Sunday 23 August 2020





Alas, this year’s festival of Rarities of Piano Music at Northern Germany’s Schloss vor Husum has been cancelled due to the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. Thus I have to console myself with great memories of last year’s festival. It has taken me a painfully long time to write this, but as they say, its better late than never.




As with previous trips to the Rarities of Piano Music at Schloss vor Husum, my sojourn begins with piano music in Singapore like some preparatory piece of homework. Over the weekend, I heard four young pianists in a gala concert of the Singapore Youth International Piano Competition. These included winners of the Japan Steinway Competition (Momona), Ettlingen Youth Piano Competition (Yu Lei), Epinal International Piano Competition (Lin Hao-Wei, only 15) and the Piano Island Competition (Singapore’s Pung Rae Yue). They were all excellent, representing a bright future for piano playing in East Asia.


As a corollary, it is staggering to see that there will be five Asian pianists playing this year’s Husum festival, some kind of record. Two will perform at the Scholarship Recital, two at the Piano Explorers Series, and one at the main festival proper. And to think that only four Asian pianists had previously performed at the festival, beginning with the Philippines’ Cecile Licad in 2005, followed by Jenny Lin (Taiwan), Hiroaki Takenouchi and Etsuko Hirose (both Japan) over the years. This might point to a trend to come.   

The Nordsee Canal (Kiel Canal)
as seen at Fischhütte

Friday 23 August 2019


I arrive in Husum this year with absolutely no hitches. Gertrud Feldhusen, who befriended me at last year’s festival, met me at Hamburg Airport. Instead of risking the Deutsche Bahn (fraught with the usual delays), we take a road trip through the flat Schleswig-Holstein landscape and a climactic crossing by ferry over the Kiel Canal at Fischhutte.


At Husum, we are met by the television crew from NDR (Nord Deutscher Rundfunk, or North German Broadcasting) who are making a documentary on international visitors who venture to Schleswig-Holstein for whatever reasons. Apparently I appear to be a curious and somewhat interesting subject (exotic for certain, but interesting?), having travelled all the way from Southeast Asia to Schleswig-Holstein to listen to piano playing. Somewhat crazy, maybe. Anyway, we film at Hotel Wohlert (home away from home for the 5th successive year), Hartmann’s Landküche (a favourite restaurant for country home-cooked fare), the Feldhusen farmhouse at Koldenbuttel and a dike on the North Sea coast. Varied and very nice locations, definitely.  

The Wattenmeer or North Sea coast
as seen from south of Husum. 


A documentary by Dörte Nielsen entitled Auf Weltreise nach Schleswig-Holstein (On a World Tour to Schleswig-Holstein) was released on 28 February 2020, and it may be viewed below for some laughs. 



by Husum Scholarship Holders (7.30 pm)


Last year, five young pianists from various German conservatories were awarded scholarships to attend the entire length of the festival. This year they repaid the faith thrusted upon them by playing a 20-minute recital each comprising piano rarities they have picked up along the way. Rarities are certainly not bread and butter in music schools, so it takes a certain adventurous spirit to indulge in them. The results are varied, variable but worth pursuing.


From Lithuanian pianist Onute Grazinyte, we got pleasant Lithuanian music (Dvarionas, Vitols and Remesa) and some Handel. From Japanese pianist Mari Namara came Toshio Hosokawa’s Mai (vigorous Japanese dance music) and a very spirited performance of Scriabin’s Seventh Sonata. Should Scriabin’s 7th be considered a rarity? The last time I’ve heard it was at the 2016 Sydney International Piano Competition, and much further back in 2004 in Hong Kong, by a certain M-A.Hamelin. Three performances in 15 years - that makes it a rarity indeed.


Stephen Hough’s My Favourite Things and Poulence’s Novelettes are no longer rarities, but Japan’s Kenji Miura (who later won 1st prize at the Marguerite Long International Piano Competition) offered two Mazurkas by Benjamin Godard. The best performances come from Elias Projahn and Jorma Marggraf, both Germans. From Projahn, his Liszt Fantasia and Fugue on BACH is suitably thunderous alongside two R.Strauss-Gieseking transcriptions. Leaving the best for the last, Marggraf’s reading of Szymanowski’s Third Sonata – brooding yet ecstatic – was most impressive. He feels this elusive idiom, allied with mind and fingers fully in service to this dissonant and suffocating piece.   

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