The Essential Keyboard Trust
Published by AllAboutPiano On 9 March 2018
Since its formation in 1991, the Keyboard Trust has helped to launch more than 250 young pianists, organists and players of historic instruments. Founder, John Leech MBE, looks back on the charity’s evolution and celebrates its coming of age.
‘We must make music together!’ The great Maestro beamed at the young Italian virtuoso who had just delivered an impressive recital for the Keyboard Trust at New York’s Steinway Hall. As good as his word, barely two years later, Alessandro Taverna did indeed perform with Lorin Maazel and his Munich Philharmonic Orchestra, first at the Gasteig, then in the Musikverein in Vienna.
Not all the Keyboard Trust’s exhibitions of major young talent achieve their objective in one simple move. But all are based on a quarter of a century of building partnerships with venues in the major music centres of the countries of primary importance to musical development. Over time, this has allowed the Trust to map out an intensive international career development plan for those it selects.
‘Discovered’ originally by Duilio Martinis, a piano enthusiast who created the AlaPiano project outside Verona, Alessandro Taverna had already received all-important opportunities for performing in public alongside a growing success in international competitions. His career inside Italy thrived – he was eventually invited to play for the President of the Republic at the Quirinale in Rome – but, like many others elsewhere, had lacked the opportunity to gain international recognition. The Keyboard Trust was able to offer him not only performances in the UK but also its tour path in Germany, from Hamburg to Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich and other venues besides; and then the Trust’s US tour which brought him before Lorin Maazel. His swansong for the Trust, on reaching the age of 30 and about to play in the Leeds International Competition, was the 2012 Keyboard Trust Prizewinners Concert at Wigmore Hall.
Selecting those who should benefit from the Trust’s intensive but short-term support is no easy task. The American composer, Ernst Bacon, once expressed the problem: ‘There are today so many good musicians that it is becoming increasingly hard to find a great artist. We are all able to recognise one when we hear one… but the artist has first to have a platform to make himself heard.’
Alessio Bax © Lisa-Marie Mazzucco
That is what the Keyboard Trust exists to provide, not once but on an international circuit of now some 50 platforms in Europe and the Americas. Here, they can gather renown and begin to enlist a loyal following while making the vital transition from formal education into a fully professional life. Most important of all, they are invited back and their career can develop independently of the Keyboard Trust. Hardly one of these presentation concerts goes by without the offer of some form of benefit that will secure their future. Shining examples of that go from Paul Lewis – almost the first ever to play for the Trust – to those like George Lazaridis and Alessio Bax who have become major figures in their own or adopted countries. There have been public successes like the Brazilian, Pablo Rossi, whose 12 Keyboard Trust recitals within a few months produced six recalls and seven further concerts offered to the Trust; and Stefano Greco, the Bach scholar, who played in Florence and was promptly invited to tour all the campuses of the University of California. And then today’s greatest developing talents to watch, Mariam Batsashvili and Vitaly Pisarenko, both now already famous for their victories in the Utrecht Liszt Competition, and the Alkan and Thalberg authority, Mark Viner, who performed in the annual Keyboard Trust Prizewinners concert at Wigmore Hall on 2 March 2018.
… and its Evolution
It all began as a birthday tribute to Noretta Conci-Leech, a former student of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who began her married life in London grooming young concert pianists and helping to prepare their careers. Conceived as a concert by some of her best, it would also give them the chance to shine in public. The three Model D Steinways on the platform would accommodate the seven artists headed by Leslie Howard; but what of all the others out there, perhaps equally gifted and deserving? Even as a diplomat with a self-evident talent, how do you get onto a concert platform to build up a public? And if doing the circuit of music societies and prize concerts begins to establish your name, how do you make it known to the world outside? What was needed was an organisation that offered a wide range of international appearances, coupled with the funds to get to them.
By the time of the birthday concert, Claudio Abbado had agreed to head a body of Trustees, which enabled Alfred Brendel to announce the creation of The Keyboard Charitable Trust for Young Professional Performers. Two years later, it had its christening at the Royal Festival Hall when Abbado, Evgeny Kissin and the then European Community Youth Orchestra (now European Union Youth Orchestra), with Assistant Conductor, Mark Wigglesworth, provided it with the silver spoon. This also allowed it to register a respectable identity with the Charity Commission. Steinway & Sons offered the hospitality of their Hall and its glorious instruments; that privilege later spread to Steinway Halls in Berlin, Munich and now Cologne, New York and, at one time, even into the Hamburg Factory itself.
Vitaly Pisarenko © Andreea Tufescu
Audiences, too, were built on the founders’ widely assorted circles of friends, colleagues and relations, then began to multiply with theirs. Such generosity has regularly filled the Bechstein Hall in Frankfurt and elsewhere in Germany. In New York, daughter, Caroline, and other good friends have presided over an active concert calendar and its progressive extension to Florida, Delaware, Pennsylvania and the Maazels’ Festival Theatre in Virginia. An association with the Italian body for cultural co-operation allowed some of the Trust’s Italian artists to appear in five major Latin American countries under their auspices. Friends of friends have propagated the Trust in culturally rich countries such as Cyprus and Mexico.
Partnerships – the sharing of costs and responsibilities – brought artists to perform in splendid venues such as Brahms’ Laeiszhalle in Hamburg, the Sala Maffeiana in Verona (home of Europe’s oldest concert society, where Mozart delighted the guests in his time), the Teatro Ghione a stone’s throw from St Peter’s in Rome and the Brazilian Embassies there and in London’s Trafalgar Square. And since 2009, with generous support from its German Trustee, Moritz von Bredow, the Trust has been able to hold its annual Prizewinners Concert before enthusiastic London audiences in the Wigmore Hall. From these, the most prestigious concert halls, to other locations where classical music is rarely heard but all the more avidly appreciated, the Trust has steadily pursued its mission to develop new performing opportunities and new audiences. Never more so perhaps than when the same benefactor took Keyboard Trust artists to appear in two concerts in Ankara and one in Baghdad.
The New Era
2013 saw the end of the Trust’s long formative era with the semi-retirement of its Founders. It had finally come of age with the appointment of Nicola Bulgari as Honorary President, the Chairmanship passing to its Hon. Solicitor, Geoffrey Shindler, and – most importantly – the installation of the immensely able General Manager, Sarah Biggs. At the same time, a body of three Artistic Directors was nominated to share the greatly enlarged load of appraisal previously carried by Noretta Conci-Leech.
Following the sad loss of Claudio Abbado in 2014, Sir Antonio Pappano was invited to become the Trust’s Patron; his acceptance now preserves its important orchestral links at the highest level. And finally, Evgeny Kissin agreed to join the Trustees, thus bringing his involvement with the Trust full circle from the original 1993 benefit concert.
Antonio Pappano © Musacchio & Ianniello
Thanks to the new Chairman’s involvement with the Manchester Camerata, a justly famous chamber orchestra, it has been possible to open an important new dimension for the Trust’s artists, giving them a first experience on the road towards playing with a full orchestra. Now in their second season, these collaborations between Camerata principals and Trust pianists have themselves opened up non-traditional venues in and around Manchester, drawing in new audiences.
Of equal significance has been the development of the Trust’s association with players of baroque music and historic instruments. Dr Elena Vorotko, a period specialist Honorary Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music, has used her position as a Trustee to build a wing for the Trust which sends artists to perform on the famous instrument collections at Hatchlands, Handel & Hendrix in London and Finchcocks and at St Cecilia’s as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. This represents a signal contribution to a sector which is under even greater pressure today than classical music itself and has met with considerable appreciation.
In all these ways, since its formation in 1991, the Keyboard Trust has helped to launch more than 250 young pianists, organists and players of historic instruments on an international career. Each year, as the Trust itself continues to widen its reach, it is able to take on up to ten new artists in these disciplines and present its new intake at over 50 concerts in 14 principal countries. In reality, it has become a formidable launch pad for those of Ernst Bacon’s ‘great artists’ on whom the future of classical music will depend to bring in the audiences of tomorrow.
Header photo: Mariam Batsashvili
The Keyboard Trust: www.keyboardtrust.org
About the author
John Leech is the Founder and former Chairman of the Keyboard Charitable Trust for Young Professional Performers. He has served on the Advisory Committee of the London Symphony Orchestra and has written on musical, international development and security subjects.
A most impressive tour of six recitals, played by Russian pianist Ilya Kondratiev, has sadly come to an end. I would have loved to hear 6 or 60 more! This will be a long review, very
much deserved so by a unique pianist.
His programme comprised
Schubert – Four impromptus op. 90 (1827),
Chopin – Polonaise in A Flat op. 53 (1842), Liszt – Fantasy and Fugue on B-A-C-H (1871),
Liszt – Sonata in B Minor (1852/53).
Ilya Kondratiev is indeed one of those pianists that should be in the limelight of worldwide attention – a masterful, profound musician who to me certainly is one of the best Keyboard Trust pianists I have met. He played at venues in Berlin (Representation of the City of Hamburg, with support by Steinway & Sons, Berlin), Hamburg (Bechstein Centre for the first time, New Living Home and Steinway & Sons), Munich (Steinway & Sons), and Frankfurt (Bechstein Centre).
All six programmes that Ilya played were at highest level, one after the other, and I do indeed have the impression that with Ilya Kondratiev, the tradition of the grand art of piano playing is being continued, if not revived in the most noble way, in a long-awaited way, in an astonishing and overwhelming way. He is far from being a superficial poser, far from being a showman or a vain actor who happens to play the piano, as so very many young ‘pianists’ nowadays are. Ilya Kondratiev’s appearance on stage is noble, elegant and modest, yet an aura surrounds him immediately, and the halls became silent in awe from the beginning to the end, wherever he performed.
Ilya Kondatiev chose to open his intelligently and beautifully chosen recital with the certainly too rarely played Four Impromptus op. 90 by Franz Schubert, composed in 1827 at the age of 30, the year before Schubert died. The opening Impromptu in C Minor, Allegro molto moderato, which Ilya views and interprets as a funeral march, was played in a somber mood, melancholically throughout, yet never losing tension or rhythm. In Hamburg’s Steinway Hall, a gentleman from New Zealand, a music- and piano teacher himself, later told me that he was crying right from the beginning. The funeral march resounded under Ilya’s hands like an apodictic epitaph, moving forward with determination, beautiful in sound and moving everyone in the hall. Ilya adhered very closely to the music, giving special attention to the non-legato rhythm which deepend the impression even more. He then transformed the modulation to the Major key into a promise of salvation, an incredible, magic momentary illumination during this first impromptu, before bringing it to a silent ending. What a beginning!
Impromptu op. 90 No. 2 in E Flat, Allegro, was an example of Ilya Kondratiev’s immaculate Jeu perlé, the joyful triplets of the right hand executed by him in absolute clarity, with scarce use of the right and absolutely no left pedal, and with excellently sustained left hand – thus leading to an exciting, dancing and rhythmically even flow of music, that all of a sudden gave way for the dramatic, rhythmically unstoppable modulation into B Minor, ben marcato. Schubert’s sadness and mourning, seemingly a relentless invocation, were powerfully performed by Ilya Kondratiev who allowed space for breathtaking increases in drama and tension before turning this phrase into a pianissimo prayer, finally returning subtly to Schubert’s seemingly joyful triplets. However, these were not to last, there is indeed no redemption, no salvation, and Schubert cannot evade the B Minor darkness any more – with dazzling accelerando through Schubert’s haunting modulations, Ilya Kondratiev brought this Impromptu to its uncompromising end in E Flat Minor. I rarely heard greater silence in a concert hall than at the very moment after Ilya Kondratiev had ended – what a Schubert player! What control, what rhythm, what a multitude of colours and dynamics!
Impromptu op. 90 no. 3, in G Flat Major, Andante, is an elegy that enabled Ilya Kondratiev to use his perfect finger legato, allowing him in the accompanying triplets under the steady flow of enchanting melodic lines to form a rhythmically firm ground, crystal clear and yet mellow in musical language. Again, Schubert’s modulations into Minor keys bring in a dark atmosphere, hauntingly beautifully interpreted by Ilya Kondratiev, but this time, the Impromptu has its inherent salvation, and the ending in G Flat is at least for now reconciling, under Ilya’s hands a lasting one.
Impromptu op. 90 No 4 in A Flat, Allegretto, another one of Schubert’s late masterpieces, brought out all of Ilya Kondratiev’s virtuosity (which he never uses for superficial shine), inseparably linked to his highly developed taste for tonal quality, musical development and inner structures of the work. The cascades of semiquavers, in downward movements dropping over a strict and immaculately executed ¾ rhythm, are leading toward a Trio in C Sharp Minor – and there it is again: Schubert’s melancholic vision of our inescapable unhappiness, of his own early death lurking behind his illness. This last of the Four Impromptus concludes majestically in A Flat, a somewhat last demonstration of strength and determination against all foreseeable destiny. Ilya Kondratiev understands all this to the deepest, he understands Schubert, his life, his adversity. Ilya Kondratiev understands – and this makes him such a compelling, convincing pianist and musician.
Next in Ilya Kondratiev’s programme came Chopin’s Polonaise in A Flat, op. 53, which Chopin wrote in 1842, at the age of 32. Ilya Kondratiev started the introduction in E Flat, set by Chopin as Maestoso. There was absolutely convincing expression in Ilya’s approach, which was not only achieved by his exquisit tonal quality and sublime phrasing, but also -again!- through a strict adherence to rhythm right from the beginning – a rarely realised aspect of interpreting Chopin’s music, as some of Chopin’s pupils have stated (I am
quoting the following passage from
Carl Mikuli, one of his pupils, categorically asserts that in the matter of time Chopin was inexorable. “It will surprise many to learn that with him the metronome did not come off the piano,” Mikuli adds. Mme. Friedericke Streicher, another pupil, tells us that “he required adherence to the strictest rhythm, hated all lingering and lagging and misplaced rubatos, as well as exaggerated ritardandos.” George A. Osborne, who resided near him in Paris, and heard him play many of his compositions while still in manuscript, has left it on record that “the great steadiness of his accompaniment, whether with the right or left hand, was truly remarkable.”
This was one of the many strong qualities of Ilya Kondratiev’s interpretation – his rhythm! Not talking about is beautiful and majestic sound and Chopinesque expression – perhaps the most ideal interpretation I have ever heard, because Ilya Kondratiev was avoiding all kitsch, all sweetly sugar coating that many pianists try to use in order to make this beautiful music sound more “romantic”. The rapid, rotating octaves in the middle part in E Major, swirling round in the left hand, were simply breathtaking, never destroying the delicacy of the melody played by Ilya Kondratiev’s right hand. The return to the main theme then was marked towards the end by a triumphant, truly heroic and never exaggerated tonal language that brought the audience to frenetic and roaring applause. They did not know what was to come.
For the opening of the second half, Ilya Kondratiev had chosen Franz Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue on
B-A-C-H, S.529, originally composed in two versions for organ (S.260/1 and S.260/2) in 1855/56 (as Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H for the consecration of the organ of the Dome in Merseburg) and 1870 resp., and transcribed for the piano by Liszt himself in 1871, when he was almost 60 years old. A gigantic homage to Johann Sebastian Bach, Ilya Kondratiev clearly evoked the reverberating sound of a large, romantic church organ right from the beginning. The constant presence of the
B-A-C-H (sounding: B Flat – A – C – B) theme in complex chromatic and polyphonic structures lead up to the Fugue. Massive chords, always orchestral and never hard or beaten, resounded the theme afterwards, before a sudden turn brought up a difficult passage of glittering scales and mystic tonal flakes which took this glorious piece to an end under Ilya Kondratiev’s glorious hands. Many composers (amongst others, R. Schumann in ‘Scenes from Childhood’, F. Chopin in his Etude in C Minor op. 25 no. 12, and J. Brahms in his motet ‘Warum ist das Licht gegeben den Mühseligen?’) have paid homage to J. S. Bach by using the B-A-C-H theme, but no one has ever laid out a tribute as tremendous in sound and musical architecture as Franz Liszt has here. Ilya Kondratiev fully lived up to the gigantic challenges here, bowing only briefly to thunderous applause – what was to follow is almost beyond words:
Franz Liszt completed his Sonata in B Minor, S.178, at the age of 41 in 1853, the year which also saw the founding of the piano companies C. Bechstein in Berlin as well as Steinway & Sons in New York – a beautiful coincidence as Ilya played only wonderful Bechstein and Steinway pianos during this tour! Liszt dedicated his sonata to Robert Schumann (who had, in 1839, dedicated his Fantasie in C Major, op. 17, to Franz Liszt).
Ilya Kondratiev played this sonata, one of the most difficult pieces of the piano literature, with an allusion to Goethe’s ‘Faust’, as he explained in Munich, where Mephistopheles and Gretchen appear in musical allegories, expressed in thematic phrasings, and with this explanation, understanding this extremely complex work became more transparent.
Ilya immersed himself into the music as a servant to Liszt’s compositorial and pianistic audacity and presented the listeners with an unforgettable encounter of a clearly concentrated, highly musical and deeply intellectual performance that left anybody in all six halls breath- and speechless. It is not possible for me to go through the entire sonata, or even attempt to analyse it. What matters is Ilya Kondratiev’s view, his approach, and his performance. He mastered every pianistic nuance of the chilling challenges with obvious ease. It was impossible to divert one’s attention from the diabolical colours and chasing raptures as well as from the elegiac, inward moments of pensive beauty that Ilya realised at all times. The fugue, yet another homage to Johann Sebastian Bach, was then leading to even more darkening moments, before heavenly tranquility in Major surrounded each and everybody in the hall at the end. The final ‘B’ in the bass, standing alone as a single note, reminded us of the beginning, and everybody’s sensation was that it seemed imminent to hear Liszt’s sonata again, such was the tension.
The precision of Ilya Kondratiev’s fingering and his enormously winning use of both pedals, combined with his technical skills and omnipresent control of sound and dynamics allowed to hear a translucency of inner structure that is rarely present in concert halls where Liszt’s sonata is played.
Ilya concluded his recital with beautifully chosen encores: Schubert’s ‘Gretchen am
Spinnrad’, again after Goethe’s Faust, in Liszt’s piano transcription – ideally bringing together the two major composers of the evening, and a beautifully crisp piano sonata by Domenico Scarlatti. He can do all of this!! At the end of the evening, Ilya Kondratiev still seemed indefatigable despite the huge programme he had played twice on three subsequent nights within a fortnight.
What a great musician, what a wonderful pianist and what a modest, educated person Ilya Kondratiev is! He reminded me of Wilhelm Kempff and Edwin Fischer in his Schubert, of Arthur Rubinstein and Alfred Cortot in his Chopin, of Lazar Berman and, yes, Leslie Howard in his Liszt! Ilya clearly gives major credit to The Keyboard Trust and shows very amazingly on what level of supporting pianists we are working. BRAVISSIMO, ILYA!!
His performances were astounding, and I would like to emphasise my strongest recommendation that Ilya Kondratiev, amongst other options,
– be sent to play at our most prestigious venues in the US, notably Lorin Maazel’s estate
– be considered for our next available ‘Prizewinners’ Recital’, formerly (and hopefully also in the future??) held at Wigmore Hall.
– receive further KT support as available
It is thanks to Sibylle and Patrick Rabut that through their meticulous and enthusiastic organisation, the Bechstein Centre in Frankfurt was once more completely sold out. MANY THANKS, dearest Sibylle and Patrick, also for a very generous dinner invitation to your home afterwards.
For the first time ever, I had the pleasure of organising a recital at Hamburg’s Bechstein Centre – a most wonderful, friendly and warm welcome by its director, Mr Axel Kemper, who presented us with a completely sold out hall (65 seats so far, but refurbishment and thus enlargement is on its way!). MANY THANKS to Mr Kemper for opening up another beautiful venue to the Keyboard Trust!
Sadly, the new management at Steinway Hall in Munich (new director: Mr Joe Plakinger), had failed completely to do anything for this recital apart from uploading it to their store website 2 weeks before the recital and to their Facebook site about 5 days before the recital. We always used to have between 70-100 people there. Mr Plakinger, in an email addressed to me, had actively refused to send out any newsletter for this recital, and so we were left with an audience of 4 people (!!), three of them friends of mine, one a gentleman who happened to play at one of the Steinway pianos, and I had notified him about the upcoming recital that evening. Mr Plakinger himself was not present that night, but the two staff, a Mrs Pütz and a Mrs Li, were the most unwelcoming, unhelpful, disrespectful and disinterested people I had ever met at any venue. At this moment, I will only contact Steinway Munich again if I can be sure if their active and happy support. I will also have to have a word with one of the senior directors in Hamburg.
But this is a small aspect to an incredible tour that Ilya Kondratiev has completed with greatest artistic merits.
With love and best wishes to all of you,
Dr. Moritz v. Bredow
Trustee, The Keyboard Charitable Trust
– Internationale Klavierstiftung –
Schirmherr: Sir Antonio Pappano