This month the Toronto Symphony has a festival of five concerts between November 12th and 22nd, featuring Danish conductor Thomas Dausgaard and young Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki commemorating Carl Nielsen’s 150th birthday, presented alongside the three final piano concerti of his great hero, Ludwig van Beethoven.
On November 12 and 13, the first programme showcases Carl Nielsen’s emotionally charged Fourth Symphony, written at a time of international chaos during the First World War. An affirmation of faith in the power of life amid the darkness of war, his symphony will be the perfect contrast to the mellowest of Beethoven’s piano concertos, No. 4.
- The focus on Beethoven and Nielsen continues on November 15 with the tempestuous Piano Concerto No. 3 by Beethoven and Nielsen’s whimsical Symphony No. 2.
- Maestro Dausgaard will then guide the TSO on November 20 and 22 through Nielsen’s optimistic Symphony No. 5, with Beethoven’s heroic Piano Concerto No. 5.
The New York Times has called 18-year-old Canadian Jan Lisiecki “a pianist who makes every note count”, who has been signed by Deutsche Grammophon to an exclusive recording agreement at the age of 15.
Lisiecki’s performances have been broadcast on CBC Canada, BBC Radio, Austrian Radio, French Radio, German Radio, Luxembourg Radio, and Polish Radio, as well as on French Television 3 and on TV 1 and 2 in Poland. He was featured in the CBC “Next!” series as one of the most promising young artists in Canada, and in the 2009 Joe Schlesinger CBC National News documentary about his life: “The Reluctant Prodigy”.
Upon the school board’s recommendation Lisiecki was accelerated four grades and graduated from high school in January 2011. Since September 2011 he has been studying for a Bachelor of Music at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto, and in 2012 was named UNICEF Ambassador to Canada in 2012.
On the occasion of this Nielsen-Beethoven Festival of concerts with the TSO, I ask Lisiecki ten questions: five about himself and five more about preparing the upcoming concerts.
1-Are you more like your father or your mother?
Some people tell me I look like my father, other like my mom… (It’s interesting, as no one has ever been blonde in my family!) But who I am more similar to? That’s a tough question (though I do get the feeling it is intended to be one!). I do believe I have inherited the more rational side from my dad; the compulsive one from my mom. But since I’m still with them on a daily basis, I am not yet in a situation to be able to assess what long-term effects in my personality I may find. Perhaps the person I’m most similar to is my grandmother (from my mother’s side). She was a math teacher for over 30 years, very calm, never gossips, never criticizes others. If I’m not similar, at least it’s a good role model! 😉
2-What is the best thing or worst thing about being a pianist?
I love something that’s simultaneously the best and the worst. In this case, that thing is pianos themselves. I like to say the piano has to be your friend. That’s true – as with most friends, there are positive and negative sides to a piano, things you’ll like and things you’ll have troubles with. Pianos are neverperfect. Some have a wonderful tone, other have a great action. So one must simply focus on those positives, and try to highlight them. I’m not saying to ignore the downsides, but definitely they should not be apparent to the audience.
3-Who do you like to listen to or watch?
My movie selection is shaped by offerings of airlines (so mostly uninteresting with a gem here and there) and enhanced by suggestions of others. I like watching weekly TV shows – it sets a pace while traveling and maintains some sense of normality. My current favourites are Person of Interest, Modern Family and The Blacklist. As far as listening, I don’t actually listen to much beyond my time with the piano. I enjoy evenings at home with jazz on CBC R2, and will pull out my iPod when I have craving for a reality check with Pink Floyd.
4-What ability or skill do you wish you had, that you don’t have?
Thankfully I think at 19 I don’t have to worry so much about not learning something… I only have to think of “what next!” Time will tell.
5-When you’re just relaxing and not working what is your favourite thing to do?
I truly love traveling, and therefore, whenever I have a spare week I fly around the world, simply to experience. Everything is a part of it: the destination, the country, the airline, the airplane. In December, I will spend 8 days flying around the world with my dad, putting on over 36,000 miles in that week, and visit Dubai, Hong Kong, and Sydney.
Five more concerning the upcoming series of concerts with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra between November 12th & 22nd playing the last three Beethoven piano concerti.
1-Talk for a moment about the challenges of the last three piano concerti: # 3 in C Minor, #4 in G Major and #5 in E-flat Major, three of the most important pieces in the concert repertoire.
We all know that Beethoven was revolutionary. By extension, he also reinvented the piano concerto form. These three concerti are a cross-section of the evolution of his writing style. The Concerto No. 3 is very classically rooted, with significant hints of change to come. The fourth concerto immediately captures the audience’s attention – the piano starts. And The Emperor – well, nothing needs to be said.
2-What do you love about Beethoven’s concerti?
If you take the orchestra away from, say, the Chopin Concerti, you still have a very complete work. But if you take the orchestra away from a Beethoven Concerto, you are left with structure. This is exemplary of the weaving he used to intertwine the parts of the orchestra and soloist. I personally love when it is chamber music being made on stage, therefore I love the Beethoven concertos, and it is also this I greatly look forward to with the TSO.
3-Who’s your favourite pianist, living or dead?
Many of them are dead, many of them are alive. It’s a long list! Zimerman, Perahia, Argerich, Ax, Pires… I can go on forever!
4- The arts often feel very precarious in this country, spoken of as a luxury even as they starve alongside wealthy hockey teams. Please put your feelings about the music you love into context for us, especially with respect to these upcoming concerts with the TSO.
Music is always in a delicate position. Many things can be said to defend its position in our society, but I will make only one argument. If you don’t mind posting this video, I think it illustrates the point exceptionally well.
5- Is there a teacher or an influence you’d care to name that you especially admire?
Yes – I study at the Glenn Gould School in Toronto, with a fantastic dean, Mr. James Anagnoson, under a wonderful teacher, Mr. Marc Durand, and all made possible by a generous scholarship provided by Ian Ihnatowycz.
The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents a series of five concerts commemorating the 150th birthday of Carl Nielsen, featuring music of Nielsen and Ludwig van Beethoven, November 12th – 22nd. For information click the image.