Sunday, August 24, 2008


Watched the ABC Arts program this afternoon, and finally got to see the six finalists play. With the exception of Eric Zuber, who I missed because I wasn't home early enough to catch the start.

My perceptions were challenged somewhat. I expected, perhaps from G.W.'s comments, that Takashi Sato would be more theatrical and Tomoki Kitamura more subdued. Certainly in my eyes it was the other way around. Mr. Sato impressed me even further on TV than he did on the radio.

I still believe, even more so now, that Ran Dank was the outstanding artist in the competition. Konstantin Shamray was very fine, but not in Mr. Dank's league. I am still perplexed as to why Tatiana Kolesova was awarded the second prize after her poor showing in the two concerti. However not my decision.

I've been practicing a lot and watching the Olympics, and perhaps partying a little too hard. All of that = tired LadyBlogger. zzzz.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

In which LadyBlogger has been... *gasp*... PRACTICING!

Indeed. I have been somewhat inactive with my blogging because I have been making music of my own, as opposed to commenting on the music-making of others. It is a pleasant change. I am preparing for a few different things coming up - getting up and trotting out my wares, so to speak...

One thing I tend to forget after a break from piano practice is that it takes time to rebuild callouses formed from practicing glissandi. Two of the pieces in my current repertoire have glissandi, and I've actually drawn blood from jumping in there a little too vigorously. Ouch!

Unfortunately, I have yet again proven that if I actually had the mental fortitude to give this piano thing a real go, I could be rather good at it. More than rather, in fact. Possibly tending towards very or even extremely. Every time I make this realisation it upsets me a little. I wonder if I have squandered a gift that I shouldn't have squandered. Then I remember that I actually really like doing what it is that I plan to do for a living. I like it a LOT. I love it, in fact. So I rest my case.

eventually. right now I'm at the point of saying that I remember that I love what I already do, and yet I haven't quite felt it yet. Part of me will always be wistful that I didn't take my last piano teacher's advice and go for it. Yet the larger part knows that I made the right decision, and I followed my heart.

Anyway I have dragged myself away from the big black shiny thing in the music room and I am going to have a well-deserved TV break. Give those cuticles some time to heal.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ode to Martha

Argerich, of course. I racked up a lot of kilometres in my car over the past few days, and listened to a lot of music. My final choice was the live Martha Argerich/Chailly/Berlin RSO Rachmaninoff 3 and her Tchaikovsky 1 with Kondrashin/Bavarian RSO.

She just OWNS it. Never mind that she misses notes here and there, that her tempi are sometimes wildly different from the orchestra when she comes in at a new section.

It's wonderfully distinctive, spontaneous, electric playing and reminded me yet again of why I love her so much.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

National anthems

Yes, I am obsessed with the Olympics. I can't help it. Once every four years isn't so bad, is it? In general I am somewhat ambivalent about most sports, but the Olympics gets the Aussie spirit out of me IN FORCE.

I was struck today, whilst watching the swimming finals (what else?), that Australia's national anthem is not one of the more interesting specimens. I heard the Japanese anthem for the first time today and was quite struck by it - austere, not at all westernised (unlike the Chinese anthem, which sounds like bad Verdi), and rather pentatonic.

Why doesn't Australia have a DECENT anthem? It's just so... meh. Admittedly, it's not as bad as the American... ("Oh, say can you see?" REALLY? Then again, is that worse than "With golden soil and wealth for toil, our home is girt by sea"? sigh...) but it's not good.

Our near neighbours, the Kiwis, have sort of got something going there. It's a nice tune, at the very least. Perhaps a bit simplistic... but a nice tune all the same. Not as complicated or as wordy as the Italian or Chinese anthems. The French, of course, is rousing as ever.

but I really think Australia should get a new anthem. Preferably composed by Carl Vine.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

It has been some time since we last met...

Although there has been plenty of music in this LadyBlogger's life, as always, there has also been plenty of Olympics-watching. I tend to get a bit obsessed, as I do with SIPCA. This year is no exception. Having little to distract me from the television, I spend a lot of time with it, watching sports I never suspected I'd be interested in.

I was quite spellbound this evening watching a young Chinese woman lift almost three times her own body weight. It was very exciting!

Yet, as always, my heart belongs to the swimming. Whenever I mention this, I am asked this inevitable question: "Do you like it for the sport, or for the male bodies?" *wink* While I can assure you that I wouldn't leave Eamon Sullivan shivering on my doorstep if Stephanie Rice did decide she was really finished with him, I must admit that I like the female events just as much as the male. Therefore any question of eye candy is null and void. There's just something terribly exciting about the swimming. It's the one sport I will always go out of my way to watch. It's been a great few days in the pool. I've even enjoyed some of the races Australia didn't win. I admit to being terribly impressed with the Kiwi Moss Burmester, who mixed it with the big boys for most of the 200 freestyle final today before just fading into fourth place. Still, he took it out hard and led Michael Phelps at the first turn! That is nothing to sneeze at.

I also must confess to disliking Michael Phelps. There can be nothing but admiration for him as an athlete, but something about his personality just doesn't quite gel with me. Sure, I've never met him in person, so I'm just being judgemental... Yet there's something so refreshing about the Australian attitude, as evinced by a certain Eamon Sullivan after breaking the 100m world record this morning - he said he felt good in warmup so decided to have a go at the world record, and was pretty pleased that he got it. So unassuming... and not in-your-face like the American relay team in their (admittedly historic and amazing) victory.

I'm still sore that Ian Thorpe decided to give up the ghost before he should've. In my opinion. I, of course, am a dedicated armchair expert. I can swim decently enough but certainly nothing to write home about!

Well, tomorrow will be interesting. The 100m freestyle final. Three fastest men in the world... who will win? I'm betting the Aussie. I'm a firmly one-eyed patriot, yes, but also I think he's got the mental toughness to take them all out.

This has been an almost completely unmusical post, but I have one thing left to add: Upon hearing the Italian national anthem for the first time in recent memory, it struck me that it sounds just like it's been lifted from early Verdi. Very jaunty indeed!

on that note, I shall end. Goodnight!

Monday, August 4, 2008

What now?

SIPCA is over. I started this blog in a timely fashion. Spurred on by my desire to write SIPCA commentary. Now that it's over, I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to write about. However, there is so much music in my life that I'm sure there will be plenty to fill up internet space.

I feel like I'm emerging from a black hole...

Sunday, August 3, 2008

So, it's all over

I missed the announcements, being out for the evening, and I must confess to being both surprised and not surprised upon reading the results online.

Not particularly surprised at Konstantin Shamray's first placing. I'm sure it was well-deserved in some sense. I didn't like much of his playing until the Prokofiev this afternoon, but that was pretty magical.

But Tatiana Kolesova for second place? What? WHY? Surely Ran Dank and Takashi Sato both well and truly bested her. Sigh. Whatever... I liked her in the early rounds, but she lacked spirit later on.

Having had time to digest things, I think I would've put it like this:

1. Ran Dank
2. Takashi Sato
3. Konstantin Shamray
4. Eric Zuber
5. Tomoki Kitamura
6. Tatiana Kolesova

Bit of a change from my earlier preferences, excepting Ran Dank, but that's how I felt it.
One can't always agree with the judges, and this one doesn't. Not this time. But... such are competitions.

It's late, and I'm off to sleep.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The last hurdle of SIPCA

Prokofiev is very much in my psyche at the moment. Tortured and longing. Angry at the world. General feeling of unhappiness. Or perhaps I'm in Prokofiev's psyche? Either way, it seems very right for me to listen to Prokofiev at the present time.

Konstantin Shamray and Prokofiev are an intoxicating combination. I'm not sure if it's the drunk-makingly moody Second Piano Concerto's fault though... Mr. Shamray is endearing himself to me more than ever before. This is really wonderful playing. There's a hint of squareness where there shouldn't be, however. Unlike the wonderful performance of Daniel Hill (hang on, he calls himself Daniel De Borah these days) four years past. Still, Mr. Shamray is full of excitement and darkness. It's that wonderful Slavic moodiness, with which I have plenty of experience.

Sigh. It's getting slightly bangy and messy now. That said, it is very exciting all the same. I am having a visceral reaction to it. Yet in this case, unlike the earlier Prokofiev 3, I'm not sure if it's the pianist or the music or both. Ran Dank and Prokofiev were inseparable and awe-inspiring. This seems a bit... patchwork. Bits tacked together with little sense of a whole. Perhaps, however, that is the fault of the concerto.

The second movement is fleet and accurate. An odd thought just struck me - I'd like to hear Tomoki Kitamura tackle this piece. Anyway. It flew by in a haze of clean fingerwork. It strikes me as just a bit too studied. Mind you, I do quite like the macabre humour he's brought to the third movement. Somehow I get the impression that's about the only kind that would have made Prokofiev laugh...

Wow the finale takes off, and Mr. Shamray is firmly in the driver's seat at this stage. It's been an oddly uneven performance with moments of real brilliance yet lots of mis-hits. The beautifully rhapsodic second theme is glorious to behold. Oh. Until he gets to the chordal recapitulation of it, then it sort of gets square and bangy again. I'd adore his playing if he could get rid of the square bangy-ness.

Oh yes. That's smart, people. Clap at the wrong time... Seriously, is it THAT hard to know when a concerto's actually finished? I think not. If in doubt, wait it out.

There are wonderful moments where Mr. Shamray is truly inside the music and its scary moodiness. Just moments, however. The grand dash to the finish line is one of these moments, albeit a slightly extended one.

OK. So the audience really seemed to enjoy that. Sigh. I would not be surprised if he wins. I guess all along I've thought he'd be a safe choice for winner... I wouldn't pick him though. Yikes. Maybe he'll win the audience prize now? Goodness. They are absolutely loving him! Then again, I remember being at the final concerto session in 2004. The audience was absolutely packed full, and the atmosphere was one of incredible excitement. Much more so than any other session I'd attended. The young piano students were out in force, perhaps having saved their pennies for the final (I was sort of in that boat myself).

Well it certainly seems to have made an impression. I wonder what it was like live? That's always the test. G.W. loves it. Then again I don't always agree with him. However, from his description, Mr. Shamray sounds like quite a character. G.W. seems to have perceived the structure that I didn't. I'm not willing to admit that I was wrong, yet!

I find D. Beaumont rather likeable, but he does ask the most interminably frustrating questions at times... sigh.

Takashi Sato up next with Beethoven 5. A concerto I know very well, having played second piano several times for concerto exams at universities. Also somewhat of a teenage obsession of mine.
Well. Here we have a confident, extroverted opening. Very enjoyable indeed. I like Mr. Sato's way with Beethoven. I have mentioned before that I admire his tone - that beautiful sound is much in evidence here. It is all very well-controlled and accurate, right in time with the orchestra and beautifully shaped. Oh I love the B-minor/major section so much and it has just the right feathery touch. Gorgeous. Just a touch of rubato. Beethoven's romp through tonalities in this concerto is fascinating. I must confess to happily bopping away in the B-flat triplet section. It's so happy and it makes me happy! Couldn't be further from Prokofiev at this moment.

Oh yes, this is wonderful playing. Mr. Sato has won me over. Nothing jarring about it. Polished, beautiful, and interesting at last. A wonderfully wise choice by this pianist. Takashi Sato has saved his trump card until now, but was that a wise decision? Time will tell. What an exciting cadenza! So beautifully structured. This is big-boned yet very refined Beethoven. Simply glorious. A couple of cracked notes but this is one of those times it honestly doesn't matter.

The divine beauty of the second movement has gently crept upon me. This music, to me, is the expression of deepest, most profound love and beauty.
Mr. Sato's integration of the appogiature into the line is seamless and beautiful. So many pianists shock me there. This is pure, unadulterated gorgeousness.

I am crying. Big, fat tears pouring down my cheeks. This would be embarrassing if I were not at home alone. As it stands, I will simply relish being moved.

Love love love this finale - it seems to be almost the antithesis of the cruel dance in Shostakovich's E minor Piano Trio. (Makes me wonder if that's deliberate on Shostakovich's part, keeping in mind the slow movement of his 2nd piano concerto and its known links to the slow movement of this concerto) In this performance, Mr. Sato has it. Whatever it is. Just wonderful, wonderful playing. Now I want him in the top 3 too. Um. Whoops. A seriously misjudged run becomes atonal... ah well. With playing of such beauty I can forgive him that, and he's recovered magically. Magic! YES! Magic. Absolutely. Quite a bit of fierceness too. What a wonderful trill! Sigh. I am running out of superlatives for this amazing performance. Brilliant ending! However I feel it deserves far more applause than it's getting. Well, he won't win the audience prize. G.W. doesn't like it that much, either, which I expected. Especially given his self-styled "Beethoven expert" tag... (I don't mean that in a snide manner at all- he plays extremely fine Beethoven) I guess he has to show his expertise here. I liked it, anyway.

Eric Zuber is the last one. I will have to cut my commentary short - I must get ready to go out for the evening! I'll be out when the announcement is made, which is a bit of a frustration but as I said yesterday I do adore my friends and one can't spend their life being a blog-writing hermit.
Tchaikovsky 1. I love this. Have even played it myself. A suitable vehicle for my rather fierce and masculine pianism.

Oh, yay. The horns didn't splat the first note. (Maybe the fourth or fifth). Mr. Zuber has the requisite big, warm sound in the opening chords. Very generous of spirit. In his hands at this moment they are not just chords - they are beautiful and expressive. I believe he really loves this piece. So generous! Goosebumps. Visceral reaction again. I knew his Tchaikovsky would interest me. It is only the beginning of the first movement and already I feel that like Takashi Sato, Mr. Zuber has saved the best for last. This is FIERCE! As well - proportioned as Michaelangelo's David, yet even more handsome. Oh. What a pity. He's dropped the ball a bit in the second theme. It's a bit clunky, not quite dancing enough. Still, I like it.

Getting a sense of deja vu here. In 2000, Marina Kolomiitseva played the same concerto, and was also the last competitor. I didn't think she was particularly good (dull as dishwater about sums it up) but she won. Eric Zuber far outstrips her. You can really hear his big-ness in this particular concerto. I felt his Mozart was underdone. A bit too pink in the centre. This is evenly roasted. (Yes, in my spare time, I love to cook!) I love the way he delays, ever so slightly, the climactic moments, which makes me want them all the more. (Whoever says music is nothing like sex is clearly uneducated in one or the other).

Mr. Zuber is clearly excited, and it is certainly infectious! Perhaps a little over-excited at times, but I can't fault him for that! It is Tchaikovsky, after all! Such a variety of interesting, pearly tone in the cadenza. This is great playing. What a fabulous end to the first movement!

It is easy to believe that Mr. Zuber has a deep love and respect for this concerto. He performs it with the utmost reverence. So often it's dashed off as a showpiece, but not today. Every note is music. The slow movement is utterly ravishing. The 'fairy wings' (my nickname for it) part is perfectly in place and dances gorgeously. I will stay until the opening of the third movement to give some general impressions but then I really must go and get ready.

Well, it's very good. Wondered if it could use more brutality, but that came in soon enough. It will take a HUGE mishap in the next few minutes to change my mind about how much I love this performance. Now, I'm off.

Goodness me. I just can't pick a winner. If you'd asked me this morning I would have said I'd like Ran Dank without a doubt, but with so many terrific showings it's difficult. Now, I think the only thing that would annoy me utterly is if Tatiana Kolesova was announced as winner. I just don't think she did enough, despite her wonderful early round. Also Tomoki Kitamura, who is just too young in spirit, although immensely talented.


As I drink a not-so-delicious (but necessary) cup of instant coffee, Tatiana Kolesova negotiates the thickets of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2.

*side note - sinusitis makes it very difficult to sleep! Hence the necessary coffee.

Now, I've never been an enormous fan of this rather bombastic piece. Much as I love Saint-Saens in various incarnations (some of his art songs are utterly divine - La lever de la lune particularly), this concerto strikes me as being a bit low on ideas. I have, however, been a fan of Ms. Kolesova throughout. This is fine playing. It's a tiny bit messy, but that's to be expected really. The one thing that's bothering me is that her personality somehow doesn't seem really big enough to make something really interesting of this work. There's no doubt she's thought it through, probably performed it many times before, and is well on top of all the technical traps - yet, the concerto is playing her. She's chasing it down commendably, and is right behind it at every turn. Therein lies the problem. I want her to be on top of it, or dragging it along in her wake.

Personality makes the pianist. This is what I don't understand - Hoang Pham may have been a very gentle musician, but his musical personality was strong and immediately recognisable. Mariangela Vacatello was so immediately and strikingly individual.

All the same, Ms. Kolesova's beautiful playing is scintillating and exciting... In fact it's very fine indeed and I would like to see her in the top three placings. She's not a winner in my eyes though. I think structure was lacking in the Saint-Saens.

Mind you, we have some goosebump-inducing moments here towards the end of the finale. Finally, here's the fireworks I've been waiting for! If she'd done this from the beginning, I would be throwing her a parade. The live audience loves it, and rightly so. Very fine. Her playing reminds me somewhat of Alexei Volodin from the 2000 competition - incredibly competent, more than usually interesting, yet still lacking that all-important star quality.

Now, I'm going to fast forward through the interview with the conductor. No offense intended. Just lack of time. I have my own practice to do today!

Tomoki Kitamura. Beethoven 4. Always struck me as a concerto in which risks outweigh benefits. Perhaps young Tomoki can convince me otherwise. Oh, there is such heart in his playing of the introduction. It gets me misty-eyed almost immediately. Beautifully crisp double thirds. Textures so clean. He seems to be soaring above the orchestra with his refined phrasing. Triplets a little unruly but I can forgive him that.

I think it would be unfair for Mr. Kitamura to win this competition - yet. He still seems completely on a different level to John Chen (OK, let's accept this turntable is broken, not just the record...) Yet I hope to see him high up in the placings as he has that elusive gift of a recognisable personality. He seems to be truly enjoying himself.

As am I! This is far finer playing than Ms. Kolesova's. I think she had a bit of an off-day.

Such pearly tone and grand intentions! I love it. However I'm still not sure why anyone would choose this particular concerto for competition purposes. I guess he's not really a Rachmaninoff player... although he may surprise me in years to come! There is a quiet strength in his playing that is highly intriguing and will no doubt develop into something quite amazing.

It's just not there yet. This round has, unfortunately, highlighted the age difference between Mr. Kitamura and his fellow finalists. It is beautiful playing - far above that of Alexandre Loubiantsev in the last competition - yet... I will be very surprised if he wins.

The audience has gone crazy, as is to be expected. Audience prize? I think so. I also think the Classic FM presenters are able to engineer this quite a bit, and relish doing so. Who would wish to disagree with the kind, motherly tones of Marian Arnold? Not I. (tee hee).

I want to hear Mr. Kitamura in ten, fifteen, twenty years' time. I want to hear the previous winner NOW. And four years ago.

Interesting point that G.W. just made - Horowitz talking about not practicing too much and going to art galleries, etc... by that logic, I should be the greatest pianist in the world. (I'm not bad. I'm just not a world-class soloist. However, I do other things well!)

Ran Dank and Prokofiev seems a recipe for enjoyment - Oh, just so wonderful, right from the first entrance! Goosebumps, shivers, pinpricks of tears. Such joy! The second theme is so delightfully unbalanced.

I am basking in this. It's so wonderful. Can he be beaten? Not in my mind. Recap of first theme is so beautifully judged. I don't even notice the technical merits of his playing because it LIVES. The fact remains, however, that it is blazingly accurate playing with a huge range of colour, expression and attack. Mr. Dank is a very fine collaborative musician but a born leader in a concerto. I want to clap after the first movement! So I do, in the privacy of my own home.

This is wonderful Prokofiev. Wonderful pianism. Wonderful musicianship. I really want him to win the competition. The last movement is utterly intoxicating. Clouds of exotically perfumed air. Totally wonderful.

BRAVO, BRAVO, BRAVO. Actually, perhaps Mr. Kitamura will not clinch the audience prize this time... the audience have gone utterly nuts about Ran Dank. Rightly so. Absolute mastery.

Now I'd better go, and do some of my own work.

Tomorrow morning LadyBlogger will attempt a grand feat...

six concerti in one day.

No, not playing... just listening. My head was far too fuzzy upon my arrival back home to even consider listening to SIPCA.

now, LadyBlogger takes this fuzzy head off to bed.

Friday, August 1, 2008


I adore my friends, I really do. Yet... I am going to a significant birthday celebration tonight when I'd like to be sitting in listening to SIPCA with multiple cups of tea.

I'll just have to record it...

By the way, I'm very pleased to see that people are visiting my blog!