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Speaking of Pianists » 2008» June

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    Archive for June, 2008

    Love it or Hate it

    Sunday, June 29th, 2008

    Not all the reviewers were crazy about pianist Simone Dinnerstein’s recent recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Personally, I love it, but it certainly pushes beyond the boundaries. To quote a Gramophone article, “most critics have either absolutely adored it or loathed it.” But it did hit the Billboard Classical Chart in the first week of its release, a rare occurrence for an unknown artist. With 38 weeks on the list, it’s now at number 15.

    First there was the beer endorsement. Now the June 23rd New Yorker issue announces a recital at Le Poisson Rouge, a new performance space in the Village. The event features the “breakout pianist”, and she even has someone to “open” for her. Dinnerstein is definitely taking an unusual approach to her career, and it’s working.

    You can hear Fred Child telling part of Dinnerstein’s success story, and also part of the Philip Lasser piece she will perform in Portland on American Public Media’s Performance Today archives at:

    Simone Dinnerstein presents a recital on Saturday evening, July 19th, then works with students the next day in a master class. The featured works in the class are Haydn’s Sonata No. 62 and Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C minor, Op. 23 No. 7.

    For Portland International Piano Festival details, go to:

    Auf Wiedersehn

    Friday, June 27th, 2008

    That’s what pianist Jon Nakamatsu said he was going to tell his high school principal after winning the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997.

    At that time Jon was a high school German teacher, but overnight he became a hero of the classical music world.

    Jon’s wonderfully humorous Cliburn Foundation address about his musical journey should be required listening for all aspiring young pianists. In his “Loser’s Club” address, he tells it like it is, detailing the difficult road to success in piano competitions.

    Our series has presented over twenty prize winners of the Cliburn Competition since its inception in 1978, including Nakamatsu, and will sponsor two medalists of the up-coming 2009 Cliburn Competition. More information on that later.

    Jon’s program will be a great beginning to our 10th Annual Portland International Piano Festival series of recitals.

    Festival details at

    Check out Jon Nakamatsu’s You Tube address at:

    Life of the Party

    Thursday, June 26th, 2008

    Pianist Marino Formenti’s upcoming recital program in Portland is without a doubt the most unusual I’ve ever seen. It reads like a history of music, but condensed to fit in one evening. The program features music of Guillaume de Machaut (died, 1377, way before the piano was around) and through to György Kurtág (still living). Yes, Bach, Haydn, Schubert and Chopin, among others, are present. Did I say there were 69 pieces?

    The pieces are short, of course, but that’s not the most fascinating aspect of Formenti’s thinking. The recital program is titled “Kurtag’s Ghosts”.

    “One of the problems of concerts in the modern age is that people often have to come from the office … and they have all their quotidian concerns with them,” he says. “They come, and they get a place — row number whatever, seat whatever — and they have to sit down. It’s a little like factory chickens. And we say, ‘Now it’s time for art, for the ultimate revelation.’ Length is also a problem, the idea that you have to have 90 minutes of music. It’s like going to the gym. It’s a stiff form — too stiff for me.” (Formenti’s words)

    The following sentences are excerpted from Joshua Kosman’s two complete reviews in SF Gate (home of the San Francisco Chronicle) on April 15th and 17th of last year following Formenti’s recitals. The reviews are titled Life of the Party and A whole new way to do a recital.

    “It’s not every day you encounter a musical event that can honestly be described as unlike any other. Sunday’s extraordinary recital by pianist Marino Formenti was one.”

    “He presents “piano parties,” events lasting up to six hours in which guests eat, drink and socialize between musical interludes.”

    (Formenti’s) “program, titled “Kurtág’s Ghosts,” is studded with his explicitly labeled homages to his colleagues and predecessors.”

    “The guiding spirit behind Sunday’s recital….was György Kurtág, the 81-year-old Hungarian composer who is finally being recognized as one of the great and distinctive musical voices of our time.”

    “What James Joyce did for the novel, Formenti seems intent on doing for the piano recital. The results were unforgettable.”

    “Technically, he is a wizard, with a wealth of tone colors at his disposal, a huge dynamic range and the ability to get around the keyboard with terrifying accuracy and stamina.”

    “He is a unique artist, whose presentations should not be missed.”

    The Portland International Piano Festival begins in 18 days. Don’t miss this one.

    A Portland Favorite

    Wednesday, June 25th, 2008

    British pianist Paul Roberts has been a regular at the Portland International Piano Festival since its inception in 1999, and I might add, THE favorite. Unfortunately, due to scheduling conflicts with his annual workshop for pianists in France he will not be with us during the festival week this year.

    But his many fans will have a chance to hear him prior to the festival working with students in a master class.

    Paul has established an international reputation as an authority on the Impressionist period of music, but speaks about all music with a rare eloquence. A Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, Paul somehow manages to combine performance, teaching, and writing, plus regular international travel. I think all of us in Portland claim him as an honorary citizen!

    We will have copies of his new Phaidon Press biography, Claude Debussy, available for sale at the Festival. His first published book Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy (Amadeus Press) is a beautiful study of the music, poetry, and painting of the period.

    Paul approaches teaching with knowledge, humor, and a concern for the student’s learning. If you’ve never attended a master class, make this the one.

    The class at Sherman Clay/Moe’s Pianos in the Pearl, Tuesday, July 1 features works by Frédéric Chopin (his Impromptu No. 1 in A-flat Major, Op. 29, and Etude in C minor, Op. 10, No. 12), and Maurice Ravel’s Jeux d’Eau.

    Admission to the master class is included for Full-Week Passholders to the Festival, otherwise entrance is $20.

    See the Portland Piano International home page for other details.

    New Lang Lang adidas Originals

    Sunday, June 22nd, 2008

    Important news from an official adidas press release:

    “adidas Originals has created a unique pair of sneakers for the world-renowned Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The extremely stylish and music-linked limited edition of the successful adidas Originals iconic model Gazelle is worn by the artist himself. Furthermore, it allows all his fans to express and celebrate both their enthusiasm for Lang Lang and their very own originality in street fashion.”

    “The highly elegant black and golden Lang Lang special edition includes the Lang Lang name in Chinese at the heels as well as a silhouette of the pianist in typical concert pose. Moreover the inside of the sneaker links to Lang Lang’s music in having golden piano pedals printed on the sock liners.”

    “The Lang Lang Gazelle hits retail as a limited edition from June 2008 onwards. The shoes will be exclusively available at Originals and selected Sport Performance stores worldwide, retailing at a price of 85 € / 85 $.”

    I first read the story at Chris Foley’s excellent site, The Collaborative Piano Blog.

    Foley adds: “And above all, will other pianists follow Lang Lang’s lead? It’s not hard to imagine a world with other types of these shoes (ie. an Andreas Schiff Cole-Haan oxford, or the Nike Air Brendel.)”

    The full press release with photos is here if you’re interested:

    Lang Lang performs Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto with the Oregon Symphony in a special concert on October 3, 2008.

    Watch for those shoes.

    Chiu on This

    Friday, June 20th, 2008

    That’s the name of Frederick Chiu’s blog, now somewhat out of date due to his performance schedule. He stays busy with an amazing variety of music-making; solo, chamber and orchestral performances and even collaborations with actors.

    Before joining us in Portland, Chiu will be at the Mohonk Mountain House Festival of the Arts near New Paltz, New York. Next week he plays recitals in Argentina, Uruguay and Chile with violinist Joshua Bell.

    In my opinion, Chiu is one of the most fascinating pianists around. Not only is he a thrilling performer – check out his complete Prokofiev solo recordings - but he brings a fresh voice to the art of teaching. His workshops, Deeper Piano Studies, bring together pianists from around the world to study aspects of piano playing usually left uncovered.

    Chiu believes that “the piano ranks among the most influential inventions in human history, on a level with the printing press and the Internet.”

    “Easy-to-play? The piano is just a series of buttons with preset notes. You can play it with a finger, a nose (as Mozart did in one of his pieces!) or the tip of an umbrella — not to mention the varied ways of playing the piano on the inside — strumming the strings themselves.”

    In Portland, Chiu will guide the audience in learning a piano piece away from the instrument. In a recent seminar at the New England Conservatory, Frederick taught a work by Schumann and had someone in the audience perform it from memory without having ever played it.

    Frederick Chiu presents the final recital in this summer’s Portland International Piano Festival on Sunday, July 20th. His program concludes with Franz Liszt’s transcription of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, rarely heard, and a great ending to the Festival.

    View the complete Festival schedule at: - click on Summer Festival, and check back here for more previews of the Portland International Piano Festival, July 12-20.

    Portland Pianist at Bachauer Competition

    Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

    Portland pianist Stephanie Cai performed works by Beethoven, Brahms and Rachmaninoff in her first round yesterday at the Gina Bachauer International Junior Piano Competition. The contest is being held June 16-21 in Salt Lake City, and is one of the most important events for pianists in the United States. There are thirty-three contestants in the Junior Competition (ages 11-13) representing ten countries. Only ten competitors are from the United States.

    Stephanie writes that “it was very thrilling and fun. I got the opportunity to feel like a real concert pianist!”

    From her report it sounds like a very successful beginning, and our best wishes go out to Stephanie for her Thursday performance in the second round.

    The Young Artist Competition for ages 14-18 will be held beginning June 23. Karsten Gimre of Portland is one of the 30 pianists chosen to compete in that division.

    For more information on the Gina Bachauer Competitions, go to

    Piano Frenzy

    Saturday, June 14th, 2008

    The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story recently about the resurgence of classical music study in China. According to the piece, “Chinese parents urge their children to excel at instrumental music with the same ferocity that American parents (urge) theirs to perform well in soccer or Little League.” An estimated 40 million children in China take piano lessons, and piano sales there - the strongest in the world - amount to 200,000 a year.

    “We call it ‘piano fever,’ ” said Liang Maochun, a professor of musicology at Beijing’s Central Conservatory of Music. Students who graduate from high school with a “special ability” such as playing classical music have an edge when applying to college.

    Piano study seems to offer students of all ages many advantages, a fact recognized and studied by an increasing number of scientists and educators.

    Portland is about to experience its own “piano frenzy” in a few weeks. The Portland International Piano Festival brings some of the world’s finest artists to our community from July 12th through July 20th. The five recitals presented during the event feature music from Machaut (died 1377) through Kurtag (born 1926). The Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary in July, has its home in the beautiful World Forestry Center near the Oregon Zoo and the Children’s Museum.

    Watch this space beginning next week for previews of the Festival.

    For complete details visit

    Strangest piano headline of the week – from Rome:

    “Italian MPs play politics like a piano”

    Several members of the Italian Parliament have been caught on camera voting not only using their own voting console but also any voting console nearby that is free. The nimble action resembles playing the piano, hence the name.

    “It’s a real disgrace that has to stop,” said Gianfranco Fini, the speaker of the lower house. “These pianists are casting a shadow over all of our work,” he added.