Here are 4 pianists that I absolutely adore and have on more than one occasion affected me deeply.
Sir Andras Schiff is one of the most widely acclaimed “geniuses” (a word should not be thrown around recklessly unless its the truth) of the keyboard. His knowledge of music is simply astounding as seen in masterclasses that he holds worldwide. In every masterclass, he would make interconnections between not only the specific piece in question, but also with other compositions by the composer and his contemporaries. Take for example, did you know that the famous Schubert Impromptu Op. 142 No. 3 in Bb major has strong inklings of Beethoven’s 7th and 9th symphonies? Every piece he brings up as an example, whether symphony, lied (a song), string quartets etc, he is able to demonstrate them (sometimes hand separately even) as if he himself had spent his whole life internalizing them, proving his phenomenal memory. Still, the most incredible thing about Andras Schiff is his unprecedented skill of hearing; far past the level of being able to pick up wrong notes (of course students privileged to have lessons with him seldom commit these “low level” mistakes) but rather microscopic nuances of sound in the realms of style. I for one can never dream to differentiate a “Viennese” sound from a “German” sound.
Some useful links:
Masterclass at Julliard
Masterclasses at the Royal College of Music
Documentary on Schubert
Interview on Bach
Actually do a quick search on YouTube and most of the gold can be found. His rendition of Bach (not surprising as he plays Bach as his “morning ritual” every day for about an hour) and Schubert must be listened to. The ease the music is drawn out with his fingers that ‘float’ about the keyboard never ceases to amaze me; yet the sound produced is never airy-fairy and but has an unprecedented amount of spirituality.
Murray Perahia is another giant in classical music. His interpretations are always heavily supported by immense knowledge, that of harmony and history. As he said so himself when he won the Leeds International Piano Competition, that his manner of playing will not change regardless of the audience and environment (whether he is playing for his teacher or for a concert audience). He is on the same calibre as Andras Schiff, rather like Mozart and Beethoven, who cannot be compared. The thing that strikes me more and more as I listen to his playing and interviews, is in fact how “balanced” he is. For example, in an interview (Murray Perahia on his thoughts and feelings about music) he brought up how the heart and mind are forever interconnected in music. He mentions that he plays not only as a soloist, but also frequently as a chamber musician and even conducts. His taste in music is also wide; he likes not only classical music but also jazz and improvisatory music. This variety in an individual (and especially in a musician) is extremely important and increasingly difficult to find today, and Murray Perahia is one such individual. Being a very well balanced musician, there is no one specific composer that he “specialises” in, but I feel that he has, (if not the best) one of the best interpretations of Bach. His performances of Beethoven, Mozart and Schumann are amazing too. It is also worth listening to some of his earlier recordings (do a quick search on YouTube) such as during the Leeds Piano Competition and observe where his manner of playing changes as time passes (how he his physical demonstrations become more subdued) and where it remains the same (his integrity and faithfulness to the music for example)
Some useful links:
Masterclass at Juilliard
Interview: Murray Perahia on his thoughts and feelings about music
Murray Perahia plays Bach French Suites (one of my favourite recordings)
Leeds International Piano Competition 1972
Moving on to the younger generation of pianists, Shai Wosner is probably not a name that you have heard very often. However, the reason why I included him as one of the must-hear pianists is his unsurpassed interpretation of Schubert (and by that I mean my absolute favourite, without a doubt). Schubert is probably one of the most difficult composers to master and I myself feel a reluctance to touch his works, though I listen to recordings of Schubert a great deal. This is because all of his music are “spiritual” and requires a lot of maturity and personal experience to master. It is tough to describe the music of Schubert but Andras Schiff does encompass most of the characteristics of the music in the documentary on Schubert linked above. To me, the most outstanding characteristic of his music is the element of timelessness and the way it encompasses both joy and sadness. Shai Wosner also did some interviews on Schubert which are absolutely fantastic (the links are below) and really worth watching.
Some useful links:
Shai Wosner Talks Schubert
Schubert’s Last Sonatas
Shai Wosner on Schubert
All of his Schubert recordings can be found online at Spotify.
Kate Liu is 23 years old and a Singaporean born pianist, best known for winning the bronze medal at the 17th International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw, Poland and the best performance of the Mazurka prize. As with Shai Wosner, the reason why she is another must-hear is her interpretation of Chopin which is the best I have heard so far (I’m in the “Kate-Liu-should-have-won-the-competition” camp) . The fact that Kate Liu is able to reach such a high level of artistry at the young age of 23 is scary. It is worth mentioning that age should not matter in artistic attainment, a 23 year old can achieve a higher level of artistry than an 80 year old, just that more often than not it is the other way round due to the fact that the latter has more personal experience and maturity than the former. However, as with everything, there are exceptions. Just look at the way she plays; the way her head is always “in the clouds” while spinning endless musical lines beneath her fingers. The spirit of Chopin sure lives in her.
Some useful links (some of my favourites from the Chopin Competition):
Kate Liu plays Chopin Ballade in F minor, Op. 52
Kate Liu plays Sonata in B minor, Op. 58
Kate Liu plays Nocturne in B major, Op. 62 No. 1
Kate Liu plays Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante in E flat major, Op. 22
Kate Liu plays Fantasy in F minor Op. 49
Lim Shi Han is the 1st prize winner of the 3rd Steinway Youth Piano Competition (Intermediate Category) 2016 and the 1st Nanyang International Piano Competition (Intermediate Category) 2017. She is currently under the tutelage of Ms Lena Ching at the School of Young Talents (SYT), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). She loves writing, reading and above all, music.
Want to play like these pianists? Get yourself a piano teacher now!