From blog to blog A reply to Hugh Mather about pianists out of control

Not sure if my reply to Hugh Mathers blog was recorded.

It was done in such a hurry that I intended  to reply at length later .

Actually after a concert that is  one of the few times in my life I left as soon as was decently possible.

Why did I leave? ……….what did I say to Hugh?……..this is a consideration ….my consideration ……..who am I to consider anything? …

That I leave to others to judge .What right do I have  to  judge  anyone or anything ?.I can only give my opinion and am always happy to be proven wrong.

An excess of modesty on my part but also on that of Hugh Mather who not only has created one of the most prestigious pianistic calendars,giving professional engagements to the needy young  talents that he has been able to spot as  great up and coming talents ,  but  also plays in public himself .His last appearance was with the Hammerklavier and his next will be with the Archduke on the 12th October with one of the best young cellist of today Jamal Aliyev who loves making music with this very modest retired consultant doctor .

Hugh had made a consideration that maybe many talented young musicians were tempted to play fast passages too fast and slow ones too slow.Citing Chopin 1st and 3rd Ballades and the F minor Fantasy  also including the fatally monumental Liszt Sonata in B minor.

A highly esteemed  doctor Hugh Mather may have been but he is also a very accomplished musician who now can dedicate himself to his real passion.Something he does with a modesty and generosity that are very rare indeed these days.

When I was  made a sub professor at the Royal Academy in London …many illustrious doctors from nearby Harley Street would ask if there was anyone that could teach them the piano.

I was of course the obvious choice – the new boy – .I well remember a very accomplished physician telling me that it was me or the psychiatrist and I was a bit cheaper!!!!!.

So many doctors ,lawyers and professional people have been brought up in privileged , more often  than not Jewish families ,where music was an important family activity,but was not considered a serious profession .So many professional people have grown up with their musical passion  momentarily stifled but it was always there simmering under the surface.

I had replied to Hughs comment about speedy pianists quoting my teacher Guido Agosti who put paramount importance on what was written in the score.

Tempo and dynamic indications are shown by the composer and the respect for these indications are the foundations on which the interpreter can begin to build .Adding,of course his own personality,passion,musicality etc etc .

It is not a straight jacket but on the contrary once these fundamental indications are mastered and understood it leaves the interpreter free to express all his personality and individuality.

Without this initial stage there is nothing .

That may seem drastic but this is the line that many of the greatest musicians from the very  first apparition of  Schnabel that Lechititsky declared was a musician but no real pianist .This opened the door to a new type of pianist – the musician pianist that we know today  of Serkin,Arrau Pollini  and Barenboim to our modern day Perahia and Zimerman

Every time that the ” High Priestess of Bach”  Rosalyn Tureck came to play she would always ask me for a metronome  to reset her performances even after years of knowing them.There was always something new to discover in the score even when she was well into her eighties and the rhythmic impulse was fundamental to her performances of Bach.

Infact this was the lesson that we all flocked to Siena to understand from Agosti.who was, after all, a pupil of Busoni.The school of Liszt  and the man who was perhaps the most modern of pianists,one of the very first to edit and play the Sonatas of Beethoven .

And how many students came to grief in the class of Agosti if they had not prepared their scores according to the composers wishes.I remember a graduate from  the famous Julliard  School in the USA playing his prize winning piece Miroirs by Ravel to Agosti only to be asked if he was  reading it for the first time.

The same lesson was an essential part of Toscanini’s revolutionary conducting that was passed on via Giulini to Riccardo Muti and many other great Italian interpreters which includes nowadays Antonio Pappano.

Joyce Di Donato on Desert Island Discs ,only  this week,  very candidly told of Riccardo Muti at her first rehearsal at La Scala  walking out saying she was not ready to sing .Such was the shock she not only sang but says she had never sang so well in her life.Excellence has a price !A question of courage ,passion and God given  talent,above all, of course

A great artist is always in the search of the impossible and nothing will get in their way .

It is a very hard lesson to learn and many get destroyed,unfortunately ,on the way.But for the greatest interpreters  it is a dedication and life time struggle that comes across to their world wide admirers .

How many times one hears the Schumann piano concerto first movement with so many variations in tempo .The real artist will follow the indications in the score and find the tempo that will work for the opening flourish as it will for the first theme that follows.

This does not mean that one is in a straight jacket …on the contrary ..anyone that heard Martha Argerich the other day and will have noticed the freedom and subtelty of her playing  in the Schumann Piano Concerto that comes from an absolute fidelity to the score .Of course the difference is between the amateur pianist who thinks he or she is playing with great sentiment etc and maybe does not have the technical means to control their feelings .This is fine in the confines of ones private studio,but the professional pianist more  is expected and is obliged to study the score minutely to discover what the composer wants and to put his/her talent to this end .

There is though the strange anomaly of a master pianist who does what he “thinks” the composer wants.Herein is a curious phenomenon, sometimes with  great public following

Was it not Martha Argerich herself that walked out of the Chopin competition when Pogorelich was not admitted into the second round.She ,the great complete artists that she is,had noticed that here was a great pianist discussible musical ideas,but a great pianist nevertheless .

How should it be judged or should it indeed be judged or just taken as  highly original musical taste!Food for thought indeed.

Ivo  Pogorelich had a  wonderful control of sound,a fantastic technical command but a total disregard for the composers indications.In fact  when Deustche Grammaphon asked Vlado Perlemuter ( a disciple of Ravel) for some words of wisdom to market Pogorelich’s recording of Ravel that included Gaspard de la nuit and Valses Nobles ,Perlemuter simply replied ” What is that “!

Another master pianist  who does not always follow the score has an enormous following is Simon Trpceski.Fine in concertos but in the recital hall very individual indeed.Too much for some  with the modern day taste of absolute fidelity to the text.A series of wonderful moments rather than an overall architectural vision.

There are also the light music phenomena  :the singer Bocelli and the pianist  Aleevi both with an enormous following from a doting public but for the discerning musician  they are artists that have not understood the very meaning of  interpretation and must remain in the world of light music rather than that of the great interpreters .Capable of filling vast stadiums such is their stage personality .They are popular entertainers .

Lang Lang sits firmly on the fence very rarely  venturing these days into the treacherous territory of the  classical music interpreter,as outlined, but more often than not entering the world as a marvellous  entertainer and advocate for the piano a real beacon   for  the millions of his followers not only in China but throughout the world .

An educator one might say………a real prophet one might even hazard !

A real modern day phenomenon that one can only admire even if his concerts are not always  for the discerning listener .

A very interesting subject indeed ………..but the fact is that when one hears a really great interpretation no words are needed .In fact there are no words – for music enters a territory where words are just not enough.Music is a language of its own- a real universal language ,in fact.

It is a direct line from  mind to heart  and generally has meant a total  dedication and study on the part of the interpreter to the exclusion of all else.














Hockney and la Principe

Costanza Principe at St James`s today. To say it was a beautiful recital by.a beautiful young lady would be a great understatement.
Her exquisite Allegretto from the Drei Klavierstucke was even more poignant for the exclusion of the other two.But to what effect!We are so used to having to hear the complete work it was very daring ,in this age of the Urtext or nothing ,to let this most beautiful piece stand proudly on its own and to separate the “little”Beethoven op 78 Sonata from Rachmaninoff’s rumbustuos second Sonata.
What she missed in the devilry and inexorable forward propulsion of a Horowitz in this Rachmaninoff she more than compensated for with such a beautifully nuanced sense of balance that she managed to seduce a very large audience on this balmy autumn afternoon.
Of course it was immediately apparent from the first notes of the Beethoven that here was a highly intelligent musician listening intently to the shape and beauty of the extraordinary opening of this “little” much underrated sonata.
No encore was offered so as we came out into the bright sunshine from this beautiful church in the heart of London we just had to thank Costanza for filling this lunch hour with such beauty.
“All things bright and beautiful…..” we used to sing at school sprang to mind as I crossed the road to the Royal Academy to see the 82 portraits that David Hockney painted in the summer of 2013.
All in the same studio on the same chair in his studio in Los Angeles.All friends or family .Now in his 80th year Hockney simply declares:”I don’t do celebrities,photography does celebrities.My friends are my celebrities”.Always a Yorkshire lad at heart,you see.Ca va sans dire

Viners Norma

I remembered a remarkable performance that I had heard from Mark Viner a few weeks ago of Liszt’s Norma Fantasy and so after the rather boring stage performance of Norma at Covent Garden I could not wait to listen to his new CD of Liszt Opera Fantasies.
Of course the static world of the CD can never give the frisson necessary in these works that live for an audience and let me say that the live performance of the Norma Fantasy by Mark Viner on a magnificent Bosendorfer Piano was even more remarkable than the performance on this superbly recorded Steinway .
And what a genius Liszt was indeed with these early Reminiscences written for his own performances in the fashionable salons of the day .These works that most pianists can only admire “from a safe distance” as that Liszt expert Leslie Howard has penned in his marathon complete recordings of Liszt’s works for piano( over 100 CD’s and a well deserved entry in the Guinness book of records(sic)).
Mark Viner is still very young yet this is already the second recording of Opera Fantasies – the first being that of Thalberg-Liszt’s greatest rival- that I have spoken about a few months ago.
I remember the sensation that the arrival of Raymond Lewenthal created at his first appearance in London at the Wigmore Hall with works by Alkan and Liszt,some of which we had only read about in history books but never heard performed .
One such work was the Hexameron that is also on this remarkable disc .
Written for the salon of Princess di Belgiojoso for her campaign for the independence of her beloved homeland,Italy.
Using the theme from Bellini’s I Puritani,a reactionary call to arms,she had persuaded many artists ,actors ,authors and politicians to give their autographs and painters such as Delacroix and Scheffer to donate paintings for the cause.
Thus the Hexameron coordinated by Liszt was with variations on I Puritani donated by Chopin,Thalberg,Pixis,Czerny and Herz .
Let me just say that Mark Viner is a young english trained virtuoso.
He studied at the Purcell School with Tessa Nicholson and later at the Royal College with Niel Immelman and hats off to them for producing such a real virtuoso that can cope with ease the transcendental difficulties of these pieces that were written to show off the remarkable virtuosity of their composers and all the possibilities of the then new grand piano.
Not only is Mark Viner a very fine virtuoso in the great romantic tradition but he is also a thinking musician who has searched out these scores and is still searching for others to lay before us.
He also wrote the very learned notes on this CD .
The performances on this CD :the Hexameron as with the other Fantasies have nothing to fear from the Lewenthals or Brendels that had entered slightly into this magic world of rival pianists many years ago .
Here are fully fledged performance with great feats of pianism managed with ease .Sumptuous colours abound and expert pedalling allows us to marvel at the fact that there are only two hands on the keyboard.
The Norma fantasy, in particular ,shows the real genius of Liszt to search out all the marvellous things in what can sometimes seem rather overblown bel canto operas and give them a shape,form and thus meaning that is not always apparent in the original opera. Sometimes as here in the Norma fantasy changing the order of entrance of the themes from the original opera giving a cohesion and power that otherwise would be missing.
Of course it was Sutherland and her husband together with Callas and Siciliani who led the way with these Bel Canto operas and opened the gates,in our time.
These forgotten jewels that needed a magic princess with a golden voice to bring them back to life again.
I well remember too the intelligent Liszt recordings that Brendel made for the Turnabout label that were only fifty pence and that we as students hunted out and were overwhelmed to learn that Liszt was a composer to rank with the greatest as we had always thought.
Here on this latest CD are the Marche funebre de Dom Sebastien and the Reminiscences de Lucrezia Borgia by Donizetti together with Norma and Hexameron .
I am sure this is only the first in a series by this remarkable musician determined to re live the fantastic romantic world of the virtuosi of the 19th century.
Already running off with first prize at the Alkan International Competition ,Greece in 2012 .He is the Chairman of the Alkan Society in the UK and at only 27 I am sure we can expect many surprising discoveries at the beginning of his auspicious career.
Having heard his live performances of Alkan I am certain many recordings will be in the pipe line as the world discovers this young musician as they did Raymond Lewenthal all those years ago.
Mark tells me he will be making his New York debut next month ………when they too will discover this remarkable young british virtuoso .

No Man’s Land – To be or not to be

Pinter.To be or not to be? No Man’s Land
A really great night at the theatre. Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart every bit as good as Gielgud and Richardson that I remember all those years ago at the National in Pinter’s extraordinary masterpiece…… Unforgettable…….
……. opening the paper on the train home I see it has been designated five stars by Benedict Nightingale …….not enough say I …it is in the stratosphere already………. until 17th December …well worth the 7am queue for seats in the front row.
I had no idea until read the excellent programme at home that the names of the characters are all based on passed cricketers – hence the quote of Pinter :” cricket is the greatest thing that God created on earth………certainly greater than sex,although sex isn’t too bad either”……… father would be pleased to know that …he was an Umpire at Lords and lived for cricket.
A typical Pinter statement that it is what you read into it ……..there are no definite things: Is it past, present, future?Is it real or was it a figment of our imagination? ……..he aims to stimulate so there are no definite answers. When Patrick Stewart asked Pinter to explain if a character was Welsh in The Birthday Party…….Pinter talked all around it and in the end said its all in the play dear boy………..
Infact it was in Italy in the 1970’s when the Italian National Theatre at Teatro Argentina presented Old Times directed by Luchino Visconti.
It is a very ambiguous trio :two women and a man .
Lots of unanswered questions and many short one word conversations,insinuations,accusations……a word here and there with pregnant all very meaningful even menacing pauses.
Visconti decided that there must have been a lesbian relationship going on ….could be …..but Pinter had no intention of deciding how the audience should interpret the sparse words that passed from one to another .
When Pinter came to see the play in Rome and saw on stage the decision Visconti had taken on his behalf , he stopped the show and sued him.
There was a long drawn out legal battle for years that Pinter won!
We presented the play in Rome in my theatre immediately the rights became free again. Pinter trusted us and we did not let him down.
Ileana Ghione,Angiolina Quinterno,Piero Sammataro directed by a lifelong friend of my wife Massimo Scaglione who chose the music ” Smoke gets in your eyes” for the production.Very Pinteresque!
Huge success and Pinter was vindicated in Italy and left in his rightful place as one of the major writers of our time ….. he was in fact awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.
In his acceptance speech this son of a Jewish taylor from Hackney launched a scathing attack on why he thought the war in Irak was such a mistake.Well worth reading!
He refused to go to the USA whilst the Bushes were in power.
For Pinter was very much his own man as his masterly writings reveal
Ian Mc Kellen was superb tonight. So much so that he was not even recognisable at first ……All strange little details: a slight twitch ,a glance ,a sly smile that could mean anything ……….. This is the world of Pinter…read into it what you will.
Patrick Stewart too ….not a word from him for the first half hour ..but glances that spoke louder than words.
Both actors on stage for almost two hours.
Of course when they got on to comparing notes of the girls they had seduced in their student days all hell let loose .
Spooner(Mc Kellen) the underdog was put in his place by Hirst the self made successful man.
Here are all the famous lines that makes this play,in the end , so unforgettable ….a bit like Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s” Importance….”.
Lovely piece in the programme from Gielgud about the rather vague Richardson acceptance of the part:
“I’m going to do this new play by Pinter”Sir John told me.
“It’s with Ralph Richardson .I was a bit worried he wouldn’t accept the part as there’s a little dirty language in it and Ralph’s a bit prim and unworldly”
What sort of language I asked.”Oh male members being sucked in the mouth and that sort of thing” he said vaguely.
Then:”Ralph phoned and told me he’d accepted”
Wonderful Ralphie,but what about the dirty language? The male members being sucked?Richardson’s response was reassuring.
“Perfectly all right,cockie.Pure fantasy.Couldn’t happen in real life.”
That is Pinter and this performance in town until the 17th December should not be missed. There won’t be anything like it again for a long long time I am sure.
Well worth the queue at 7 am in the morning for front row day tickets

Pappano’s Norma

Pappano`s Norma it certainly was tonight as a very flat,bland and meaningless direction from La Fura dels Baus put a damp squid on this Pappano’s first Bellini performance in London.
Thank God (see all those crucifixes) for Pappano’s music that gave a very static production at least some musical impulse from the pit.
A wondrous sounding Norma in Sonya Yoncheva replacing the originally proposed Anna Nebtrenko who just did not feel up to this monstrous role.

But oh how we yearned for some real dramatic partecipation alla Callas or even at this point alla Caballe.

An admirable Pollione was Joseph Calleja who also seemed oh so static.
Adalgisa was,on the other hand an excellent and much experienced Sonia Ganassi.

I remember going to the first festival of the” Valle d`Itria “in the wonderful town of Martina Franca in Puglia (the boot of Italy!).
I was invited by the British Council  in the 1970`s to hear Grace Bumbry sing the role of Norma for the first time . I well remember the piano rehearsal in the courtyard of the  Palazzo Ducale where the choir from Cambridge(the reason I had been invited ) had been engaged to take part.
The organisers I remember well for their unforgettable names of Archangelo and Messiah as befits the superstitious people of those parts in the depth of Italy.
La Bumbry was preparing the part of Norma because she had always sang the part of Adalgisa the mezzo.
However she had been engaged at Covent Garden,where I was tonight, to alternate with Montserrat Caballe in the title role of Norma.The genial but totally impractical idea was that they would alternate the two roles of Adalgisa and Norma ..
Of course in the end la Caballe had no intention of learning the secondary part and stuck to the title role as befits a real diva!

Wonderful orchestral playing tonight under Pappano that was the real motor that kept the train in motion from the pit as on stage it was painfully obvious that they had not much of a clue what they were doing and why they were doing it!

foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.
foto di Christopher Axworthy.

A personal consideration … Canan Maxton of Talent Unlimited

I read your remark about the piece I wrote about Destounis.
Many thanks for your offer to use your wonderful piano.
I just aim to give these very talented”kids” my opinion.

I have been going to as many concerts as possible since I was a schoolboy almost 60 years ago- can it really be !

I have had the privilege to study with some of the greatest ormai storici musicians in my student years  starting with my real piano ” daddy” Sidney Harrison and continuing with Freddie Jackson,Gordon Green,Vlado Perlemuter and Guido Agosti .I have also been much influenced by Nadia Boulanger,Andre Tchaikowsky and Graham Johnson too.

I  have  also got to know some remarkable artists having invited many to play in my theatre in  Rome over the past 30 years or more: Perlemuter,Cherkassky,Tureck,Nikolaeva,Annie Fischer,DeLarrocha ,Fou Ts’ong,Lympany,Katin,Foldes,Freire,Fialkowska etc ,some amazingly for the first time.

The Ghione theatre just by St Peter’s Square built and run by me and  my remarkable actress wife Ileana Ghione for over thirty years .

Like Rubinstein suggested to the contestants in his first piano competition in Israel I have acquired my own taste, like bees choosing   their own pollen and creating their own individual honey.
There is no magic wand but just hope I can point in what I consider the right direction or at least another one.
There is no secret path but as Curzon would say the road to a successful performance is 90%work and 10% talent…….
…………of course that 10% -is what sorts out the men from the boys.
How they do it is of almost no importance to me.
The most important thing is to listen and love what you do because to “passare la ribalta” in the end requires total dedication.
Today a real treat Pappano’s Norma at Covent Garden on their splendid Friday Rush tickets.
He is our honorary patron at the  The Keyboard Charitable Trust of which  I am honoured to be a small  a cog in the wonderful wheel created by Noretta Conci for her 60th birthday ,26 years ago by her equally remarkable husband.
I met her when she and her husband  accompanied  Leslie Howard to play in my theatre 32 years ago. Leslie is  a founder member  and an artistic director .Elena Vorotko and I complete the artistic triumvirate.
Pappano   exemplifies all that I outlined above
Fine della conversazione in chat
Digita un messaggio… had received a very complimentary comment that suggested I might like to show a young pianist Destounis the way.This was my reply:

Leif Ove Andsnes – The Perfect Pianist

Leif Ove Andsnes – the Perfect pianist
A standing ovation for Leif Ove Andsnes at the end of his extraordinary recital at the Barbican this evening. Reprogrammed from last June, can there be any doubt that he is the most perfect pianist before the public today?
I am reminded of the young Pollini and well remember his first two recitals,almost revolutionary at that time, in the Q.E.H all those years ago.
In a long programme that included some rarely heard pieces by Sibelius together with the “Hunt” sonata op 32 n.3 of Beethoven and the second and fourth ballades of Chopin.
Here was not only pianistic perfection but a real musical mind looking with fresh eyes at even the most well known works from the piano repertoire.
Rubinstein may have been more instinctive as Richter was more mercurial. Horowitz more demonic,Serkin more intellectually energetic and Arrau a perfection that would be hard to match even today.
But here was a pianist that was absolute perfection on all fronts even to the choice of a “Gould “type programming of unknown Sibelius.
So it is even more perplexing that I was not actually touched or involved in his performances but rather, as with Pollini ,the fact that this was such perfection I just hoped he would do something to surprise , astonish or involve me .
I suppose that this thought came to me as he was playing the famous A flat Polonaise op.53 by Chopin as an encore.
Absolute fidelity to the score almost revolutionary in the way he played the opening almost as a quiet waltz, allowing him to build up gradually to the ” Heroique” appearances of the theme later on.
But the difference with his far superior performance than Rubinstein’s, in so many intellectual ways ,was that with Rubinstein one did not use ones brain to describe the performance because one was so swept away by the spirit and heart of the work was almost an animal rather than cerebral sensation,that arrived by direct contact between the artist and his public.” Passare la ribalta” it is called in Italian stage lingo ( probably best translated as getting across the footlights).
It sounds almost “glizzy” but the Beethoven op 31 n.3 played by Rubinstein in his 90th year in 1976 at the Wigmore Hall had much more impact than this almost perfect performance by someone half his age tonight.
Just some thoughts that passed through my mind trying to understand why I was not moved as I had been by Arrau,Serkin,Gilels ,Richter etc of whom Andsnes is a more than worthy heir.
The sound world of the exquisite impromptu in B minor op 5 n.5 by Sibelius was the same fantastic world of Debussy Pagodes that followed after the interval.
The great Romance in D flat major by Sibelius was every bit as effective as Navarra or the works major works of Lecuona.
A beautiful discovery these pieces by Sibelius of which there are over 150 .
An extraordinarily beautiful Elegiaco op 70 n.10 followed by a scintllating Kylikki op 41 .
A scherzo like Rondino op 68.n.2 followed by a simple Impromptu in E major op 5 n.6.
What a voyage of discovery !
Even in the Chopin one was made aware, for the first time ,of the similarity between the second ballade and the nocturne in F major op 15 n.1.
The fourth ballade that finished the recital received a performance worthy of its position as a pivotal work in the Romantic piano repertoire .
A recital that one entered thinking :”Oh,no not again!” but came out asking sorts of questions that demand all sorts of replies.
A remarkable evening .