Piano Competitions a consideration

A consideration comes to mind on reading of Peter Donohoe`s perfectly correct remark about the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium competition going almost unnoticed as compared to the remarks,comments and discussions in the Warsaw,Moscow and Bolzano competitions.
Of course the mass media are more interested in mass murders, political gossip and football than they are in culture.
Belgium seems an exception that quite rightly Peter points out.
Not only are the rounds sold out but are also presided over by the Royal Family and all around the world via their exemplary streaming.

In short it is a National Treasure that fills all of us seeming minority with the hope to be reassured in knowing that history ,education and culture are the only sure ways to overcome prejudice and isolation.

Hats off to Barenboim for proving so eloquently with that extraordinary person Edward Said and their extraordinary West Divan orchestra .
But is the social media and relative sites of Norman Lebrecht etc the place to discuss seriously the jury,the contestants and the final judgments?
I personally from experience prefer not to get involved in this gossip but I think it is better to talk ,be talked about and fought over rather than the usual indifference and ignorance that is more often demonstrated.
Usually time has shown that the distinguished juries asssembled in most competitions get it right .

But what about the hundreds of wonderful talents that do not win this lottery~ maybe because they are not ready or maybe they are not the competing kind.
Andras Schiff,Mitsuko Uchida,Angela Hewitt,Paul Lewis,Janina Fialkowska all great artists playing before us today who had not won Tchaikowsky,Chopin,Busoni,Brussels !
There is no alternative to the International Piano Competition that I can think of for showing off the magnificent array of talent that is there for all that have eyes to see.All dedicating their youth to art, with the sole wish of having an audience with which to share their lifetime passion.
So it is with this in mind that streaming of all the contestants is so important and indeed in my opinion the raison d`etre of the “Piano Competition Circuit”.

I hear the price for Medici Streaming of Moscow was in the millions and maybe the other competitions too.But I have seen smaller less ambitious streaming from smaller venues that obviously could not and had not entered into that sort of budget.
Two examples in my experience come to mind, and I expect many more elsewhere, of a pianist in the rounds being heard worlwide and offered help and all important engagements.

Bolai Cao an extraordinary 17 year old at the Busoni came in fifth because  the jury had had the difficult task of taking many rounds into consideration.

Bolai was heard on streaming and taken under the wing of the Keyboard Trust and offered concerts all over the USA and Europe whilst monitoring his very considerable talent.

Emanuel Rimoldi many thought should have passed into the second round in Moscow but was heard by a very discerning impresario in Miami and offered a very prestigeous engagement.

Julien Brocal played a remarkable Carnaval in Monza and was taken under the wing of the very remarkable and generous lady Marie Joao Pires who actually shares the platform with him .As does that other very remarkable lady Martha Argerich with her friends.

Did not Rubinstein do the same for Janina Fialkowska at his first Competition in Israel.
I cannot stress how important it is for the world to be able to partecipate at this remarkable array of talent.So at this point it is not only the chosen and just one who is the winner but it is also the talent that is the overall decisive factor in the end.

Talent will out.Should and must be the motto.

Thus getting away from the competitive football type mentality that can plague an institution where many illustrious musicians ,our own Peter Donohoe at the helm,give up their precious time to help future generations,and should be lauded and venerated instead of being accused and sometimes on social media, at least, abused.

Stefano Greco at the Quirinale in Rome

Stefano Greco at the Presidents Palace – Quirinale in Rome this morning .
I first heard Stefano in London giving a masterclass on Bach for Alberto Portugheis in a small venue to a few enthusiastic souls .
His talk and performance of the Art of Fugue after an intensive class was nothing short of inspiring .
So this year I was happy to be able to hear him do a much more amplified lecture recital to a packed S.Cecilia Hall in Rome where he is rightly revered as a Bach scholar of singular importance . It was fascinating to hear him reasoning as to why Bach had left this work incomplete and much more beside. The performance ,all from memory ,a feat in itself ,was quite superb.
Later at the request of Mrs Maazel,as were her late husband’s wishes , he flew under the auspices of the Keyboard Trust and Nicola Bulgari to play the Goldberg Variations at Lorin Maazels Memorial Concert at his home in Castletown Virginia.( Where by coincidence another Keyboard Trust artist Bolai Cao was playing today).
So it was with great interest that I tuned into the 3rd Programme to listen to the live broadcast from the Cappella Paolina at the Quirinale in Rome.
An all french programme that I was not expecting from this renowned Bach specialist . But it was from the French Baroque of Rameau to their revisitation by Debussy and Ravel. Not only could Stefano talk so calmly and intelligently before affronting such an intricate programme but also inbetween works too.Specifying that he wanted to dedicate this recital to Aldo Ciccolini his recently deceased teacher and renowned specialist in the french repertoire .
Remarkably crystal clear playing in the Rameau with some really stylish ornamentation that only added to the expressive line and allowed him to maintain such rythmic energy without ever resorting to making us realise that this was other than an instrument that Rameau would have totally approved of. No mean feat ,but one that Stefano had explained in his short interview beforehand that a modern piano can and should be used for baroque music but only when one has fully understood the original sound world.Fascinating to hear his words mirrored by his performance and to realise that he can bring it off as he has acquired the right to a Baroque driving license!(As Graham Johnson said to me one day when I asked how he got away with playing with the piano lid fully open ,an unusual occurence with singers who more often than not travel with their” book”to prop the lid open at a suitable height.It’s alright if you know how to drive ,was the simple and proven reply!
Not sure what the piano was but I would guess from the remarkably clear beautiful sounds produced that it may have been a Fazioli.
Of course a completely different sound world for Debussy’s Hommage a Rameau from Images . As he explained this is Debussy’s impression on visiting the tomb of Rameau.Much slower that I am used to hearing had me running to the score to find exactly as Stefano had played Lent e grave.
Finishing with Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin again explaining that it was written during the first world war and every movement is dedicated to a friend of the composer who had fallen in the war.The first performance by Marguerite Long in 1919 to whose husband,also fallen in the war is dedicated the final Toccata. Ravel played with that aristocratic french sound typical of a Rubinstein or Ciccolini.Clear with expression and sentiment but never with sentimentality . Strange that the ornaments were not so convincing in the little Menuet but fascinating to be taken on such a journey from Rameau to Ravel by Stefano . The presenter of the programme was hoping that as an encore Stefano would offer again his superb rendering of Le Rappel des Oiseaux from the Rameau Suite in E minor(1724) but he had a different idea and so we were treated to the 13th variation from the Goldbergs. Stefano in his introductory interview had spoken so eloquently about his study of the Goldberg Variations and his video programmes one a week dedicated to each variation in turn.
I believe there is also a Facebook opened by Stefano entitled Goldberg Variations that I for one will be scouring for information immediately.
A remarkable morning that I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy in the shadow of Mount Circeo in the wonderful Italian countryside with only the spring song of the birds to add to the wonders from the Radio………..Rappel des Oiseaux indeed!

Maria Joao Pires at Rome University

Partitura Project with Maria João Pires and Kaito Kobayashi at Rome University “La Sapienza” .
It is very apposite that in Busoni’s 150 anniversary year one should be reminded twice in the same week of his statement that “the pedal is the soul of the piano”.Nowhere could that have been more evident than at Krystian Zimerman’s recital of Schubert’s last two Sonatas in London a few days ago and now even more evident with Pires in Beethoven’s last two Sonatas op110 and op.111.The pedal used as voice in its own right . Now to open up the sound in the piano almost as a percussion instrument in order to make the piano sound like a full orchestra and now to give a sheen and luminous sound. Reminiscent of the great almost forgotten Wilhelm Kempff especially in his later years. We are a taught from an early age to practise without pedal and to join the notes with ones fingers , not to rely on the pedal but to a certain extent to add the pedal after this work has been done. But are we ever made aware that the pedal ( I am talking about all three pedals ) in the hands of a real thinking musician is another voice in its own right? And so it was as Maria Joao Pires stepped onto the platform with a very fine twenty one year old disciple whom she had decided to share the concert with fifty fifty.TheJapanese pianist Kaito Kobayashi. Last time I saw her she share the concert with Julien Brocal ,a young french pianist whom I had heard and admired at the Monza Competition a few years ago. There she played the Mozart double with him and a series of shared recitals all over the north of Italy . When I went backstage,in Oxford, to thank her for all she is doing to help these marvellous young musicians she replied with a very sweet genuine modesty that it was they that helped her!
Very similar to that other great , generous lady Martha Argerich.A table to one side with a chair for the attentive listener awaiting their turn to play.It was hardly fair for Kaito to follow Pires’s opening op 110 with Beethovens Funeral March Sonata op 26 . Clean and clear a fine musicianly account of op 26 some very beautiful things indeed but when Pires opened opn 110 there was a sheen and luminosity to the sound that was quite unique . The simple but extreme attention to sound no where more evident than in the last chord of the first movement that seemed to disintigrate before our very eyes( just infact as another great magician of sound Shura Cherkassky would have done) The second movement with all the rhythmic energy necessary but without that usual heavy not always legato chord playing that we are so used to hearing. Leading to a final movement of such majesty and beauty . Can the melodic line ever have sounded so beautiful with the rock solid but never heavy repeated chords underneath? Wonderful sense of balance and of holding back the sound until the climax before the explosion of arpeggiated chords and the gentle almost murmured return of the fugue in inversion this time leading to the real climax and triumphant ending of this masterpiece.Here the almost percussive use of the pedal to open up the full rich sound that is hidden away in that black box of tricks. A beautiful Steinway from Alfonsi lovingly tuned by that master Mauro Buccitti. Follow that! After the interval Kaito gave a very fine performance of Mozart A minor Sonata …the last movement,of course,too fast , as always not allowing a real legato and giving the beautiful middle section a chance to have time to sing and breath. The first movement on the other hand magnificently played with the right sound and majesty with a real sense of colour and rhythmic energy leading to a beautifully shaped slow movement. All this appreciated from the lady seated at the table by the piano awaiting her turn to play. And play she did ! Beethoven’s last Sonata . And if ,unexpectedly, she played the opening octaves with two hands it was always with the intended struggle in mind. If the first movement did not always seem as rock solid as it probably could ,it was remarkable for the sheen and overall homogenious sense of sound sometimes again resorting to almost jumping on the sustaining pedal to open up the sound to give us that full orchestral sound that obviously Beethoven ,who was totally deaf, had envisage. But who could have imagined the visionary performance of the last movement from the very opening. Beauty without sentimentality so difficult to transmit in this piece. And whereas the most notable thing about this small, sparrow like master was the stillness when she played . But suddenly in the middle jazz like variation she became a jazz star moving just as one would expect from a keyboards player in some dive , with an almost infectious dance like movement . But all this to lead to the most serene and sublime final pages imaginable leading ,in turn, to the triumphant climax always( with that luminous and sometimes rich full sound ) Discending to the final pages of the trills that I have never heard played so beautifully. The technical feat of playing in itself a continuous trill with two fingers of one hand whilst using the others have to play the most etherial appearance of the theme . All this whilst the left hand has a magic all of its own . We were not made aware of the difficulty such were the magic sounds produced ……it was as though Beethoven had anticipated the Impressionist and that in his imagination he could have imagined what the remarkable Madame Pires miraculously achieved. To end the concert suddenly two stools appeared and our two artists played this time as one a beautiful piece for four hands by Grieg . A big queue in the Green Room to thank Madame Pires for the lesson of humility,sensitivity and humanity that she had brought to us. Many fine pianists in the queue for it was they, above all ,that were able to appreciate the state of perfection that she had achieved . Beatrice Rana ,fresh from a recital in Leipzig,had even forsaken an evening’s rest in order not to miss Pires before flying off the following morning on a South American tour with Pappano (Tchaikowsky n.1 S.Cecilia Orchestra) .In the queue with many others to meet and thank this remarkable lady.