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The 17th ”Chopin and his Europe Festival”

The 17th Chopin and his Europe festival opens in Warsaw this Saturday and traditionally, accomplished musicians from all the world will arrive in the Polish capital: top pianists, virtuosos of all instruments, grand conductors and legendary ensembles. Following the same tradition, we will see and hear performances by winners of the Chopin Competition: both those who have enjoyed their theme for years and those whose great career is only starting.

Hear Eric Lu’s recital on 22 August:

In accordance with its title, the Festival showcases Fryderyk Chopin’s œuvre in the context of ‘his’ Europe, understood in four perspectives: Europe contemporary to him, pre-Chopin Europe, Europe after the great master’s death and, finally, the Europe of our time. For this reason, aside from works by Chopin himself, the repertoire played at the Festival also includes the music that inspired him, works by composers younger than him, and the reception of Chopin’s œuvre in music contemporary to us.
Among the pianistic highlights is a night with Chopin’s both piano concertos interpreted by Nelson Goerner and Orchestre des Champs-Elysees under Philippe Herreweghe, very special chamber concerts by the winner of the Wieniawski Competition, Alena Baeva with Vadym Kholodenko, while winner of the Chopin Competition, Rafał Blechacz, will perform with violinist Bomsori Kim. Moreover, other artists invited to this year’s festival include Benjamin Gosvenor, Alexandre Tharaud, Jos van Immerseel, Alexander Melnikov, Angela Hewitt and Isabelle Faust and such ensembles as the Belcea Quartet and Sinfonia Varsovia.

Of course, the program includes winners and laureates of past Chopin Competitions: Yulianna Avdeeva (the 2010 winner), Rafał Blechacz (the 2005 winner), Janusz Olejniczak (6th Prize, 1970), Kate Liu (3rd Prize, 2015) and Eric Lu (4th Prize, 2015).

The great musical festivity in Warsaw lasts from 14 to 31 August.
Hear and see the festival here:

YouTube livestreams: Chopin and his Europe

Program:

https://festiwal.nifc.pl/en/2021/kalendarium/


/patrick

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Tonebase – Catching the Magic Moment

Interview with tonebase’s piano executive Ben Laude

In late 2019, tonebase Piano was launched, with the aim of giving amateur pianists access to high level music education through premium online content featuring great artists. Since then, education has been trending even more in a digital direction because of the pandemic. Piano Street’s Patrick Jovell has talked to Ben Laude about the challenges he faced building tonebase’s piano platform, but also about how to forge a unified music education, reconciling our physical and virtual realities.

Piano Street: Dear Ben, thank you for letting us interview you! From what I know you are responsible for the piano at tonebase. But you are not alone. I could count fifteen people working in your team. Among the founders I find Chris Garwood who is a guitarist. Can you tell me how it all started and how it has developed?

Ben Laude: First of all, thank you Patrick and to everyone at Piano Street for the resources you’ve been providing us pianists for decades now! I used to frequent the forums back in my conservatory days, mostly looking to pick fights with people about whose Rach 3 recording was the greatest (it was Horowitz and Reiner from 1951, I was convinced).

I joined tonebase in medias res about two years ago with a simple mandate: build the piano platform. The model I had at the time was tonebase’s original pilot classical guitar platform, which had been launched in 2017. Our three founders met at Yale, where two of them (Chris Garwood and Igor Lichtmann) were pursuing their master’s in guitar. They took their ‘Music and Business’ course more seriously than most, it seems, and ended up with a germ of a business plan. They connected with a comp-sci/econ double major whiz kid (Abhi Nayar), and the three of them officially founded tonebase in the summer of 2017. Their savvy and initial success led to getting involved with some Silicon Valley investors, with whom they secured funding to expand to another instrument. Piano was the obvious choice.
At the time I was hired, I was busy teaching and performing, and continued to assist David Dubal in curating his NYC piano performance series (a gig I had going back to my early grad work at Juilliard). I figured it was time to put the doctorate I earned in piano to proper use, and had started applying to tenure-track jobs in higher ed when the call for a tonebase ‘Head of Piano’ fell into my lap. It seemed a bit too good to be true, as I’ve had a second passion for media production dating back to high school, especially video editing. I’ve always enjoyed Bruno Mosaingeon’s interviews at the piano with Glenn Gould and wished more films like this existed with more pianists.

Ben Laude performing in concert

My first six months at tonebase were a mad scramble to recruit as many high calibre pianists and professors as I could and coordinate productions on various repertoire and pianistic topics. Garrick Ohlsson was one of the first major artists to say ‘yes’ – he and I met for coffee in New York the summer of 2019 and got lost in conversation about piano. He was clearly a great fit for our longform style of in-depth tutorial videos, and I owe a lot to him for being willing to contribute lessons to our launch. The next big challenge was organizing our post-production workflow with my teammates – editing the video and adding corresponding scores and workbooks to the platform. (I watched Ohlsson teach Chopin’s First Ballade and Third Scherzo over and over again for so many hours while editing those lessons, that I must have learned both pieces by osmosis – they’re now in my active repertoire and I can’t account for that based on practice-time alone.) We launched in late 2019 with about 30 videos and to-date we’re approaching 300 released, plus dozens more in our backlog waiting to be processed and released.


Garrick Ohlsson preparing for filming momentum.

2020 was a bittersweet. It started off in January and February with some unforgettable productions, including two extended sessions with Leon Fleisher, just months before he passed. While Covid led to a higher demand for streaming services, it also became quite difficult to continue productions as before. I also began to direct my energies towards developing foundational musicianship content, beginner courses, and live programming, while continuing to pursue new collaborations with great concert artists and professors where possible. 2021 couldn’t have arrived soon enough. Our subscriber count has by now risen to over 5000; among our active users, about 40% are ‘serious amateurs’, 40% teachers/professionals, and another 20% or so younger students. We’re aiming to keep pace with our expanding base as we grow, and continue to provide a really exceptional and unique product to pianists of very different backgrounds. There’s also some major concert artists who will be added to our roster soon, including a few based in the UK/EU, and I look forward to producing with them later this year (hopefully in person, fingers crossed). We’re still a young platform, and I’m excited to see where we can go from here.

PS:You are a Juilliard trained pianist and you also function as a tutor, also on tonebase. Which key questions on piano playing and interpretation have you nourished through the years and which come out in your function as a Masterclass moderator?

BL: While at Juilliard I grew fascinated by one of the core questions, or mysteries, of piano playing: that is, what is the relation between physical technique and musical expression. The more I investigated the problem, the more I discovered that musicianship training – i.e., deeply internalizing musical relationships in one’s mind, ear, and voice – can foster better interpretive ideas while also contributing directly to overcoming physical obstacles. In my tonebase lessons, I’ve tried to emphasize the importance of integrating music theory and aural skills into our practice at the keyboard, and we’ve been releasing more and more practical musicianship content for our users’ benefit.

These musicianship subjects are often taught in isolation, especially in the American conservatory systems I’m familiar with, so that your typical piano major will sleep through music theory class on Monday, mumble through solfege exercises on Tuesday, and show up on Wednesday for a private lesson. This results in an unfortunate separation between the intellectual comprehension of harmony and form, the aural recognition of musical relationships, and the physical realization of these principles in performance. (I should also mention a vital fourth element, the study of music history and culture, which takes place on Thursday and is forgotten about by the weekend!) It is no wonder why so many one-sided musicians have emerged from this state of affairs. How often have we encountered a pianist with “great technique, but nothing to say” or with “great ideas, but no chops,” or those who have great ears or analytical minds but never applied them at the piano?

Producer and tutor. Ben Laude is also featured in instruction videos at tonebase.

The remedy, I have found, is a kind of well-rounded musicianship training where playing the piano is treated as a means for developing your musical personality, rather than as an end in itself. I don’t claim to know the best way to get there! But, I have familiarized myself with some traditions that I believe can help a great deal – for one, I’ve always found Nadia Boulanger’s method of keyboard skills training, with solfege and harmonic analysis mixed in, to be very useful. (The first time I ever performed Bach without a memory slip came after painstakingly working through the Fugue phrase-by-phrase, singing one voice while playing the others, then switching.) Committing to such training transforms our connection to the instrument, and over time a kind of holistic awareness starts to develop, which is just awesome. It becomes nearly impossible to play a given figuration or progression on the piano without hearing its component elements and knowing something about how they relate. Scores can be processed faster and memorization becomes much more rapid and reliable. Furthermore, these new sensitivities instantly inform how passages might be played, conjuring all sorts of possibilities about voicing, texture, phrasing, rubato, etc. Physically, the instrument begins feeling more like an extension of your arm, hand, and fingers, relieving tension and promoting facility.

There’s much more to this, but these are the basic contours of a kind of “musical fluency” at the keyboard that I believe all pianists should develop more thoroughly (including myself!), and which I hope to spread through tonebase.

PS: The line-up of artists and pedagogues on tonebase is impressive as are the productions in question. The technology used is a proof of your ambition to give the viewer the best possible chance to get into the contents of the Masterclasses. One easily thinks about carefully directed momenta in order to secure the core message. As a “stage director”, how do you manage the different artists and personalities which all have their own fields of expertise and own articulated artistic/pedagogical universes?

Leon Fleisher teaching pianist Rachel Naomi Kudo Brahms’ B-flat major Piano Concerto.

BL: Pianists can be temperamental, particular people, and each of the artists on tonebase has a singular vision at the instrument that has been honed over decades. I’m lucky to work with one pianist at a time, since their perspectives often rub against each other. In some cases, they appear to be in direct opposition. For example, Leon Fleisher preached a rhythmically-strict, architectural approach to building phrases; Jerome Lowenthal insisted on a rhythmically flexible, narrative approach to interpretation. Who is right? Both, and neither, I suppose. What matters to me is that both have the floor, and are given a platform to demonstrate and defend their perspectives at the instrument. Then, it’s up to viewers to watch, absorb, and find what resonates with them. Pianistic wisdom comes in many varieties, sometimes contradictory!

Ben Laude in interview and Chopin session with Emanuel Ax.

In terms of stage direction, I do my best to steer and structure lessons without leaving my fingerprints all over them. Some artists, like Boris Berman, preferred to work more carefully with me in advance to develop a carefully articulated lesson plan. In other cases, artists were more comfortable speaking extemporaneously about their piece or topic. Garrick Ohlsson, for example, had a marvelous ability to spontaneously manifest highly structured lessons on the spot with very few retakes. One of the trickiest parts of the job has to do with building an ideal viewer in the mind of the artist. Professors are used to the give and take of engaging directly with a student in person, so speaking to an anonymous future student inside a camera can be alienating. If I can manage to make artists comfortable and be themselves, they forget about the artificial environment they’re in and their personalities shine through.

After filming session series with Boris Berman.

PS: This last year’s Pandemic situation has shown a necessary increase in consulting digital resources in music education. Institutions are now much more open to include such alternatives in their regular curricula. How do you predict the future for tonebase and similar resources on the Internet?

One of the Scarlatti takes with Claire Huangci.

BL: I should say that I’m familiar enough with dystopian literature and film to be suspicious of the rallying cry to thoroughly digitize education. It has seemed inevitable since the advent of the internet and streaming services, but brick and mortar educational institutions were too thoroughly entrenched in social life to be uprooted like Blockbuster Video. Nevertheless, education had been trending in a digital direction when 2020 arrived. It seems like the pandemic just sped things up by a decade.

The original mission of tonebase was about connecting amateur pianists to the otherwise insulated worlds of conservatory and concert hall. Therefore it relied on the coexistence, and separation, between offline institutions and online individuals. The amateur’s relative isolation from centers of high level music making and education was the problem we were solving by making the wisdom of great artists accessible and affordable. But what we found even before the pandemic was a widespread general interest in such premium online video content, from more amateurs on the periphery to professionals at the center of these institutions, plus many students and teachers in between. Now that the pandemic has created a situation in which everyone is isolated, including from their own institutions, there has been a need for virtual experiences of all kinds. Some are surrogates that will disappear once social restrictions are lifted, but it seems like others are here to stay. I see lots of potential for tonebase and other online resources to become staples of music education in the post-Covid future, both in institutional settings and private teaching.

Screen capture from a digital workshop with Simone Dinnerstein.

You might think a subjective, sensuous discipline like music requires the flexibility of “offline” learning and would find less use in incorporating digital resources into the classroom or studio. Yet what I’ve found in observing tonebase’s appeal is that it’s precisely the elusiveness of music education that increases the value of any given artist’s video lessons. Whereas it might be interesting to hear the same calculus concept explained by five different math instructors, ultimately they’re each trying to communicate the same bit of knowledge. This is never quite the case with piano instructors, as there’s a wonderful lack of consensus about even fundamental principles of technique and interpretation. There are no axiomatic proofs to musical understanding or scientific laws to piano technique, there are only more-or-less-successful approaches developed and passed down through lineages of mentorship. Under the right circumstances, piano teachers should embrace this healthy relativism and utilize our video archive as discussion material during lessons. Having students weigh different approaches will help them think critically about piano playing, find solutions faster, and ultimately foster original artistry to a degree not possible if you only had access to the perspectives of one or two professors.

On the other hand, often the point of a lesson is not to encourage an exploration of different viewpoints, but to focus on solving a student’s specific problems without the distractions of a second opinion. Even here, a digital resource like tonebase offers a lot of promise down the road. Private teachers often wonder what goes on during the 167 hours between lessons with a student, and having trusted, high quality video lessons and training videos available for the student to watch and practice along with could be a game changer. Teachers could be spending valuable lesson time working on the particular problems a student is facing while they entrust tonebase’s virtual instructors to do the job of introducing or reinforcing concepts and skills in the interim. Along these lines, I believe piano departments and music school libraries will find great value in making tonebase available to both students and faculty as a versatile teaching and training resource.

Discussing the piano concerto repertoire with Jon Kimura Parker.

Of course, in-person learning environments bring benefits that can’t or shouldn’t be reproduced by digital technologies, such as direct feedback from instructors and social interaction with peers. Music, as Boris Berman exclaims in a tonebase lesson, is “the art of sound,” and there’s something irreplaceable about experiencing sonic vibrations in person – making, sharing, and commenting on music together in the same space. Feedback can be digitally mediated to a degree, and tonebase has been increasing its live workshops and developing community feedback channels. But ultimately, the power of digital resources utilized in combination with in-person instruction remains unrealized, especially in music. The goal is to make tonebase a constructive force in reconciling our physical and virtual realities and forging a unified music education that draws from the best of both worlds. (And if all hell breaks loose and the machines do try to take over, I would expect the humanizing forces of music education to tame the robots and for tonebase to help keep our priorities straight!)


Emanuel Ax on Learning Chopin in Lockdown

tonebase recently visited the 7-time GRAMMY Award-winning pianist at his breathtaking home in the Berkshires for an extended interview and recording session.


/patrick

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The International Chopin Competition in Warsaw – Preliminaries Are On!

The live streamed preliminary round of the 18th Fryderyk Chopin International Piano Competition has started. Until 23 July, the Chamber Hall of the Polish National Philharmonic Hall in Warsaw will resound with the music played by 150 young pianists from all over the world.

Who will qualify for the 80 entries in Round 1 this fall? This is certainly a good opportunity to learn who the artists are and see the calendar of the auditions.

The performance of the contestants is assessed by the Preliminary Round Jury composed of 11 eminent pianists and piano teachers: Ludmil Angelov, Philippe Giusiano, Alberto Nosè, Piotr Paleczny, Ewa Pobłocka, Katarzyna Popowa-Zydroń, John Rink, Marta Sosińska-Janczewska, Wojciech Świtała, Stefan Wojtas, and Dina Yoffe.

The auditions are held in two daily sessions: the Morning Session starting at 10am and the evening one, starting at 5pm.

Watch the performances here:

Chopin Competition – Preliminary Round – Videos

UPDATE 2021-07-23

87 pianists qualified to the 18th Chopin Competition in Warsaw. The auditions for Round 1 will commence on 3rd October until the 20th. Read more at nifc.pl


/patrick

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“We humans need music” – Martha Argerich at 80 – Ever Totally Irresistible

Noticed everywhere and named one of the greatest pianists of our time, Martha Argerich turned 80 on June 5. When hearing Argerich play, philosopher and musicologist Theodor W Adorno’s words instantly come to mind: “The most difficult should sound easy and effortless, overcoming all obstacles to return to a liberated game.”

To mark the 80th anniversary of the legendary artist, Symphoniker Hamburg presents Martha Argerich Festival 2021 featuring 12 live concerts – live streamed in very high quality video and sound for fans of Martha Argerich around the world.

Martha Argerich Festival 2021 – Livestreamed

DATES: June 20 to July 1, 2021

LOCATION: Great Hall of the Laeiszhalle Hamburg (Germany)

CONCERTS:
Martha Argerich Festival 2021 presents 12 exclusive concerts featuring world-class artists, including Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Anne-Sophie Mutter, Maria João Pires, Mischa Maisky, Renaud Capuçon, Gidon Kremer and many other artists.

Program:
Festival program >>
Schedule of livestream concerts >>

Did you know?

    • Martha Argerich was born in Buenos Aires and granddaughter of Jewish immigrants, and was taught by Italian-Argentine pianist Vincenzo Scaramuzza, who taught her to sing with her fingers ”like bel canto sopranos like Maria Malibran or Giulia Grisi”.
    • At eight she made her debut in Mozart’s Concerto in D minor KV 466.
    • At fourteen, supported by the government of Juan Perón, she went to study with Friedrich Gulda in Vienna, which was the “greatest inspiration of my career”.
    • In 1960 she made one of the most brilliant debut records ever: The staccatos, the broken chords and the brilliant passages of Chopin’s C sharp minor Scherzo; the repetitions divided between both hands on a note by Prokofiev’s Toccata; the octave thunder of the Sixth Hungarian Rhapsody by Liszt – mastered it in such a way that it was out of this world. The loudest applause came from Vladimir Horowitz, playing jokes on his friends telling them that it was him playing the Toccata…
    • In 1961 she spent time taking instruction with Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli in Piedmont and then stopped playing for a while, working as a secretary, and married the composer Robert Chen from whom she separated shortly before the birth of their daughter.
    • Two other daughters come from the marriages with the conductor Charles Dutoit and the pianist Stephen Kovacevich.

Known of her high demands on herself, Argerich sometimes has expressed wishes for a different profession. At times during her long career Argerich avoided the arena of the large concert halls and played neither concertos nor solo recitals. Instead, she devoted herself to chamber music with friends, among them generously sponsored young musicians, at her festival in Lugano. In the late 1990s she also won the battle against serious cancer.

Further reading and listening

To sum up Martha Argerich’s 60 years as a performer is virtually impossible. Piano Street therefore has selected a number of fine articles containing different aspects of the artist and her long career. These articles also offer video performances and Medici.tv’s film compilation ”80 minutes with the magical Martha Argerich”.

Deutsche Welle
‘Lioness’ of the piano: Martha Argerich turns 80

The Guardian
Martha Argerich review – our greatest living pianist? It’s hard to disagree

UdiscoverMusic
Martha Argerich: 80th Birthday Celebration

ABC-Australia
Martha Argerich at 80

Classic FM – Photo gallery
Martha Argerich: 11 stunning photos of the great pianist


/patrick

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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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