Benjamin Grosvenor. Photo by Patrick AllenBenjamin Grosvenor first came to prominence when he won the Keyboard Final of the 2004 BBC Young Musician Competition at the age of 11. He was invited to perform with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night of the 2011 BBC Proms at 19. In the same year he became the youngest British musician ever, and the first British pianist in almost 60 years, to sign with Decca Classics. Gramophone named him Young Artist of the Year in 2012. A riveting performer with keen musical insights, many inspired by pianists of the past, Grosvenor’s Music Toronto recital on March 31 marks his fourth appearance here since 2014, a testament to his prodigious talent. In the following email Q & A, which took place in mid-February, Grosvenor spoke about his latest CD and the program for his upcoming Toronto concert.

WN: I very much enjoyed your new recording of the Chopin piano concertos which I found to be highly contemporary yet informed by a sensibility reaching back into the last century. I interviewed you in the fall of 2017 and remember your response to my question “Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child?” being Chopin. How did you decide to select his piano concertos as your first recording since Homages in 2016? How long have the concertos been part of your repertoire?

Read more: Fourth Grosvenor Recital Tops an Intriguing List

Stephen Hough. Photo by Sim Canetty-ClarkeIn Billy Wilder’s classic 1955 film The Seven Year Itch, Tom Ewell fantasizes seducing his upstairs neighbour (Marilyn Monroe) while playing a recording of the slow movement of a piano concerto – “Good old Rachmaninoff,” he says, “the Second Piano Concerto, it never misses.” Monroe replies, “It’s not fair. Every time I hear it I go to pieces.” Indeed, the power of the concerto was extensive. Its second movement played a major role in David Lean’s Brief Encounter (1945); Eric Carmen’s All by Myself (1975), notably used in Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001), is also derived from the second movement; Full Moon and Empty Arms, a song written by Buddy Kaye and Ted Mossman derived from the third movement, has been covered by the likes of Frank Sinatra (1945) and Bob Dylan (2014). And that just scratches the surface of the impact of some of the most romantic music ever written. It’s an appropriate valentine to Toronto as Stephen Hough and the TSO, conducted by Elim Chan, perform it February 14 to 16 – the evening’s other major work is Rimsky-Korsakov’s crowd-pleasing Scheherazade with TSO concertmaster Jonathan Crow as soloist.

A leading pianist of the generation that includes Marc-André Hamelin, Hough is also a polymath, the first classical performer to receive the MacArthur Genius Award, an exhibited artist, a published author and newspaper columnist. He’s also a lively participant on Twitter, engaging with his audience, posting personal photos (especially of food) and links to musical nuggets out of the past.

Read more: Romancing Rachmaninoff, and Ophelia Gets Mad

Seong-Jin Cho, the 25-year-old South Korean winner of the 2015 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, is a polished performer whose life changed as a result of his Warsaw triumph. From playing 20 to 30 concerts a year, he went to 80 to 90; and, thankfully, no longer needed to participate in competitions. Because of The WholeNote’s production schedule, I missed his sold-out Koerner Hall recital on October 26, 2018, so I’m looking forward to his upcoming TSO appearance January 8, 9 and 11 in Beethoven’s revolutionary Piano Concerto No.4 conducted by Sir Andrew Davis.

Seong-Jin Cho. Photo © Harald HoffmannSome critics have called Cho’s playing “poetic,” something he discussed on the British blog, Where Cherries Ripen, published on October 1, 2019. “What others say about my performances may accurately reflect some aspects of my playing style, but I cannot say I ever intend to sound ‘poetic’. If I may put it differently, there are times when I receive bad reviews, but I never intend to play badly. I think an instrumentalist’s unique sound is like the human voice. Everyone has a unique voice given to them, regardless of their intentions. For example, a tenor can never be a bass. Of course, I can force myself to perform wearing my heart on my sleeve, but this would not change who I fundamentally am. Everyone has a natural way of performing, and I play in my given way. I think audiences have been able to sense that personality.”

Read more: Looking Ahead to 2020

This month there is a panoply of young talent on display in various stages of development with many opportunities to see and hear potential musical stars, some of them in more intimate surroundings than the future may bring.

Nicolas Namoradze. Photo by Andrea FelvegiNicolas Namoradze: One such artist is Nicolas Namoradze, who came to international attention when he was 26 years old after winning the 2018 Honens International Piano Competition in Calgary. Honens is proud of their reputation for discovering and nurturing talent for the 21st century and Namoradze is now in the second year of Honens’ three-year development program that includes management and mentorship opportunities. He will do well if he is able to follow in the footsteps of 2012 laureate Pavel Kolesnikov, now reaping the rewards of his Hyperion Records exposure, and indications are that he may well do so. Namoradze’s performances to date have been hailed by critics as “sparkling… sensitive and coloristic” (New York Times) and “simply gorgeous” (Wall Street Journal). One of his former teachers, the widely respected Emanuel Ax, said that Namoradze is set to become one of the truly important artists of his generation.

Born in Georgia and raised in Budapest, he grew up on a diet of great Hungarian composers like Bartók, Ligeti and Kurtág, as well as Liszt. But as he told Pamela Kuhn on her radio program Center Stage: “Everyone plays Liszt.” As an infant he would “get stuck” listening to Verdi and Wagner. “You could not drag me away,” he said. He began instrumental studies at seven with the piano, but before that he was obsessed with The Beatles and for a short period, AC/DC. Once he began to play, he lived strictly within the classical world. And apart from an interest in jazz, he still does.

Read more: November’s Panoply of Future Stars

vision string quartetThe Strings aspect of Music Toronto’s 48th season gets off to an auspicious start with the local debut of two European-based string quartets, the more established Quartetto di Cremona from Genoa, Italy, and the more recently formed (2012) vision quartet centred in Berlin. The Quartetto is said to be the spiritual heir to the fondly remembered Quartetto Italiano; the vision string quartet (like the Polish Apollon Musagète Quartet) plays standing up but in addition performs their concerts completely from memory. Both ensembles will be new for me, so I asked Music Toronto’s artistic producer Jennifer Taylor to give me some background. How long had they been on her radar? How did she discover them? What excites her about them?

She told me that in general she takes a lot of recommendations from artists, managers, other series presenters and concertgoers. She also does a lot of Internet research and listening. “Quartetto are a 20-year quartet; I had heard of them some years ago, but … then they made what I think was their first North American tour, and I wasn’t on it – too late for my planning. They have some well-regarded recordings. In fall 2017 they were entrusted with the Paganini Strads, owned by the Nippon Foundation, that the Tokyo [Quartet] played in their final years. They later signed with a New York management who by coincidence were the Tokyo’s original management three decades ago. It is easier to invite Europeans who have North American management because there may be a tour; very tough to bring anyone for a single date. So I invited them.

“The vision string quartet – they prefer no caps in their name (I’ve just recently been told) – won two European competitions in 2016, but as a four-year-old quartet, I hesitated. Then they signed with a British management I know well, and I started getting info and recordings in early 2017. Later in 2017 they signed with a New York manager I know even better, and we started talking. I made the arrangement in October 2018. Yes, the standing up – I think for the vision it is part of being edgy young guys. We’ll see.

Read more: October is a Chamberfest
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