24 Nov 2012

Donald Fagen Interview...

Came across this little nugget from SongFacts.com, and I suggest you all check it out.  It's an interview with Donald Fagen, one half (with Walter Becker) of Steely Dan.

Link to SongFacts.com Donald Fagen Interview

Steely Dan (a band, not a bloke, named after a dildo in The Naked Lunch) are a kind of fusion Jazz R&B group, who write singularly wonderful songs, full of rich harmonies, intricate melodies, and often darkly comic lyrics.  Plus they can knock out a really catchy toon, folks.

Not the prettiest pair, but they did write the sublime "Rikki Don't Lose That Number"


As with anything that's come from a jazz beginning, they do sometimes straddle the line between edgy and wanky... but I think they always manage to stay on the right side of it.  Some people don't - their most celebrated album, Aja, is not the easiest in the world to listen to, for example.  My favourite albums are Pretzel Logic (1974), Goucho (1984) and the more recent Two Against Nature (2000), but any of them are worth a listen.  You youngsters out there will no doubt have heard their track The Fez sampled in All Saints' I Know Where It's At, and it's also become an unofficial anthem for Matt Smith's portrayal of Doctor Who...

So yeah, Steely Dan - one of those bands that are worth investing a bit of listening time in. 


They're also very amusing chaps.  If you don't believe me, have a read of this letter they sent to Wes Anderson about writing a theme song for The Darjeeling Limited...



15 Nov 2012

Open Piano Competition 2012

In October this year, I was lucky enough to have attended the final of a new and, I think, very important piano competition: The Open Piano Competition.

I think the organisers of the competition describe their ethos best in the About The OPC section of their website:


What makes the OPC different to any other piano competition is the final round
in which we do not divide the so-called 'professional' pianist (e.g., one who has
trained at a conservatoire and whose income derives from playing concerts,
teaching etc.,) from the so-called 'amateur' pianist (e.g., one for whom piano
has always been a hobby and a passion but whose income derives from a full-time career
as e.g., engineer, doctor, house-wife, secretary, etc) thereby creating two separate
competitions which is the preferred method for many piano competitions today, 
rather, the OPC sets the winners from the categories in rounds one and two to be
judged against each other on their interpretation of the music they have chosen.


Antoine Joubert

So the first finalist, Antoine Joubert, was a 32 year old professional pianist from Canada.  He played a Janáček piece I wasn't familiar with (In The Mist), and Beethoven's Grande Sonate Pathetique, a Falconer family favourite.

Graham Rix


The second, Graham Rix, was a 48 year old London-based musician, working primarily in education and with community music programmes.  For years he worked for the Irene Taylor Trust (music in prisons).  A very different competitor to the first finalist.  Graham played a splendid Prelude & Fugue of his own composition, the Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor, Op23, the Lizst Etude d'Execution Transcendante No. 9, and Song & Dance by 20th Century American composer Ned Rorem.  Every note Graham played was absolutely fizzing with joy.  Through the whole performance, and afterwards, he looked absolutely delighted to be there, playing alongside these other excellent musicians, and in front of an appreciative crowd.  It was wonderful to see.

Adam Kosmieja

The third finalist, was 26 year old professional pianist Adam Kosmieja from Poland.  Adam had perhaps a less varied programme than any of the other competitors, playing the Chopin Polonaise Fantaisie, Op 61, and Gaspard de la Nuit by Ravel; however, his performance of these two pieces had me absolutely spellbound from the start.  I have never been a fan of Chopin, who despite his fascinating harmonic experimentation I've always found a bit self-indulgent (if you hear a bit you like, don't worry because it's sure to come up again eight times in a row...), but this performance has made me decide to go back and take another look.  And the Ravel, which I'd not heard before, was so stunning that it moved the chairman of the jury, Dr Leslie Howard, to remark upon just how lucky we pianists are to have such a vast range of wonderful music to choose from, most of which never gets touched purely because of the amount of stuff out there!

Dominic Piers Smith

Fourth came a remarkable character, Dominic Piers Smith.  A 37 year old from the UK, he won 1st prize in the 2012 Paris International Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, and was staking his claim for a prize here, too... but by day he is chief aerodynamics designer for the Mercedes AMG Formula 1 team.  He's designed cars that Michael Schumacher has competed in, for crying out loud, and here he is playing in the final of an international piano competition!  Excellent.  His programme, delivered with flair and exuberance, consisted of three pieces from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet Op 75, the Lizst Etude d'Execution Transcendante No.12, and Los Requiebros, from Spanish composer Granados' suite Goyescas

Viviana Lasaracina

The fifth, and youngest, finalist was 24 year old Viviana Lasaracina from Italy.  Though still a student at the Royal Academy of Music, she has already won and been placed in several international piano competitions, and she is definitely a name to look out for in the future.  She played the first book of Debussy's Images, and numbers 1-4 from Rachmaninov's Musical Moments, Op 16, and absolutely blew me away with her delicacy, articulation and power.  A wonderful performance.

Valentin Bogolubov

Finally came Valentin Bogolubov, aged 64, originally from Latvia but based in Canada as a pianist and conductor.  He played a wide variety of pieces, including two by Graham Lynch, the Impromptu in E Flat Major No 2 by Schubert, a brace of Schubert songs as transcribed by Liszt, and two pieces by Prokofiev, the Prelude No. 7 Op 12, and Suggestion Diabolique from his Four Pieces for Piano Op 4.  This last piece is a furious, firy work of demonic horror, which Valentin performed absolutely effortlessly - not only were the crowd (and the judges) thinking, "How does he do that?", but also, "How does he make that look so easy?!"  Asked about playing in the competition, Valentin said "Participating in the Open Piano Competition makes me feel young again."

The Results

1st Place: Valentin Bogolubov
2nd Place: Viviana Lasaracina
3rd Place: Dominic Piers Smith


Given the standard of the competitors, it's very hard to argue against that outcome.  But what's wonderful is seeing how the first three places are taken by a 64 year old man, a 24 year old woman, and, in the nicest possible way, a hobbyist!

Here is a link to audio recordings of the finalists' performances:


and there are plenty of other interesting goodies on the OPC website.  The 2013 competition takes place in Turin, Italy, between the 7th and 12th October.  I sincerely hope the competition continues to generate interest and offer pianists all over the world, of all backgrounds, ages, and all stages in their careers, the chance to play in the wonderfully exciting environment a competition can offer.

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