Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Is It Time to Trash Classical Piano Competitions? Some Insiders Say Yes

For the last several years, Ilona Olutski, founder of the Getclassical series, has been staging remarkably imaginative piano-centric concerts around town. She started at Zinc Bar and has expanded to several more sonically welcoming venues. Last night at Opera America, she put on one of her most entertaining programs yet, featuring insightful performances of Schumann and Brahms works followed by a righteously hilarious roundtable discussion which didn’t take long to reach the conclusion that piano competition in the digital age needs a complete overhaul if it’s going to have any real-world relevance.

“My passion is big Romantic sonatas,” pianist Daumants Liepins – winner of the Vendome Prize at last year’s Verbier Festival in Switzerland – told the crowd. Other pianists are not so lucky to get to indulge that passion to the extent that Liepins does. His interpretations of Schumann’s Piano Sonata No.1 in F# minor and and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor were insightful, as skilful as one would expect from a victorious competitor, and if they erred anywhere, it was on the side of elegance and good taste.

The Schumann came across as something of a pivot point where Bach meets Rachmaninoff. Liepins’ approach to the piece’s counterpoint was steady, but not to the point of rigidity. Throughout the work, there were several striking exchanges of riffs that brought to mind a young Rachmaninoff parsing the score, thinking to himself, “I can distill this to three and a half minutes,” and then cranking out his famous G Minor Prelude. Throughout the piece, Liepins distinguished himself by walking a tightrope between the severe and the lyrical, reveling in the coda’s wry triumph.

His take of the Brahms had a vastly wider dynamic range, and that really saved the piece. This sonata isn’t typical, translucent (some would say facile) Brahms: there’s a persistent sense of struggle, the composer trying to get something onto the page at fortissimo volume and very seldom actually nailing it. But there is a lot of humor in it, and Liepins clearly couldn’t wait to romp through those grandiose flourishes, and a little strutting faux-pomp, with more than a bit of a smirk. Contrastingly, he really let the low lefthand murk toward the end resonate, raising the enigmatic factor. He’s recording those pieces for Steinway today, and the matter-of-fact confidence he showed here left no doubt that he’s ready for the studio.

Asked afterward if he felt that competitive playing had helped his career, he affirmed that it had driven him to sharpen his chops and then flex them. But later, after everybody else on the panel was pretty much done venting, he averred that he’d played just as well at competitions he didn’t win as at those he did, chalking up the final scores to judicial capriciousness

And did those competitions ever get a thrashing. Zsolt Bognar, host of Living the Classical Life, offered a withering bit of sports play-by-play, mocking the kind of nitpicking involved. Producer Joe Patrych questioned whether competitions have any positive career impact, reminding that Vladimir Horowitz only really came into his own after returning from twelve years out of music, having been typecast for years as strictly a mile-a-minute, speed-and-proficiency guy.

From the academic side, both Karlstad University’s Julia Mustonen-Dahlquist and Mannes piano department chair Pavlina Dokovska spoke to the need to open up juries to non-pianists – an idea everyone enthusiastically endorsed – and decried the conflicts of interest in judging one’s own students (that happens a lot). Composer Sean Hickey soberly reminded everyone that speed and technique are hardly the only reasons why audiences come out. There was also unanimous support for taking competitions offline: both Bognar and Liepins considered how a competitively-oriented mindset goes even further into the red when playing for an internet audience along with the judges.

What wasn’t addressed was how piano has come to be taught academically, and how competitions are often simply the logical end result. There’s no limit to the cynicism that can be extrapolated from how much speed-reading and technical proficiency are emphasized over interpretive skill: Cruella DeVille is very much alive, and now a career coach.

And there’s a sobering reality behind piano pedagogy as Kaplan class. One day you’re playing Stockhausen, the next day Schubert, and you have to be able to shift gears seamlessly if not with any particular attunement to content, subtext or emotional connection. As everyone seemed to agree, that’s precisely where great musicians differentiate themselves from the competition.

The next concert in this year’s Getclassical series is on March 17 at 7 PM at the Revelation Gallery, 224 Waverly Pl. featuring the Ekstasis Duo – pianist Eliran Avni and cellist Natasha Farni – playing a program TBA. Cover is $20.

January 21, 2020 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Painter Razmik Poghosyan and His Pianist Daughter Kariné – “Artist and Muse”

by Shoshana Blau

GetClassical’s February 11 installment featured pianist Kariné Poghosyan’s performance at Louis Meisel Gallery on Prince Street in SoHo, in conjunction with the first solo New York exhibition of her father Razmik Poghosyan’s artwork. The gallery was packed when the pianist sat down at the antique Steinway grand amidst her father’s paintings. Seated concert style, the audience was soon enveloped by the younger Poghosyan’s expressivity throughout the first part of the program, ranging from Schuman and Stravinsky, Bach, Scriabin and Schubert to Albeniz and DeFalla.

After refreshments and a lot of inspired conversation among the audience members concerning Razmik Poghosyan’s paintings, the performance continued with masterworks by Liszt, Chopin, and Rachmaninoff, ending with an especially ravishing rendition of the Adagio from Spartacus, by Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian and an excerpt from Alberto Ginastera’s Piano Sonata No.1, Op.22. Building momentum with authority and vigor, these concluding pieces proved to the be the evening’s highlights. It comes as no surprise that the pianist is a leading advocate of Khachaturian’s works, with an exciting new all-Khatchaturian solo piano cd just having been released, so she was able to sign several new, hot-off-the-press copies for the crowd. The official New York release concert for the album takes place on April 19 at 2:30 PM at Greenfield Hall at Manhattan School of Music.

“I got inspired by my father’s artwork to choose my favorite pieces for this amazing concert,” says the Armenian-born pianist, an alumna and current member of the MSM piano faculty.

“When Kariné approached me to perform for a GetClassical concert event, perhaps at its new monthly classical series at the downtown jazz club Zinc Bar, I could not help but notice the passionate determination of this young pianist, enabling her to draw people into her performance. That special drive that motivates performers to express themselves and give it their all – it’s something that can’t be learned in the practice room,” says music journalist Ilona Oltuski, the founder and creative energy behind GetClassical’s concert events.

“When Kariné told me about her father’s artwork, we stopped by her house and I was taken by the graphic equivalent of that same vibrant, artistic spirit in his paintings. Stacked on top of each other on walls up to the ceiling and in every perceivable nook of this tiny Upper Westside apartment, the highly decorative motives form the theatrical world in a cubist-inspired style exuded vibrant joy and an inner world worth exploring,” explains Ilona, who also holds a PhD. degree in art history.

“As I took photos of Razmik’s paintings, it was clear to me that I wanted to show them in conjunction with his daughter’s pianism,” she adds. “With their subdued brightness, the paintings pulled you into their mystical drama and surrealist playfulness.”

“This is my life,” says the Armenian artist, describing his personal style as something that has never really changed, but simply comes from his deep love for beauty and joie de vivre. A former professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Yerevan, the artist has also created set designs for theatre productions broadcast on national television.

“Where some people associate the smell of freshly baked cookies with being at home, for me, when I was growing up, it was the smell of fresh oil paint,” says his daughter with a fond smile.

“When Louis Meisel, who is a great supporter of musical endeavors throughout the city, offered me his space to curate this concert and exhibit, I was thrilled to broaden GetClassical’s outreach into the arts scene,” Ilona explains. “GetClassical’s mission is to attract new audiences to classical music for a personal presentation of young and accomplished artists in unconventional venues, like the ‘cool’ Zinc Bar, the refined India House, the elegant Gramercy Park Rose Bar, and also to develop relationships with new venues like Midtown Live, a new club managed in association with Webster Hall. Partnership with WWFM allows GetClassical’s performances to be broadcast on the classical radio station, to share these intimate concerts with wider audiences.”

Enthusiastic about the talent she encounters as music journalist for her website GetClassical.org and by her friendships in the New York classical music community, Ilona Oltuski wanted to go a step further and join forces with select artists, presenting them in intimate concerts beyond her writing.  “GetClassical aims to further classical music presence within the New York nightlife scene in nontraditional concert venues,” she says. “But what that really means is a true collaboration with the artists. I find it greatly validating that artists return to collaborate with me, because, ‘I get them.’”

GetClassical’s next concert is at Zinc Bar on February 24 at 7 PM, where violinist Miranda Cuckson and pianist Blair McMillen perform an exciting program packed with premieres by contemporary composers.

February 16, 2015 Posted by | Art, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment