Eerste indrukken bij het Internationaal Franz Liszt Concours Utrecht

Zoals u in eerdere berichten al kon lezen, schrijf ik sinds enkele weken geregeld over de tiende editie van het Liszt Concours Utrecht. De afgelopen maand waren het voornamelijk introducties van de 23 kandidaten, maar sinds maandag 27 oktober is het pianogeweld…en schoonheid dan toch echt losgebarsten. De tiende editie is van start gegaan!

Op het moment van dit schrijven heb ik reeds 16 kandidaten beluisterd in de prachtige Hertz kamermuziek zaal in het nieuwe TivoliVredenburg (zie foto hieronder). Met keuze uit maar liefst acht vleugels, te zijn twee maal Steingraeber, twee maal Yamaha, twee maal Steinway & Sons en twee maal Fazioli (2,87 m en 3,09 m) is er voor ieder wat wils. Weinig opvallend is dat de Steingraeber door geen enkele kandidaat werd gekozen. Juist wel opvallend is dat Yamaha vaker werd gekozen dan het meest dominante merk op de markt, Steinway & Sons. Let wel, Yamaha vleugel 1 werd helemaal niet gekozen. De overige instrument statistieken:

Steinway D 1: 8 x gekozen
Steinway D 2: 2 x gekozen (Ghraichy & Constantinov)
Fazioli 3,09: 2 x gekozen (Klimo & Shen)
Fazioli 2,87: 2 x gekozen (Nicoletta & Giorgini)
Yamaha CFX 2: 8 x gekozen



Na de Yamaha 2 vleugel direct na en soms direct voor de Steinway 1 te hebben gehoord snap ik de voorkeur voor de Yamaha heel goed. De kandidaten hoeven simpelweg minder hard te werken om veel klank uit de diskant te halen. In het bijzonder bij duivels snelle octaaf passages in de rechterhand werkt de Yamaha veel makkelijker mee qua power, helderheid en articulatie. Alleen de pianisten met wat meer massa in het bovenlichaam doen direct voordeel met de Steinway 1.

Morgen, donderdag 30 oktober volgen de laatste zeven kandidaten uit de kwart finale waarna aansluitend de negen halve finalisten bekend worden gemaakt. Ik heb al een voorkeurslijstje, welke ik aan het einde van de middag of direct na de laatste pianist bekend zal maken. Ik ben erg benieuwd hoeveel overeenkomsten er zijn met het lijstje van de jury!

Tot slot is het leuk om te vermelden dat tijdens zo’n prestigieus concours er ruimte is om collega musici en muziekjournalisten te ontmoeten. Er worden ervaringen uitgewisseld en soms wat gediscussieerd over de prestaties en kansen van de deelnemers. Kijk voor de Nederlandse korte toelichtingen op de prestaties van de kandidaten eens op de website van Peter van Korlaar en zijn Pianoinstituut.

Hier tot slot nog het YouTube kanaal van het Liszt Concours Utrecht:

The Bigger Picture: A Personal Perspective on Practicing Routines

In 2013 schreef Alexander een serie van drie artikelen voor het bekende internationale pianoforum Pianostreet. Het onderwerp voor deze drie artikelen: ontdekken of er een “perfect” pad bestaat van de allereerste pianoles tot aan een succesvolle internationale carrière als concert pianist. Hiervoor sprak hij met Nederland’s meest succesvolle piano pedagoog, Jan Wijn en één van zijn voormalige studenten, Meesterpianist Hannes Minnaar. Gedurende deze interviews probeert Alexander bepaalde waarheden en algemeenheden te ontdekken die bijdragen aan de ontwikkeling van succesvolle pianisten. Lees hieronder het derde en laatste artikel, een persoonlijke visie op het studieproces, de diverse stadia die een getalenteerd musicus vroeg of laat zal moeten doorlopen en enkele concrete studietips om efficiënter met het studieproces om te gaan:

In the third and final part of the series on building a career as a professional pianist, Alexander Buskermolen gives a personal perspective on practicing routines at the piano with practising tips by Dutch pedagogue Jan Wijn.

The previous parts:

Part 1: Master Teacher Wijn is Growing Flowers and Plants

Part 2: Hannes Minnaar: The Path to Becoming a Concert Pianist

I remember watching the Queen Elisabeth Piano Competition when I was about five years old. Deeply impressed I told my mother I wanted to be a pianist. It still took me some five or six years before I started my first piano lessons. Now, 16 years later, eight different teachers, several masterclasses and with a Master degree in Music on the wall, I try to summarise all of my experiences. What stayed with me the most after thousands of hours of practising and hundreds of hours of lessons? What knowledge is essential in becoming a skilled and confident pianist? Let’s find out!

Assuming pianists from all levels and backgrounds aim for the same goals, generally technical perfection and musical freedom, maybe it’s wise (and fun!) to have a look at how the pros have established their skills and expertise. Technically speaking, I’m still often baffled by the simple fact that today’s concert pianists can play full recitals without missing a single note. So, how do they do it?

Before I get into the practical insights of studying an instrument, I just want to mention the following. What you need to remember is that most of today’s professional performers have started playing their instrument at the age of four or five. The lucky ones have had excellent teachers throughout their educational path, who provided them with essential knowledge on key points in their development. The flexibility and eagerness of the young mind is part of the reason for their steep learning curve.

Ok, back to you and me. How can you intensify your daily practice and general musical approach in such a way, that it will result in (more) clean playing and (more) musical freedom, maybe even deeper musical understanding and well founded interpretations. First it comes down to a proper reading of the score. Not just the notes, not just aiming for ‘the right’ tempo.. A thorough reading and recognizing of all articulation notations, even the suggested fingerings. They all contribute to a better understanding of both the technical and musical requirements.

Practice tips

For example: staccato markings help you tremendously in quick and efficient jumps and general movements of positions, simply because you can (and should!) let go of the keys as quickly as possible. By landing on your next chord/position, you’ve saved precious time.
Another example: playing fast runs as required in for instance a Mozart sonata or Czerny etude. I’m sure you’re aiming to play these runs as smoothly and as clean as possible. First, choose a solid fingering as a basis for your technique: try avoiding thumbs and 5th fingers on black keys, simply because they’re short and require your hands to make time consuming movement.

After choosing your fingerings, play your semi quavers –or fast quavers – in groups (normally per four) and focus on linking these groups. Also, use syncope rhythms to create an equal quality of sound throughout the run.

A practical tip by Jan Wijn (Piano Street, Frebruary 28, 2013) regarding runs: When you keep making the same mistake during a run (or jump or other technical challenge), focus on the note or group of notes prior to the mistake. 
Mistakes are the consequence of some kind of bad preparation. In a way, it’s all about the right focus for the right challenge.

Also, actively look for inspiration by your personal musical heroes. This will put some fire in your daily work but will also help you determine your personal sense of style and musicality.

A great suggestion by Jan Wijn: You need to find out when you should work on technical details or when you should simply play through the entire piece to get a sense of proportion and get used to playing non-stop for 30 minutes or more. Recording these ‘playing through’ sessions will give you an even better perspective on where you stand with this composition. Very confronting, but very helpful.

Another tip by Jan Wijn: playing slow, at least 30% under the concert tempo will help tremendously in getting a clean execution of the piece. My basic rule is: if you play half tempo, play four times as musical and well phrased. This will help you understand and feel the music better, and will have significant effect in learning the piece by heart.

Memorize and analyze

Jan Wijn on memorizing a composition: Many pianists will find it difficult to play through certain pieces without so called memory slips. I always advise my students to do more intensive mental practicing. Sit down in a chair and bring up the entire composition in your mind. If there are any sections in the piece that you can’t visualize or imagine the movements of your fingers and hands that go with it, this is a section that you’ll need to study more closely. Also, don’t neglect the left hand! It’s often to blame for these memory slips.

Essentially, you need to analyze your scores on how to deal with every challenge. During a practice session, altering the score in terms of articulation, dynamics, tempo, register of the keyboard, everything is allowed if it helps you to get a grip on that specific challenge. In other words, strip it down to the core problem, fix it and only then incorporate all the original aspects that you’ve previously altered.

What’s between the notes?

To end my part of this quick summary on tips for practicing, I want to share the following experience. Whenever I heard a musician talk about “the story between the notes” or “the composer’s meaning” I could only vaguely relate to their experiences. When listening to a good performance, I do get carried away into a completely different world. For me it’s about atmosphere and personal associations with sounds, colors and gestures. Becoming a professional pianist myself, I felt the need and responsibility to go deeper into this personal ‘language’ that is linked to the composer whose work I was playing. In other words, what makes Beethoven typically Beethoven, Schumann typically Schumann..?

These questions don’t end with a technical analysis, though it is the start. It’s about understanding what needs to be said musically on a deep level. It’s like getting to know a new person in your life: only by asking this person many questions, having conversations and spending sufficient time with him or her, at some point you can say you really know them, even relate to them. With the score in front of you, it’s about knowing which questions you need to ask in order to get to a fundamental (and still very personal) interpretation of the piece. Don’t look for right answers first, look for the right questions. It is my conviction that this process can be learned and will increase your overall musicality tremendously. Just stay open minded, inspired and curious!

PS: I’d love to read about all of the challenges you face during your musical activities. Please post a comment!

Alexander Buskermolen,
Piano Street Guest Writer

Of voor het lezen van het artikel op de originele webpagina:

Hannes Minnaar: The Path to Becoming a Concert Pianist

In 2013 schreef Alexander een serie van drie artikelen voor het bekende internationale pianoforum Pianostreet. Het onderwerp voor deze drie artikelen: ontdekken of er een “perfect” pad bestaat van de allereerste pianoles tot aan een succesvolle internationale carrière als concert pianist. Hiervoor sprak hij met Nederland’s meest succesvolle piano pedagoog, Jan Wijn en één van zijn voormalige studenten, Meesterpianist Hannes Minnaar. Gedurende deze interviews probeert Alexander bepaalde waarheden en algemeenheden te ontdekken die bijdragen aan de ontwikkeling van succesvolle pianisten. Lees hieronder het tweede artikel, een interview met meesterpianist Hannes Minnaar.

In part two of the three-part special on building a career as a professional pianist, Piano Street’s guest writer Alexander Buskermolen spoke with Dutch pianist Hannes Minnaar about his education, vision on personal musical development, and the challenges he faces as an international performer.

Hannes Minnaar, who was born in 1984, is one of Holland’s most exciting and successful pianists. After winning third prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2010, his career took flight. Hannes Minnaar currently plays with orchestras like The Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, The National Orchestra of Belgium and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande. He worked with Herbert Blomstedt and Marin Alsop during those collaborations.

Alexander Buskermolen: To start off, could you describe your musical educational path in general? Please describe your path from your first piano lessons until now. Also, who were your teachers? What did they contribute to your development?

Hannes Minnaar: My first encounter with classical music was at the age of four when I listened to classical records at my grandparents. I wanted piano lessons for years, and my parents finally decided the time was right for me to start playing the piano. Well, to be exact, it was a keyboard and not really the piano. After starting lessons with the neighborhood teacher, it became pretty clear after two years that it was time to take the next step and go to music school. By this time, I was eight years old and my hunger for piano music was growing. While I was learning my first Clementi Sonatinas with my new piano teacher, I also made many trips to the local library to get Chopin’s Polonaises and Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque. Funnily enough, the Chopin Military Polonaise wasn’t the biggest problem. It was Clair de Lune with five flats!

After having three different teachers in four years, it was time to take a big step in my piano education. Since I was not old enough for the young talent class at the Conservatory of Zwolle, my parents and I decided to have private lessons with one of the most influential teachers of my life: Marien van Nieukerken. Now things started to become serious!

As I started my piano lessons with Marien, I learned about the tough side of becoming a pianist: playing Czerny etudes, raising the standard of technique, and learning music by heart for the very first time. During my lessons with Marien van Nieukerken, I realized that I really wanted to become a professional pianist. I couldn’t have wished for a better teacher to prepare myself for a career in music! He stayed with me up until I was accepted for a course of study on my way to a professional career.

When I started my professional musical education at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, I was very fortunate to have Jan Wijn as my teacher. The lessons with him were sometimes much different than the piano lessons I had had before. The biggest contribution that Jan Wijn made teach me to control the relaxation. Before that, I used to play nearly everything with just the fingers. I used no wrist or arm movement whatsoever. I simply couldn’t relax my arms as they hit the piano. The funny thing is, up until that point I had played a lot of repertoire that would let me get away with this kind of vertical piano playing. Later, when I started to play more Ravel and Rachmaninoff, I was able to benefit from this new technique and relaxation of the arms.

AB: Chronologically, which composers, methods, and compositions have specifically contributed to a certain technical or musical capability? Which piano methods did you encounter during your musical education?

HM: Like many Dutch kids from my generation, I started with the books of Folk Dean–this was the alias for the Dutch composer Theo Ettema, who lived from 1906-1991. After approximately two years, I started playing Clementi Sonatines, then Mozart Sonatas, Schubert Impromptus and even Brahms’ Opus 117. During this time, I also loved to play everything that I knew from television and radio.

With Marien van Nieukerken, I started to play Czerny Etudes, some unknown American Piano Sonatas, Chopin Etudes a lot of interesting but relatively unknown stuff, like pieces by Gottschalk, Ray Green and Simeon ten Holt. To be honest, 20th century music was something I appreciated more than, let’s say, an early Sonata by Beethoven.

During my time at the Conservatory of Amsterdam I also studied the organ, so I was attracted naturally to play a lot of Bach. Other composers that were part of my routine were Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Chopin, and Ravel.

AB: In November 2011, you performed Rachmaninoff’s 3rd Piano Concerto. This work is known for its extremely difficult score and technical challenges. Technically and mentally, how did you approach this first encounter with this musical milestone?

HM: After I played in the finals of the Queen Elisabeth Competition in 2010, a couple of orchestras asked me to play a Concerto with them. Of course, these orchestras have their wishes about which Concertos to play. Rachmaninoff’s Third Concerto was one of them. For me, it was time to take on this challenge and try to master it in a relatively short amount of time. I was already in the mood because I’ve performed Rachmaninoff’s First Sonata many times. I had a very busy schedule, so after doing bits and pieces of the Concerto during most of the spring, it was only in the summer that I found a couple of weeks to really dive into the score. During the two months prior to the concert, I really practiced day and night to master the whole Concerto.

In anticipation of the first performance, I was quite anxious. Despite this attack of nerves, I felt really at ease during the performance and I really enjoyed playing it on stage. The second performance later that week felt even better. I really hope that I’ll be playing this Concerto many times more. So, even though I was familiar with all the myths and stories, such as the movie “Shine,” it turned out to be a fantastic project.

AB: How did you prepare for a very demanding life as a concert pianists, in terms of repertoire, during your time at the Conservatory of Amsterdam? Did you, for instance, learn how to program a solo recital or chamber music concert?

HM: Some of the repertoire that I played prior to my time at the Conservatory I could still play in recitals. For instance, I’ve played Preludes by Rachmaninoff, Etudes by Chopin and Ligeti, and also the Sonatine by Ravel. This last piece, together with Miroirs and Rachmaninoff’s 1st Sonata, I even recorded on my first CD that was recently published.

When I started my lessons with Jan Wijn, romantic piano music was absolutely not the core of my repertoire. With him, I started working on pieces like Schumann’s Carnaval and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. In a way, you could say that Jan Wijn was a lot more orthodox in his approach to repertoire. He wasn’t necessarily the kind of teacher that asked me to bring 20th century abstract music to the lessons. But I enjoyed working on contemporary pieces with him as well.

AB: You’re also a very gifted organist and recently obtained your Masters degree in organ performance, Summa Cum Laude. Which parallels and differences do you encounter when practicing on both instruments? How do you apply your insights into your daily practice?

HM: One of the biggest challenges in playing the organ, compared to the piano, is that you need to find a different balance in body posture. The simple fact that your feet don’t touch the ground has a huge impact on this balance. Therefore a good posture is extremely important to achieve a free technique. Also, in terms of articulation, I found a new approach to the piano. Playing the organ, I feel that I became more aware of my fingertips and movements. Articulation is the biggest factor in determining different styles of playing. Therefore, I developed a lot more awareness about the duration of a tone and how it affects phrasing. Playing the organ also enriched my understanding of a musical line.

The difference between both instruments was mainly emphasized by the teachers. For instance, my organ teacher was quite strict and theoretical about tempo. He believed in set tempi for every composition. This approach gave me a certain context to work in – I never got that before. Jan Wijn was more effusive and talked a lot about effect and feeling. He still remained true to the score, of course. His vision often collided with the fixed context given by my organ teacher, Jacques van Oortmerssen. For me, this was a perfect opportunity to think outside the box and find my own musical truths.

AB: Considering the extremely high technical standards necessary for any performance, how do you deal with this? How do you make sure your performances are technically clean and well executed? How were you prepared for this part of your artistic career?

HM: I can start off by admitting that I’ve rarely played perfect concerts. There are always a few slips. I’ve seen some of my colleagues play their recitals absolutely flawlessly, which is highly frustrating, ha-ha! I can be amazed by this phenomenon, though I know the essence of a performance should still be about the musicality, stories, and gestures. To achieve technical perfection and 100% clean executions of compositions, I believe you need extreme dedication to the studying process and an ability to concentrate beyond what most people will ever experience. I found out that only when I am in optimal concentration and focus (and relaxation!) I’m able to play without a slip of the finger. But I feel my technique is rather based on playing musical gestures than playing notes, the latter being much more safe. A clean technique may never be the main priority. However, Jan Wijn has always been quite strict about any kind of mistakes that were made in a lesson or performance.

AB: I’d like to thank you for your time and effort to speak with us. We wish you all the best in your artistic and personal path and we’ll make sure to keep track of your expanding career.

Master Jan Wijn is Growing flowers and plants (Pianostreet article)

In 2013 schreef Alexander een serie van drie artikelen voor het bekende internationale pianoforum Pianostreet. Het onderwerp voor deze drie artikelen: ontdekken of er een “perfect” pad bestaat van de allereerste pianoles tot aan een succesvolle internationale carrière als concert pianist. Hiervoor sprak hij met Nederland’s meest succesvolle piano pedagoog, Jan Wijn en één van zijn voormalige studenten, Meesterpianist Hannes Minnaar. Gedurende deze interviews probeert Alexander bepaalde waarheden en algemeenheden te ontdekken die bijdragen aan de ontwikkeling van succesvolle pianisten. Lees hieronder het eerste artikel, het interview met Jan Wijn.

In part one of a three-part special on building a career as a professional pianist, Piano Street’s guest writer Alexander Buskermolen spoke with Holland’s most prominent pedagogue, Professsor Jan Wijn (b.1934).

He has been responsible for training many of Holland’s top pianists such asRonald Brautigam, Hannes Minnaar, Nino Gvetadze, Paolo Giacometti, Thomas Beijer, Paul Komen, Ivo Janssen and many others.

Jan Wijn has taught piano at theConservatory of Amsterdam for more than 45 years, so he is the perfect authority to guide us in our quest for the perfect path in piano education leading to a successful career in music.

Alexander Buskermolen: Professor Wijn, to start off our conversation on building a successful career on the stage, could you name a few “ingredients” that all pianists should have in order to get accepted for studies in a professional music program? In what areas do you find certain differences among pianists?

Jan Wijn: First of all, it’s extremely important that these young musicians have a passion for music, and more specifically, a passion for playing the piano. There are many people who love music, but there’s only a handful that are sufficiently talented in playing an instrument. Only these very talented young pianists who ‘live and breathe’ (piano) music should aim for a professional music education.

The people who do get accepted at a conservatory should be very clear about their ambitions. Do they want to become performance focused musicians or do they want to become teachers? Even though many people will claim the first, here in The Netherlands we are in desperate need of the latter: well-educated and talented piano teachers. Performing in concert at the highest level, and pursuing an international career on stage is only possible for the extremely gifted pianists.

AB: You’ve been holding a teaching position at the Conservatory of Amsterdam for over 45 years, and you’ve been teaching for more than 50 years: How would you describe the entrance level at the piano department during this timeframe? And which aspects of piano playing have been more or less emphasized during these past 50 years?

JW: The level of entry at the conservatory, especially here in Amsterdam, has clearly risen to a new standard. To give you an example: about twenty years ago it was customary to play Cramer and Czerny etudes at auditions for admittance into a professional music program. Today we get to hear very well executed etudes by Chopin. Another example: the exam that 1st year students do in order to continue to the 2nd year, consists of pieces that would normally have been played for a Bachelor’s exam.

Both examples underline the ongoing process of better achievements at earlier ages. You see this in sports, in chess, in business and of course in music. Everybody knows the examples of child prodigies playing incredibly difficult music at the age of 12. For most of these exceptional talents, the focus has been on achieving a technically perfect execution of the music. It’s even rarer to find those child prodigies that possess both technical perfection and a deep musical understanding at a young age.

AB: Is there in your opinion a perfect path in piano education, starting off at the very first piano lesson, progressing on untill graduation from a professional musical curriculum?

JW: It’s very difficult to describe one specific path considering the fact that all students have their own backgrounds, talents and weaknesses. In general you need to be lucky enough to start your lessons at a young age and with an excellent teacher. For all the different parts of your musical path you need to have the right teacher who can accompany you to, in the end, to musical independence. Ideally the first piano teacher will provide for a broad basis in which all fundamental elements are represented, such as reading notes, rhythmical precision, feeling for different styles and of course general piano technique. After this first, quite demanding acquaintance with the piano, normally it’s time to change teachers. If the student is both talented and ambitious, the aim should be to find a teacher who teaches the ‘young talent classes’. Such a teacher can fully prepare the student for a professional study in music. He/she will be able to make good choices in repertoire, especially to enhance the student’s technical capabilities and also mentally prepare the student for a career in music.

A second possibility, though not occuring that often, is to find an excellent teacher, if the student is lucky enough, in the vicinity of their home, which enables the teacher to work with the student all the way up to the audition at a conservatory. In The Netherlands we unfortunately do not have a set structure to offer to our young gifted musicians. This has to do mainly with politics and the low priority that musical education has these days. The ‘Russian model’, so to speak, that is used in Moscow is something that I believe will not work over here. There’s a different mentality when it comes to educating gifted children. In a way it’s a pity, but I just don’t see it happening here. Yes we do have a lot of musical talent in our country, but great international success is very rare. For example, in the past thirty years, only two Dutch pianists made it into the finals of the Queen Elisabeth Competition. Rian de Waal in 1983 and more recently, Hannes Minnaar in 2010. No Dutch pianist has ever won at the Chopin or Tchaikovsky Competition… (Editor’s note: Jan Wijn himself won first prize at the International Piano Competition at Orense, Spain in 1960.)

AB: Are you teaching every single student with a personal tailor-fit goal in mind?

JW: When I started teaching some 50 years ago, I held on to certain dogmas about piano playing and repertoire. If I look back on my career as a teacher, I now see that these fixed ideas have been replaced by a more holistic approach: with each individual student I simply choose which area needs attention in their development. It’s like growing flowers and plants: sometimes they just need a little bit of water or fertilizer, the growing they just do by themselves.

AB: If you had to make a list of obligatory composers that should be played during the first couple of years of piano lessons for a child, which composers would be on that list?

JW: Before I make such a list, I think it’s good to divide the children into two groups: the ones that just want to play music for fun, not focusing on specific challenges and flawless results, and the other group obviously being the ones that have the ambition to pursue a career in music, or at least want to try to achieve the best results possible in terms of piano technique and ‘correct’ musical execution. Let’s focus on this second group.

Two absolutely essential musical styles are the polyphonic and Viennese classics. This means playing J.S. Bach (and contemporaries) and Haydn,Mozart and Beethoven. In an earlier stage of development you can play the sonatinas of Kuhlau and Clementi. The composers Stephen Heller and Walter Carrol I love to incorporate in the piano curriculum. With all of these composers the challenge is to play them as cleanly as possible, and with all the correct phrasings and style elements. Even though striving for clean and beautiful playing, I’ve seen that many of the gifted students I’ve worked with (mainly the boys) are very eager to play the big, virtuoso repertoire: Chopin’s FantasyLiszt’s EtudesTchaikovsky’s 1st Piano Concerto, etcetera. I feel that every once in a while you should ‘throw them in the deep’ and let them find out how this music works and relates to the other pieces they’ve played. However, after such a project they definitely need to go back into this disciplined approach of fine fingerwork and clean playing of the compositions mentioned before.

AB: Are there any dogmas that you uphold from a methodical or piano-technical point of view? Maybe in terms of positioning, repertoire, mentality, studying by heart, etc?

JW: Even though many of us pianists have been raised with certain ideas about the position and shape of the hands and the way to sit at the piano, I’m very careful with stating one ‘best way’ to do so. There’re many examples in music history where pianists (or other instrumentalists for that matter) have developed a unique and highly individual approach to the instrument. The most well know example probably is Vladimir Horowitz. His fingers were flat and ‘flappy’, but it worked out extremely well for him. Another example is Feuchtwanger, who is a self-taught pianist, but after receiving piano lessons at a later age, he got completely confused about his technique. Technique in my opinion is mostly personal.

On the subject of interpreting music on the other hand, I uphold very strong ideas. In my opinion, there’s a lot of musical dishonesty going on. With this I mean that even young pianists make alterations to the score when it comes to dynamics or articulation. Also, the tendency to play the left and right hand unevenly is something I find very disturbing. For me it represents a misplaced feeling of security on stage. Staying close to the score is something I think is essential for an honest performance.
It’s a known fact that current concert life is very demanding. In the past pianists could make a career with a relatively limited list of repertoire. These days, pianists are expected to perform a vast amount of different styles and compositions in a short amount of time. How do you prepare your students for this aspect of their artistic development?
Obviously it’s important that during studies at the conservatory, the students acquire as much repertoire as possible. This will form the basis of their future concert career. However, one of my former students, Hannes Minnaar, has created a very workable situation. He has limited the repertoire for recitals per season. He’ll therefore play one solo program and one or two chamber music programs allowing time, then, to be able to study new concertos and play them with several orchestras during the season. The bottom line here is that you shouldn’t try to do everything at the same time, but choose your concerts and repertoire well. Play what is close to your heart and suits your style.

AB: You mentioned one of your most successful students, Hannes Minnaar (laureate QE Competition 2010). He has studied with you for approximately six years. Can you explain his ‘sudden’ international success, looking back at his time in your classroom?

JW: One of the aspects of Hannes’ piano playing is that he’s able to read the scores extremely fast. He can therefore learn new scores easily and quickly, an advantage in today’s performance industry that is not to be underestimated. Besides that, Hannes has a natural curiosity for (new) music. Of course all the necessary work has been done properly to ensure his technique is flawless. But success at competitions entails simply a lot of hard work and a bit of luck. In this sense, his personality, his style of playing and choice of repertoire are to his advantage (for instance in the final round of the QE Competition 2010, Hannes played Saint Saëns’ 5th Piano Concerto). There is never a guarantee for success, but it’s very rewarding to see many of my students doing very well on the international concert stages.

AB: Could you name one or more aspects of musicality that you have learned from your students?

JW: In general I could say that by listening to my students, I learn that there are many approaches to musicality and ways of interpreting scores. It’s not something that my students say or point out directly, but it’s the consequence of being their teacher and listening to them as they play. I simply learn to be a better teacher by accepting the fact that their playing, in a way, is a reflection of my teaching methods.
Of course every once in a while I’m surprised to find new fingerings or tricks through a student. To be honest I need to say that I used to be very skillful in finding little tricks to faciliate easy solutions for big technical challenges. Also, one of positive consequences of working with very young and talented musicians is that their energy is infectious. Their approach to music and life in general often works as a personal energy boost. It keeps me young!

AB: To conclude our conversation, could you give some practical tips to the readers of Piano Street about practicing at the piano? Maybe something about starting to work on an ambitious piece such as a concerto or romantic sonata?

JW: On working with such a demanding composition, there’s nothing wrong with just muddling through the entire work for a couple of days. In this way you can get a bit more acquainted with the notes. Of course you probably will have heard the piece on CD, during a live concert or on the radio. But this reading/playing through helps you to determine which passages are most demanding and requiring the most work.

After these first couple of days it’s likely you’re a bit annoyed with the fact that you cannot play those beautiful passages, and will give you the right spirit to start working on the piece in a more serious and strict way. During this process, it’s extremely important to stay focused in an analytical way. Sooner or later (sooner is more likely) you’ll run into technical challenges that require a plan on how to cope with these difficulties. Based on my experiences on working with talented youngsters, it is this process that needs the guidance and support of a good teacher.
In the end, studying all these major compositions is a process that starts with working from ‘outside to inside’, and then back ‘outside’ again. This will take time, energy and a lot of persistence. Finally, if you study correctly, all the hard work will definitely pay off.

Zie ook de originele tekst op de website van Pianostreet:

Alexander schrijft live blog bij Internationaal Liszt Concours Utrecht 2014

Binnenkort is het weer zo ver: het Internationaal Franz Liszt Concours Utrecht gaat van start! De internationale voorrondes vonden reeds in het voorjaar plaats, eind oktober start de eerste  kwartfinale. Van 27 oktober tot en met 8 november strijden de 23 overgebleven pianisten voor het erepodium. Alexander Buskermolen is er gedurende die twee weken bij om alle pianisten in alle rondes te beluisteren … en over hen te schrijven. 39 recitals in 9 speeldagen en dan ook nog in één van de mooiste zalen in Nederland: het nieuwe TivoliVredenburg. Kortom, twee weken feest voor piano minnend Nederland.

Op vindt u de blog van Alexander. De kandidaten zijn reeds aan u voorgesteld en er verschijnt met grote regelmaat een update over het concours. De voorbereidingen zijn nog in volle gang, maar vanaf maandag 27 oktober 2014 barst het pianogeweld dan echt los. Wilt u  direct op de hoogte blijven van de laatste stand van zaken en concours resultaten? Abonneer u dan op de nieuwsbrief en volg de ontwikkelingen via Facebook op .

Screenshot lisztblog


De kaartverkoop voor het concours gaat via en meer over het Liszt concours vindt u op Veel leesplezier!


Alexander Buskermolen

Column Pianowereld 6-2014 (In memoriam: Hans Goddijn)

Voor Hans

Het is zondag avond 22.00 uur als de telefoon gaat. Ik herken het nummer en realiseer me dat het een gekke tijd is om nog te bellen. Meestal geen goed nieuws…Het is mijn collega bij Pianowereld, Elger Niels. Ik hoor aan zijn stem dat het slecht nieuws is. Onze chef en pianovriend Hans Goddijn is overleden.

Nog helemaal beduusd van het telefoongesprek zit ik met Jorinde op de bank. Ik had Hans een paar dagen ervoor nog gesproken, en samen plannen gesmeed om Pianowereld ook online goed op de kaart te zetten. Het is ook wat rumoerig in “pianoland” dus ik wilde hem toch nog even laten weten dat ik er alles aan zal doen om Pianowereld waar het kan en nodig is gezond de toekomst in te laten gaan. Wat ben ik blij dat ik hem toch nog even belde in plaats van hem een e-mailtje te sturen.

Mijn gedachten gaan terug naar mijn begintijd bij Pianowereld. Via mijn “mentor” en oud redacteur George Olthof (? 15-5-2011) kwam ik in contact met Hans. Ik kreeg van hem de eer om als tweede “Jonge meester” in Pianowereld te mogen verschijnen. Hij was een trouwe bezoeker van mijn concerten en examens. Hij gaf me na mijn Bachelor examen in Utrecht mijn eerste redactie baantje: een vaste column in Pianowereld… Carte blanche! Ik mocht schrijven over wat maar in me opkwam, over concerten, lesgeven, Leipzig, componisten, het internet… Alles mocht! Wel op voorwaarde dat ik elke column eerst aan Jorinde voorlegde. De vrouw had volgens Hans een zeer kritische rol in het schrijfproces en was essentieel om de column scherp en helder genoeg op papier te krijgen. Daar ben ik het nog steeds helemaal mee eens! (en Jorinde – al gniffelend – ook natuurlijk). Hans gaf me de kans om een naam op te bouwen, als musicus, als schrijver en nu als echt cultureel ondernemer. Voor hem misschien een klein gebaar, voor mij een grote stap in mijn carrière.

Ik heb Hans leren kennen als een gepassioneerd mens dievan heel veel dingen kon genieten: piano’s, muziek, schrijven, oldtimers, tuinen, katten en natuurlijk van de mensen om hem heen.
Hij heeft met Pianowereld een hecht team van pianofielen verzameld die allemaal iets wilden bijdragen aan dit unieke blad. Als het aan mij ligt, gaan we met het hele team hard aan de slag om Pianowereld ook in de toekomst als gezond en inspirerend muziekblad te laten voortbestaan. Natuurlijk met het mooie magazine zoals Hans dat heeft opgebouwd en ons heeft nagelaten, maar ook online met nieuwe ambities en misschien een nieuw gezicht.

Ik hoop dat ik ook namens u mag spreken als ik zeg dat Hans gemist zal worden, en dat hij met enorme trots, waar hij nu ook is, mag kijken op zijn Pianowereld.  Aan de familie van Hans wens ik veel kracht en troost bij het verwerken van dit verlies.

Alexander Buskermolen

Column Pianowereld 5-2014

Je naam

Sommige mensen doen er alles aan om online niet gevonden te worden, en zijn wars van social media zoals Facebook en Twitter. De voornaamste reden die wordt aangevoerd is de wens van privacy en bescherming van persoonsgegeven. Niet helemaal onterecht als je het mij vraagt.
Er is ook een groep mensen die met grote regelmaat allerlei informatie op internet zet, en er eigenlijk  niet meer onderuit kan: de musici.

Nou moet het bovenstaande wel wat genuanceerd worden. Als je als klassiek musicus het grootste deel van je tijd in een orkest speelt, heb je wellicht niet veel te maken met (zakelijk gebruik van) social media en internet. Maar als freelancer zoals ik is het absoluut noodzakelijk om online (en offline natuurlijk!) vindbaar te zijn. De concurrentie voor het “kunstje” dat ik kan is enorm. Of het nou gaat om het geven van pianoles, het begeleiden van een koor of het spelen van een klassiek recital, het aanbod is groot. Je zult dus flink met je naam moeten strooien  om mensen naar je website en Facebook pagina te leiden, en op die manier aan werk te komen. Het opgeven van een deel van je privacy is dus noodzakelijk voor ons werk.

Is online aanwezigheid de enige manier om aan werk te komen? Nee, gelukkig niet! Als ik kijk naar mijn eigen werkzaamheden als pianist, komt 90% van mijn werk voort uit eerdere werkzaamheden en contacten of netwerken. Gelukkig maar, want dat betekent dat men blijkbaar tevreden was over mijn werkzaamheden of pianospel. En als zij tevreden zijn, zullen ze al gauw je naam doorgeven aan andere geïnteresseerden. Die naam is dus eigenlijk alles: het staat voor je gehele reputatie als musicus, en je moet er zorgvuldig op zijn.

U als lees/luister publiek heeft daar een belangrijk aandeel in. Uw “recensie” van het concert of gelezen artikel gaat van mond tot mond, en indien u het geheel waardeloos – of minder sterk uitgedrukt –  “niet naar uw smaak vond”, zullen opmerkingen met die strekking op veel plaatsen een al dan niet blijvende indruk achterlaten. Daar gaat de goede naam en reputatie van de artiest! En u weet waarschijnlijk niet waaraan eventuele onzorgvuldigheden te wijten zijn… Was het gewoon een slechte voorbereiding? Een geval van gebrek aan stalen zenuwen? Of zijn er moeilijke privé omstandigheden waardoor de performance van de artiest onder druk is komen te staan? Het kan van alles zijn! Artiesten, het zijn net mensen he?

Mocht u een sterke mening hebben over het resultaat van een artistieke inspanning, probeert u zich dan eens een leven als artiest voor te stellen. Het is een wereld zoals in de politiek, waarbij iedere toehoorder wel iets vindt, en zelfs beter denkt te weten. Ik hoop dat u, samen met mij optimistisch, vergevingsgezind en begripvol naar het podium kijkt, wetende dat naast talent en uren van studie, ook lef en kwetsbaarheid nodig zijn om dit mooie beroep uit te oefenen. Zie het niet als een preek van uw vaste columnist, maar als een herinnering aan het leven achter de schermen van een kunstenaar. Een kunstenaar met een naam…

Alexander Buskermolen


Alexander Buskermolen :: Telefoonnummer: +31(0)182-602795 :: Mobiele telefoon: +31(0)6-28415721