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Performers: March 2008 Archives

Fame has not Changed Lang Lang


Pianist shines for new generation of classical music fans

By Chris Shull

Lang Lang may be known for his pyrotechnic performances of the great piano pieces of the 19th century, but he is truly a musician of today.

The 25-year-old is as at home on the Internet as he is in the world's great concert halls. He's appeared as a cartoon "avatar" in the online virtual world Second Life, and he's serenaded the Muppets on Sesame Street. He's a regular on YouTube, and he soloed with Herbie Hancock on George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue during the recent Grammy Awards telecast.

Although Lang says he embraces TV and the Internet as tools to attract his generation to classical music, some critics argue that his fame has interfered with his development as an artist and a performer.

Read more about this including an interview with Lang Lang at the Star-Telegram website:

Colin Carr

Hear how music history rolled out: Cellist, pianist play Beethoven cycle

By Celia R. Baker
Salt Lake City Tribune

Music history's march from Classicism to Romanticism followed the life story of one man: Ludwig van Beethoven. The whole journey – from innocent exuberance to heroic passion to profound introspection – unfolds in microcosm this week in Salt Lake City: English cellist Colin Carr will perform all of Beethoven's works for cello and piano with American pianist Tom Sauer during two concerts at Libby Gardner Concert Hall.

Carr, 50, is best – known in Utah for his three appearances here with the Golub–Kaplan–Carr trio, with whom he toured and recorded for more than two decades.

After 20 years of playing trios, Carr was ready for new challenges. Performing Beethoven's entire oeuvre for cello and piano, spread over two concerts, has proven to be "simply the best chamber music project that a cellist could ever wish to do," he said.

Amy Leung, director of the Virtuoso Series, studied cello with Carr at New York's Eastman School of Music and remembers him as "a phenomenal musician of the highest order." To Leung, the Beethoven sonatas are the mainstay of classical cello repertoire. She's thrilled that an agreement between her series and the Chamber Music Society of Salt Lake City is making it possible for Carr to give two concerts here – enough time to play all of them.

Audiences at both concerts will hear every note Beethoven wrote for cello and piano, but could trace the trajectory of Beethoven's musical development by attending either one, Carr said. Each evening includes music from the composer's early, middle and late periods, allowing listeners to make comparisons.

Although Carr has played Beethoven's cello sonatas and themes – and – variations for much of his life, juxtaposing them in this way brought fresh insights.

"When I hear all these pieces together, I see such stark contrasts that I'd never been aware of. It's fascinating," he said.

Read more about this at the Salt Lake City Tribune website:

Kronos Plays Visual Music

Kronos Quartet

The brilliant classical ensemble Kronos Quartet searches the world over for new music and ideas

By Barbara Rose Shuler
Monterey Herald

Kronos! For countless music lovers, this word makes a full declarative sentence, complete with a scintillating noun, a virtuoso verb and a fountain of superlative adjectives. It's a word that means brilliant artistry, revolutionary ideas and fearless exploration of new frontiers in music.

The extraordinary Kronos Quartet has radically altered the perception of the scope of string quartet playing in the world today. Its mythic name is synonymous with the best of the newest in contemporary classical music. Kronos' players have flourished at the creative edge of the art form for more than three decades, reveling in the exploration of unchartered musical territory.

The ensemble has commissioned and inspired hundreds of new works, recorded more than 40 remarkable albums, performed thousands of concerts around the globe, engaged in many imaginative artistic collaborations and received numerous awards, including a Grammy for Best Chamber Music Performance and "Musicians of the Year" from Musical America.

Kronos, in short, ranks among the most influential groups of our time. Happily for us, Kronos resides in San Francisco and tours regularly to our region. Several years ago, audiences here enjoyed two especially dramatic and memorable multi-media spectacles produced by Kronos. One of these inventive masterpieces, "Visual Music," premiered at CSU-Monterey Bay's World Theater. The other, "Sun Rings" – performed early on in its run at Sunset Theater in Carmel – wove actual sounds of space as recorded by scientist Donald Gurnett with a score by Terry Riley accompanied by visual images.

Read more about this at the Monterey Herald website:

Public Pianism

Piano Player

Pianos hit the streets

by Maev Kennedy
The Guardian

On the eve of his 19th birthday, Marvin Forbes did something which completely shocked his mates: he sat down at the piano which had appeared overnight on the corner of Orphanage and Mason roads, and played a few bars of Offenbach. "I never knew you could do that!" Thasawar Iqbal said, stunned.

"I knew," muttered another friend, Anthony Murrain. When the group had first walked past the piano on their lunch break, glancing at it out of the corners of their eyes with studied lack of interest, Forbes had insisted he could not play, never had played, and would not know what to do with a piano if it suddenly popped up outside the library with a spray-painted sign reading: "Play me, I'm yours."

This was not strictly true. Forbes is now a trainee mechanical engineer, but he got a C in music at GCSE. "Go on then," Iqbal said, incredulously, "play it!"

Forbes sat on the green plastic chair with reluctance, played a few random notes, a few chords, and finally, his fingers almost visibly remembering, a tune. Iqbal could not have been more astounded if his friend had sprouted wings and flown away over the war memorial.

The piano in the Erdington suburb of Birmingham is one of 15 which have just appeared, unguarded, across the city. There is one in the Rag Market, and one outside Cadbury World. There is another at Colmore junior school, where a teacher was persuaded into an impromptu recital dressed in white gown with veil fluttering in the icy wind. She had been on her way to her wedding.

Some of the pianos are under cover, others have been placed outside. All were professionally tuned, but some appear to already be suffering from exposure: Forbes brushed off praise for his playing, muttering that the keys of the piano were starting to stick.

The pianos are the brainchild of the artist Luke Jerram, and are a project for the Fierce arts organisation, a collaboration renowned for getting odd things into odder places. Jerram previously has floated an orchestra in hot air balloons to awaken the sleeping city, and created a ghostly installation in an abandoned railway tunnel.

The pianos have been installed in public places allowing anyone to sit down and play: some were already in enthusiastic use yesterday, others barely noticed. They will remain in situ until after Easter - if they survive that long - those outliving the experiment given a permanent home. Some of the instruments were bought, others were donated: one man rang from Glasgow pleading for a baby grand to be taken on.

Read more about this at the The Guardian website:,,2265308,00.html

Auto Interpretation

Bill Milbrodt

Car Parts Orchestra

The man who turned a family hatchback into a 30-piece touring band

Jasper Rees
The Telegraph

Part of the signature of a car is the sound made by its engine.

If pressed, even the most L-plated among us could probably identify a Rolls by its self-satisfied purr, or a Ferrari by its neurotic throat-clearing. But the most fanatical of petrolheads would struggle to discern, in the ambient jazzy backing to Alesha Dixon's new iTunes download, For You I Will, the snappy hatchback sound of the new Ford Focus.

The advertising industry's reverence for the tangential uses of disembodied cars is a fairly recent phenomenon. In 2003, the award-winning commercial for the Honda Accord fashioned the car's entrails into a hypnotically complicated mechanism. In 2006 a large choir of human voices imitated the clunks and whirs of a Honda Civic. The new ad for the Focus goes a step further, and puts car parts to musical use.

The Car Parts Orchestra consists, among others, of a weirdly bent flute, a bonnet recycled as a gong, a wheel-rim drum kit with gearknob for pedal stick and, the pièce de résistance, a double bass whose body takes the bulging form of a bumper, with a neck made from a roof support, which can be either plucked or bowed with a windscreen wiper.

Read more about this including video interviews with composer Craig Richey and inventor Bill Milbrodt at the Telegraph website:

Is Conducting An Art Form?

Nigel Kennedy

Nigel Kennedy criticises "egocentric" conductors

By Robyn Powell and agencies

Violinist Nigel Kennedy has criticised star conductors for their egocentric behaviour, for being more interested in promoting their image, than spending time with an orchestra.

Kennedy said some conductors spent only a few weeks with an orchestra. He told The Times: "How many will develop an orchestra rather than feeding off its achievements? They're straight off for the dollar. Round the corner to get a better job. All they're interested in is strutting about, wielding a bit of power.

Nigel Kennedy denounced conducting as an art form

"A conductor can galvanise the troops and evolve an artistic programme and identity of style. If they only give five or ten weeks a year [to an orchestra], how can they do that?" However, he declined to name any specific conductors. But denounced conducting as a form of art for his preference for playing music. "Why would you want to stand there waving a stick when you could be playing an instrument?" he said.

Read more about this at the Telegraph website:

A Virtuoso's Life

Glenn Gould

Method & madness: The oddities of the virtuosi

The Independent

What is it about elite pianists? Some are charmingly eccentric, others just insane. Michael Church looks at the oddities of the virtuosi

"It's like a horse before the race," said the great Vladimir Horowitz of his feelings before a recital. "You start to perspire, you feel already in you electricity. I am a general, my soldiers are the keys."

Marshalling their mountains of notes from memory, concert pianists need the skill of jugglers and the strength and stamina of athletes. Meanwhile, in their fusion of instinct and intellect, they must be supreme aesthetes. And they must do all this without safety nets: if their memory fails, or their fingers foul up, all they have is an unforgiving crowd. It takes an unusual person to put their life on the line like this. No wonder many pianists are oddballs; no wonder some go mad.

Such thoughts are prompted by the recent release of yet more posthumous discs on the BBC Legends label of those wonderfully eccentric Russians Shura Cherkassky and Sviatoslav Richter; and by two other massive projects: the four-CD box plus book from Naxos entitled A-Z of Pianists; and the 80-CD box of the original Sony-Columbia recordings by Glenn Gould, who was both a god of the keyboard and more than a little mad. And these are just the tip of the iceberg: we can now survey an entire century of pianism's brilliant weirdness, thanks to the voluminous evidence that record companies are now putting out.

Read more about this at the The Independent website:

Van Cliburn 50 Years Later

Van Cliburn in Moscow

Cold War, Hot Pianist. Now Add 50 Years.

By Anthony Tommasini
New York Times

Fort Worth, Texas
A half-century after meeting him, the Russian people still adore Van Cliburn. That was the message conveyed by Aleksandr S. Sokolov, the Russian minister of culture, and Yuri V. Ushakov, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during toasts at a black-tie dinner and musical tribute here on March 1. Sponsored by the Van Cliburn Foundation, the event commemorated the 50th anniversary of Mr. Cliburn's victory in the first Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in Moscow in April 1958.

Before nearly 1,000 guests in an elaborate 40,000-square-foot tent on the grounds of the Kimbell Art Museum, Mr. Sokolov read a message of congratulations from President Vladimir V. Putin, an honorary sponsor of the event, who could not attend. Mr. Ushakov paid tribute to the "two Van Cliburns," as he put it: the proud Texan who conquered Russian hearts with his magnificent artistry and the honorary Russian who was mobbed by Muscovites on the streets hugging and kissing him amid shouts of "Van KLEE-burn!"

Mr. Cliburn, 73, as trim, bright-eyed and effusive as ever, his bushy hair still thick though gray, looked overcome with emotion. He offered a few phrases of gratitude in well-practiced Russian, then delivered an endearingly rambling speech about "200 years of friendship between Russia and America," starting with an exchange of warm letters between President Thomas Jefferson and Czar Alexander I.

But this had to have been a bittersweet evening for Mr. Cliburn, who for nearly 30 years has largely been missing from the classical music field that he electrified during his glory days. Many towering creative artists make their lasting contributions during their youths. Orson Welles and Tennessee Williams come to mind. Some might add the Beatles to that list.

Van Cliburn is another such artist. For a good dozen years he was the best known and most popular classical musician in the world. His recordings routinely sold in the hundreds of thousands. His success was hard won and much deserved. But over time the expectations that this cultural emissary and musical superstar faced were impossible to fulfill. His playing declined. After a dispiriting concert in Toledo, Ohio, in 1978, he announced that he was taking a sabbatical. By the late 1980s he had begun playing again, but infrequently. He left his New York apartment and moved to a spacious house in the suburbs of Fort Worth.

Reflecting on his current life during a visit to New York in January he seemed wistful but at peace. "I do play concerts from time to time," he said. "I work at home quietly, go to the opera, hear concerts, see friends. I like making up now for what I was not able to have then. And I still have to practice."

Read more about this at the New York Times website:

Brendel's Swan Song

Alfred Brendel

Pianist Alfred Brendel to give his final Chicago performance

By John von Rhein
Chicago Tribune

The great pianists are a hardy breed who would look at you horror-struck if you even whispered the word "retirement" in their presence. In fact many celebrated artists of the keyboard have been known to continue playing, their powers practically undimmed, well into old age. Think of Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Claudio Arrau, all of whom were still going strong into their 80s.

Alfred Brendel certainly could have kept his thriving international career going for another decade or so; instead, he has chosen to bow out gracefully at age 77. The celebrated Austrian pianist is to give his final performance in December, playing a Mozart concerto in Vienna with the Vienna Philharmonic.

Before stepping into the good night of retirement, Brendel is playing a farewell concert tour of Europe and America that is to include stops in major cities including Chicago, where he will make his final Orchestra Hall appearance Sunday afternoon.

Read more about this at the Chicago Tribune website:,1,7748443.story

Enjoy the Classic

Richard Yongjae O'Neill

Violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill's Art of Giving

By Lee Hyo-won
Korea Times

Violist Richard Yongjae O'Neill reminds you of the Energizer Bunny. He keeps going and going. For the 29-year-old violist, it would be typical to go on a cross-country tour with Schubert across Korea, and then fly to Los Angeles to teach for eight hours before heading to New York. After a few days of playing chamber music at the Lincoln Center and fiddling contemporary pieces at the Guggenheim, he's on the move again. Following a quick stop to lecture at UCLA, he's in Milan with John Zorn, making modern music history. This is how 2007 zipped past for the musician.

One of the few violists to ever receive the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant as well as a Grammy Award nomination (Best Soloist with Orchestra), Richard Yongjae O'Neill is rising to prominence as one of the leading artists of his generation. But it seems to be more than a deep passion for music that keeps him going. It is the power of sharing through music.

"An artist should give of oneself. It's important to give, to share, to reflect on the human condition, our finite existence, life, pain, death, all of these things,'' O'Neill told The Korea Times in January when he visited Seoul. He was celebrating New Year's with his New York-based chamber group Sejong Soloists at one of their sellout performances.

Read the complete interview at the Korea Times website:


Strings attached

Guardian News

Some musicians like nothing better than to settle down for decades in a chamber ensemble. Others prefer to pick and choose. Who gets the better deal? William Howard and Steven Isserlis compare notes

The 25-year stalwart
William Howard, pianist and founder of the Schubert Ensemble

I met a festival director recently who has a policy of never booking established chamber groups. The best way to get exciting performances, he claims, is to put individual players together for a particular concert. Such a view is not, fortunately, shared by all promoters - but even so, it is a challenge to an ensemble such as ours, which is celebrating its 25th birthday this year.

Spontaneous concerts can be very exciting - and all of us in the Schubert Ensemble enjoy the opportunity to play with others in this way - but I would challenge the view that long-term musical relationships inevitably lead to dull performances. When I think of the most memorable chamber concerts I've heard, I think of the Amadeus Quartet bringing their glorious years of experience to Haydn and Mozart, or the Smetana Quartet at the end of their career giving electrifying performances, by heart, of the Smetana and Janácek quartets.

I sometimes wonder if part of the excitement of one-off performances is caused by a sense of precariousness that can be communicated - often as something quite positive - from players to audience. But for an ensemble to take real risks in a concert, they need to have a history of performing the music together regularly. As any connoisseur of football knows, imaginative and flowing play is more likely to come from a finely honed club team than from a national team of star players who have had little time to train together. When a concert goes well for us, we can achieve what an audience member once described as "group bungee jumping" - the feeling that you can take a performance to its limits and trust everyone else will come with you. ...

The fly-by-night
Steven Isserlis, cellist

One of my favourite musical activities is organising chamber music concerts. Since I spend most of my time playing concertos with orchestra or recitals with piano, the groups I work with are almost invariably one-offs - one-night stands, so to speak. It is exciting, enjoyable - and challenging.

Nowadays, I am very careful only to work with trusted friends and colleagues. It is essential that we get along personally, as well as musically. Actually, the two are related: everyone knows the feeling of being introduced to a stranger and finding you have absolutely nothing to say to them. The same applies in music; you can play chamber music with someone, and feel that you are playing a completely different piece - no conversation is taking place. ...

Read more about this at the Guardian News website:,,2262784,00.html

More Than One Way to Play the Cello

Frances-Marie Uitti

Changing the Rules of Cello Playing

by Joshua Kosman
San Francisco Chronicle

The cello is a very fine instrument - just ask Yo-Yo Ma - but it has some fundamental weaknesses. The most obvious one is that there's no way to play more than two of its four strings simultaneously.

Fortunately, a solution is at hand. Scratch that: two solutions.

One comes from the German cellist and composer Michael Bach, who has developed a curved cello bow with loosely strung hairs that can be drawn across all four cello strings at once. The result is a rich, warm mass of overtones that is a far cry from the broken chords cellists generally have to use to play, say, Bach's Suites for Solo Cello.

Frances-Marie Uitti, an American cellist and composer now living in Amsterdam, has a different idea. Over the course of several decades, she's become expert at playing with two bows at once – one in the normal position atop the strings and the other between the strings and the body of the cello – so that the number of string combinations available to her increases instantly.

Read more about this at the SF Gate website: