Jan Lisiecki in Verbier talks eggs, performance practice and the BBC Proms

Like my other interviews over the past few days, I started Jan Lisiecki’s with the customary ‘what did you have for breakfast?’ question. This unexpectedly caused a titter of recognition. It appears everyone the world over is familiar with the technique. How very disappointing. The question did elicit some useful advice however, like how to ask for a fried egg sunny side up in French. (What I didn’t reveal was that I actually hate fried eggs and will only eat the white.)

Lisiecki is incredibly outgoing. There is a refreshing willingness to engage (compared to some older performers), a reassuring grasp of self-deprecation (‘As a Canadian, I operate best at 10 degrees centigrade – anything higher than that and I have a bit of trouble’), an infectious enthusiasm. After a string of interviews where I’m in the company of similarly energising individuals, I’m beginning to wonder whether its the openness that I feel invigorated by the most, something I don’t experience quite so much as a journalist back in London.

Jan and I talked about the experience of coming to Verbier (including an inauspicious first visit involving an over-ripe cheese left in his hotel room), performance practice, how to recognise how an audience is engaged and his recital the night before in the church in Verbier.

That, like all of the concerts I’ve been to in Verbier over the past few days, was an incredible experience. A capacity audience watched a demanding programme that consisted Bach’s Partita No.2, Mozart’s A Major Sonata, Two Nocturnes by Chopin, a Rachmaninoff Elegy and Prelude, concluding with two of Schubert’s F minor impromptus, op.142. Lisiecki struck a lonely a figure on the platform, bathed in hot yellow light. No surprise that such a demanding programme saw a great deal of sweating, but at no point any break in concentration. That seemed both incredible and, at the same time, something which added to the tension in the room, giving proceedings an extra edge. Jan finished the programme with encores of more Bach and Arietta, the first of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces from Book I Op.12. Cue tears welling up at the corner of my eyes remembering lessons with my first piano teacher over thirty years ago.

On reflection, talking to a performer about the amount he or she sweated during a concert isn’t the most beguiling of techniques. Still, it underlined a point many of us as audience members overlook. “Why – when there was a break in the Mozart, didn’t you reach for you hankerchief and wipe the sweat away?” “It would have broken the spell of the moment.” Jan replied, “You have to keep the audience with you. If you break the atmosphere you have to work hard to re-establish it.” It seemed such an obvious point once he’d explained it. But it threw light on an aspect of performance I do take for granted.

I couldn’t let the interview finish without a question about the BBC Proms. Sometimes it needs visiting a foreign country and talking to a international artist to help remind you what you have on your doorstep back home. Speaking about his Proms appearance in 2013, he said:

“It was an incredible experience. It was very hot. It was a heatwave in London. Like here in Verbier, there was a moment as I journeyed to the hall when I realised that there’s this world outside of the performing bubble. We took the Tube in London. There were warnings on the Tube. We got out and walked through Hyde Park and saw people playing football, walking their dog, or having a picnic. And I remember thinking that I was going to the Royal Albert Hall to play to 5000 people and at the same time there were all these people outside the Royal Albert Hall unaware of what’s going to happen inside it, enjoying their day in the park. And ultimately, why shouldn’t I as an individual enjoy your day too, and make the most of it and really enjoy your moment on stage. That really helped me at the BBC Proms to make sure I enjoy the momented. Not be nervous.

Inside, the experience is a very warm emotionally. 5000 people but you don’t feel like it’s 5000 people. It’s entirely unique by the floor and how people sit. The idea of circular seating plan isn’t unique necessarily – it exists in Cologne and Moscow, for example – but you don’t feel the added people in the Royal Albert Hall which is quite something. And you don’t feel you have to play any differently despite the fact of the size of the hall.

And of course, the audience standing and being there during – when you’re sweating your way through the performance. You feel supported by them: there are other people who are there helping you along. The fact that they are doing that with you – standing for 45 minutes is no easy feat – really helps you as a performer.”

It was only after the interview and his point about the Proms experience, that I looked up my own account of Jan’s concert. Waxing lyrcial does come easy to me, it has to be said, but I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t well-deserved. And as I recall, it was incredibly well-deserved too.

At only 18 years old demonstrated remarkable maturity in Schumann’s lyrical melodies. Fantastically fluid lines showed Lisiecki’s effortless delicate touch. A joyously exuberant third movement helped cement Lisiecki’s Proms debut as another season high-point and far and away the best piano concerto performance too.

Verbier 2015: Daniil Trifonov / Liszt Transcendental Etudes

Daniil Trifonov didn’t dissapoint at Verbier this evening. His piano recital at the Salle de Combins was epic.

A first half of Rachmaninov suites for two pianos saw a highly charged, tightly wound Trifonov sit at one keyboard, with his teacher Sergei Babayan sat at the other. The Romance in the second suite was ravishing; the fourth movement Tarantelle motored on at a pace before coming to a spectacular joyous end.

Daniil Trifonov playing the Transcendental Etudes by Lizst at the Verbier Festival.
The second half consisted of one work: Liszt’s Twelve Trascendental Etudes. Words can’t really do any justice for what the young pianist achieved in the performance of technically demanding work. Most, if not all, of the near-1200 strong audience members, were pinned to their seats. A monumental triumph.

Watch the entire concert via Medici.TV

Pictures in this post are the copyright of Nicolas Brodard.

Verbier 2015: Leonidas Kavakos

Leonidas Kavakos’ programme for the 2015 Verbier Festival featured sonatas by Mozart, Schumann and Bartok accompanied by Ferenc Rados.

Kavakos sweet and delicate string tone cut is a beguiling thing – most evident in the often unorthodox B flat major sonata K. 454. There were moments in the opening work where it felt as though violin and piano were battling dynamics slightly (with the piano winning from the time to time), on occasion with the addition of Rados humming along. This was tempered by sublime ensemble passages in what appears like a tricky work.

As the programme progressed so we saw more and more of Kavakos’ insistence and determination. In the Bartok sonata second movement there were moments of the violinist letting his guard down and really showing us what was going on.

It was however the Schumann which really saw Leonidas fly. The violinist has an appealing lack of pretension when he plays. In his most passionate outbursts his gentle presence contributes to a compelling authenticity. At times during the work, he turned full on to the audience, pulling us in to the richness of the soundscape him and Rados were sculpting. A mesmerizing performance. I just wished Rados could smiled a little, especially given the applause was so warm and appreciate.

Watch Kavakos’ Verbier 2015 recital for free via Medici.TV

Verbier 2015: Edgar Moreau

Cellist Edgar Morreau is the same age as the Verbier Festival. To watch someone half my age stride onto stage and captivate a 350 strong audience with his poise, agility and innate maturity made his mid-morning recital in Verbier something to behold.

His was a punishing programme demanding great stamina: Brahms’ Cello Sonato No.1; Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro; Poulenc’s Cello Sonata; and Chopin’s Introduction and Polonaise Brillante in D major.

The audience with him on the journey, from the brooding opening theme in the first movement of the Brahms, right through to the showstopping spectacle of Chopin’s Polonaise.

The Cavatine during the Poulenc was an exquisite escape from the intensity of the opening movement with some blissful ensemble work between cellist and pianist (Julien Quentin). Glissandi in the music caused some mirth amongst members of the audience (for all the right reasons). The second movement was particularly enchanting.

Enthusiastic whoops followed the conclusion of Edgar Morreau’s Verbier recital today. It’s rather nice to be in amongst the unbridled enthusiasm of European audiences. Morreau’s ovation and slow-hand-clapping was very well-deserved.

Watch Edgar Moreau’s recital via Medici.TV




Me and Daniil Trifonov

Daniil Trifonov in Verbier talks BBC Proms, Prokofiev and Glazunov

I spent some time with pianist Daniil Trifonov first thing this morning. He’s here at the Verbier Festival regular (the delights of which I’m currently sampling). One of his concerts was last night in which he played one of the three pianos in Mozart’s Concerto for Three Pianos with Daniel Matsuev and – making a rare appearance at the keyboard – Valery Gergiev.

My interview technique follows a tried and tested script, taught me by my radio production tutor Michael Kaye. “Set the device recording, then ask them what they had for breakfast that morning. That usually warms them up.”

Unfortunately, I had to wait at the dining table for Trifonov to return from another interview elsewhere in the hotel. While I waited, I realised that the half-eaten breakfast in front of me was Trifonov’s, making my customary sound-check a little tricky. We concentrated instead on what he had for lunch yesterday: pasta with porcini.

Daniil was, as I had been advised, adorable company. A self-assured, self-possessed individual who articulates his passion for art in speech just as he does at the platform.

He’s playing Prokofiev’s first and third concerto next week at the BBC Proms with Valery Gergiev and the LSO. I asked him about this performance of Prokofiev 1 with Gergiev with the Marinsky Orchestra. “Prokofiev is a sadist in that work. There is no warm up. I’m straight in right at the beginning. There are no passing notes. Everything has to be,” he said as he tapped out the opening phrase on the dining table, “just so.”

It’s not his first time at the Proms. Hence him highlighting its unique atmosphere. “There’s nowhere else like it. It’s an amazing experience.” Trifonov debuted with the Glazunov piano concerto in 2013. “Not many people knew it at the time. I didn’t until I discovered it on You Tube.”

Daniil Trifonov. 25. Rock star. Who wouldn’t want to have a picture taken with him?