The Real Pianists of the Hamptons
Judging by the great number of reality TV shows observing real time happenings ranging from anxiety-inducing restaurant kitchens, to the glamorous on- and- off-the-dance floor drama in Dancing with the Stars, it was only a matter of time before someone would come up with the idea of televising a behind-the-scenes look into the real life of pianists.
Sharing the daily experiences of the young pianists attending East Hampton’s Pianofest, Konstantin Soukhovetski, pianist/actor and host of the new reality web series The Real Pianists of the Hamptons, conveys his deep sentiment for the genre of classical music, and the emotions and events experienced within this particular institution with panache.
The show’s trailer includes scenes from last year’s summer session, shot on location at Pianofest’s home in East Hampton, which houses eight pianos and all of the participating pianists. One gets a voyeuristic kick from peeking into the students’ intense practice for their weekly concert-performances, as well as the personal interactions between the young musicians as they work and play.
The viewer is invited to observe the emotional states of these kids as they pursue and discuss their daily practice routines, which include focusing on the challenges of their repertoire, instruments, and expressiveness in their music. Yet the key element of the show lies in the coverage of the students’ social interactions, giving us an intimate view of the performers as peers who eat, drink, love, and party.
By revealing the musicians outside of their usual concert hall setting, the show’s intimate perspective bridges the distance between the private personalities of these artists, and their polished on-stage personas. This revelation is perhaps a natural outgrowth of the featured generation’s exposure and involvement through social media networking. Young performers now feel the need to share their passions, hopes, and fears with their audiences, most of all with their peers. These talented musicians, whose careers have already introduced some of them to illustrious, international concert stages, have often had to put their studies ahead of their social lives at a very young age. This web series provides them with a chance to reconnect with others their age, and share both their art and personal experiences with the world. This reality show offers an opportunity for a global audience to get a glimpse into the current state of classical music, and provides insight into the motivations of young and often entrepreneurial musicians, like Soukhovetski himself. Read the rest of this entry »
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Research has indicated a genetic link between autism and the prodigiously gifted.
Professor of Psychology at Ohio State University, Joanne Ruthsatz, is currently heading a comprehensive study that is investigating the fascinating aspects of such an autism-prodigy connection. Enthralled with its implications, the Southampton Arts Festival, brainchild of pianist Elena Baksht and violinist Dmitri Berlinsky, integrated this aspect of musical heritage to this summer’s Southampton Arts Festival, now in its third year.
“I knew that so many musicians, who had made it to an elaborate level within their music careers, started out as child prodigies. When I heard that 70 percent of the current study cases are music prodigies, it made perfect sense to lend our full support to the cause and at the same time offer performance possibilities for these gifted musicians,” says Baksht. “In addition, our support also ends up helping the less fortunate side of the prodigy/autism equation.”
The festival offers concerts, performed by acclaimed and award-winning musicians at a variety of locations, including the Southampton Cultural Center and some unique private estates. This year, the festival’s musicians play in cooperation with some of the prodigies, brought to the festival by Ruthsatz.
Their fruitful collaboration has already brought on board Nobel Prize Laureate Jim Watson of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, who now supports Ruthsatz’s research efforts. In addition, the festival will donate a portion of its August concerts’ proceeds to the research.
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“I aim to present Jewish Music in a current context, not in its usual depiction as something just related to the Holocaust or categorized as “entartete Kunst” “, explained artistic director Daniel Grossman, who founded Orchester Jakobsplatz in 2005.
Photo: Erol Gurian – Orchester Jakobsplatz
Growing up in Germany, as the second generation of Jews being born after World War II, there seems to be a need to find a new relationship to one’s Jewish heritage and artistic identity.
The ensemble consists of young, professional musicians from more than 20 countries, who have a strong focus on playing rarely performed works of Jewish composers , in combination with other works of the 20th and 21st century.
Since 2007, Orchester Jakobsplatz’s steady home has been Munich’s new Jewish Community Center, located at the Jacobsplatz, with its regular concert series taking place in its Hubert Burda Auditorium. The programming is varied with traditional fare being performed, alongside contemporary music that includes commissioned works for the ensemble, depicting their Jewish connections.
The remarkable success of securing a steady venue and its performance opportunities has in turn contributed to the ensemble’s distinct and continuous growth, both in its scope and dimension: “The Jewish music tradition is an ongoing theme for our ensemble and our international members, but musically everybody also brings his own personal traditions into the music making dialogue,” said Grossman, in an interview after the orchestra’s presentation at the Munich Classical: NEXT forum.
New ways of presenting classical music were a central focal point for the international music community attending Classical: NEXT. Picking up on this challenge, Orchester Jakobsplatz has certainly found an interesting niche, with the concept of continuously expanding their repertoire and venues for playing, while pursuing successful co-operative situations with other artists.
To that end, the orchestra has engaged in numerous co-productions with the Bavarian State Theatre. Examples of these are the staged performance of the chamber opera “The Kaiser of Atlantis of the Refusal of Death” by Viktor Ullman, Benjamin Fleischmann’s “Rothschild’s Violin”, combined with Sarah Nemtsov’s chamber opera “Herzland” – all of which have been staged by the Bavarian State Opera.
Other highlights that helped expand the orchestra’s reputation and reach internationally include a benefit-concert with Anne-Sophie Mutter and performances with renowned soloists such as Tanja Becker-Bender, Sergej Leiferkus, Adrian Brendel , Ann-Katrin Najdu and Kevin Conners.
In 2006, the orchestra opened the ninth Jewish Summer Festival in Budapest, where Grossman has appeared regularly as guest-conductor, since 2000 on. An international tour to Israel in 2009 was followed by a tour to Moldavia, the Ukraine and Rumania, recently.
This year the Jewish community of Stockholm hosts the ensemble’s revitalization of spirited old and new Jewish music and the Orchestra has already a tour planned throughout the United States in 2013.
The young and thoughtful Daniel Grossman, who conducts Orchester Jakobsplatz, points out the importance of the ongoing cultural exchange, in all the orchestra’s endeavors. “Everyone integrates their cultural heritage into existing institutions. We are integrating our Jewish one. The cultural exchange that develops out of that is an immense experience and quite refreshing for someone like me who grew up Jewish, after the war in Germany.” Photo: Christine Schneider -Daniel Grossman
This new Jewish generation growing up German and Jewish in Germany has managed to incorporate a lively blend of the existing diverse and rich Jewish cultural traditions within the German environment. They are looking to broaden its appeal to other countries, where there once had been an active Jewish community life and musical tradition. This important new multi-cultural focus also facilitates a fresh and vibrant breeding ground for contemporary creations that speak of a newly blossoming and self-confident Jewish spirit.
No wonder the project received great cultural and political attention and support within the Jewish Community and from the German Government, in general. With the ensemble’s solid establishment at the Jewish Community Center at Jakobsplatz, this group exemplifies the return of a much more complete Jewish heritage taking its well-deserved place in Munich’s cultural life.
Orchester Jacobsplatz has recorded two CDs for the label NEOS Music. In 2008 works of John Cage and in 2009, works of the Jewish composer Paul Ben-Haim were released by this label. NEOS Music has established an ongoing cooperation with the Orchester Jakobsplatz and will continue to bring out their work.
To get in touch with the orchestra’s manager Dr.Julia Grossmann contact email@example.com or their US/Canada representation Barbara Scales at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Dautermann of WOMEX (the World Music Expo) and project manager of Classical:NEXT, has succeeded in building a new platform for classical music professionals at Munich’s well equipped, easy to maneuver, cultural center Gasteig.
The long overdue launch of classical music’s first dedicated forum took place over May 30 to June 2, hosting live and video showcases, conference sessions and presentations by leading professionals of the press as well as music institutions, the likes of Carnegie Hall and the Bavarian State Opera.
The forum also included easily accessible trade-fair booths showcasing the recording industry, dominated by the Omni-presence of the large Naxos team.
Part of the excitement was the presence of the eminent, Hong-Kong based Naxos founder and self-made man Klaus Heymann, who chose this forum to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Naxos’s position as the largest distributor of classical music. This in itself may have contributed in part to the eager participation of many of the labels distributed by Naxos at Classical:NEXT. Regardless, Naxos has proven time and again that it is equipped with an innovative entrepreneurial approach and a foresight that has succeeded with great projects like the Naxos library. They have managed to connect culture and commerce and impressively demonstrate their development from a low-budget start-up into a world-wide classical powerhouse.
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Exactly a year ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing violinist/composer Cornelius Duffalo of ETHEL. The string quartet is a forerunner of the current movement interested in transforming how we experience classical music in the 21st century, questioning boundaries between tradition and technology, performer and audience. (See also my article here.)
Made up of traditionally trained, classical musicians, ETHEL has taken a post-classical personal approach to broadening the spectrum of their music making which the New Yorker calls “vital and brilliant.”
Their music represents a Pan-American exploration- reaching from Jazz and Native American influences, to New York’s contemporary responses to 9/11. Performing at alternative venues has also become part of ETHEL’s performance style, playing for younger audiences, who rather frequent pubs, than concert halls.
Their latest album Heavy (in answer to the previous Light) for the Innova-recordings label, recorded on April 24th at Joe’s Pub, feels like a celebration of the group’s longstanding and personal collaboration with composers of the contemporary New York music scene.
Dorothy Lawson, ETHEL’s cellist and founding member, describes the development of the group and shares her observation on the different aspects of this album. “We clearly have grown as a group; it is interesting for me to observe how different this album is compared to our first ones. The very first recording called Ethel we did after six years of performing together and we were still forming ourselves.
It was a document of the composers who helped us to get started as a group, like John King or Evan Zipporin. Four years later, Light was much more relaxed and lighthearted, more imbued with pop colors and rock. But this one now, Heavy, represents the post-classical world fully. It’s related to classical in its architectural way of designing music, in its generation through processes rather than stanzas. The classical mindset is about taking you on a journey or inquiry of some sort, taking the time for the problems and the solutions that the composer finds. The influences or composers we are pulling from do not convey traditional styles, or mainstream classical layers. We could call it a blend, which of course still does not really describe anything specific and we often did struggle with words to describe our personal style. But we clearly went through a transition – now people say this sounds like ETHEL. We are opening our platform to other cultures and it’s a process of true cultural exchange and a way to live with music in a special way.”
Some of the material on Heavy was performed by ETHEL beforehand, long before they were committed to the recording’s eighteen months long process. The recording includes works by Julia Wolfe, John Halle, John King, David Lang, Kenji Bunch, Marcelo Zarvos and Don Byron. The group’s longstanding member, violinist Mary Rowell, is featured on the release, but left ETHEL last year. She will make a guest appearance with ETHEL for John King’s No Nickel Blues featured on Heavy, at the release to be held at Joe’s pub.
But it is now violinist Jennifer Choi’s part, who has since become the newest ETHEL member, to perform all other works featured on the CD. “Being with ETHEL this past year, has been an eye opening experience for me,” says Choi, who describes herself as a big improviser and is immensely attracted to ETHEL’s multicultural approach to music, thereby supplying her with much added, creative stimulus. “It is new music to many people; the new album pays homage to New York City, but it’s not really limited to the New York experience. It is quite refreshing and people all over the United States can relate. And there is always a meaning behind our programs. As the newbie I was attracted to its American mix. For so many years we brought all the European composers over. Now there is a big wave of fresh, contemporary American music that should be interesting internationally, now.”
Supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and The Greenwall foundation, Heavy, according to ETHEL co-founder, violist Ralph Farris, serves as “homage to New York City, its people and its music.”
- Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova Photo:Alex Fedorov
Pianists Vassily Primakov and Natalia Lavrova are very much their own acts. But they became close partners when they debuted their Arensky CD and, in the process, founded their own record label, LP Classics, Inc. Since then, they’ve performed as a duo, as they will on May 6 at Get Classical’s inaugural concert series event at New York’s Rose Bar.But their friendship began much earlier, back in 1999, when the two pianists were freshmen at Julliard.
They instantly connected over their shared Russian heritage, but on top of that, their personalities just clicked. “Of course, we have had our share of fights, regular stuff that happens when two egos are involved…and we have our own lives,” volunteers Lavrova, during our animated interview over dinner with Primakov. “But we love each other.”
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
Married to photographer Alex Fedorov, Lavrova often brings her husband on board withher projects.Fedorov is responsible for all of the photographic work featured on the Arensky CD, which Lavrova and Primakov recorded to great reviews. James Harrington of the American Record Guide wrote that the two “capture the essence of each suite, and through their considerable talents, share with us some of the most enjoyable almost unknown music I have heard in quite a while.”
Artistic collaboration was a natural extension of Lavrova and Primakov’s friendship, says Primakov. “We do think alike; there is a spiritual connection and a feeling for the music that just got more serious over the last two years, when we decided to get involved with recording the Arensky’s suites,” he says, reminiscent of their past years spent under teacher Jerome Lowenthal at Juilliard’s chamber music program (where they spend more time partying then practicing, they admit). “We were both excited, when we heard this music and started to perform it in concert to great reviews and decided we needed to record this interesting, yet virtually unknown program,” says Primakov. “We had two options—either pitch it to an established label or try to do it on our own. As we were thinking about this music, we both realized we wanted to have more control of the process, and it became a project that started so many things for the both of us. It also brought us even closer.”
While Primakov has already catalogued a number of recordings with Bridge Records, the Arensky CD was a first for Lavrova, who spends most of her time, when not performing, managing her own music school program. As the director of Music School of New York City, she teaches pianists of all levels and ages, applying her passion for music education that she inherited from her own teacher, Zalina Gurevich, who, many years ago, recognized their shared enthusiasm for teaching and kids in a young Lavrova. “She allowed me to sit in her lessons and gradually take over teaching some of her kids,” says Lavrova. “At first she would monitor the lessons and then give me feedback. It made all the difference in my learning how to become a good teacher.”
A very important factor in Lavrova’s teacher selections is a teacher’s performance experience. “That inspires students in a way nothing else can,” she says. One of her favorite teachers at her school, no wonder then, is Primakov, even though, between his busy performance and recording schedules, he can only take on a limited number of students.
But despite both of the artists’ busy daily routines, they are committed to and infatuated with their newest project, LP Classics. From the initial excitement over finding the pianos and dealing with tuners and sound engineers, they are both planning on fully integrating the record label into their careers. “We had turned to our friend Sarah Faust of Faust-Harrison Pianos to obtain two matching pianos for the recording.
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
She had a new Yamaha CFX in her vast studio, which we loved, and then put us in touch with Bonnie Barrett, the director of Yamaha Artist Services, to find another. We tried it, and it sounded great, and this developed our future relationship with Yamaha.” Primakov and Lavrova are now Yamaha artists. Their Arensky CD was the first ever recording on two Yamaha CFX model pianos, and their CD release performance was live-streamed from the Yamaha showroom. Right now, the two are working on a lot of four-hand, one-instrument repertoire—an easier and more economical setup—exploring less-played pieces such as the Czerny Sonatas and works by Milhaud and John Corigliano, which they plan to perform at Get Classical at the Rose Bar.
In the future, Primakov says, they want to open up their record label to young artists looking to produce resume-building and career-launching first CDs. They also want to unbury historical, undiscovered past recordings of great, established performers, introducing old, forgotten gems to the public, as they did with Vera Gornostaeva Vol. 1 Chopin, a historical recording found through archived tapes in a Moscow library. “We obtained the rights and re-mastered the tapes of this amazing recording,” explains Primakov. “Another hidden secret we are now releasing is our teacher Jerry Lowenthal’s playing, which we both grew up on, and there are so many more to come.”
Very important to their mission is their ability to rely on efficient and passionate
- Photo: Alex Fedorov
music professionals involved in the recording process. “You are so exposed as a performer, you have to be able to trust the people you work with to make you look your best,” says Primakov. “We have built a wonderful little family that includes Charlie Post, who became sound engineer, editor and producer in one, and technician Terry Flynn, who can achieve the most amazing results in the short in-betweens of the recording process. As soon as he hears just a slight irregularity in tone voicing, he informs the sound engineer and matches up everything in the matter of minutes while we step out for a glass of water.”
Also important to Primakov and Lavrova’s goals is the opportunity to constantly engage with new audiences, which they will have the opportunity to do this May 6, when the two perform excerpts of their four-hand program as well as some solo repertoire at Get Classical’s music series launch at the trendy Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar in New York. Primakov and Lavrova will be two of four pianists presenting a program geared to new and old classical fans, including GetClassical.org readers, by bringing 19th-century salon-type performances to the 21st-century lounge. Hosted by the Gramercy Park Hotel and myself, your devoted GetClassical.org blogger, Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring classical music to audiences that might prefer listening in the comfort of an armchair, aperitif in hand, to the formality of the concert hall. The series will give listeners the chance to meet artists in the intimacy of the cool Rose Bar and hear them talk about their music and lives as concert artists. And it is exactly this exchange that performers like Primakov and Lavrova, as well as David Aladashvili and Marika Bournaki, the two performers featured alongside them in the evening’s program, are looking forward to—to play and relate to both staying fans and interested spectators in a personal way. “We always want to test drive our program with new audiences. It’s one of the most exciting things one can do as a performer,” Primakov says.
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New York, New York – Get Classical will be launching their first program on May 6th, 6 pm at the Rose Bar at the Gramercy Park Hotel at 2 Lexington Avenue.
An alternative experience as a welcomed addition to its traditional presentation, Get Classical invites many new fans to the classical genre, launching its first event on May 6th. at the tastefully styled, eclectic Rose Bar.
Get Classical’s vision of an intimate presentation of classical concerts and commentary amid the Gramercy Park Hotel’s stylish Rose Bar brings the grandeur of the 19th-century salon to the 21st-century lounge.
Presenting a new alternative to listening to classical music in its formal concert hall venue, Get Classical integrates classical into the mainstream, and sophisticated, music night life.
In the hope of bringing newcomers and aficionados alike to this generation’s vital, ever-expanding classical music scene, Get Classical aims to benefit a genre that is always looking to reinvent itself but seldom reaches out of its own comfort zone.
These salon-type concerts, where people can sit back with an aperitif, are planned as a monthly Sunday series and will include CD-release and signing events, presenting seasoned as well as up-and-coming young artists to New Yorker audiences.
Inspired by interviews, interactions and friendships with great musicians, Ilona Oltuski founded the music blog GetClassical and her website http://getclassical.org in 2009. Featuring intimate portraits of classical performers and their stories, written by a blogger who, herself a lay musician, gets it, GetClassical prides itself on peering into the inner world of the artist and some of the developing trends within the business of music.
Get Classical at the Rose Bar hopes to bring its sensitivity towards cultural shifts into the actual performance realm, picking up on the notion of new efforts to promote a classical scene in new environments. An extension of both the cool generation’s craving for style and the happening night life scene at Rose Bar can potentially emulate a highly attractive version of the ideal, traditional classical forum.
The May 6th. program features avid performers, classical pianists Marika Bournaki, Vassily Primakov, Natalia Lavrova and David Aladashvili, who will also engage in a conversation with music journalist Ilona Oltuski, Get Classical’s Founder and host of the series’ launch at the Rose Bar. Get Classical’s intimate and “salon like” program will hopefully revitalize this very important part of our city’s culture.” Entrance is free, with a one-drink minimum. Attendees must book at GetClassicalRoseBar@gmail.com to be included on the guest list by April 14th.Many thanks go to the Gramercy Park Hotel and the Rose Bar, for their personal support and for their willingness to take part in Get Classical’s launch.
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Lera Auerbach Photo: F. Reinhold
In her young life, Auerbach has gotten used to making hard decisions on her own. When she was only seventeen years old she had to make the choice of whether to stay on alone in the United States – following her Russian concert tour to America, an incredible opportunity for the young Russian pianist – or to return home to her family, but maybe miss the opportunity of a lifetime.
During the decisive telephone call home, her mother, who, in Russia would have protected her every step, encouraged her to decide for herself despite the unknown outcome of any results. It was the time of the Soviet regime’s restricted travel permissions, and this decision involved the selflessness of essentially giving up the hope of spending any time together any time soon, a hard task for the typically Jewish-Russian parents from a provincial region, who had especially guarded their child’s course of life every step of the way. Until her sudden arrival in New York, the sheltered Auerbach had never travelled without being picked up by her parents from the train station.
Growing up in the rather isolated Russian Chelyabinsk, near the Siberian border, Auerbach was strongly connected with her parent’s world of books and music. Her mother, a piano teacher at the local music school, remains her strongest inspiration. It took Auerbach five years, after receiving an artist visa, before she was able to travel back home with a guaranteed return to continue her studies abroad. Only upon the decline of Soviet communism, were her parents finally able to join her in New York, having essentially missed the ten most important years in the young artist’s development. Auerbach was especially happy that her mom was able to attend her Carnegie Hall debut recital in 2002, the only dream she had shared with many of her Western pianist peers. In fact, it was a double debut for her – she performed as a pianist and was the composer of her Suite Concertante for Piano and Violin performed by her with renowned violinist Gidon Kremer and the Kremerata Baltica.
The double sided activities of composer/musician are what create the biggest challenges in the logistics of planning out her life. “As much as it’s always important for me to have a piano close to me – and I compose partly at the piano, partly without it – I had to cut down concertizing significantly within the last three years. I have to have longer stretches in between concertizing, to concentrate on composing. The biggest conflict comes, when I am on tour and have deadlines of new works to meet.”
- Lera Auerbach at Verbier , Photo: Aline Paley
How does her composing influence her piano performance? “I do perform standard repertoire, but I do hear it in a different way and I play only pieces, where I feel I have something new to say. For example I have a very personal way of playing Pictures of an Exhibition by Mussorgsky; I like to take a lot of liberties, typically like the performer- composers of previous generations. There is no such thing as a good piano sound. There is only the magic of making the piano sing in another voice, taking on the characteristics of other instruments. In the hand of a great performer it becomes a psychological means to hypnotize an audience into accessing their imagination in the best possible way.”
Auerbach does not experience her being a woman as a decisive factor in her career. “It is a question of perception. I for myself see no difference, and you choose to be above those limitations, “says Auerbach, acknowledging that double standards still do exist to a certain extent. But she feels as though “she doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody,” and the young, married artist, who does not see children in her life, simply replies: “My opuses!” to that question.
Besides her studies at the Manhattan School of Music and at Juilliard, where she studied piano with Joseph Kalichstein and composition with Milton Babbitt and Robert Beaser, she also spend time with Beethoven specialist, the Norwegian Einar Steen-Nokleberg in Hannover, reporting it to be a very worthwhile experience. Essentially she views a truly engaged self examination, the willingness and curiosity of wanting to continually grow, as the conditions for any successful outcome in the learning process. “When the student is ready, the right teacher will appear” she smiles knowingly.
Named “Young Global leader” by the World Economic Forum in 2007, Auerbach’s Renaissance-style Omni creative presence is fully recognized by her contemporary artistic environment internationally. In Germany she was awarded the prestigious Hindemith Prize and, at the Pacific Music Festival, the Tokyo String Quartet and Sapporo Symphony joined forces to perform her Fragile Solitudes. New York’s Chamber Music Wu Han and David Finckel brought Auerbach’s work to Lincoln Center. Auerbach relies on long time colleagues to keep her works alive, beyond the works’ premieres, such as the Borromeo String Quartet who have performed her entire selection of string quartets and recorded them on an archival recording. She also recognizes the efficiency of the Music Accord Organization, which was formed by different concert organizers, who work together to extend the life of a Lincoln Center premiered work, by taking work on to tour different concert venues.
In the near future, the composer plans to concertize with an artist she admires and has performed with at the Verbier Music Festival recently, Boston based violist Kim Kashkashian, for who she wrote a transcription of Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes for Cello and Piano, arranged for Viola.
On November 15th, violinist Leonidas Kavakos will bring a selection of Lera Auerbach’s Preludes for Violin and Piano, Op. 46a, to Carnegie Hall.
Audio and Video: http://leraauerbach.com/content/audio_video.php
Her website: http://www.leraauerbach.com/
Her blog: http://blog.bestamericanpoetry.com/lera-Auerbach-the-trouble-clef/
- Laser light show over Brisbane Photo: Jon Baginsky
After an invigorating summer, filled with concerts at the Verbier Music Festival , some preparations for his London apartment’s renovation, and of course some intense practicing in his flat in Paris and on his stopover in Los Angeles, Kissin expands his musical reach to Australia.
Rather distraught by constant schedule changes due to hurricane Irene and extracurricular distractions, he was getting antsy to return to the piano and prepare for this undertaking. Only once was he willing to converse light heartedly with me about his upcoming trip, and only after he had practiced a good, uninterrupted seven hours at the Los Angeles Disney Hall, located in immediate proximity to his hotel.
Kissin was looking forward to this trip, but not everything was advancing as planned. And nothing is left to chance with this artist. A lot of considerations, like the weather conditions – Kissin does not like extreme heat – practice possibilities, distance to travel without breaks, etc., enter the planning stages of a concert tour around two years before the actual tour begins. A lot of things can change between the planning and the outcome, and his former manager at IMG Artists, Edna Landau, who still keeps in touch with Kissin, always understood the importance of his particularities. She expressed her excitement about the news of his Australia tour to me:”I am quite fascinated to know that Zhenya is going to Australia. When I worked with him he refused to even contemplate such a tour… I wonder what the deciding factor was.”
Whatever the reasons for his initial hesitations, they seem all but forgotten. Most of all, this speaks of a more open and easy going disposition, a change within Kissin himself. It’s a sure sign of his developing some elasticity, an eagerness to stretch and expand the cocoon that has so tightly enveloped this performer, since his early prodigal years.
“I like expanding the geography of my tours in all possible directions – except for non-democratic states. That was the decisive reason for Australia; to play in a country where I have never played before,” said Kissin. When I asked, if he would sightsee while there he said that while nothing concrete has been planned at this time, “I hope that someone will show us around. I always love that, and there will be time for it.”
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- Julien Quentin
When talking to the young and talented pianist Julien Quentin, it became obvious to me that this generation of young, classical musicians – at least the successful ones– have definitely adopted something of a jetsetter lifestyle.
I had just met him at Verbier, where he performed for his 5th summer in a row, at the prestigious music festival. Two years ago he had performed at their special celebration “Night of Pianists” that featured different generations of accomplished pianists, Emanuel Ax, Nelson Goerner, Yuja Wang, among others. The festival’s artistic director Martin Engstroem had spotted Quentin, when he had heard his 2004 recording with clarinetist Julian Bliss.
Quentin confirmed the positive impressions I had brought back from Verbier myself (see also my article Musicerati at Verbier):”Verbier is really special in that all the star- artists are all happy to play the game… old and young, everybody is sharing the stage together and there are such musical fireworks.”
Born in Paris, Quentin grew up in Geneva, where his parents opened the “Librairie Quentin,” a connoisseur’s bookstore specializing in rare manuscripts and art books.
He attended both the local High School at Thonon to receive the French baccalaureate and the Conservatory at Geneva, where he studied with the Russian Piano Pedagogue Alexis Golovine.
It was through his teacher that Quentin met with Martha Argerich, who, at the time was residing in Geneva.
He describes how he had heard a recording of Golovine playing two-piano repertoire with Argerich and how that inspired him tremendously.
Quentin became friends with Argerich’s daughters, two of whom, Stephanie and Lydia today still reside in Geneva, while Argerich herself lives in Brussels now.
He describes the most fascinating meeting with one of Argerich’s close friends and an important musical figure, Nikita Magaloff. “One time, I visited Nikita’s home and let me play for him. He gave me some advice but, most importantly, he acknowledged that I had enough talent to make a life in music. That was a defining moment for me, giving me the self-confidence, to continue on the road I had always felt, was meant for me. It is a wonderful feeling if you know what you want in life. Growing up, a lot of my friends did not know what they wanted to achieve, they had to find themselves. I had a normal upbringing with sports, art and literature all around me. If my parents pushed me, they did that more for my general studies, than for music. I only had my first serious concert at 12, in Thonon. Then right after this in Evian at the Rostropovich Auditorium and since then the sirens of the stage haunted me.”
- Julien Quentin at Verbier Photo: Marc Shapiro
Quentin went on to continue his studies in the United States receiving his Artist Diploma with Emile Naoumoff, at Indiana University and then his Graduate Diploma in New York, under György Sándor, from Juilliard in 2003.
He shared a lot of his insights, such as why it is so important to understand the individuality of each pianist and what works for him personally: “Every pianist has certain abilities and experiences things differently, learning in unique ways. A lot depends on your individual preference but also on things like your discipline, for example. Also everybody is physically built in ways that influence their particular abilities and ways to function better. For me personally, I could sight read music for hours on end, but the physical playing at the instrument was not as easy to handle for several hours in a row as some others can,” says Quentin. He remembers how he once talked with Argerich about how she accomplished so much in such little time, and he quotes her saying:”Whether you take a week, a day or a minute, what counts is the result.”
“At the end it is really about what you can do and what makes you do it,” says Quentin.
“ You need the will for it since it is solitary work, otherwise you can forget any kind of great music making. But whether it is one or two focused hours or ten hours, which I rarely have the tolerance for physically or mentally, it differs for each pianist, or in pedagogue’s Heinrich Neuhaus’ words:”You can practice at the piano with the score and with the score without the piano, or you can practice without the score and without the piano,” which I do a lot, actually. This mental kind of practicing works really well for me, it gets you a better understanding of the musical scope of the score. It is a very abstract way of learning but it really makes you picture in your mind an ideal line or singing phrase, which you are sometimes too busy to do, while working things out physically. If you think about conductors and composers…that’s how they often figure out the bigger picture.”
- Julien Quentin
The development of the so called inner ear, which this method certainly favors, is certainly an inherently important enhancement of musicality and the understanding of a score, and it is clearly helpful with memorization and in generally developing the musical imagination.
Quentin, whose technique has been deemed as “flawless” by the press, tries to follow, what he describes as the natural approach of the so called Russian School, which his first teacher brought to his attention and which, in his esteem in a nutshell, enables one to do more, with less.
This technique encourages the pianist to lead from the forearm, rather than from the fingers themselves, moving effortlessly and efficiently. One can support a particular singing quality of the melodic line, by weight distribution of the forearm.
Great Russian teachers traveled a lot to Europe and America, especially with the fall of the Iron Curtain, but even before that. It may be that with the virtuosic Russian repertoire of the 20th century itself, which he feels at home with intimately, (besides his Russian teachers, his mother’s roots are Polish-Russian, Jewish) influenced a tradition that could be traced back to the great pedagogues like Neuhaus.
But Quentin is also a child of his environment and time. He absorbed French Impressionism and embraces New Music, especially since his time in New York.
After his American years at school, Quentin was no stranger to the club-scene of his generation. “Turntables, weekly shows in bars and lofts, jam sessions and electro jazz were on the agenda at all times; mixing music, inviting other musicians to play together was a very social experience. I enjoyed it tremendously. It was an eye and ear opener for me, just to see how our friends in the audience would react. This was a fresh experience, where we generated crossovers between two worlds. Supporting new composers is almost a duty of a young performer. These are compositions of today’s life, just as it was the case a century or two ago. I am always interested in connecting different works and in collaborations of different techniques and art forms. “
Berlin became Quentin’s latest place of choice, which he loves for its active musical life, allowing him to experiment with new combinations of paired recitals of classical and new music. He likes to use live effects with the piano and add loops and electronic backgrounds and beats to it, developing his own musical blend, which can easily involve improvisation at the piano, with the laptop getting into the picture as well.
For all its possibilities, but mostly for its particular charm, he loves Berlin and for its slightly slower pace. “No rush, wherever I go I have friends who perform and by now I am really lucky, since all work is coming to me via email or phone. “ This youtube video shows Julien with an avid collaborator of his, the violinist David Garrett having fun with Rimsky-Korsakov’s ” The Flight of the Bumblebee”Flight of the Bumblebee.
His next gigs are in the planning: He would like to produce his own electro tracks and therefore is in touch with the likes of American composer/producer Justin Messina & British producer Martin Wheeler (aka Vector Lovers) to collaborate on future productions. Other jam and studio sessions are also scheduled in the next few weeks in Berlin with various artists from the electronic music and jazz scene.