About Piano Cleveland

The History of Hearing Your Favorite Tunes on the Piano

May 25th 2021
Competition

Guest blog post by music historian and performer, Anna O’Connell.

This year at the Cleveland International Piano Competition will mark the debut of a new exciting feature: Piano Transcriptions!

movie posters piano

Before the advent of recording technology, how did consumers of classical music hear their favorite melodies from symphonies and operas at home? At the piano keyboard, of course! Picture that you are with your friends—think a Jane Austin setting—enjoying an evening dinner party. Dessert is over, and you head to the parlor for some music. Someone sits at the piano, and begins to play a symphony, originally composed for an orchestra. After that is over, maybe the pianist is joined by another person, and together they will play a piano four-hands (see our previous blog) arrangement of an opera overture of Mozart, or a Haydn Symphony. In Cosima Wagner’s journals, reminiscing about life with her husband Richard Wagner (of Ring Cycle opera fame), she mentions many such occasions, and how Wagner would make and play these arrangements himself!

“A Schubert Evening in a Vienna Salon” by Julius Schmid.
“A Schubert Evening in a Vienna Salon” by Julius Schmid.

In order to arrange or transcribe orchestral music for the piano, Wagner and other composers would reduce every instrument sounding in an orchestra into notes playable by the two hands of a pianist (or the four hands of two pianists). Composers would do this to investigate how a piece by an earlier composer was constructed or to bring a new character to a previous work, paying homage to the original composition, but also inserting the character of the later composer. In certain cases, such as the German Requiem by Johannes Brahms, the composer made a reduction of the orchestral part for piano four-hands, such that this large-scale work could be performed by a choir without the access to a full orchestra.

Reductions and transcriptions also became a form of popular consumption: composers could re-work the music of other composers and sell sheet music for piano in their own edition, with their own spark of creativity stamped upon an earlier work. We can also consider the changing instruments of the orchestra from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century. Some popular works, like Handel’s Messiah underwent huge transformations in the hands of Mozart or Haydn, both of which added and arranged parts for woodwinds that hadn’t yet existed in Handel’s day. As the classical composers added instruments to the baroque orchestrations (essentially filling in the musical tones and sounds of a later orchestra into an earlier scaffolding), they also participated in the baroque tradition of reducing larger orchestral works to the keyboard. This we can trace back through composers such as Jean Baptiste Lully, whose opera arias and dances in the late 1600s were often reimagined as harpsichord works. In addition, scholarship points to the earliest transcriptions for the keyboard as early as the 1530s.

Composer Alexey Kurbatov

This rich history of arranging and transcribing pieces of music written for other instruments or ensemble types is in part why we are so excited to be bringing piano transcriptions to the Cleveland International Piano Competition. In our Semi-Final Round, during the Solo Recital, contestants will be asked (in addition to at least one piece by Chopin, Brahms, Schubert, or Schumann) to perform one of four virtuosic transcriptions of popular music, transcribed by Moscow-based pianist and composer Alexey Kurbatov. These four iconic melodies, drawn from musical theatre (“America” from West Side Story), film and television (“Olympics Theme” by John Williams and “Mission: Impossible Theme” by Lalo Schifrin) as well as the much beloved song “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, were transcribed into piano works specifically for CIPC, and were arranged with the vast history of piano transcription in mind: virtuosic transcriptions of virtuosic music, performed by virtuosic pianists. We hope you will enjoy hearing these melodies through the new and exciting voice of Kurbatov and our contestants!


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Yaron Kohlberg

Steinway Artist Yaron Kohlberg, born in Jerusalem, is the President of Piano Cleveland, presenter of the Cleveland International Piano Competition in which he won the silver medal in 2007. He is one of today's top Israeli pianists and has played as soloist and chamber musician in major halls in 40 countries spanning five continents. He won ten international prizes and serves regularly on juries of international competitions worldwide. Alongside the Piano Cleveland team, Kohlberg creates original programming to attract audiences to piano music.

Rachel Brown

Rachel Brown has been dubbed "The Honky Tonk Queen of Cleveland" due to her gospel type piano stylings reminiscent of Floyd Cramer and the great Jerry Lee Lewis. Rachel has been performing Traditional Country/Gospel/Americana/Blues music since she was 6 years old and hails from a family with deep roots in traditional music. As a singer/songwriter, she has recorded three albums of her original songs and one focusing on the music of Patsy Cline. Her band, The Beatnik Playboys, have been playing and creating music together for over 15 years. Through the years, Rachel has opened for many legendary artists including Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, The Judds, Emmylou Harris and Loretta Lynn. By day, she is also a music teacher at Elyria City Schools.

Gastón Frydman

Argentinian pianist Gastón Frydman possesses a voracious curiosity to explore the limits of what a 'classical music' concert means. He has won numerous awards and has performed in notable venues across the world as a soloist and as a chamber musician. In 2018, after receiving an invitation from Sergei Babayan, Frydman began his studies with Antonio Pompa-Baldi at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He received his Bachelor in Piano Performance and is currently pursuing his Master's with a specialization in Pedagogy at CIM.

Eva Gevorgyan

Critics rave at her “emotional eloquence and impeccable technique” combined with all “the important features of a mature master” (ICMA): 18-year old Armenian pianist Eva Gevorgyan has quickly established herself as one of the most promising talents in the pianistic world.

Eva Gevorgyan has performed with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Mariinsky Orchestra, National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia, Russian National Orchestra, State Academic Symphony Orchestra “Evgeny Svetlanov”, Canton Symphony Orchestra, Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra, Malta Philharmonic and others. She has already performed at major concert venues including the Royal Albert Hall, Hamburg’s Laeiszhalle, the Mariinsky Concert Hall, Moscow Conservatory Great Hall, and KKL Lucerne. Eva has participated in the Verbier Festival, Duszniki International Chopin Piano Festival, Stars of the White Nights Festival, Eilat Chamber Music Festival, Palermo Classica Festival, the Perugia Piano Festival, ClaviCologne Festival and Klassik vor Acht, Jeune Chopin à Cannes, Ferrara Piano Festival, Elena Cobb Star Prize Festival, Fränkische Musiktage Alzenau and others. In January 2020 Eva was invited to perform in Yerevan in front of the President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian and his spouse. At the Alto Adige Festival she performed in the presence of Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella.

Eva has appeared with such conductors as Vladimir Spivakov, Lawrence Foster, Vasily Petrenko, Valery Gergiev, Alexander Sladkovsky, Roberto Beltrán-Zavala, Eduard Topchjan, Dimitris Botinis, Piotr Gribanov, Tigran Hakhnazaryan, Ruth Reinhardt, Anatoly Levin, Ilmar Lapinsh, and others.

At the XVIII International Chopin Competition in Warsaw Eva Gevorgyan was the youngest finalist. Evgeny Kissin chose Eva Gevorgyan as a scholar of the 2020 Klavierfestival Ruhr. Eva was also an ICMA Discovery Award winner at the 2019 International Classical Music Awards. She is a grand-prix winner of the Russian National Orchestra Competition in 2021. In total, Eva has received awards at more than forty international competitions for piano and composition in the United States, Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, and Russia among others, including First Prize at the Cleveland International Piano Competition for Young Artists (incl. special prize for the best interpretation of Bach and Canton Symphony Orchestra Prize), First Prize at the Robert Schumann Piano Competition in Dusseldorf, Second Prize and the Press Award at the Cliburn Junior International Piano Competition, Grand Prix and special prize for best Chopin interpretation at the Chicago International Music Competition, and First Prize at the Jeune Chopin International Piano Competition in Martigny. She has been a laureate and received five special prizes at Moscow’s Grand Piano International Competition. Eva also won First Prizes at the Chopin International Piano Competition for Young Pianists in Szafarnia, Poland, and Portugal’s St. Cecilia International Piano Competition, and won the Grand Prix at the International Piano Competition of Giuliano Pecar in Gorizia, Italy. Eva was awarded the Junior Prize (City Prize) at the Eppan Junior Piano Academy (Italy).

Eva is a Young Yamaha Artist. She received a scholarship from the International Academy of Music in Liechtenstein and participates regularly in the intensive music weeks and activities offered by the Academy. She also holds scholarships from YerazArt Foundation, Foundation Artis Futura, and from the Armenian Assembly.

Eva Gevorgyan was born in April 2004. After studies with Natalia Trull at the Central Music School in Moscow, she joined the Reina Sofia School of Music in Madrid, where she continues to study with Stanislav Ioudenitch. Eva was invited to the International Piano Academy Lake Como, where she participated in masterclasses with Dmitry Bashkirov, Stanislav Ioudenitch and William Nabore. She has also participated in masterclasses with Pavel Gililov, Grigory Gruzman, Piotr Paleczny, Andrea Bonatta and Klaus Hellwig.

John Zion

John Zion serves as the Managing Director of MKI Artists, one of the leading classical music management agencies in the United States where he directs the careers of a prestigious roster of artists, ensembles, and composers. He is also a co-founder of OurConcerts.live that produced and streamed more than 300 concerts during the pandemic and continues to provide access to live music to audiences around the world.

Also an active consultant, John works with artists, administrators, and arts organizations on career development, project management, and digital marketing. John serves on the board of Chamber Music America and has guest lectured and presented on arts-related issues at the Colburn School of Music, University of Michigan, Manhattan School of Music, Banff Centre, APAP|NYC, and Chamber Music America’s National Conference. He was named one of the “Rising Stars in the Performing Arts” by Musical America in 2012 and received a BM in Violin Performance from the Hartt School of Music.

Gabriela Montero

Gabriela Montero’s visionary interpretations and unique compositional gifts have garnered her critical acclaim and a devoted following on the world stage. Anthony Tommasini remarked in The New York Times that “Montero’s playing had everything: crackling rhythmic brio, subtle shadings, steely power…soulful lyricism…unsentimental expressivity.”

Recipient of the prestigious 2018 Heidelberger Frühling Music Prize, Montero’s recent and forthcoming highlights include debuts with the New World Symphony (Michael Tilson Thomas), Yomiuri Nippon Symphony in Tokyo (Aziz Shokhakimov), Orquesta de Valencia (Pablo Heras-Casado), and the Bournemouth Symphony (Carlos Miguel Prieto), the latter of which featured her as Artist-in-Residence for the 2019-2020 season. Montero also recently performed her own “Latin” Concerto with the Orchestra of the Americas at the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie and Edinburgh Festival, as well as at Carnegie Hall and the New World Center with the NYO2. Additional highlights include a planned European tour with the City of Birmingham Symphony and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla; a second tour with the cutting edge Scottish Ensemble, this time with Montero’s latest composition Babel as the centrepiece of the programme; her long-awaited return to Warsaw for the Chopin in Europe Festival, marking 23 years since her prize win at the International Chopin Piano Competition; and return invitations to work with Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony, Jaime Martin and the Orquestra de Cadaqués for concerts in Madrid and Barcelona, and Alexander Shelley and the National Arts Centre Orchestra of Canada.

Celebrated for her exceptional musicality and ability to improvise, Montero has performed with many of the world’s leading orchestras to date, including: the Royal Liverpool, Rotterdam, Dresden, Oslo, Vienna Radio, and Netherlands Radio philharmonic orchestras; the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, NDR Sinfonieorchester Hamburg, NDR Radiophilharmonie Hannover, Zürcher Kammerorchester, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, and Australian Chamber Orchestra; the Pittsburgh, Detroit, Houston, Atlanta, Toronto, Baltimore, Vienna, City of Birmingham, Barcelona, Lucerne, and Sydney symphony orchestras; the Belgian National Orchestra, Württembergisches Kammerorchester.

A graduate and Fellow of the Royal Academy of Music in London, Montero is also a frequent recitalist and chamber musician, having given concerts at such distinguished venues as the Wigmore Hall, Kennedy Center, Vienna Konzerthaus, Berlin Philharmonie, Frankfurt Alte Oper, Cologne Philharmonie, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Munich Herkulessaal, Sydney Opera House, Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Luxembourg Philharmonie, Lisbon Gulbenkian Museum, Manchester Bridgewater Hall, Seoul’s LG Arts Centre, Hong Kong City Hall, the National Concert Hall in Taipei, and at the Barbican’s ‘Sound Unbound’, Edinburgh, Salzburg, SettembreMusica in Milan and Turin, Lucerne, Ravinia, Gstaad, Saint-Denis, Violon sur le Sable, Aldeburgh, Cheltenham, Rheingau, Ruhr, Trondheim, Bergen, and Lugano festivals.

Montero is also an award-winning and bestselling recording artist. Her most recent album, released in autumn 2019 on the Orchid Classics label, features her own “Latin” Concerto and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major, recorded with the Orchestra of the Americas in Frutillar, Chile. Her previous recording on Orchid Classics features Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and her first orchestral composition, Ex Patria, winning Montero her first Latin Grammy® for Best Classical Album (Mejor Álbum de Música Clásica). Others include Bach and Beyond, which held the top spot on the Billboard Classical Charts for several months and garnered her two Echo Klassik Awards: the 2006 Keyboard Instrumentalist of the Year and 2007 Award for Classical Music without Borders. In 2008, she also received a Grammy® nomination for her album Baroque, and in 2010 she released Solatino, a recording inspired by her Venezuelan homeland and devoted to works by Latin American composers.

Montero made her formal debut as a composer with Ex Patria, a tone poem designed to illustrate and protest Venezuela’s descent into lawlessness, corruption, and violence. The piece was premiered in 2011 by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Montero’s first full-length composition, Piano Concerto No. 1, the “Latin“ Concerto, was first performed at the Leipzig Gewandhaus with the MDR Sinfonieorchester and Kristjan Järvi, and subsequently recorded and filmed with the Orchestra of the Americas for the ARTE Konzert channel.

Winner of the 4th International Beethoven Award, Montero is a committed advocate for human rights, whose voice regularly reaches beyond the concert hall. She was named an Honorary Consul by Amnesty International in 2015, and recognised with Outstanding Work in the Field of Human Rights by the Human Rights Foundation for her ongoing commitment to human rights advocacy in Venezuela. She was invited to participate in the 2013 Women of the World Festival at London’s Southbank Centre, and has spoken and performed twice at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters. She was also awarded the 2012 Rockefeller Award for her contribution to the arts and was a featured performer at Barack Obama’s 2008 Presidential Inauguration.

Born in Venezuela, Montero started her piano studies at age four with Lyl Tiempo, making her concerto debut at age eight in her hometown of Caracas. This led to a scholarship from the government to study privately in the USA and then at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Hamish Milne.