‘If musik be the food of love………play on ‘ as Dr Moritz von Bredow reminded us in his brief words of thanks to Noretta and John Leech.For it is their great love not only for each other but of music that with vision and determination they have shared with innumerable young artists.Sharing with them a sense of duty,humility and integrity that gives weight and meaning to their artistry.A maturity that is born ‘on wings of song ‘ as Maestro Pappano so eloquently pointed out.
But it was the reverential minute of silence at 7 o’clock broken only by the magic strains of the Aria from the ‘Goldberg Variations’ that spoke louder than any words.Sir Antonio Pappano playing with exquisite luminous sound,the repeats allowed to whisper as he just seemed to dust the keys allowing the genius of Bach to cast a spell on this distinguished gathering.As Maestro Pappano was to say in his short speech after listening to six of the finest young musicians from the Keyboard Trust:the variety of sounds that can be produced from this black box of hammers and strings is remarkable.Technical proficiency and mastery aside it is the difference of sound and character that each one brought to the same instrument that is remarkable.
To quote from the ‘little red book’ masterminded by the indomitable John Leech is a message from Sir Antonio Pappano the honorary Patron and opens this ‘bible’ and sets the scene for all that lies within.
“‘The Gift of Music’ is a love story in the best operatic tradition:Love of music above all.Love and determination to create a unique gift to hand to those you hold dear.Love and compassion for those born to make music but unable to find their proper role.How well I know the plot of this book,having been captured by it myself years ago.Even on the threshold of the Trust’s fourth decade the story remains compelling,strong enough and relevant to be carried forward to create a brighter future for us all.Guidance,patience,vision and opportunity have come together so that an astonishing number of musicians have been able to flourish under the wing of The Keyboard Trust.Long May it endure!”
Never more so than this evening where the crystalline sounds and mastery of style of Leslie Howard were immediately in evidence.What better title could there be than ‘Mes joies’,as an enticing web of golden sounds were spun by a true master.Hardly moving but with concentration focused on every note ,so reminiscent of Rubinstein in his later years where all the flamboyance and showmanship of his ‘youthful years’ had been condensed into the very notes themselves .Seated as in a favourite armchair allowing us to share the wonder of discovery as every note had a significance and meaning.Rosalyn Tureck once said to me when one of her friends commented that at the age of 78 she had given a note perfect performance of the Goldberg variations:’But,darling I don’t play wrong notes ‘.Of course the meaning was far from that of note picking proficiency but that every note belonged to a chain that created the whole architectural shape dedicated to Bach’s genius .Moura Lympany too,from the Matthay school,spoke of thinking of chains that she linked together.https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/02/16/leslie-howard-masterclass-at-the-r-c-m-scholarship-and-mastery-shared/.
They were mirrored by the rich velvet sonorities of great intensity of Jayson Gilham with Medtner’s ‘Stimmungsbilder op 1 n.1’.A sumptuous performance on this magnificent Steinway ‘D’ which allowed the winner of the Montreal International Competition to show the subtle strands and hidden melodic lines of a still neglected composer who is buried in Hendon Cemetery.Before his success in Montreal Jayson had played in our series of all the Rachmaninov works for piano and orchestra that the KT was invited to give in Rossini’s home town of Pesaro.He gave a remarkable performance of the fourth concerto in the uncut original version on the recommendation of Leslie Howard.He learnt it especially for the occasion and was able to give three impeccable performances in Ancona,Pesaro and Fabriano. https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2015/05/26/rachmaninoff-festival-ancona-2015/
Leslie Howard was proud to present the winner of the 2021 Weir Trust,Oscar Colliar,who is in his second year as Organ Scholar in Cambridge.He gave a very musicianly account of great clarity and shape of June and November from Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Seasons’.
This was followed by all the passion and fire of Pablo Rossi with a performance of ‘Widmung’ of burning intensity and Villa Lobos’s scintillating ‘0 Polichinelle’ .A work that Artur Rubinstein would often play and it was with his same sense of communication that he enflamed his audience.Joan Chissell had said ‘Mr Rubinstein turned baubles into gems ‘ Pablo was the first pianist I had heard in 2005 when Noretta seeking to console and distract me with music after the dramatic events of my life,invited me in to Steinway Hall to hear this young boy from Brazil.He was the first of many artists that I was able to invite to play in Rome and from then on the concert activity in our theatre in Rome became ever more entwined with the activity of the Keyboard Trust.(This is all explained more fully in the ‘red book’). Sixteen years on,after his studies in Moscow with Eliso Virsaladze (on the advice of Noretta ) and with Jerome Rose in New York we can now hear how this young Rubinstein look alike ‘could mature in music ‘ – to use Pappano’s own very eloquent words – and not only look like the great master but have the same power of communication allied to a professional training that will carry him into the great concert halls of the world https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/07/30/pablo-rossi-a-star-shining-brightly-for-brazil-200/
Michail Lifits,winner of the 57th Busoni Competition ( a competition that Noretta has frequented every year since the very first edition in 1949 when her great friend and now trustee of the KCT,Alfred Brendel was awarded 4th Prize!) Mischa was also recipient of the KCT Annual prize winners concert at the Wigmore Hall in 2011 having completed KCT tours in USA,Italy and even Mexico.I heard him in 2013 in the beautiful Auditorium in Foligno and was immediately struck not only by the beauty of sound but the kaleidoscopic colours he found in the Rachmaninov Corelli Variations.Now with a flourishing career and newly appointed Professor at the Franz Liszt University in Weimar he flew in especially to pay homage to two people that he is much indebted to in so many ways.His performance of the much overplayed Chopin First Ballade was a revelation on how such a work can come alive as new in the hands of a true artist.The authority and clarity of thought ,the aristocratic architectural vision was masterly and had me wanting to check the score once again to relive the magic that had allowed him to bring new life to such a masterpiece.
There would have been many encores had we heard a performance of that stature in the concert hall but tonight we were called to order by our Chairman Geoffrey Shindler and our indefatigable Chief executive Sarah Biggs.Stop watch in hand it is thanks to them that the evening in The National Liberal Club ran so smoothly with caos all around as London was about to welcome our beloved Queen back home on her last great journey.
Chloe,teenage winner of both the Geneva and Busoni International competitions (the only other pianist to do that was Martha Argerich) ,flew in especially for this celebration from her adopted home in Salzburg.The rarified perfection and fluidity of her playing created an enormous effect in her all to short appearance playing only ‘Reflets dans l’eau’.Only! It was a true jewel of ravishing voluptuous sounds from extreme delicacy to passionate abandon.I accompanied Chloe on the American tour where I could witness the bond with her audiences of a true artist as she looked with dagger like concentration at the notes but then wafting on with the same genial simplicity of Martha Argerich.Elena Vorotko,our co artistic director,was in tears after her performance of Beethoven’s penultimate sonata op 110 at her prize winner’s Wigmore recital in June 2017.I implored her to play the 14th of Schumann’s Davidsbundler but there was a complicity between her and Sarah that I could not budge.It is here in this link to the performance she gave in Poland this summer: https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/08/12/chloe-mun-at-the-duszniki-chopin-festival-refined-perfection-and-aristocratic-simplicity/
Vitaly Pisarenko,winner of the Utrecht Liszt Competition at the age of 20 and a top prize winner at Leeds in 2015.With a worldwide career opening up and now a much sought after teacher at the Purcell School for highly gifted young performers and as assistant Professor to his much admired mentor Dmitri Alexeev at the Royal College of Music.I am glad to see that there is a poster in the ‘red book’ in which the KCT were invited to Aquila in Italy in 2013 to spend a weekend sharing youthful enthusiasm and bringing much needed distraction and relief to a community that had been so cruelly struck down by an earthquake.Noretta’s dear friend Claudio Abbado gave the first concert in a hall that had be newly donated by the people of Trento and constructed by the walls of a city that lay in ruins.Mey Yi Foo,Pablo Rossi and Vitaly Pisarenko were chosen to represent three different nations by Noretta and John following in Abbado’s footsteps in bring the Gift of Music to an oppressed community.Bringing all the youthful spirit of hope and enthusiasm that these three young artists had in abundance.Fabbrini ( Pollini’s piano technician had donated the piano -Pollini too a close friend of Noretta).
It was when this young Ukrainian pianist touched the piano in a ravishing performance of Siloti’s Prelude in B minor that Noretta and I looked at each other and it was love at first hearing.A pianist of such simplicity but of such refined playing of sounds that rarely others can reach.Playing of an intelligence and the aristocratic sense of style of another age -The Golden Age of piano playing.This was ten years ago in which time Vitaly has played every tour and venue of the KCT including the Wigmore Hall.The great accompanist Graham Johnson insisted on going back stage in the interval to meet the man who could turn a piano that he knew only too well into a magic box or rarified sounds with Ravel’s Miroirs.It had Graham running to Cadogan Hall a few months later to hear his Ravel G major Concerto.’Gretchen am Spinnrade’ was played with such subtlety and rarified sounds from the barely audible to the most enormous sonorities of refined passion ……and then back again.Gretchen at her wheel still whispering in the distance with playing of incredible precision at a level of pianissimo that I have only ever heard from Richter.
The great pianists are not those that play the fastest and loudest but it is those dedicated few that can play the quietest with total control.A mastery that requires total dedication.Vitaly’s unique artistry is gradually being discovered by a public who realise that it is quality not quantity that reaches the soul.A very classical performance of Liszt’s capricious play on Schubert’s Soirées de Vienne was admirable for its pianistic perfection but it was Gretchen that will haunt me for a long time to come!https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2021/09/13/bewitched-and-amazed-by-vitaly-pisarenko-in-colombia/
Sasha Grynyuk was born in Kyiv and now lives in London where he won the Gold Medal at the Guildhall and went on to win a considerable number of International Competitions including the Grieg in Bergen.Every Friday will see him at the mews of Noretta and John,a new score in hand.John waiting until the end of their musical session to be instructed on computer literacy or whatever other hi jinks are the latest fashion.They have befriended him in his hour of need as his parents fled the Ukraine only able to fill a car with belongings knowing full well they may never see their homeland again.Sasha flew to Cracow to meet them and drive them back to the Oxfordshire countryside where they have found refuge.Sasha recently found happiness too ,much to the delight of Noretta and John, in the arms of the extraordinary Katya Gorbatiouk.
All this to say that Sasha is like a son to John and Noretta and a rock on which they can rely in moments of uncertainty.He is not only a wonderful human being but also a remarkable pianist who leaves Noretta astonished every week with his mastery of all the Beethoven sonatas and Concertos and many other things besides.One of these being one of the most transcendentally difficult show pieces for piano by Balakirev .His famous Islamey op 18 that strikes terror into all those that dare to trespass.Ravel even tried to out do him in writing Scarbo – the last of his suite Gaspard de La Nuit.A work that Noretta’s own mentor Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli has left his own indelible mark in historic recordings.
To sit down from cold and burst into Islamey is a feat in itself.It would normally come as the icing on the cake after a long recital programme.However orders were orders and if Islamey exceeds the allotted five minutes it certainly could not be preceded by even the shortest of pieces.Little did we know that whilst Sasha was conquering his Everest her majesty the Queen was passing by below.A scintillating performance that just missed the wild abandon and depth of sound that Sasha would normally regale us with.Sasha’s prize winner’s Wigmore in 2013 opened and closed with a magical piece by Arvo Part that gave an overall shape to a container of Mozart,Beethoven and Gulda and made me aware of what an extraordinary artist he was.Bryce Morrison,the distinguished critic and pianophile, played me a while back a recording and asked me to guess who it was.A scintillating display of classical music in jazz idiom that was quite breathtaking in its audacity – it was Play Gulda with Sasha Grynyuk!Sasha has dedicated himself tirelessly to helping his co nationals by arranging and giving benefit concerts for the Ukrainian relief fund.https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/06/10/sasha-grynyuk-at-cranleigh-arts-for-ukraine-joint-fundraiser-for-the-disasters-emergency-committee-and-cranleigh-arts/
And so we were coming to the end of this extraordinary evening that was described as a book launch but I think we were all aware that it was much more than that.
Elena spoke of the formation of the Historical Instrument Section of the KCT which she has been responsible for creating and has already helped reach recognition artists such as Jean Rondeau.This activity is progressing with extraordinary rapidity as there was obviously the same need of creating a bridge between young artists and their potential public.The KCT could not have been more poetically described than by Moritz von Bredow or so clearly expressed by Geoffrey Shindler.Our chairman looking to the future as John and Noretta have always done saluting our loyal and indispensable donors and thanking them all and delighted in seeing them honoured in the pages of the book.
It is to the book we return for the final comment from one of the greatest musicians of our time now in his 100th year.Menahem Pressler was moved to write an introduction that could have not been clearer or more to the point :’The young artists entering the orbit of Noretta and John,having been carefully selected ,are nurtured and advised according to their individual needs,repertoire is chosen with great care and they become part of a big family.This is truly a love affair,and the story of its birth and development so beautifully told by John Leech in ‘The Gift of Music’ is a wonderful read.
P.S.The last words most go to John and Noretta who write :
‘Last night was an overwhelming display of musical ability, colour – and affection: a moving review of what our labours with the Keyboard Trust have meant to young lives – as well as our own.
But as the night wore on, other qualities were called into play by the momentous events that were changing the structure of the city around us. Noretta and I had to wait for a solicitous police vehicle to escort us out of the forest of barricades. Sarah, Richard, Pablo, Moritz and Sasha nobly deployed to the compass points more likely to bear a stray cab, even under by then streaming rain.
When eventually one was found, the heavy police presence had to approve access and clear the way. By this time most of the barricades were already in place, and the final leg of the mercy mission had to be negotiated on a heavily laden police transport. Effusive thanks are due to all those involved in this midnighht mission. It was the kind of effort that friends might well make; last night, against the background of royal mourning and teeming rain it acquired an almost symbolic significance.
The degrees of sadness and selflessness shown by all our friends and company were certainly worthy both of the occasion and its profoundly historic background. All of us were conscious of the passage of great events, modestly accompanied by our small event of personal significance.
With our glowing thanks to all our friends, for last night’s acts of heroism as well as over the last 30 years,
Noretta and John, with love.’
The last word must be from the master himself penned just before midnight last night …….no pumpkins for John or Noretta!
Perfection fired by genius! Completeness beautifully etched, the whole story rounded, the affection clearly displayed on its sleeve. What a remarkable story, most expertly recounted – without an ending, but measuring its beating pulse!Viva! Viva! Vivat the Spirit of Music!!!
Thank you, Chris, for showing us how vigorous that Spirit is still becoming!
Noretta and John
A chronicle of events in a year in the life of the Keyboard Trust https://christopheraxworthymusiccommentary.com/2022/09/06/point-and-counterpoint-from-5th-october-2021-to-25-august-2022/