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Speaking of Pianists » 2008» February

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    Archive for February, 2008


    Friday, February 29th, 2008

    The other major competition for pianists is in Leeds England, an unlikely place for one of the greatest musical events in the world. But the Leeds has named exceptional prize winners in the past. Murray Perahia, for instance, was the First Prize winner in 1972. Perahia, Radu Lupu and Mitsuko Uchida (winners in 1969 and 1975 respectively) are giants of the piano world.

    Pianist Andrew Brownell, former student of Portland teacher Florence Chino, scaled this Everest of competitions in 2006: he won Second Prize in the prestigious Leeds Competition. Portland Piano International is proud to have named him a Young Artist in the 2003-2004 season. You can see photos of Andrew and the other talented young artists here:

    The initial First Prize winner in the Leeds, awarded in 1963, went to Michael Roll, an elegant master of the classical repertoire and the next guest of Portland Piano International. Roll has appeared on the series in the past, and also in the Portland International Piano Festival (then Piano Festival Northwest) in 2005. His recital there featured one of the most beautiful Schubert Bb Major Sonatas (D. 960) I’ve ever heard. He is among the greatest in this repertoire.

    Jeremy Siepmann, author of “The Piano: The Complete Illustrated Guide to the World’s Most Popular Musical Instrument”, calls Roll “the mysteriously neglected English pianist”, and points out that he made his London debut at the Royal Festival Hall at age twelve playing the Schumann Concerto.

    Other Leeds winners who have presented Portland Piano International recitals: Andras Schiff, Lydia Artymiw, Diana Kacso, Christopher O’Riley, Louis Lortie, Sara Buechner, and Noriko Ogawa.

    Jackie Parker, who recently played two brilliant recitals in Portland, was a First Prize Leeds winner in 1984.

    Jackie Conquers

    Monday, February 25th, 2008

    See reviews for Jon Kimura Parker’s recitals here:


    and here, rendition-of.html

    Schumann’s great set of miniatures has been subjected to several decades of neglect at the musical level. Parker revived it last weekend with wonderfully fresh views of each of the brief masterpieces. I loved it.

    Bach World Tour

    Sunday, February 24th, 2008

    Portland audiences have bestowed honorary (although unofficial) citizenship to only a few select pianists over the years – Jackie Parker (here last week), Paul Roberts (here this week), and Angela Hewitt, appearing in Portland at the end of March.

    Angela is an elegant interpreter in every style, but we are especially honored to be a part of her extraordinary Bach World Tour. “To hear the 48 Preludes and Fugues played by memory is an unforgettable experience,” she says, “and one which is as uncommon as it is moving.” Uncommon? Angela is far too modest. Unless I’m wrong, this has never been done on this scale. Twenty-five countries on six continents!

    Although she doesn’t play in Portland until March 30th, now is a good time to begin exploring her online diary. There she engages her readers with details of her recent concert experiences on this historic tour. Her latest entry also includes detailed information about booking tours to her Trasimeno Music Festival in Umbria. It’s a beautiful and convenient setting for exploration in Italy.

    Do be sure to read the February 14th entry from Lisbon before you come to the recitals.

    In between Zurich, Switzerland and Oberlin, Ohio (home to one of our nation’s great music conservatories), Portland Piano International will host two recitals (both Books of Bach’s WTC), plus a lecture and master class. After Oberlin, Hewitt is off to performances in Seoul and Tokyo.

    Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

    Piano Notes

    Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

    Two Portland Favorites: Both Jeremy Denk and Stephen Hough have have been presented by PPI in the last year or so. Now Denk has challenged Hough, recent winner of a poetry competition, to “Some Serious Pianist-on-Pianist Action”. These are two of our most remarkable artists and wordsmiths, so follow the action here: action/


    Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

    Although there are hundreds of piano competitions in the world now, a select few stand above the rest in terms of prestige, and of course, awards. In the United States the Cliburn Competition is the one to win, a prize that just may create a career. That is, if you have an engaging personality, stamina, audience attraction, and don’t forget – terrific playing.

    The Cliburn Foundation and Competition, made possible because Van Cliburn made such an impression on America and the world, continues to be a major force in the world of pianists. Cliburn won first prize in the VERY FIRST Tchaikovsky Competition (Even though the “winner” had already been chosen.) And this was six months after the successful launch of Sputnik.

    Use this link to read about the amazing Van Cliburn story. _vancliburn.html

    The next event, the Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, will be held in late May and early June of 2009. Portland Piano International will once again take a group to the Semi-Finals portion of the event, so watch this site for an announcement in late spring. Be patient.

    It’s truly stunning to hear such talent.

    The massive Tchaikovsky International Competition was the most influential contest for pianists in the mid-20th Century, but is often inconsistent now. It’s massive because it has categories not only in piano but also in violin, cello, voice and even violin making. It is going through many changes now, so I believe it will remain an ongoing presence in the musical world when it’s modernized a bit. But there will never again be a story like Cliburn’s.

    See this Wikipedia link below if you’re interested in more history of the competition:

    In the earlier years of the Tchaikovsky competition, prizes were awarded to pianists who have since established major careers, including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Misha Dichter, Edward Auer, Horatio Gutierez, Michael Pletnev and Barry Douglas. The names of the jurors bring tremors to any pianist’s hands; Gilels, Richter, Neuhaus. But first place winners of the past few years just haven’t been able to establish a strong presence in the United States.

    But what about your career if you forgot to enter a competition?


    A REMINDER: Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Paul Roberts’ master class next Monday, February 25th. Return to the PPI Home Page for details. As many of you know, Paul’s ability to communicate images and ideas in his teaching is extraordinary. Hope to see you there.

    Sunday’s Encore

    Sunday, February 17th, 2008

    After Sunday’s rich program of fascinating stories - Carnaval, Rite of Spring, and Scenes from a Jade Terrace, Jon Kimura Parker treated us to an encore by Sergei Rachmaninoff, his Prelude in G Major, Op. 32, No. 5.


    Thursday, February 14th, 2008

    Jon Kimura Parker, Jackie to everyone, is one of the most animated people I’ve ever known, and also one of the most remarkable pianists I’ve heard. Full of energy, he bursts on the scene, plays brilliantly, then often hurries off to catch a plane for the next performance. He’s constantly concerned that there’s not enough time to practice, yet he always seems to have a completely focused musical conception and impeccable accuracy.

    He has played from Baffin Island (OK, Atlanta) to Zimbabwe. And don’t forget Sarajevo.

    One thing that gives his music-making such an edge I believe, is that Parker is interested in the world beyond classical music, from Alanis (Morissette) to (Frank) Zappa. He is in awe of the late Oscar Peterson and loves the X-Files so much that he once used a theme from the show in a Mozart Concerto cadenza. Wish I had seen the faces of the orchestra members. As if he didn’t have enough to do, he’s also a brilliant transcriber/arranger. We’ve heard his arrangement of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in Portland before, and it’s a knockout.

    Looking at his schedule, I wonder how he has time to teach very much at Rice University’s Shepard School of Music. Yet one of our Portland young artists who entered Rice this past fall to study with him reports that he has never missed a lesson, and that it’s so exciting because he can play EVERYTHING! Judy Park, winner of numerous awards, is off to a grand start with Professor Parker in Houston. We need teachers who promote real living, and I can’t think of a better example than Jon Kimura Parker as artist and life-long explorer. He is a wonderful teacher, and you can see him in action at his master class on Saturday evening. See the PPI home page for details.

    I bet you can’t name another classical pianist who has been on the Disney Channel.

    This coming weekend the Oregon Symphony will present pianist Arnaldo Cohen playing Liszt’s Second Concerto in A Major. Those programs are on Saturday through Monday. Cohen is a huge talent, with a textural palate of immense variety. He will return to the Portland Piano International Series in the 2008-2009 season for a recital, but hear him with the Oregon Symphony if you can.

    Yet Another Blog

    Friday, February 8th, 2008

    “Just what the world needs, Dad, - another blog.” Those were my daughter’s words when I told her I would be discussing pianos and pianists as a part of Portland Piano International’s new website. With 40 to 60 million blogs online - and adding two every second of the day according to Technorati – no one knows exactly how many there are. And no one will even notice this addition to the online world unless they’re in love with the piano – the greatest of all instruments - its vast repertoire, and the remarkable artists who create, re-create and interpret the masterworks of the past and present.

    When we’re fully up and running you will find on this page:

    Links and audio clips of interest from all over the world

    Thoughts about pianists, especially artists you may hear in Portland in the not-too-distant future

    Comments and additions to the program notes for upcoming recitals

    You can access the current program notes on the artist’s page (Link to program notes) approximately one week prior to the recital. I’ve always felt it was a bit unfair to enter the hall five minutes before a concert and try to digest four pages of program notes (mostly in the dark) before the recital begins. So here’s your chance to browse the notes and comments prior to the recital, and even take the opportunity to listen to other artists’ recordings if you have the interest.

    And - this is very important - please offer your comments and suggestions. If you prefer to send comments privately rather than publicly on this blog, send an email to me at harold(at)portlandpiano(dot)org

    This site will be updated weekly, usually on Monday, and you may subscribe to updates by RSS if you want.

    I hope you enjoy exploring with me!

    Two amazing pianists perform in Portland next week. Stay in touch.

    Harold Gray