Pianist Szymon Nehring wins Harvard Musical Association’s Foote Award

Szymon Nehring

Pianist and current School of Music artist diploma candidate Szymon Nehring has won the Harvard Musical Association’s 2018 Arthur W. Foote Award, which is presented “to instrumentalists of the highest musical caliber of university or conservatory level who are about to launch professional careers,” according to language on the association’s website. Nehring will perform at a private event for association members and their guests on Feb. 2 in Boston.

Nehring “was clearly the consensus” winner among jury members this year, John Anthony Schemmer, the chairman and vice president of the HMA, said. “He’s still very young, but he has already a very decided personality of his own and he has the ability to draw in and engage the audience.”

Violinist and current YSM artist diploma candidate Sirena Huang and organist David Simon ’17MM, who is pursuing his doctorate at the School of Music (and studying at the Institute of Sacred Music), also inspired members of the Foote Award jury. They “made very favorable and distinguished impressions on us,” Schemmer said.

Previous Foote Award winners from YSM include organist Paul Jacobs ’02MM ’03AD (2003) and pianists Ryo Yanagitani ’04MM ’05AD ’08MMA and Henry Kramer ’13AD ’15MMA (2005 and 2014, respectively). Schemmer, who graduated from Yale College in 1968 with a degree in music theory and composition, said the School of Music’s “profile has been rising for several decades,” and that YSM’s students are “absolutely superb.”

Nehring is the latest to reflect that assessment. Upon reviewing Nehring’s recorded performances, one jury member said “he had the audience engaged before he began playing,” according to Schemmer, who, in turn, said that Nehring “is prepared with these pieces in the most extraordinary way.”

Nehring, who studies at the School of Music with Boris Berman, arrived at Yale in fall 2017 having won the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel, in May. In October, Nehring was named the Personality of the Year as part of the 2017 Polish Music Coryphaeus Awards and was honored that month alongside other award recipients in Warsaw, Poland. Before enrolling at YSM, he studied with Stefan Wojtas at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

The Harvard Musical Association was founded by Harvard alumni in 1837 but is not affiliated with that university.

SZYMON NEHRING

Published January 11, 2018
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Boris Berman’s “Notes from the Pianist’s Bench” enhanced with multimedia elements

Fifteen years after its initial publication, faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench (Yale University Press, 2002) has been enhanced to include audio and video clips that support the written content, which has also been updated.

“I expanded it in terms of the content,” Berman said, “but also, I added the visual and audio components.” A decade and a half after writing the book, Berman considered various pieces of feedback, and, “in some cases,” he said, “I changed my view on certain subjects.”

The “YUP approached Boris with the idea of adding audio and video components to the book,” Yale University Press publicist Alden Ferro said in an email. “Accompanying both the print and ebook versions is access to multimedia components: 20 video examples and 25 audio examples. In the multimedia edition, clicking the links takes you directly to the audio and video examples. In the print book, audio and video symbols throughout cue the reader when and which example to watch or listen to online. If a reader buys the print edition, they can gain access to the audio and video components by going to www.yalebooks.com/berman and registering for an account on the companion website.”

Ferro noted that “as in the original edition, Berman gives tips on everything from the practical matters in piano playing— sound and touch, technique, pedaling, and articulation — to how to emotionally prepare for a performance.”

Of Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench, the late Claude Frank, who taught piano alongside Berman at the Yale School of Music, said, “Whether the subject is rubato in Mozart and Chopin, pedaling in Bach, or merely the position of the thumb on the keyboard, Boris Berman deals with it comprehensively but concisely, imaginatively and realistically. The book is neither too elementary nor too advanced for any pianist, piano teacher or piano lover. It is informative, inspiring and entertaining.”

Acclaimed pianist Emanuel Ax offered, “What makes Mr. Berman’s book so persuasive and enlightening is his understanding that there is no one ‘method’ of teaching music — each relationship with a student is a process of discovery for teacher and student both.”

Learn more about the new edition of Boris Berman’s Notes from the Pianist’s Bench on the Yale University Press website.

Published November 15, 2017
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YSM faculty pianist Peter Frankl to retire after 30 years, having inspired generations

Peter Frankl

By Lucile Bruce

Peter Frankl will retire at the end of this semester, concluding his remarkable 30 year career at the Yale School of Music, where he has touched the minds — and more important, the hearts — of hundreds of students.A virtuoso performer and beloved teacher, Frankl was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1935, into a musical family. His parents were semi-professional musicians who played piano at home. They took their son to many concerts and he remembers hearing “many great artists like Klemperer, Bernstein, and my idol, the pianist Annie Fischer.”

Frankl began playing the piano at age 5. “It has been my passion in life ever since,” he said.

He made his London debut in 1962 and his New York debut with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell in 1967. Since then, he has played on the world’s top stages with the most celebrated orchestras and eminent conductors, including Abbado, Boulez, Davis, Haitink, Maazel, Masur, Muti, and Solti. His world tours have taken him to Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. He has appeared more than 20 times at London’s BBC Proms and at many major festivals. Inspired as a young musician by the legendary Leó Weiner, his chamber music teacher, Frankl is also a well- known chamber music performer. For years, the Frankl-Pauk- Kirshbaum Trio traveled the world, and Frankl’s many chamber music partners include the world’s most renowned artists.

It was Boris Berman, professor of piano and coordinator of the piano department at YSM, who invited Frankl to come to Yale, first in 1987 as a visiting teaching artist.

Until that time, Frankl’s occupation was mainly concertizing; he rarely taught, even master classes. “It never occurred to me to teach on a regular basis,” he said. “However, Yale’s reputation attracted me greatly and I decided to give it a try.”

He harbored a deeper reason, however, for teaching. “By then I was 52 years old,” he explained. “I had the impression that the young generation of pianists were more interested in reaching technical perfection than in involving themselves in the emotional and spiritual meaning of what each composer wanted to express in their works.

“Somehow I started feeling responsible towards the future of music-making,” he continued. “Instead of grumbling about this, I wanted to do something positive.”

He thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere at YSM, including the School’s “relatively intimate size.” As two esteemed piano faculty members were approaching retirement, Yale offered to extend Frankl’s appointment. He gladly accepted.  MORE

Published November 6, 2017
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Pianist Szymon Nehring ’19AD wins Polish Music Coryphaeus award

Szymon Nehring

Pianist Szymon Nehring ’19AD has been named the Personality of the Year as part of the 2017 Polish Music Coryphaeus Awards. He was honored alongside other award recipients earlier this month in Warsaw, Poland.

“I consider this award the most important Polish music award,” Nehring, a native of Poland, said, honored to be in the company of composer Krzysztof Penderecki, whose receipt of a 2017 Grammy Award was named the Event of the Year, and composer, conductor, and pianist Jerzy Maksymiuk, who was given an Honorary Award. Flutist Marianna Żołnacz was recognized as having made the Debut of the Year.

Nehring began his studies this fall in the Artist Diploma program at YSM under the tutelage of Prof. Boris Berman, having won the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel, in May. In addition to earning the Gold Medal at the competition, Nehring won the Best Performer of a Chopin Piece, Advanced Studies, and Junior Jury prizes, as well as the Audience Favorite in the Periphery prizes for Or Yehuda and Jezrael Valley. He’s scheduled to perform a recital on October 26 in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall as part of a concert tour organized by the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society, which administers the competition.

The Yale School of Music’s Artist Diploma program, Nehring said, “gives me the important opportunity to sometimes be away from the University and concertize. This way, I can combain both playing and studying, and I think it will be a perfect solution for me these next two years.”

Nehring, who previously studied with Stefan Wojtas at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, Poland, said, “I consider American and Russian music schools the best in the world, and studying here at Yale with Professor Boris Berman gives me a combination of those. That is why I chose the Yale School of Music. I have been here for a short amount of time, so I cannot say much, but what I definitely observe is that I can peacefully work on my new repertoire and be inspired by musicians who teach or study at the University. I think at my age it is important to still study, to not be overwhelmed by the concert life, and more importantly (to) develop as a person and musician.”

SZYMON NEHRING

Published October 13, 2017
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YSM professor and Brahms expert Paul Berry, on faculty pianist Boris Berman’s Sept. 27 recital program

Boris Berman, left, and Paul Berry

School of Music faculty pianist Boris Berman kicks off the 2017-2018 Horowitz Piano Series on Wednesday, Sept. 27, with an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119. We spoke with YSM Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry, the author of Brahms Among Friends: Listening, Performance, and the Rhetoric of Allusion (Oxford University Press, 2014), about the works that Professor Berman will perform, what the music tells us about the composer and his environment, and what the late piano works demand of a performer.

Q: Brahms’ piano pieces, Opp. 116-119, were composed during the last decade of his life. What does that lateness mean in terms of the character of these pieces, and in the context of his career and his personal life? According to our program notes, Lionel Salter said, of Op. 116, “It is as if the composer at the end of his life had compressed the essence of his musical and emotional thoughts into these miniatures.” And Brahms himself described the Op. 117 set as “lullabies of my sorrow.” What, if anything, did Brahms’ friend Clara Schumann say about these pieces?

A: Well, the idea of lateness can inform our hearing of these piano pieces in several productive ways. The most obvious is their placement in the composer’s output. In the early 1890s, Brahms was not yet 60, and all his friends constantly commented on his fitness and robust health; he had no idea that this would turn out to be his last decade. But he did know that he would soon retire from public life as a composer. Indeed, he had already retired once, only to return to composition when he encountered the clarinet playing of Richard Muehlfeld. The late piano miniatures are the most abundant fruit of what he planned to be his final harvest. Especially with the example of late Beethoven in the ears of the musical public, a composer would naturally understand that his final works were likely to be interpreted as summations of his craft and emotional range, and compose them with the judgment of posterity in mind. Certainly Brahms did so with these piano pieces.

At the same time, the late piano pieces first surfaced not in published form, but in manuscript copies made for Clara Schumann, one of the great pianists and musicians of the century and Brahms’ oldest and firmest friend. Throughout the summers of 1892 and 1893, he sent her packages containing individual miniatures, some of which were so dramatic in effect that she took them to be the building blocks of a larger piano sonata (a genre Brahms had avoided since his youth). Though she had retired from the concert stage by now, these pieces soon became a dominant focus of her private music-making. In fact, we have accounts from her daughters and grandchildren concerning her renditions of them and, in some cases, the poetic significance she attached to them (Op. 118, No. 5, for instance, seemed to her to represent the emotional landscape of an elderly couple reminiscing about their lives together while their grandchildren play nearby). So from both a professional and a personal standpoint, Brahms’ late works lend themselves to interpretation as late works.

Q: In what historical and political contexts were these pieces composed, and how did Brahms’ immediate environment and the changing world around him inform the music he composed toward the end of his life? What do the pieces of Opp. 116-119 tells us about where composition had been and where it was headed?   

A: Brahms’ political environment was challenging for him and his fellow liberals, who found their longstanding commitment to education, religious tolerance, and upper-middle-class values under assault from populist and overtly religious parties, whose members preferred the more direct musical styles of composers like Wagner or Bruckner. Brahms’ primary musical market was under attack, and these pieces can be understood as speaking to the alternately nostalgic and grumpy impulses of a soon-to-be minority party. Those elements of this music that seem to us now the most forward-looking (daring modulations, hazy tonality, complex interweaving of multiple melodies) may actually have been designed to summon up appreciation for the learned elements of a craft that many already perceived to be outdated and in decline.

Q: Talk if you would about the form, structure, and styles of these pieces and how Brahms might’ve intended them to be performed and presented.

A: Most of these pieces present some variant of ternary, or three-part, form, in which the main material is presented at the beginning, cedes its place to contrasting material in the middle, and then returns to close the work near the end. Brahms’ craft emerges in the seemingly infinite variety of approaches that this ancient musical form elicits from him in each individual context, from the straightforward, almost folk-like simplicity of Op. 118, No. 5, to the complex twists and turns of Op. 117, No. 2. It’s always worth listening for moments of return, when familiar material reappears, and comparing them to one’s memory of that material from earlier in the piece; so many of these works create subtle but remarkable transformations in mood when one encounters the same material in new contexts.

Although these pieces are rightly seen as intimate, private ruminations, this is also virtuosic music, though it usually wears its virtuosity in an understated way. Most of the pieces were premiered in public by the best pianists then performing, and reviewers consistently noted the difficulties that they posed to a pianist’s technique, especially in the faster pieces. The final work on the recital, Op. 119, No. 4, is a good example, with its whirl of gypsy-style rhythms. But the slower works, too, present real technical challenges involving the thickening of texture, and these challenges are often aligned with pivotal moments in the unfolding of the piece: the return of familiar material after a long absence, for instance, is often much harder to play than the initial presentation of the tune. Even the famous lullaby, Op. 117, No. 1, is almost overwhelmed near the end when its fragile voices multiply under the pianist’s hands.

Q: What should audiences listen for in these works as they think about Brahms and his world and the culture in which we live today?

A: Some elements of our current political scene (the rise of populist ideologies in the United States and abroad, increasingly overt intolerance and suspicion of “elite” attitudes, a pervasive sense of loss and frustration) mirror aspects of Brahms’ own environment in the 1890s. The variety of moods explored in these short piano pieces, from resignation and nostalgia to brooding anger and firm resilience, therefore resonate productively in the present moment.

Q: What, in your opinion, does Professor Berman bring to these works? And what do these pieces require of a pianist, both technically and with regard to scholarship?

A: These works require of a pianist a deep immersion in the intricacies of the composer’s craft and a deep commitment to the emotional world projected in each piece. Professor Berman brings both immersion and commitment to his playing. He also brings a firm sense of clarity with respect to large-scale structure. He does not “lose” his listeners, but guides them through the unfolding of each piece.

Faculty pianist and Horowitz Piano Series Artistic Director Boris Berman performs an all-Brahms program featuring the composer’s late piano works, Opp. 116-119, on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 pm, in Morse Recital Hall. Associate Professor of Music History Paul Berry will give a pre-concert talk at 6:30 pm in the Blocker Room. Learn more and purchase tickets

Published September 25, 2017
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Rachel Cheung ’13MM reaches finals, wins Audience Award at Van Cliburn Competition

Rachel Cheung performs with Leonard Slatkin and the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra in the final round of the Van Cliburn Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

School of Music alumna Rachel Cheung ’13MM was one of six finalists at the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which took place May 25 through June 10 in Fort Worth, Texas. She took home $12,500 in cash prizes — $10,000 for reaching the final round and $2,500 for earning the Audience Award. As a finalist, Cheung also received a promotional package, which includes photos, additional marketing materials, and media training.

In the course of the competition in Fort Worth, Cheung, who studied at YSM with Peter Frankl, performed three different recital programs, a piano quintet with the Brentano String Quartet — YSM’s quartet-in-residence — and two concerti.

YSM alumna Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, who studied at YSM with Boris Berman, also participated in the prestigious competition, performing a recital in the preliminary round and taking home a $1,000 cash prize.

Of the 290 pianists who applied, 140 were selected for live auditions. Cheung auditioned in Seoul, in January, and Park auditioned in New York, in February. Only 30 pianists, including Cheung and Park, were invited to compete in Fort Worth.

Sun-A Park performs during the preliminary round of the Van Cliburn Competition. Photo by Ralph Lauer/The Cliburn

According to its website, the Van Cliburn Competition, which is held every four years, is widely recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” and has been responsible for launching the careers of some of the world’s most prominent pianists.

Related:
PIANISTS SUN-A PARK AND RACHEL CHEUNG TO PARTICIPATE IN VAN CLIBURN COMPETITION

Published June 12, 2017
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YSM welcomes two artist diploma candidates to prestigious program

Sirena Huang, left, and Szymon Nehring

In the fall, the Yale School of Music will welcome two new artist diploma candidates to the program. Violinist Sirena Huang, who is currently enrolled in YSM’s master of music program, will now pursue an artist diploma. Pianist Szymon Nehring will enter the AD program having previously studied at the Academy of Music in Bydgoszcz, Poland. Huang and Nehring will join pianist Vyacheslav Gryaznov in the program, whose curriculum was revised in 2014 to serve instrumentalists and vocalists who are on the cusp of major international solo careers.

“The artist diploma is our highest performance degree,” YSM Deputy Dean Melvin Chen said. “The two entering the program in the fall exemplify the type of artist diploma candidate we are looking for — bright, inquisitive, and unique artists who are gaining recognition through top prizes in major international competitions.”

Huang, who studies with Hyo Kang, recently won the New York Concert Artists Worldwide Debut Audition for Violinists and the inaugural Elmar Oliveira International Violin Competition. Earlier this month, Nehring won the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition. He will study with Boris Berman at YSM. MORE

Published May 17, 2017
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Szymon Nehring wins Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition

Szymon Nehring. Photo by Piotr Markowski

Incoming YSM artist diploma candidate Szymon Nehring was named the first prize-winner of the 15th Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition in Tel Aviv, Israel. In addition to winning the Arthur Rubinstein Award (Gold Medal), Nehring won the Best Performer of a Chopin Piece, Advanced Studies, and Junior Jury prizes, as well as the Audience Favorite in the Periphery prizes for Or Yehuda and Jezrael Valley. In addition to earning $49,000 in cash awards, Nehring will perform numerous recitals as part of a concert tour organized by the Arthur Rubinstein International Music Society, which administers the competition. One of those performances, on October 26, will take place in Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. MORE

Published May 16, 2017
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Pianists Sun-A Park and Rachel Cheung to participate in Van Cliburn Competition

Sun-A Park

Pianists Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA and Rachel Cheung ’13MM have been selected to compete in the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. Park and Cheung are two of 30 young pianists, selected from a pool of more than 120 applicants, who were invited to the competition based on auditions held earlier this year.

The competition, which takes place May 25-June 10 in Fort Worth, Texas, consists of four rounds and requires candidates to prepare about four hours of music.

“It’s a huge preparation process,” Park said. “I have to play three solo recital programs, one chamber music (program), and two concerti. I am practicing and playing for friends, teachers, and running it through in other concert venues.” Park has been studying with YSM faculty pianist Boris Berman.

Rachel Cheung

According to its website, the Van Cliburn Competition is widely recognized as “one of the world’s highest-visibility classical-music contests” and has been responsible for launching the careers of some of the world’s most prominent pianists. In addition to cash prizes, winners receive three years of career management, multiple concert engagements, and extensive media coverage. The competition is held every four years.

Park and Cheung have each participated in many competitions and agree that their respective preparation and practice routines have evolved with each one.

“I have done quite a number of competitions prior to the Cliburn,” Cheung said, “and I would say that each competition has given me something different but important to learn. I understand my strengths and weaknesses more clearly after each competition, and I know what to work on to improve.” While at YSM, Cheung studied with Peter Frankl.

“My first international competition was when I was 12,” Park said. “My preparation changed as the repertoire grew bigger. Now I practice in cycles of days to make sure I can cover all the repertoire I am playing. I try to eliminate any kind of distraction and really focus on practicing. I don’t know if there is a ‘strategy,’ just honest practicing, slowly, to process it in my brain, and most of all not getting sick or too stressed!”

Live performances from the competition will be broadcast on YouTube as well as in select movie theaters. Visit cliburn.org for more information. 

Published May 11, 2017
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Inside YSM: Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA, piano

Sun-A Park

Pianist Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA was recently selected to compete at the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, which is scheduled to take place in late May and early June in Fort Worth, Texas. Asked how studying with Boris Berman at YSM has prepared her for that opportunity, Sun-A said, “Professor Berman encouraged me to make the most musical decisions, provided insights into the repertoire I am performing, and stirred an intellectual curiosity within myself. I don’t know if he has prepared me just for this opportunity. He always believed in me and helped to maximized my abilities.” MORE

Published May 5, 2017
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