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Speaking of Pianists

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    Montreal Competition Winner in Recital

    January 5th, 2011

    Armenian Pianist Nareh Arghamanyan will present a recital in the Newmark Theater on Sunday afternoon, January 16th at 4:00. Noted critic Harris Goldsmith wrote about her recent New York performance that “virtually every pianophile in New York had heard the buzz.” He also said that “This was one of the most remarkable concerts I have heard from an unheralded young artist.”


    For information and tickets, go to

    Andrew Brownell Returns to Portland

    December 5th, 2010

    Since his 2nd Prize finish at the 2006 Leeds International Piano Competition, Andrew Brownell has played to full houses and glowing reviews across North America and Europe, and press regularly remark on his musical integrity, beauty of tone, and scholarly insight. Musical Opinion wrote recently,“Brownell’s technique is fabulous, as is his innate musicianship, sensitive and powerful.” The London Times remarked that Brownell “oozed confidence, crispness, and know-how” in concert with the Hallé. Andrew Brownell won 2nd Prize ex aequo at the 2002 International J.S. Bach Competition in Leipzig, making him the only American pianist to have ever won a prize in the history of the competition. He also won 1st Prize at the 2005 J. N. Hummel Competition in Bratislava, has since achieved widespread recognition as “one of the foremost Hummel interpreters of our time” (Hudobný Život), and is an honorary member of the Hummel Gesellschaft in Weimar.


    Highlights for the current season include a return engagement with the Hummel Ensemble at Kings Place in London, ongoing collaboration with the Wihan Quartet, world premieres of works by Pierre Thilloy and Bryan Kelly, and concerts throughout Europe and the United States on modern and historical keyboard instruments. Mr. Brownell’s performances have aired on BBC radio and television, Classic FM (UK), NPR, CBC, Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk, and Slovak Radio. He has been soloist with orchestras such as the Hallé, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Slovak Philharmonic, and the Hermitage State Orchestra (Russia); and he has collaborated with such conductors as Sir Mark Elder, Owain Arwel Hughes CBE, and Murray Sidlin.


    A native of Portland, Oregon, Andrew Brownell began studying the piano at the age of four. His teachers have included Florence Chino in Portland, Nancy Weems and Horacio Gutiérrez at the University of Houston; John Perry at the University of Southern California (Los Angeles); and Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music in London, where he earned his doctorate and remains this year as an early keyboard fellow. An enthusiastic collaborative artist, Andrew Brownell was a member of a prize-winning trio at the 1996 Fischoff Chamber Music Competition (USA). Also an accomplished organist, Mr. Brownell was formerly assistant organist at St. James’ Episcopal Church, Los Angeles, and was recently made a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists.


    Andrew Brownell performs works of Beethoven, Schumann and Prokofiev on Sunday, December 12, at the Newmark Theater at 4:00 p.m.

    Details at


    November 26th, 2010


    Dame Myra Hess made her debut in 1907 at the age 17 playing Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto with Sir Thomas Beecham. She made her American debut in 1922 in New York. Although she had several teachers, she considered Tobias Matthay to be her principal influence. 


    Hess’s greatest fame came during World War II when she organized a series of concerts at the National Gallery in London. There were eventually 1,700 concerts, with Hess performing in 150 of them.  The programs were extremely helpful in maintaining the morale of Londoners in a period when they were bombarded daily by the Germans. For her contributions during the war, King George VI named her a Dame Commander of the British Empire.  


    Although she was a wonderful pianist and had a wide-ranging repertoire, she is best known today for her beautiful transcription of Bach’s “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”, known in English as “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”


    Here is Hess playing her well-known transcription.


    The Chicago Cultural Center started a series named in honor of Hess in 1977. The weekly  concerts are broadcast live, or you can listen streamed at


    The Story of James Rhodes

    November 24th, 2010



     “I think I’ve done a kind of reverse Amy Winehouse. I might even cut my hair soon.”


    British pianist James Rhodes has become quite a phenomenon in the United Kingdom classical music scene. His story is a “rags to riches” - no - more like a redemption story.  Self-taught, James has inspired many people, but most importantly, himself. He is the first classical artist to be picked up by the Warner Brothers label, hardly a bastion of classical music.


    Here is the link to the complete Independent story.




    Portland Piano International presents Andrew Brownell in recital on December 12th at 4:00 p.m. at the Newmark Theater.




    Achucarro Opens 33rd Season of Portland Piano

    October 6th, 2010

    Spanish pianist Joaquin Achucarro opens another season of great piano music in Portland next Sunday, October 10th at 4:00 in the Newmark Theater. We hope you will join us to hear this master of the keyboard and to celebrate the inaugural recital of our 33rd season!

    Listen to Achucarro’s recording of the Chopin Prelude in Bb minor, Op. 28 in this recent performance here.

    Following on the success of his recent DVD of Brahms First Concerto with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony, Mr. Achucarro is in the process of completing another Opus Arte DVD.   The orchestral portion with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic has already been filmed this month in Berlin, and the recital portion in the Teatro Real in Madrid is to be filmed on October 7, three days before his Portland Piano International appearance. For that reason that it was necessary to cancel his master class in Portland that was originally scheduled for the afternoon of October 9.

    For more information about this legend of the keyboard, visit his page at Barrett Vantage Artists here.

    “Clearly, there is enough here to heartily recommend this DVD by a man who, with the recent passing of Alicia de Larrocha, is probably the leading pianist from Spain.” Robert Cummings, Classical Net

    For complete season details about “one of this city’s musical treasures” (The Oregonian), visit Portland Piano’s website here.

    The Festival Begins

    July 10th, 2010

    What:   Portland international piano festival



    Who:         Di Wu, Jenny Lin, Edward Auer, Susan Alexjander,  

                       Angela Cheng, Ingrid Clarfield, Paul Roberts, Hans Boepple,

                       Ann Chang, Andrius Zlabys


    When:       July 11-18


    Where:     World Forestry Center, Portland, Oregon


    Details:   The twelfth annual Portland International Piano Festival

                      will feature 10 artists in 5 recitals, 6 lectures,

                      14 master classes, 3 films, and a composition workshop.


    More information at



    Become an Instant Composer!

    July 1st, 2010

    The Portland International Piano Festival opens on Sunday afternoon, July 11th at The World Forestry Center in Portland, Oregon. Lots of wonderful music and learning will take place during that week.


    One of the sessions I’m really looking forward to will take place on Wednesday morning of that week when pianist Jenny Lin talks about “The 11th Finger”.  Jenny is not only a terrific pianist, but also a great communicator and advocate for new music.  Although her recital the previous evening isn’t exactly filled with “new” music - the Shostakovitch Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87, were written in the early ’50s - her talk on the following morning will delve into the requirements for pianists who want to pursue the music of our time.


    Here’s where you, the composer, come in.  Jenny performed pieces by Jason Freeman at Spivey Hall in Atlanta, Georgia, this past April.  You can read about that here and especially here, so that you can submit a fragment for Jenny to play in Portland.  All the information is there. It’s up to you to explore and enjoy!


    For information about the Festival, check our website here.




    Phyllis Chen discusses what attracted her to the toy piano

    May 29th, 2010

    About ten years ago, I was visiting a puppet theatre workroom in Chicago when I saw a toy piano that was being used as a set piece. I touched a plastic key and it was love-at-first-sound. I was always interested exploring extended piano techniques and it seem that my curiosity for new keyboard sounds stretched so far that it brought me to the toy piano.

    It seem very refreshing–There wasn’t a long formal history for the instrument and there were no formulaic ideas on how it should sound or be played. But there are quite a lot of associations based on how it looks. A toy piano isn’t completely a toy because it is a piano, yet it doesn’t look completely like a concert instrument or a folk instrument. The size of the instrument makes people think of childhood, but the naive appearance does not match the out-of-tune and sometimes creepy-sound. (In fact, many people have told me that the sound of a toy piano reminds them of music in horror films.) It was the most border-bending instrument that I had come across.

    Invented in 1872 by Albus Schoenhut, the toy piano was created mostly as an educational toy for children. It wasn’t until John Cage’s seminal work “Suite for Toy Piano” (1947) that single-handedly turned this child’s toy into a concert instrument. Since then, composers have used it more frequently,most notably in George Crumb’s chamber work, “Ancient Voices of Children.” With it’s short history, the instrument is still quite elusive and is finding it’s own language. I am constantly drawn to the idiosyncratic nature of the toy piano, realizing that the most expressive qualities are just noises from the simplicity of the mechanics.

    I have been told that the toy piano sounds like bells, windchimes, a harpsichord, koto, kalimba, xylophone, harp, gamelan, grandfather clock, a cell phone, music box, and many other things (but never a piano.) The chameleon-like nature of the instrument is what constantly keeps me interested and curious to know what will come next–and hopefully, one day people will know the toy piano for sounding like a toy piano!

    Written by Phyllis Chen

    On Teaching: A letter from a colleague

    April 8th, 2010

    Dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.  One man, a proud CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. 

    He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?  You know what they say about teachers: ‘Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, teach.’” To stress his point he said to another guest, “You’re a teacher, Bonnie.  Be honest.  What do you make?”

    Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, “You want to know what I make?  Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.  I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.  I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can’t make them sit for 5 without an I Pod, Game Cube or movie rental.” 

    “You want to know what I make?” She paused and looked at each person at the table.  ”I make kids wonder.  I make them question.  I make them apologize and mean it.  I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.  I teach them to write and then I make them write.  Keyboarding isn’t everything.  I make them read, read, read.”

    “I make them show all their work in math.  They use their God given brain, not the man-made calculator.  I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.  I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.  I make my students say the Pledge of Allegiance, because we live in the United States of America.  Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life.”

    “Then when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant.  You want to know what I make?  I MAKE A DIFFERENCE .  What do you make Mr. CEO?” His jaw dropped, he went silent.

    Links and Quotes: January 30 - February 11

    February 18th, 2010

    Sound samples from the great Swedish pianist Fredrik Ullen’s CD “Got a Minute?”


    Fishko File Extra: Pianist Garrick Ohlsson’s Breakthrough: Thanks Sara Fishko:


    Yes, “…and How About Jakob Gimpel?” Thanks to “Aphorisms” author for the question.


    “He’s a very paradoxical figure, in that almost anything you can say about him can be refuted by something else.” Tim Page, on Glenn Gould


    Sony wins Lang Lang - Big stakes for all - he gets 3 million dollar prize:


    Quite a day for Lang Lang: Bombardier also makes him an associate:


    “All sound is produced by movement. When you hear a sound, it is because something has moved.” Robert Zatorre, neuropsychologist.


    Rising talent, Alice Sara Ott plays Chopin on stunning new DG disc of Complete Waltzes.


    Horowitz (Vladimir) explained by Horowitz (Joe) and Horowitz (Bernie):


    Happy Birthday Felix Mendelssohn. Interesting NPR story about his “lost works” here


    Facing the Music: Anne Midgette on classical CD sales (discouraging)


    Giving audiences what they want - Anne Midgett’s thoughts:


    Some unpleasant issues from the past: Cortot and the Vichy administration (Irish Times)


    Barenboim/Beethoven Concerto #4: “gruff humour, brilliance, and pathos”


    Alex Ross’ “downward trend in generational participation”. “..the graph, in all its scary glory.”


    “Of course, what’s great about music is that it doesn’t have words.” Menahem Pressler.


    George Benjamin’s “Piano Figures” Limited Edition CD to be released - only 100 copies:


    Casals & the Art of Interpretation: “Intonation is a question of conscience.”


    Daniel Barenboim in conversation with Stanley Dodds [video]


    Birthday of one of our great 20th century pianists, Claudio Arrau León (b. February 6, 1903)


    Beautiful clip from Ionarts: The Chopin in Alexandre Tharaud’s Head:


    Yale pianist Donald Currier dies at 91


    A few words about stage fright, applause and Facebook from Garrick Ohlsson


    The great Maria Joao Pires: “giving up concert life for good to help the children of Brazil”


    Stephen Hough discusses the all-important “finger pedal”.


    Is the virtuoso pianist a dying breed?


    A short clip to enjoy: “Dinnerstein on Bach, the Goldberg, and more”


    Boris Berman on “Unearthing Prokofiev: NPR story:


    Stephen Scott’s wonderful piece - “Entrada” - played inside the piano! Watch and listen here:


    A Chopin celebration at Eastman, complete with letters:


    It’s not the technique that makes the music; it’s the sensitivity of the musician… Herbie Hancock


    Remembering Pianist Earl Wild : NPR


    ..playing the works of a composer/pianist who so hated the business of performance. Chopin’s Year!


    Interested in Chopin this year? follow Christine Stevenson’s blog at