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The Riga Jurmala Festival – First Edition

The first edition of the Riga Jurmala Festival featured four weekends throughout July, August and September with an impressive lineup of world-famous pianists, including Rudolf Buchbinder, Yuja Wang, Seong-Jin Cho, Lukas Geniušas, Jan Lisiecki, Denis Kozhukhin, The Osokins and Lucas Debargue. Verbier Festival wizard Martin T:son Engstroem was headhunted to create the new prestigious Latvian music festival.

The festival took place at the Latvian National Opera, the Great Guild, and in the Dzintari Concert Hall in Jurmala, beautifully located close to the sea 20 minutes from Riga. The beach town functioned as a retreat for many renowned artists during the Soviet times. Legends such as Richter, Gilels, Oistrach and Kogan spent recreational time there with their families in the past.

Four international top orchestras added to the global presence: Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Mariss Jansons, the London Symphony Orchestra and Gianandrea Noseda, and the Russian National Orchestra and Mikhail Pletnev. Yuja Wang performed Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto together with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and Zubin Mehta.

Martin Engstroem’s Winning Philosophy

Knowing that top musicians are open to artistic challenges during the summer, Engstroem wants to create situations based on the possibility to allow a variety of programs with different and unexpected combinations of performers sharing the stage. For Engstroem it’s always important to seek something new and out of the ordinary –  he has noted that bringing these people together may very well result in them working together again elsewhere.

– And I remember András Schiff who, at the beginning, was very sceptical of this kind of showcase. And he played some four-hand repertoire with Yuja Wang and, on one piano, together with Mikhail Pletnev, said Mr. Engstroem in an interview with Gramophone.

Constantly looking for talent and exciting programming certainly mirrors Engstroem’s career in music which has embraced arts management, as A&R with Deutsche Grammophon and service on juries for numerous music competitions including the important International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Born in the Swedish capital Stockholm, Engstroem feels a natural geographical and historical attachment to Baltic Latvia which also includes a personal experience having spent a honeymoon in Jurmala.

More videos:

Trailer weekend 3

About Sergei Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto

More about the festival: www.riga-jurmala.com


David Klavins Exploring the Limits of Piano Construction

Many a pianist have heard about David Klavins, the German-Latvian piano maker. Back in 1987, he introduced the world’s largest upright piano; Model 370, which is two floors high. German musician Nils Frahm recorded an album on it, and the proceeds helped finance Klavins’ next project which was building an even bigger piano. The collaboration with Nils Frahm has since then continued and recently a completely different piano, the UNA CORDA model was created in an interaction between Frahm’s musical and sonic ideas and Klavins’ vast experiences as an instrument builder.

World’s largest piano unveiled this week!

The mighty Klavins Vertical Concert Grand brings out new sound possibilities by means of the piano in a magnified context and introduces a new dimension of dynamics and timbre to the world of pianos. It is therefor not impossible to call it an instrument entirely without compromise.

In May 2019 the latest Klavins Vertical Concert Grand, the M470i, was installed at its destination, the brand-new concert hall in the city of Ventspils, Latvia. The 470i Vertical Concert Grand piano, has strings that are 4.7 meters long. On display to the public for the first time on Friday August 2, the instrument has already created a buzz among piano enthusiasts.

On the other hand, he UNA CORDA faithfully captures the special sound signature of a custom-made contemporary piano, but with just one string per key. The instrument allows you to craft melodies for film or simply introducing fresh elements into electronic, pop, or jazz, promising a tone unlike anything audiences have ever heard before, bringing on a celestial all-over sound character.

Moreover, the UNA CORDA has an open body design, double-lowered and rib-less soundboard, a tone modulator and a stainless steel frame. It is also built without any chemicals or materials that endanger the environment.

Interview with David Klavins

Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell was very happy to have the chance to talk with David Klavins about his latest innovations.

Piano Street: You are an instrument builder and there are many brands on the market. Which philosophy have you nurtured during your years a caftsman?

David Klavins: My philosophy in piano building has been formed by the understanding that today’s pianos are essentially built by principles that were established more than 100 years ago and remain unchanged even today. The general idea of pianos are constrained by the possibilities and best understanding of those times. My approach from the onset was to rethink the piano design, to find out whether totally different solutions may be at hand that were not existing in the 19th century. Quite early in my professional career I came to the understanding that the shape of the grand piano, namely of its soundboard (which is a consequence of the grand pianos’ design) has acoustic disadvantages, as well as I reached the conclusion that the concert grand piano is too small in general, to live up to the typical sizes of concert halls of today. So I decided that I want to build pianos of my own design, strictly driven by the principle of “form follows function”.

PS: You started a collaboration with Nils Frahm already back when you built the world’s largest upright piano and it continued when you planned the creation of a Una Corda piano. Can you tell us from what base you formed your ideas together and how they developed during the process?

DK: Meeting Nils Frahm marked a significant turning point in my work. Because of his deep interest in original, new sounds, especially that of pianos, we found common ground quickly. While discussing the aspects of acoustic pianos that might be improved upon, one of these being its horrendous weight, I recalled an idea of mine that I had developed 20 years ago, to design an Una Corda piano. Nils instantly understood, as his own ideas resonated with this concept, and after we had thoroughly discussed the basic elements of the Una Corda, he commissioned me to build one. During the design- and building process we discussed step by step all kind of factors, including the visual design, and mainly thanks to his input it turned out being a piano that represents a minimalist ideal. Based on the success of the Una Corda piano, our cooperation intensified, and we took on a bigger project – building the M450 Vertical Concert Grand, which is now hosted at his studio at the Funkhaus Berlin.

PS: Can you explain how the interspersed tone modulator works in action?

DK: The tone modulator is designed the way that different type of materials can be attached to an aluminum rail by Velcro, which allows to easily switch from one material to another, or even equip the rail with a multitude of different materials for different tones / registers. In effect, these materials are placed between the piano hammers and the strings, which generates different colors of sound, depending on the characteristics of the modulation materials attached.

PS: In times of eco orientation and sustainability, the UNA CORDA is built with this in mind. Which manufacturing processes do you have to engage in in order to stay eco friendly?

DK: We had in mind to stay free of lacquer, chemical glues, and chemical paints, which was one major factor leading to the use of a stainless steel frame as the sole element to pick up the string tension and serve as the instrument’s body. Abandoning the idea of a piano case (furniture) in part also serves the eco-friendliness of the Una Corda piano, although the main reason for the “naked” design is not to suffocate the sound by putting it inside a wooden box. The soundboard of traditional pianos is typically coated by lacquer, which we substitute by natural beeswax, for protecting the soundboard wood against excessive humidity. In effect all materials used at the Una Corda piano, and during the building process, are purely organic.

PS: Some people have said that the joy and curse of the piano is the fact that we always want it to sound as other instruments. Modern instrument critics also think that the modern instrument is too homogenized and doesn’t reflect the ideas of classical and romantic composers. What will happen to instrument making in the future?

DK: My hope is to inspire other piano builders to follow suit and think of new variations of the acoustic piano, in particular regarding sound design. The fact that the Una Corda piano is received so well and highly appreciated especially by composers, is a strong indicator that users are increasingly asking for new sound characteristics of the piano. While most of the large piano manufacturing companies are, and most likely will remain, stuck to their traditional ways of piano building, I see a good chance that new, smaller companies arise, in light of the vast options that the modern technologies and materials of today are offering.

PS: We know that Mr. Frahm and his work is constantly looking for innovations. Do you have further project ideas coming up in the future?

DK: Yes, we indeed are working on developing further ideas of altering the piano sound, by design, by the materials used, and also by adding digital and electronic components to the analog acoustic concept of the piano, to offer a wider range of sound effects, for creative pianists and composers who appreciate innovation.

Read more:


Alexandre Kantorow Wins Tchaikovsky Competition

The 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition concluded at night on June 27, naming the winners across its six categories. In the piano category the Gold Medal went to the French pianist Alexandre Kantorow.

Notably, Kantorow was the only finalist playing Tchaikovsky’s Second Piano Concerto and not the ever popular First. Hear his performance of this work and Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in the Final Round at medici.tv

Alexandre Kantorow in the middle section of FaurĂ©’s Nocturne no. 6, opus 63 from the second round of the competition:

The young French pianist recently released a much-praised album of Saint-Saëns piano concertos for the BIS label. BIS started to record with him already five years ago and surely must be very proud over this collaboration.

”Kantorow is the real deal – a fire-breathing virtuoso with a poetic charm…”
— Gramophone, June 2019

An Unexpected Special Prize Awarded

The jury led by Denis Matsuev awarded two Silver Medals and three Bronze medals (see full list of prize winners) but this year’s competition will also be remembered by a significant administrational blunder.
The Chinese pianist Tianxu An was awarded fourth place and a “Special Prize for courage and restraint” for his ability to handle the orchestra’s mix-up of Tchaikovsky First Concerto and the Rachmaninov Paganini Rhapsody. See his confusion in this short video clip.

The official explanation of the incident:
“Due to a gross error committed by an employee of the State Academic Symphony Orchestra “Evgeny Svetlanov” on June 25, 2019, before the Competition performance of An Tianxu, the musical scores by Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff for the orchestra and the conductor were arranged in a reverse order which differed from the pattern requested by the participant. In this connection, the performance began with a failure, because the participant was unable to immediately understand what had happened, and switched to another musical piece already during the performance. By a unanimous decision of the Jury, Denis Matsuev, the Jury Chair in the Piano category, officially invited An Tianxu to re-play his program. The participant officially refused.”

The Tchaikovsky Piano Competition is held every four years in Moscow, and is considered one of the more prestigious competitions in the world, alongside other events like the Van Cliburn Competition (Texas) the Leeds Competition, The Chopin Competition (Warsaw), The Queen Elisabeth Competition (Brussels) and the Arthur Rubinstein Competition (Tel-Aviv).

Recent winners of the Tchaikovsky competition included Daniil Trifonov (2011) and Dmitry Masleev (2015).

All performances of the 2019 competition are available at:


What’s Inside Steinway’s Secret Vault?

To get inside Steinways’s new secret addition to their New York Factory, you must be invited. “The Vault” has over $3 million in exotic veneers, waiting for the right buyer at the right time.

Steinway’s highly secure selection room that’s reserved for only its top clientele, showcases some of the rarest and most grail-worthy pianos the company has ever built.

Currently, seven Steinway limited edition pianos are on view in The Vault. A John Lennon “Imagine” Model B Spirio sits in the left hand corner, with reproduced Lennon doodles and, of course, a signature – created in celebration of the late musician’s would-be 70th birthday.

Another standout among this exclusive crowd is the Lalique Heliconia Model A. Droplets of Lalique glass adorn the piano, styled as crystalline leaves upon swirling white branches.

Journey through imagination

The Vault’s crown jewel is the “Pictures at an Exhibition”. This unique concert grand piano unites Modest Mussorgsky’s immortal work for solo piano with classical painting of Russian history and folklore: landscape, the witch Baba Yaga’s clock hut, the Great Gate of Kiev, and many more.

Pianist and artist Paul Wyse started the design process in 2012 and the finished piano was revealed in May 2017. Hear him introduce the project:

Learn more about this piano on steinway.com.

Follow along into the Vault!

The guys at Gear Patrol recently visited Steinway’s factory and headquarters in Queens, NYC, to witness the crafting and manufacturing process first-hand. Follow them exploring the new hyper-exclusive Vault in this video:


German Piano Award 2019

Frankfurt Musikmesse kicked off its 2019 edition by presenting the 9th edition of The International German Piano Award’s Grand-Prix-Final Concerts initiated by The International Piano Forum (IPF), which was founded in 2008 by friends and supporters of classical piano music. It offers outstanding young national and international artistic personalities a platform accompanying them on their way to an international career. The prize money amounts to a total of €20,000.

Jeung Beum Sohn

This year’s winner in the finals at Alte Oper Frankfurt on March 31 was South Korean pianist Jeung Beum Sohn, presently a student at the Conservatory in Münster. Jeung Beum Sohn’s rendition of Brahms’ D minor Concerto defeated the other finalist Luka Okros’ in Rachmaninov’s C minor Concerto who received the Audience Award and €3,000. The competition attracted some one hundred applications and six nominated semifinalists were invited to come to Frankfurt. All nominees will be supported by The International Piano Forum in their following careers. IPF arrange concert series and performances internationally and establish contacts with both orchestras and their leaders. This platform is named IPF-MASTERS.

Despite countless other piano competitions, something like the International German Piano Award has never existed before says IPF Patron Dr. Peter Ramsauer. Patrons Maestro Valery Gergiev and Dr. Petra Roth points out the award to be a cultural highlight and a commitment and support for young pianists in their international careers. Also pianist Lars Vogt finds it especially important to pinpoint the young pianists’ ”deep understanding of one’s self and the boundless vastness, which is slumbering in all of us and composers have wonderfully expressed across all boundaries of time”.

Watch videos from past and current events on International Piano Forum’s YouTube channel.

9th International German Piano Award 2019 – Frankfurt, Germany – Impressions:


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