Great Pianists Interviewed

One of my favourite books of interviews is Great Pianists Speak with Adele Marcus. It is full of insight into the pianist’s art, and Ms. Marcus’ questions are always very astute. Along with Pianists at Play by Dean Elder, I turn to  Abram Chasins’ Speaking of Pianists for inspiration. How wonderful to find these clips on YouTube, conversations and interviews with famous pianists as well as some interesting documentaries. I hope you enjoy them! Vladimir Horowitz Artur Rubinstein Daniel Barenboim Evgeny Kissin Sviatoslav Richter Maria Yudina The Art of the Piano Greats of the Twentieth Century Imagine Being a Concert Pianist Do or Die: Lang Lang’s Story Resources Great Pianists Speak with Adele Marcus (click here) Pianists at Play by Dean Elder (click here) Speaking of Pianists by Abram Chasins (click here)

By |January 7th, 2016|General|3 Comments

Scared Stiff

In piano playing, there is something comforting about hard facts – given that so much of what we do is subjective and not always so easy to pin down. Players in one camp object to the way players in another camp do things, and we only have to look at the world in general to see that hostility will ensue when fundamentalist thinking is involved. One hard fact should be apparent, that there is no one correct way to play the piano!  One of the great piano teachers, Theodor Leschetizky, claimed he had no technical method as such. His approach was a deep knowledge of the score, right down to the minutest detail, from which he helped the student find a technical solution. Because of his place in history, Leschetizky insisted on a thorough technical training via scales, chords, double notes and studies (mainly by his teacher, Carl Czerny) and he produced many notable and successful pianists. To suggest his students succeeded despite this regime of studies and exercises strikes me as arrogant in the extreme. I think we can all agree that one of the greatest impediments to fine and natural piano playing is tension. Much has been written about tension, especially on how to deal with the physical manifestations of it at the keyboard. I am very interested in helping pianists move more freely at the piano and do so all the time, but no amount of technical work will completely solve the problem if the tension originates in the mind. One place where tension might manifest is during leaps and jumps, and may very well start with a thought: This leap is dangerous and difficult, and I might land on the wrong notes and mess it all up! If […]

By |November 26th, 2015|General|7 Comments

Masterclass with Gyorgy Sebok

One of my treasured musical memories is a week of masterclasses by Gyorgy Sebok I attended in Germany one summer during the early 90’s. The comments he made were directly relevant not only to the specific piece the student presented, but also to music, performance and piano playing in general. A cigarette dangling from a holder, and with plenty of amazing demonstrations, he had the knack of being extremely entertaining while at the same time challenging the student to produce more than they ever thought they were capable of. And sometimes he got results by sleight of hand. One student got to a chord progression; she was playing it perfectly well, but Sebok wanted more than just the right notes. In the spirit of a game, he asked her to look at a new audience member with each new chord, and make a facial expression that communicated the different shades of meaning in the harmonic progression. She had to feel each chord before she played it so she could project it clearly. The difference was almost miraculous. I came across this series of masterclasses this past week, and wanted to share them here. I do hope you enjoy Mr. Sebok’s humour, intelligence and expertise. I think he was something of a magician for pianists. Follow this link to Gyorgy Sebok’s obituary in the Independent Follow this link to Jeremy Denk’s beautifully written article about his studies with Sebok

By |November 19th, 2015|General|3 Comments

A Tribute to Claudio Arrau

Claudio Arrau (February 6, 1903 – June 9, 1991) is a very important figure in my musical upbringing. As an undergraduate piano student in London during the late 70’s – and a postgraduate one in New York in the early 80’s – I heard Arrau many times in the core solo and concerto repertoire in the major concert halls of both cities. It seemed he was ever-present not just in these musical centres, but all over the world. Arrau’s biography Arrau was a revered authority, someone whose benchmark performances I grew up with. There were many occasions when I heard a major work for the first time in his hands. I have strong and treasured memories of leaving the hall in awe of the music, and the sheer stature of this artist. Arrau was a pianist’s pianist – there were no frills, no gimmicks, and no theatrics at all. What you got was the music itself, consummately and unaffectedly presented, with the greatest honesty and integrity – the result of a probing intellect and total devotion to his art. The last time I heard Arrau was in New York’s Carnegie Hall on Thursday, 16th February, 1984. I will never forget that occasion, because he was visibly sick and should probably have cancelled. In the Brahms op. 5 Sonata, he was hunched over the keyboard coughing throughout his performance. Yet you would not know from listening to the playing itself that anything was wrong. I found the programme thanks to a wonderful tribute website, – a mine of information. Here is what he played: Beethoven: Sonata No.7 in D major, Op.10 No. 3Schubert: Klavierstück No.1 in E-flat minor D.946Chopin: Ballade No.3 in A-flat major, Op.47Liszt: Sonnetto del Petrarca No. 104Debussy: L’isle joyeuseIntermissionBrahms […]

By |August 13th, 2015|General|5 Comments

Some Piano Humour

Here is the second of my series of summer holiday posts, this week on piano-related humour – because we all need a bit of light relief from time to time. Victor Borge I once saw Victor Borge at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and (like the rest of the audience) laughed until I cried. Before he turned his considerable talents to his comedy act, Borge had studied in Berlin with Frederic Lamond, a pupil of Liszt (and the most celebrated Beethoven pianist of his time) and later with Egon Petri. Andre Previn on The Morecambe and Wise Show When he appeared on The Morecambe and Wise Show, André Previn was a household name thanks to his regular TV appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra in his own show André Previn’s Music Night. I think he was a really good sport to agree to this, and he did it beautifully. Morecambe and Wise need no introduction to British readers (of a certain generation). They have been described as the most illustrious, and the best-loved, double-act that Britain has ever produced. Chico Marx Chico Marx (of the Marx Brothers) was a talented pianist, whose technique was unorthodox (to say the least). Here he is entertaining us in clips from a Marx Brothers’ movie.   Laurel and Hardy: The Music Box I have been an avid fan of Laurel and Hardy since I was a young boy. Their movies have made me laugh out loud throughout my life, and they still do. The Music Box is a short film comedy released in 1932. It was directed by James Parrott, produced by Hal Roach and distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film depicts the pair attempting to move a piano up a large flight of steps (above, as […]