Mini-report on the Third Summer Piano Festival in Sano, held on 31st July 1999

Again, this is my post to the Piano-L mailing list.


Extremely diligent readers will recall that this time last year I reported on the Second Sano Summer Piano Festival. Well, we've just had the third one last Saturday, and everything is quiet, so here are some more disconnected jottings from the North Kanto Plain.

I confess I'm also somewhat spurred into writing this by recalling someone recently describing something or other as "very Japanese". To me, various aspects of the festival were "very Japanese", but I somehow doubt if these two meanings would recognise each other if they collided face to face.

Anyway, good news/bad news first. I thought technically the standard seemed slightly lower than last year; on the other hand, there was definitely more fun, and, it seemed to me, more boys. And a vastly better age spread than last year.

But why was it "Japanese"? Well, there wasn't much order to the programme, and it went on for hours and hours (10 to 5 with an hour for lunch). Last year we had Junior kids, followed by a guest recital, followed by Senior kids (up to me, agewise). This year there was no Guest, and it emerges that the programme order was simply the order of application. So Chopin scherzos, nagisa no aderiinu, and Three Blind Mice were just completely jumbled up. As far as I can make out, there is no organising committee, or anything like that, and the event is now on auto-pilot. (Rather like Japanese politics, one is reminded of headless chickens -- no, too dynamic: headless tortoises, perhaps?)

Fun: there were more ensembles. I persuaded Chandler Junior 2 (Terry) to play our Dvorak Slavonic Dance (no. 10, E minor) with me; a couple of piano teachers played the enjoyable duet arrangement of the Fledermaus overture by Makoto Goto; a mother-daughter the Schubert "Military March"; the Sekiya-Motegi families (last year a movement from the Dvorak piano quintet) turned out in force and gave us a Verdi vocal duet and quartet, bits of Bruch's violin concerto, Elgar's cello concerto etc.; and items towards the end it threatened to turn into a karaoke session. On the whole I thought this was all good, even if the piano connection was tenuous in places.

As for boys, perhaps I'd give this year's Most Accomplished award to Yoinara-kun, with Jardins sous la pluie from Estampes. (Might have gone to Daniella from Brazil who played Chopin nocturne op. 27 no. 2, but she was right before me, so I couldn't listen.)

I think the most disappointing aspect of many performances was simply lack of preparation, exacerbated by an excess of zeal for memorisation. One girl in particular tried to play the Chopin third scherzo, and while she could bring off the frilly bits impressively enough, she kept forgetting where she'd got to in bits in between. If she'd had the music and a page-turner, she could surely at least have kept going. (It seems to me, though I'd be interested in other opinions, that this sort of piece is in many ways Chopin at his hardest to make Music out of: you have to be able to throw off the technical difficulties, and then pull all the gaunt bits in, and somehow give shape to it. It's certainly way way beyond me.) Oh, and Maki-san, who played the first ballade last year, unfortunately tried to play the fourth, when in her own words it still wasn't ready. (Not that she had any memory problems: and that really baffles me, being able to remember something even before you can play it.) At the other end of the spectrum, we had an adult learner who sought to entertain us with Three Blind Mice (or equivalent): any piece, however simple, if played nicely can make Music, but he just couldn't play the notes.

Memorising: I've followed several interesting threads on this subject here. I notice that in contrast to the recent Van Cliburn contest, which explicitly allowed scores, competitions here seem to be very firmly rooted in memorising. Last Saturday, almost no solo performers used music, and most didn't appear to have much problem with that. But in the (roughly) twenty years I had lessons in England, I don't believe I was ever even encouraged to memorise anything. (Is this a particularly British thing?) Yet I guess that without pressure to memorise several performances might have been much better.

Me? I've been having a somewhat off period, fitfully working on Prokofiev's first sonata, but it wasn't up together, and the only other thing I was working on was the Rachmaninov prelude in G major (op. 32 / 5). So I constructed another set of three preludes, from Bach WTC bk 1, G major, Chopin E minor, and Rach G major. Don't know if this is a very original idea, but it seemed to make a certain sort of sense. Six-minute slot. Went ok, I think, and absolutely nothing totally unexpected happened, by which I was totally amazed. Yes, I didn't feel compelled to memorise them, and perhaps that helped me to do so.

(Next is Faure's Requiem for my chorus's summer concert. That'll be good, and thanks to Steve Lichtenstein I now know that Amara Valde is not a Hollywood bimbo.)

Brian Chandler


Nothing to do with the piano...

In response, Steve Lichtenstein wrote the following little note of explanation.

For those of you who don't know, it's from the Libera Me section of the Requiem.

Tremens factus sum ego et timeo, dum discussio venerit, atque ventura ira... Dies illa, dies irae, calamitatis et miseriae, dies magna et AMARA VALDE. Libera me, Domine.

I am seized with fear and trembling, until the trial shall be at hand, and the wrath to come... That day, that day of wrath, of calamity and misery, a great day and EXCEEDING BITTER. Deliver me, O Lord.

I was listening to Britten's War Requiem one day and the words just seemed to leap out at me as a great screen name. Those of you who are Jewish will remember the bitter herb that is eaten at the Passover seder, called "maror." Also, here's a Biblical passage that was pointed out to me:

And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. -- Ruth 1:20

For the record, I'm really not religious at all, except where it comes to music! I now return you to your scheduled piano chat.

Steve Lichtenstein