give a solo recital in the newly built Carnegie Hall which held almost 3 000 people, and in 1932 he faced an audience of 16 000 in Madison Square Garden, the largest crowd in the history of music at that time. While his opera Manru was being performed at the Metropolitan, Paderewski himself was playing a recital in Carnegie Hall; both places were filled to overflowing.
Paderewski’s complete piano solo works contains some 8,5 hours of listening. In addition to this there is a Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 17 plus a Polish Fantasy for piano and Orchestra Op. 19, which both enjoyed popularity during his lifetime. Even though some of his piano scores sold in several million copies, Paderewski’s creative heritage is less extensive than his legacy as a touring virtuoso pianist. His famous Minuet in G – first of the six Concert Humoresques Op. 14 – counts among the most renowned, along with the ”Polonia” Symphony, the ”Manru” Opera, and the Piano Concerto. The Minuet sold millions of copies, was recorded by acclaimed pianists (Rachmaninov and Paderewski himself) and was transcribed for several instruments including for violin by Fritz Kreisler and for cello by Gaspar Cassado. As a carrier of Polish traditions Paderewski used forms such as Krakowiak, Polonez and Mazurek, often in smaller size works mirroring Polish folk songs and dance material. He is also widely known for his Chopin Edition where he formed an editorial board together with L. Bronarski and J. Turczynski. Based primarily on Chopin’s autograph manuscripts, copies approved by him, and first editions, it has remained a popular and widespread reference edition.

The Festival and Exhibitions

Held in venues around the Polish capital, including the National Philharmonic, the Royal Lazienki Park, the Royal Castle, and the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music, the 5th edition of the International Ignacy Jan Paderewski Festival will run until November 28, featuring symphonic and chamber concerts with national and international musicians. It also offers attractions such as film screenings and music workshops for children. The non-governmental, non-profit organization ”Ave Arte”, whose aim is to provide support for the development of culture and art has joined state institutions such as the National Philharmonic, the Chopin Institute and the Polish Radio in shedding light on the legacy of the important deeds of the Polish pianist and composer.

Also, the Chopin Institute has opened two exhibitions concerning different aspects of Polish music: ”Paderewski to Chopin” and ”Constellations: Polish Music 1918–2018” – at the Fryderyk Chopin Museum in Warsaw. The ”Paderewski to Chopin” exhibition presents selected topics from the life of Paderewski, as well as his great service in the popularization of Chopin’s legacy. Among the 40 mementos presented at the exhibition are such items as Paderewski’s suitcase, his calling card, valuable musical autographs and a collection of portraits of the pianist. The second exhibition; ”Constellations: Polish Music 1918‒2018”, is a commentary devoted to the attitudes of Polish composers from the past century toward history, tradition and modernity, displaying nearly 70 works. The multimedia exhibition in installation form will be presented from 9 November 2018 to 3 March 2019. The event will be accompanied by “Constellations: An Introductory Lecture”, which took place on 13 November, as well as by a upcoming panel discussion on 11 December. Together, its participants will attempt to answer the question ”What is Polish music today?”


The Ignacy Jan Paderewski’s Birthday Concert in Warsaw

Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell meets with pianist Peter Jablonski at the Philharmonie in Warsaw.

Paderewski’s birthday concert at the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall is certainly a very festive moment for many and particularly this year on the occasion of Poland’s 100 years of Independence. Peter Jablonski was the soloist in Paderewski’s Polish Fantasy for piano and orchestra Op. 19, with Warsaw Philharmonic under Marzena Diakun. This was a new, thrilling and positively surprising experience, hi-lighting a work very seldomly played.

– Peter, your background is Polish/Swedish and you have spent a lot of time on stage and in recording Polish music. How would you describe the Fantasy for piano and orchestra which you just performed here?

– The first thing that struck me about this Fantasy is how little we know of Paderewski as a composer. Of course he was a famous virtuoso, and even famous as a Prime Minister of Poland in 1918-19. But he was an excellent composer too, he knew how to write for the pianist’s hand very well, and while this work is technically demanding and virtuosic, it is not awkward pianistically. This work is inspired by a Polish folk tune, and it has everything: charm, brilliance, drama, and lots of beautiful music. This is a rather unknown work, it is performed much less often than the Concerto, and because of this, it remains underestimated. This is a work that has much spirit and invention, which are packed into a much smaller form than the concerto. The Fantasy is able to create much impact on the audience, and is a joy to perform for the soloist and the orchestra.

– I know that the Mazur is one of your favourite forms. How does Paderewski treat the Mazurka, Krakowiak and the Polonaise and which folkloristic elements can be found in this seldom heard work?

– All these elements are in the Fantasy. The clue is in its title: it is a Polish Fantasy that is imbued with Polish folk elements. Right from the start, in the grand opening of the orchestra, the theme is stated in a Polonaise manner. When the piano has the same theme, it is in the form of a gentle mazurka. Paderewski composed at a time when nationalistic tendencies were very strong, and especially in Poland, the country that was so torn for so long, that its people could only hold on to their roots via music, theatre, and literature.

– Paderewski’s superstar stature certainly proved that he was a great showman and a drawing card that eventually made him his own rival, as contemporary newspapers wrote. As a composer, how can we see the clash or maybe paradox between Paderewski as the international superstar and the Polish tradition bearer?

– Well, I think that for all his showmanship, Paderewski remained true to himself as an artist, and he remained true to his art. Whatever was for show or on show, always had an artistic purpose, and felt genuine. In his own music, he paid homage to Poland, to Polish music, and tried to, in his own way, to show its integrity, beautify, and independence. As a composer, Paderewski does not seem to be concerned with making new discoveries or innovations for their own sake. Instead, he is crystallising what is best in his national school and European musical heritage, and combines it with his own knowledge of the instrument, as a respected and famed virtuoso.

– Cortot wrote that hearing Paderewski in Paris as a teen, was a revelation. Flashing lightnings, ecstasy, eruption, magnetic personality and a glowing tone. A realisation of ”the coming of a pianist for our time”. How would you describe Paderewski’s playing stylistically in comparison to other contemporary giants such as Hofmann, Godowsky, Rachmaninoff or Lhevinne?

– What an interesting question! Actually, Paderewski’s reputation as a performer has suffered a lot from a misconception that he had poor coordination between hands, that he lacked sensitivity, or that he was frivolous with his interpretations. But if we remember that Paderewski studied with his very first teacher, who himself formed as a musician in the early 19th century, then we begin to understand the tradition that he inherited. Instead of thinking of poor coordination, we should think of independence of hands. Even in the days of Chopin that tradition was still alive, and in the later age of technical brilliance and perfection, which actually gives a rather mechanical, almost robotic performance that can lack heart and soul, the way Paderewski plays can seem to be messy or technically imperfect.
His style, as compared to the performers you mention is undoubtedly more free and more grand, and probably more in the style of Anton Rubinstein and Liszt. It has a grand sweep, grand gesture, and drama in performance rather than a finely combed technique. Hofmann was famous for being one of the first piano virtuosos who paid so much attention to minute details and who did not make mistakes. His playing did not suffer from this perfection, because what he inherited from his famous teacher was also firmly embedded in him – grandeur, gravitas, drama, power, and brilliance.

– Poland has very consciously continued to prove concern for its musical heritage and much effort is invested in contemporary music as well as preserving the past and its shining musical profiles. I know that you have collaborated with a number of renowned contemporary composers and Chopin is constantly appearing on your concert programs. What can you recommend us to explore when it comes to new and old Polish piano music?

Paderewski is a great start, and certainly is a composer worth discovering. He was a recent discovery for me, which is surprising, given that I have played so much Polish music, and played in Poland from the beginning of my career. I will certainly champion his work in my future concerts.
Chopin, of course, is a master of so many forms, not least of my favourite mazurka. He will always remain in my repertoire as a composer whose Polish heart belonged to the whole world.
Speaking of mazurka, Roman Maciejewski is someone who wrote beautiful mazurkas and other piano music, and whose works I really enjoy playing. And, of course, Szymanowski, whose music need to be heard more, who wrote wonderfully for piano. I had the pleasure to personally work with Lutosławski on his piano concerto, and of course, have great respect for this composer. I like performing his concerto, which is technically demanding but musically rich, and rewarding for both audiences and performers. His Paganini Variations are in my list of top favourites; it is a work that should be heard much more often. It really puts the pianist through his or her paces, and is a great fun to play, despite all the technical challenges. I do have to mention Wojciech Kilar, who wrote a piano concerto for me in 1997, which I was able to perform at the Warsaw Autumn Festival, and which received a prestigious Orpheus award. It is a reflective, I should almost say meditative work, and it is deceptive in its serenity and simplicity – the last movement is tremendously challenging to play. It is not often performed, but it should have its own place in the musical heritage of the 20th century.


Recommended listening:

Hear Paderewski’s Humoresques de concert “À l’Antique”, as well as pieces by Szymanowski, Górecki, Bacewicz, Mykietyn and Panufnik on the album “A Century of Polish Piano Miniatures”.

NEW! Click the album cover to listen to the complete album.
This feature is only available for Gold members of pianostreet.com
Polish Piano Miniatures| Play album >> | Download CD cover >> |

/patrick

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The Art of Listening — Updated Notes from Berman’s Bench

Since the first edition of Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench was published in 2000, it has been read by countless pianists, piano teachers, and piano students throughout the world. The book has been translated into several languages and adopted as a required text in universities and conservatories. Just recently, it was published in a second edition, available in both print and electronic formats. Piano Street’s David Wärn met Mr. Berman at the Cremona Musica Piano Experience, to talk about the contents of the book, and about the changes and updates of the new edition.

Boris Berman performing at the Cremona Musica Piano Experience, September 2018

– Mr. Berman, please tell us how the new edition came about.

– I first wrote the book because I noticed that I kept coming back to the same issues with my students. So, I thought maybe I should cover these issues in writing once and for all. But it appeared that it’s not easy to cover everything once and for all! The idea of the second edition came up because I felt that quite a few years passed; there are some things I see differently now. Also, new ideas came up in the intervening years which I wanted to include in a new edition.

At the same time the publisher, Yale University Press, was interested in getting on the technology bandwagon. We spoke about it and decided that it would be nice to include some audio and video demonstrations. The idea was to find certain moments in the book which are hard to put in words, but easier to understand by hearing or watching a demonstration. When you are reading the E-book this new material is very easily available: you just click on the page. For readers of the printed book, there is a dedicated website through which they can access the video and audio. (View sample >>)

Some of the visual demonstrations actually came to me quite spontaneously: for example, there is one moment when I talk of different levels of clarity, comparing it to perspective in painting. Since I had the opportunity, I could not restrain myself but to give an example of a painting. Of course, it could have been done in print as well, but it felt more spontaneous to do it in a video.

You put great emphasis on sound — the first chapter in your book is called Sound and Touch. In it, you explain in great detail how different movements influence the sound of the piano. But you also write that some teachers and students neglect the topic of sound. How can that be?

– Well, I had the great fortune to study with Lev Oborin, who among the illustrious professors of the Moscow Conservatory was known as paying particular attention to the sound. Consequently, this was something which was constantly referred to when I was a student, and something which I continued to carry on in my pedagogical work.

There are several reasons why sound is a neglected topic. One is that many students are primarily interested in acquiring velocity. This is what their teachers and themselves are concerned with above all. Additionally, many of them practice on terrible instruments, which don’t give them much chance to discern fine gradations of the sound. Or some of them practice on electronic pianos, which limits the possibilities even more. But I think the primary reason is that too many students are thinking that the way to success is to play as fast as possible, and as loud as possible. Unfortunately, some teachers — by no means a majority, but some — cater to this group of students.

Boris Berman teaching

You write that we need two kinds of ears: the subjective one, which we use to imagine the sound that we want, and the objective one, which actually hears what is coming out of the instrument. What are the best ways of developing one’s ‘musical ears’?

– Let’s start with the objective ear. There are many students — especially talented students, students with a great imagination — who are so engrossed in.. emoting, that they do not actually hear themselves. I have a student right now, who is phenomenally gifted. But his performances are full of various exaggerations. In our lessons, I ask him to record himself. I have done this on many occasions before, but never so persistently as with him. Then we listen to the playback together, and I point out: ‘Hear this: I don’t think it’s a good idea to play this way because of this or that’. Or he says: ‘Oh, I didn’t realize I changed the tempo so much!’ The thing is: nobody can hear himself objectively 100%, even the most experienced performers, but we all must try to develop this ability. Recording oneself is a very good way of developing an objective ear.

As for the subjective ear: here I talk about creative imagination. You can say, ‘I want to play this place piano’. Fair enough. But there are many kinds of piano, and this intention alone will not take you far. You can say, ‘I want to play it piano with great intensity’. This is is something different — then you have to figure out what creates the feeling of intensity. Because at the end of the day, it is your physical action that conveys such a feeling. It’s never imagination alone, but you have to start with imagining something.

And so you work to get the sound which you think conveys the idea of intensity. Then you suddenly may have another idea: ‘This should be played like a cello solo’. Again, this is something different, this a new task that you put in front of yourself, and so on. This is how many people work. Others need an extra-musical image. Some musicians may have the synaesthetic way of listening to music: they would perhaps say, ‘I want this to be of a dark red color’. If this helps you — fine. Some would say: ‘I want it to sound like I lost the love of my life’. If this helps — go ahead. All this is to spur your imagination. And hopefully, your imagination will spur your technical know-how.

Is there also such a thing as ‘subjective’ and ‘objective’ technique? You write very objectively about how various physical actions influence sound. At the same time, you encourage students to seek their own approach, to find what works best for each person.

– I work with students of different backgrounds and different temperaments, and this all has a bearing on the way they play— but we should probably begin with their physical build. It is clear that a very heavily built, tall pianist, needs different physical actions than a very tiny, delicately built person. I’m constantly telling this to students. And if I have an opportunity — if, for instance, I work with a student, and another student who is built differently is present in the room, I say: “Well, for you it is better to play this way, but she needs something completely different. And if you will be teaching somebody of her physical build, you would need to know what to suggest to this student.”

Each pianist feels what is convenient and comfortable for himself — but the teacher needs to know what will be the most practical and convenient for this particular person. Sometimes, I will say to a student, ‘You see, this can be achieved this way, or this way, or that way. I suggest that you try them all to see what works best for you.’ I often see my students — and some of them are fantastically gifted and greatly advanced — doing something that would never work for myself. But if it works for them — fine!

In a chapter called The Art of Teaching and the Art of Learning, you mention that some students of today adopt a kind of ‘consumerist’ approach, rather than subscribing wholly to their teacher’s general musical and aesthetic principles. They view lessons as a visit to a supermarket; if they do not find exactly what they want, they just go to the next store. What are they missing?

– You have to realize that every accomplished performer plays a certain way because he believes that it corresponds to his musical, aesthetic aspirations. Somebody may say. ‘Oh, I really dislike his interpretations but he has a gorgeous tone, so maybe I will learn from him the tone but leave alone his interpretation.’ But the tone of a pianist is this and not any other because this is how he hears the music. It cannot be separated.

What students often don’t understand is that a teacher is much more than a provider of useful tips. Of course, we are all constantly learning by picking things up, sometimes subconsciously, but to go to this teacher for wrist technique, and to that teacher for finger technique, and to this teacher for upper arm technique, I find lacking sense.

What you will lose is musical integrity. Horowitz had a fantastic technique,he was one of the greatest virtuosos. Do you think his technique could be organically adopted by somebody like.. Radu Lupu? No, because their whole musical Weltanshauung is very different.

You write that one of the most important things a teacher communicates to the students is ‘a sense of the right measure’. Excesses and exaggerations — in our physical actions as well as in our musical interpretations — must be avoided. Reading this, I was wondering if you are not too hard on exaggeration? Aren’t there certain situations or stages of development where it can be a good idea to ask students to exaggerate musical ideas or physical motions?

– It’s a very good question; I remember I got a comment specifically about this from a teacher who also thought that I’m too hard on exaggeration. I know the teacher and I know his students, let’s say many of them are very… obedient. Of course, he would crave for somebody to exaggerate! And I was thinking of my own students, who often seem to have no inhibitions… So yes, it depends what kind of students you are working with.

So, how would you encourage a student not to be too obedient or timid?

– In this case, I would say, after we discussed what their intention is: ‘go for it, don’t be afraid to exaggerate!’ Sometimes I tell students an old joke about how one makes a bagel: ‘well, it’s very simple — you take a hole, and you wrap it in a dough.’ Obviously you don’t start with the hole, you start with the dough — you start with something material. Then you trim it. You don’t start with void.

And how do you deal with your students’ exaggerations?

– Exaggerations are always motivated by something. For some people, the mere justification might be to be original, or to do something that nobody did before. There are also some people who feel that music becomes more expressive this way. You know, I write about it — it’s so seldom that we musicians say to each other, or teachers say to their students, ‘oh this is absolutely wrong, you treat this piece like a brilliant presto and I feel it is a dark andante’. Usually, we’re talking about “how much”: how much to slow down, how much to make a crescendo… and this is what the teacher needs to communicate. Of course, it’s very simple to say ‘it’s too much’, but I find it very valuable when, instead, you say: ‘this ritenuto would be logical and legitimate if the section was ending here. But it is ending a few bars later. By slowing down so much, you signal that this is the end of the section, and it is not.’ This is one of the ways of dealing with exaggeration.

But often — and here I come back to where we began — the student doesn’t realize that he exaggerates. Early in my pedagogical work, I had a very talented student who played with all kinds of exaggerations, but because he was talented it was still very interesting to hear. And I said to myself: ‘With this boy, I need to be careful, I should not conform him. He has his own vision.’

So, I was kind of pussyfooting around him for quite some time, until once he played in such a way that I really could not accept. I said, ‘Well, I know you want it to sound this way’, and I played it for him, and he said, ‘No no no, I don’t want it to sound like that! And I said, ‘How would you like it to sound?’ And he demonstrated something quite commonsensical. Then I understood that it’s not that he hears it differently. His listening — objective listening — is distorted, and it’s a completely different story.

How would you like the book to be used? Do you use it yourself as a complement to your teaching?

– I do. Sometimes, I say to a student, ‘You know what, we have discussed this issue, but I also write about it in my book in a more general, or more extensive, way — why don’t you read a certain chapter’. This is how I think the book should be read. Probably not from cover to cover — it’s not a novel or thriller. But I hope that a teacher may assign a certain chapter to a student. We all know that the lesson time is quite short. A teacher has to deal with numerous things: correcting notes, correcting rhythms, correcting specific issues in the piece. The teacher may not have time for a general discussion. This is where I think the book can be very useful. I think that all the topics I discuss should be of interest for professional pianists, but not to the same degree at any given time. What I mean is that maybe at a certain point a student needs some help with certain technical issues. Perhaps a few months later, more general aspects of interpretation will come to the fore. I would hope that different parts of the book can serve musicians at different stages of their development.


The book at Amazon.com:
Notes from the Pianist’s Bench: Second Edition

Recommended listening:

Click the album covers to listen to the complete albums:

(This is a new feature available for Gold members of pianostreet.com)

/nilsjohan

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Build a LEGO Piano to Learn Basic Piano Mechanics!

The Concert Grand Piano, one of the most complex instruments of all time, is now in Lego form. Built entirely from 2798 authentic LEGO bricks, it accurately captures the mechanical details of a real piano.

While it doesn’t actually play piano music, this 2,798-piece miniature LEGO model of a concert grand piano does have 25 independently working keys, a removable keyboard, and a height-adjustable bench. It also has a working damper and pedal, a self-playing mode, a working piano lid, and more.

LEGO master SleepyCow engineered it to contribute to LEGO Ideas in the hopes that it will be voted in to be mass produced as a retail kit. He explains the reason for building it:
“Ever since I started learning music, I have always wanted to build a piano out of LEGO bricks. I have also been asked many times by my students about the inner-workings of a piano. I think this will be a great set to teach students about piano mechanics. I’ve seen many people do it in different ways, but I decided to make my own version, as well as try to make it as similar to a real piano as possible with correct proportions.”


/nilsjohan

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Yuja Wang Played with Left Hand in Versailles to Commemorate Peace

The First World War showed no mercy to artists and many died or returned injured. The Austrian pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm on the battlefield and Maurice Ravel composed the “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand” for him. The piece was performed by Yuja Wang in a recent concert in Versailles, in which the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra commemorated the 100th anniversary of the “Treaty of Versailles” and the end of the Great War.

The world famous Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra commemorated the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War with a symbolic “Concert for Peace” during a memorable performance at the Royal Opera House at the Palace of Versailles.


“The way he has written it, it’s like he’s had three hands or four hands in his head I mean there’s a top melody and then, this in the middle, and it’s like the most beautiful harmonies there and so much intricacies and the instrumentation, he’s using, the colours he’s creating. And you know it has a groovy, wild side.
I think I just enjoy this kind of mysterious power inside, coming from you know like three motives and he is just constantly transforming them… and this power is probably coming from all the catastrophe from the end of the war. And I like that dark power,”
Wang said.

Hear an excerpt from the piano concerto played by Yuja Wang in a DG recording session back in 2015:


/nilsjohan

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