A Letter from Mari
I hope that the holiday season has been a good one for you.
2017 was challenging for many who experienced, directly or indirectly, a number of natural disasters and the rising threat of political conflict throughout the world.
Despite the grave situation that sometimes surrounds us, the holiday season comes and goes each year, reminding us to appreciate and celebrate what remains true to us all. For me, a powerful reminder of the seasons’ arrival and this important shift in vantage point is the changing of the leaves in our home of Quebec. The deep red and vibrant yellow leaves are the harbinger of the most joyous season of the year, then comes the winter lights and seasonal delights as the year comes to an end.
More than ever this year, I hope to use the power of music to contribute to the positive momentum of the season with the goal of inspiring a sense of empowerment and happiness among as many people as possible.
Beethoven Cycle, Japan
This year, my Beethoven Sonata Cycle concert series in Japan included the Sonata Op.106, Hammerklavier. As part of one’s training to become a concert pianist, students study some of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas. The Hammerklavier Sonata is considered a true masterpiece and is referred to as a diary of Beethoven’s life, as it traces his musical development. Over time, it has become an important reference guide for students, as they investigate how music evolved during this important period. Studying it presents one set of challenges, but performing it is considered a life-experience.
Among his last sonatas, this is considered one of the most difficult pieces of literature in piano music. Not only is the sonata a full 50-minutes, but certain passages are demanding because of the nuanced intent of the composer. Of note is a slow movement, lasting a full 20-minutes, during which time the composer has the audience accompany him on a spiritual journey. Some portions of this piece are considered nearly unplayable, due to their technical and interpretative difficulty. The opening movement is unique in the diverse range of life themes reviewed by Beethoven. His exploration of each is revealing of his vivacious spirit.
I have been honored to tour Japan three times in my life with this sonata. Doing so in 2017 was the highlight of my year. I appreciated challenging myself and sharing this personal musical journey with enthusiastic and refined audiences in Japan.
Newly empty-nested, with Karin now away at college, I accepted the opportunity be part of a piano jury for several major international competitions this year. This is a role that no one takes lightly, as it is both an honor and a commitment. One must listen to pianists for nearly three weeks, sometimes up to ten hours a day. Further, one is tasked with making the right decision regarding whom to choose to move forward and whom to eliminate. As a competitor myself many years ago, it always is heartbreaking to eliminate a contestant and to see their disappointment, as they are all deserving. On the other hand, knowing that the experience is a formative one for these musicians and having the opportunity to witness the next generation of pianists, leaves me with a senses of having made an important contribution to my field.
Among the competitions I judged last year was one in both the US and another in Italy. In the US, I sat on jury for the prestigious Van Cliburn Competition, held in Texas. It is considered the Olympics of piano. Even the preliminary rounds are in a hall that holds over 1,200 seats.
Each performance is transmitted live, worldwide. The three winners typically receive many opportunities to perform as a result of this honor.
I was happily surprised by the fact that most of the competitors play perfectly despite the pressure of simultaneous live transmission. Playing the difficult repertoire flawlessly was only the beginning for these contestants. Beyond this, each competitor delivered interesting ideas and shared their unique characters. The three prize winners all had extremely different personalities and were excellent. Thanks to this experience, I am grateful to know that we have a wonderful young generation of pianists to carry forward the future of classical music.
At the Ferruccio Busoni Competition in Italy, I had the honor of serving as jury president. It is known as the most historical and traditional European piano competition. Both my mentor Alfred Brendel and I were prizewinners of this competition. The atmosphere was in stark contrast to the Van Cliburn Competition with its
sense of intimacy. Though, like the Van Cliburn Competition, it was transmitted live throughout the world, the smaller size of the venue made it feel intimate. In addition, the competitors chose repertoires which evoked a feeling of connection. In contrast to some of the fast and virtuoso pieces that are often selected in these situations, the pianists demonstrated their expertise through their talented treatment of Schubert and Beethoven Sonatas. The three finalists all choose Beethoven Concerto which confirmed the characteristic of this competition - a future based on great tradition. We were happy to be able to give the first prize to a wonderful young 19-year old pianist from Croatia, Ivan Krpan.
Recording Project - Martinu Double Concerto
Martinu Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra is not played often. It is a magical piece with folkloric character, spirit and even irony. The challenge in playing this is having these nuances make sense for everyone involved in the performance, from the soloists, and the conductor to the individual members of the orchestra.
My sister Momo and I were fortunate to have been able to perform this repertoire many times with the great conductor Lawrence Foster. We recorded this repertoire with his Orchestre Philharmonique de Marseille on a beautiful hot day in Marseille. That evening, July 14, we were treated to the a Bastille Day celebration. This included an evening of dancing at the Harbor of Marseille, along with delicious fish and white wine.
We enjoyed our time with the entire recording team, along with Deborah and Sarah Nemantu, sisters who recorded Martinu Double Concerto for Two Violins, while Momo and I recorded Martinu Concerto for Two Pianos.
A Gem in Poland: Szczecin
In the beautiful town of Szczecin (aka Stettin), I had the opportunity to perform Loewe’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
This town and the music I played there brought back tender memories, as I had recorded this piece with Russian National Orchestra and Kent over ten years ago. Composer Carl Loewe was a 19th century composer who created many masterpieces for singers. He was a virtuoso pianist and he composed joyous, and yet difficult, piano concerti as well.
The musical history of Szcecin is fascinating. Composer Carl Loewe was a music director in this Polish town which borders Germany and is located near the Baltic Sea. Throughout its history, it has been considered an important port of Berlin. Because of its prime location, it was often a source of conflict between Poland and Germany. People from this region must have been resilient to withstand the politics associated with the area.
The new, futuristic concert hall which looks like a modern museum, with elegant architecture and a high-quality cafe, gives one a small sense of the sophistication of this ancient town and the appreciation that its people have for culture and esthetics.
Forest Hill 10th anniversary
Forest Hill Musical Days celebrated its 10th year.
Thanks to loyal friends and new connections from three continents, ranging from musicians and administrators to members of the local community, we shared world-class music with a world-class audience in the small neighborhood of Forest Hill, San Francisco.
This profound and lively festival featured Jimmy Lin, Veronika Eberle, Stephanie Jeong, Naoko Shimizu, Matt Haimovitz, Edicson Ruiz, Clara Bellegarde, Momo, Karin and Kent. They played pieces ranging from Vivaldi and Brahms to Dvorak, as well as a Gonzalo Grau world-premier with an incredible execution by Veronika and Edicson. Talented San Francisco musicians joined in to allow us to have a string sextet and string quintet. The festival ended in style with a celebration with a banquet, including vibrant Mexican food and refreshing margaritas at the home of our visionary president of the board, Ken Johnson. Thanks to everyone who contributed to a successful 10th year!
2:58 AM 1/2/2018
Kent had an exciting year.
The long awaited beautiful concert hall, Elbphilharmonie, finally opened this year, bringing life and optimism to the city of Hamburg. Kent and Hamburgische Staatsorchester performed the Joerg Widmanns masterpiece, “Arche,” featuring a large orchestra, three choruses (one from Hamburg, a children’s chorus, and one from Bavaria), as well as several narrators and two pianos telling the story of the world, starting with its creation, and taking us into the future.
Over the summer, Kent opened the Salzburg Festival with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, and lead the Montreal Symphony at Carnegie Hall during fall season. It was wonderful that Karin was able to visit with her Yale roommates.
Karin started her sophomore year at Yale. Her Bach Invention and Sinfonia recordings were released in the spring. She gave a recital playing a Bach and Debussy program in Montreal as part of the Festival de la Lumiere, followed by a concert tour in Japan over the summer.
I look forward to connecting with those near and far during the holiday season and wanted to share my wishes for peace and optimism to all for the year ahead!