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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
photo:medici.tv

 

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.

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On the occasion of his forthcoming concert in Bayreuth, Robert Paternostro comments on the problematic relationship between Richard Wagner’s notoriously famous anti-Semitism and bridges being built between Israeli musicians and German culture.

In 2009, Paternostro became Artistic Director of the Israel Chamber Orchestra, the last in a long list of renowned artists, such as Luciano Berio, Rudolf Barshai, Shlomo Mintz and Philippe Entremont.

In 1978, he had been appointed as assistant to Herbert von Karajan; before that, he had studied with Hans Svarowsky in Vienna, as well as with György Ligeti and Christoph von Dohnanyi in Hamburg. Today, Paternostro is not only renowned for his international and very diverse slate of symphonic performances, but also for his well-received new productions of works by Wagner, Verdi, Puccini and Strauss.

His frequent appearances with youth orchestras and up-and-coming artists, and the many television broadcasts of his concerts have cemented his reputation as an artist with a very special flair. A lot of recognition is also based on the good sense for interesting and challenging projects this Viennese conductor with Venetian roots is known for.

Just back from his successful American debut in June, Paternostro is now preparing for the forthcoming concert of the Israel Chamber Orchestra in Bayreuth.

Works by Franz Liszt, Gustav Mahler, Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy and the contemporary Israeli composer Zvi Avni will be complementing Wagner’s music.

The concert, scheduled for July 26 in Bayreuth’s Stadthalle (town hall), is part of „Lust auf Liszt“, a series of events celebrating the 200th birthday of Bayreuth’s famous son, Franz Liszt.

The Wagner Festival on the “Green Hill” starts on the eve of the Israel Chamber Orchestra’s Bayreuth performance and lasts until August 28, 2011.

Ilona Oltuski: Maestro Paternostro, how did the concert in Bayreuth come about?

Roberto Paternostro: I love, and I have been conducting Wagner’s music for many years now, and I also feel very connected to Israel. Not only professionally, through my work as a conductor, but also personally; many of my relatives live in Israel. When I took up the position of principal conductor in Tel Aviv, I was hoping to be able to somehow combine the two. I was very well aware of the fact that it still is very difficult to play Wagner in Israel. But I wanted to find a way to break the ice.

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Known for its variety of innovative cultural events productions, this evening’s fascinating program for the River to River festival was realized by Beth Morrison. River to River promotes cultural life, particularly in downtown Manhattan, and the Beth Morrison Project put its creative initiative into this event’s planning. This evening’s program enveloped me with candle light and surrealistic backdrop video installations, as a sampler of the fantastic collaboration and exchange between the attending musicians.

Paola Prestini, one of the vibrant composers who shared the bill together with Missy Mazzoli and Nico Muhly (whose works were solemnly performed by the Trinity Choir conducted by Julian Wachner at the festival) took the time to bring me closer into the performance of her House of Solitude -A Poet’s Labyrinth. ” The work is still in progress” she explained, “and the completed version will premiere at the Krannert Center in 2013. The KBOW, which is Neil’s bow, was invented by the famed Keith McMillan, triggers sound files and effects but will eventually trigger lighting and film. We are working on that and expanding the piece now… Keith invented Zeta instruments and Neil is endorsing the KBOW.” With intoxicating motions, that seemed to make sound waves emerge beyond the bowing of his violin, the luminous Cornelius Dufallo (see also my article here ) performed Prestini’s work in conjunction with a conceptually surrealist and amorphously mood-altering video, designed by Carmen Kordas, which was shown on a back dropped screen.

  Mazzoli, on keyboard, performed with the expressive violist Nadia Sirota, to videos by Jennifer Stock as well as Alice Lovejoy. The interplay of this duo had been feelingly explored before. And Mazzoli too, reflects on progress as a constant in her life; making life itself a conscious work in progress.

“Never knowing what is going to happen tomorrow, the adventure of performing, composing, educating, producing…” are her ideas of having a great time with music.

 “I am constantly developing and changing my own voice, it is always influenced by new genres, by new and old composers and by visual arts. Inevitably that’s going to change my writing. For example in the moment, I am fascinated with the visual impact of Sol Levitt or the music of John Luther Adams; I am struck by how one can create a piece out of these patterns and create those collages,” says Mazzoli. That does not exclude her fascination with Beethoven’s classicism.

The best thing that happened according to Mazzoli was having had the opportunity to spend time in Amsterdam at 21, on a Fulbright grant, where she studied with Louis Andriessen, who incidentally was named Musical America’s composer of 2010. She describes that period as a powerful life experience, performing in clubs, putting on shows, and traveling with her first band hills not skyscrapers. Upon her return and receiving her Master’s degree from Yale, she held several music related positions, ranging from personal assistant of Meredith Monk to an executive position running the Philip Glass founded MATA festival, where she started as one of the performers. Everything is connected and it is about exposure and cooperation with performers who become friends and a network that leads constantly to bigger and better things.

Recording producer Judd Greenstein, a good friend of Mazzoli, also recorded her first album Cathedral City that was released with her all- female performers band Victoire last September and was ranked one of the best classical CDs of 2010 by NPR, the New York Times, as well as by New Yorker’s own Alex Ross, naming Mazzoli as “a leader of New York’s young moderns.”

Even though she describes it as accidental,that all the performers at Victoire are female, she welcomes the opportunity, in a field still somewhat dominated by male composers as well as instrumentalists, to work with women. The quintet, performing Mazzoli’s electrically amplified works, was founded in 2008. Mazzoli does not typically perform her own works much; instead she is commissioned by artists around the world. The Kronos Quartet, Eight Blackbird and the American Composers Orchestra are among many of her regulars.

Before Mazzoli, who actually owned up to a bit of stage nerves, got ready for her performance that evening at Trinity Church, the festival’s venue, we talked about the medium of opera that seems to dominate musical exploration of the moment. While the news of Nico Muhly’s grand production Opera-debut in London just made the headlines, Mazzoli is similarly looking to expand the medium of an orchestra piece or a song cycle for one of her new projects. Inspired by a theme, based on the life of North- Africa explorer Isabelle Eberhardt, which she feels requires a larger staging, multiple voices and more time expansion, she plans on producing an opera that will be a scaled down version of what is usually known to be an opera production, with all the key ingredients intact.

“People will realize that the definition of opera is flexible. You don’t need millions of dollars for a full cast of divas and the MET. My opera will consist of a 5 people orchestra, 5 soloists, projections, video production and it will manage to tell the story with multiple voices, librettos and so on…and full staging. Supported by a Jerome Foundation grant that recently others have shared in, it will be a ca.70 minutes performance at The Kitchen, a black box theater with full set design.

Beth Morrison Project is currently planning an elaborate program with the same participants to celebrate Philip Glass’ seventy-fifth birthday.

For Paola Prestini

For Nico Muhly

For Missy Mazzoli

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Speaking with the skilled young pianist about her involvement in the field of new music performance, it is easy to be smitten by the classically trained Juilliard and Manhattan School of Music graduate’s contagious enthusiasm and engaged by her personal insights. During the past two years she has been catching up on a lot of new music repertoire as the pianist/keyboardist of the new music ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars.

The innovative sextet consists of clarinet, keyboard/piano, cello, electric guitar, bass and drums. The unique interplay—the cello and grand piano are regularly amplified on stage— creates a composite sound world. Half rock band half amplified chamber group, the All Stars are renowned for their successful avant-garde initiative, engaging in new music collaborations with some of the most inspiring composers of our time.

Having collaborated with much of the new music A-list, including Steve Reich, Tan Dun, Ornette Coleman, Philip Glass and Meredith Monk, the band has been hugely successful in a variety of performance projects held at both high-end venues like Carnegie Hall and alternative, sometimes public, performance spaces.

The photos in this article were taken at the sound check of what has become one of the band’s most well-known collaboratives, the Bang on a Can Marathon, an annual, all-day extravaganza held at New York’s World Financial Center’s Wintergarden on June 19. The marathon was Initiated in 1987 by composers David Lang, Julia Wolfe and Michael Garden who wanted to create an all-inclusive “meeting of the bands,” breaking down the barriers between music genres. Co-presented by the River to River Festival and Arts at World Financial Center, in this year’s marathon, 150 performers and composers present a nonstop open house of new music.

Within the genre of new music, the All Stars are known for their eclecticism and their interaction of composition styles yet also for their distinct choice of instrumentalization as well as their performance dynamic level. In addition to performing themselves, the group and its members are also involved in producing and curating a variety of new music happenings. For Chow, the activism it entails is a lifestyle. Currently, she spends many of her evenings at New York’s Gershwin Hotel, where she runs her own new music series called Contagious Sounds.

A natural performer from a young age, Canadian-born Chow was invited to perform a demanding solo piano program at the International Gilmore Keyboard Festival at age 9. She went on to study at Vancouver Academy of Music, where her teacher, Lorraine Ambrose, recommended she continue her studies at Julliard, leading her to study under Professors Yoheved Kaplinsky and Julian Martin. Her arrival in New York was met with upheaval—more so than the minor disasters than accompany every move; Chow had come to New York just two weeks before 9/11. She was at the Juilliard library when the dramatic events of that day unfolded. Chow still remembers Julliard Director Polisi’s instructions to bring pillows to the underground theater room for safety in the event of further attacks. Of Chinese descent, she later volunteered at the World Trade Center, translating for Asian victims’ family members.

But there was another reason that, when upon entering Juilliard, Chow found herself stopped in her tracks. Kaplinsky, chairperson of the Piano Department at Julliard, realized that Chow had been tensing up at the piano and told her she needed to make big adjustments to her technique. Kaplinsky introduced her to the Taubman approach, which explores natural piano technique through an intensive retraining. “I had to learn to arrange myself with a constantly dueling conflict between thinking of what I had to think about in applying the technique and my opposing intuition,” she explains. But to her great delight, her playing improved in the process, making it all worthwhile. Her color and tone, her ability to gain an efficient control of the articulation she intended, opened up a whole new experience for her, she says. “I remember at one point, the fact that I was working with limited repertoire in order to gain the technique fully was so disheartening to me. When the yearly concerto competition in Juilliard was to be held with Bartók’s 1st piano concerto, I decided to take on the challenge. Veda [Kaplinsky] needed convincing, since a month before the competition I only had the 1st movement ready. But in a way she inspired me to push through, and when I won the competition, she was extremely proud of my accomplishment.”

Chow’s thorough exploration of the piano and her new relationship with her instrument whet her appetite for experimentation. Having been approached by the young Juilliard composer Zhou Tian to perform one of his compositions, Chow discovered a calling for the new and non-classical. “As I opened his score, it was clear to me that here was something happening that I had missed for a long time, during all my studies of music. While I loved music and loved performing, I did not exactly see myself spending the rest of my life repeating the experiences that classical music had provided me with. It was in the contemporary music, I found the excitement I was looking for.”

The constant learning of new scores, the exploration of new and unlimited experimentations within new music suited her curiosity and led her to rescind her application to Julliard and Mannes School of Music’s doctorial degree programs and enroll instead in Manhattan School of Music’s Contemporary Performance Program. Around the same time, she began performing with multiple young composer collectives from Harvard and New York Universities that she got involved with through another contact from Juilliard, her friend Alex Lipowski, percussionist of the new music Talea Ensemble.

Having found what she was searching for, Chow quickly became a powerhouse within the new music scene. Not only did she become a more versatile pianist, but she also developed a whole new set of musical abilities. “From a pianistic point of view, not only did my sight reading improve from all the creative work with the score I am doing, let alone by the enormous numbers of new scores I read all the time. One of the challenges is that you often have to rely on your own interpretations—even though the composer sometimes intermediates. That’s a very different experience than performing works of composers that have been performed over and over,” says Chow, also confirming that in the challenge lies the thrill of finding new articulation. “Experimenting is part of the experience of new music, and I have gained another set of skills in creating different sounds, influenced by other genres. It also frees your personality to be roughing up some feathers with different sound worlds providing the kind of grit I need.”

For more information about Vicky Chow go to  her website http://www.vickychow.com/Vicky_Chow/home.html

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Jed Distler

The agony of having supported side by side the six-year battle of his beloved spouse of thirty years, Célia Cooke’s, illness and then having to endure her loss to cancer on March 30th of this year, pianist/composer Jed Distler looks to some old friends for solace and to his life in music.

An outgrowth of his need to heal is his recently released CD, “Meditate with the Masters”, produced during these recent hard times for the Musical Concepts label. He sees his contribution as helpful in creating a “gentle ambiance, ideal for holistic and therapeutic treatments, or for intimate dinner gatherings and solitary afternoons at home… as well as for public situations, such as waiting rooms, airport lounges, restaurants…”

The hint of the familiar in each of the fifteen tracks that Distler titles after a renowned composer –after Schumann, after Chopin, after Distler, for example – (he includes himself nonchalantly in the list of pianistic masters with a dash of good humor) provides pianistically pleasant variations, composed in a traditional style with rhythmically soothing, unfussy piano treatments. One of my favorites is his folk-like treatment of Schumann’s ‘Von fremden Ländern und Menschen’ from Kinderszenen, infusing the beautiful Schumann theme within a new and original connective musical tissue. Some of the compositions suggest his great sensibility for jazz formulations, an area Distler is known for through his published Art Tatum and Bill Evans transcriptions for solo piano. These became renowned when pianist’s Jean –Yves Thibaudet recorded for the Decca label in 1997, “Conversations with Bill Evans,” arranged and transcribed by Distler.

Distler’s new music is often performed and recorded by star performers of the new music scene. “Three Landscapes for Peter Wyer, for toy piano,” recorded by Margaret Leng Tan on Point records was featured in three film scores, and his “Loose Changes” for two pianos was recorded by Quattro Mani on Bridge recordings. Pianist Jenny Lin and ‘ETHEL’s violinist Cornelius Duffalo (see my article ) are among the many artists he has been commissioned by.

“As a composer I am mostly inspired by a commission and deadlines. I am anchored in the pianist/composer tradition, but I don’t believe in any music snobbery, I try to be open minded. All good music is equal. Jimi Hendrix, for example will never be dated, while there are pieces of so-called “serious” music that I never want to listen to! For me music is about good communication and it is also about a lifestyle that includes a good work ethic, in order to maintain great technique, which is necessary to delivery. I read somewhere that the great jazz pianist Bill Evans said how technique was being able to do musically what you want to do, without having to worry about your hands. Better still, that other extraordinary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson once defined technique as the thing that made your ideas listenable. These thoughts help me try to entertain and communicate effectively with an audience,” says Distler.

He does not volunteer elucidation about his own compositions, feeling too close to it to comment, but rather leaves that to the musicians who perform them and who will establish his oeuvre. However, he prolifically comments on others, though, making his mark by way of his often-insightful music reviews, published chiefly in Gramophone and Classicstoday.com. Distler is committed to making a difference in the world of music, engaging his many talents as lecturer, writer, promoter, presenter and pianist for various media and concert performances.

On the piano and as artistic director of ‘Composers Collaborative’, co-founded with his late wife Célia Cooke , Distler has performed and programmed other composers’ works and continues to create and to partake in music initiatives on Public Radio and in venues like the Cornelia Street Café. Last week’s ‘Serial Underground’, a new music series performed for several years at this intimate setting, brought me in personal contact with this seasoned musician’s expressive pianism for the first time. Dubbed “the subversive nightclub series” by TIME OUT NY, Distler followed a performance of a group called “Other Life Forms,” with some intimate renderings of Thelonious Monk pieces.

Reaching out to his audiences is an innate talent of Distler and he certainly does achieve what he has set out to do in exactly the way he describes it:”Communicating comes first, expressiveness follows.”

Since it is impossible to mention all the endeavors he shared with me on a long list, I am just going to point you to one of the many interesting projects taking place at the Cornelia Street Cornelia Café, the ComposersCollaborative Inc, presentation of “Mano-a- Mano” Piano Festival on August 21, 22, and 23rd as well as a promising undertaking of Thelonious Monk’s entire piano oeuvre, the resourceful pianist plans to perform right here on February 17, 2012, the 30th anniversary of Monk’s death.

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When I met with violinist/composer Cornelius Dufallo, whom many know as a member of the very original, postmodern somewhat premiere-focused group of string players called Ethel, he gave me the big news about the group straight away: Mary Rowell, one of Ethel’s founding members, will be leaving the group as of June 1st, to pursue different lifestyle choices and Jennifer Choi, of the same younger Juilliard Alumni generation as Dufallo himself, will be joining the group. So, in a way this article is bidding fare well to Ethel-violinist Mary Rowell and making a hello-shout to Jennifer Choi.

Jennifer ChoiEagerly answering an audition call for the then already-reputable Ethel-band when they had an opening, Dufallo joined the quartet six years ago. He describes the relationship with all members as excellent and really close. He remembers:”We clicked right from the beginning. Mary is going to be missed and will continue to be involved during the transition process, to make sure that Ethel will keep on going strong.”

What attracted Dufallo to Ethel’s core concept was the commitment to the imaginative programming of contemporary music, executed with great artistry as well as personal dedication.

Specializing in music composed after 1995 seems not to be an unusual undertaking anymore and especially not in the New York area and the few other Metropolitan centers around the country. Even the press, for the most part, is enthusiastic:

Cornelius Dufallo

”New music is hardly scarce during the main part of the New York concert season, and spaces like issue Project Room, Galapagos and the Tank specialize in it year around. But spring and summer are a virtually nonstop parade of festivals celebrating the experimental,” says Alan Kozinn in his article about Ethel’s opening program of this year’s Tribeca New Music Festival at Merkin Hall (see Alan Kozinn’s review in the New York Times May 24th. 2011)

But only in recent times has such gusto, developed and persistently pursued by promoters, supported by internet advocates as well as educational and private institutions, not to mention the younger growing audiences, proven new music to be of such a high public esteem.

What seems to have made a real difference in the new appreciation compared to a former unwillingness of audiences and press and programmers alike may be the actual high quality of music making. This new batch of musicians brings to new music projects a unique versatility, a high quality of training, as well as an innovative and engaging, invigorating dedication.

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Ittai Shapira

So far, 14 compositions by different contemporary composers have been dedicated to violinist Ittai Shapira. Belonging to the now thirty something generation of performers of the New York classical music scene – he and pianist Jeremy Denk were roommates in college- he is now renowned as a versatile performer of an enormous classical violin repertoire, incorporating past and present, traditional as well as contemporary.

One of these premieres included the violin concerto written for him by Israeli compatriot and Pulitzer Prize winner, Shulamit Ran. It was performed at Shapira’s acclaimed Carnegie Hall debut in 2003 with the Orchestra of St.Luke’s. In 2007, it was incorporated into Ran’s compilation of works performed by Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

Shapira’s international performances as a fine soloist with many leading orchestras as well as chamber groups, coupled with his varied recordings, show his widespread interest in standard and unusual repertoire, explaining why so many composers dedicate works for his performance.

Another Israeli compatriot, a composer who lately enjoys great international demand, Avner Dorman, wrote a violin concerto for Shapira as well, in 2006. It was performed with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra.

Dorman was, as was Shapira, trained at Juilliard after leaving Israel for New York. While Dorman studied composition with John Corigliano, Shapira studied violin with Dorothy DeLay and Robert Mann and privately coached with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman.

Since Ittai was involved in the Daniel Pearl Foundation, they decided to dedicate the piece and its premiere performances to the memory of journalist Daniel Pearl, as Dorman mentions in the liner notes to the concerto. Another concerto by composer Dave Heath found his way onto the soundtrack for the film about Daniel Pearl’s tragic death in Pakistan “The Journalist and the Jihadi”, via Shapira. Read the rest of this entry »

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I am enjoying a cappuccino, that borders perfection, at pianists’ Lucille Chung’s and Alessio Bax’ tasteful, uncluttered and brand-new address on New York’s Upper-Upper West side. Lucille’s organizational skills translate into the modern, streamlined, yet comfortable chic atmosphere, echoing Alessio’s Italian classy design heritage that takes a decisively leading voice when it comes to the kitchen as well as, to my delight, handling the professional grade cappuccino maker.

This generous space that the attractive young couple calls home, when in New York, holds two grand pianos. One in their study that for now doubles as a guestroom, for practicing and teaching; the other one in the living room, for practicing simultaneously or to entertain each other and guests who typically are music lovers or musicians as well.

Playing the piano is what both regard as central to their lives. That’s why they might as well spend time doing it together. Two young, successful musicians in their own right, they share the rest of their time together, between juggling the piano faculty at Dallas’ SMU and their increasingly busy performance and recording schedules. In great demand as soloists, they have found themselves increasingly performing as a duo as well.Not that they necessarily planned it that way. Even though it always seemed like a great idea and it had happened on occasion, their duo performances have only recently gained in volume, taking up about 20 percent of their time, which was previously engaged with their professional solo performances. And, the truth is, they enjoy spending this ‘quality time’ at the piano together.

Playing as a duo creates endless opportunities of preparing and performing wide ranging and well-rehearsed programs and finally offers them variety, by taking the music on the road to different venues they like to travel to, together. How much more romantic could it get?

“It takes a lot of coordination,” says Lucille, who is in charge of all organizational details for the team. Alessio smiles happily, while claiming no interest in that domain, confirming: “We just decided this year to block out increased time for our collaborative performances. We have always played together sporadically, but never had made the effort to plan for it formerly in advance.” Read the rest of this entry »

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It certainly took some of the proverbial practice, practice, practice…. to get to Carnegie Hall, on the part of the 23 years old Alexej Gorlatch, who is continuing his studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Hannover, Germany; but it almost certainly took a lot more than that. All that practice, as well as his immensely abundant natural pianistic technique and musical talent, still does not usually lead directly from Hannover to Carnegie Hall, or does it?

There is no doubt that the international piano competition circuit has become extremely important to fostering and rewarding young artists with the opportunities of performance experiences, and launching their professional careers in the process.

Tonight’s recital was part of the first prize, awarded to Gorlatch as the winner of the Dublin International Piano Competition, in 2009. Gorlatch winning First Prize in Dublin.

Founded in 1988 and sponsored by a private benefactor, the competition joined the Alink-Argerich Foundation in 2004 and is recognized as one of the finest International piano competitions worldwide. A member of theWorld Federation of International Music Competitions, it attracts a wide consortium of international competitors during its triennial events. Chaired by Irish pianist and piano pedagogue John O’Conor, who is also the competition’s artistic director, the competition relies heavily on its distinguished international jury. Read the rest of this entry »

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