Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Thank yous and video of Get Classical at the Rose Bar

The video of Get Classical at the Rose Bar is out - for anyone who missed it, or for some who want to relive the wonderful evening!  Thanks Jenny for a great video production and everybody for taking part in Get Classical's launch!!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Francesco Libetta : The Italian piano artist explores the current state of the art

Libetta is a musician’s pianist, re-invited year after year to tour venues beyond his home in Italy, where he has made his name as the established artist of the keyboard that he is.  His fans worldwide are loyal, devoted and growing.

One of his homes away from home in the United States is Giselle Brodsky’s Miami Piano Festival, where Libetta is often one of Giselle’s group of handpicked, chosen pianists who not only excel though their superior skills as instrumentalists, but are true artists.

Giselle and Libetta met in 1994, after Giselle heard a commercially produced recording of one of his Chopin performances in Milan,  which in her opinion, even though it made her interested in the young Italian artist, did not do his pianism justice. She wanted to see him perform live at her festival in Miami.

“There is an invisible net in the music business and its workings are mysterious. It’s very hard to explain why some artists are successful and others aren’t as much,” says Libetta in an interview in his Hotel off 57th Street, just a minute away from Steinway Hall where he used the practice rooms for his performance in the large scale Italian productions of The Profile, The Life And The Faith Across The Notes by Mario Jazzetti, at Avery Fisher Hall, on May 12th. “Maurizio, as he calls himself, did not study composition, “Libetta explains, “but wanted to write a personal diary, a description of life and love through all their trials. It features a very difficult piano part and the orchestration had to be redone. The whole production became a six part concerto, very passionate and melodic. Sixty years after it was written, the orchestration completed after his death, his widow wanted to hear the whole piece after living with the composer for forty years and knowing he had only worked on this piece his entire life. I found the whole story around it quite touching and agreed to perform it, when his son approached me. “

Libetta continued his train of thought with me“…there are musicians that are praised a lot but don’t sell season tickets and then the opposite is true of some very famous names that are magnets at the box office. I guess it’s a combination of curiosity and fashion. Especially now, with fame not necessarily being created in the concert hall but on the Internet, it is harder to keep an audience interested by a good performance alone and the press is not that interested in writing reviews of concerts. When I grew up, every little town newspaper had its own music critique. If you had a good recital you had a critique, and you had that documentation at hand, something you can’t reliably count on anymore. You can only collect your programs to have the indication that you performed there.”  The pianist gets animated and speaks in a charming, heavy Italian accent, as he relates his experiences in the music world and its business aspects. “Someone said to me: ‘The world is great and there will always be a place were you can perform once. But if you are in one season program you will be in others as well.’”

With gusto, he continues, “People like to fall back on names they are familiar with. It’s the same like in the super market. You buy the brand you know. You will go look for a certain product you know already. So, if the newspapers don’t write about a performer and the season’s producer is not brave enough to program an artist, the manager does not want to take a leap of faith…but at the end, what is the real sensor of fame? Some recordings on YouTube get thousands of clicks; others, of truly great artists perhaps a few steady clicks.”

“When Yuja Wang recently performed Bartok’s Second Piano Concerto,” he continues, impassioned, “it was broadcast on Radio. The director, a friend of mine, asked me how I enjoyed it and I told him that even though I did enjoy her – she was very good – in the live performance she did not have enough sound. That’s one of the problems of giving live concerts. You have to be able to adjust your dynamics. In a big hall that requires a lot of sound, but, with compressed sound bites on YouTube, it is not necessary. Therefore, if you just play fast enough you will sound great on YouTube, but it takes a different kind of musician to perform on stage. It also involves the audience in a special way. It appears as if it’s one musician playing to thousands of people, but really it is thousands of people willing to listen to this one musician as well. “

When asked if he often goes to other musicians’ concerts, he tells me honestly, ”I live in quite a remote place and I live alone. The pianist is alone anyway most of the time, so I am always interested in an exchange of some sort with other musicians, but not necessarily going to other’s concerts. Rachmaninov famously said, if another pianist was bad, it was upsetting, and if he was good it was even more upsetting to him.” We laugh.

“It depends what you are looking for. I am not particular interested in the technical capacity – a new piece, I can read myself. Sometimes it can be interesting to pick up on new trends, programming, what’s happening altogether, you can feel things are going in one direction or another. I liked being in Miami, where I met so many wonderful musicians and friends and there is huge talent, like Ilya Itin or Louis Prat. And I enjoy teaching Chamber Music to young students at the State Conservatory. There is a huge discrepancy between the score and the music these days. Almost like in medieval times, when people were illiterate, they knew how to speak but not how to read. I sometimes feel I play for blind people, so few are literate in music and I feel it’s important to bridge that distance. In the fifties and sixties when Richter played, there was repertoire people believed in, they knew what to expect.”And I certainly agree that while today’s audiences may be much more open-minded, few are very music-literate.

Francesco Libetta, good looking and sporty, believes strongly in a good work ethic as the conditioning of an artist, both at the piano and away from it. He likes physical activities along with disciplined work at the piano. “The sound is the shape of your movement. If you control the movement the music comes out naturally,” he explains.  “Callas was once interviewed, and asked what she deemed more important, technique or musicality and she said :’What do you mean, without technique there is not a single sound of music?’ Technique, the know how, only gives you the power to say what you want to say. Art is a craft. Virtuosity is the control of the body and soul. It is not a gift.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Noretta and John Leech: Standing fortissimo behind classical music and the artists of the Keyboard Charitable Trust

Photo: John Leech, Ilona Oltuski, Noretta Conci-Leech

It all started in 1991, when John Leech wanted to surprise his beloved wife Noretta with a momentous 60th birthday present. The gift he chose was one that would make a real difference in the life of numerous gifted, young pianists.  The gift he chose was that together they would help ease the struggle many young pianists go through to receive the international recognition they deserve and to advance their careers as artists.

A concert pianist and venerable teacher herself, Noretta Conci had been the student and assistant to one of Italy’s most famous pianists, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.  This association translated into many friendships  within the music world.

Her husband, John, who was touched by the many trials endured by the gifted musicians he met through Noretta, thought he could help.  He saw that these musicians, without hired management, were in dire need of international performing opportunities. “There was never any kind of official support, just a few dedicated donors and supporters who were invested,” said Leech.

With Leech’s strong links to European and Atlantic organizations and through his career with the Commonwealth Development Corporation, he was able to help develop new platforms and audiences for the new talents whom Noretta was encountering in competitions or were referred to her by other teachers. “Noretta made it a rule not to recommend her own, current students to the Trust, to avoid conflict of interests from the beginning,” said John Leech, who regularly attends performances of many Keyboard Trust protégées. In fact, I myself met this old-world charming couple last year at Alessio Bax’s Lincoln Center recital.

The Keyboard Charitable Trust had initially supported Alessio’s extremely successful career launch, and it was wonderful to see that their interest in him extended to him personally also. It exemplified the powerful relationship each of their pianists has with the Foundation – and most of all to Noretta and John Leech, themselves. It also demonstrated Noretta’s capacity for recognizing and appreciating true potential in a young talented instrumentalist.

According to their last analytical count, John tells me that 38 percent of Charitable Keyboard Trust’s artists are making a substantial career on the world’s stages as performers, and an additional 15-20 percent achieve high academic accolades. The Leeches are the best indication of their artist’s accomplishment, since they are true and devoted fans of their artists, as well as their friends.

Through a funny coincidence, I realized how small the music worldreally was,when I was attending the Keyboard Trust’s New York SteinwayHall event,where they were presenting the marvelous Sasha Grynyuk last Thursday.

But then I ran into them again the following day at the Lincoln Center rehearsal of the Italian pianist, Francesco Libetta, where they were hugging and conversing with him in Noretta’s native Italian tongue. I had interviewed the established pianist and countryman of Noretta the day before, when he had actually told me about his warm relationship with them and the great personal connections that had been generously bestowed on him, and how these were helping him along the way. They had bumped into each other at Steinway Hall, where Libetta had been practicing, and so they were delighted to catch his rehearsal at Lincoln Center, during their few days in New York.

Of course you never know which personal connection will in the end make a difference to any particular artist. Keyboard Trust, with over 60 locations in 11 countries worldwide- but concentrated in the Americas, Germany, England and Italy-provides valuable opportunities to show talent and connect it to some of the most prestigious supporters of classical music and some of their leading artists.

In 1993 a special benefit concert in support of the Keyboard Charitable Trust took place at London’s Royal Festival Hall, given by Claudio Abbado with the then European Community Youth Orchestra and pianist Evgeny Kissin. Together with Alfred Brendel, Claudio Abbado became one of the earliest trustees of the Keyboard Trust, endorsing the Trust’s high standards of artistic endeavors. The financial support of big donors like the late Marion Frank and Nicola Bulgari are directly responsible for the sponsorship of 140 outstanding young talents.

Kissin himself had experienced the generous friendship and hospitality of the Leeches, when they had hosted Kissin and his family in London, during the early years of his phenomenal, international career. Never one to forget any of his friends who welcomed him with open arms, the Leeches hold a special place in his heart. And Noretta, to this day, admires his extraordinary talent: “There is only one Kissin!” she whispered to me on a different occasion when we met – again, at Van Cliburn’s Christie’s auction preview event.

Most important for many of their trusted artists,  the unconditional friendship of Noretta and John Leech transforms the everyday dealings of concert performances, travels and accommodations and elevates the experiences of these young talents, as they are being exposed to new audiences, and trying to make a name for themselves. A core group of devotees and trustees manage operations for the Keyboard Trust, but the vital force that brings it all together still lies in the tireless efforts of the person the Trust was dedicated to: Noretta Leech.

This all came clear to me in a conversation with the young artist, presented by the Keyboard Trust at Steinway Hall, Sasha Grynyuk. He said he appreciated how personally engaged the Leeches were as they organized all their events and he genuinely enjoyed their company, as well. His relationship with them started about six years ago, when Noretta heard the Ukrainian graduate of the National Music Academy of Ukraine perform in London, where he is now based, and is currently receiving artistic guidance from Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia.

Chosen as a Rising Star by BBC Magazine and International Magazine, he also just won the Rio de Janeiro International Piano competition and the London Guildhall’s school’s most prestigious Gold Medal.

He is most excited about the release of his first recording, a collection of works by Gulda and Glenn Gould. He showed me his original cover design that features the chair of Gould floating in an angle almost Chagall-like, if it wasn’t so Apple-graphics styled black and white dominated. It is really original how he manages to place Grynyuk in a geometric line on the cover with Goulda and Gould. The recording will come out June 4th. He played a sampler, with great flair and technical virtuosity, of Goulda’s  four charming pieces from ‘Play Piano Play’ at Steinway Hall.

His recounting of how excited he was to be chosen by the Piano Classics label ( distributed in the USA by Harmonia Mundi for this opportunity was upbeat and intelligent and he managed – similar to his playing -- to embellish his story with just the right amount of intricate detail. For example, he told me how he had to buy the rights to the image of Gould’s chair from Sony, who had used it for their label, but how this was an important detail to him. Our conversation became a bit philosophical, as we talked about music and life. “It’s all about personal energy, and how to integrate life and music. It’s all interrelated in the end. Life is like music and if you lose it in life, you lose it in music.”  I think he is referring to enthusiasm here.  “There are sudden revelations. You sometimes solve things in music that you are thinking about in life, and vice versa. The immediacy that happens when you make music is a state of mind, not a concept. To me, life as a musician makes complete sense.“

The Keyboard Charitable Trust’s Board of Trustees are an august crew: Claudio Abbado, Alfred Brendel, Moritz Von Bredow, Richard Bridges, Nicola Bulgari, Noretta Conci-Leech, Sir Clive Gillinson, Leslie Howard, John Leech, Sir Geoffrey Nice, Geoffrey Shindler, and Nicholas Snowman.

For all of you still-undetected talent: one can just apply to the Keyboard Charitable Trust. For more information see their website:

Monday, May 14, 2012

Van Cliburn's legacy revisited at Christie's and the New York Public Library

It was the middle of the cold war, Anti-Americanism was
rampant in Russia, and American culture, in most Russian’s mind, was confined
to commerce and Coca-Cola. That was when
a young American, Harvey Lavan “Van”Cliburn, Jr. conquered the Soviet bloc(k)
in 1958 at the age of twenty three when he won the first International
Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow. Thanks to his “golden sound” Russians
had to re-adjust their mindset.
Returning home from Moscow, Mr. Cliburn received a ticker-tape parade in New York City, the
only time a classical musician was ever honored with the highest tribute possible by the City of New York. Upon Mr. Cliburn’s invitation, Kiril Kondrashin, the Russian conductor with whom the pianist had played hisprizewinning performance, came from Moscow to repeat the celebrated concert program with Van Cliburn at Carnegie Hall in New York, and other cities. Their
recording of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, made during Kondrashin’s visit, was the first classical recording ever to be awarded a platinum record, and has sold well over three million copies, according to Allan Bedford Sampson, President and CEO of the Van Cliburn Foundation, as stated in the latest Christie’s catalog.
Van Cliburn started to study piano at age 3 with his mother who was a pupil of Arthur Friedheim, himself a pupil of Anton Rubinstein and Franz Liszt. At 12 Van Cliburn made his orchestral debut with the Houston Symphony Orchestra and his
mother wanted him to study with the legendary Madame Rosina Lhevinne at New York Julliard’s school.
Now more than fifty years later, and a career with all the honors a great master can be awarded with, Mr. Van Cliburn is back in town -- not to play a concert but to auction his own and his mother’s collection of English furniture, Russian works of art, silver, jewelry, and, for piano devotees, his mother’s piano. The Steinway Model D concert grand is estimated at $40-60,000. The auction is to take place May 17th at Christie’s New York. In honor of his mother’s memory, the proceeds will benefitthe Julliard School and the Moscow Conservatory where Van Cliburn studied.
Van Cliburn’s high estimation for his mother is exemplified in what he told me at the auction preview where I met him for the first time on Mother’s Day, no less: “I always thought my mother played much more beautifully than I did.” One could sense the strong impact his mother had on him being his advisor, manager and inspiration, and in conversing with the legendary pianist, I was also struck that even at 77 years old, Mr. Van Cliburn has kept a youthful elegant demeanor and personal charm.
His interest and effort to aid young artists in their careers is nowhere more evident than in the legendary Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which was started in 1962, early in his own career, and is one of the most prestigious international piano competitions to this day.
What a perfect circling of time it was to see Van Cliburn, at the auction house, pulling a chair out at his mother’s
piano for the young talented pianist, Vladislav Kern, born in Moscow to a family of musicians who is currently studying at Julliard with chair of the piano faculty, Yoheved Kaplinsky.
For Van Cliburn fans, Van Cliburn will be at the New York Public Library, speaking about his
career and his extensive collection with Paul Holdengraeber. The event is Tuesday, May 15, at 7 pm, at the Stephen Schwarzman Building.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Get Classical at the Rose Bar's opening May 6th - An eventfull night of music, conversation and aperitifs

What an evening it was ! The music soared, the engaged audience was enthusiastic about the artists, the program selection and the beautiful presentation. Terrance McKnight was his ultra personable self as the entertaining conferencier, giving the artists a chance to shine and the audience some interesting insights - food and drinks were served by the great team at the Gramercy Park Hotel's Rose Bar. Guests raved about how wonderful it was to partake - a real salon happening, in great style. Too bad if you missed it; perhaps next time!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Study with memebers of the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Philadelphia International Music Festival

If you have not made musical plans for the summer yet- this has just been forwarded to me and I am glad to share it with you!

The Philadelphia International Music Festival, still excepts students to attend their program, which is directed by Kimberly Fisher, Assistant pricipal Second of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Christian Macelaru, Assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and will feature members of the venerable orchestra.
The Two-week session at Bryn Mawr College, PA, will take placce from June 16 - June 29th.
Please call 856-875-6816 for more information about this amazing opportunity!