The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Pianist Ingrid Fliter talks about sexism in the concert world and discusses the difficulty of playing the music of Chopin, which she specializes in and will perform this coming weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

February 9, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

It is hard to imagine a more fitting program for Valentine’s Day weekend than the one that the Madison Symphony Orchestra will perform.

The program, to be performed under the baton of MSO music director John DeMain, includes the Piano Concerto No. 2 by Frederic Chopin with the prestigious Gilmore Prize-winning pianist Ingrid Fliter (below); the Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann, an arch-Romantic; and the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge by British composer Benjamin Britten, who was a student of Bridge.

ingrid fliter with keyboard

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Performances are in Overture Hall in the Overture Center. Times are Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12-$84.

But until midnight this Tuesday, there is a special Valentine’s Day deal of two tickets for the price of one going on. For details, got to http://www.overturecenter.org/events/fliter-plays-chopin or call the Overture Center Box Office at (608) 258-4141.

Fliter recently agreed to an email Q&A with The Ear:

Ingrid Fliter close up

Can you briefly introduce yourself to readers who may not know you? What are your current and future plans and projects?

I’m an Argentinian pianist. I live in Italy in Lake Como for many years now. I consider myself an art lover. I do believe art can be life-changing to people. And that’s what I concentrate on doing when I perform: To bring happiness and inspiration to audiences.

Do you think the professional concert world treats women differently? Or has the sexism of past eras improved in your experience?

I do believe sexism in art still exists among presenters, conductors, agents, people in general, etc. The phrase “She plays like a man!” is heard more often than wanted. And it is amazing to see that even women can be sexists towards other women as well by accepting certain prejudices imposed by obsolete cultural traditions.

However I do believe women have the power to keep changing that mentality by showing the world and, more importantly themselves that they can do as well (or better) as anyone else.

You known especially as a specialist in Chopin (below), whose music you will play here. What makes Chopin so unique and so popular?

Chopin is a composer who speaks directly to the heart of people. Like a dear friend who shares with us his deepest secrets of life, his music is intimate and personal. He doesn’t describe landscapes or tell stories. He speaks about human feelings and people feel represented and touched by the beauty he creates. He enhances harmony and enriches people’s life.

Recently, Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes said Chopin is more difficult to play successfully than Beethoven. What are the elements of great Chopin playing that make his music so challenging to the performer?

I can agree with this. Chopin is one of the most difficult composers to play. His Romanticism is not obvious and it is very important  — and hard — to find a right balance between his Romantic soul and his Classical expression.

Also, the importance of making the piano sing as a singer would do is deeply challenging because it means fighting against the nature of the piano, which is a percussive instrument.

But more importantly, Chopin (below) requires from us all our senses completely in balance and in harmony with nature. We cannot allow our body to be tensed or our heart to be arid when we play Chopin. His music will always be a mirror of our soul and will reflect our inner world, totally naked.

Chopinphoto

You will perform Piano Concerto No. 2 over Valentine’s Day weekend. It seems a perfect choice for the occasion. What would you like the audience to know about the Piano Concerto No. 2, especially as compared to No. 1, which was composed later?

This concerto is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. The poetry, the beauty, the perfection of form and level of maturity reached by this 18-year-old teenager are simply astonishing and revealing.

This music is irresistible and seductive. Let yourself be embraced by the perfumes and textures he creates and you’ll be taken into a wonderful world, a world you would never want to come back from. Special attention goes to the marvelous second movement with its beautiful melodic lines, which might bring a little tear to your eyes. (You can hear the second movement, performed by pianist Arthur Rubinstein with the London Philharmonic under conductor-composer Andre Previn in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

You have performed in Madison before in a recital at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Do you have an opinion about Madison and its audiences?

I have the best memories from Madison and its public, and I’m looking forward to our next encounter!

Was there an Aha Moment! – a piece or performance or performer – when you knew you wanted to be a professional concert pianist?

I was 16 years old and playing the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven for the first time with the orchestra at the Teatro Colon (below) in Buenos Aires. The hall was packed and the atmosphere was febrile. I remember my feeling of total joy knowing I was about to perform that concerto for all those people. I felt in the right moment in the right place.

Teatro Colon interior

How do you think can we get more young people interested in classical music?

Education, education, education. We must show young people classical music is theirs as well, not something old that belongs to museums.

Music is a vehicle of human expression and this is what we, as educators, parents, need to inculcate since the very beginning. So, parents have to be educated as well.

Music in school shouldn’t be the “free time” classroom, but should be taken as a moment of spiritual joy and recreation. Parents should listen to classical music at home, and share their feelings that music brings with their children.

Also, we should bring classical music into more deconstructed environments outside concert halls, in houses, bars, airports, parks. (Below is the Madison chapter of Classical Revolution performing chamber music in a bar.)

Classical Revolution Madison

 


Classical music: Learn about – and listen to Rafal Blechacz –- the talented Polish pianist who is the 2014 winner of the unusual Irving S. Gilmore Foundation. Plus, Trevor Stephenson will play a house concert of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Bartok this Sunday afternoon.

January 10, 2014
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REMINDER: Madison keyboardist Trevor Stephenson writes: “On this Sunday afternoon, Jan. 12, at 3 p.m., I’ll play a fortepiano house concert at my home at 5729 Forsythia Place on the west side of music ranging from Haydn to Bartok. (I know that Bartok is not usual fare on the fortepiano—but the other day I was reading through his Romanian Folk Dances at the fortepiano and was simply stunned by how energetic they sounded—since the style of these comes largely from cimbalom playing (Romanian hammer dulcimer, and the fortepiano is really a hammer dulcimer in a tuxedo). So this really makes perfect sense. The concert will also feature Mozart’s charming variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” Beethoven’s “Pathetique” Sonata, Op. 13, two Mazurkas by Chopin, and Haydn’s waggish Sonata No. 23 in F major. Sweet and savory treats, drinks, and will be wine served. Admission is $35. Reservations are required: email trevor@trevorstephenson.com or (608) 238-6092.

House music 2 in the round

By Jacob Stockinger

It happens once every four years.

The contestants for the unusual Gilmore competition,which is based in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for classical pianists don’t even know that they are in the running. Unlike other major competitions like the Tchaikovsky, the Van Cliburn, the Arthur Rubinstein and the Chopin, in the Gilmore the anonymous judges follow an individual’s career over a period of time and then choose the “winner.”

This year’s winner in the polish pianist Rafal Blechacz (below), who has already won the Chopin competition at 20 – the first Polish pianist to do so in 20 years, he also took all the gold medals in individual categories and was so good that no second prize was awarded. He has recorded half a dozen acclaimed CDs of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy, Karol Szymanowski and Claude Debussy and of course Chopin for Deutsche Grammophon.

Rafal Blechacz DG

The year’s recipient has been all over the airwaves and the web, so here is everything you may want to know about Rafal Blechacz plus his inaugural concert as the winner that was streamed live Wednesday night by famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City, which then archived it for those of who missed the live event.

Here is the official announcement:

http://www.thegilmore.org

Here is an candid and cordial interview done by Tom Huizenga and NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog that was broadcast on “All Things Considered”:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/01/06/260276435/cachet-and-cash-for-rafa-blechacz-named-2014-gilmore-artist

Here is the announcement in a story in The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/08/arts/music/rafal-blechacz-is-chosen-for-gilmore-artist-award.html

Archived video of his sold-out concert Wednesday at the Greene Space that can be found at WQXR. No one listed the program even though it was live-streamed – but instead announced the works AFTER they were played.

That is too teasing for my taste, whether it is done on WQXR or on Wisconsin Public Radio. Can we please have the pieces to be played up front before the performance and then again after the performance?

The program included a Chopin waltz (the soulful valse triste in A Minor, Op. 34, No 2) and the two Op. 40 Polonaises the “Military” Polonaise and one in C minor;  the Largo slow movement Beethoven’s Sonata in D, Op. 10, No. 3, and the scherzo from the same composer’s Sonata in A Major, Op. 2, No. 2;  the spirited first movement from Mozart’s Sonata in D Major, K. 311; and Debussy’s “Clair de Lune.”

All works except the Debussy and the Chopin waltz are available on recordings. (But you can hear a YouTube video of Blechacz playing the three waltzes of Op. 64, including the famous “Minute” Waltz, at the bottom.)

In the broadcast, Dan Gustin, head of the Gilmore Foundation, speaks about the unusual award, as does the last 2010 winner Kirill Gerstein, who uses Skype. Here is the link:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/webcast-2014-gilmore-artist-award-announcement/

Some of the Gilmore winners seem to disappoint and peter out. I keep expecting to hear big things from the very talented Argentinian Ingrid Fliter, for example, but no such luck. Rafal Blechacz, on the other hand, seems more likely to follow the path of  Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, who is perhaps the Gilmore winner who has maintained the highest profile and had the biggest career.


Classical music: Here are the two young pianists and new winners of the Gilmore Young Artists Piano Competition for 2014. Andrew Hsu and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner joins the ranks of Christopher Taylor, Jonathan Biss, Yuja Wang and Leif Ove Andsnes.

September 1, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

Today is a day to catch up of some classical music news.

So here is a story about the two new winners of the Gilmore Competition for young pianists, which takes place every two years. (Every four years, an older Gilmore Artist is named and given a $300,000 prize. That will take place again in 2014.)

Each Gilmore Young Artist receives a $15,000 stipend to further their musical career and educational development, as well as $10,000 to commission a new piano composition for which the artist will have exclusive performance rights for one year. The award is strictly monetary and advisory, and does not involve managerial assistance from the Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival.

gilmore logo

This year’s winners, nominated by professional musicians, are Andrew Hsu, (below top, in a photo by Pete Checchi), who is  a 19-year-old graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia at in a YouTube video at the bottom performing American composer Charles Tomlinson Griffes‘ “Roman Sketches.”; and Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner, who is a 16-year-old student currently attending the Juilliard School in New York City and who plays the fourth movement, a fugue, from Samuel Barber’s piano sonata in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Andrew Hsu Gilmore cr Pete Checchi

Llewellyn Sanchez-Werner

The Gilmore Young Artist awards are important to me on several counts.

One is that one of the 30 previous winners is Christopher Taylor, the acclaimed pianist-professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who is much is demand as a recitalist and concerto soloist.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

The Ear also likes the competition because it is conducted in such an unusual manner.

Professional judges follow and track various nominees, and then decide. Candidates are unaware they are under consideration. There in NO face-to-face competition, as usually happens with the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein, Chopin, Van Cliburn and Tchaikovsky international competitions among many others.

A third reason is that I think the track record of the Gilmore is good and the names have remained solid in the music world. Perhaps the best example is the Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes, but also Jonathan Biss and Yuja Wang. Anyone care to argue with those results?

Andsnes

jonathan biss at piano jillian edelstein

Yuja Wang Ian Douglas NYT May 2013

Anyway, here are links to several stories about the Gilmore Foundation and the Gilmore Young Artist competition (age 22 and under), which is held every two years, and the two new recipients of the prize, which was established in Kalamazoo, Michigan, by the late philanthropist Irving S. Gilmore.

Here is a link to the Gilmore Foundation home website:

http://www.thegilmore.org

And here are links to the specific competition for young pianists:

http://www.thegilmore.org/gilmore-young-artist-award/

http://www.gramophone.co.uk/classical-music-news/2014-gilmore-young-artist-award-winners-announced

 


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