A city in love – Cremona Music Festival Parts 1,2 and 3 the day of reckoning

A city in love – Cremona Music Festival Part 1,2 and 3

Ivan Krpan admiring the inlaid Stradivarius in the Violin museum
Arriving late in Cremona last night I was immediately struck by the presence of Stradivarius in every shop window and on every street corner .
The next morning in the light of day I was equally surprised to see pianos in many of the colonades in the centre with signs asking to be played!
A short bus ride away and in the exhibition centre there is Cremona Music a three day festival of exhibitions and concerts.
I had been invited by that amazingly versatile young musician Roberto Prosseda who after organising the Festival in Barga this summer had since toured India with his wife with whom he not only shares their three children but also artistically they share their music together.
He has found time to coordinate this festival in Cremona that is seething with energy and talent that I was able to admire on the first day of this incredible journey.
I could admire all the instruments of every type on show and the people that make them ready to help the hundreds of people from all parts of the world that had flocked to play,hear and learn about all these instruments.
There was the managing director of Music Lane in Bangalore who had come to acquire instruments to introduce to the people in his country.
This is his second year and he was sure there would be a market for accordians !
There were many young oriental people choosing wood to make instruments with and in the Piano Experience a series of small concert halls each one housing a Yamaha.Bosendorfer,Steinway,Fazioli and a beautiful Steingraeber,unknown to me even though established in 1852, with a mechanism that can make the keys shallower(Mozart) to resemble the touch of a period instrument.

Andrea Bressan with Igor Roma
My first stop though today was in the Sala Monteverdi for a superb concert by Andrea Bressan ,one of the finest of all bassoonists, with a remarkable Igor Roma on a Steinway piano.A perfect partnership that had Igor Roma abandoning the music and playing from “heart” the final pieces by Egberto Gismondi in a give and take between instruments that was nothing short of miraculous.

Jed Distler
Jed Distler too in the Sala Cristofori had played so beautifully his own works and arrangements of Thelonius Monk in a series of pieces that seemed to have endless possibilities of colour and subtle shading.
Maurizio Baglini had a full house in the Guarneri del Gesu hall where a very grand Fazioli 308 took centre stage.
Roberto Prosseda had introduced his friend and colleague and explained that the Fazioli piano had the gift of being able to change its character with each different pianist that played on it.
And it was indeed an earth shattering performance of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition that took centre stage today. The little Arabesque by Schumann that opened the concert was played in a way that mirrored perfectly the “Pictures” that were to follow.

Paolo Fazioli Maurizio Baglini and Eliane Reyes
Paolo Fazioli looking on proudly to see his piano roaring like a lion and whispering like an angel in Maurizio’s hands.
It was a joy after such an overwhelming performance to go into the Zelioli Lanzini Hall and hear Bach played so simply and beautifully by Massimo Mercelli on the flute with Ramin Bahrami on the beautiful Steingraeber concert grand.

Ramin Bahrami Massimo Mercelli Riccardo Risaliti
It was on this same piano that a few hours earlier the 18 year old winner of the Marco Bramanti National Piano competition. Edoardo Mossali had astonished us with his superbly assured performances of Chopin Studies op 10 and the Brahms Paganini Variations Book 2.
Introduced by an ever more genial Riccardo Risaliti.In the presence of the Bramanti family who had dedicated themselves to founding a competition in Marco’s name who had been killed in a car accident at the age of only 23.in 1985.Music was his passion and so what better way to remember him that to found a Piano Competition in his name.Music can give passion and sensitivity to the young and it is to them that the competition in Forte dei Marmi is directed.

The concert hall constructed with the same wood of the violin
The family are convinced that music has the means to bring love and sensibility into young people’s lives.
What better memorial could there be?
A sumptuous Gala dinner after a quick tour of the Stradivarius museum and look at the amazing concert hall where all the instruments are regularly played.
Around my table congregated Richard Stoltzman ,Konstatin Sherbakov,Inna Faliks,Roland Pontinen,Ivan Krpan ,Ramin Bahrami and of course our host Roberto Prosseda ………so who knows what lies ahead in the next two days!
Today the presentation of Valentina Lo Surdo’s book the “Art of Success “….this is the place to be !

Richard and Mika Stolzman in conversation with Ramin Bahrami

our host Roberto Prosseda with 2017 Busoni winner Ivan Krpan who plays for the Keyboard Charitable Trust on Sunday morning
PART 2

Jed Distler Risto-Matti Marin Roland Poentinen
Cremona Festival day 2 starting well…..
Fantastic playing from Risto- Matti Marin who unlocked pandoras box of the Steingraeber Concert Grand and showered us with glistening jewels.
A very interesting juxtaposition of Wagner Tristan and Isolde in the transcriptions of Ernest Schelling and Franz Liszt.
Sumptuous sounds and colours that only a real musician could have discovered.
From glistening pianissimi to red hot passion in the span of only a few minutes was pure magic.

Risto – Matti Marin
The Schelling transcription was very interesting and deserves to be heard more often but it was the Liszt that had distilled the essential essence of Wagner that created the real magical atmosphere where Schelling had been slightly more literal and in the end did not have the perfect shape of the Liszt transcription.
The “Leaves of Grass “ were a series of 12 Preludes after Walt Whitman written by the Canadian composer Matthew Whittall in 2009.Three of these (6/8/9) were played with an amazing range of sound .
The beautiful verses so poetically conveyed in sound.
Here was a full orchestra and the repetative motiv in “Thou orb aloft full- dazzling” was like a beam of light with Steve Reich type insistence but with great bass notes added that gave such meaning to the urgent relentless chime of bells.
A quite transcendental display of technical control and musicianship.
The “Rigoletto”paraphrase was played with ravishing subtle virtuosity .It was wonderful to see the way he caressed the keys in a superlative display of musicianship where the melody sang out with the most extraordinary weaving of magical notes all around.
A quite remarkable display of how a complete technical control of sound and colour can allow an undemonstrative musician to hold the audience captivated in such a well worn work.
An encore of the Romance in D flat by Sibelius revealed all the wonderful secrets of this very fine piano that until today had been concealed.

Valentina Lo Surdo with Filippo Michelangeli
A rush to the other side of this vast pavillion to hear about the Art of Success from Valentina Lo Surdo.
Success is indeed assured with Valentina …..her book a wonder of very sensitive good sense advice gathered from the past 25 years of mixing with crazy but dedicated musicians.
How to distill but not destroy the very passion that drives musicians to sacrifice hours to their art.
But it is also a profession and needs to take its place in a consumer world .

Essential reading for all those that would like to enter the profession
What place?How to market what you are producing?Never talk badly of your colleagues and they will never talk badly of you!
Enlightened comments from Roberto Prosseda who is an example of how to manage ones talent to the benefit of all.
Immediately after in another hall Valentina was presenting the “Violins of Hope.”
A concert dedicated to Amnon Weinstein who was awarded the Cremona Music Award.
It is a harrowing story of jewish prisoners who had played in the concentration camps during the terrible Holocaust.
Since 1961 he has dedicated his life to restoring the instruments some of which were used to play whilst the prisoners were lining up to enter the gas chambers.
These same instruments are now being used in some of the most important theatres in the world.
He not only restores the instruments but also collects their story convinced that music is the only way to remember.

Amnon Weinstein receiving the Cremona Musica Award
”The Holocaust is a story of death,but aso of hope,because many people survived and the music was a part of that survival.When one knows the story behind the violins ,you become aware of how they carry within them the same hope.”
A short concert of mainly jewish traditional music that also included the Largo ma non tanto from Bach’s Concerto for two violins.
I managed to catch only a small part of the recital by Eliane Reyes in the Guarneri Room where Fazioli holds court.
Jeux d’eau by Ravel and L’isle joyeuse by Debussy showed how true Roberto Prosseda’s words were when he said the Fazioli had the possibility to completely change character with differing pianist.

Maurizio Baglini Eliane Reyes Paolo Fazioli Roland Poentinen
In fact it was a very delicate piano that we heard today.
It hardly seemed possible that it could be the same instrument that roared like a lion in Baglini’s Mussorgsky yesterday.
An exquisite performance of a little Waltz op posth by Chopin played as an encore made my dash from one venue to another so worthwhile.

Luca Ciammarughi with Roberto Prosseda
An all too brief appearance to hear the first few minutes of Luca Ciammarughi’s book on the Last Sonatas of Schubert was enough to make me want to buy it especially after reading his last fascinating book about pianists from Michelangeli to Argerich.
An interesting introduction from Roberto Prosseda who talked about the reasoning of Andras Schiff for adhering to the “heavenly “ length of Schuberts sonatas.

Konstantin Scherbakov programme
I wish I could have stayed but Konstantin Scherbakov was about to play in the Cristofori Room where Steinway held court.
A pianist I had not heard before but of course his reputation was well known to me.
His Tchaikowsky was extraordinarily expressive and noble.
His hands like Gilels seemed to belong to the keys and produce sounds of a purity with a total command but at once of a sensitivity and extraordinary clarity even in the most whispered of passages.
Wonderfully passionate playing in the climaxes but never a harsh sound due to his wonderful sense of balance.

Konstantin Scherbakov
A Chopin both noble and tender,rythmic and free with a great sense of architecture that gave great form to the F minor Fantasie.
A very refined third Ballade, the most gentle of the four great stories that Chopin was to share with us.
A sense of control and balance brought great authority to the climax.
An Andante spianato played with two hands was a surprise but what did it matter when the melodic line was then allowed to float on this magic wave of sound.The mazurka like middle section was played with a naive charm before the return of the Andante spianato.Taking us gently into the Grande Polonaise with a subtle use of the left hand pedal in the orchestral introduction and leading to a Polonaise of great virtuosity allied to a subtle flexibility of tempo but never loosing sight of the overall shape.ù
A quite extraordinary display of playing from a great artist.

Risto-Matti Marin              Konstantin Scherbakov
It was no coincidence I think that I found both Risto-Matti Marin and Konstatin Sherbakov in animated conversation in the exhibition hall as I was on my way to catch only a too short a time unfortunately of Richard Stoltzman’s clarinet masterclass.

Richard Stoltzman masterclass
An animated discussion on Best Practices and Innovation in Live Music Organisation brought together a prestigious group of organisers and musicians coordinated by Roberto Prosseda.
Carmelo Di Gennaro, coordinatore artistico Stresa Festival, già direttore artistico Teatro Real di Madrid- Carlo Hruby, presidente dell’Associazione “Musica con le Ali”- Jan Latham-Koenig, direttore d’orchestra, direttore musicale del Novaya Opera Theater di Mosca- Christopher Axworthy, direttore artistico del Keyboard Charitable Trust di Londra standing in for the indisposed  founder John Leech – Gyorgy Rath, direttore d’orchestra, direttore principale della Philharmonique de Nice- Frederik Styns, sovrintendente della Flanders Symphony Orchestra- Juljen Toepoel, direttore artistico del Parkstad Limburg Theaters . A lively exchange of ideas that lasted over two hours and was stimulating and useful. ……………

Symposium:Best Practices and Innovations in live Music Organisation

Paolo Fazioli playing one of his pianos- he had infact studied with Sergio Cafaro’s wife  Mimi Martinelli
PART 3 – The final day THE DAY OF RECKONING
Cremona Musica last day
An unexpectedly lovely supper with Clare Pakenham the renowned writer and long time friend of the Keyboard Charitable Trust.

Bolero indeed !
As I have learnt from experience in Padua on Saturday night all the restaurants are full as are the squares and bars.
We were lucky to find a modest beer and wine bar in front of my hotel where we were given royal treatment and a sumptuous meal with wonderful wine was conjured up in an intimate atmosphere without music!
‘Bolero’ indeed.
Clare Pakenham,the sister in law of the late Harold Pinter had come to hear Ivan Krpan and to join her lifelong friends John and Noretta Leech,the founders of the keyboard trust who are helping Ivan at the start of his career,having won quite unexpectedly but very deservedly the 2017 Busoni competition.

Clare Pakenham and Bolero!
As Valentina Lo Surdo pointed out in her brief but ever stimulating presentation, Ivan Krpan although still only 22, is a very serious thinking artist who had pieced together a very serious programme for this morning’s concert in Cremona.
When asked if he would be happy to play on a Fazioli piano he exclaimed ” But I love Fazioli pianos!”
The last eight of Chopin`s 24 Preludes opened the recital.
As with Busoni`s own performance(that alas we only have a fragment of on piano rolls) each one isolated in a world where each prelude was a tone poem in its own right.
It was fascinating how he had dissected each one following scrupulously Chopin`s own indications but where the so called Chopin tradition had no place.

Valentina in her stimulating and thankfully short introduction
He is a thinking musician and takes you with him on a journey that makes you think afresh about much loved works that have in many ways been smothered by a tradition and style that we take for granted.
The C minor Prelude was played with great nobility and the layers of sound plastered like stones gradually sinking into the sand.
The little 23rd Prelude was less convincing as surely it is a companion to the last great D minor.
Played in a very deliberate unrelenting way with an authority and control that was of a mature Arrau.
A surprisingly excessive use of the sustaining pedal in the 17th prelude in A flat did not quite create the effect of a mist or tolling bell on which floats Chopins magical dream revisitation.
The great octave Prelude and the recitativo were played with a detached passion that made an exhilarating contrast to the chiselled beauty of the others.
His ‘Raindrop’ Prelude n.15 offered as an encore was every bit as monumental as Sokolov’s famous vision.

Krpan and Fazioli a partnership made in heaven
It was interesting to hear Brahms’ Schumann Variations op 9 where each was most beautifully played with attention to the most intricate indications of the young Brahms.
But I felt that on this occasion it did lack an overall architectural shape and underlying rhythmic direction where the sumptuous liquid sounds of Brahms were not for Ivan’s clarity of vision today.
I remember well Louis Lortie playing the Brahms F minor sonata op 5 in London and in Rome pointing to the Boesendorfer label after an equally masterly performance but with magnificent sonorous and voluptuous sound.
He then went on to play Chopin pointing to the Fazioli label saying that this though is the ideal piano for Chopin!
It was good to see Liszt`s ‘Benediction de Dieu dans la solitude’ rightly consigned to its place as the masterpiece it really is.

Ivan and Paolo- a winning combination
It was Arrau who played Liszt following his indications scrupulously and placing Liszt so rightly at the pinnacle of the romantic era.
It was the same seriousness and minute attention to detail that Ivan offered as the last work in his recital today.
A beautiful sense of balance and colour played with passionate involvement but also intelligent sensibility.
Maybe even here the individual episodes should be moulded into a whole which I am sure he would do in a bigger hall with more resonance.

Ivan with the distinguished authoress Clare Pakenham who had flown in from Menton especially to hear him
I remember being swept away by his superlative performance of the Dante Sonata last year in London and Rome.
The magnificent Fazioli pianos are ideally suited to the clarity and precision of Bach as we know from Angela Hewitt’s performances world wide.

An ovation for Ivan and Fazioli…not to mention J.S.B!
And it was today the last encore offered to very enthusiastic audience at this coffee concert when Ivan chose to play so superbly the Prelude from the First Partita in B flat by J.S. Bach.
There are no words necessary for all those that were present to see how Bach,Fazioli and Ivan are a partnership made in heaven!
But this was only the start of the adventure that Roberto Prosseda had in store for us on the last day.
Immediately following this recital Roland Poentinen was playing in the other prestigious hall -the Zelioli Lanzini Room -on a very fine Steingraeber concert grand.
It is the hall where I heard Risto-Matti Marin playing so magnificently the day before.

Roland Poentinen programme
Maestro Poentinen had been in the audience too as Rito Matti was today to hear his colleague conjuring up the same magic sounds in Debussy and Ravel and also in his own etude ergonomique,like Ravel,à la manière de Thomas Newman.
A kaleidoscope of subtle sounds which had immediately ignited this piano in the Debussy study and carried to the end with an encore of the most magical of Rachmaninov Preludes, that in G sharp minor.

Roland Poentinen
As Fazioli is the ideal piano for the clarity of Bach the Steingraeber is ideal for the more impressionistic repertoire.
And this is of course  the luxury that we were treated to.
So many great interpreters and pianos together in Cremona in a feast of music.
Exchanging ideas and ideals in the space of only three days in an atmosphere where the passion for music took precendence over any other considerations.
In the same hall just half an hour later I was interested to hear the Chinese pianist Jin Ju who I had heard such wonders from our never forgotten friend Constance Channon Douglass.

Jin Ju
Jin Ju is the wife of Stefano Fiuzzi of the Accademia Cristofori in Florence which houses many fine historic instruments.
It was where I found Rosalyn Tureck in 1991 just a few days before she took the world by storm again in Rome with a sensational performance of the Goldberg Variations.
Stefano and I shared Rosalyn for many years as she began so unexpectedly her Indian summer all over Italy when she was amazingly in her late 70’s.
I was glad to be able to whisper into Stefano’s ear after the Chopin Barcarolle and two nocturnes op 55 that Connie had been right when she told me what a great pianist he had married!
I do not know how she managed the clarity and subtle colours on this Steingraeber that had been so ungrateful to other pianists.

A recent review of Jin Ju
Maybe it was her clockwork precision that allowed her great intelligence and sense of style to dominate the rather muffled velvety sounds.Such beautiful things especially in the Barcarolle and such ecstasy in the E flat nocturne.
Of course always allied to an intelligence that allowed her to do the ritornello in the first movement of the B minor Sonata integrating it into the architecture of one of the very few works of this length by Chopin, who was essentially a ‘miniaturist’
The middle section of the Scherzo was so beautifully shaped and the outer sections glistened so clearly now the sun had come out.

Jin Ju programme
The immediate entry without a break into the slow movement was absolutely overwhelming as was the beauty of her cantabile and the shimmering sounds that she found in the Largo without ever loosing sight of the great architectural shape.
The first few octaves of the last movement was all I was allowed before running to the taxi but it was enough to see what a great musician she is listening so attently with a refined intelligence even in the most transcendentally difficult passages.
It brings great nobility to the works of the so called “miniaturist” Chopin just as Rubinstein had taught us.

Wonderful country and western in the open air pavillion
Unfortunately a problem with the closure of one of the airports in Milan meant I had the minutes counted and could only take in one more pianist Jin Ju, before being whisked off on the two hour journey to Milan..I had to miss Ingolf Wunder in the Steinway room and the award ceremony for Salvatore Accardo and much else too……………
Next year I will be back with the sounds of the missed Finale Presto non tanto ringing in my ears…..
……………..Agitato indeed who would not be!

Roberto Prosseda finding time to present every concert – here with Eliane Reyes whose mentor was Marth Argerich the undisputed Empress of the piano

The prestigious Zelioli Lanzini hall full to the rafters for the moving’Violins of Hope’ award to Amnon Weinstein

Cihat Askin Sevil Ulucan Weinstein Yevheniya Lysohor Yelda Ozgen Ozturk performing Bach Concerto for two violins in celebration for Amnon Weinstein ‘Violins of Hope’

The CD presented by Jed Distler someone who knows more about piano than even Piero Rattalino,Riccardi Risaliti and Bryce Morrison put together.He also makes the piano sound more beautiful than most! Che non guasta ,as they say here!

An unforgettable experience indeed

Cremona.The city of our dreams

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