Two busy weeks of absence in Holland and a backlog of blogs! Apologies!
Besides sightseeing Amsterdam’s canals in a glass boat, having a good Indonesian “rijstafel”, or admiring the sacred paintings of Rembrandt and Van Gogh in the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums, Amsterdam is a city of music. So are New York, London and Paris you will say, but Amsterdam has its special sphere. My father, who was a classical pianist while being a beer brewer at the same time, lived a few hundred yards from the Concert Hall when I was born, and the family had even bought permanent seats there, so that they could attend a concert on short notice when they had time. Naturally, I had to take piano lessons as well, but unfortunately was not endowed with his tremendous talent and more inclined to play pop music and jazz. His early death avoided a definite father-son conflict in this area, but I always remained impressed with young people playing classical piano so well.
This is why I attended the recent Amsterdam Young Pianists Festival in November. Remembering how I struggled to read notes and translate them to the keyboard, I listened in awe to three finalists in the Youth Competition of the Young Pianists Festival. Yang Yang Cai (Dutch, 14 years old), Jorian van Nee (Dutch, 13 years old) and Youngjae Kim (Korean, a brilliant 13 year old autistic (!) youngster) played difficult Sonatas by Domenica Scarlatti and Piano concerto nr. 14 by Amadeus Mozart, ALL BY HEART! You wonder how these young talents keep popping up in today’s lowbrow world. The accompanying Yehudi Menuhin School orchestra, flown over from London especially for this occasion, was a miracle by itself. These young musicians are still at school and play like full-fledged professionals.
The Yehudin Menuhin school orchestra with four young soloists directed by Malcom Singer.
If I had to be in the 8-member jury, I would have had a great problem choosing the best. I gave Yang Yang Cai the edge because she played her Sonatas very Scarlatti-like and the Mozart concerto as playfully as Mozart would have done it. So when I met her during the intermission, I took a picture of her, wishing her she would get the first place, which she did. Another point of surprise: these 13/14 year olds are not like 13 0r 14 year old kids anymore: they are way ahead in personal growth compared to the “normal”13 year olds. They are naturally bright with a God-given talent.
The jury included several renowned pianists (Anne Queffélec (Fr), Emile Naoumoff (Romania), Boris Berman (Russia), Evgeni Koroliov (Russia), Jorge-Luis Prats (Cuba), who each played individually. Jorge-Luis Prats played the most difficult “Valse” by Maurice Ravel to an audience that went ballistic about his virtuosity. Then they played all together on three pianos at the same time! It was so spectacular that they had to give two encores.
At a Sunday matinee concert, renowned pianist Paul Badura – Skoda (Austrian from Vienna) played Bach and Mozart on a “pianoforte” instrument, between the clavecimbel and the later “piano”as we know it today, accompanied by an engaging quartet of two violinists, a cellist and a bassist. As much as you admire the “Miracle Kids”, you admire an 86 year old pianist, considered one of the most important pianists of our time. If I look at my fingers, half bent with arthritis, and his lean fingers still flying over the keyboard, I wonder what kind of miracle medicine he’s taking to stay at that height of pure professionalism, and that ALL BY HEART!
The YPF took place in memory of Youri Egorov, a phenomenal Dutch-Russian pianist who succumbed to AIDS in 1988 at the age of 34 much the same famous dancer Rudolf Nureyev did in 1992 when the disease took many unsuspecting victims.
Youri Egorov. You cannot but love him when you hear him play.
A most endearing and successful festival that I would not have missed for a million.