Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A Few Words with LIONEL CHOI, Artistic Director, Singapore International Piano Festival 2011






All concerts begin at 8 pm / Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall

Just a pitch for Singapore's annual international piano festival, one of the must-attends of Singapore's cultural calendar. As a former artistic director, it was a privilege to have a few words with my successor LIONEL CHOI (below), whose taste in pianists and piano literature is never less than impeccable. This year's festival is held at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory, a different venue but the keyboard fireworks never ceases!

The Singapore International Piano Festival was founded in 1994, and this is your second year as Festival Director. What have been your inspirations in the planning and running of this annual event?

I have returned to the fundamentals, having always been thrilled and inspired by great piano music given fine, well-thought performances by outstanding pianists. That provides an opportunity for our audiences to not just hear great music, but to revel in high level of musical understanding. It is the sheer joy of piano music and experiencing it being performed live in a meaningful, hopefully inspiring way which I hope audiences will take away with them after every recital, every year.

Is there an underlying theme in this year’s festival?

This year's Festival is entitled "Transformation". There is the obvious reference to the art and technique of metamorphosis in musical and piano writing: taking a theme and transforming it through multiple, creative variations; re-creating non-piano works through inventive transcriptions; taking a basic musical concept such as a ‘ballade’ or a 'scherzo' and expanding it into an entirely independent, personal form, and so on. There is at least a set of variations and/or transcriptions in every recital.

There is also the inextricable link between life-changing life experiences and what shows up in the performance of the artist. In this specific respect, I was particularly moved by the story of Janina Fialkowska (Canada, left) who opens this year's Festival. A protege of Arthur Rubinstein, she was diagnosed in 2002 with a rare, cancerous tumour in her left shoulder muscle which threatened to end her career. Determined not to give up, she first set about learning the concertos and works originally written for the left hand only and transcribed them for her right hand. Following experimental treatment, surgeons completed a rare muscle transfer procedure, which eventually allowed her to regain control of the movement in her left arm. This allowed her to make a gradual return to the concert platform. What is particularly inspiring is how hard she worked at going back to the top of her craft. She still sounds completely unfazed even by the most fiendishly difficult of repertoire, which she despatches with such electrifying directness, poetic power of narration, inner emotional freedom and pulsating agility!

Who are this year’s recitalists, and what will your audience expect to take home?

Fialkowska will present a programme of contrasts, with Schubert alongside Szymanowski and Chopin. From deeply meditative to wildly virtuosic, Liszt’s works and transcriptions rounds off the thrilling Festival curtain-raiser. Arnaldo Cohen (Brazil, left) began his illustrious career in the 1970s. His graceful and unaffected stage manner belies playing of white-hot intensity, intellectual probity, and glittering bravura technique bordering on sheer wizardry. He will perform the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, Chopin’s Four Scherzi and a dazzling array of pieces from his native Brazil.

Nareh Arghamanyan (Armenia, left), in her early 20s, won the Montreal Competition in 2008. She will play works by Rameau, Clementi, Schumann, Liszt's Ballade No. 2 and Rachmaninov's √Čtudes-Tableaux Op.33. Shai Wosner (Israel, below) brings a beautifully constructed programme of themes and variations, by Brahms, Beethoven and Oliver Knussen, and ends with the mighty and dramatic Appassionata Sonata by Beethoven.

Are there any particular performances which you think are going to be special or different?

I have been very judicious and discerning in our choice of pianists, each and every one selected for his artistic maturity and overall excellence in musicianship, over and above technical skill. I have also left the pianists to play whatever repertoire they are most comfortable with and I expect every performance to be, in its own way, special!

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