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Piano Street's Classical Piano News

- your guide to the classical piano world.
Andras Schiff, Brahms and the Question of Tradition

Much attention and mention is given Sir Andras Schiff’s latest remarkable recording of both Brahms’ piano concertos with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Schiff’s choice of instrument is a Blüthner grand piano built in Leipzig around 1859, the year in which the first D minor concerto was premiered. Schiff has changed foot in his views on period instruments and the recording can be seen as an ambitious attempt to scrutinize and fully bring out the true characteristics of Brahms’ works.

Several years ago, Schiff acquired an 1820 fortepiano, which was used to make recordings of two double albums with Schubert’s late piano works. Schiff says: ”Playing the Brahms concertos on a modern piano with modern orchestras, there were always balance problems. And I found, especially in the second B-flat Concerto, that it was just physically and psychologically very hard to play. Somehow, with this Blüthner piano, the physical difficulties disappear. The keys are a tiny bit narrower, so the stretches are not so tiring, and the action is much lighter. So there is not this colossal physical work involved.” In recent interviews, Schiff has criticised the increasing homogeneity of piano performance, with modern Steinways used for repertoire of every era.

In the album’s liner notes Schiff describes his aim of this ECM label New Series project: “To liberate it from the burden of the – often questionable – trademarks of performing tradition.”

The ambition has been to get back to the sound and scale of the performances that Brahms himself would have expected. Among Brahms’ favourite orchestras was Hans von Bülow’s band in Meiningen, which had just 49 players. Schiffs’ previous collaboration with the period instrument ensemble Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Schumann piano concerto in London, led to a natural choice of ensemble for this recording.

Listen to a sample from the album:

David Weininger in New York Times asked Schiff in which passages the use of these instruments allows the music to come across with unusual freshness, and Schiff replied:
“For example, in the first movement of the Second Concerto, the development section can sound, in modern performance, very muddy and not clear, because there is so much counterpoint there. I’m very pleased to hear all those details. But also, take the opening of the third movement, with the cello solo. If it’s played with these instruments, next to the cello solo you hear all the other lower strings: the cellos and violas, and then later the oboe and bassoon. I just hear these layers of sound instead of a general sauce.”

András Schiff on the many facets of Johannes Brahms

András Schiff on performance tradition and choice of instruments

”He has gone back to the original manuscripts to check details of his performances, discovering, for instance, that Brahms had attached a metronome marking to the first movement of the D minor concerto that is significantly slower than we usually hear today, but which was omitted from the printed editions. It’s a shock to begin with but Schiff makes it convincing, gradually building the tension through the movement as the sound of his Blüthner – with its much less overpowering lower register than we are used to hearing from modern Steinways – blends beautifully with the soft grained OAE strings, while in the slow movement, it’s the wonderfully mellow woodwind that come into their own.” – The Guardian

“Schiff’s whole point of doing it this way is to strip the music of all of its accumulated performance traditions, and what the Blüthner piano may lack in oomph is more than made up for by the mellow smoothness of its tone and the clarity of textures across the various registers of the instrument…This warmth is pleasingly complemented by the orchestral playing…I was really surprised by how much this recording changed the way I both heard and thought about these concertos.” – Presto Classical


/patrick

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The World of Piano Competitions – issue 1 2021

As a collaborating partner Piano Street is proud to present the fifth issue of The World of Piano Competitions, a magazine initiated by PIANIST Magazine (Netherlands and Germany) and its Editor-in-Chief Eric Schoones. Here we get a rich insight into the world of international piano competitions through the eyes of its producers and participants.

Click cover to download:

Contributing Editors: Gustav Alink (Alink-Argerich Foundation), Christo Lelie, Gerrit Glaner (Steinway), Patrick Jovell (Piano Street), Florian Riem (WFIMC)

Free download!

Piano Street is happy to share the fifth issue of WOPC with our readers free of charge: The-World-of-Piano-Competitions-issue-1-2021.pdf

Content

Interviews
Andrey Gugnin | Getting started
Alexander Gavrylyuk | The right mindset
Alexandra Kaptein | Under Liszt’s spell
Daniel Kogan | Blessing or Burden

In Profile
International Schimmel Piano Competition
Liszt in Weimar and Bayreuth
Pearl River Kayserburg International Youth Piano Competition
Santander International Piano Competition
International Telekom Beethoven Competition Bonn
ARD International Music Competition
The International Schubert-Competition Dortmund

Behind the Scenes
Steinway Prizewinner Concerts Network | Challenges
and chances
WFIMC Piano Competitions on five continents
How are the piano competitions coping with the pandemic?
Virtual Competitions in Reality
Géza Anda Competition | A helping hand
Bechstein lends a hand
Liszt Utrecht | New Ways
Piano Competitions During Pandemic | Can’t Stop The Music

The Piano
Pianists and Piano Brands
Spacewalk from the 3D printer


Background

The piano enjoys a tremendous popularity worldwide and has the universal quality to be able to communicate through cultures, history and geographical borders. The value of piano competitions cannot be overestimated in terms of focus on the piano as an instrument and piano playing. The competition industry engages a multiplicity of concerns including hi-end piano manufacturing, media coverage and broadcast, repertoire spotlight and pedagogy, concert and lecture production and not least, career opportunity and exposure for laureates and non-laureates. All this contributes to a richer cultural life and can powerfully promote the aim we all share: to spread the joy and riches of the art of piano playing.

”Piano music, especially live, is incomparable and can be a great source of joy for players and listeners. We all should strive to allow as many people benefit from it as possible. For that, this edition of The World of Piano Competition is an excellent form of encouragement. I hope its message spreads widely! I wish everyone much joy reading it and, later on, attending a concert!”
— Guido Zimmermann, President Steinway & Sons Europe

THE WORLD OF PIANO COMPETITIONS
is published twice a year by PIANIST, as a part of the regular edition, and also worldwide as a separate magazine.

PIANIST (regular edition) is published four times a year in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and Belgium.
www.pianist-magazin.de
www.pianistmagazine.nl


/patrick

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Beethoven Celebration in Retrospect

For Nikolas Sideris, editor-in-chief at Editions Musica Ferrum, the Beethoven year 2020 was more than just a great anniversary. It also represented the final stage of a mega project started seven years earlier – the Mount Everest of all LvB 250 homage projects. In cooperation with Susanne Kessel, a pianist from the city of Bonn, 250 composers from 47 countries were invited to compose piano pieces referring to Beethoven and his work, in such diverse genres as new music, jazz, pop, film and more. The premieres of the piano pieces were held in Beethoven’s birth city, Bonn and in other cities as well. Radio recordings (WDR) and CD productions accompany the project. All 260 pieces have been published by Editions Musica Ferrum in ten volumes. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell talks to Nikolas Sideris about how this gigantic and thought-provoking project turned out.

Piano Street: Since we last met for an interview in 2016 on your project ”Beauty and Hope in the 21st Century”, you already then mentioned a mega project you had entered with pianist Susanne Kessel to be completed 2020, as a part of the LvB 250 celebrations. Tell me how it all started?

Nikolas Sideris: Yes, I remember when we first met in 2016. Thank you for that initial meeting and interview. I met Susanne Kessel through a common friend and composer, Nickos Harizanos. He introduced us and then we immediately hit it off, feeling, both, that we were a great fit for each other. I had just published Nicko’s “Monographs II” which is filled with graphic notation and that was the evidence needed to persuade everyone that Editions Musica Ferrum was ready to tackle such a gigantic – and exciting – project. Soon the pieces for the first volume started coming in, which is when all practical issues came into play and the real adventure started for me. The rest is… history.

PS: Your project contains 260 pieces in ten volumes and 250 composers have submitted compositions. How did you manage to find and engage all these people and what was required in order to qualify as a composer?

NS: For the anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven in 2020, pianist Susanne Kessel invited composers from around the world to compose piano pieces which refer to Beethoven and his work. Since 2013, she issued personal invitations to composers of new music, jazz and film music. The premieres of the piano pieces were held in Beethoven’s birth city, Bonn and in other cities as well. Radio recordings (WDR) and CD productions accompany the project. All the pieces are published from Editions Musica Ferrum and are available for the international music world.

PS: In December the last volume 10 was published. Congratulations! In volume 8 though, the pieces were written by young composers. Can you tell us a little bit about this encouraging idea, the people involved and their pieces?

NS: It contains 18 new pieces and 2 pieces from older volumes which were composed by composers younger than the age of 18. Volume 8 was perceived early in the process of the project by Susanne Kessel who was keen to include as many people and genres as possible in the project. The voice of the young should not be excluded from such a wider project. So around 2018 both she and a composer and dear friend, from volume 1, David P. Graham started scouting for young talents in various music schools worldwide. As with every volume, we ended up with a variety of styles, ideas, and nationalities true to the spirit of the project. From Germany, to the UK, to Estonia, to Japan, to China, and elsewhere.

PS: From April 2020 you presented a ”250 pieces for Beethoven Marathon” which started on April 1 and ran until December 15. Every day a new composer and piece was introduced. Can you tell us a little about this initiative and how it took place?

NS: Volume 9 (second to last volume) went to print in the end of January, and it was supposed to ship in the end of February to both London and Bonn. London to reach the Editions Musica Ferrum warehouse, and in Bonn to reach Susanne Kessel and be present on the 13th of March on the official publication date of the mentioned volume.

Unfortunately things did not go as planned. By the beginning of March the signs were rather negative in terms of the Corona-virus and as thus the concert on the 13th of March, in Bonn, was cancelled, but Susanne herself was present to offer a glimpse of a few copies that arrived there in time. The rest of the copies never left Greece. They were stored in a secure warehouse, until the lockdown and traveling restrictions were lifted. A lot of further concerts were cancelled, or suspended, and it was unclear on what will happen for the remaining of 2020. So Susanne threw the idea of making an Internet based “250 piano pieces for Beethoven Marathon” where all pieces were to be presented, one per day. With photos, links to the recordings of each piece and links to the individual sheet music of each piece, both the recording and the score for purchase digitally. The Editions Musica Ferrum website was updated to host digital individual files and serve automatic sales, while bandcamp is hosting all the recordings of the pieces for this project that have been recorded. The pieces are presented by volume, and in the same order as they appear in the printed score and on the 26th of April, the 2nd volume resumed the marathon.
https://www.facebook.com/250pianopieces/

PS: Such a marvelous way for the public to get acquainted with the material! As a pianist and/or piano teacher, is it possible to get guidance on the difficulty level of the pieces or which is the best way to get a feeling for what to pick or start with from such a grand project?

NS: This is something we are starting to work on and it is something that I’m keen on adding in the Musica Ferrum website, as extra information for all works. It is missing and I do feel that it is vital, not only for this massive project, but for all the other works as well.
We are also planning to release an extra volume, or collection if you will, with a choice of some of the more approachable, yet educational works in the near future.

PS: You are fortunate to have the whole view on the production of pieces. Can you tell me the different paths the composers have used to strike a connection to or being inspired by the project theme Ludwig van Beethoven?

NS: This has certainly been a wonderful trip and happened all the way until volume 10 came out! In order to answer this question one needs to consider how different each composer is. So the same material can result in drastically different results. For example quite a few composers took inspiration from some of Beethoven’s works, which we also have been able to list. But the approach of each one resulted in such a different work that it becomes difficult to tell the initial inspiration in the end. In particular, from the top of my head. I can remember the 3rd movement of the Tempest Sonata in D minor. One composer counted all the notes, used the same rhythm and order, but changed the pitch series completely, resulting in something rather unexpected. Another composer used the main rhythm to use, playing inside the piano with timpani mallets and so on. Other composers used his name as a starting point. BEetHovEn (H being B natural in German). Some took away parts of his letters, or his philosophy, his life and so on. And this is the magic of this project. It is such an open project that you can expect anything really, while at the same time having this guarantee that there is a link to Beethoven, being the Master that he was.

PS: The whole project started seven years ago from a basis with you being an editor-in-chief AND a composer. With this massive output and vast relationship with the material, how and in which ways have your personal views on Ludwig van Beethoven changed or become nurtured during this period of time?

NS: This is a very interesting question, as it links works already well known (to me and to everyone) and the new filters provided by the contemporary composers. It’s a fascinating theory and actual fact that my understanding of Beethoven’s music and life changed vastly through the 250 piano pieces for Beethoven, and through the playing and thoughts and whole leadership of Susanne Kessel. It’s with newly found interest I started looking again with works that I’ve already performed, or heard, and paid attention to different aspects of the old works, in comparison and connection with the new works, leading me to form new thoughts and establish new ideas about them. It’s a life changing project and one that changed me completely.


Musica Ferrum kindly offers three free scores from the collection to all Piano Street members. Login to your account and visit this page to download the scores:
https://www.pianostreet.com/members/free/250-for-beethoven-scores.php

List of Beethoven works functioning as musical and thematic inspiration for composers of the project:
http://250-piano-pieces-for-beethoven.com/noteneditionen/werkliste/

The composers:
http://250-piano-pieces-for-beethoven.com/en/composers/

Project Webpage: http://250-piano-pieces-for-beethoven.com/


/nilsjohan

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Stanchinsky is Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice

The short-lived Russian pianist and composer Alexey Stanchinsky was playing in public by age six and was highly regarded in all the musical activities he undertook. Swedish pianist Peter Jablonski has recorded an album with selected Stanchinsky works for the Ondine label, a recording that was recently selected as Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice of May 2021. Piano Street talked to Jablonski about the young forgotten composer and his works.

Piano Street: Congratulations on your Stanchinsky recording for Ondine being selected as Gramophone’s Editor’s Choice of May 2021! You have always nourished an interest in intriguing repertoire and your recording of the seldom heard Scriabin Mazurkas gained great acclaim. How did you find Alexei Stanchinsky, the young Russian, who died at 26?

Peter Jablonski: My partner Anastasia, who is a musicologist specialising in Russian music, told me about Stanchinsky and his connection to Scriabin, Taneyev, and Moscow. She then gave me the score of his Nocturne, and when I played it through, I was immediately hooked—the music sounded so fresh, so original and so different from most of what I played before; it simply captivated me and pushed me to get to know his music further.

PS: You are well documented in Russian and Soviet composers’ repertoire. What stands out in Stanchinskiy’s works and what do find being intriguing?

PJ: The most intriguing for me is the versatile, and the power of his talent, which was burning such a short time. What he achieved in 10 years of his entire creative life is astonishing. His music combines so many things: folk-like elements, complex polyphony, full-blooded Russian broodiness and gloominess, and also humour, grace, and great sincerity.

Hear Peter Jablonski perform Stanchinsky’s Sketch no. 3:


PS: What can you say about his production of piano works which started in 1905, the forms and stylistic development until his early death?

PJ: I spent a lot of time carefully making the selection of Stanchinsky’s works for the recording, because I wanted to give a well-rounded picture of the originality and many facets of his creative talent and also the works that I felt a direct connection to. Like so many of his colleagues at the time, he begins by being inspired by Chopin, and also by Scriabin; his early works are very melody and harmony driven and lyrical. The Piano Sonata in E-flat minor (he composed two more after this) is an early work, displaying a lot of passion, character, melodic invention, and harmonic complexity. It is also rather demanding and awkwardly written pianistically! There are many instances where the score is ambiguous about notes and tempo, so one has to navigate the score with care. The bravura is always secondary to the musical message and the passion is burning intensely from within not in a brazen outwardly fashion. The Preludes are real character studies where despite his tender age, Stanchinsky shows real mastery at creating moods and distinct characters in the space of only a few bars, not unlike Grieg who was another early influence of Stanchinsky’s. These are perhaps the works that also clearly show his connection to the pianistic tradition of Scriabin and somewhat also Rachmaninoff. My passion for, and interest in the Mazurka genre are probably quite well known, so of course I had to take both Stanchinsky’s Mazurkas. Both mazurkas show clear influences of Chopin and the wonderful lilting quality of the rhythms are clearly there. They make me wonder if Szymanowski knew them as they seem to be a clear bridge between Chopin and Szymanowski. As character pieces the 15 Sketches (originally his Op. 1), are perhaps the most inventive and daring, with everything from slow lyricism to pianistic pyrotechnics in them. They were so good that they even made Prokofiev jealous! Songs Without Words are in the best song-like, lyrical tradition of Russian folk music, and are very simple without being simplistic. Again, we hear similarities with Grieg here.

Stanchinsky’s Nocturne was a real surprise to me. First of all, it seems to be written in a format that we meet often in Chopin, for example, with lyrical outer parts and a stormy middle section. But, in Stanchinsky’s nocturne the middle section is so unusual pianistically, I could say it is outstanding it its technical challenges, the writing is a bit awkward, like in the Sonata in E-flat minor, and because of that, it is easy to lose track of the fantastic music within.

The Variations are one of the most unusual, I would say, and intriguing work on this recording. Their outward simplicity and clarity are almost medieval, and show Stanchinsky’s interest in early music, which developed into his complete obsession with Bach and horrifically complex polyphonic writing later on.

To summarise my view of Stanchinsky’s music is quite easy—it is a composer so unique, who is his short 10 years of creative life managed to create works so diverse and so complex, one can only but wonder about, and be sorry for the fact that his life did not last longer for him to share with us the full extend of his extraordinary musical talent.

PS: He was said to wanting to take consultation from Nikolai Medtner in the end of his life. Can we see a musical connection there?

PJ: The connection between Medtner and Stanchinsky is easy to establish: both were influenced by and taught by the same man: Sergey Taneyev, who developed their interest in counterpoint. So, both composers have an epic, story-telling element in their music, and both were masters of counterpoint.


Click the album cover to listen to the complete album.
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Listen to Gramophones podcast:
Peter Jablonski on the piano music of Alexei Stanchinsky


/patrick

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State Of the Art Innovations – The 102 keys Stephen Paulello Grand Piano

For more than 30 years, Stephen Paulello has systematically studied all the components of the piano, including the instruments of previous eras. But as a pianist dreaming of more complex and expressive sonorities, he doesn’t content himself with a cult of the past. Instead, he has often used his findings to challenge generally accepted ideas. His unique grand pianos are constructed to order in his workshop-laboratory 100 kms south of Paris, where there is also a recording studio. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell has interviewed Stephen Paulello about his visions and achievements.

Piano maker Stephen Paulello

Piano Street: Many a professional and famous musician have spoken of you, and your instruments are frequently used for recordings. Vienna has ordered one Opus 102 instrument from you. What can you tell us about this ”sounding” part of the Stephen Paulello, for those who cannot come and visit your workshop in Villethierry outside Paris?

Stephen Paulello: An Opus 102 was sold to a Viennese dealer who would like to sell it to a great concert hall or recording studio in Vienna. The Opus 102 has a great equality of sound in all registers, a great power, a great dynamic, an infinite variety of colours, great clarity, very deep bass, very bright treble, an exceptional sustain that allows a true legato. However, it is difficult to describe the sound of a piano in words. It is better to come to us and taste this instrument. This experience usually does not leave one indifferent.

Stephen Paulello - 102 keys grand piano

PS: Instrument makers are artists with an additional dimension. They do not only know what they are looking for sound wise, but they also know how to achieve it in terms of construction. All artists are driven by an initial source or inspiration. Which was your trigger in wanting to create your own piano brand?

SP: I made my first concert grand piano (2m87) thirty years ago. At this time, I was a concert pianist and piano teacher and there was no question of creating a brand but of making an instrument that would allow me to do what I could not do with usual commercial instruments. I used to play this instrument for my concerts and recordings and often lent it to some of my friends. In 1996, I developed a new way of stringing pianos – “hybrid stringing” – by creating my own plain steel wires, which are now marketed all over the world. In 2004, I decided to give up my career as a pianist and piano teacher in order to devote myself to the manufacture in very small series, extremely meticulous, of non-standard instruments. I wanted to rethink piano building in all its details.

PS: The construction of your grand instrument with 102 notes stresses the use and importance of parallel oblique strings and a barless frame. What can you tell us about this specific relationship including the extra 4th?

SP: Our three piano models (SP190, SP230, SP300) have 102 keys: 9 extra notes in the low register (a sixth) and 5 extra notes (a fourth) in the high register. Several reasons led me to add notes to the usual 88-note keyboard:

    The evolution of piano making ceased when the range of the keyboard stopped expanding. Extending again the keyboard, is a symbol that piano history moves ahead again
    The additional notes, especially in the low register, enriches the whole piano sound.
    Today’s composers have at their disposal an instrument that broadens their scope. Until today, more than 10 works were written especially for Opus 102, including extra-notes.

Regarding the barless frame, the aim was to avoid the change of sound quality that is usually noticeable around each frame bar. Removing them brings additional homogeneity and equality to the whole. Parallel strings significantly increase the legibility, intelligibility and articulation of musical phrases especially in the lower-middle and bass ranges. I made them oblique so as to allow as long speaking lengths as those of a cross stringed instrument.

In the piano workshop

PS: Many a discussion on piano construction and re-thinking comes down to the wooden case – quality and best sound design – as well as the strings. Which are your thoughts on this?

SP: As I mentioned earlier, I have developed another way of stringing pianos by producing and marketing SP strings. The plain strings of our pianos are covered with an electrolytic nickel coating. The bass strings are spun with nickel-plated soft iron and nickel-plated bronze. The soundboard, the bridge, the striking line, the action, the keyboard deserve according to me a priority attention before taking care of the wooden case and external finish, even if we worked on it as well.

One recent recording made in Studio Stephen Paulello is an album of Bach Toccatas played by Laurent Cabasso, who says of the instrument:

– The first time I tried Stephen Paulello’s Opus 102, I was immediately struck by three things, three qualities which we rarely encounter together in a piano: an exceptional length of sound, perfect clarity of the registers due to its parallel strings, and a clear, bright tone… A tenacious doubt often plagued me whenever I played Bach on the piano. This sensation is radically different on Stephen Paulello’s instrument, which brings a remarkable clarity to the polyphony and the tone, so essential to this music.


/patrick

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