Category Archives: Internet Publishing

About publishing issues, but stlye, technical and desingn points of view

The Fate of Contemporary Composers and their Compositions

The competition piece at the Inaugural Knigge Competition at the UBC School of Music has me thinking about new piano works again. All the works we now consider part of the standard repertoire started life the same way. They were new, unheard compositions which could easily have ended up in the dust bin or completely forgotten. This can easily happen if a work does not get into the hands of competent musicians or if it simply cannot aquire escape velocity. By escape velocity I mean the same thing as a Mars-bound explorer needs a specific speed in order to escape earth’s gravity. Any new work needs the same, except it is measured in numbers of performances. I have no idea what that number is but it is certainly more than one.

This weekend at the Knigge competition, composer Michael Tenzer‘s piece, entitled ‘Invention’ got at least 8 performances. All the performances were good. Some were more convincing than others. As you would expect, the performance by the competition winner was the best. But the question remains; who will ever hear this work again?

Some music is difficult to understand. Composer Robert Schumann’s earliest piano works were almost unintelligible to the average concert goer in the 19th century. Mostly, his work was played at private concerts attended by the inteligencia of the time. We have no such system now. If Kreisleriana were written today, who would play it? Who would hear it? It is quite likely it could remain on the shelf for decades.

Serge Rachmaninov’s first symphony failed miserably because of a drunken conductor who cared nothing for the music and inadequate rehearsal time. It was nearly completely destroyed and only reconstructed from orchestral parts after the composers death. It is actually a magnificent work.

I have no answers. Only more questions. We have no viable distribution system for these works. We have no way for a curious music lover to even find them. I think it only appropriate that I leave this post unfinished.

Knigge Competition Winners Recital

The winners of the Knigge Competition in are as follows:

  1. Scott Meek, originally from Winnipeg Mantioba.
  2. Devon Joiner, Vancouver, British Columbia
  3. Magdelena von Eccher, Lethbridge, Alberta
  4. Christine Desjardins, Montreal, Quebec

The question about competition winners is always about consistency — that is can they do it again, and again. The answer for all of these performers is a resounding yes. You should look for all of the three award winning runners up in the future. As they continue studying, they will improve greatly.

Scott Meek again stands out as a finished pianist. There is no doubt in my mind that he can stand along side any of the biggest names in the world of concert pianists and hold his own. His playing of the Rachmaninov Etudes-Tableaux is as fine a reading as I’ve ever heard from the likes of even Sviatoslav Richter.

Of course I will be accused of grandstanding and over exaggerating. I deny that vehemently. There is a point during a performance, where you know that the performer has the strength of vision, the depth of understanding to paint the sound canvas with all the colours and drama the composer imbued his score with. In Rachmaninov’s case, that is the broadest of strokes the Romantic composers could use. It was crystal clear that Scott had control of the brush and knew how to paint the canvas with his own unique view of the composers work.

His Scriabin was as manic and frenetic as you would expect from the best Scriabin performers. The next work on his program showed off his uncanny ability to swtich gears and play in an entirely different style from another time period entirely and make it sound like it belonged in the program with the other more modern works.

The Mozart Fantasy in c minor K. 475 is justly famous, but is as enigmatic as it is famous. I confess that I have until now, not heard a performance I thought was convincing. Scott’s performance convinced me that the work was justly famous. Thank-you Scott.

With the required new composition by UBC composer Michael Tenzer, he showed himself capable of taking an unknown work, learning it, and performing it in a manner which made the work convincing as a composition. That is not easy to do with a work no one has heard and in a style he is unlikely to know well.

The last work on the program was the Ginastera Piano Sonata no. 1, opus 22. I have not heard this work for many years. It is rarely performed, unfortunately. It should be. It is a brilliant recital piece. Its fiendish difficulty should have convinced a few more pianists to attempt it just to prove they could play it. Unfortunately, we are more likely to hear Islamey; Balakirev ‘s massive error in judgement! This afternoon’s performance was exemplary. Scott managed the difficulties with apparent ease. I know the ease was only apparent, but part of the virtuosity is in making the impossibly difficult look dead easy.

One does not usually think of a classical piano recital in terms of visual effects, but there are times at which you had to actually see what was happening to appreciate it. There is a passage near the end of the work, the toccata-like section with the repeated notes in the base in a hammering spanish jota rhythm–left hand and right hand alternating like jack hammers. It appeared like one of Scott’s hands was poised motionless in one position above the keys for those minutes. This is an optical illusion which you are clearly aware of because you can hear that the sound coming from the piano means that the pianist is moving his hands–yet one hand appeared motionless in space while the other hand appeared as a transparent blurr near the level of the keys. As I said, you had to be there to believe it! This, I believe, is a YouTube moment if ever there was such a thing! Sadly, likely the frame rate of the video would not be sufficient to capture the action of the pianists fingers.

The instrument the competitors played on was in top form as well! It threw no unexpected curve balls Scott’s way–unlike the previous day! The problems present in Scott’s Rachmaninov the previous day were simply not there as I knew would be the case.

I anxiously await the next opportunity to hear Scott Meek play!

The First National Knigge Piano Competition Winner: Scott Meek

I was going to give a rundown of the days performances at the inaugural Knigge Piano Competition at the U.B.C. School of Music. However, on second thought, there is really no point in rehashing what the jurors have already done. There was a clear winner today. Of all the competitors, Scott Meek stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Scott’s program was challenging, Rachmianinov, Scriabin, Mozart and Ginastera. His performance of the Rachamaninov Etude-Talbeaux opus 39 No. 5 in e flat minor was flawed only by his miscalculating what the instrument was capable of. This meant Scott had pushed the instrument to its limits before the biggest climax of the piece. However, what I found out after was that the piano technician had altered the voicing of the instrument after Scott’s rehearsal the evening before. Scott could not have known that this had taken place. What is to his credit in this situation was how fast he was able to adapt the the new state of the instrument. By the end of the piece he had taken into account the new voicing and for the rest of his performance, he targeted his climaxes perfectly. The succeeding two Scriabin Etudes (opus 42, no. 4 and opus 65 no. 3) were brilliantly executed.

Listen to his performance of the Scriabin Etude opus 65 no. 3 from his DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) recital at Indiana University last year.

Placing the Mozart after the two luxuriant romantic works was a calculated risk. Either it would work splendidly or fail miserably. In this case, Scott brought the transition from romantic to classical splendidly. The advantage of the placement in this position on the program is that it underlined the subtle streak of romanticism many people hear in Mozart. It is interesting to note that E.T.A. Hoffmann, the literary Romantic novelist, composer and music critic, considered Mozart a romantic composer. How different that is from our perception of Mozart!

The stunning moment in this short recital was Scott’s performance of Alberto Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1 opus 22. This is a fiendishly difficult work to play. It requires not only bravura piano technique, but also the subtle colourations found in Debussy’s writing. Accomplishing both as well as he did says that he is a pianist who’s reached a point where we must consider that he is one of Canada’s leading young pianists. The finalists will be heard in recital at the U.B.C. School of Music this Sunday at 2 PM. This is not to be missed!

The Competition Conundrum

The Competition Question: This is likely the most serious question we, as stewards or the serious music in the Western European Musical tradition. By serious music, I mean music which is, in and of itself an artistic, personal or philosophical statement or argument. In other words, it is music without words, music which stands as a statement in and of itself. I do not know of any other musical culture or heritage that has developed its music in a way to embrace statements like we make with musical tones alone.

That said, how does a young artist become known? In the distant past of the 19th century, you would play at various private salon’s and soirée. Public concerets arose from these private appearances. The material performed at concerts was entirely differnet than what appeared on public concerts. Clara Weick made her first performances in this manner and later with the assistance of her piano teacher father was able to become a sensation.

These days there are no equivalent to the Salons or Soirées of the 19th century. All we have is the concert stage and the competition. The competition rose in importance during the 20th century “Cold War” between the Western Block countries and the Soviet Block countries. The competition became a propaganda tool. While the compeititors were really competing and their desire to play well was sincere, the results were tainted by judging that was frequently slanted towards one side or the other. It was expected that someone from the Soviet Block countries would win the U.S.S.R. Tchaikovsky Competition. While there were some notable exceptions, the corruption of the results was almost complete.

That is not to say that the winners were not really good. They were, For example Grigory Sokolov is a Tchaikovsky competition winner and it is steadily becoming clearer that this is a pianist of true integrity and worthy of note. Others have simply faded from the public eye.

That said, we will never know about the heart ache and tears shed by competitors who should have won or placed but were set aside by Cold War politics. The Cold War is now over, but the politics of that war have been replaced by new set of politics – the politics of teacher’s cliques and the competitiveness of Academic institutions. It is sad, but true that a new face never wins the big prize– that almost always goes to someone who is already known to the jury. This type of prize by jury has even filtered down to the level of the local amateur piano competitions.

Just exactly how do you explain to a talented young player why he didn’t win, when he turned in what should have been a winning performance? How do you translate the jurors cryptic comments about metronomes and counting when there are only one or two lines of comment about a performance lasting up to 10 minutes and taking months of preparation? I have recently been put in that situation and has made me think anew about how we shepherd young players from youthful amateuers too seasoned adult performers capable of making a living playing their instrument.

At the same time, we sit on the edge of a precipice. An old order is coming to an end and something new will take its place. The traditional ways of publishing music are now outdated and outmoded. What once took dozens of skilled tradesman, huge investments in printing presses and the creation of cumbersome metal plates now can be done by a single person using a lap top computer. The output from programs like GNU Lilypond, Finale and Sibelius is press ready. It can also be distributed over the Internet and printed by any home inkjet or laser printer. The traditional publishing industry is on its last legs. There is no need for this layer of complexity in our distribution systems.

Likewise, during the late 19th and the entire 20th century it was possible to “publish” a recorded performance. There are huge repositories of recorded performances owned by the companies that package these performances for sale. Of course, these performances can easily be copied and distributed by anyone with a lap top computer. That is what is known as P2P or Peer to Peer distribution on the Internet.

Those publishers or distributors are now disparately trying to salvage and keep their old model alive by litigation. They are demanding stiffer penalties and extended life for their copyright repositories. At this point, the Public Domain is now on life support. Probably nothing published in my lifetime will leave copyright during my lifetime. Likely things published near the dawn of the 20th century will still be copyright when I am no longer here.

You see, the picture is bleak. How does a young peformer (or any performer for that matter) proceed in this new world? Perhaps the answer is partially in the past as well as in the new Internet technologies.

The salon and soirée disappeared because people began communicating in a different manner. We use our own homes for entertainment less and less. More and more our communal activities take place in larger venues. At least that is the way things were at the close of the last century. However, something new is now possible. The Internet holds promise for new methods of communicating.

Let me enlarge on this. Up to now, most of my friends are drawn from those people I meet in my day to day life. It has not been possible for me to meet with someone in Australia or the U.K. simply because of distance. The Internet has changed this. I now have someone I consider a very close friend in Melbourne Australia. I had not considered or planned this. It happened in the virtual world of cyberspace in much the same way as it does in real life. Friendships can now grow and flourish inspite of distance.

Technology had now made video conferencing a reality. Imagine if you will, a Salon or soirée which takes place in cyberspace. Imagine a piano lesson or even a master class which takes place in two or three places at once, the meeting space being in a virtual space in cyberspace. This can now be done without the intervention of a third party publisher or even coordinator. A peer-to-peer network will suffice given sufficient bandwidth and well designed software.

Some things like this are now happening, but they are under the sponsorship of major telecoms acting as the third party publishers. In reality, this added layer is not needed. Currently the need is artificially placed there because of the bandwidth limitations placed on what the telecoms call “residential” customers.

This article should have a conclusion, but it is not written because I do not know how to conclude it. I just don’t have enough information, nor do I know the road forward.

A Passionate Evocation of Iberia


Isaac Albeniz (1860-1909) Iberia
Hyperion  CDA 67476/7
Marc-Andre Hamelin
, piano

Isaac Albeniz set of four books of piano pieces called “Iberia” are some of the most difficult works in the piano repertoire. They aren’t difficult from the perspective of the actual notes, it is the way in which Albeniz laid thses notes under the pianist fingers.

First, its difficult, second — and perhaps most importantly — they way Albeniz has written the score makes the pianist do some very strange and awkward (for most pianists) interlocking hand positions. Most who attempt the music, spend a great deal of time re-distributing the notes in a more logical manner. This seems to have been a barrier to more pianists attempting this wonderful piano music.

Although Albeniz was an accomplished and well known concert pianist he did not write these works for himself and almost destroyed the scores fearing that no pianist would be able to play them. These works were written with Catalan pianist Joaquin Malats in mind. They take advantage of his rather odd and unique abilities to play complex music using interlocking hand positions. That means playing with at least one or two of the fingers of each hand worked in between the fingers of the other. There is no real need to distribute the notes this way and Albeniz admittedly did it specifically for the Catalan pianists unique ability.

From the few historical recordings we have of his playing his reputation as an exquisite keyboard colourist are well deserved. However, knowing all this doesn’t make Albeniz writing any easier. All we know is that someone, long dead could do it with relative ease! These days, most pianists, including the highly regarded Spanish pianist Alicia de Larrocha, re-distributes the writing so the notes lay more conventionally under the pianists fingers.

All that said, this music is one of the landmarks in Spanish keyboard music and likely in Spanish music in general. The reason I’m going on about this is that there are new-ish recordings of these works by Quebecois pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin. Hamelin, as many of you know, is well known for playing the most torturously difficult works in the piano reportoire from Alkan to all of the ChopinGodowsky Etudes and doing not only brilliantly, but musically to!

It is always tempting to assume that because one is born in a particular country or local that the interpretation from that person is going to be more authoritative and closer to the spirit of that location than someone from another place. We have considered Alicia de Larrocha’s interpretation (Decca 2 CDs 448 1912) of these works as the panicle for many decades. Of course she had almost no competition in this area. Any other recordings of these works have long been absent from any catalogue. My memory of them fades, but I do remember that I was not impressed any of them. At that time Ms. de Larrocha’s interpretations were the bench mark. However, that said, I always had the nagging feeling that there was something missing from her brilliantly done recordings.

My suspicions have been validated by Quebecois pianist Marc-André Hamelin‘s recording of these works for Hyperion His work completely displaces Alicia de Larrocha’s reading. From the first notes of the Evocation you are aware that you are hearing something quite magical. In Hamelin’s hands, this piece breathes, it exudes Iberia from every pour, it becomes the hushed, passionate evocation of Iberia I think Albeniz intended.

Unlike the faux-Spanish music of Debussy, Ravel and Rimsky-Kosakov, Iberia is Spanish music written by a Spaniard. This music rings true to the spirit of Spain. Hamelin captures its unique beauty in a way which makes the music speak. I am always aware of thoughtful intelligence and passion when I listen to this recording.

I have listened to it in detail multiple times, and will do so again. I have always had my favourites, Triana, the Evocation, Lavapies and El Albecin; but as I listen, each one seems to me my favourite at that moment in time.

It is one thing for a pianist to play the notes as the composer wrote them; Hamelin, on the other hand, not only plays the notes but also communicates the intent, sets the scene and the drama of each piece. One can hear how each phrase answers or flows logically from one to another. Do not think for one second that this is only an intellectual exercise for Hamelin leads you though each piece in this large Suite with an emotional logic that is, in itself, undeniable.

If you thought about purchasing these recordings and didn’t, you should not hesitate the next time you see them. These are the new high water mark recordings of Albeniz Iberia and other late piano works.