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András Schiff Almost Won Grammy Without Pedal

The Grammy without pedal that Schiff didn't win

András Schiff is one of the world’s most prominent proponents of the keyboard works of J.S. Bach and has long proclaimed that Bach stands at the core of his music-making. His 2012 recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (for the ECM New Series label) was nominated for the category “Best Classical Instrumental Solo” at the Grammy Awards 2013. He did not win the Grammy this time but had there been a category for “Best Classical Piano Solo Without Pedal”, we are pretty confident that Schiff would have won it.

After fifty years in close relationship with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, András Schiff has developed a kind of personal secret code with these works, like pet names shared between a loving older couple. Bach carefully laid out the preludes and fugues in books 1 & 2 of his WTC: 24 of each, in every possible key, major and minor. Schiff thinks of each piece as having not just a key but a particular character that he sees as color. In his recent Bach project program notes he writes:

The Grammy nominated album

The Grammy nominated album

“To me, Bach’s music is not black and white; it’s full of colours. In my imagination, each tonality corresponds to a colour. The Well-Tempered Clavier, with its 24 preludes and fugues in all the major and minor keys, provides an ideal opportunity for this fanciful fantasy.
Let’s imagine that in the beginning there was innocence, and therefore C major (all white keys) is snow-white. The last piece of both books is in B minor, which is the key to death. Compare the fugue of Book 1 to the Kyrie of the B-minor mass. This has to be pitch-black. Between these two poles, we have all the other colours: first the yellows, oranges and ochre (between C minor and D minor), all the shades of blue (E-flat major to E minor), the greens (F major to G minor), pinks and reds (A-flat major to A minor), browns (B-flat major), grey (B major) and finally black.”

Schiff’s New Approach to Bach Interpretation

As opposed to before, Schiff now entirely avoids using pedal when he plays Bach. He seeks to emulate the character of the keyboard instruments Bach himself would have known: the clavichord, harpsichord and various hybrids of his day had no means of sustaining the sound and the harpsichord could not make dynamic inflections within a phrase.

“The pedal is to the piano as the vibrato is to string players. Both must be applied with care, control and in moderation. Clarity is essential with Bach, the purity of counterpoint and voice-leading must be self-evident, never muffled or confused. Thus a discreet use of the pedal is not forbidden as long as these rules are observed. The question remains whether it is beneficial to the music to look for easier solutions. A perfect legato on the piano is an impossibility, and one can only create an illusion of achieving it. To attempt this with the hands alone is much more difficult but it’s well worth trying. Bach certainly didn’t want his music to sound easy; it’s demanding for players and listeners alike.” – András Schiff, Florence, 2012.

Listen:
Samples at Amazon.com

Read Schiff’s full article on pedalling:
Senza pedale ma con tanti colori
 (Without the pedal but with plenty of colours)

Schiff´s Bach project in New York Times:
Presentation
Review


/patrick
 
     

Mitsuko Uchida Wins Her First-Ever Grammy

2011 Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance with Orchestra:

Mozart, Piano Concertos Nos. 23 and 24
Mitsuko Uchida, Cleveland Orchestra (Decca)

Pianist Dame Mitsuko Uchida has just won her first-ever Grammy award. The recording, Mozart: Piano Concertos nos. 23 & 24, was released in the US on September 8, 2009 and is one in a series of recordings of Mozart concertos with Uchida planned on Decca. The Guardian wrote about this recording: “Admirers of Uchida’s fabulously fluent Mozart playing will know what to expect from these accounts; every phrase is elegantly tooled, every texture perfectly weighted … a rapturously beautiful disc.” Mitsuko Uchida has long been one of the world’s premiere interpreters of Mozart’s piano music both in the recording studio and the concert hall. She famously recorded the Mozart Concertos with Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra in the 1980s.

Recently, Uchida has decided to reconsider the works and now records them live with the Cleveland Orchestra in Severence Hall with the pianist also acting as conductor. This new approach in both logistics and style has yielded results which few could have imagined. “Mitsuko Uchida’s Mozart playing here is stunningly sensitive, crystalline, and true. These two concertos have been over-recorded, but this soloist and this great orchestra prove there is still more to say.” (Boston Globe – Record Review)

The next recording in this series, Mozart: Piano Concertos nos. 20 & 27, will also feature the Cleveland Orchestra and Uchida as both conductor and soloist and will be released later this spring.

Uchida said about the award, “I feel very happy about receiving this Grammy Award, especially because it is for the first recording in a series of Mozart concerti with The Cleveland Orchestra. These are people with whom I have a long association, so it gives me particular pleasure.”

Read more:
The 2011 Grammy Award Classical Winners


Here is an example of Uchida playing Mozart from a live concert during Salzburger Festspiele 2006:
W. A. Mozart – Piano concerto No 25 (Uchida, Vienna Philharmonic, Muti)


/patrick
 
     

Pianist Gloria Cheng Wins Grammy

Gloria Cheng receives Grammy Award, February 8th 2009

Gloria Cheng, recent Grammy winner of the Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (Without Orchestra) for “Piano Music of Salonen, Stucky and Lutoslawski” talks to Patrick Jovell, Piano Street (proud UCLA alum.).

Patrick: Congratulations on your Grammy award! Is it possible to know what this will mean to you and your life?

Gloria: I doubt that the award will change my life, but now, three days since the Awards ceremony, I am as busy and fulfilled as I have always been. No more, no less, really. But I’d say that the award has made me happier!

Patrick: On this CD you play music of Salonen, Stucky and Lutoslawski. I know that you had the chance to work closely with the composers? How does such a collaboration work?

Gloria: I’ve had the honor of working with all three composers on their music. Fortuitously, I was part of Salonen’s first guest engagement with the L.A. Philharmonic when he programmed the Lutoslawski Third Symphony. At the time I was playing second keyboard in the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and that was my first encounter with the music of Lutoslawski. I was enchanted by the music. On a later occasion Lutoslawski was invited to be a featured composer on one of the L.A. Phil’s Green Umbrella programs, and I coached some of his chamber music with him. That experience gave me more insight and appreciation for his work, and I came to love it very much. Esa-Pekka and Steve Stucky are longtime friends and collaborators whose work I admire greatly, and I’ve worked them both countless times. The fact that all three composers are so linked musically (the younger two both acknowledge Lutoslawski as their musical forefather), that all four of us have worked together numerous times in the past, and that we are all friends, gives this CD a lot of musical and personal cohesion for me. As for the collaborative process, it’s probably the Salonen pieces that offered the greatest opportunities for interaction, since Dichotomie was written for me, and I did the first performances of the Preludes. Sometimes I’d play the piece for him and work through some passages that I envisioned alternate approaches to. Sometimes it was a phone or email dialogue about any number of things like dynamics, general expressive concepts, rubato, and the like. Actually the Preludes arrived in my email box with very little in the way of dynamics or expressive indications, and I ended up inventing some when I couldn’t reach Esa-Pekka. (I hope he’s happy with them!)
Steven Stucky was actually present at the recording session so he was able to offer any suggestions right there. In the end, he didn’t have too much to say, but I was glad he was there. Most composers I’ve worked with have refrained from imposing their own thinking on me, but enjoy collaborating on the organism together.

Audio samples from the CD

Patrick: You were trained by master teachers such as John Perry and the late Aube Tzerko, both representing notable and influential piano traditions. What triggered your interest in contemporary piano music?

Gloria: I feel that I am the luckiest pianist alive to have had the teachers that I had. My first piano teacher, Isabelle Sant’ Ambrogio, drilled the notion of tone and color, and how to produce a spectrum of them, into me at an early age. I also owe my lifelong absence of piano-related physical problems to her. Aube Tzerko taught me about structure and phrase and declamation. From John Perry I learned how to put the fire underneath a passage and make it soar. I have been so fortunate to have such a pedigree. As for getting involved in contemporary music, it appealed to me during my college years when I was awed by the breadth of knowledge that the composers had cultivated in order to ply their trade. They were the ones that knew poetry, literature, and myth; they were the ones who knew how to produce any style with their deep understanding of all the elements that comprised that style. I always learned something whenever I got into a conversation with a composer. So naturally I got drawn to playing their music, which was very strange and esoteric to my mind at the time. In the intervening years, my involvement with new music has led me to so many musical places that I could never otherwise have imagined. Each emanates from a rich personal history, philosophy, and culture, in other words, the life that was lived by that composer. I must add that I love playing music of friends. I usually can hear them in their music, and conversely I learn more about them when I put their music under my fingers.

Patrick: The complexity of contemporary compositions can often be rather discouraging for the un-experienced pianist. What advice can you give to pianists who want to explore and get exposed to contemporary piano music?

Gloria: In order to explore anything, one has to leave pre-conceived notions behind and be open to things that are completely different. The learning curve becomes steeper with much contemporary music because the languages are unfamiliar, and there is no inevitability as there is in tonal languages. Every composer’s musical language nowadays is personal and unique; the best are eloquent, persuasive, surprising, and ingenious. Understanding them requires openness, respect, humility, and a lot of patience. My world has grown bigger and more interesting from every composer whose music I’ve played. New sound worlds have revealed themselves to me in every instance. To mix a metaphor, some of these universes become lifelong loves that grow and evolve over time, some become great friends, some we want never to visit again. But the more openness we can show in the face of a new encounter, the richer our lives become.

To be continued…


Pianist GLORIA CHENG is widely recognized as a colorful and communicative interpreter of contemporary music, garnering universal acclaim for her unassuming virtuosity and eloquence. On the world premiere of Salonen’s Dichotomie, dedicated to Cheng, the Los Angeles Times described her performance as “miraculous in the sheer speed and sureness of her fingers, in the rich depth of color and sonority she obtained from the piano, and in the sheer expression of joy she brought to a demanding new work.” Gramophone has depicted her as “technically fearless,” and the New York Times has praised her “commanding technique, color and imagination.”

Cheng has premiered dozens of new compositions, including works composed for her by John Adams, Mark Applebaum, Pierre Boulez, Joan Huang, David Raksin, Terry Riley, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Stephen Andrew Taylor, Chinary Ung, and Andrew Waggoner. Cheng’s dedication to contemporary music has brought her into close collaborations with many of the leading composers of our time: Thomas Adès, Henry Brant, Earle Brown, Elliott Carter, George Crumb, John Harbison, György Ligeti, Witold Lutoslawski, Steve Reich, and Steven Stucky.

She has twice been featured with the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Music Group at Alice Tully Hall, and made her solo debut with the L.A. Philharmonic in December, 1998, performing Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques and Couleurs de la citĂ© cĂ©leste under the direction of Zubin Mehta. In May 2003, Cheng was the soloist, at the personal invitation of Pierre Boulez, in the L. A. Philharmonic’s historic final concerts in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, again performing Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Recent engagements include appearances with the Pacific Symphony, New York Philharmonic, Long Beach Symphony, Indianapolis Symphony, San Francisco Symphony, Shanghai Symphony, Pasadena Symphony, Opus Novum (Hawaii), Composers Inc., and San Francisco Contemporary Music Players. Additional projects have brought Cheng to festivals at Ojai, Tanglewood, Aspen, Bad Gleichenberg, and Kuhmo (Finland), to the Chicago Humanities, Other Minds (San Francisco), and Composer-to-Composer (Telluride) Festivals, and to venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Radio France, Kennedy Center, and the ThĂ©atre du Châtelet.

Prior to post-graduate studies in Paris and Barcelona, Cheng earned her B.A. in Economics from Stanford University, and graduate degrees in Music from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the University of Southern California. Her primary teachers were Isabelle Sant’Ambrogio, Aube Tzerko, and John Perry. She is on the faculty at UCLA.


/patrick
 
     



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