17 March 2013
<p> <strong><em>It’s All About PIANO! </em></strong>With the Institut français and Steinway UK behind it, a new piano festival in London is set to overturn expectations, and shine a light on Anglo-French pianism. And only five days to go! Read Erica Worth's full story on the background to the festival. The story appeared in the last issue of <em>Pianist</em></p> ...
Festivals devoted to piano don’t come around too often. There’s a sprinkling of exclusively piano festivals dotted around the world, but what about in the hip and happening capital London? I can’t think of a single one. That’s all about to change though, with the emergence of the It’s All About Piano! Festival, taking place 22-24 March at the Institut français in South Kensington. It’s got some big names on the UK circuit (Imogen Cooper, Cyprien Charles Owen and Nick van Bloss, for example), along with others better known in France (Ivan Ilic, Cyprien Katsaris and Anne Quéffelec, for instance), and performances by young hotshots from the Paris Conservatoire and from London conservatoires.
As I begin to talk to the people behind the new festival, questions abound: first, a piano festival, in London, launched by a French organisation? Not, perhaps, the most obvious combination, and yet to Francoise Clerc, Head of Classical and Contemporary for Institut français music, the reasoning is clear. The Institut français du Royaume-Uni, to give it its complete name, is part of a worldwide network that promotes French language and culture, and encourages cross-cultural exchange and cultural diversity. ‘The Institut français is not a window of French culture for French residents in London,’ explains Clerc. ‘It aims to show how French culture connects with other countries and how it establishes bridges with all different kinds of areas, from cinema to literature, from wine tasting to philosophy. The Institut français has launched several festivals as well as partnerships with many established film festivals. As our classical music activities have developed in the last two years, music now has its own place. In the last two years, nearly 20 concerts have been programmed, from piano recitals to songs concerts, as well as family concerts on Saturday mornings.’
The answer to how this piano festival actually came about, though, is found at Steinway Hall in London. ‘It all started when the Institut français needed its Hamburg Steinway Model C rebuilt, and they came to us,’ recounts Managing Director Craig Terry. ‘One thing lead to another, we discussed possibilities, and we are now delighted to be the joint partner with the Institut français for this festival. The people are wonderful there, it’s a cool place, very different to the norm, and I know they are going to put on a really interesting festival. And of course, it’s great that their piano was rebuilt here at Steinway Hall. For the festival we will be supplying a Model B, a Model O and two Boston uprights, as well as the rebuilt Model C. We are excited to be part of it.’
I’m keen to know more about this rebuilt C, and who best to ask than tuner to the stars Ulrich Gerhartz, Director of Concert and Artist Services at Steinway UK, who oversaw the refurbishment of the piano from start to finish? Gerhartz tells me that, ‘Françoise first contacted me in 2010. They had an old Steinway piano – a Model C, from 1966-67 – and she asked me to to see what was needed to make it as good as possible. We really needed to take it apart, but the sound case remaining the original, which preserves that character of the instruments built around that time. The 1960s Steinways are an interesting generation of Steinway pianos. The character is a very meaty orchestral sound, plummy and rich, not overly bright – very much the sound the old generation of great pianists was looking for. The refurbishment was quite quick on our part, but it needed to be re-polished as high gloss (it was originally satin), so that slowed things down a bit.’
Gerhartz will be appearing at the new festival after a showing of the film Pianomania. ‘I will be talking about how you work with a piano and the pianist so that you come up with the piano the artist wants,’ he says. ‘Imogen Cooper will be playing at the festival, and I’ll be making sure the piano is as good as possible for her.’
Imogen Cooper’s all-Schubert recital will no doubt be one of the highlights of the festival, but there are many other intriguing events in the schedule, including Nick van Bloss in the Goldberg Variations; Guillaume Vincent, who has recently recorded Rachmaninov preludes for the Naïve label, in an Alkan-focused programme; and a film called La voix humaine by Poulenc, presented for the first time in its piano version, and starring Dame Felicity Lott and pianist Graham Johnson.
Clerc’s idea is that the festival is to be a big ‘piano fiesta’, where the piano will be celebrated as the king of all musical instruments. The programme does indeed look like a feast for piano lovers – three days of all types of piano events including recitals, workshops, talks, comedy, films, late-night jazz, activities for children, free tuition, free access to practice pianos, Gerhartz’s illuminating talk… yes, it’s going to be All about the Piano!
Book tickets and find further details on the All About Piano! festival