Topics - Critics etc.

From The Daily Telegraph...................

..............on 21st July 2009:

Author, Michael White.

Something’s happening with British children and pianos, and it isn’t good: a dismal falling-out that surfaces a few years down the line with their poor showing - worse still, no showing at all - in significant piano competitions.

We can’t even produce vulgar showmen like Lang Lang

There was a time when half the households in the UK had an upright in the sitting-room, even the working-class ones. I grew up in East Ham (next to West Ham where the football team is) and we had a piano. So did several of our neighbours, and they played them: on a hot day in the summer with the windows open, Burges Rd E6 could sound like Charles Ives jamming crazily with Conlon Nancarrow.

A hundred yards along the street and round the corner where my wily, whiskery, lazy old piano teacher lived (”keep at those scales, dear, I can hear you from the kitchen… leave your money on the table when you go”‘) the thunderous crescendo of East London keyboard culture must have been intense.

Not any more, though. Walk the back streets of East London these days and you won’t hear a piano. Screaming babies, bangla music, rap, the vacuous din of daytime TV, yes. Pianos, no. And the result - magnified a few hundred times to reflect what’s happening across the country - is a damning piece of non-news about to be released by the London International Piano Competition, which starts on the 18th of this month and reaches its grand final at the Festival Hall on Tuesday 28th.

The LIPC (London) isn’t the number one piano competition in Britain - that’s the Leeds - but it’s the number two. And you could fairly read it as a indicator of the keyboard health, or otherwise, of those parts of the world that take an interest: Europe certainly, Asia increasingly, America to some extent. The prizes don’t amount to Croesan wealth in cash terms; but there’s the prestige, the public exposure of playing a concerto with the London Philharmonic at the RFH. And winners get a raft of almost guaranted engagements, which is no small thing. This kind of competition launches big careers.

But look at the list of candidates who’ve made it beyond the preminary sorting-out rounds of the LIPC to what you might call the demi-semi-finals, and you find something truly shocking. Of the 24 perhaps-stars who’ve reached this point there are, as you’d expect, contestants from Russia, Korea, Israel, China, Belgium, the USA, Italy etc etc. But is there one British contestant? One home-produced player good enough to have passed through the preliminaries? Just one?

Not a single one.

What’s happening in this country if we can’t produce a single pianist good or interested enough to reach the demi-semi-finals of the leading London piano competition? Something has gone seriously wrong here.

It’s ironic that the Chinese pianist Lang Lang is in residency this month at the Barbican. You may not like his vulgar, self-indulgent playing - me, I hate it - but you can’t deny he has charisma (of a brutally commercial kind); and back in China he’s the role model for literally millions upon millions of young players. Every second child in China seems to want to learn the piano. And I’ve seen this for myself.

In Beijing there are teaching factories where six or seven hundred infant pianists pile in every Saturday and bash away at six or seven hundred pianos in sound-proofed cubicles. They do it with a grim determination that’s not terribly attractive to a Western liberal sensibility, and I don’t say that the process turns them all into great artists. But it does provide a grounding from which armies of extremely promising young Chinese pianists are emerging.

Meanwhile, here in Britain, we have nothing to compare. You don’t believe me? Count the heads of British pianists as against their foreign counterparts in UK music colleges. And check out LIPC later in the month. If you can bear the shame.



And what I think of that (Bill R):

Here we go again, bash the giants, same old same old.
I wonder if Lang Lang and Michael White were to each give a recital at the Royal Albert Hall, which one would sell out first.
I was at the Prom in 2008 where Lang Lang played to a packed house. His previous recital there in April sold out in hours, which is why I missed out.

It's always been the same here, if you can't beat 'em, then beat 'em up. The problem with concert pianism is that it's always had a stuffy old image and the stuffy old, wish to keep it as such. Woe betide anyone who tries to bring some youthful joy into the profession. Woe betide anyone who doesn't wear tails and a dickie bow when giving a performance. Such a performer will definitely be 'vulgar'.

I'm not in there, I loved Lang Lang's performance as did the thousands others who attended. It's good to see new 'blood' in the 'sport'. I had a lot of admiration for Benjamin Grosvenor who performed a concerto in the final of the BBC Young Musician of the Year contest. There he was, 11 years old playing a huge Bosendorfer 290  in front of a large crowd, dressed in tee shirt, jeans and scruffy shoes. Good on him.

I wonder if Michael White is aware that Lang Lang is more popular in China than the Beatles were in the whole of Europe and America combined in their hey day. This answers Michael White's question, why there are no children learning piano in Britain. They're not interested. The Chinese have an idol, which is why 30 - 40 million kids want to play western classical music on the piano, instead of hip hop and R&B in night clubs amid drinking binges.

Yes, go on Michael, we have a lot to learn from the Chinese where culture, standards of behavior and respect are concerned, but you go ahead, bash them, call them vulgar for it. Much better to do it the British way, and keep classical piano for the tiny minority of stuffy old fuddy duddies.

One final note - In September 2009, I bought a ticket (most expensive in the house) for Lang Lang's next recital in the Royal Albert Hall. It was on May the 15th 2010. I dithered one time before, only for a few hours mind, but I missed out because they were all sold by the time I'd made a decision, so so I thought, this time, I'm not hanging around. It gets better - in September 2010, I bought my next ticket for a Lang Lang concert. It takes place in March 2012. How's that for a record?


Rant continued - 10th October 2009

It's true though, there aren't many British piano virtuosi in Britain today. Maybe it's a sign of declining intellect levels. I once heard a report that a team of investigators from America had done an intelligence test on people samples from all ethnicities. What they found was this: the most intelligent people on earth are from South East Asia, closely followed by those from Northern Europe (hence white Americans too). In third place were the Hispanics and last came those of African origin. 


I sometimes wonder if the whites in Britain are worthy of second place. We can reasonable assess a person’s intellect by observing what entertainment appeals to him/her, maybe even what newspaper he/she reads.


By far, the best selling newspapers in Britain are the tabloids; they demand almost nothing from our brain boxes. They’re usually packed with stories that are made into horror stories, simply by editing out certain issues. This careful editing fortifies the shock element that leads to anger of the low intellect groups who buy and enjoy reading this stuff. Why do people enjoy being made angry so much that they’ll go our and pay for the muck that makes them so?


The most popular TV programmes are reality programmes such as Big Brother and I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here, plus soap operas. Snobs will watch these too, but they won’t tell anyone, they’ll just say, “But off course, we only watch documentaries you know.”


As for music, well Britain’s young people want stuff known as Rap, Hip Hop, Drum and Bass etc. The Top 40 stuff such as Pink, Pixie Lot, Kelly Clarkson, Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen (a looker, but no talent).


What does Britain have as child prodigies? Not millions of advanced classical pianists like China, America and Canada do, no, it has the likes of Hollie Steele who pretended to cry her eyes out (she forgot to shed real tears) and stamped her feet as she threw a tantrum in front of 15 million people on live TV. Ok, she’s ten years old, but so are the children who don’t do that. I doubt whether the little girls on this website who play piano will ever resort to such behavior.

In 2004, we had 11-year-old classical pianist Benjamin Grosvenor, from Westcliffe-on-Sea in Essex, who won the keyboard section final at the BBC Young Musician of the Year, then went on to better things. He released an album called Ben At Ten. Now that he’s old enough, I was hoping to see him at the Leeds Piano Competition in 2009, it would have been great to have a young Brit on the line up.  Actually, I’m not sure what the minimum age is; I know the maximum is 30.

But anyway, it seems that Benji is all this country has to offer in a population of 60 million. Not a good effort in comparison to China with 40 million children learning classical piano, out of a population of 1,200 million people.


End of rant!!

Bill Ross