Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi - her upright piano, anger management and Leeds International Piano Competition

 Aung San Suu Kyi and Prime Minister   Source:  number10.gov.uk
Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will this year attend the Leeds International Piano Competition in Leeds, UK, as its honorary ambassador. 2012 is the Competition's 50th anniversary. Over the years, the competition helped launch the careers of Radu Lupu, Andras Schiff and Marray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, and many more. Aung San Suu Kyi's favourite composers are Telemann, Mozart and Clementi.

Aung San Suu Kyi is a keen amateur pianist, and it was her only means of self expression during the years of house arrest.  Her Yamaha upright piano is often seen as a symbol for the struggle for democracy in Burma. According to the Independent UK passerbys  would slip by roadblocks, just to be reassured,  she was still alive  by the sound of  piano music coming from her house.  Her house arrest inspired
Damien Rice, Irish singer-songwriter to write the song 'Unplayed Piano,' to campaign for her release, for her 60th birthday, which he performed at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo.

Her piano had to be repaired many times, as her frustration and anger was taken out on the piano as she told journalist John Pilger I told you, I have a hot temper, and many a string would break. Nyan Win, who has heard Suu Kyi play, said it helps her relax.

Further Reading

Friday, 22 June 2012

Valentina Lisitsa at the Royal Albert Hall Recital Interview VIDEO

Valentina Lisitsa performed at the Royal Albert Hall on 19th June 2012 to an audience of 2,500.
Royal Albert Hall is the main venue for the annual proms where eminent pianists such as Lang Lang perform.
How did she get the gig? Ukrainian born Valentina is a Youtube sensation with her high quality videos, she's had over 43 million hits,  I can appreciate this as my own youtube channel has had 77,000 views. As a result of her astonishing success, Valentina has been signed by Decca Classics record label.
I was listening to an interview Valentina had with BBC Radio 3's Sean Rafferty, and she practices an astonishing 13 hours a day!

Her programme at the Royal Albert Hall, which was based on a vote from her fans includes:

F. Liszt
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12

Fantasy in C minor K.475

3 songs:  Des Mädchens Klage, Der Doppelgänger, Erlkönig

Sonata Op 27 No. 2 'Moonlight'

Etude–Tableau  Op.39 No. 6
4 Preludes: G major Op 32. No. 5, G sharp minor Op 32 No. 12, B minor Op 32 No. 10, G minor Op 23 No. 5

2 Poèmes Op. 32
2 Etudes: Op 42 No. 3 'Mosquito', Op 65 No. 1

3 Nocturnes: C minor Op 48 No. 1, D flat major Op 27 No. 2, E flat major Op 9 No. 2

Totentanz S.525

Here's the concert! 

An interview from Valentina Lisitsa

Interval Interview
During the interval, there was a video interview with Valentina. From the interview, we learn that Valentina has a 7 year old son. In 2007, she posted her first Youtube homemade video, mainly because she was looking for an audience. The first video caught on, and went viral, and more videos were subsequently uploaded.  Every day, about  50-60,000 people watch her videos,  equivalent to an entire stadium's audience. And she answers questions from Twitter, and her favourite piano is the Bosendorfer, and the piano she plays at the Royal Albert Hall is the Imperial model. She enjoys playing Fur Elise as a charming relaxing piece, that contrasts all the virtuosic works she plays.  She loves listening to pianists of the golden age such as Backhaus, Hoffman, and Rachmaninov. Valentina has absolute pitch.

Official Release Party at Royal Albert Hall

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Happy 30th Birthday Lang Lang! Birthday memories and concert celebrations

June 15th is Chinese pianist Lang Lang's birthday.

He had a birthday concert in Berlin's 02 World  stadium.
 Here's a link to his birthday concert Chopin Etude performance and Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor. He has multiple young pianists performing Schubert's March Militaire in unison. Followed by a finale with Jazz great Herbie Hancock (and a Chinese piano piece - Autumn Moon on Calm Lake).

Here are some memories from birthdays past.

 Lang Lang doing a Birthday dance in Essen Germany, 2010

And a Sparkling Birthday cake for Lang Lang! Here's Lang Lang performing 'Happy Birthday' to his mother

Here's a surprise Happy Birthday in a concert in 2010

Further reading

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

ABRSM Grade 1 Piano Sightreading tips

As it approaches the exam period. I thought I'd share some tips for the ABRSM Grade 1 Piano sightreading element of the Grade 1 Piano exam.

Two useful books published by the ABRSM - Associated Board, Royal Schools of Music for the piano are:

Characteristics of Grade 1 Sight reading
What keys?

  • F major (B flat)
  • D minor (C#)
  • G major (F sharp)
  • C major 
  • A minor (G sharp)

Tend to have fixed five finger positions in the left and right hands. But they give you a finger number to help you anchor your hands into the correct position!

As with any sightreading, scan the time signature (2/4 or 3/4  or 4/4 for Grade 1)
Key Signature - remember from your scales that one flat will mean the key is in F major and therefore all Bs are Bb (B flat). There may be additional incidentals (sharps) in the minor keys.

Hand position: lock on
For each hand: lock on to the first note,  your  first starting note of each hand and use the suggested fingering, this will then get all your five finger position over the notes. Keep your fingers over the keys during the practice, and hold them there until you finish completing the sightreading exercise. This will ensure you don't get your fingers out of position and press a wrong note.

Eyes on the score
Once you've got your notes securely over the keys you are playing, try as best you can to keep your eyes on the score, this will help keep your pulse and and flow to the music. Constantly looking down to your hands and back to the score introduces time delays and interrupts the flow of music.

Pulse try and keep a steady pulse throughout without too many stops and starts, remember the time signature and as best you can give an emphasis on the downbeat (first beat).

Dynamics - quite often when we are just trying to get the correct notes in sightreading, we forget the dynamics, assuming you get the correct notes, remember the dynamics.
P (piano) soft
F (forte) loud

Make sure you're familiar with all the musical notation indicated in the sightreading specimen tests such as.  Remember it's not only important to know what they mean, but to actually obey them! You'll get a much better score if you do.

  • Slurs (loud soft) 
  • Phrase marks - Phrase (play legato and imagine you are singing this)
  • Staccato (detached)
  • Accents (emphasis) 

To be good at sightreading, you should do this on a regular basis, always explore new music you are interested in that's at your grade level and try and play them! Use sightreading books like the ones suggested above as guided daily practice.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Lang Lang's Piano Performance at the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert

If you had to prepare a concert, fit for a Queen, what would you perform?

Well, Lang Lang had that rare honour, and on this occasion in June 2012, it was
Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #6 and Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue [excerpt]. The recital was for  Queen Elizabeth II, who had her Diamond Jubilee, the 60th Anniversary since she was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom.

Here's the video below, enjoy.

On the UK Guardian newspaper's website, [8:07pm] there was a report that Elton John was refusing to go on stage after this display of virtuosity! Lang Lang's choice as performer, provoked some lively discussion, especially from pianist James Rhodes, British pianist who wrote in the telegraph blog: Why was there no British pianist at the Jubilee concert? Lang Lang playing butchered Gershwin isn't good enough.

Footage on the BBC website is also available.