Peaceful Piano Playlist: A Weekend Competition

It’s time for a weekend competition. Faber Music publish some of the most innovative educational piano material on the market. And they offer a wide selection of piano anthologies, providing teachers and their students with the valuable opportunity to access a diverse and vibrant collection of music by numerous composers, all, as it were, ‘under one roof’. Their latest piano volume is a cleverly designed tome catering for those who enjoy their playlists.

Peaceful Piano Playlist is a generous compilation of 35 thoughtfully selected piano pieces from an interesting bevy of composers. As the title suggests, the emphasis is on ‘peaceful’, and it’s clear from the tasteful colour scheme on the front cover that Faber are continuing with their plight to encourage mindfulness: Mindfulness: The Piano Collection was published a few years ago to great success, and this new book represents a similar theme. It will no doubt strike a chord with teachers and students due to the current popularity of this subject, which seems especially significant in our often chaotic world.

Amongst the selected group of popular composers are J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Robert Schumann, Erica Satie and Ludovico Einaudi, who effortlessely rub shoulders with a lesser-known group of Contemporary writers; Max Richter, Chilly Gonzales, Alexis Ffrench, Poppy Ackroyd,  Jessica Curry, George Winston, and Anne Lovett. Faber have also created a spotify playlist to accompany the book, enabling pianists to listen to each work.

I do like this concept, and I’m all for combining old favourites with Contemporary works. Having played through a few pieces in this collection, I particularly enjoyed Flora (by Henrik Lindstrand), Piano Piece, Imperfect Moments Pt. 4 (by Johannes Brecht), and Meeting Points at 2AM (by Ondrej Holý). Mainstream composers are represented by their most well-known, reflective pieces, such as Clair De Lune (Debussy), Prelude in C (J. S . Bach), and the second movement of the Pathétique Sonata Op. 13 (Beethoven).

I have one copy of this book to give away in my competition. To take part, leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post, and I will announce the winner on Monday evening (British time). Good luck!

For an in-depth review of this book, head to Pianodao blog (click here), and to purchase a copy, click here.

www.fabermusic.com


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Weekend competition; the winner

Many thanks to all those who took part in my weekend competition. I always enjoy reading the comments. The prize this week is a copy of Nancy Litten’s new publication for singers and accompanists; Choral and Vocal Sight Singing.

The winner is…

AmyPianist. Congratulations! Please send your address via the contact page on my blog and your book will be on its way.

If you’d like to find out more about this book or purchase it, please click here.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Do pianists really need to play the entire piano repertoire?

This is a topic relevant to performers of all standards and abilities. How can we build an effective and enjoyable recital programme which is varied, interesting and more importantly, will compliment a pianist’s abilities and talents? For younger, inexperienced performers, teachers are paramount here, hopefully suggesting works beyond the scope of those found in various exam syllabuses. Not that there is anything wrong with examination set pieces, quite the contrary in fact, but if students only stick to them, they will develop a very limited set of skills. Learning three pieces (or four depending on the exam board), a few scales, minimal sight-reading and aural tests, does not constitute an all-round musical or piano education, and parents would do well to bear this in mind. It is a subject hotly contested by many instrumental teachers; the main complaint always appears to be the almost inevitable parental ‘pushing’ towards the next exam or grade which will not help overall improvement in a student’s playing in the long run, as all good teachers know.

Beyond exams, it’s a good idea to start compiling programmes or collections of works you particularly enjoy playing and crucially, those you play well. A common misconception amongst students playing classical music is that they must demonstrate many different pianistic styles and historical periods. Whilst this may be true for examinations and competitions where set works must be adhered to, concert programmes do not need to be devised with this in mind. Surely a much better plan is to highlight those composers and works which show case a pianist’s personality in the most complimentary way?

Music colleges and conservatoires tend to perpetuate this; it’s mandatory (or certainly was when I was student) to include a Prelude and Fugue (by J S Bach or similar), several Etudes or concert studies (usually by Liszt, Chopin or Rachmaninov), a Twentieth Century work and a Classical or Romantic sonata (all played from memory) at the end of year exam (for which you must pass or face losing your place on the course). This may be great for working at technical skills and obtaining thorough knowledge of the piano repertoire (and I certainly don’t regret my wonderful training at all), but in the saturated world of the concert platform, how often will young players really need these works after graduation? We’ve all heard pianists, whatever their ability, play mediocre and random cross sections of the repertoire, only to leave the concert thinking that we loved their Mozart, but what a pity they didn’t play more of it.  Pianists should always play to their strengths.

Those who specialise in particular composers or areas of music most certainly attract attention and are often viewed as more interesting propositions to concert organisers and promoters because they offer something different. As many world-class classical pianists will attest, their specialisms have become their trademarks. So with this in mind, is it prudent to encourage ‘specialising’ in younger students and pupils?

Most of us gravitate to works we really enjoy and those we play well anyway, but these may not necessarily be the most demanding or virtuosic show pieces, on the contrary, they may only demonstrate certain aspects of musicianship, but if that is your métier then so be it. Luckily the piano repertoire is so vast it’s relatively easy to do this. A handful of pianists are associated with the works of J S Bach for example, (think Glenn Gould) but have performed this demanding repertoire with such panache and élan; they have become revered for their specialism. Not that Gould didn’t or couldn’t play anything else, but rather he became synonymous with Bach’s music.

So when developing short recital programmes, or even pieces to play to family members and friends, choose works you love and can play with total conviction as opposed to offering the obvious show pieces or works with which you have little affinity. At a recent music festival, several competitors chose to play a couple of pieces by Einaudi. Not everyone’s favourite composer and only on the fringes of ‘classical’ music at most, but these pupils played with such joy producing beautiful colours from the instrument that they waltzed off with first and second prize. Their playing convinced me of their love for the music and the instrument.

Another moot point is the need for a ‘varied’ programme. Certainly playing the same type of music for an hour would be dull, but it is possible to perform works by the same composer (or genre) which are both complimentary and completely captivating. It’s more important to ensure variety of colour, tempo and character than selecting multiple composers or periods of music. So if Minimalism is your love (it certainly is one of mine), then find a few pieces illustrating different emotions and sonorities within that genre. Perform these exquisitely and you may just have found a winning combination. However, it does take a brave pianist, at whatever level, to feel so comfortable with a particular composer or musical genre, that they are confident enough to ‘champion’ that, and only that, music. It also takes a brave teacher to recognise the strengths of their students and ‘allow’ the student to specialise.

It’s really not about abandoning those works which must be studied to ensure a well-formed musical education, but rather finding music beyond this, in order to inspire and encourage improvement and personal growth. By delving into the depths of the piano repertoire you may find exciting new musical paths and hopefully it will be a happy voyage of discovery too.

 


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Some thoughts on the Van Cliburn Competition 2013

The Winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn Piano Competition has just been announced and as usual, it seems, there has been much controversy over the decision. I haven’t been following all the various rounds but I have been enjoying the updates on Twitter and the general consensus about winners (who should win or not).

The Van Cliburn Competition was established in 1958 by  Dr. Irl Allison, founder of the National Guild of Piano Teachers, who announced at a banquet (with Van Cliburn present) of his intentions to award $10,000 to the first prize awarded by an international piano competition named in Cliburn’s honour. The first competition was held in 1962 and then every four years thereafter.

Over the past four decades, this contest has involved many world-class pianists and the juries have consisted of very illustrious musicians including: Jorge Bolet, Philippe Entremont, Rudolf Firkusny, Leon Fleisher, Malcolm Frager, Alberto Ginastera, Howard Hanson, Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer, Lili Kraus, Alicia de Larrocha, Dame Moura Lympany, Nikita Magaloff, Gerald Moore, John Ogdon, Cecile Ousset, Gyorgy Sandor, Harold Schonberg, Maxim Shostakovich, Soulima Stravinsky, Walter Susskind, Alexis Weissenberg, and Earl Wild. Among the conductors who have shared the stage with competitors during the final round of the Competition are Leon Fleisher, John Giordano, Milton Katims, Ezra Rachlin, Walter Susskind, Stanislaw Skrowaczewski, and Jerzy Semkow.

Ralph Votapek (from the USA) was the first winner and subsequent pianists who have won prizes include; Cecile Ousset, Radu Lupu, Cristina Ortiz, Christian Zacharias, Alexander Toradze, Christian Blackshaw,  Ian Hobson, Barry Douglas, Olga Kern, Maxim Philippov, and Sa Chen.

Whether you agree with the whole competition process or not, it’s been fascinating watching the live broadcasts and webcasts which permits the world to examine every detail. I usually ask pianists in my interview Series, Classical Conversations, whether they feel competitions can still establish a pianist’s career. Many of my interview guests have won various prizes or have been on international competition juries, so they all know the pressures and politics which frequently beset these contests. However, they generally agree that they are a useful stepping stone in the learning process for the reason because they encourage young pianists to ingest large amounts of repertoire all at once and are an excellent way of performing to an audience and getting ‘out there’. It’s often been suggested that the ‘safe’ pianist covets the first prize and many of the ‘lesser’ prize winners enjoy rather more successful careers.

This controversial point has been bourne out by so many first prize winners who have miserably failed to establish careers at all. This year’s ‘PianoFest’ has been a feast of superlative playing; most will agree that any of the finalists would have been worthy winners.  Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko won the Gold Medal, Italian Beatrice Rana won the Silver medal and American  Sean Chen won the Bronze Medal. Beatrice Rana was the clear favourite from the outset and she will no doubt go on to have a fabulous career, as they will all do hopefully. I wish them every success in what has to be the most demanding career on earth.

Here they are in action:



My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.