Piano Barga the jewel in the crown…….part one ,two and three final
It is from 1967 that Opera Barga was created by Peter Hunt and his wife Gillian Armitage together with Peter Gellhorn.All gathering in this jewel of a town perched in the hills above Lucca to present chamber opera of the highest level during the summer months.
Gathering friends around them from the highest echelons of music and theatre from their busy professional life in London .These have included John Eliot Gardiner,Bruno Rigacci,Maria Francesca Siciliani,Nina Walker and many others
I well remember an old colleague of mine Hilary Griffiths conducting Walton’s “The Bear” with the composer and his wife present in 1976.
Now in the hands of their son Nicholas Hunt under the artistic direction of Massimo Fino the opera continues with rare Vivaldi performances under the direction of Federico Maria Sardelli.
But for the past three years a festival dedicated to the piano has been added under the direction of that eclectic musician Roberto Prosseda.
And so it was last night in the magnificent Loggia of Villa Oliva that we could hear the pianist Valentina Lisitsa the first “You tube star” on the classical scene.”With more than 200 million YouTube views and some 500,000 subscribers to her channel, Valentina Lisitsa is one of the most watched classical musicians on the internet, using digital innovation to champion classical music and performance. Impressed by her YouTube success, the Royal Albert Hall, in an unprecedented step, opened its doors for Valentina’s London debut on 19 June 2012. That concert, recorded and filmed by Decca Classics, became her first release on the label; it was also Google’s first-ever live HD stream.With her multi-faceted playing described as “dazzling”, Lisitsa is at ease in a vast repertoire ranging from Bach and Mozart to Shostakovich and Bernstein; her orchestral repertoire alone includes more than 40 concertos. She has a special affinity for the music of Rachmaninov and Beethoven and continues to add to her vast repertoire each season.
Valentina Lisitsa is not only the first «YouTube star» of classical music; more importantly, she is the first classical artist to have converted her internet success into a global concert career in the principal venues of Europe, the USA, SouthAmerica and Asia.Washington Post Online wrote: “It’s striking that her playing is relatively straightforward. ‘Straightforward’ is an inadequate term for virtuosity. She does not tart the music up. She does not seek to create a persona, much less impose one on what she is playing. She offers readings that are, when you penetrate through the satin curtains of the soft playing and the thunder of the loud playing, fundamentally honest and direct.You feel you’re getting a strong performer but also a sense of what the piece is like rather than of how Lisitsa plays it. I was impressed, sometimes dazzled and sometimes even taken aback by the ferocity of her fortissimos. And she is also a delicate, sensitive, fluid player who can ripple gently over the keys with the unctuous smoothness of oil.”
She posted her first video on the internet platform YouTube in 2007, a recording of the Etude op. 39/6 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. The views increased staggeringly; more videos followed. The foundation stone of a social-network career unparalleled in the history of classical music was laid. Her YouTube channel now records 346.000 subscribers and 147 million views with an average 75.000 views per day.
For the 125th anniversary of Tchaikovsky’s death, Decca will release a special CD-Box in November 2018: the complete works for solo piano by Tchaikovsky recorded by Valentina Lisitsa (as well as some duets recorded with her husband and duet partner Alexei Kuznetsoff). Some of the works have just recently been rediscovered and were never recorded before.
It was infact Tchaikowsky that closed her programme with the original but rather heavy handed literal transcription of his Nutcracker Suite.Choosing very carefully some of the better known pieces to make an attractive close to her concert .
It is Pletnev though who added his piano genius to Tchaikowsky’s well known Nutcracker Adding that sense of wonderment, colour and scintillating virtuosity that Tchiakowsky’s own transcription rather misses.Rather heavy handed in places where the wonderful melodic line should fly high.Valentina though brought some beautiful sounds to the little Sugar Plum Fairy as it almost veered out control as she let it out of its magic music box.
It was in the Orphee Suite by Philip Glass in the transcription of Paul Barnes that we were treated to the magic sounds and almost obsessive repetitions of what seems like a silent film score.Almost honky tonk piano bar brought suddenly wonderfully to life as Valentina seemed to relish this instant rapport with the public after a rather unexciting performance of Beethoven.
Some truly magical sounds and long pedal notes in a rather overlong transciption that could have easily been trimmed as she had done with Tchiakowsky!
The Beethoven “Tempest” Sonata op 31 n.2 whilst full of magical sounds missed the very backbone of Beethoven.Rhythmic precision and architectural shape were sacrificed for some beautiful effects that did not add up to a whole.The long pedal that Beethoven asks for were respected but without really listening and adjusting her touch to the accumulation of sounds .The effect was the opposite to which Beethoven was obviously alluding on the instruments of his period as Andras Schiff has shown us recently with his revelatory performances on historic instruments.
It was in the encore that she suddenly let her hair down and gave her husband page turner a well earned rest as she plunged into the Liszt 2nd Rhapsody with all the aplomb of the entertainer that she obviously is.
Like Khatia Buniatishvili she too seems to pass from seductive magical sounds straight into the big guns with out any transition or real sense of line.Not quite the phenomenal technical resorses of Khatia but they are two big guns taking the popular classical world by storm indeed.
They are two beautiful ladies who have brought classical music to the masses. A rousing cadenza and massive octaves had this refined society audience on their feet.
Gathered together in the paradise that is only to be found in Lucca and surrounds and treated to an exciting evening of entertainment that has been enjoyed together with us tonight by over half a million spectators on you tube.
We await the superb duo Roberto Prosseda Alessandra Ammara tonight in the beautifully restored Teatro dei Differenti in Barga .Roberto has promised to include the piece written by his teacher Sergio Carafo for the 80th birthday celebrations that Roberto gave with Francesco Libetta (before his marriage to Alessandra Ammara) in the Teatro Ghione where Sergio and Roberto gave many performances over the years.
And Saturday sees a six piano bonanza thanks to the partnership of Yamaha Music Europe. Valentina Lisitsa,Alexei Kuznetsoff,Roberto Prosseda,Massimo Salotti,Gile Bae and Sarah Giannetti ( whom I had heard winning the International Concerto Competition in Padua with Rachmaninov 3rd piano concerto https://www.facebook.com/notes/christopher-axworthy/citta-di-padova-internazional-prize-of-elia-modenese-and-elisabetta-gesuato/10155411841707309/ )
All directed by a great friend from my student days in London the distinguished conductor Jan Latham – Koenig …..small world …….
PART TWO …Barga Teatro dei Differenti- Alessandra Ammara and Roberto Prosseda Ravel,Respighi,Mendelssohn,Cafaro,Petrassi.
And so to the second day of Piano Barga with the artistic director at the helm of a recital in duo with his wife and duo partner of twenty years Alessandra Ammara.
I well remember their meeting at the International Piano Academy in Como and of their eventual marriage in a magical partnership of twenty years that has produced many performances together and solo in a true partnership, each sustaining the other.
Three wonderful children has sealed a happy lifetime together.
I remember Alessandra thanking me for my wedding present of a mirror.
Every time I look in the mirror I will think of you.What more could one ask!
They are very special people.
Both have made some wonderful recordings and Roberto always talks about Alessandra’s wonderful recordings of Schumann and Ravel.
No recordings of their piano duo performances yet.
As Roberto explained in his introduction:the piano duet was a way of bringing music into the home in the 18th century and it is this intimacy and immediate sharing of a musical discovery together that was so much part of what used to be called “Hausmusik”.
Unfortunately these days with the advent of digital electronics this way of sharing music in the home has become a rarity.
But not in the Prosseda household where musical values and shared experiences are an essential part of a true musicians life.
Incidentally Roberto told me that with the manager of Yamaha Music Europe,Giovanni Iannantuoni, they have started a competition for contemporary composers to write a short piece for the unique Yamaha Player Piano .
They have already received forty compositions from aspiring young composers!
One must move with the times but always in an artistic direction as Roberto continually shows us in his musical career full of fantasy curiosity,invention and of course superb musicianship.
After a programme of Ravel ,Respighi and Mendelssohn it was nice to hear again the work written by Roberto’s teacher Sergio Cafaro.A transcription of themes from Carmen that had won a first prize for this student of Goffredo Petrassi.
Following with a surprise second encore by Goffredo Petrassi of his Sicilienne and Marcia.An early work of charming childrens pieces that I remember playing a few years ago with Lya De Barberiis in the presence of Petrassi’s widow,Rosetta Acerbi,on the occasion in 2012 of the founding of the De Barberiis Foundation for young musicians at the Teatro Ghione in Rome.
I remember Gianni Leta and Valeria Valeri being present.(There is a foto of her on the wall in this theatre).Quite a nostalgic choice of encore for me but I like to think that all these wonderful people,including Goffredo Petrassi and my wife Ileana Ghione are looking on with great admiration for what Roberto and Alessandra are continuing to do for art.
I remember too placing Roberto’s CD of the complete piano works of Petrassi into the then blind composers hands where he was our neighbour for years in Circeo.
Roberto like all great gentlemen allowing his wife to sit at the helm tonight – also allowing her to take control of the pedals!
A Ravel of great delicacy in which there was a great sense of balance and colour creating from the opening Pavane immediately an intimate atmosphere for these fairy stories.Even the little cuckoo was allowed a voice amidst the shimmering magical sounds.The beast was sufficiently beastly to allow the beauty to shine so radiantly.Laideronnette,imperatrice des pagodes evoked so magically this make believe world,technically no mean feat.The Jardin Féerique was played with such simplicity and subdued calm that the gradual build up to the final delicate glissandi took our magic carpet into the Ravelian heights of this wonderful world of fantasy .
Respighi’s original transcription of his Antiche Arie e Danze better known in their orchestral version were played with great charm.But also with an enviable clarity and precision and some delicate jeux perlé from Alessandra thrown off with the ease of a true musician.
The concert finished,as it infact should have begun according to the programme,with Mendelssohn.
Roberto has made a great name on the International scene with his recordings of the complete works of Mendelssohn which include the complete works for four hands with Alessandra.
I heard him play with the London Philharmonic under Nezeit- Seguin the 3rd Concert reconstructed by Bufalini from fragments that Roberto had found in the archives. He went on to record it with Mendelssohn’s own orchestra in Leipzig under Riccardo Chailly.
A beautifully evocative overture took us into another magic world this time of Shakespeare and his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Some beautifully light and brilliant playing from Alessandra with wonderfully integrated playing from her partner.
The scherzo was played with superlative lightness and startling precision and virtuosity from both players.
The wedding march was a fitting end to this 20th Anniversary programme that has sealed a remarkable relationship born on “Wings of Song.”
Tonight thanks to Yamaha Music Europe a piano bonanza of six pianos directed by Jan Lathan Koenig fresh from conducting the Moscow New Opera where he is artistic director.
Bach,Reich and the Ravel Bolero are in the programme in the beautiful Loggia of Villa Oliva,San Pancrazio,Lucca ……..
Part 3 Piano Bonanza at Barga
And so my final day in magical Barga but still two more recitals in the Teatro dei Differenti with Gile Bae playing the Goldberg Variations tonight and Julien Libeer a recital of Respighi,Bach/Busoni,Chopin,Lipatti and Bartok on tuesday.
On monday again in the Loggia of Villa Oliva Enrico Pieranunzi “Unlimited”.
But tonight thanks to Giovanni Iannantuoni of Yamaha Music Europe there are six grand pianos lined up for six fine pianists to play together under the stars in this magical Villa.
Directed by Jan Latham- Koenig who admitted at the rehearsal that it was more difficult to get six pianists to play perfectly together than it was an orchestra of a hundred musicians!
Jan I have known since our student days in London.
We pianists were in awe of of he who who could sit down and play “ by heart” any of the Wagner operas.
He won the Royal Overseas League piano competition but then went on to take the world by storm as a conductor.
He recently brought his New Moscow Opera company to the Puccini Festival.A post in Moscow, he tells me, he has held for the past ten years.
He has just conducted a new CD too that will shortly be issued of the Mendelssohn concerto for violin and piano with of course the Mendelssohn expert ‘sans pareil’ Roberto Prosedda !
I last heard him conduct all the Beethoven Piano Concertos with Evgeny Kissin and the S.Cecilia Orchestra in Rome.
(Kissin and I are fellow trustees of the Keyboard Charitable Trust of which I am co artistic director.Roberto was much helped by the KCT at the beginning of his career and he will now present, at the end of september, the KCT at his Cremona Expo with the founders John and Noretta Conci Leech together with a closing recital by the Busoni winner Ivan Krpan representing the KCT /Busoni Career Development Prizewinner ).
What a line up of pianists with Valentina Lisitsa and her husband Alexei Kuznetsoff together with Roberto Prosseda,Massimo Salotti,Gile Bae and Sarah Giannetti.
The Bach concerto for 4 keyboards and orchestra BWV 1065 in the transcription for 6 pianos by Filippo Cioni.
An Allegro of great rhythmic drive in which each piano in turn was allowed to be the solist with a great sense of balance between the six black beasts shining so magnificently under the subtle atmospheric lighting in the Loggia.
Some beautiful sounds in the Largo after the dramatic opening flourishes.A beautiful shimmering liquid sound was created in which Bach’s modulations were allowed to captivate us in this pastoral atmosphere that had been created by six pianists listening so attentively and sensitively to each other.
It was Jan in the rehearsal that had with just one word changed the final Allegro from a battle ground to a beautiful rhythmic dance.
Music is made of the song and the dance but the piano is basically a percussion intrument where hammers hit the strings.
It is good to be reminded, as Jan did, that Bach wrote for instruments that were plucked not hit.
It made all the difference and brought this opening concerto to a magnificent close.
Steve Reich introduction
Little were this refined public aware of what they were about to receive next!
Steve Reich “Six Pianos” written in 1973 when Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells hit the charts!
At the rehearsal Jan had asked how long the performance had lasted …………..I got rather a frosty look when I replied 16 minutes too long!
It was infact 18 minutes and conducted with great conviction.
Performed by the six pianists perfectly syncronised as they played the same notes over and over again ad libitum ( Jan’s).
The public at the concert after the first ten minutes started to look rather alarmed as they realised like this they might “miss their last buses home!”
They need not have worried as a charming young percussion player appeared on the scene and started to intone, almost inaudibly at first, the famous rhythm of Ravel’s Bolero.
As Jan had pointed out in the rehearsal : play as quietly as you can only allowing the famous theme to emerge on each piano in turn as this most famous of crescendi (together with those of Rossini) was allowed to build up naturally to it’s final explosive cadence.
A superb performance of this transcription by Roberto Prosseda’s esteemed teacher Serghio Cafaro.
And it was Roberto as artistic director of Piano Barga who suggested that each of the six pianists should offer a short solo piece as an encore.
The conductor too would play- but last!
What could be shorter than the superb performance that Roberto offered of Chopin’s Minute Waltz.Massimo Salotti offered a very atmospheric Armenian piece.
It was followed with a beautiful account of the slow movement of Mozart’s Sonata for two pianos in D major played by husband and wife team Lisitsa- Kuznetsoff.
Valentina Lisitsa then offered Ravel’s beautiful water nymph Ondine from Gaspard de la Nuit.
Sarah Giannetti a scintillating Moment Musicaux op 16 n.4 by Rachmaninov.
Gile Bae gave us a Toccata by Bach and she will play the complete Goldberg Variations this evening.
That left only our conductor to play in his inimitable way ” Les Biches” by Poulenc.
His performance of Poulenc “Dialogues des Carmelites” at Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires has passed into leggend.
What an evening!
No thought of missing our last buses home when there is such magic in the air.