Category Archives: music

2015 – Dublin International Piano Competition

This is just a brief note. I was at the finals of the Dublin International Piano Competition the other evening.

There were four finalists, including one who had been in the finals three years ago. I missed most of the early rounds so my judgment really is based on what I heard in the finals.

My personal view is that the most promising of the four was a 20 year old American called Alex Beyer who played Beethoven. After that, I would have given a toss between Catherina Grewe and Nathalia Millstein. In the end, the jury went with Ms Millstein. I hope I am spelling the names correctly.

In terms of the music we heard, there was a preponderance (as usual) of Russian concertos, with only Beyer venturing too far west to Beethoven. In general, four very good performances, and to be fair, Nathalia Millstein did a technically very precise rendition of Prokofiev 2. I am not a fan of Prokofiev’s piano music, it must be said.

What annoyed me most, however, was nothing to do with the stage, but the behaviour of the audience. One pair got up and left – from the middle of a near front row – in the middle of the first performance. Someone else had a mobile phone text message in the middle of the third performance. A significant number of people arrived sufficiently late that they were not allowed in until the second performance. Over the course of the evening, a lot of people saw fit to leave mid performance.

Dublin has one of the finest piano competitions in the world. It would be nice if it wasn’t taken for granted. John O’Connor has ended the last two pleading for money.


RIP John Renbourn

I was saddened to hear of John Renbourn’s death today.

Guitar magazines will have endless debates about who might be the best guitarist in the world. In my view, it was John Renbourn and no one comes even close.

Such a loss. He was 70.

Simon Rattle is coming to London

I have to say that given a choice between the Berlin Phil and the LSO, I’d probably choose Berlin, particularly when Simon Rattle’s talent was immediately obvious when he was at the City of Birmingham Symphony.

However, London is easier to get to than Berlin and there are many more flights per day from Dublin there so this is good news.

Particularly if they build a stunning new concert hall like the French just did in Paris.

NCH: Igudesman and Joo

Force of circumstance, it was a tight run thing to see whether I would make it to Igudesman and Joo last night; and in the end, fortune prevailed. This is a good thing. The concert was great, great fun.

The National Concert Hall was about half full which in some ways was disappointing; the gig was such that I think the next time the pair come to visit, they will sell a lot more tickets.

If you’re not familiar with them, their big, big viral hit is I Will Survive of which there are a number of versions on Youtube (but here’s one) but that is just a mere hook into the monumental crazy experience that is one of their gigs. Before they close out with that, you will experience the frustration of a time share piano, the wonder of seeing a concert pianist playing Eric Satie while lying on the floor and seeing a kungfu violinist. And I must confess it is completely news to me how much in common All By Myself has with Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto. It’s hard to pick out the most effective moments – this version of Rondo Alla Turca by Mozart is evidence of musical talent on a scale which few can offer. If you don’t play music, what they do here is incredibly difficult to do and get right. They did that last night too.

What is on show is some very interesting and rather crazy comic talent, very, very sharply scripted (and they stick robustly to that script), but it would not work at all if the musical talent was not there, underpinning it all. A tango dancing violinist would not be all that entertaining if he didn’t happen to also be playing Libertango near perfectly. And for all the physical comedy involved with contending with Rachmaninov’s handspan chords in one of his Preludes, the truth is, before the props come out, Joo has already demonstrated that he is technically a very strong musician as well. Both Igudesman and Joo are consummate musicians and that is why they are so effective at what they do on the comedy side. In one respect, Victor Borge was the same; his comedy would not have worked without his also being a very strong musician technically speaking.

The boys got ┬ástanding ovation and a super reception last night. Ultimately I hope they will be back and that word of mouth will do for them what I’ve seen it do for people like Tommy Emmanuel in the past…grow their audience. What was refreshing (and not often the case on a Friday night) was the noticeable presence of children in the NCH.

The duo’s YouTube channel is here.

CD reviews: Alexandre Tharaud

It is nice, on occasion, to write about nice things, so I’m going to write about stuff I consider to be nice. such as, for example, some piano music, and specifically, one musician who, I don’t think, has a lot of traction here in Ireland and this really is a pity.

I say that mainly because I haven’t happened across him until recently. He’s been around a while, maybe a little under the radar.

If you are looking for an interesting album of bits and pieces, Alexandre Tharaud has a lovely album of pieces which he occasionally uses for encores, called Autographe. Standout pieces on it include Chopin’s Nocturne in C Sharp minor (posthumous) and an extraordinary transcription of Sibelius’s Valse Triste. Also worth a listen is an album called Journal Intime which is devoted to the music of Chopin (he has a couple of Chopin albums but this one is the stand out one for me).

I don’t know a whole lot about him other than what’s on his own site, and the occasional interview (from the point of view of online reputation management, someone’s done a really good job) but quick summary: he’s French, he’s done some very interesting stuff with a couple of French composers (really decent albums of Rameau and Couperin, for example, plus some Chabrier) and he’s age bracketed with people like Evgeny Kissin: not amongst the young showmen.

I like his style of playing a lot. The work done on the Autographe album is exceptional – very atmospheric.

This from the Journal Intime album is a good example.

It’s a major contrast to the brightness of some of the more high profile concert pianists who happen along the route to Ireland, I think. Recommended.