Oxford Piano Festival 2023
Posted on 7th August 2023 at 15:40
There is so much I could say about the festival, which combines first-class musicianship, teaching and discussion, all in a friendly and welcoming environment in the heart of Oxford. The masterclasses in particular gave unique insight into how leading pianists approach a wide-ranging repertoire from Bach to Medtner, and opened my eyes to some of the issues involved when performing at concert level. Outstanding technical ability is a given, and there were many valuable suggestions on methodology to achieve very precise results. But that is just the start on a journey that takes you to the heart of what music is all about. It seems trite to say that as a performer you must know what you want to highlight and make choices, but how might you do that? Observations from the professional performers and teachers included:
• perform as we think the composer intended, whether on the basis of contemporary style or perhaps from written evidence or even recordings
• listen to what other great performers have done, and try something different
• bring out the melody – the search to emphasise inner voices is something that younger performers try to do in the interests of originality, but often to the detriment of the impact of their performance
• freer use of pedalling to release the full palette of sound of which the piano is capable
• freeing oneself to allowing the music to take the performer on a journey, to avoid playing the same way each time, regardless of how well one knows the piece
• seeing the piano score as an orchestral reduction, and bringing out different voices as if they were mimicking specific instruments
• don’t take things for granted , it needs to be a surprise- even if you know there is a sfz in four bars’ time you mustn’t over prepare – assume the audience doesn’t know that it is coming
Some of my favourite comments from the masterclasses include: ‘sf in Schumann means super friendly’, ‘Don’t take all the advice if you don’t feel it’, and ‘If you can only just reach it, sometimes it is worth the discomfort’.
The concerts were exceptional- my favourites were Richard Goode performing Beethoven E major Op. 109 and Jeremy Denk playing four of the JS Bach Partitas. Both played with a fluidity and attention to detail that was nevertheless without showmanship, giving space to the music to come to the fore. You can see some of the performances and masterclasses here.
Tagged as: Oxford Piano Festival
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