Steinway & Sons - Owner's Magazine - Issue One 2013
Steinway & Sons is a company constantly striving for perfection when it comes to its customers’ demands and decided that one of the best ways to continue satisfying that demand is by providing each owner their own unique high quality owners magazine. Entitled Steinway & Sons Magazine, this lavish, high gloss volume contains profiles of Steinway celebrity owners, exclusive interviews with Steinway Artists and features about their lifestyles, their experiences over the previous year, as well as other subjects of interest to this highly affluent group: subjects such as famous musical cities & festivals; legendary artists; fine food & wine; classic cars & supercars: yachts and investment.
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Owners’ Magazine Published by Faircount Media Group European Headquarters 5 Ella Mews, Hampstead, London NW3 2NH, UK tel: +44 (0)20 7428 7000 fax: +44 (0)20 7117 3338 email: firstname.lastname@example.org North American Headquarters 701 North West Shore Blvd, Tampa, Florida 33609, USA tel: +1 (813) 639 1900 fax: +1 (813) 639 4344 email: email@example.com Asia-Pacific Headquarters Level 21, Tower 2, 101 Grafton Street, Sydney, NSW 2022, Australia tel: +61 (0)2 8063 4800 fax: +61 (0)2 8580 5047 email: firstname.lastname@example.org Publishers Peter M Antell, Ross W Jobson Consultant Editors Anthony Gilroy Sabine Höpermann Editor Tim Glynne-Jones Chief Writers Jessica Duchen, Inge Kjemtrup Contributors Luca Caballero, Vince Coveleskie, David Kettle, Chris Maillard, Tim McCann, Linda Parker, Francesca Twinn Design & Production Controller Ana Lopez Art Director Lorena Noya Picture Editor Emma Smales Photography As credited Printed in the USA Unless otherwise credited, photography provided courtesy of Steinway & Sons archive. ©Copyright 2013 Faircount Media Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction of editorial content in whole or in part without written permission is prohibited. Faircount Media Group does not assume responsibility for the advertisements, nor any representation made therein, nor the quality or deliverability of the products themselves. Reproduction of articles and photographs, in whole or in part, contained herein is prohibited without express written consent of the publisher, with the exception of reprinting for news media use. Associate Publisher Chuck Oldham Marketing Manager Dara Clancy Production Coordinator Colin Davidson Production Administrator Margaret Dube 6 Steinway & Sons | ISSUE ONE 2013 M ESURE ET D ÉMESURE * TONDA 1950 Rose gold Ultra-thin automatic movement Hermès alligator strap Made in Switzerland www.parmigiani.ch LES ATELIERS PARMIGIANI LONDON, MOSCOW, BEIJING, SHANGHAI LES STUDIOS PARMIGIANI DUBAI, PORTO CERVO, MUNICH, TIANJIN * EXACT AND EXULTANT HONG KONG EMPEROR, ORIENTAL | KUALA LUMPUR – SINGAPORE – SYDNEY THE HOUR GLASS INTERLAKEN KIRCHHOFER | CANNES – LONDON ARIJE MILANO PISA ORLOGERIA | MOSCOW RAFF HOUSE | HAMBURG JUWELIER HANSEN SAN FRANCISCO SHREVE & CO | VANCOUVER PALLADIO JEWELLERS ST THOMAS LITTLE SWITZERLAND | CARACAS DAORO DUBAI DAMAS LES EXCLUSIVES In 1839 Vacheron Constantin created several machines, among them the famous pantograph, a mechanical device which meant that for the first time in history principal watchmaking components could be reproduced with total precision, raising the quality of its timepieces once again. This invention carried the brand into the future and would revolutionise Swiss watchmaking. Faithful to the history for which it is renowned, Vacheron Constantin undertakes to maintain, repair and restore all watches it has produced since its foundation: a sign of excellence and confidence which still today gives the manufacture its reputation. Patrimony Contemporaine Hallmark of Geneva, Pink gold case, Hand-wound mechanical movement Ref. 81180/000R-9159 contents Contents 13 Publisher’s foreword The Music 14 Steinway news New Steinway Artists, Lin records Broadway classics, Steinway employee celebrates 50 years, Lang Lang at 30 Cover: Charm of the Dragon, a Steinway Commemorative Edition piano, which was designed by Chinese artist Tian Jiaqing 24 Hidden Britten Turning the spotlight on Benjamin Britten as pianist and his sparse and largely overlooked piano compositions 32 Competitive edge Prize winners from different generations recall their competition experiences and the effect they had on their careers as professional pianists Below: Benjamin Britten, a pianist of understated prowess, p24 38 Troubled waters Hurricane damage, leaking pipes or just too much humidity – what can you do when moisture gets a grip on your prized piano? 42 All-Steinway Schools Celebrations as the roster tops the 150 mark, plus a landmark move for Puerto Rico’s aspiring pianists 50 Ain’t nothing like the real thing The story of the Motown piano, restored by Steinway in New York with a little help from a friend 54 Personal service A look at the spectacular bespoke creations of Steinway’s first ever Visual Artist in Residence, Lynx 56 Breathing fire The first Steinway & Sons Commemorative Edition piano to be sold in China fetches over a million dollars 58 Tradition meets innovation This issue’s tales from the dealers include a special delivery in New Delhi and a clever development from one of Steinway’s oldest dealers in the US 62 Steinway Personalities Photography: Getty Images Daniel Barenboim Menahem Pressler Jeremy Denk Till Fellner Francesco Piemontesi Steinway & Sons | ISSUE ONE 2013 9 [ T h e e xq u i s i T e C o n f l u en C e \ Our in the Connoisseurâ€™s home For 33 years, our discriminating clients have relied on our vast selection of antique Oriental art carpets to infuse their homes with an ambiance of uniqueness, beauty, and romance. www.claremontrug.com 6087 Claremont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618 info @ claremontrug.com 1-800-441-1332 | (+1) 510-654-0816 Visit our website to experience 850 of our carpets. contents Contents The Good Life 72 European tour For any music lover planning a tour of the Continent, read our guide to its musical meccas and the nearby festivals taking place this summer 82 Music to your ears Some call it science, others call it art; either way, acoustic design is the seemingly magic element that can make the difference between a good concert hall and a great one 90 Fascinating rhythm Why do we like to move in time? And how has this helped us become the dominant species on Earth? 94 Sharp or flat? After years of being ravaged by the digital revolution, what’s the prognosis for the music business as a vehicle for sound investment? 98 Timber! Wood, the ultimate construction material, is very much in vogue for interiors, exteriors and outbuildings alike 104 A question of taste How to develop your sensory perception, with advice from two experts in fine wine and spirits 109 Big is beautiful Tribal, ethnic, symbolic and colourful – that’s the headline trend for jewellery this spring and summer 114 I looked over Jordan With attractions like Petra, the Dead Sea, the Red Sea and Wadi Rum, plus political stability and a thriving economy, why wouldn’t you want to go to Jordan? Photography: Courtesy of Artec Consultants; Visit Jordan Top: Symphony Hall, Birmingham – an acoustic masterpiece, p82 Bottom: Wadi Rum, Jordan, p114 Steinway & Sons | ISSUE ONE 2013 11 Photo: www.jimmynelson.com Explore the Energy of Creation 0.90 ct & 0.50 ct white G/vs diamonds, white G/vs diamond pavĂŠs, 18K white gold & sapphires. London | Paris | New York | Los Angeles | Miami | Las Vegas | Dallas | Moscow | Doha | Hong Kong | Barcelona Copenhagen | Oslo | Amsterdam | Hamburg | Munich | Zurich | St Tropez | Courchevel | Knokke | Andorra | Kiev | St Maarten www.shamballajewels.com contents Owners’ Magazine Publisher’s foreword Welcome to this edition of Steinway & Sons Owners’ Magazine, the first for the year in which we celebrate the company’s 160th anniversary. The theme of this issue is ‘perception’ and it is a theme that takes us into some very interesting territory indeed. You will find features on acoustics (p82), rhythm (p90) and taste (p104), three decidedly nebulous subjects but all connected by a single thread… you guessed it, perception. The science behind these specialisms is quite fascinating. Did you know, for example, that our facility for rhythm and dance is shared by birds and crickets – and barely any other species at all? And it’s considered to be a vital factor in our domination of the planet. So keep the music playing! But the common factor that emerges from these features is the way in which all our senses influence one another to create our overall perception. For example, the way we hear a sound will be influenced by the colour on the walls; the way we taste a wine will be influenced by the sights, sounds and smells around us. Human perception is a complex beast but it can fall short of giving the full picture. Benjamin Britten, who was born one hundred years ago this November, is generally perceived as a brilliant composer and conductor, but a pianist? It’s not what you expect, but as our profile starting on p24 reveals, Britten was a fine pianist who also wrote some wonderful piano music. It was his choice that this didn’t become the highlight of his career, but it’s well worth exploring his small handful of piano compositions. Piano competitions are a subject that divides perceptions. Some see them as a circus that can distract the contestants from the real business of building a playing career but, starting on p32, we have the testimony of some highly acclaimed past prizewinners, who attest to the fact that success in a competition can, and often does, lead to even greater success on the world stage. From a piano maker that, throughout its 160 years in the business, has always sought to be perceived as a mark of genuine quality, we hope you enjoy the thought-provoking content we offer in this magazine. Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 13 news New stars join Steinway firmament 2012 saw five esteemed pianists from the worlds of classical, jazz, pop and film music join the exulted ranks of Steinway Artists. Concert pianist Jeremy Denk, 42, who we feature on page 66, has appeared as a soloist with orchestras including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the symphony orchestras of Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and London. Steinway has been his preferred piano maker for many years, as he explained. “A piano is the way a pianist speaks to the world and so you need to feel you have an ally, a friend that supports you and that allows your thoughts to become sound. Steinway is it for me. It’s the only piano that has this kind of centred sound that I can mould in interesting and expressive ways. It’s the only brand I feel comfortable playing on.” Carter Burwell, 57, is one of the hottest properties in film music, with more than sixty film scores to his name. As well as composing scores for the Coen brothers’ films, his recent hits include Where The Wild Things Are, The Blind Side and the Twilight sagas, all written on a Steinway piano. Jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, 38, was dubbed by Rolling Stone magazine “the most provocative thinker in current jazz”. He has certainly earned his stripes since grabbing the public attention in 1999 with his album Soundtrack to Human Motion, yet he still finds inspiration in new things: one example being his recently acquired Steinway Model M, which he said “marks the first time I’ve owned a piano that I actually feel is inspiring to play”. Pop singer and composer Rufus Wainwright has been inspired by Steinways since he was a child. “I grew up playing my grandmother’s 100-year-old Steinway,” says the man described by Elton John as “the greatest songwriter on the planet”. “That instrument is still the spiritual centre of our family’s musical legacy,” adds Wainwright, whose famous musical family includes sister Martha and his parents, the folk singers Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III. Fellow pop singersongwriter Regina Spektor built her following in Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 Clockwise from above: new Steinway Artists Regina Spektor, Jason Moran, Carter Burwell, Jeremy Denk, Rufus Wainwright New York City’s East Village with her ability to tell stories through piano with remarkable flare. Spektor exclaimed, “I am so excited to become a Steinway Artist. Though I have played all my shows on Steinways for years – and loved the instruments and the people I’ve worked with – it is so nice to make it official!” Every Steinway Artist owns a Steinway piano and has chosen to perform exclusively on a Steinway. Each one is carefully considered by evaluating their commitment to the brand and superior musical quality of composition and performance that has become synonymous with the Steinway name. None of them are paid for endorsing Steinway & Sons pianos. n The complete list of concert artists and ensembles throughout the world who bear the coveted title of Steinway Artist can be found at www.steinway. com/artists. 14 Photography: Shervin Lainez; Dean Parker; Michael Wilson; Barry J Holmes; Richard Bowditch news In the grotto Daynes Music, of Midvale, Utah, one of the oldest Steinway dealerships in the world, recently celebrated its 150th birthday. Part of the festivities included a wonderfully atmospheric Grotto Concert at the Moab Music Festival, which Daynes has supplied with Steinway pianos since its inception. For the concert, a piano was transported by boat down the Colorado River and the performing artists included Festival Music Director Michael Barrett, whom Skip Daynes, President of Daynes Music, originally encouraged to become a Steinway Artist. For more on Daynes Music, see Dealersâ€™ Tales on p58 Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 15 news Lin gives Broadway hits the virtuoso treatment Taiwan-born Steinway Artist Jenny Lin has followed up her acclaimed 2011 release Silent Music with a second recording on the Steinway & Sons label, entitled Get Happy: Virtuoso Show Tunes for Piano. The album features favourite tunes by composers such as Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim, as arranged for solo piano by such famous pianists as Earl Wild, Dick Hyman, André Previn, Stephen Prutsman and Stephen Hough. “What sets these arrangements apart is that they are all by performing pianists,” says Lin, who is renowned for her subtle touch, commanding technique and adventurous taste in modern and contemporary repertoire. “I have always admired pianists who can play and compose and I wanted to pay tribute to them with this album. They are our present day versions of Liszt and Busoni. “I remember hearing a lot of these tunes when I was a child in Taiwan and loving them,” she adds. “People from any culture and era can appreciate them. The songs are so well written, so warm and welcoming, so delightful as pure music. George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and the other composers on this album were genius melodists. They created a universal language that everyone can embrace. And a successful arrangement can only enhance the greatness of this music, giving us a new and surprising way to appreciate it.” Following the release of Get Happy, Lin spent the last two months of 2012 out on the road, performing songs from the album for music lovers in Steinway showrooms across the US. n Get Happy: Virtuoso Show Tunes for Piano (Cat. No.30011) is available from www.arkivmusic.com. Boot puts stamp on 50 years at Steinway Steinway & Sons prides itself on the quality of its craftsmen and on keeping those artisans as loyal members of the Steinway family for life. Many people have given decades of faithful service to the company over its 160-year history, and last September saw the celebration of fifty years at the New York factory for one of its legendary characters, Wally Boot. Wally was born two blocks from the factory in Steinway Street and at 18 he joined the company. His first job was putting the little felt buttons in place under the keys but over time he has learnt to make every component of a Steinway piano. Today his job is to check the tone of each instrument before it leaves the factory, making fine adjustments to ensure that every note is even and resonates with that noted Steinway quality. In the ’60s, Wally was a hippie with a taste in Harley Davidsons. Today he has a fine appreciation of pianos and piano music, thanks in no small part to one of his co-workers. “I always wanted to play Moonlight Sonata,” he explains. “I had a piano tuner, Victor, and he taught me fifteen minutes, once a week. We would go through one measure but I had the whole week to practise. Three dollars for one week.” And so Wally learnt to play Moonlight Sonata. Looking back over his half century at Steinway & Sons, Wally has lost none of his enthusiasm for what he does. If anything, it grows stronger by the year. “It was just a regular job, now it’s a passion,” he says. “I love pianos. I love making pianos. I love people playing pianos.” n Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 16 Photography: Chris Payne news How many men does it take to carry a Steinway? Ever wondered how much manpower is required to lift a grand piano? Fans at the game between West Virginia University and Texas Christian University on 3 November were able to see for themselves, as the WVU Marching Band came onto the field at Milan Puskar Stadium carrying a Steinway & Sons concert grand piano. The piano was then put down and played by WVU’s music professor James ‘Doc’ Miltenberger (pictured right). The spectacle was part of WVU’s ‘All Keyed Up’ campaign, to become an All-Steinway School by raising $4million to buy sixty-five new Steinway pianos. n Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 Photography: Chris Southard, CDS Media Solutions 18 MOSER PERPETUAL 1, ref. 341.501-004. 18K rose gold. Hand-wound movement cal. HMC 341.501. 10 days power reserve. Back and forth date adjustment via the crown. Instantaneous date change, even from Feb. 28th to March 1st. Winner of the prestigious «Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève» 2006 category «Montre Compliquée» www.h-moser.com news Lang Lang turns 30 with celebration of youth After all he has achieved, it’s hard to believe that Lang Lang is only 30. But the one-time child prodigy, who has played for presidents and royalty, knows how to celebrate, as he proved at a spectacular 30th birthday concert at the O2 World stadium in Berlin on 15 June last year. As has become one of his trademarks, Lang Lang was joined on stage by fifty children from around the world, who performed Schubert’s Marche Militaire No.1 in D major and later serenaded him with a chorus of Happy Birthday. Other highlights included Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 in B-flat minor and an arrangement Above: Lang Lang conducts the audience and children as they sing him Happy Birthday Right: Herbie Hancock joins him for a two-piano arrangement of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue Below: Lang Lang gives a special performance at the opening of The Langham, Shenzhen of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue for two pianos, for which Lang Lang was joined on stage by jazz legend Herbie Hancock. The concert was sponsored by Telefónica. n 20 Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 Photography: Getty Images; Akai Chenke On 18 December 2012, Lang Lang gave an intimate performance for two hundred guests at the newly opened hotel The Langham, Shenzhen. The hotel, which opened in October, is the first move into southern China for the Langham Hospitality Group, for which Lang Lang is a global ambassador. 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His 1971 book The Classical Style, which analyses the musical language of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, is a staple text in university music courses the world over. Born in Manhattan in 1927, Rosen enrolled at the Juilliard School at the age of 7, where he later studied with the great teacher Moriz Rosenthal, who had been a pupil of Liszt. He gave his first professional recital at the surprisingly late age of 23, and only gained a recording contract with CBS several years later, for which he made admired recordings of Bach and Beethoven. He later became a vociferous champion of the composer Elliott Carter, taking part in the premiere of Carter’s Double Concerto as piano soloist in 1961, and co-commissioning Carter’s solo-piano Night Fantasies in 1980. Rosen’s performances could sometimes be characterised by an over-studiousness and a lack of spontaneity, but they were never less than insightful. His parallel career as writer continued from the publication of The Classical Style through Sonata Forms in 1980 to Romanticism and Realism in 1984, among many other writings. At the same time, Rosen gained an envied reputation as one of the most engaging and widely read critics in the New York Review of Books. n Mihaela Ursuleasa 1978-2012 Romanian pianist Mihaela Ursuleasa was only 33 years old when she died in August of an apparent cerebral haemorrhage. Her tragically early death was made all the more poignant by the fact that she left a 6-year-old daughter and that her career as a concert pianist and as a chamber music player was beginning to take flight. Ursuleasa had cancelled concerts in the week before her death. Born into a musical family in Brasov, Transylvania, in 1978, Ursuleasa took up the piano at the age of 5. With a demanding teacher who insisted she practise ten hours a day, she was soon winning competitions. At 13 she received a scholarship from the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado and went on to study at the Vienna Conservatory for several years. At 16 she won the Haskil Competition and more or less retired from the competition circuit. She wowed the critics early on in her career, including the often-sceptical Harold Schonberg, who wrote in 1996, “Well, well. A competition winner who can convey strength without relentless pounding. Here we have a real pianist, and we shall be hearing from her.” Ursuleasa’s debut recording, Piano & Forte, received the Echo Klassik award in 2010, and her second album, Romanian Rhapsody, was released in 2011. n Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 Brigitte Engerer 1952-2012 Born in Tunis but of Maltese descent, Brigitte Engerer built a career that combined elements of two distinctive national playing styles: the powerful Russian and the clearer French. Her specialities were Schumann, Liszt and the great Russian repertoire, and she passed on her love for both styles to her students at the Paris Conservatoire. Ten days before her death from cancer last June, she performed the Schumann Piano Concerto in her beloved Paris. Engerer was a student with Lucette Descaves at the Paris Conservatoire, where she won the major prizes and went on to take one of the top accolades at the Marguerite Long Competition. Unusually for the time, she then chose to move to Moscow, to study with Stanislav Neuhaus, son of the famous teacher Heinrich Neuhaus. During her nine years in Moscow, Engerer won prizes at the Tchaikovsky and Queen Elisabeth competitions, but it was an audition for conductor Herbert von Karajan in the early 1980s that brought her to international attention. “My style is certainly not Russian,” she told the Washington Times in 1992. “I need the transparency of the French piano – and, more important, the rationality of French philosophy – but I need some of the Russian craziness in my playing.” Brigitte Engerer was 59. n 22 Photography: Getty Images; Julia Wesely; Lebrecht Music & Arts Obituaries Anthony di Bonaventura 1929-2012 Anthony di Bonaventura, a Steinway Artist for more than half a century, died on 12 November, his 83rd birthday. He will forever hold a prominent place in Steinway’s galaxy of stars, not only for his exquisite artistry at the piano but also for his personal and unwavering commitment to excellence in teaching. A professor of music at Boston University and director of the Brandywine International Piano Institute at West Chester University of Pennsylvania, he performed in twenty-seven countries and played with the world’s major orchestras and conductors. He made many acclaimed recordings for Columbia, RCA, Connoisseur Society and Sine Qua Non. Born in 1929, in Follansbee, West Virginia, di Bonaventura was a prodigious piano talent. He began to learn at the age of 3 and gave his first professional concert at 4. At 6 he won a scholarship to New York’s Music School Settlement and he appeared as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic at 13. In his teens he studied with the celebrated Russian teacher Isabelle Vengerova and later entered the Curtis Institute. He was always forward-thinking and embraced the music of new composers, including Luciano Berio, Alberto Ginastera and Gyorgy Ligeti, who all wrote for him. In a 1978 interview with the Boston Globe, he outlined his teaching philosophy. “If you do not have cultural awareness and musical understanding, you have nothing. That is why I tell my students not to practise all the time. Instead they must go out and learn about other things.” n Dave Brubeck 1920-2012 Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, whose 1959 album Time Out defined West Coast cool for millions of listeners, died on 5 December, one day short of his 92nd birthday. The multi-metre songs on Time Out, notably Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk, have become standards, along with other Brubeck compositions such as In Your Own Sweet Way and The Duke, the latter dedicated to Duke Ellington. Brubeck was born in California in 1920. His mother was a would-be concert pianist who studied with Myra Hess and his father a cattle rancher. The young Brubeck briefly took up veterinary studies, but his love of late-night music sessions and his time in a band during his military service in World War II finally brought him to music as a profession. In 1951 he founded the Dave Brubeck Quartet, featuring saxophonist Paul Desmond; the two played together until 1967. In later years, Brubeck was an energetic touring musician and he also composed large-scale orchestral and choral works, including The Gates of Justice, a cantata that used the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. The Guardian’s John Fordham wrote that “Brubeck’s real achievement was to blend European compositional ideas, very demanding rhythmic structures, jazz song-forms and improvisation in expressive and accessible ways”. n Elliott Carter 1908-2012 The American composer Elliott Carter died in New York on 5 November at the remarkable age of 103. Notorious for his uncompromisingly complex music, which employed ever-changing rhythms and multiple layers of often unconnected musical strands, he was twice awarded the Pulitzer Prize and received numerous other awards throughout his long life. His music gained widespread renown and respect in his later years, and compositions for piano played a significant role in his output. Born in New York in 1908, Carter made an early friend in Charles Ives, who recommended him for entry into Harvard University, where he studied from 1926. In 1932 he travelled to Paris to study composition with Nadia Boulanger for three years, and he began his career as a music critic and teacher. Carter’s Piano Sonata of 1945 marked a major step towards his mature style, with its uncompromising rhythmic complexity and innovative use of the instrument’s natural resonances. After growing recognition with orchestral and chamber works, including string quartets and the Double Concerto for piano and harpsichord (1961), Carter’s Night Fantasies (1980) for solo piano marked the beginning of a freer, more lyrical style. His final piece, 12 Short Epigrams, was a solo piano work written for Pierre-Laurent Aimard in August 2012, just three months before he died. n Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 23 Benjamin Britten centenary Britten himself was a natural pianist â€“ even if he didnâ€™t always think so 24 Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 Photo credit: Benjamin Britten centenary Hidden Britten Benjamin Britten’s prowess as a pianist has long been overshadowed by his repute as a composer. He is in good company, of course. Over the centuries, many of the finest composers have been equally adept at the keyboard, among them Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. Where Britten differs, though, is that despite his outstanding playing, he wrote remarkably little for the instrument. It’s a typically Brittenesque paradox, perhaps; one that reflects his own inner conflicts; yet it also tells us much about his taste for discovering different musical colours. Britten’s piano output is tiny: just a handful of solo works composed between 1923 and 1940, two pieces for two pianos, one early Piano Concerto, Diversions, for piano left hand and orchestra, the brief but stirring ‘fanfare’ Young Apollo for piano and orchestra and the short solo Night Piece, commissioned by the first Leeds International Piano Competition in 1963. Otherwise, he usually relegates the instrument, when he uses it at all, to a strangely self-effacing role. Britten himself was a natural pianist – even if he didn’t always think so. Faced with an unsympathetic teacher at Gresham, the boarding school he attended, he was told that his hopes of becoming a musician were unfounded; fortunately, he took no notice, and was happy to hurry off to the great Harold Samuel for occasional lessons instead. Ultimately the school praised his pianistic gifts, but the Royal College of As the world marks the centenary of the birth of Benjamin Britten, some well deserved light will fall on his piano works. Though largely overlooked beside his orchestral and operatic compositions, there are some gems among this relatively tiny aspect of his output, as Jessica Duchen reveals Photography: Getty Images Opposite: Benjamin Britten in 1948, the year he launched the Aldeburgh Festival Right: Britten in 1962 with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 25 Benjamin Britten centenary Music, where his piano teacher was Arthur Benjamin, did not. The institution failed to encourage him towards a pianistic career, beyond wondering how he was going to earn a living. “Lor’, I’m bad at the piano,” the student reflected. His sense of frustration over his own playing persisted into his early professional life as a jobbing musician, composing scores for film and radio broadcasts. Perhaps he was being too severe on himself. When he met his lifelong partner, the tenor Peter Pears, in 1937 and began to accompany him, the singer was struck by “an extraordinary connection between his brain and his heart and the tips of his fingers. You could watch Ben holding his hands over the piano preparatory to playing a slow movement, a soft, soft chord, and you could see his fingers alert, alive, really sometimes even quivering with the intensity of what was going to occur.” Exceptional sensitivity shines out of Britten’s recordings as accompanist to Pears, especially in Above: Britten and Pears with their friend and collaborator Imogen Holst in the garden at Aldeburgh in 1955. Holst, the daughter of Gustav Holst, worked at Aldeburgh for twelve years the music of Schubert. “He used to accompany songs by Schubert,” wrote Imogen Holst, “with such intimate concern that the music sounded as if it were his own.” Perhaps the key to Britten’s attitude towards the piano was its role as foil to the human voice. In recordings of his playing you can hear the vocal quality of his phrasing, a rounded, expressive touch and an unerring instinct for the right balance of interaction with his musical collaborators; this can be no coincidence. After he met Pears, the instrument seems to have settled into its natural place in his mind and his creativity. Barry Douglas, one of all too few pianists who have championed Britten’s Piano Concerto, regards him as “a born pianist, as well as a born composer, conductor, collaborator and educator”. Douglas’ teacher, the late Maria Curcio, knew Britten and Pears well and, he recounts, used to stay often at their house in Aldeburgh. “She told me that she Steinway & Sons | ISSUE one 2013 Photography: Getty Images 27 BERLINA RC7 Listen to the music â€“ Listen to ISOPHON. With the new Berlina-Series we start a new chapter in loudspeaker design and technology. Diaphragms of ceramics and diamond bring out music in a new quality. Contact us at: www.isophon.com Loudspeakers Handmade in Germany since 1929 Benjamin Britten centenary was lucky enough to see the interactions between Britten and people like Sviatoslav Richter, as well as watching Britten and Pears rehearsing,” he says, “and she thought he had a completely natural gift for the piano. He was able to have a musical thought and it happened perfectly every time at the instrument – he didn’t have to work at it. His playing sounds beautiful, natural, right, wholesome and sincere. There’s not a drop of egotism in it. It’s all about the music – and that’s rare.” That sincerity would have been appreciated by many of his collaborators, not least Sir Clifford Curzon, with whom Britten sometimes gave performances of his (and others’) works for two pianos. But nerves, unfortunately, are often the downside of sensitivity. Though reasonably confident as a performer at first, Britten seems to have suffered appallingly from nerves later on; something that the harpsichordist and conductor George Malcolm judged might have been the result of him being “an instinctive rather than a scientific pianist”. It is interesting that later, especially at the Aldeburgh Festival, Britten would appear at the piano as chamber musician or as soloist in a Mozart piano concerto, but rarely alone; his first preference