Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Future Star

What has always fascinated me has been how some pianists of exceptional musicality do not get the recognition warranted by their abilities, while others of more questionable musicianship can have glorious international careers. For generations, new pianists have been lauded with superlatives, hailed as the Second Coming - sometimes with merit, often without. I have long been intrigued by the use of statements like 'the greatest pianist' or some such rubbish - who is to know? How do you know there isn't a piano teacher somewhere in a small town who plays even more marvelously than the most famous of pianists? (I heard a rumour some years back of a student of Josef Lhevinne's who was apparently such a pianist.) I will be devoting some of my posts here to little-known aspects of well-known artists, as well as to artists who may be completely unknown to the average listener, or even the educated pianophile.

In early June 2008 I was in Montreux visiting Jacques Leiser (, a renowned artist manager who was responsible for Richter's first recordings in the West and Michelangeli coming out of retirement. Leiser's interest has for many years been helping young pianists make a name for themselves, and he is always looking for new talent. After a morning full of interesting discussions, just before we were heading for lunch, he asked me to listen to a recording of a young pianist playing some Chopin Etudes from the Op.25 series.

We started listening and the playing was very good...but I was also very hungry and wanted to go for lunch. But as the recording continued, the playing deepened. By the third Etude I was getting more intrigued. The middle section of the fifth was magnificent. The following etude in thirds was truly outstanding. And then came the 7th.

This is an unusual etude, a slower work that is more poetic and less technically taxing than the rest - but the true skill that this etude tests is musicality. And in this performance, the young pianist excelled. The maturity was incredible - he would pause at the end of a significant phrase without rushing into the next in a way that was completely natural, like a person might pause to truly reflect on what they had just said in conversation. While some pianists might do this in a way that an actor would pause, self-consciously, just like an affected socialite might pause in conversation for effect when they actually know what they will say next, the artist here - for that's what he is - was disarmingly authentic in his expression. I was floored.

The playing continued to deepen as the cycle continued, and my appetite became less important. The left-hand octaves in the Butterfly Etude were highlighted in a way that Hofmann had done in his Golden Jubilee concert, but more lyrically. The final three works in this book were dispatched with phenomenal technique without ever losing the lyrical line - the middle section of #10 had the same dramatic focus as #7.

The recording I was listening to was a concert recording that was 3 years old, and the pianist was 18 years old at the time. His name is Alessandro Deljavan.

After our much-needed lunch, Leiser played me some more of his recordings. The ending of the Schumann Fantasy, recorded at the Clara Haskil Competition in 2007, was extraordinary. His Debussy had rich colours and crystalline tone. For these magnificent performances, he was eliminated from the competition. I have no idea who won - which says something about the nature of competitions.

Deljavan is a student at the International Piano Academy Lake Como, where a number of young headliners have trained: Piotr Anderszewski, Ingrid Fliter, and Constantin Lifschitz are among its graduates. The long list of graduates, however, also includes several unknowns. It is to be hoped that Alessandro will not be one of these but will instead be among its most successful graduates. Given the praise he has received from some top teachers (Fou T'song among them), the potential is there.

The forces behind the music market can be crippling for true artistry - I will be discussing some pianists, known and not, whose careers were seriously hindered by various factors while some less talented colleagues prospered. (Just why Lang-Lang is such a superstar is likely the topic of several future postings.) It is to be hoped that Deljavan will triumph over any such obstacles and become the star that he truly is.

Sound clips of Alessandro available on his website - click Audio and Video in the right-hand column