Monday, 25 July 2011

Daniil Trifonov, winner of the Tchaikovsky and Artur Rubinstein International Piano Competitions

I was reading a news bulletin in the August-September edition of Pianist magazine that
Danill Trifonov won two major prestigious international piano competitions back to back within weeks of each other! So I was very curious to hear his playing and learn more about this Wunderkind.

Born in 1991 Russian Daniill Trifonov, has won prizes and competitions most of his performing life and studied at the Moscow Gnesin School of Music (school for gifted musicians - much like the UK's Yehudi Menuhin school). There he studied under top teachers, one Tatiana Zelikman, who herself studied under Theodore Gutman, student of Heinrich Neuhaus. Neuhaus was the author of 'the art of piano playing' and also taught Radu Lupu and Richter.

Tchaikovsky Competition Jurist Martha Argerich was impressed with Danill's pianism:
 “Last night I listened to him again on YouTube – he has everything and more. What he does with his hands is technically incredible. It’s also his touch – he has tenderness and also the demonic element. I never heard anything like that.
-Martha Argerich;  Financial Times, July 8, 2011

 So what does the 2011 winner of the Artur Rubinstein Competition and the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition sound like? Let's first hear the demonic element!

Artur Rubinstein Competition 2011 Performance: Trifinov performs Liszt's Mephisto Waltz at the

2011 Tchaikovsky XIV competition Performance - Gala Prize winner's concert [excerpt]  Trifinov performing  One of the jury members this year was Vladimir Ashkenazy! (a previous winner himself)

Trifonov performed Liszt's La Campanella as an Encore at the Tchaikovsky Competition.  Here's a performance from 2008.

 Now for some tenderness, Danill performs Chopin's Piano Concerto #1 at the finals of the Artur Rubinstein Competition, Israel 2011

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Virtuoso Piano Paraphrase: Schulz-Elver (Strauss) on The Blue Danube Waltz

Johann Strauss II composed the eternal Blue Danube Waltz in 1866. Half a century later, Polish Composer Adolph Schulz-Ever (1852-1905), paraphrased the music which became his best loved work,  in arabesque style. An arabesque is a composition in the "Arab" style, much like Schumann and Debussy's arabesque compositions. Schulz-Evler studied at the Polish Conservatoire under Carl Tausig and the paraphrase was published in 1900 and 1906.  The sheet music can be found here on the IMSLP website.

Adolph Schulz-Evler

I must have first heard Schulz-Evler Arabesques on J. Strauss The Blue Danube Waltz (An der schönen blauen Donau) on the Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century CD collection performed by Earl Wilde.

Here, legendary pianist Earl Wilde performs the Schulz Evler paraphrase - or Arabesques on J. Strauss The Blue Danube Waltz (audio only).

Here's legendary pianist Marc Andre Hamelin (who can play just about any virtuosic composer!) performing the same Schulz Elver paraphrase - or Arabesques on J. Strauss The Blue Danube Waltz

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Tame those nerves! 9 Ways to Prepare for a Piano performance or exam

Virtuoso Horowitz, also suffered from nerves (pic: lastfm)
How can we prepare ourselves so that we won't be too nervous on the performance day? Performance is not only a mental game, it's a way of life. Therefore to succeed you need to be prepared mentally as well as physically (technically). Remember even the great pianists Glenn Gould and Horowitz got nervous too, and even shied away for years from performing four times according to the New York Times.
  1. Play for friends and family. Use every opportunity you can to play your pieces, see how you cope under pressure. You'll highlight any technical difficulties in your piece. If you can, record it and listen or watch back. Where did I hesitate? Were there any memory slips? What could make it sound better.
  2. Record yourself on Video or Youtube you'd want to get your recording perfect, so this is also another excellent preparation technique. You can also observe your performance - your body language and posture (observe also how tense are your shoulders, arms and hands?) You can also ask piano enthusiasts from the youtube audience, your previous and current teachers,  to evaluate your performance.
  3. On the day: Play through the pieces at least once, this will boost your confidence and reinforce the muscle memory.  
  4. Relax - have a bath the night before, listen to some soothing music and calm the mind, ensure you don't schedule any other stressful event or task during the day or days preceding  the performance.
  5. Practice, practice, practice intensively, but don't burn out. Knowing that you've done the 'donkey work' in advance will boost your confidence. You shouldn't then be too worried about making technical errors, because all the hard work has been done.
  6. Get a good night's sleep. A good night's sleep the night before isn't enough, make sure you have consistent good sleep 3 days before.
  7. Try out the piano and venue! If you are able to, get access to the venue beforehand, either before the performance starts to rehearse through your pieces. If it's a music festival and the competitors and ajudicators haven't arrived, why not try out the piano - as long as this is permitted just to see the touch response of the piano. This will enable you time to get used to the piano and feel more comfortable in the performing environment. 
  8. Visualise success, great athletes do it, so should you. First of all, recall try a successful previous performance that went well, remember how you felt and what made it such a great performance. Apply those memories and imagine you will be giving your next best performance. In your visualisation, implant positive thoughts,  that you're in total control, relaxed and focused.  
  9. When you perform, or are just about to - focus on the musical feeling and mood you wish to convey, just before you perform. Eliminate any doubts, focus on the positive, what you can do well and how you'll communicate with your audience.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Master Piano Technique: Pearly Sound - a lesson from Utah

Utah's Josh Wright has some great piano tutorials for advanced pianists on Youtube. For such a young pianist he is very aware of technique and getting a great sound. In this Youtube tutorial, Josh discusses Pearly sound. Josh's inspiration's for this Pearly Sound is the playing of pianist Murray Perahia.  I think this term is fairly common in North America, I don't hear this term used in the UK that often, only by my previous Canadian teacher postgraduate from the Royal Academy of Music.

 Josh defines Pearly Sound as a light, clear, beautiful, fleeting sound as opposed to a heavy and muddy sound. Josh demonstrates this concept with a Chopin nocturne, and illustrates the difference and technical approach to achieve Pearly Sound. Enjoy, practise and share!