Thursday, September 12, 2013

Elena Bashkirova - creating crossroads in music with the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival

The drive to make a difference may run in the family, but Elena Bashkirova, married to Daniel Barenboim, has managed to make her own mark on the international cultural music scene as the founding artistic director of the Jerusalem International Chamber Music Festival.

“I never planned to become a director, it happened totally by chance,” says the energetic pianist about her inspired undertaking, which – during two weeks each September – has united international and local musicians in an intense collaboration at the heart of Jerusalem’s YMCA cultural center since its inception in 1998.

Upon returning to her home in Berlin after this year’s festival in Jerusalem, Bashkirova shares some thoughts as to the motivation behind her efforts: “Jerusalem, as you know, is a kind of cradle of all cultures- but it is bleeding! We had this intense conversation with some journalists and friends, when Daniel and I attended an IPO-concert [Israel Philharmonic Orchestra] in Jerusalem, with a lot of wonderful soloists -Itzhak Perlman, Misha Maisky and Yefim Bronfman – performing. During the intermission, we debated about how the increasing divide and isolation takes its huge toll on the city’s cultural landscape and that - it’s nothing new - more and more people are leaving Jerusalem, and that something ought to be done for that special public.”

“And then,” she continues, “I asked spontaneously, if an opportunity came up – and it takes a good amount of great friends within the music business – if I could count on the necessary support.”  She realizes: “For these international renowned artists, this was not about career-building performances and certainly not about fees, but about giving back – and they all wanted me to do something about it. Before I met Daniel, I had never lived in Jerusalem or dreamed of spending more time here, but Daniel’s love for Jerusalem was inspiring; he made me aware of this beautiful country.” The enthusiastic response to her inquiries was overwhelming, and her voice beams a bit: “within a week I had a roster of musicians lined up.” First performances were held at the smaller Khan Theater before the festival, in its fully developed state, was permitted to move to the larger YMCA building’s concert hall.

To this day, the festival has not paid its contributing performers - nobody asks for money. Besides covering the artists’ travel expenses, the festival hosts the musicians at the neighboring Mishkenot Sha’ananim, the Jerusalem Music Center, and provides joint dinners at a very long communal table. This special artistic cooperation, the family-style atmosphere, and the pleasure of performing for an ardently loyal and inquisitive audience, as well as contributing to Jerusalem’s artistic scene, is what draws artists to the festival, and sets the festival apart. “And then there is the snowball effect of course,” says Bashkirova, “the same people drive more people to come.”

The attraction goes both ways. For younger artists, it’s a chance to play with stellar, world-renowned performers, but it also allows more experienced artists to meet young talent that they may very well see again at international performances in Berlin, Vienna, or Verbier.  It’s a small world after all, as world-renowned performer András Schiff, who also performed at this year’s festival, shared in an interview after last year’s performance with the German FAZ. The master pianist describes his joy of performing with many of his old friends while experiencing the talented, new generation as they endeavor to explore a wide range of repertoire together.

Maestro Barenboim himself proved invaluable to Bashkirova’s efforts, given his healthy network of international musicians; the partnership was an initiation of sorts for Bashkirova: “thanks to him I started this.” So far, Barenboim has only performed twice at his wife’s festival. “He made himself available, whenever he had time,” says Bashkirova, whose son Michael Barenboim, a promising violinist in his own right, is a more frequent participant in her festival. “But I don’t count on Daniel, he is the cherry on top of the cake.” Bashkirova admits to some right wing, controversial public reactions to his appearances, which don’t seem to faze her. “We are on the same page in what’s right and wrong! He vehemently critiques Israeli policies, but only out of love for this country!”

Her own ambitions for the festival (very much in line with Barenboim’s own endeavors) are geared towards claiming Jerusalem’s international cultural status through music without engaging with the pitfalls of political agendas, and the resentment they create. Music shall be borderless. Equally important in the mission of the acclaimed Russian pianist, who engages herself prominently at each of the festival’s concerts, is the integration of contemporary repertoire into the established masterpieces. “Since ten years now, at least, we commission our own works by contemporary, Israeli and International composers,” she mentions.  The festival’s programming follows her recipe of infusing the particular thematic focus of each year’s event into a broad spectrum of old masterworks and respective new works. “This year‘s festival was devoted to the exploration of the ‘Quintet‘. The quintessential masterworks by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Dvořák, Schumann, Brahms, Franck and Shostakovich, as well as lesser-known but equally great Quintet compositions, such as those by Bartók, Elgar, and Ligeti were performed in varying formations of all festival performers. A newly written work by Israeli composer Ayal Adler, Colors of Dust received its Israeli premiere at the festival. It had its German premiere this April, at the festival‘s ‘younger brother,’ the 2nd JCMF Berlin Festival and was co-commissioned by both foundations.

“Music has to be framed together in the program, pieces don’t stand by themselves. Only in the pairing of old and new can you understand the full measure of the works. It is a very important part of the program to create the intensity that arrives from neighboring traditional and contemporary art and many times it’s a test, if a piece can stand its own,” she remarks.

Bashkirova has sought to expand the festival by taking it abroad at various times throughout the year, and presenting smaller segments of the program internationally. For two years, the Berlin Jewish Museum and its great hall, designed by acclaimed architect Daniel Libeskind, has hosted a miniature version of the Jerusalem festival. “We also did a few times in New York, including two weekends at Zankel Hall, six years ago. The last two years we went to Paris’ Cité de la Musiqe, or the big festivals at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and many other wonderful places.” An initial attempt to bring the festival to London failed, due to the proposal of the concert producer to take ‘Jerusalem’ out of the festival’s name, in order to prevent anti-Semitic reactions like the notorious disturbances that occurred during the IPO’s relatively recent performance there.  Bashkirova, rather appalled by the lack of courage on the side of the producer, dismissed the rather infamous proposition. “To boycott musicians that come to perform is a terrible thing, I just can’t agree with that, but the producers should not escape the conflict by negating the attacked artists, that just reeks of cowardly behavior,” she bursts out, in dismay.

She is passionate about her mission, and successful at spreading its wings. What artists are looking for is a meaningful environment to communicate through their music. She views the open atmosphere that dominates Germany as a fertile breeding ground at this point in time. The Berlin resident concludes, “It’s not for no reason.  Many artists flock to Germany, many of them Israelis, since there is such a flourishing attitude to be found for the arts and for artistic community.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Pianist Byron Janis – the spirit of an American Idol

This article has been published in German at: PianoNews (Staccato-Verlag) on September 1st, 2013.
The eminent Pianist Byron Janis is the real deal when it comes to the stuff American legends, are made of.  Not unlike the Hollywood stars of the fifties and sixties, famed classical musicians have historically been part of the cultural stimulus, presented by talk show hosts like Johnny Carson, and featured prominently in the public eye.
In his earlier life, Janis’s pianistic dexterity and charisma, as well as his severe intensity, gained him exposure, adulation, and at times, unfavorable censorship. But it was his never-ending belief in the power of music and passion that best exemplified his later life, as he overcame adversity and has continued to publicly advocate his mantra “mind over matter,” which proves to be an inspiration for many.
Janis, born Byron Yanks (an abbreviation of Yankelevitch), is of Polish/Russian descent, and grew up a child prodigy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The artist, called a ‘magician’ by Le Figaro, looks back on a career that began in 1943, when Janis made his orchestral debut with Toscanini’s NBC Symphony Orchestra at age 15, performing Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 under the Baton of Frank Black in New York.  Returning to Pittsburgh, Janis played the great romantic piece again, with then fourteen-year-old Lorin Maazel as conductor. As fait would have it, Vladimir Horowitz was in the audience for that performance, and invited Janis to play for him in New York.
Becoming the first student and a protégé of the legendary pianist at age 17, Janis was often accused of imitating the master’s pianistic style, a burden which he admits was difficult to escape. It was in particular his “nervous energy,” as he called it, that attracted Horowitz.  Says Janis: “[nervous] in the good sense of the word…without which even the greatest technical proficiency can seem mechanical.” Janis’s previous teacher, Adele Marcus, had warned him: “Your own personality is going to get destroyed if you work with him,” and while Horowitz would never play the piano during Janis’s lessons as to avoid exactly such inclination to imitate, Janis had ample opportunity on many occasions spent at the Horowitz New York residence to listen to his playing.
Byron Janis with Vladimir Horowitz
Janis considers these moments to be examples of the master’s ‘greatest, unaffected, natural playing. Indeed Janis struggled to develop his own voice over some time; so profound was Horowitz’s overshadowing personality that Janis says, “I knew exactly how he phrased, how he felt about a piece and it all got into my ear,” as Aryeh Oron quotes in his biographical synopsis of Janis.
During the three years that Janis studied with the master, Horowitz attempted to make sure to be the only pianistic influence on the young and impressionable pianist, never missing a lesson and even taking him on tour along with his wife, Wanda. Yet Horowitz also made it clear that he meant to guide, but not totally indoctrinate Janis to the point of imitation: “You don’t want to be another Horowitz; you want to be a first Janis.” Janis felt a great obligation to develop into what Horowitz saw in him, particularly when Horowitz told him: “right now you draw in watercolors, when you could paint in oil.” This meant becoming the great, romantic virtuoso of which he held the promise within. The mentorship ended in an almost Oedipal affair between 20-year-old Janis and Wanda, who had struggled in her marriage to closeted, yet famously gay Horowitz.
Janis’s international concert tours brought him to South America and Europe in the early1950s, playing with the greatest orchestras and conductors of the time, including the Concertgebouw with Eduard van Beinum, and the London Symphony Orchestra with Antal Dorati. Janis gave his London debut with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Norman del Mar, and upon his return in 1961, he performed the same concerto; a critic wrote that it was “…played with all the ardor, fire, and sympathy it calls for and so rarely gets by Mr. Byron Janis, an enormously gifted pianist from America.”
Peter Rosen’s documentary, The Byron Janis Story, aired on PBS in 2010.  In it, Janis humorously describes how, living on New York’s 57th Street, he must have been the first performer walking to his own Carnegie Hall debut, which took place in 1957.
Janis’s exciting recordings from that same time, made by RCA-Victor, include Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Charles Munch conducting, and Liszt’s Totentanz, Richard Strauss’s Burlesque and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony.
Chosen by the United States Department of State for a 1960 concert tour in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, Janis became the first American artist to a vehicle to initiate cultural exchange.  Another great American pianist, the late Van Cliburn, who had won the acclaimed Moscow Tchaikovsky competition in 1958, had already become a significant hallmark for a higher appreciation of the American cultural image in the Soviet Union, but it was Janis who faced public audiences, proving that as he says, “America could do more than produce cars.”
His recordings of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.1 and Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 for Mercury’s Living Presence LP with Kyrill Kondrashin and the Moscow Philharmonic were a result of that tour, and became a benchmark for this repertoire. (In 1995 the CD version won the Cannes award for best Reissue).  Peter Rosen’s documentary shows fascinating footage dating from that time, profiling Janis’ persona in the historic context of his life. The film was included in an 11-CD Box Set of Janis’s works, which also includes seven of Janis’s re-mastered discs as CDs, and his original recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” The compilation was released by Sony in April 2013.
Janis still reminisces about this historical concert: “After initial hostile shouting of ‘U2! U2!’ An American spy-plane that had been shot down over Soviet territory just weeks before, I said to myself ‘stay calm.’” As he began to overcome the animosity and started the performance, the people’s attitude began to change, and fascination and solidarity with the performer set in. “When I had finished, people were ecstatic, and came to the edge of the stage. But it’s not just the music, I felt they know who I am, I am not the enemy.  I am also like them.”
The recording crew’s vehicle with US license plates parked on the red square was a highly unusual sight, and fascinated crowds made it into the hall for rehearsals, which took place until deep into the night.
Janis was invited back by the Soviet Union in 1962, and he performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with Benny Goodman, which marked the first performance of the iconic work by an American in Russia.
Having made his reputation predominantly with repertoire from the great romantic era, Janis actually feels that all music is romantic at heart.  It was Chopin in particular who played a special role in Janis’s life.
Janis’s first teacher, Abraham Litow, introduced Janis to his first Chopin Waltz, op. 69 no. 2 in b-minor.  Chopin’s music made Janis shudder with excitement the first time he encountered it; it initiated in him a deep desire not only to explore the music further, but the man, with whom he felt such kinship.
Many pianists feel drawn to Chopin’s wondrous harmonies, his beautiful melodies and earthy spirituality. It has been Janis, though, whose exceptional encounters with Chopin have touched on an element of supernatural phenomena. “Chopin makes the piano speak like no other. You can actually put words to his melodies,” he says while sitting down at the piano to recapture the very first meeting of the souls, playing Chopin’s Waltz, Op. 69 No.2 in b-minor for me.  As he halts his playing to explain about Chopin’s suggested technique of unusual fingerings and sliding hand movements, he exudes the genuinely experienced wisdom he has gained throughout his highly creative life, yet maintains an air of youthful spirituality. His accounts are not didactic, but rather convey a deeply personal approach, which transpires well in his book Chopin and Beyond, co-authored by his wife and published by John Wiley & Sons in 2010.
In 1967, during a concert tour in France, Janis rediscovered the manuscripts of two previously unknown Chopin waltzes at the Château de Thoiry, outside of Paris.  One of Janis’s fans, Viscount Paul de la Panouse, invited him and his wife for a visit. Upon wandering around the Renaissance estate and its historic archival collection, Janis became curious about an old trunk that had belonged to the Viscount’s great-grandmother, Clémence. The unusual wooden trunk, covered with boar’s skin, was marked ‘old clothes.’  “As they opened and inspected the folded layers of lavish dresses and shawls Clémence had worn,” Janis describes in his book, “they noticed the letters.”  It was a collection of correspondence from diplomat Eugène Sue, author of The Wandering Jew, who was obviously an ardent admirer of Clémence; he had also been a friend of Chopin’s. Underneath the letters, Janis discovered several old manuscripts, held together by a frayed, pale blue ribbon. In disbelief, he immediately recognized them to be Chopin’s manuscripts with variations of his Waltz in G-flat, op. 70, no. 1, and the other as Chopin’s famous Grande Valse Brilliante, op.18.  Reflecting on that moment, Janis says, “I quickly went to the piano with the manuscripts penned in 1833 and excitedly pointed out the differences [to their published versions].”
Chopin himself had published the famous Grande Valse Brilliante (in E-flat) in 1835, when, according to Janis, he was in need of money to travel to the Rhine Music Festival in Germany, where some of his works were to be performed; he may have wanted to show that he could do a waltz, a dance he had never encountered before his visit to Vienna in 1832.  Janis points out his that in his letters from Vienna, he had mentioned that the waltz was a “very strange dance.”  Upon the verification of the manuscripts by the Société Francaise de Musicologie in Paris, the New York Times ran the rare find as their December 21st cover story in 1967.  In the summer of 1969, Janis performed the 1833 version of Chopin’s manuscripts at a private recital at Thoiry, becoming the first person to play them since Chopin.
Yet, as if this were not remarkable enough, the story does not end here.  In 1973 while visiting Yale University, Janis, who was suffering pain from the onset of arthritis, was discussing teaching a master class. While in the library’s archives where the musical manuscripts were held, Janis curiously pointed to a folder on a high shelf. Astonishingly additional versions of the same previously discovered waltzes were discovered, which were dated a year prior (1832), and contained further differences: “Accents were put on different notes, giving certain sections a syncopated rhythm; one had some measures deleted; another section was now marked dolente, with pain, and a few octaves were substituted for single notes,” Janis explains.  These events led to Janis’s involvement with the 1978 French television documentary, Frédéric Chopin: A Voyage with Byron Janis.
Fascinated with Chopin’s life, Janis visited Nohant, the Estate of George Sand, where Chopin had spent ten years of his life until two years before his death, when he and Sands parted. There, Janis met Aurora, the grand-daughter of Meurice, George Sand’s son; she asked Janis to play the piano at the Estate.  Janis also met with the caretaker of the Estate, Roger de Garat, who made him the head of the short-lived musical society, ‘Les Amis de Chopin’ (Friends of Chopin).
From Garat, Janis received one of the three remaining original death masks of Chopin. Garat, in dire need of money to prevent the contents of the estate being sold off piecemeal, felt this relic was safe in this pianist’s hands, since he loved Chopin so immensely.
Janis describes inexplicable, intense, and mysterious happenings surrounding this mask, pointing to a spiritual connection between souls beyond the border of the immediate capacity of perception.
“Chopin himself believed strongly in an alter world,” he says. “It is a very important interpretative device. When I played his works at times, I experienced an out-of-body experience. Those are the most sublime moments every artist lives for.”
Janis’s continuing resilience throughout challenges is enough to make one believe in the supernatural.  Janis is living proof of how it is possible to conquer pain and illness, physical limitation, and even disbelief, with only a large reservoir of profoundly inspired love.  He has managed to pursue his intense calling to piano performance despite a severe finger injury experienced during childhood, severe bursitis, frozen shoulder syndrome, and then the onset of debilitating psoriatic arthritis at age 45, which he had managed to keep secret for a very long time. Yet, despite the increasing pain, he kept on playing. For years, Janis gave concerts, not knowing when the pain would set in, how long he could rehearse without irritating the inflamed joints too much, and worse perhaps, not knowing if he would still compare to “normal pianists.” He constantly wondered and worried if managers and orchestral advisors find out he was “damaged,” or worse yet, the critics. The first of five operations left Janis with a shortened thumb in 1973, a procedure, he found out later, which could have been avoided. “Music was my passion; without it I thought I could not live anymore.”
Depression and self-doubt set in, yet Janis managed to take up his career intermittently once again. As the remarkable pianist he was, Janis was able to negotiate the keyboard by constantly switching fingerings, in order to substitute the painful fingers. Sometimes the pain would set in only shortly before a performance, which meant a constant alteration of motions, an incredibly difficult task.  To study and memorize a routine of motions, and then suddenly replace it with different fingerings, at times even helping with fingers of the other hand would be nearly impossible for most musicians. “I even devised a peripheral way of vision to make it possible to have my fifth finger in my view, while seeing the overall keyboard, for more security,” Janis says, regarding his unorthodox technique.
Over time, in light of the constant struggle to overcome his pain-ridden reality, Janis’s concert appearances became increasingly rare. Finally, he came out with his secret suffering, and turned his heavy, arduous burden into an act of exemplary civil courage, becoming an ambassador for the Arthritis Foundation. Janis never compromised on style when he decided to perform a concert at the White House in 1985, at which Nancy Reagan announced that the pianist was also suffering from Arthritis, a fact that Janis finally embraced with courage: “I have arthritis, but it doesn’t have me.” It was his wife, Maria Cooper Janis, the daughter of the legendary screen actor Gary Cooper, and Janis’s true love, who helped him through the times of despair that followed. She motivated him to write the music score for a documentary about her father being filmed at the time, which Turner Network later used in a 1989 broadcast. His soundtrack turned out to be captivating, capturing the essence of the film star wonderfully. Greatly encouraged, and possessing a new outlet for his creative energy, Janis gained new vitality as a composer.  His musical theme for the Global Forum on Human Survival, held in Oxford, England in 1988, became the song “The One World,” and his work also includes a musical version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Janis’s high-spirited efforts to promote the enormous healing power of art and music have never diminished. He has many plans, one of which is to offer his testimonial of music’s therapeutic possibilities to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for veterans.
When asked if he enjoys going to concert performances of today’s performing pianists, he comments: “I conserve my energy to be creative myself.”
His motivation is most palpable when he sits down at one of the two pianos in his homey Park Avenue Apartment. The baby grand piano belongs to his wife Maria, and as part of the former household of Gary Cooper whose three Oscars are casually displayed on a nearby side table, it carries the treasures of Hollywood memories of guests like Frank Sinatra.
Janis still performs with echoes of his former grace and grandeur, even in the shadow of the many ups and downs of his long, complex career.  He continues to perform from time to time, but generally only for events celebrating his great pianistic and personal achievements, most of which are devoted to the support of a variety of humanitarian societies including the Arthritis Foundation, the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute, for which he acts as presidential advisor, and ProMusicis, which supports young musicians and encourages their involvement in social services.
Janis has received a slew of honorary titles for his undiminished enthusiasm and ongoing humanitarian efforts, the latest of which he received on May 2nd, an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Hebrew Union College. Since Janis has a strong commitment to the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and Jerusalem as a spiritually meaningful and holy place, this means a lot to him.
Janis expresses no resentment as he relates the events of his long and intense life at the piano and beyond, and after so many surprising comebacks, Janis is entitled to say: “Some things even feel better than what I have done before. Suffering brought something out, an ability to make people feel. True artists don’t make excuses – they just do and I would not ask for another pair of hands, what I have learned has made me what I am.”
While some details now escape his memory, Janis is an interesting storyteller with an intriguingly generous approach to life.  He says, “Striving for perfection is ok, as long as you know you will never reach it – you play the right notes so much, and then something else happens.”  His worldview clearly relates to life beyond the keyboard! He says, “Truly great artists are masters of imperfection.”

Benjamin Grosvenor - pianistic old world mastery with youthful projection

Despite having been featured on just about every major music magazine’s cover, Benjamin Grosvenor’s performances in the United States remain sparingly sprinkled, infrequent events, perhaps due to a deliberately precautious move by Hazard Chase International Music Management, who has guided Grosvenor’s skyrocketing career since age 14.

His admirably clear and spontaneous-sounding interpretations astound audiences anew with each performance, justifying his already wide European following, which was evident when he opened the 2011 BBC-Proms at age 19, playing for a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, and signing on to the prestigious Decca label as the youngest, and first British artist on their label in sixty years.

In New York, the young English chap, who modestly appeared in pants and black shirt at his Frick Collection debut last year, captivated a select audience with his very personal and sensitive, yet highly virtuosic performance. His playing, technically brilliant, was illustratively imaginative, and his interpretations showed a mature musicianship well beyond his years.

This summer, on July 26, Grosvenor performed at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts with the National Symphony Orchestra for an enormously large audience at this year’s Wolf Trap Summer Festival.
During rehearsal the day before, at Washington’s Kennedy Center with Christopher Eschenbach’s orchestral assistant director, Ankush Kumar Bahl, Grosvenor made the expressive lead in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto his own. One could not help but be reminded of RCA’s recording of the same concerto by the young Evgeny Kissin with Valery Gergiev, due to its similarly effective projection of this effervescent highlight of romanticism.

In conversation, Grosvenor exhibits a view of pianism, which further reminds in some ways of Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, twenty years his senior. It is the utmost individualistic approach that underlies the reverence to the composer at hand, which, embraced by both pianists, puts both of them into the distinct line of heritage of the so-called Golden Age of the piano, as they each produce idiosyncratic, yet definite sound worlds. Both pianists’ mothers were piano teachers, both grew up around music and were utterly natural and uninhibited at the piano while performing at a very young age. Both only realized the piano’s pitfalls and difficulties, and developing a more self-conscious awareness of what goes into performing, later on during adolescence.
Grosvenor discretely experienced bouts of stage fright, which was partially overcome by his then new-found love for chamber music performances, which made it possible to share the impact of the stage. Kissin, on the other hand, distinguishes between “good and bad nerves,” the former turned good only by intense preparation.  Both mention how they enjoy “being in control of everything” during their solo recitals, while the concerto performances with orchestras still play a large role within the classical repertoire they perform. Both love their audiences, are eager to see them up close, and connect to them on a personal level, enjoy their touring practice, and communicate through a charismatic stage presence that is neither demure nor arrogant, but rather matter-of-fact.
“My favorite trip so far was to Rio de Janeiro in 2006,” says Grosvenor, “I felt I was really able to connect with the people, they were so enthusiastic and I found the atmosphere, the different culture very appealing.” He has also enjoyed performing in churches, commonly chosen by music societies and summer festivals in England, as alternative venues to concert halls.  “It is the intimate atmosphere of a church, often away from a big city, that appealed to me,” he says.

The film titled Imagine: Being a Concert Pianist, by Julian Strand, shows 11-year-old Grosvenor as the outstanding keyboard finalist of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition. Already at this stage, the film places him in the company of prodigal piano greats, including Kissin among others.
Not unlike the close-knit Kissin family, Grosvenor’s family, in the interest of self-preservation, was wary to avoid an excessive performance schedule in order to grant the seemingly eager, if awkwardly-portrayed participant in the film, a somewhat ‘normal’ upbringing. Normal, at least within the specific boundaries of a not-so-normal occupation, which famously takes some of its best contenders at such a young age, when, compared to their peers, their achievements and capacities show with amazing discrepancy. Well aware of the potential drawbacks of the prodigal factor, which could often be limiting to the sound development of the growing professional musician, the family kept the youngest of their five children, their Benjamin, as close to home as possible. This meant traveling together, mostly with his mother, who was present at the latest Washington rehearsal. “Not as much anymore, now though,” adds Grosvenor, “which is my choice.”

On his recent, last tour to Singapore, Grosvenor managed on his own, “provided the excellent arrangements of my management…One day I will have to do it alone anyway,” he says. By now, his schedule has become increasingly busy and with 76 concerts a year, some of them spread out during tours that afford much traveling time, he spends much less time at home in Essex’s Southend- On- See, a large town about an hour’s drive east of London, where he enjoys a quieter surrounding. “London is too hectic for me,” he says. Even while completing his degree at London’s Royal Academy of Music with his mentor Christopher Elton, he commuted, and he still does about once a week play for his former teacher, and also Daniel-ben Pienaar at the Royal Academy of Music, whom he names as his biggest musical influence besides Elton.

Pienaar possesses a particular interest in early music and, the Viennese classics, and early Romantics; his Diabelli Variations recording just made “recording of the week” with the London Times. Grosvenor himself would love to include more contemporary compositions into his programs, which, while heavily centered on the Romantics, still aim to offer a broadened view of the spectrum of repertoire. A matter of time, perhaps…

After the summer break, Benjamin Grosvenor’s impressive concert schedule is: Konzerthaus Berlin on Septmeber 8th; Paris Salle Gaveau, October 11th; London Wigmore Hall, October 14th; Detroit Symphony Orchestra October 25th-27th; Boston Celebrity Series, November 5th; Het Concertgebouw November 16h.  The program will include: Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccio Op.14; Schubert’s Impromptu Op.90, No. 3.; Schumann’s Humoreske; Mompou’s Paisajes; Medtner’s Two Fairy Tales Op. No.3 and Op.14, No.2; Ravel’s Valses Nobles et Sentimentales; and Gounod/Liszt’s Valse de Faust.
New Yorkers will have to wait until 2014, for his Zankel Hall recital, but pianophiles will know that it is not to be missed!