Friday, August 22, 2014

Pianist Roman Rabinovich – balance of mind, hands, and heart

There is darkness, and then the evocative, abstract sound of a narrative piano and cello piece setting the tone and interacting with the screen’s wide-angle focus on New York City by night. The camera zooms in on a young painter, wrestling with artistic perfection in differently crafted self-portraits. Reality, vision, and self-doubt infuse the main character’s struggle in the short film, presenting pianist and painter Roman Rabinovich haunted by his art.
While the film, called “Portrait,” depicts a somewhat satirical combination of chaos, anxiety, and despair within the creative artistic process, its protagonist, Roman Rabinovich, seems to come out of these battles a champion of artistic catharsis in his real life.
Yet the Israeli pianist (born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan), winner of the 2008 Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition, is no stranger to the occasionally torturous journey towards perfect artistic expression. Having made his debut with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta at age 10, and after studious years of learning from his many teachers including Arieh Vardi at the Rubin Academy of Music in Tel Aviv, Seymour Lipkin at the Curtis Institute of Music, and Robert McDonald at the Juilliard School, Rabinovich says that he continues to learn. “Many things inspire me: firstly, the music of great composers. It is such a privilege to be in direct contact with the composers through their work. The more you learn about their music, the more real the composers become as people. And then of course creative musicians I play with, inspire me. Sometimes it’s a beautiful piano, or a particular hall and the energy that transcends from the audience. But inspiration is a mysterious and transient thing. A good performance is based on meticulous preparation, hard work and austere discipline,” he says.
In his effort towards the ephemeral goal of excellence and exactitude, Rabinovich took a recent opportunity to meet András Schiff, whose mastery, “perfect balance of mind, hands and heart,” as Rabinovich describes it, he had always admired. He played for his icon at Schiff’s recent Carnegie Hall master classes, titled Bach and Beyond: “It was a pivotal point for me,” says Rabinovich. “Meeting with this great artist brought a new direction in my own development, and since then, I was privileged to continue working with him in Europe, enjoying his invaluable advice and his profound knowledge of music and art in general.”
Endorsed by András Schiff, one of the foremost pianists of our time, as one of three performers chosen to present the new generation of artistic talent, Roman will perform in Schiff’s newly established Berlin- and New York-based András Schiff Selects: Young Pianists series in its opening 2014/15 season. A program with works by Bach, Brahms, Bartók, and Smetana will give Rabinovich the opportunity to show his sensitivity for a wide range of pianistic repertoire, performed with his own, poignant personality, which San Francisco’s Classical Voice observed as “mature and self-assured playing, belying his chronological age.” Mr. Schiff himself spoke about his choice: “Roman is a very talented, young pianist, highly intelligent, quick-minded and genuinely original. He deserves to be heard and I hope to be able to help him.” The other two pianists presented in the series are Kuok-Wai Lio, Roman’s fellow Curtis graduate who recently stepped in replacing the legendary Radu Lupo at a Town Hall recital, and 2008 Gilmore Artist Award-winner Adam Golka.
Roman’s March 2013 recording titled Ballets Russes on the Orchid Classic label, for which he received the Classical Recording Foundation's Artist of the Year Award, showcases the pianist’s musical gift for refined, in-depth performance, and his imaginative arrangements of works formerly not conceived for solo piano. Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juilliet, Ravel/Rabinovich’s Daphnis and Chloe, as well as Stravinsky’s Petrushka, had captured his imagination for quite a while, and the arc connecting the program was their close ties to the Ballets Russes: “Albeit in slightly different times, and marked by their aesthetic differences, they were all inspired by the energy and charm of one man – Sergei Diaghilev, a force of nature,” Rabinovich explains. “They belong to the era of the creator of the Ballets Russes, which had a profound influence on the artistic trends of the next generation, fusing avant-garde music, dance and art, styled in a fresh and innovative way.”

On October 14th, 2014, Roman Rabinovich, Michael Brown and Nick Canellakis will appear in a collaborative, public Salon concert series GetClassical at the New York historical landmark India House.

sketch for Ballet Russes - Petrushka and ballerina, by Roman Rabinovich

Friday, July 25, 2014

Thriving on the efforts of its musical community: the Manchester Music Festival

Photo: by Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical - Banner of the festival at its concert’s summer home at the Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Arkell Pavillion
 Not unlike its esteemed neighbors, Marlboro Music, which has, for decades, built itself upon its master-performers’ reputation, or Yellow Barn, with its annual workshop geared to foster artistic growth, the Manchester Music Festival counts on  Vermont’s  bucolic Mountain views for its splendorous atmospheric stage-scenery.
During its six-week full scholarship summer program (this year from July 3 – August 14), young musicians are coached in chamber music performance by the festival’s capable faculty, members of its own Michael Rudiakov Music Academy- and an impressive roster of attending guest artists, who are also presented in weekly concert performances.  Concerts are filled to capacity which has helped to build the festival’s thriving reputation and its opportunity to feature fresh and consummate musical talent.
With a demographic of ca. 4,500 all year round residents, an amount that triples during those music filled summer-months with a swelling population of second home owners, it is no surprise that the summer highlights of the festival meet with an especially high enthusiastic support.
In its 40th year now, the festival relies on unyielding support by its local and visiting patrons of the arts, some of whom not only help financially to sustain the festival’s programs, but open their home to visiting artists, as part of their residency.
In accord with the spirit of the festival’s founder, pianist Eugene List and his wife, violinist Carroll Glenn, who initiated the Southern Vermont Arts Center Music Festival in 1974,  Peggy Telscher, a current festival board-member and chair of its artistic committee, explains, ”We have an obligation to foster the love for music and reach out to the next generation.”  A professionally trained singer herself, her interest focuses on bridging the gap between the instrumental and a voice syllabus of concerts. Last year the festival featured the prominent singer/actress Audra Macdonald.
After attending the series’ Young Artists concerts with her own children, when she  moved to Vermont a few years ago, Telscher held her first house-concert, in passionate support of professional singers, in 2012. Since last year, the concert-hall-like acoustics of Tom Snopek’s and Peggy Telscher’s’house has led them to host some of the artists for private recording sessions, while enjoying their home’s equally exquisite mountain views. Returning festival’s artist-in-residence, and co-founder of LP Classics record label, pianist Vassily Primakov, brought in his recording team for two of the performing artists of the festival. Photo: Ilona Oltuski-GetClassical Vassily Primakov after a coaching session with “his” group of students saying they sounded amazing

Primakov also has been invited for the second year in a row as “artist in residence,” a weeklong performance and teaching position at MMF. “Attending the festival now for a number of years, it has from the beginning felt like home away from home. MMF always attracts great artists, so I am always grateful and humbled to be among the performers and now also to be part of their guest faculty,” says Primakov.
When recently taking over the chair of the artistic committee, Telscher followed Mary Miller, whose own pianistic background and passionate engagement for the festival made her an advocate for finding and bringing great pianists to the festival. Says Telscher,”I had big shoes to fill, Mary did a fantastic job! The biggest challenge is that the costs of presenting can never be fully paid through ticket sales alone, and people have to understand that we have to pay living wages for the artists, which don’t just cover the performances, but endless hours of preparation.”
Photo: by Ilona Oltuski – GetClassical from left: Tom Snopek, Peggy Telscher, Mary Miller, and Walter Miller at the 40th Anniversary Celebration Cocktail Gala

Board member or not, Mary Miller and her husband Walter Miller, made it their mission to look out for “their” artists. “We love it as much as they do,” says Mary Miller, whose renowned hospitality includes filling most of her many rooms with visiting artists and their entourage, during the summer months. “To be surrounded by so much talent is amazing,” says Miller, who met the current artistic director of the festival, violist Ari Rudiakov and his wife, violinist Joana Genova, on the occasion of their daughter’s wedding in 2003. "It is just fantastic, what they have helped to build here, for the community," says Garry DuFour, and enthusiastically vouches his future support.

 ”We have work that is still unfinished,” says Ari Rudiakov, the festival’s artistic director. “My job is to not only put together a great festival, but to build our endowment fund, guaranteed to support our Young Artist program. We are half way there now, with activities that go well beyond the summer, and we are incredibly thankful for the support of all our members through their own personal efforts, hosting house concerts and benefits, to profit the organization. Right now, I am looking to unify all the varied elements we already have in place,” he says.
                                                                                                                                                                Photo: Ari Rudiakov, Artistic Director MMF.
But perhaps it is exactly these special, personal efforts that create small sanctuaries for the arts in intimate environments which contribute to the festival’s great communal success, as well as providing a unique setting for visiting artists. “There are always great hosts and wonderful performances and it is quite a unique experience, to create, perform, study and teach surrounded by nature – it feels like a retreat,” says Primakov.  Photo: Cottage at the Miller’s residence, hosting a MMF-student dinner.
Two years in a row, Primakov has been performing trios with cellist Ben Capps and violinist Joana Genova at the festival.  Last season it was Rachmaninoff’s PianoTrio élégiaque in D minor, Opus 9, and this year Chopin’s Piano Trio in G minor, Op.8. Primakov describes these experiences as one of the highlights of the season for him and they are soon to plan the repertoire for next season’s program. ”It’s a wonderful feeling to return to a place where you feel welcomed and harmonize with the performers.  I am equally thrilled to have the opportunity to coach the students in chamber music performance, it always creates excitement and a special bond,” describes Primakov.
Photo: Pianist Vassily Primakov with violinist Joana Genova and cellist Ben Capps at the Southern Vermont Arts Center’s Arkell Pavillion
In 2000, Ari Rudiakov inherited his father’s, Michael Rudiakov’s, mission to give more definition to the loosely organized festival that its founders had created, with an emphasis on a streamlined, full scholarship program for young artists that includes a strong, communal outreach program.

Photo: by Ilona Oltuski- GetClassical – student rehearsal and coaching at the Riley Center for the Arts at Burr and Burton
The philosophy of the festival was built on different premises than those of its eminent neighbor at Marlboro. While there was a fair amount of crossover participants between Marlboro’s and Manchester’s stellar performers, the Manchester Festival focused on giving students their separate curriculum and stage experience, while Marlboro’s concept integrated its students’ and professionals’ performances.  A student of Bernhard Greenhouse, member of the famed Beaux Arts Trio, Michael Rudiakov was a veteran cellist, principal cellist of the Indiana Symphony Orchestra and had administrative experience from running a chamber music series at Sarah Lawrence. Invited by List to join him in Manchester, he took on full leadership of MMF in 1985, after the passing of the festival’s founders.
Their son, violist/conductor Ari Rudiakov and his wife violinist, Joana Genova, continue to pass on the tradition of great, classical music, taught and performed in an environment geared to enhance the music’s outreach, as well as the personal maturity of its performers. Some travels are taking place, sometimes as a string orchestra, sometimes as chamber music tours and the faculty varies from year to year.  
“We are building on the previous year’s teacher’s faculty, but also have some new additions every year; the only truly constant are Joana and me. That way we keep it fresh, but still make it possible for musicians to return and build a wider community. What’s great is that students always have more than one opinion, we break them up into groups, switch coaches, change repertoire and put them back together again – often they have already become different players.”

Friday, July 18, 2014

Making of a Modern Musician

In her lecture at the Golandsky Institute’s Summer Symposium at Princeton University, Director of Yamaha Artist Services, Bonnie Barrett gave some great career advice for musicians, clearly inviting them to “think out of the box.”
“Due to the shrinking market for traditional classical music, its “graying” audience and overall lack of funding for costly productions, the generation of the great impresarios and dedicated press coverage has vanished. Because of all this, the solo-piano virtuoso is all but dead,” she commented. “However,” she continued, “where there is crisis – there is opportunity.”
In her commitment to promoting new approaches to music performance and presentation, Barrett introduced a selection of entrepreneurial efforts within the classical- and jazz music-environment. The creative mindset and reinventing of alternative forms of representation is now being widely recognized.
Ms. Barrett gave examples making use of efficient collaboratives and giving a new angle to the concert experience which includes unusual settings, means and combinations of skills and genres. Some of these innovative undertakings are based on technical advances, some on recognition of the need to instill different marketing aspects. Barrett introduced an award winning, animated movie which,  based on the personal story of the Bulgarian pianist Nadejda Vlaeva, introduced her pianistic soundtrack in a most endearing way. Another novel example mentioned by Barrett was the classical series “Music by the Glass,” which combines music- performances at Soho’s “Louis Meisel Gallery” (Photo) with Wine tastings, paired to associate each performance’s musical syllabus.
Founded by the accomplished pianist-duo couple, Soyeon Kate Lee and Ran Dank, the series aims to develop new audiences who will respond to an experience of classical music, up close and personal, in a relaxed and communal atmosphere.
The need to identify the “personal touch” of classical music presentations beyond its usual concert hall existence is also the mission of “GetClassical,” which takes its classical music happenings to different localities, including extravagant hotspots like the Gramercy Park Hotel’s Rose Bar. Photo: Alex Fedorov GetClassical at the Rose Bar pianist Alexandra Joan

Barrett showed the documentary of GetClassical’s last June-event at “India House.” The film, made by Hilan Warshaw, watch video here harked back to the series’ essential model of the19th century Salon made relevant today, by integrating innovative programs in diverse, social environments. In the film,  GetClassical founder Ilona Oltuski, pianists Vassily Primakov, Natalia Lavrova, and David Aladashvili explain the key ingredients of the series: personal closeness and direct interaction with the audience and with each other, bridging the divide between the performer and the listener, which does not happen in traditional venues, often remarked on as a “disconnect.”

Works presented by GetClassical were chosen from the highly original Opus 13,” Aladashvili’s debut recording on the LP-Classics label and a preview of the Lavrova-Primakov piano duo’s Rachmaninoff recording.

Founded by the Lavrova/Primakov musical team, LP-Classics was discussed as an empowering answer to the difficult market situation for new artists, who are struggling to sign onto established recording labels for their debut recordings which they, in turn, can use as a calling card, necessary to land performance engagements. LP- Classics gives an opportunity to both its founding artists to manufacture their own recordings, with a now rapidly growing repertoire, as well as open their prospects for collaboration with artists they discover and admire.

Photo: Alex Fedorov  GetClassical at India House from left: Natalia Lavrova, David Aladashvili, Ilona Oltuski, Vassily Primakov 

Technology has always had its impact of re-defining our culture, and with no exception here, an improved and facilitated technical recording process opens the door to professionally graded recordings, and for savvy self-made producers.
Another astonishing and innovative result of technological refinement was demonstrated with Barrett’s introduction of Yamaha’s Disklavier Digital Player Piano. “One possible answer to the challenge of overcoming great distances and responding to educational needs is tapping into the renewed thirst for remote piano lessons, through the digital connectivity of the Disklavier,” says Barrett. It allows teachers to connect with their students throughout the world. “With its sophisticated nuances of 256 pedal strokes and thousands of keystrokes, the Disklavier recreates pianistic action with an extreme exactitude, transforming the landscape of piano pedagogy. Many top universities and conservatories like UCLA already have signed on and some, including the Juilliard School of Music, are just about to,” says Barrett. The program also enables re-creating the concerto-experience, superior to the simple  music minus one, for example, a recording of the orchestral score performed without its piano part, to be filled in by the performer.
“Through the exceptional capacity of adjustment of the Disklavier to the keystrokes by the individual performer and chosen instrumentalisation, the technology is able to follow the performer’s tempi, and yes, even recognize the performer’s wrong notes. Playback and repetitions are simply accomplished, making the Disklavier a preferred platform for many artists in a variety of educational programs, like Simone Dinnerstein’s high school outreach program watch it here, or Dan Tepfer’s (photo) imaginative jazz piano-playback arrangements. It remains to be seen if the apt description of his demonstration so far and yet so near, will truly win over fans, or just point to the one ingredient missing that would make the experience more than an experiment. Does the student need the actual stage presence of the performer or the teacher’s commending pat on the shoulder, the truly human touch - perhaps not superior in action, but not quite to be superseded by any technology either?

Photo: Ilona Oltuski - Bonnie Barrett                                                                                      

Venerable musicians like Jerome Rose and Byron Janis have embraced the fascinating possibilities that Disklavier offers, using it in the service of special workshops and teaching presentations.
The only condition, of course, is to have access to two Disklavier pianos, a laptop and the internet, and off you go readily creating complex multi-track arrangements, recording your own performance and playing them back.  But, fortunately, some musical talent still needed.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Mostly Martha – The Progetto Martha Argerich in Lugano

“It is all of these great people here who ought to be thanked,” Martha says, surrounded by a throng of festival guests as she awaits that evening’s concert performer, “not me; I just show up,” she insists, gesturing some unruly tresses of her signature mane of grey hair into place. That in itself is no small virtue for the enigmatic pianist, notoriously known for changing her mind about her performances on short notice. She nods towards a tensely focused man of slender stature who, in close proximity yet with a respectfully guarded distance, watches her every move attentively from the corner of his eye. A glance exchanged between the two of them barely requires words. Carlo Piccardi, who as consigliere (advisor) is the festival’s other pillar, stands by Martha, the festival’s artistic director, ready to tend to her wishes or to settle any emergencies. Perhaps she wants to join some artists for dinner before heading back to the radio station for her customary late night practice time, or the other way around. Perhaps she would like to avoid the crowds who, mesmerized by their idol’s presence, long for a momentous photo with her, or, perhaps it may be a night when she just feels like accommodating their wishes.(photo of banner of the festival: Ilona Oltuski)

All photos courtesy of Carlo Piccardi - Progetto Martha Argerich (unless specified)
It is a ritual that bears witness to the intimacy of an alliance based on great understanding and admiration, and it perpetually repeats itself during these weeks in June: the time of Lugano’s music festival that carries the name of the legendary pianist and much-adored protégé: Progetto Martha Argerich.

A musicologist and former director of Radio della Svizzera Italiana - Rete Due, Piccardi fell in love with the possibility of bringing chamber music and Martha Argerich to his region and into his life. The original initiative was sparked in 2001 by former EMI recording and TV producer, Jurg Grand, who approached Piccardi: Why should his great friend and pianist extraordinaire Martha have a festival in Buenos Aires (which today is not in existence anymore) and in Beppu, Japan, but not in Europe? It seemed the obvious next step for Martha, a resident of Brussels holding Swiss citizenship who possessed a fascination for all things Italian, to unite with Piccardi and utilize his strong relationships with the Radio and BSI (Banca Svizzeria Italiano – also a current major sponsor of the festival) to plant the seeds of chamber music culture in the Italian-Swiss region, which had heretofore been practically absent. As “Abdul” (Grand’s nickname, coined by Daniel Barenboim) suggested, the festival was inaugurated; he had the vision, Piccardi the perseverance and Martha the compelling persona that brought not only her singular artistry, but her international following of stellar performers, to Lugano.

“Martha is like a river,” says Piccardi in between four very important phone calls he takes apologetically, “when we approached her about the possibility of starting a festival here, she said: “Hmm, yes it is possible, perhaps…” But the first installment in 2002 “was a disaster,” Piccardi recalls. “I was director of the culture and broadcast program of the second channel, but I had no experience whatsoever with programming live concerts. At the end I was with a fever, exhausted, and in despair. It was Martha and Jurg who took complete charge of all programs during the eight consecutive days. Concerts were held in the morning in the church, in the evening at the Radio station, and with 32 artists performing, we had to have rehearsals at night. Today we have a day in between for rehearsals and recordings, but with the number of artists reaching 82, the duration of the festival now is spread out to three weeks, with concerts recorded live or in rehearsal, and many of them broadcasted or streamed live.”

During the festival’s second year, Piccardi was better prepared: “I was more familiar then with the problems of running the production and hosting the artists, but then a disaster happened: Jurg, the festival’s founder suddenly died. Martha was in Buenos Aires at the time and we had to make a fast decision, whether or not to continue, and came to the agreement to at least go through with the already planned out next season,” Piccardi explains.
“Except when it comes to all things piano, Martha is not a systematic thinker,” Piccardi says. ”Her personality is ambivalent: when I ask her something she always remains vague, never definitive…it’s a maybe.” But perhaps it is this 'out of the box thinking', behind her “maybe”, aiding her in the constant search for new talent.
Martha constantly discovers new artists while participating in juries at international competitions, or through recommendations from friends whose input she values. “She trusts my judgment as well, and I have suggested some of the young artists who have performed at the festival, but she is very spontaneous and sometimes enthusiastically discovers an artist she likes on YouTube,” says Piccardi, who is mostly in charge of the festival’s programming.

Often it gets very late at night before Piccardi, who patiently waits for Martha to finish her nocturnal preparations for the many programs in which she partakes, takes her home; returning at 3:00am is not at all the exception. “Martha is a night owl,” he says, “she likes to practice sometimes right after a concert, to go over things and to prepare for the next one.” He tells me of her practice routine, taking only short breaks to come up for air or the occasional shared cigarette with one of her musician friends or colleagues. The sensitive artist with mood swings often dreads certain performances. This year, it is the Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1 that she performs with the Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana under Alexander Vedernikov at the Palazzo Dei Congressi that has been making her nervous, even though the benchmark recording of her 1994 performance of that piece under the legendary Claudio Abbado for Deutsche Grammophone proves that she owns it. While Martha’s current state of mind becomes a general theme of interest amongst the festival’s participants and visitors, Piccardi does not seem to engage in such circling conversations or concerns. He rather relies on what has proven to work for Martha, like the comfort she finds staying in an old artists’ house made available to her for the whole month of June by the artist benefit foundation Pro Helvetia. Located in the small town of Carona, the house is filled with an atmosphere, unmoved by time and inspired by the residency of previously hosted artists, and it is conveniently located just steps away from Piccardi’s own house. “Martha is not the kind of person who can stay in a hotel room for a month, she needs that feeling of familiarity, and it is these little things that make all the difference,” Piccardi says. “When we return together to Casa Pantrova in the middle of the night, there is a sort of feeling of belonging, the ease of home,” he says.

Now in its 13th year, the festival has grown into a celebration of chamber music, with programs that center on the piano in combinations with other instruments. Piano duos, trios, quartets, and quintets, even several pianos at a time, provide a sheer infinite variety for daily concerts, during many of which Argerich performs with young musicians and renowned friends and colleagues. “She is so wonderfully encouraging,” says Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan pianist about Argerich, who was instrumental in the launch of young Montero’s career, having encouraged her to publicly improvise, which greatly contributed to her international success. Photo: Andrej Grilc  
Gabriela Montero and Ilona Oltuski-GetClassical at the festival
The festival's tradition of minimal bureaucracy, neither applications nor tedious acceptance procedures persist to this day. Martha embraces great and new talent in this musical incubator, offering first-hand experiences by performing with high-caliber international artists. Another quality of the festival is the great respect for its artists, past and present; violinist, pedagogue, and actor Ivry Gitlis for example, Argerich's long-time friend who performerd at the festival for many years, while not perfroming any more on stage, continues to share his wisdom during his master classes.
“Martha loves to be surrounded by other artists, sharing some of the burdensome aspects of the stage,” says Piccardy. Often, one sees her laughing with other artists or complaining about the difficulties within a particular score she is working on. Surrounded by her young colleagues, the now 73-year old pianist seems agelessly energetic.
Lately, the decision of some of her colleagues to end their public performance career has made her think about the future as well. “But Martha is not interested in teaching, or likes giving master classes like Maria Joan Pires or Alfred Brendel, who have recently put a halt to their performance careers,” says Piccardi. “Martha needs to play concerts, at least a good amount of them; she can never be without music,” says Piccardi, who seems to know this from a place in his heart that understands her. He adds: “chamber music is like a life elixir for her,” and when one sees her in action, one has to believe him. Her playing remains fantastic no less: her tone is natural, highly imaginative, and brilliant, and it is exciting to watch her pour all of herself into the piano.
Many artists come from near and far to the Progetto to make music together, rehearse, perform, and record, but also to rehash their personal relationships with Martha. Many of these friendships, built during her many years of celebrated performances throughout the world, are defined but not confined by her ability to share the limelight to support her fellow artists and causes close to her heart, making it a family affair of sorts: “Partaking in the festival can really put you on the map,” says Nora Romanoff, one of the young artists who has been attending the festival since age 16. The daughter of Dora Schwarzberg, a famed violinist based in Vienna, Romanoff was asked to jump into the deep end when, in its beginning, the festival was looking for an additional violist. “Can she do it?” Martha asked Schwarzberg about her talented daughter, and after a brief hesitation, Nora, who had no previous experience with playing chamber music, started as the youngest participant of the festival.

( The photo by Andrej Grilc shows Nora during one of her many performances during the festival)
(Photo) Martha and Misha Maisky

Illustrious cellist Misha Maisky, one of Martha’s regular musical partners and her friend of 40 years, brings his daughter, Lily (piano) and his son, Sasha (violinist), regularily to the festival’s programs, providing them with an education that puts learning by doing first. Another longstanding musical partner of Argerich’s, pianist Lilya Zilberstein, performs with pianist Akane Sakai, a former student of hers, and her two pianist sons, Anton and Daniel Gerzenberg. The connection of lives mutually spend together brings artists like Gidon Kremer, Stephen Kovacevich, and Charles Dutoit to Lugano, and while Martha shares the podium generously, it is she to whom all of these artists pay tribute.
Annie Dutoit, Martha’s middle daughter from her marriage with conductor Charles Dutoit, made her artistic debut at this year’s festival with her adaptation of the role of dramatic narrator and performance of the devil in C.F. Ramuz/Igor Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat. Violist Lyda Chen, Martha’s eldest daughter from her first marriage to conductor Robert Chen, partakes regularly in the festival, often as her mother’s performance partner. (Photo: Annie Dutoit with Carlo Piccardi)
Bloody Daughter, a film produced in 2012 and directed by Stephanie Argerich, Martha’s youngest daughter, was screened at last year’s festival; the screening afforded some private glimpses into the life of the usually evasive pianist, connecting archival footage of the performer with a uniquely personal portrait of the mother, seen through the eyes of the daughter. The title of the film depicts some of the heartrending circumstances that affected Martha’s family life, ranging from her separation from her oldest daughter to the conflicts between a superstar lifestyle and motherhood. Yet, as Stephanie’s father, pianist Stephen Kovacevich, explains in the film, Stephanie’s nickname “bloody daughter” is meant endearingly, and while it reveals many flaws, so is the overall outlook of the film.
What resonates perhaps most imortantly throughout the film, is that this divinely brilliant artist is human after all.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                         (photo from the movie Bloody daughter)
“Martha liked the film. Even though she values her privacy and it must always feel uncanny to be portrayed so personally, the film certainly could not have been made by any other person than the daughter, so close to her,” says Piccardi.

None of the artists leave the festival without saying fare-well to Martha. No matter in what language – she is fluent in Spanish, English, French, Italian and pretty fluent in German as well– the tone is always personal and engaging.
Since the festival’s first year, EMI issued a series of recordings named Martha Argerich & Friends: Live from Lugano, which continued on the Warner Classics label. A 4-CD compilation produced by Deutsche Grammophon titled Martha Argerich: Lugano Concertos, a selection of the first ten years of the festival’s concerto performances with the Orchestra della Svizzeria Italiana, received last year's ECHO KLASSIK award.
From the beginning, all artists involved were paid equally for each performance, no matter their pedigree."More concerts translate into more money. But it does not matter if they have a big name or not, every musician, every musician does his part," Piccardi says. "In the beginning of the festival it was really just all about an extended artistic family; as the festival expands, more egos emerge and questions arise - who plays with whom - and competitveness seeps in. It is my role to keep everything accoding to the original mileu of open-mindedness, music being in the center of attention, and to create challenging programs that express its artists' full potential."

A goal. Martha Argerich and Carlo Piccardi should be able to achieve again in the future.
The 14th Progetto Martha Argerich - Festival is planned to take place again in Lugano in June of 2015.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adrienne Haan – channels dynamite energy and freethinking zest into Cabaret and American Art Song

“I love to bring music and the passion it contains close to people. That means to cast a spell on someone, it means to forget reality for a brief moment, dispensing with your senses…” says German-born Adrienne Haan, who graduated in 1999 from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
And she does indeed cast a spell on her audiences, vividly portraying a host of characters with a sexy routine that combines a high-caliber voice with brisk buoyancy and perfect diction in German, French, and English. Once in a while, when the thematic programming demands it, she can throw in a Yiddish song as well, especially effective while exploring a favorite era of hers: The nascence of German Cabaret and Art Song, and its heroes like Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Weill, and Bert Brecht. Her latest cabaret show, The Streets of Berlin, which offers homage to the the German spirit of the 20s and 30s and all its tumultuous sociopolitical and cultural influences, builds on repertoire from on her 2010 CD: Berlin, mon amour, including work for orchestra and voice by composers ranging from Misha Spoliansky to Kurt Weill, arranged and directed by award-winning movie productions, Heinz Walter Florin. The disc is available in both English and German.
The recording was co-produced by Das Beste, a German publisher with whom Haan had collaborated previously on her first CD release in 2007. Haan also took part in several broadcasts for WDR (a German TV/Radio Station).
Haan, who lives in Bonn, Germany but spends a large part of the year in New York, has successfully launched a solo career, building on her many experiences and the broad scope of her cultural and musical understanding.
The actress and singer’s repertoire choices suggests the sheer limitlessness of her vocal and theatrical range; she broadened her education in song-interpretation with instruction from the Juilliard School, allowing her to engage in projects as varied as Shakespeare plays, musical theatre like Cabaret and Evita, and dramas like O’Neill’s Anna Christie among others. It is, however, the cheeky character role of the fresh and brazen cabaret singer in which Haan, who holds dual citizenship in both Germany and the French-speaking country of Luxembourg, has found an ideal niche to bring her radiant self-confidence and dramatic energy as a soloist to the stage. When she sings, her crisp soprano voice is stirred by jazzy roars with some added French ‘sparrow voice’ inflections à la Edith Piaf.
While many members of Haan’s audience fall effortlessly for her signature provocative charm and the allure of her blonde Fräulein look, it is her ardent commitment to evoking an intimate understanding of that interim era, between World War I and II, which draws in much of her audience. Haan keenly represents the fresh outlook of today’s young generation, existing between a history of destruction and a probing quest towards a truly liberal, democratic society; Haan’s awareness of issues such as woman’s rights, sexual revolution, and ethnic and religious equality consistently lies at the heart of her artistic pursuit, which is thought-provoking while it remains entertaining. As an artist, she has a gift for making things personal:
“As long as people are listening, I will tell stories. Because that’s exactly what I do, when I am on stage: I sing, but I am always telling new stories. They are stories of joy and suffering, fun stories about the ‘joie de vivre,’ hope, lust, sexuality, and seduction. You will find a combination of all these things in From Berlin to Broadway.” The cabaret’s issues touched on in The Streets of Berlin still bare essential truths today, and Haan is fascinated with the cabaret’s omnipresent relevance and its genre-bending method of describing the human sentiment: “Within those melodies and lyrics lays the sort of dark humor that enabled people to assimilate the pain caused by war, loss and death, but also share the humor, joy and sorrow of emotions expressed in love and human relationships.”
The Berlin Wall fell when Haan was 11 years old, and a new sense of global re-unification opened borders; with the fall, Berlin’s problems of financial insecurity and political instability re-immerged. Haan stresses the recession’s impact on Berlin’s Weimar Republic pre-World War II and the threat of impending Nazism, tracing the creative mindset that it produced, born into desperate times, and reaching into today’s global cultural centers. Extracting the most personal of stories, Haan makes sure to continue the fight against discrimination, persecution, and small-mindedness beyond borders. With great affection and resilience, whether she performs at the embassies in Germany or Luxembourg, at the smallest of assemblies, or widely broadcasted, Haan has the personality and the wit to bring her voice across.  (All photos courtesy of the artist)

You can catch Adrienne Haan at the National Arts Club on Wednesday June 18th at 8 pm.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Cellist Yoed Nir- Living the musician’s dream

(Photo credit: David Duenias)

“I am a world musician,” says Yoed Nir, the Israeli cellist whose distinctive cello tracks have captured the attention of diverse audiences, effortlessly crossing musical genres and continents. “If I had to compare my work with that of another artist, I think it would come closest to that of the amazing Zoë Keating,” he says thoughtful, yet equally hesitant to identify with any singular artist. The most cohesive factor in his work is that it is so versatile, fresh, and spontaneous, yet bares his own, personal signature.
Quitting his desirable post with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra after only a couple of months, the classically trained cellist recognized early on that his talent was meant to be honed as an individual emersion into many directions, perceptible on upcoming album, The Next Dream, set to be released on June 17th. The record was mastered by Alan Silverman and recorded at Celloman studios New York City.  (Pre-order at )
Lush melodic scores, serve as musical soundtracks to the stuff that dreams are made out of, and inspire the imagination of the listener with thematic fusions of Eastern and Western musical traditions.
 Photo credit: Sonya Kitchell                                     
This album closely follows his debut recording Suspended Hours(cover photo by Sonya Kitchell, mastered by Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound), which was released in February 2013, and which Nir presented on tour and at SubCulture New York this February.  “When I was doing the promotional performances for my first album, I realized I had another one in me. I am influenced by Bartók, Shostakovich, Mahler but also by Brazilian music and Jimi Hendrix – my music is accumulative of all these different languages, in an evocative, scenic way a film score is created in.”
Both of his albums feature his electric cello compositions, but The Next Dream adds some arrangements for voice to its layers of cello; on the first track, there are lyrical lines from the biblical “Song of Songs,” sung by singer/songwriter Sonya Kitchell. Track 5 features violin and voice without lyrics by Kishi Bashi, who, like Nir, toured with Regina Spector. In future recordings, Nir says he wants to elaborate on the voice and cello collaboration and feature different singers on each track. Both his recordings so far reflect on the sum of Nir’s instrumental mastery, the first one recorded during many road trips, in New York, Paris, and Israel, the second one in a New York studio. 
 Photo: With Regina Spektor live on the Tonight Show with David Letterman
Together, the two recordings draw a map of Nir’s development from his classical roots to his varied collaborations with artists across the board of musical genres.Nir’s work has been in demand worldwide and has appeared in over 600 recordings. His performance with the iconic Judy Collins at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, broadcasted on PBS, was nominated for a 2013 New York Emmy, and the number of collaborators who request Nir’s exciting and highly skilled arrangements, layers and overdub string sections and accompaniments, include a wide range of artists including Rufus Wainwright, Paul Banks, Diane Birch, and Kishi Bashi. His collaboration with Yael Naim on her 2008 album received the French Ministry of Culture’s Album of the Year award in the World Music Category, and Nir has appeared in numerous television broadcasts, including The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien (NBC), The Late Show with David Letterman (CBS), Good Morning America (ABC), and Later with Jools Holland (BBC).
                                                                                                                                               on tour with Regina Spektor

With Judy Collins live at the Metropolitan Museum, New York
Nir’s unique ease of varying stylistic approaches in classical/non-classical mixed programs have been key in New York performances like his latest Barge Music recital, combining diverging poles like Paul Hindemith and Jimi Hendrix with his own compositions for electric cello: “I am not a regular, 9-5 kind of guy,” he says. “I realized ten years ago, playing with an orchestra is simply not for me, I am a ‘session musician,’ and love being in a studio, and creating arrangements. I record many cello-tracks, and together they can have a singular or very polyphonic ensemble sound. On both of Yael Naim’s last recordings, for example, all the strings you hear, and it sounds quite orchestral, are my own, unique signature sound. Artists, especially singers, usually send me their tracks and I add my own input. I record track by track and they mix it, depending on what kind of balance they want to achieve. Most of my work can be done from anywhere, and when on tour, I often just record in the hotel room. For my own work, everything centers on creating different sounds for the cello, which I fell in love with as a small child.”
One of his latest projectsis a recording with Judy Collins, at AVATR Studios in New York, for the song called Stars in my eyes, to be performed by the legendary singer for the soundtrack of the upcoming film called Helpless. Nir created an entire arrangement of orchestral sound of his multiple recorded cello tracks, ready for the mix, right there in the studio.
 Another one of Nir’s recent collaborations is “Parlor Music,” a disc to be released in 2015 by Anzic Records, which was co-founded by composer/arranger/pianist Lev-Ari and Anat Cohen. The project will showcase Cohen’s virtuosity as a jazz clarinetist/saxophonist, and for the first time, Lev-Ari himself will play piano on recording, and lead all of his own compositions. “When I was planning for my recording, I wanted each of the cello chairs to have their own, distinct voice,” Lev-Ari says, indicating that Nir’s tracks seem to have accomplished his vision fully; he raves: “Yoed is not only a first-rate instrumentalist, able to bring beauty and substance to any composition…he also is a creative force, able to compose and improvise; a rare and powerful combination.”
“Nothing is really natural,” says Nir, “everything matters, every detail, even how you sit. The performance is just a final result, in that it contains the technique in the broadest sense, musical, spiritual, even interpretation is part of the technique. In order to sound natural, you have to build everything up and constantly analyze, and just after many years there are those moments of joy, that magic that attracts every artist who pursues that road.”
These days, Nir’s composition process happens very fast and freely. The creation of each track does not take longer than a few hours: “I never come back and change things around. That’s how I work; I spontaneously bring all my ideas with me, and then take them down, without restrictions or boundaries. I believe that’s a very powerful tool, but of course that did not happen out of the blue. There was a long learning experience, and I did my share of over thinking, but I found myself limited in creating then – it was not quite me. It’s the most difficult thing to find it in you, what you have to say as an artist. The first part is knowing that you want to express yourself, the second – endless – part is to search and find what exactly that is. Now I am at a point where I’ve found myself in my music. It’s all there – all you have to do is listen.” 
photo: David Duenias
In his master classes, Nir demonstrates his theories about thinking out of the “classical musician box,” discussing his techniques of playing different styles, improvisation, and experimenting creatively. Besides pointing out specifics about his beloved instrument – the cello – like movement, intonation, vibrato, good sound, and bow changes, he addresses general points of interests relevant to every musician, like getting gigs, promoting yourself, and finding your inner producer. Sounds like an interesting music lesson for fans as well!
For inquiries visit Yoed Nir’s website:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The joyous spirit of sound – cellist Ani Aznavoorian

I know the price of Silence When on the threshold of sound, It congeals in the contour of emptiness Blends with the beating heart.   

(Part of the poem “Insomnia” – by Lera Auerbach)

Painting by Lera Auerbach

Cellist Ani Aznavoorian and pianist/composer, all around artistically creative tour de force, Lera Auerbach were roommates during their mutual years at Julliard. Perhaps it is this personal familiarity that connects two exceptional musicians, or perhaps it is their immensely harmonious musical affinity that forges a special bond; either way, the fact remains that when both young women join in recital or collaborate as composer and soloist, sparks ignite, which comes as no surprise. (Photo credit: Lisa Mazzucco)

“We always had a strong connection and liked each other’s company,” says Aznavoorian, who recently traveled from Santa Barbara for a recital in New York. She has studied with Aldo Parisot and was the youngest cellist to win Juilliard’s concerto competition during her first year there. Since then, Aznavoorian has performed internationally with many renowned orchestras and musicians. Yet, Aznavoorian and Auerbach’s live performance of Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for cello and piano, which she composed at age 26 in 1999 and set as a ballet choreographed by John Neumaier, at Hamburg, Germany’s Staatsoper 11 years ago, has been “their biggest thing together” to date, according to Aznavoorian.

That at least was true until Auerbach’s new concerto Dreammusik, written for Camerata Pacifica and Ani Aznavoorian, received its premiere on March 7th of this year at the Colburn School Zipper Auditorium in Los Angeles by Aznavoorian and members of the renowned West Coast chamber music ensemble.

It was a 2010 performance of 24 Preludes that inspired Sandra Svoboda, a longstanding fan of Aznavoorian’s dynamic performance style and the Camerata Pacifica’s novel programming, to commission a new composition by Auerbach, to be performed by the much-loved cellist, who has held Camerata Pacifica’s first cellist chair for five years. The commission was intended to recreate for the ensemble and Aznavoorian the invigorating spirit of 24 Preludes, which was described as having “bristled with muscular vigor and ferocity,” and marked as “a definitive performance of a remarkable addition to the chamber repertoire.” 

The March 2013 release of Celloquy, a collaborative recording of Aznavoorian and Auerbach on the Cedille label featuring 24 Preludes along with Sonata, composed in 2002, and Postlude, a work from 2006, coupled with further live performances of 24 Preludes kept the work’s momentum, leaving its characteristic mood fresh in the minds of audiences. The piece itself is momentum; the cyclic composition of the 24 miniature works – one in each key signature, based on a tradition of Prelude writings from Bach to Shostakovich – spans the broad emotional range of Auerbach’s dramatic but intensely lyrical writing. The tonal center belonging to its traditional predecessors is virtually frayed apart by chromaticism and huddles of musical structures, keeping its dramatic energy alive.

The new concerto for the cellist and small chamber ensemble, long awaited by Aznavoorian and Camerata Pacifica, came as an unexpected surprise to Aznavoorian when it finally arrived: “The piece was quite different from what I thought it might be. Lera’s works I have previously played have been quite virtuosic and full of gesture, but Dreammusik is more about texture and color, and almost lulls the audience into- an appropriately- dreamlike state. Unlike the traditional concerto writing with separate movements, it is an approx. 35-minute work without pause, so the scope and structure of it are two very complex aspects. It is dark and brooding, and tremendously beautiful,” says Aznavoorian. When it came time for Aznavoorian to premiere Dreammusik with nine members of Camerata Pacifica, much to the cellist’s relief, Auerbach was present and extremely helpful during the rehearsal process. It was, after all, the first time the cellist had had the opportunity to hear the full piece as a whole; a complex moment, certainly, even for an intuitive and sensitive musician like Aznavoorian, whose most pervasive passion is chamber music. “I love everything about it, most of all the music, but also the whole process of rehearsing together and then being on stage together with friends. I sometimes laugh hysterically and say to myself – I can’t believe this is my job!” Indeed, watching Aznavoorian’s ways with her cello, one realizes instantly the great joy she feels connecting with her instrument. Her cello has been made for her by a craftsman close to her heart – her father Peter Aznavoorian. Of Armenian descent and based in Chicago, he followed a calling late in life, and became a violin maker: “He knows more about the instruments than anyone I know and he is very specific in his ways. My cello has the letter ‘A’ carved in its scroll, my father says it stands for Aznavoorian, but for me it stands for Ani – it’s mine,” she laughs, shaking her curly hair. Observing her in performance, it’s easy to sense that she has made that instrument fully her own, willing it to express finely nuanced shades of color, a subtle, warm tone, and a brilliant, natural technique.

Aznavoorian’s career has taken many different paths, and includes teaching, which she enjoys wholeheartedly. But, like so many young mothers, she struggles a bit with finding the right balance between her family life and career. “It is difficult to stay visible,” she says.  With one small son, Alexander, aged two and a half, and with one more child on the way, the artist has had to cut down on her traveling performances. (Photo credit: Lisa Mazzucco)
While she came to New York twice a month before having kids, she now only comes four times a year, often to perform with the Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players, whose one-of-a-kind program she appreciates. Brought up with music from age three, it has remained a key ingredient in her life, turning her into the imaginative and reliable musical partner that her many artistic collaborators, among them Auerbach, recognize her to be.

Auerbach, born in the Urals, had defected from the Soviet Union to pursue the wider shores of her vigorous and seemingly endless creative energy, successively adding different artistic mediums to her prodigious pianism. For about five years now, this creativity has also translated into a growing oeuvre of paintings and sculptures. In connection with her new concerto for Aznavoorian, Auerbach painted a Chagall-reminiscent dreamscape, which she offered for auction, donating half of the proceeds to further Camerata Pacifica’s programs. Enamored, with the vivacious work - a perfect relic of her memorable experience with the concerto commissioned for her - Aznavoorian and her husband decided to purchase it. The work announces the concerto on the Camerata Pacifica poster, dominated by a deep oceanic blue terrain, complete with floating cello and other fish; the original oil and sepia-on-canvas painting, which measures about 40 x 30 inches wide, is currently being framed for Aznavoorian.   

Concerning the meaning of the concerto itself, though, Auerbach remains adamantly silent. In an interview with Daniel Kepl leading up to the concerto’s premiere, she said: “I want the audience to know it for themselves. I think words from the composer can become quite dangerous when it comes to music. It’s a beautiful invitation for the audience to explore their own imagination.”

That does seem appropriate when dealing with dreams – and music: a very personal and transient dimension, existing in a world of its own.