Showing posts with label Federico Colli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Federico Colli. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Southbank: a love letter



A view from the terrace of the biggest arts centre in the biggest city in Europe,
which ought to be our pride and joy

Dear Southbank Centre,

You are my home-from-home. You have been for 40 years, possibly more. With yesterday's news that you may have to stay closed until April 2021 at least (which I must admit isn't wholly unexpected), there comes a sense of dismay and anxiety that's almost vertiginous even without being compounded by the same fears for the future of Shakespeare's Globe, the National Theatre, the Royal Opera House, the West End, and indeed every other theatre and concert hall in the land. Nobody has yet solved the conundrum of infectious disease versus mass audience versus economics of putting on a show. Trouble is inevitable. That doesn't mean we should just roll over and accept it.

Britain without its arts would be...well, not a lot. We've always been defined by our theatre, our playwrights, our authors, our actors; in recent decades also, at long, long last, by our musicians. Some of the finest in the world are British - not that we always appreciate them enough - and their numbers are swelled by those who have decided to make London their home, in many cases exactly because of its flourishing arts scene. Kill that off and you destroy first of all billions in our economy - guess why tourists come here? It ain't for skiing; secondly, the present and future of dozens of thousands of people whose livelihoods exist in this huge industry (which is worth a lot more in economic terms to the country than fishing); the dreams of generations of young people who find fulfilment, creativity and hope in the arts as nowhere else; and, essentially, anything that still remains of our souls.

Opera North's Ring Cycle, relayed into the foyer from the RFH
Dear Southbank, I remember the first time I was brought to experience you, in particular the Royal Festival Hall. It was a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rudolf Kempe, with Miriam Freed the violin soloist. My father coached me on the music for a week beforehand, playing me recordings and telling me about the composers: Berlioz's Roman Carnival Overture, the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and the Dvorak New World Symphony. I remember staring at the flautist in fascination and feeling sorry for her, because she was sitting right in front of some awfully loud brass. Not long afterwards I was in again for my first piano recital - Tamás Vásáry playing the Chopin Waltzes - and a taste of chamber music, in the form of the Amadeus Quartet and William Pleeth in the Schubert Quintet.

That was also the first time I went backstage, and I have no idea how or why we did that, but I do remember circling the RFH's Green Room looking for the quartet members to sign my programme, and William Pleeth looking down from what seemed a very great height with the most benevolent smile in the world. Often I'm in that room twice a week now.

When I was a teenager, the penny dropped in earnest. Or rather, Ernest: the Ernest Reid Children's Concerts. I was first to arrive for our music O level class one day and found myself unexpectedly conscripted: "There's one place free in the choir to sing at the Royal Festival Hall and it goes to the first person to arrive today, which is you...". Actually I can't sing to save my life - but gosh, did I sing then, and wow, did I love it. We performed specially arranged versions of the Fauré Requiem (that was where I got my passion for Fauré, too), the Haydn "Creation" with Sir David Willcocks, Handel's "Messiah", Vivaldi's Gloria and some wonderfully offbeat Christmas carols. There were lightbulbs around the mirrors in the dressing rooms, we were seated on benches beside the mighty organ, and we felt so grown-up. We'd take the tube to Embankment and walk over Hungerford Bridge in the rain and there you were, the RFH, on the far side, sitting proud like a green prize cat with curved back, waiting for us to stroke you.

Then Horowitz came to give his last London recital and I queued up for ages and didn't get in. Howls. But in those teen years I went to other piano recitals that shaped my piano passions for decades. Sviatoslav Richter. Krystian Zimerman (aged 23). András Schiff (aged 28). Maurizio Pollini, Alfred Brendel, Annie Fischer, Imogen Cooper, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Shura Cherkassky, Murray Perahia, Alicia de Larrocha, Emil Gilels, André Tchaikovsky, Mitsuko Uchida, Daniel Barenboim and more - none of them ever forgotten, each of them treasured like a priceless family heirloom that lives on in the heart and the inner ear.

Vladimir Jurowski rehearsing with the LPO
I met some of my dearest friends in your foyers. I remember my first glimpse of some of them. My first love, rounding a pillar in the RFH together with the mutual friend who introduced us. My wonderful colleague and opera-writing partner Roxanna Panufnik in the doorway of the Purcell Room with the mutual friend who introduced us (who was Tasmin Little). The party in the Chelsfield Room after a London International Piano Competition final where my former piano teacher taunted me "go and mingle, you've got the best chat-up line in the room!" and I met several people who are still dear friends now. And on the stage, a violinist I watched for years in his orchestra, thinking "he looks nice" before we ever met, let alone got married. The first time I did meet Tom I didn't recognise him at first. It was only after two weeks that he invited me to one of his concerts and I thought "oh, it's him?". Because I'd only ever seen him in profile, playing in the first violin section of the LPO.

I well remember the controversies and infighting of the early nineties, rumbling forth during my days as assistant editor on various music magazines. The time the Tory government decided to try to kill off one of the orchestras and mercifully failed (this incident ended up nicknamed the 'Hoffnung Report' after the musical satirist). The time the poor old RPO was hideously penalised for daring to have made a commercial recording called Hooked On Classics and had its grant sliced to little bits. The time the LPO had to appoint a principal conductor too fast and ended up with someone who seemed frankly worse than most.

Federico Colli and JD with the Critics' Circle Award 2019
I've stood or sat on your stages myself, and not only as a singing kid. I found myself doing things beyond my wildest dreams. The pre-concert talk to introduce the UK premiere of Korngold's Das Wunder der Heliane, the opera I never imagined I would be lucky enough to hear live. A pre-concert interview with Krystian Zimerman, who unexpectedly transformed himself into the sharpest comedian in town; I became the fall guy, asking the straight questions to which his answers and the way he timed them had people rolling in the aisles. Then last year I had to make a little speech at a Philharmonia concert, presenting pianist Federico Colli with the Critics' Circle Emerging Artist Award (see pic above). Here is where great musicians begin to reach their audiences and can bring them insight, inspiration and wonderful memories...

It's not all a rose garden out there, of course. For the last several years, it's struck me that visiting you is a little bit like being St George and battling the dragon for entry to the castle, because between platform 19 at Waterloo and your side entrance there are about 10 different ways one can be killed, but it is worth it every time. You can be run down in the station by the crowds going the other way, you can fall down the front stairs in that crowd, you can be run over by lorries or motorbikes zooming round the roundabout, or by taxis and bicycles on Belvedere Road or skateboarders crashing into you pretty much anywhere. Then you have to get past the food market which is so tempting that in five minutes it can empty your wallet and burst your buttons. Once one is lucky enough to reach the foyer, the Long Bar can be a welcome sight. During the daytime, since the austerity governments started cutting stuff, the open-to-all free-wifi foyer life has become a haven not only for the London creatives and freelancers who give the atmosphere such a buzz, but also for the dispossessed, the homeless and young families who have nowhere else to go and play. Some people object to this, but perhaps those individuals should stop voting in the governments that have produced the situation.

None of this is helped by those contrarian pundits who this week said a) theatre's dying, "*whispers* good" (an actual tweet by a right-wing rag's arts editor, who probably adored the massive outrage he caused), and b) kill off the Southbank and put it out to "private tender" (hello? this is the biggest arts centre in the biggest city in Europe, with a mission to serve its public, so what are you even talking about?). Can you imagine a sports editor saying "it's about time we killed off football"? It's a shoddy, miserable, wanton look to kick something or someone when they're down; and at a time when an unelected aid gets to address the nation from the Downing Street rose garden to say why it is apparently OK for him to undermine the health rules, it also shows that arrogant squandering of hard-won advantage has become a way of life here. That's almost as dangerous and destructive as the virus itself. But remember: every dog has its day. There is a thirteenth circle of hell ready and waiting to hand out its keys.

Really we should all be pulling together at the moment. We have to save the arts, because they will be saved: as a dear friend reminded me last night, from the slough of despond, theatre has been with us since ancient Greece and isn't going away any time soon. The same is true of music. We can and will make music at home. Sales of digital pianos are apparently soaring. Instruments are coming out of cases after lying untouched for years while the rat-race claimed us. Tideovers are possible online: tonight I am hosting a discussion about Beethoven for Garsington Opera and the Royal Philharmonic Society which was going to be in a theatre but has now been reconstituted via Zoom and can hence be watched by our friends all over the world. There will be a way - even if everything looks hopeless right now.

But mess with the Southbank and you mess with much more than brutalist architecture. You mess with people's entire lives, their inner landscapes, their souls. Take all those favourite memories, as above, and multiply them by millions. For every music-lover who lives here or visits here will have a store of them just as large, and there are millions, all about listening to the world's greatest musicians in these spaces and keeping their performances alive in their hearts ever afterwards, just as I do.

Take that away and those musicians, those audiences and that inspiration won't return. Squander our advantage, won after many, many decades of hard work and devotion, and it's gone for good. So let us keep our concert halls and theatres. And let us bloody well find ways to make them work again.

Much love,
Jess.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Lucky at Leeds?

The Leeds International Piano Competition, which takes place this August and September, has announced the 79 pianists who have been selected from more than 300 applicants to take part. While numbers are overwhelmingly dominated by musicians from the Far East, there's also a relatively strong showing from home, with four UK contestants and a fair number of others who are studying at this country's conservatoires. Ashley Fripp. Alexander Ullman and Yuanfan Yang are set for a very busy autumn as they are also off to the Chopin Competition. Will any go to Moscow too and try for what one might call The Triple?

Interesting to see some rather well established names on the Leeds list, though. While Yuanfan Yang is the best-known to British audiences, having entered the BBC Young Musician of the Year twice and won the piano section the second time, Lukas Vondracek has a strong career already and Vitaly Pisarenko, who's playing soon for the Keyboard Trust, has some fairly astonishing reviews to his name. Alexander Panfilov was an impressive gold medal winner at the RNCM in June. Constanza Principe from Italy has been studying at the Royal Academy of Music, while Pisarenko and Ullman, along with Tamila Samindjanova, Samson Tsoy and Pietro Gatto are or were all at the Royal College.

The full list is on the Leeds site, here.

Meanwhile on the jury, this is supposedly Dame Fanny Waterman's last competition. The founder of the Leeds, she has just turned 95. Full list of jury here.

Dear TV crews, please can we have the old format and see the WHOLE FINAL, LIVE, this time? Like we used to in the days when the likes of Mitsuko Uchida, András Schiff and Peter Donohoe were competing? The Cardiff Singer of the World is now a BBC effort and some of us pianophiles think that Leeds ought to be as well. It does make a difference. It really does.

Here's a clip of Federico Colli's winning Beethoven last time. Only a clip. From the very end.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

NEW VIDEO: Federico Colli's London recital



This is the performance of the Schumann Piano Sonata No.1 that took pianistic London by storm last month. Federico Colli has just uploaded the entire recital to Youtube (in three chunks). I hope you enjoy it as much as we all did in the flesh. You can find the rest here. It was part of the International Piano Series at the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The secret world of Federico Colli

You know exactly why budding great pianists in their early to mid twenties are like London buses, don't you? That's right - you wait for a decade or so and then along comes a whole bunch at the same time. So please welcome yet another: to add to the roster of Trifonov, Grosvenor, Levit and Avdeeva, please welcome, from Brescia...

...Federico Colli, winner of the latest Leeds International Piano Competition, who made his London debut last night at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in a stunning recital of Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann. Pictured, right, with a very happy Dame Fanny Waterman, founder of the Leeds, who can be rightly proud of her laureate.

Colli - playing a Fazioli, also the choice of Trifonov last week - began his concert with the Mozart Sonata in F major K283: a vivid, spirited account that established several strengths at once, notably the sense of "flow" that characterised the whole programme, an ongoing thread of musical connection that feels as if he is entirely one with the music, creating it from the inside out. He used a light, strong touch with singing tone, beautifully balanced voicing, extremely well-judged pedalling - an ideal blend of colour and clarity. I wondered briefly about a few exaggerated gestures - hand movements for each repeated note of the slow movement's melody, for instance - but by half way through the Beethoven 'Appassionata', any such concerns went out of the window as a tingle of recognition spread that we were listening to a potential true great.

Something magical began to happen with the first variation of the Beethoven's second movement: a pattern of figuration that in other hands can be nothing more than that, but that for Colli became a shifting lattice of subtle voices, light and shade - as if he could hear and imagine things that the rest of us can't. And while everything seemed thought out and judicious, there was no sense of playing it safe: let off the leash in the finale's coda, Colli tackled Beethoven's fall of Lucifer like a lightning bolt.

Schumann's Sonata No.1 is one of the composer's weirdest works, more fantastical than the Fantasy, less "sane" by far than all those supposedly difficult "late"compositions. Pulling it off is a very tall order, yet throughout its magnificent long span Colli made it entirely his own. He gave the fantasy its head, working in the dimension of silence together with that of sound in masterful fashion: the transitions, of which there are a great many, were not only handled with ideal pacing but became virtually the raison d'être of the piece.

By now one could forget technical concerns and take for granted the full yet never heavy-handed sound quality, the singing nature of the phrasing, the richness of colour, and move instead into another world. He made sense of the work by recognising that making sense is not the point; that this is visionary, groundbreaking music far ahead of its time. He had the hall breathing and concentrating as one with him and the piano and the sonata. This was his secret world, unfolding in front of us. He gave us all of Schumann and all of himself.

For an encore he offered the Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy, in what I think must have been Pletnev's arrangement.

It was a short programme, but one of uncompromising and unforgettable intensity.

Meanwhile, my interview with him is the cover feature for the current issue of Pianist magazine. Enjoy.




Monday, December 31, 2012

And JDCMB's top ten posts of 2012 are...

Here are the top ten stories on JDCMB this year. Good to see that among the matters that interested you most were some of the world's top conductors, several exciting young artists and quite a few of the quirky JDCMB pieces that you won't find anywhere else - not least, the April Fool's Day spectacular. Below, listed in reverse order.

Thank you, everyone, for joining me through the roller-coaster highs and lows of 2012 and here's hoping that in 2013 the comets shine bright!



10.  Socks for the Lilac Fairy?                                                  
 Why do balletomanes knit socks for their favourite dancers, but Lang Lang doesn't get gloves from the pianophiles?

Life-enhancing ways to behave at a concert.

That.

Introducing Angelo Villani.

In which I sit in on the great maestro's conducting masterclasses.

Italian romantic in cravat triumphs at the UK's premier piano competition.

You're a pragmatic lot, dear readers, and you know when you're on to a good thing.

Or can there? A look at this year's finalists.

1 April, and it looked like we might all have to play to Gergiev. Delightfully, a few of you fell for this, lock, stock and subsequent red ears.

And in first place...

The maestro gets it all off his chest.






Sunday, September 16, 2012

Federico Colli: the flower of Leeds?


The Italian pianist Federico Colli, 24, scooped first prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition last night. I tuned in on R3 in the middle of his Beethoven 'Emperor' Concerto, without remembering exactly who was due to play it, and was entranced. Seriously beautiful pianism with wonderful tone; very sensitive to nuances, voicing and atmosphere; intelligent, energetic and never heavy-handed: the sort of playing, indeed, that you don't really associate with the final of a piano competition.

Radio 3's announcer, Petroc Trelawny, seemed fixated, meanwhile, with the pianist's red cravat, and one of several friends who was in the audience remarks that Colli, who hails from Brescia, slightly resembled a cross between Casanova and Dracula, yet clearly had a lovely personality and superb stage presence.

Colli has also won the Salzburg International Mozart Competition (last year). He studies with Boris Petrushansky at Imola and Konstantin Bogino at Bergamo. Apparently he is "fascinated by the complex equations of quantum mechanics".

I'd take an educated guess, though, that it was a fairly close-run matter between Colli and the Swiss pianist Louis Schwizgebel, who played first on Friday evening. Of all the performances I've listened to so far, it is Schwizgebel's Haydn C major Sonata that has really stayed aboard.

Our doughty commentator Erica Worth, editor of Pianist Magazine, has just phoned us to report that she was very happy with the result. "The two top prizes went, I think, to the most interesting musicians, the ones who had the most personality and the most to say," she declares. "Personally I would have given first prize to Louis Schwizgebel and second to Colli, but I'm so glad they both came through at the top."

Third prize went to Jiayan Sun (China), fourth to Andrejs Osokins (Latvia), fifth to Andrew Tyson (USA) and sixth to Jayson Gillham (Australia). A special prize voted by the players of the Halle Orchestra and presented in memory of Terence Judd went to Andrew Tyson.

You can catch both final concerts and a selection of semi-final performances on BBC iPlayer (radio) this week. Today at 2pm there's a gala concert to be broadcast by Radio 3 involving all six finalists. And from 21 September the TV finally wakes up: BBC4 has a series of six hour-long programmes on successive Friday evenings devoted to the competition (though as we now know the results it seems a bit late to the party).

Bravo, then, Federico Colli. Keep wearing that cravat.

Here's a write-up from The Arts Desk. [UPDATE] Here are some more details about the prizes and their winners, from Pianist Magazine.

And here's Federico in the final of the Mozart Competition in Salzburg 2011:



Meanwhile, Louis has already had a Wigmore Hall debut. He seems to have dropped half his surname since then. It turns out that his father is a maker of animated films. Here's Louis himself, very animated indeed in a spot of Moszkowski.