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    Archive for July, 2008

    Year of the Woman

    Sunday, July 27th, 2008

    Make that plural. Next season’s Portland Piano International Recital Series features four of the great young women pianists. Gabriela Montero, Polina Leschenko, Olga Kern and Ingrid Fliter will perform in Portland’s Newmark Theater.

    Check here beginning in September for previews of next season’s artists and programs.

    And speaking of pianists, follow this link to read about a series that features only women artists. id=15&id=142&Itemid=282

    Poems of the Sea

    Thursday, July 24th, 2008

    Today, July 24th, is composer Ernest Bloch’s birthday. Although he was born in Europe and lived there from his birth in 1880 until 1916 when he moved to the United States, Oregonians love to claim him as one of their own. He lived in Agate Beach on the Oregon coast from 1941 until his death in 1959 at the age of 78.

    Bloch held some of the most important posts in the nation, including the position as the first Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music, and later the Director of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. His students include the composers George Antheil and Roger Sessions.

    Although he wrote ten works for solo piano, only a few remain popular. I’ve taught his Poems of The Sea (1922) many times. They are a model of late romantic piano music, and challenge the pianist to use a broad palette of colors. Other chamber works using the piano are probably even better known. His Suite Hebraique and Concerto Grosso are performed often.


    Monday, July 21st, 2008

    The Tenth Portland International Piano Festival has come to an end. Thanks to Hans Boepple, Frederick Chiu, Anthony de Mare, Simone Dinnerstein, Randall Faber, Marino Formenti, Stephen Mayer, Jon Nakamatsu, William Chapman Nyaho and Robert Schwartz for making the festival one of the best ever.

    Oregonian reviews of the Formenti and Dinnerstein recitals are available at s_with_pia.html
    and lays_with.html

    For those still in need of regular hits of piano music, the Verbier Festival opened Friday in Switzerland. Saturday evening’s recital featured Russian pianist Boris Berezovsky in a program of Schumann, Liszt, Chopin and Rachmaninoff.

    Live and archived performances are available at

    Breaking the Rules

    Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

    Definitely not your usual route to success. The New York Times archives have a few earlier references to pianist Simone Dinnerstein, but the big break came less than a year ago. Anne Midgett’s August 28, 2007 story, How Do You Move a Career Into High Gear? By Breaking the Rules, was the first real news about her major career.

    That career is marked by an entirely different approach to making connections. There are no major competition prizes, and that alone is unusual these days.

    I also don’t know a lot of musicians with MySpace pages, although I imagine they’re out there. But Simone Dinnerstein has (at last count) 2237 “Friends” on that social network. Actually, I wouldn’t mind having some of her friends. Evgeny Kissin, for example, and even David Byrne, John Adams, and Sting (I always wondered what happened to his first name). There are many more, then moving on to lots of fairly strange people that, I bet, are not really her friends.

    And do you think Barenboim or Brendel would keep a “favorites list” on Amazon? I stumbled upon her “Music You Should Hear” list, and no, it’s not Bach, and Brahms. In fact, there are no classical piano works on the list. A couple of great singers make the cut, plus Mendelssohn and Beethoven Violin Concertos (Furtwangler and Menuhin). The closest we get to Bach are the arrangements/paraphrases/inspirations on the Goldberg Variations by jazz great Uri Caine (one of my personal favorites, although it’s certainly not for everyone).

    Dinnerstein will play Copland’s thorny Piano Variations, a work that should be in our standard repertoire, but in fact is rarely performed. It has been played once in Portland Piano International’s history, by Marian Hahn, in 1978. Come to the recital if only to hear this great American work.

    The Variations are austere, and that may be a kind word. Leonard Bernstein loved the work, but admitted it was “hard as nails” and said when he played it at parties he could “empty the room, guaranteed, in two minutes.”

    Not necessarily easy listening, especially since we only hear it every thirty years. It’s still a great piece, and regarded as one of the most significant works of modern piano literature.

    Martha Graham choreographed the Piano Variations, calling it Dithyrambic, evoking Dionysus. That version was quite successful.

    Simone will be coming to us from the Festival Del Sole Napa in Calistoga, California, where she plays on Thursday evening.

    James Bash’s recent interview with Dinnerstein is on his blog, Northwest Reverb:

    The Portland International Piano Festival runs through Sunday, July 20th. Details at

    Happy Birthday

    Monday, July 14th, 2008

    Composer and pianist Frederic Rzewski celebrated his 70th birthday this past April, and marked the week with concerts at both the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and Carnegie Hall.

    The Portland International Piano Festival features pianists Anthony de Mare and Stephen Mayer in a recital Thursday evening July 17, continuing the honors to Rzewski.

    As Daniel R. Gustin, Director of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival, tells Matthew Gurewitsch of the New York Times,

    “Rzewski is in the line of the great pianist-composers like Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn … He’s a bit of a maverick, which is fun, and it’s hard to pin him down as to style and approach. But his piano works connect to the great pianistic tradition.”

    To read the New York Times article, visit: =Matthew+Gurewitsch+&st=nyt&oref=slogin

    For more information about the Portland International Piano Festival, go to

    The Next Cliburn Generation

    Sunday, July 13th, 2008

    Pianists and piano lovers from all over the world will converge on Fort Worth, Texas next May to participate in one of the world’s most important piano events, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

    Past winners are some of the most familiar names in the world of classical music: Radu Lupu, Christopher O’Riley, Andre-Michel Schub, Barry Douglas, Jon Nakamatsu, Christopher Taylor, Olga Kern, Antonio Pompa-Baldi, to name only a few.

    A group of thirty patrons from Portland Piano International made the journey four years ago to the twelfth competition. It was an amazing experience for everyone on the trip. We heard so much wonderful music and fell in love with so many different personalities and styles. It was a once in a lifetime experience.

    Well, almost. Next May we will once again attend the semi-finals of the quadrennial competition to make our personal judgments about the obvious prize winners. The semi-final round consists of a solo recital and a chamber music performance (with the remarkable Takacs Quartet) from each of the 12 winners of the first round. Our opinions varied wildly last time, and that will probably be the case at the upcoming Thirteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

    Your opportunity to join the popular expedition is now open. Only 45 spaces are available; expect those to disappear fast.

    Go to for details.

    Impossible to Play!

    Tuesday, July 8th, 2008

    Robert Schwartz has been hailed by Hugh Wolff of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra as “one of the finest pianists of his generation.”

    Schwartz tackles the complexities of Isaac Albeniz’ Iberia, one of the great works in our repertoire, next week at the Portland International Piano Festival.

    Albeniz was a virtuoso pianist, and this is reflected throughout this complex work. At one point he even considered destroying the manuscript, fearing it was impossible to play. Olivier Messiaen described Iberia as ‘the masterpiece of Spanish music’.

    “…Mr. Schwartz demonstrated his insight, flawless keyboard wizardry, musical introspection, and gifted artistry.
    Robert Schwartz is a pianist NOT to be missed!”
    (Josef Sekon, Watsonville Register-Pajaronian)

    Join us beginning Saturday, July 12, for a “Piano Frenzy” at the Portland International Piano Festival. Details at:

    Being in the Present Moment

    Sunday, July 6th, 2008

    Pianist William Chapman Nyaho points out that American composer Steve Reich studied in Ghana for a time, and that much of his idea about “minimalism” derives from African rhythms; rhythms that keep us in the present moment.

    Nyaho will perform and discuss some of this music at the Portland International Piano Festival, July 12-20 in Portland, Oregon.

    In an interview on WNYC this past spring, Nyaho talked about his recent discoveries. At a conference on African pianism in 1999, he realized he was unaware of the wealth of piano music from his homeland. “What just really blew me away” he said, “was the quantity and quality of the music that was available.” Nyaho is in the process of filling a void in our classical music world by publishing five volumes of Music from the African Diaspora. The editions are published by the Oxford University Press.

    You can access clips from some of the original music found on Nyaho’s CD SENKU: Piano Music by Composers of African Descent at the web site here:

    “… Nyaho’s gripping performances kept my ears glued to this disc.”
    Gramophone Magazine.

    For details of Nyaho’s performance and master class at the Portland International Piano Festival, please go to:

    I’ve heard wonderful reports about pianist William Chapman Nyaho’s performances and teaching, and look forward to his visit with us in Portland.

    I discovered the WNYC interview thanks to Chris Foley at The Collaborative Piano Blog, which has excellent information on classical music, chamber music, teaching and technology. Chris is on vacation at the moment, but you may visit him here if you’re interested:

    Jammin’ Tigers

    Friday, July 4th, 2008

    The works of Art Tatum and Frederick Rzewski, both virtuoso performers and composers, will be featured in a recital Thursday evening, July 17, at the Portland International Piano Festival. Pianists Anthony de Mare and Steven Mayer are the guest artists in this unusual program.

    Arthur Tatum, Jr., born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, was an amazing talent; he could play almost anything. Quite a feat, since he was almost completely blind by the age of four.

    Tatum was a self-taught musician whose creativity and technique was praised both by Vladimir Horowitz and jazz great Oscar Peterson. Horowitz supposedly said that if Art Tatum ever took up classical music seriously, he would quit the next day. I’m not sure if this is apocryphal or not, but Horowitz certainly understood Tatum’s genius.

    Tatum idolized Fats Waller, so he listened to piano rolls, phonograph recordings and radio broadcasts to imitate the music he heard.

    What he didn’t realize was that sometimes he was listening to a recording by two pianists. He simply learned both parts and played them simultaneously. He learned them so well that years later, when jazz artist Oscar Peterson heard Art playing, he thought there were actually two people playing.

    Critic Scott Yanow summed it up well: “Art Tatum’s recordings still have the ability to scare modern pianists.”

    Watch those fingers move, playing Yesterdays, at:

    The focus of Thursday evening’s recital featuring virtuoso pianists Anthony de Mare and Steven Mayer will be works of Tatum and Rzewski (pronounced “zheff-skee”), but we’ll also be treated to works by Arnold Schoenberg, Leonard Bernstein, plus one of our first great American composers and pianists, Louis Moreau Gottschalk.

    Details of the week-long festival at

    Our Young Artists

    Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

    Portland’s Esperanza Spalding, a hot item in the jazz scene and a former Portland State University student, made her network television debut on David Letterman’s show last night. I’m quoting Band Leader Paul Shaffer, who said “This is the coolest act we’ve ever had on this show.” That’s quite a statement coming from a national show of 26 years (OK, a slight change of show names).

    I bring this up because Portland has incredible talents. Esperanza in the jazz world, but also loads of young talents in the classical world. In the past few weeks Portland pianists have competed in the Gina Bachauer Competition and the New York Piano Competition. And Andrew Brownell is in town this week. Andrew was second place prize winner in the prestigious Leeds Piano Competition, one of the most important events for pianists in the world.

    A master class last evening with pianist Paul Roberts featured three fine talents from Portland, ages 10 to 22.

    This means we have the teachers and the environment to nurture these students. Now we need to continue finding ways to expand our support for these young artists and to continue advocating for the arts in our schools.

    You can hear more of these terrific young talents at the upcoming Portland International Piano Festival, beginning July 12 with a master class led by Jon Nakamatsu.