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The Art of Visionary Discovery – Interview with Enrico Pompili

A native of Bolzano, Italian pianist Enrico Pompili won several national competitions before being one of the finalists at the Dublin International Piano Competition. In 1994 he was second to Viktor Lyadov at the Hamamatsu Competition, and the following year he was awarded the top prize at the XIII Paloma O’Shea Competition. This success launched an international career starting from 1996. An ardent explorer of contemporary repertoire Pompili has put the spotlight on for example Niccolò Castiglioni on the Brilliant label, Alberto Ginastera’s complete piano works, and works by Alberto Bonera (Phoenix Classics). He has also released a collection of solo and two-piano works by American composer Michael Glenn Williams on the Stradivarius label.

Patrick Jovell: Enrico, your career has emerged in a very personal way since your piano competition prizes in the 1990s. You have put focus on lesser known repertoire and recorded albums with music by Ginastera, Castiglioni, and Michael Glenn Williams, among others. Tell me about your choice of focus, in relation to presenting interpretations from the standard repertoire, which is a huge market in itself.

Enrico Pompili: My favorite field, as you noticed, is the music of the 20th century and contemporary. This is mostly for two reasons. First, because this music is chronologically closer to the present times, and represents them more explicitly. Second, because it has been played less frequently, and doesn’t feel so much – or doesn’t feel at all – the effect of a “story of the interpretation”, which often influence our interpretations, especially of the music of the 19th century. This partial – or even total – lack of habit in dealing with this music allows a more rigorous approach to the text; and at the same time a more open field for the interpretation of that text, and for the imagination. For these reasons, I feel absolutely more inclined to the music of this period than the preceding ones. But this is not really correct, because I’m also into playing classical and pre-classical music. I don’t feel so comfortable when playing romantic music, although I also deal with romantic composers. But when I do, I play a smaller list of compositions, and often not the most celebrated ones.

PJ: You had a traditional schooling, with renowned teachers representing different historical backgrounds. Yet you feel that the contemporary language comes natural to you. Your toolbox is traditional, but which new ways do you explore pianistically through your contemporary projects? The differences in music styles are evident for the listener, but do you treat the contemporary text and material differently as an interpreter?

EP: There is no difference – at least, no greater difference than for example between romantic and classical music. The “toolbox” is principally the knowledge of different styles, and the meaning of the musical elements of these styles. To put it very simple: the “romantic” sound is different from the “classical” sound; the tempo of a menuet of the Baroque is totally different from the tempo of a neo-classical one, etc.

Having said that, the two aspects I instinctively follow in facing the contemporary text are the sound and the language. The sound is revealing, especially in my understanding of music betraying an explicit or hidden bond with the symbolist tradition, or anyway, evocating the inner world (my inclination, among the styles of the early 20th century, to impressionist music is not coincidental). In this case, without overlooking other structural aspects, I focus my attention on the sound and let it to suggest to me the interpretative way.

In more abstract music, I choose a more formal way – seeking, grasping or creating bonds between the elements of the text. For example, when I worked on the Françoise Variationen of Franco Donatoni, I concentrated my work into establishing relations between the many little “cells” of which this music is built. In different words, the interpretative crux of that piece was placed in the pauses between the cells.

In both cases – sound or language – I find the way through an attentive hearing. Another interesting experience concerning the “linguistic” aspect: I was invited years ago to collaborate as pianist in a master-class of composition in which were tested some aleatory techniques. [aleatory music: music in which some element of the composition is left to chance.] The compositions were rather short and often they didn’t convince the composers themselves. My challenge was to find possible relations between the elements, and so to create an “itinerary” in which there was a sense. When I found it, the music revealed an intimate linguistic cohesion, that surprised their authors.

This was obviously a borderline case, but it illustrates the meaning of the word “imagination” I used before, concerning interpretation.

PJ: Your recording with piano works of Niccolò Castiglioni (1932-96) from 2011, re-released 2017 on Brilliant Classics, contains an interesting and creative profile seeking booklet text on the composer by Paolo Castaldi. As a student of both Gulda and Zecchi, we understand that Castiglioni had a vast knowledge of the piano. How would you describe his way of composing for the instrument?

EP: The figure of Castiglioni has always fascinated me for the coherence of his music with his internal world. While many composers of his generation went on with the experimentations within that musical environment, interesting but also somewhat aggressive, known as avant-garde, Castiglioni soon detached himself from it. The spirituality that inspired his musical world couldn’t get along with the materialism that dominated the avant-garde, or with the musical products generated by this way of thinking. This distance lead him to develop a language in which, in my opinion, sound is the generative element; and also lead him to revisit classical forms. This predominance of the “concrete” aspect compared to the “idea”, is already strongly present in his compositions of the late 1950s, when Castiglioni was participating in the commotions of Darmstadt. “Cangianti”, of this period, is revealing of his poetics and of his vital approach to the instrument: it’s a piece full of colours and youthful enthusiasm, and piano-wise very well written. His subsequent isolation certainly had some influence on his piano writing, making it more essential. From this point of view, “Cangianti” remains his most luxuriant piano piece, yet the poetics of the following pieces remains the same: the “castiglionian” sound is always recognizable, both on the piano and on the other instruments. Olivier Messiaen, another composer of strong spirituality and who too used the piano as an instrument which can create colours, much appreciated the “light” of Castiglioni’s sound. Castiglioni was certainly a complex personality, and his wanting to isolate himself (probably connected to a form of autism) often gave rise to a smile in those who knew him, but as a composer he was an authority. I have found in Paolo Castaldi, he too an important composer and a great friend of Castiglioni’s, not only an extraordinary admiration towards him, but also a deep affection. I wanted to ask Castaldi to write the biography in the booklet, because it seemed to me that he was the person who had most deeply understood Castiglioni and his music.

Listen to the album Castiglioni: Piano Works on Spotify.

Listen to samples from the album Digital Animation (2009) by Michael Glenn Williams

From the Digital Animation two pianos recording sessions


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International Piano – September/October 2018 Issue

A new issue of the magazine International Piano is out!

IP meets the Tuscany-born pianist Vanessa Benelli Mosell, a protégé of Stockhausen whose playing combines technical brilliance with an impeccable sense of style; celebrating the centenary of prodigious musical polymath Leonard Bernstein; Warsaw’s inaugural Chopin Competition on Period Instruments; and what insights can a harpsichordist offer pianists who play Bach?

Plus, Alice Sara Ott introduces her new album of music inspired by nightfall; developing psychological and physical awareness at the keyboard; Cristina Ortiz explores the teachings of Alfred Cortot; how to utilise the sostenuto pedal effectively; choosing the right degree for a successful career in music; gender equality in piano competitions; stride and blues master Art Hodes; Katya Apekisheva’s musical influences; and sheet music from Chopin’s Polonaise in B-flat major Op 71/2.

Piano Street Gold members have instant online access to the digital version of the magazine.
For print subscription, visit rhinegold.co.uk


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Follow The Leeds International Piano Competition Online

Medici.tv’s extensive coverage of The Leeds International Piano Competition 2018, relaying the full Competition experience including performances from every round to more than 180 countries, can be followed at leedspiano2018.medici.tv.

Audiences can enjoy the First Round performances of the 24 competitors who were selected from among 68 First Round pianists to go through to the next round in Leeds in September 2018. Their progress can then be followed through 8 days of free live webcasts of the final rounds in Leeds between 6 to 15 September. All performances will also be available on demand for three years.


April 3-12: First round
September 6-8: Second round
September 9-11: Semi-finals
September 14-15 Finals

Watch the competition archive and live stream here:

‘The Leeds’ and medici.tv will work together to deliver a rich digital experience on a dedicated new platform. As well as viewing every Competition performance for free, global audiences will also be able to experience the full atmosphere of the Competition through extensive behind-the-scenes coverage, interviews with the competitors and coverage of other events surrounding the Competition. Broadcaster Petroc Trelawny presents the live webcasts of the whole Competition and is joined by pianists Lucy Parham and former Leeds prize winner Noriko Ogawa for the Semis and Finals.

The new partnership will significantly extend the global reach of the Competition and bring the atmosphere and music-making of this most prestigious event to music lovers in more than 180 countries. It has been made possible thanks to the University of Leeds, a long-standing partner of The Leeds, which has extended its financial support to ensure that international audiences can experience everything that Competition has to offer.

In a major new development for both The Leeds and medici.tv, the global audience will be invited to vote online for the medici.tv Audience Award. This is the first time that worldwide audiences will be able to have a say at The Leeds. The international medici.tv vote will be verified and added to the vote from inside Leeds Town Hall and announced as part of the prize presentation which follows the second day of the Finals on Saturday 15 September. The winner of the inaugural medici.tv Audience Award will have a performance broadcast on medici.tv within the next three years.

Music communities around the world can also come together to follow news, blogs and interact on the newly-created medici.tv platform and via the hashtag #LeedsPiano on social media channels (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter).

Global streaming is one of the key innovations that are rejuvenating The Leeds under the artistic leadership of Paul Lewis and Adam Gatehouse, and is a key pillar of their new vision for the much enhanced Competition.

Held once every three years, The Leeds is one of the world’s foremost music competitions. Since the first Competition in 1963, it has attracted the world’s finest young pianists, drawn by the opportunities offered by the outstanding prize package, the challenge of demanding repertoire, a stellar jury – and a warm welcome from the City of Leeds. The roll call of eminent past winners and finalists includes many of the world’s best-known pianists. The Competition’s 1972 winner Murray Perahia became Patron in June 2017. Lang Lang is Global Ambassador and Dame Fanny Waterman was appointed Life President and Founder Director Emeritus in 2015.

Paul Lewis, co-Artistic Director of The Leeds, says:
“The Leeds has introduced some outstanding pianists to the world over the past half century. Now, through the exceptional quality and reach of medici.tv’s webcasts, we can share the extraordinary music-making of the Competition in real time and to more people than ever before.”

Adam Gatehouse, co-Artistic Director of The Leeds, added:
“We are thrilled to be working with medici.tv and our Senior Partner the University of Leeds to hugely extend the Competition’s global reach and to share the Competition and the great city of Leeds with such diverse audiences in a new and exciting way. It is wonderful to be able to unite the global audience in voting to give one of our five Finalists the medici.tv Audience Award.”

Hervé Boissière, Founder & Managing Director of medici.tv:
“The Leeds has a long history of excellence and the Competition’s world-class laureates have appeared regularly on medici.tv over the past ten years. We’re thrilled to be able to help introduce the next generation of piano stars to music lovers around the globe and particularly excited to give fans worldwide the opportunity to engage with the Competition directly through the medici.tv Audience Award.”


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International Piano – July/August 2018 Issue

A new issue of the magazine International Piano is out!

  • Mark Viner: dazzling but deep
  • Scandalous spirit: maverick virtuoso Henry Charles Litolff
  • French romantics: forgotten piano masterpieces from the 19th century
  • Jazz advance: Cecil Taylor’s groundbreaking dirty blues


Piano Street Gold members have instant online access to the digital version of the magazine.
For print subscription, visit rhinegold.co.uk


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The ABRSM 2019 & 2020 Going for Variety

The new 2019 & 2020 piano syllabus along with Piano Exam Pieces (grades 1-8) was released June 7 and promises 100% refreshed repertoire.

It is evident that the ABRSM these days is very conscious of its position as the leading international exam board challenged by both Trinity College London and the London College of Music boards. Therefor they have to strike a balance between their classical teaching canon of well-known tunes, recent favorites and popular tunes, as well as new commissions.

Highlights this time are for example Close Every Door (Andrew Lloyd Webber) at Grade 1, Hallelujah (Leonard Cohen) at Grade 3 and Lullaby (for Edna Trident Hornbryce), one of the new commissions by Raymond Yiu at Grade 8. Popular composers such as Pam Wedgwood and Christopher Norton are also represented among the exam pieces. Specially commissioned items feature on Grades 3, 4, 5 and 8, and there are contemporary options at all grades.

The pieces have been carefully selected to provide an attractive and varied range of music to perform in exams, concerts or anywhere else. The ABRSM hopes that a broader range of styles than ever before can be an excellent source of repertoire to suit every performer.

Recordings and Practice App

The supporting Piano Exam Pieces books are available to buy with or without CD, and audio downloads of individual pieces are also available to buy online. ABRSM’s Piano Practice Partner app has now been updated with pieces from the new syllabus.

Piano Practice Partner allows you to play along with real musicians’ performances, exactly as recorded or at a reduced tempo. You can practice one hand while the app plays the other. Piano Practice Partner comes with three free sample pieces from the new Piano Exam Pieces books. In-app purchases are then available for all grades of the new syllabus. The syllabus overlap period runs to 31 May 2019.

More info and orders:



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