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Alexander Gadjiev – To Save the World

Our meeting took place in Krefeld, at Kawai – the Japanese make of piano with which Alexander Gadjiev has become so familiar since his success at the Hamamatsu competition. Now his career is really taking off in Europe too: Gadjiev is a BBC New Generation Artist until the end of 2021 and is also one of the 25 chosen contestants at the upcoming 16th International Tchaikovsky Competition, 17-29 June in Moscow.

“At the competition in Hamamatsu I decided on a Kawai. I immediately felt at ease, and for me the best thing about Kawai is that, as a pianist, one can influence the sound itself. Playing legato, creating a mysterious atmosphere or rising to a grandiose climax: everything works, thanks to the exemplary way the mechanism functions.”

You were born in Gorizia, on the border between Italy and Slovenia, at a meeting point of peoples, cultures and languages.
Gorizia is just a small town, but the mixture of influences left its mark on me. Precisely because the town was so small and there was absolutely nothing by way of distractions, a few curious people had the opportunity to look inwards rather than outwards in their search for treasures. And that’s a central factor in developing an aesthetic that isn’t standardized, isn’t taught at high school – one that is born from inner compulsions rather than adhering to conventional rules. Moreover, my father taught an interesting class with many talented people, among them Giuseppe Guarrera, one of my best friends, who this year won a scholarship at the Klavier-Festival Ruhr.

Your father studied in Moscow.
Yes, under Boris Zemliansky, whose other pupils included Vladimir Ashkenazy and Alexander Toradze. At the heart of his teaching method was the development of a very personal way of thinking as an artist. At the root of it all was an extremely precise conception of the music’s character, a result of especially thorough study of the score – but also laying tremendous importance on the sound image: sound, sound quality, duration, colour and sound relationships were the main ways of achieving an ‘interpretation’ and opening up the listeners’ hearts. In addition, in his teaching, he demanded urgency and necessity, and empathy with the music while playing. After all, you don’t sit like a lump of stone at the piano, with everything carefully planned in advance; you ‘soperezhivat’’, as the Russians say – a big word that means roughly ‘live through something’. It’s very interesting to note how often people in those days used to compare musicians with actors (much more frequently than nowadays) and that some aspects of the Staniskavski method also found their way into music. Richter is perhaps one of the most important examples of such experiments.

Is that a key to the interpretation?
My intuition tells me how to play something. The analytical phase that precedes this is very interesting and informative, but in the end you have to go beyond that.

To turn the Bach/Busoni ‘Chaconne’ into a great narrative, for instance?
I’m very interested in science, and almost chose to pursue an academic career. Mathematics in particular appeals to me, because of the clarity with which you proceed from A to B. This inner logic is for example very strong in Beethoven and Brahms as well. But you can also achieve this in a mystical way. In a work with so many perspectives it isn’t easy to create a continuous line; I’ve worked hard on that. But you can give each variation its own character. Maybe you can experience this beauty most intensely in the concert hall, whereas you can grasp the rationale for the overall structure better on a recording.

Your expression is very personal but still remains close to the composer’s intentions.  
Yes, but I also treasure Pletnev’s recording, who takes quite the opposite approach. He plays the piece like a free fantasy. This contrast is deeply rooted within me.

Richter and Horowitz are important for you, and they also embody a contrast.
I admire Richter for his spirit, his inner urgency and the compelling logic with which he plays. He’s one of the finest examples of the extra-musical in music. He follows not only the rules of music, the harmonic phrasing, but also a higher idea that encroaches and guides the entire interpretation – with grandeur, but also with a universal sadness. Horowitz was almost on the same level as composers. I think that’s what Rachmaninov meant when he said that nobody could play his Third Piano Concerto like Horowitz.
Compare that with Prokofiev’s Sixth Sonata as played by Richter. In both recordings you hear the primeval power, something frightening. Prokofiev also plays with death and doom in a grotesque manner. The logic and structure of his music are unequalled, he sheds new light on tradition, his melodic gift is almost as great as Mozart’s, and still you find this inexplicable inspiration. I feel that very strongly in Richter’s interpretations.

You also think very highly of Keith Jarrett – there’s a lot that’s inexplicable about him too.
He is one of my greatest inspirations. When I first got to know him, it almost seemed like a sin because up until then I had heard only classical music. I’ve heard him twice live, and it was fascinating to hear how his musical ideas had developed. At the same time it was also very exciting on a spiritual level. It’s great to see how someone makes a piece of music grow before your eyes, and in the process – just like you – hears the music for the first time. He started with nothing more than a single grain, and then you suddenly saw an incredible amount of blossom emerge. That is precisely what I feel when I listen to his recordings or concerts.

Shouldn’t it always be like that?
Most pianists today have a very rational approach. You see that everywhere in society nowadays, the urge to understand and to be productive. And that way there are probably many things that we don’t fully grasp. I also see it as the pianist’s duty to infuse a piece with new life.

Can music save the world and make people better, as Bernstein said?
Bernstein got that from Dostoyevsky, of course, but I do think it’s true. And it isn’t so complicated. Listening and making contact are a way of empathizing. And it isn’t a one-way street. For a pianist it’s an adventure that’s dependent on the audience, the hall, the instrument and the moment.

One person who seems to have wanted to eradicate that was Sokolov.
I have great admiration for his perfection, devotion and control. They say that he is immersed in the material 24 hours a day. For me he is an incredible architect… no, rather a film director. Every detail, every movement is planned in advance. I also find that scary. I think that for a surgeon for example, who must also be very concentrated and precise, Sokolov is the best. Horowitz suits me better. He’s more of an artist on stage, who transforms the energy of the moment. With him you feel the tension, the fear and the enormous vulnerability. He doesn’t play as if he was in his study. Richter had it too, the same quality, and it reflects inner richness, it has something mystical about it. It can’t be forced, and it’s difficult in our society, where we are almost compelled to be productive. But our opinions are simply a reflection of our own reality, and are 90% subjective.

Celibidache said that you can get to know yourself in music. Do you agree?
With Celibidache I admire the highest level of pure music. He was interested in the relationships between notes, cause and effect, structures. And yes, if you go to a concert with Bernstein’s words in the back of your mind, with awareness and sensitivity, then you can learn a lot about yourself. Then it’s one of the most beautiful things you can imagine.

Author: Eric Schoones

Photo credit with the KAWAI PIANO: © Hamamatsu International Piano Competition

Most recent CD: Literary Fantasies

Liszt’s Three Sonnets of Petrarch and Après une lecture du Dante, and Schumann’s Kreisleriana and No. 2 of the Op. 111 Fantasiestücke.
Acousence Classics ACO-CD 13117

NEW! Click the album cover to listen to the complete album.
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Alexander Gadjiev - The Literary Fantasies
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‘I love literature. As Italians, Petrarch and Dante are close to each other and also to my own personality – therefore I understand the undertones that you might otherwise miss. The Dante Sonata is a very modern piece. Liszt is the inventor of the soundtrack. In it you can really hear hell and love.’
— Alexander Gadjiev

This article is a contribution from the German and Dutch magazine Pianist through Piano Street’s International Media Exchange Initiative and the Cremona Media Lounge.

Pianist_FC_LPianist Magazine is published in seven countries, in two different editions: in German (for Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg and Liechtenstein) and in Dutch (for Holland and Belgium).
The magazine is for the amateur and professional alike, and offers a wide range of topics connected to the piano, with interviews, articles on piano manufacturers, music, technique, competitions, sheetmusic, cd’s, books, news on festivals, competitions, etc.
For a preview please check: www.pianist-magazin.de or www.pianistmagazine.nl



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Through Nupen’s Eyes: Young Legends Play Mozart

On 11 March 1966, two great young pianists appeared together in public for the first time: Daniel Barenboim and Vladimir Ashkenazy played Mozart’s Concerto for two pianos at the Fairfield Halls, Croydon. Looking in the back mirror we realize the unique importance of this performance hi-lighting the two young pianists in the middle of building world famous careers.

Enjoying the sound of their different personalities, it is easy to get captured by their cultivation, spontaneity and mastery of dialogue. By covering rehearsal and private situations, film maker Christopher Nupen manages to communicate a deeper understanding for the artists’ personalities when giving their voices in Mozart’s wonderful double concerto in E-flat major, a work originally written for Wolfgang himself and his sister Maria Anna.

Barenboim, Ashkenazy: Double Concerto

Documentary of 1966

0:31 Workshop
5:06 About Daniel Barenboim
8:20 About Vladimir Ashkenazy
10:20 First rehearsal
16:55 First rehearsal with the Orchestra
29:45 Barenboim conducts Mozart – Symphony No. 29
32:58 Double Concerto, First movement
43:14 Double Concerto, Second movement
51:16 Double Concerto, Third movement

Film Maker Christopher Nupen

Renowned music film maker Christopher Nupen began his broadcasting career in the Features Department of BBC Radio when he made HIGH FESTIVAL IN SIENA in 1962 for the BBC Third Programme at the invitation of Laurence Gilliam, a radio documentary of a new kind about the extraordinary summer music school of the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, where Nupen studied with Andrés Segovia and Alirio Diaz.

As a result of his radio programmes, he was invited by Huw Wheldon to move to television where he became the originator of a new kind of intimate classical music film – made possible for the first time by the invention of the first silent 16mm film cameras in the 1960s. His first film (DOUBLE CONCERTO) made in 1966, at the invitation of Huw Wheldon and David Attenborough with Vladimir Ashkenazy and Daniel Barenboim won two international prizes (Prague and Monte Carlo) and became a seminal work.


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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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Build a Paper Piano with Nintendo Labo!

Not enough space for a piano? A foldable paper piano may solve that particular problem, but don’t expect to ne able to play your favourite piano pieces on it.

Nintendo surprised many last year when it first revealed the initial set of cardboard-based constructible toy-sets that are a part of its Nintendo Labo product line. These ‘Toy-Cons’ have accumulated a split reputation, with some being quite fond of the concept – like elementary school children and their teachers – and others feeling as though it’s a waste of time.

One of the toys you can build with the “Variety Kit” is a playable cardboard piano – including keys and knobs – that can even be used to record tracks with a simple DAW. It’s part of a legacy of music-making on Nintendo devices that stretches back to the music editor on Mario Paint on the SNES in 1992 and continued with the Korg DS-10 for the DS in 2008.

It is encouraging to see that a toy replica of an acoustic piano is included in a mainstream toy set, but can it be used as some kind of serious musical instrument, or at least as a source of musical inspiration comparable to Apple’s iOS app GarageBand? FACTmagazine have been seeking answer:

What is even more impressing though is that Dutch paper folding virtuoso Jean-Paul Leconte using some glue, scissors, construction paper and a lot of skill has managed to squeeze all of the functionality into a pop-up book that it can seamlessly fold and unfold!

The piano uses the same Joy-Con controller as Nintendo’s version to control the companion Switch game. Watch the pop-up paper piano in action:

Related reading:

Build a LEGO Piano to Learn Basic Piano Mechanics!
Super Mario – The Czerny Studies of Our Time?
John Cage: Suite for Toy Piano


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Keep Track of the Latest Piano Albums with Piano Street

Piano Street’s mission is to promote classical piano music, and we are always looking for new ways to enable you to listen, learn, and play. There’s no question that piano playing is thriving all over the world, and on the World Wide Web – just look at the flood of new recordings, videos, and streamed concerts constantly available just a few clicks away.

Focusing on new piano albums, we’ve found that there are at least a handful every week that are definitely worthy of our members’ attention. We wanted to offer you an easy way to keep informed of these recordings when they are released.

The result is now visible on the home page, under the heading Latest Piano Albums. This section will be updated each week – clicking at the bottom of the list will take you to the archive, where you can see and listen to previous weeks’ selections. Here you will find not only the latest high-profile albums with the most famous names on the cover, but also exceptional recordings by lesser known pianists, debut albums with tomorrow’s stars, new interpretations of the central piano repertoire, and interesting but neglected keyboard music, contemporary as well as ancient.

While website visitors and Silver members can follow the list of new releases on the home page, Gold members get exclusive access to listen to the full albums directly in our high resolution audio streaming library.

We all have our favorite recordings of favorite pieces that we return to again and again. But life undoubtedly gets more interesting if now and then we listen to something new – you never know when you’ll find that new favorite! And even if you end up concluding that you still think, say, Gould is the ultimate Bach player, listening to Federico Colli might still give you new insights.


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