Sixteenth century European Catholics with sufficiently heavy purses could upgrade their rosary beads with Prayer Nuts, virtuoso boxwood carvings of astonishing detail. You can get lost in these things, and probably the more so back in the day when, some believe, they were infused with scent, mixing the visual with the olfactory. They've been known to hit the market, latterly in the low six figures. [more inside]
Ry Cooder and Corridos Famosos: Live "From this rich catalog, Cooder cherry-picked only a dozen songs to include on Live but they’re fairly representative of his eclectic oeuvre. His picks also feature plenty of his guitar playing, which will please fans who felt (as I sometimes did) that his recent albums were a bit stingy with his greatest asset. " "The shows also were a family affair. The Corridos Famosos include Ry’s son Joachim on drums, Joachim’s wife Juliet Commagere on vocals, and her brother Robert Francis on bass, as well as an old friend and collaborator, Flaco Jimenez, the Tejano accordionist who was at Cooder’s side when he played this venue 34 years earlier. Terry Evans, another veteran of the 1977 shows, handles backup vocals, along with Arnold McCuller, filling in for Cooder’s other longtime singing partner Bobby King." Don't miss the clip at the end of the review. [more inside]
Georges Cziffra warms up for the BBC, mixing improvisation with a bit of the first Chopin étude. [more inside]
People can't decide if he looks more like Tom Cruise or Keanu Reeves. But whoever he looks like, it's the way he sounds and what he can play that make Benoît Sauvé unique. [more inside]
Pocket music apps are letting composers and artists create music anywhere - and they're developing fast. [more inside]
"In a way I wish it did not require such a formidable technique, because I do not really enjoy sweating over this music." This is virtuoso pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin speaking of Charles-Valentin Alkan, the Romantic pianist said to have made even Liszt nervous, and whose exhilarating works fell into obscurity due to their rigorous technical demands. For a warm-up, here's Alkan's major etude "Allegro barbaro", as performed by Jack Gibbons. A machine recording of his piece Le Chemin de Fer in which you can see the keys being pressed. Recordings of Youtube exist of people attempting his near-impossible Scherzo focoso (and, for comparison, a mechanical rendition of the same). And for encore, here is Hamelin again playing Les Quatre Ages, frequently considered Alkan's most mature work, a sonata depicting the four ages of man.
Leopold Godowsky's technique was such that Arthur Rubinstein wrote, "It would take me 500 years to get a mechanism like [his]." Which came in handy playing his 53 Studies on Chopin's Etudes - which are often nominated as the most difficult pieces in the repertoire.
Winning the Gold Medal in Young International Piano Superstardom is Chinese pianist Lang Lang. The 26 year old former prodigy compares himself not to Glen Gould, but to Tiger Woods. Given his "star appeal" and numerous endorsements, it's an apt comparison. [more inside]
Sarasate Plays "Zigeunerweisen". A recording from 1904.
At fourteen years old, Jennifer Lin is a shade better on the piano than most eighth-graders. (video) [via]
What's the most difficult piano piece? Opinions vary. Is it La Campanella, written by Liszt to show off what only he could do? (performance, score) Is it Balakirev's Islamey, which even Balakirev struggled to play? (performance, score) Or Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit, written to top Islamey? (performance, score) Does Godowsky double his points by reconfiguring the already-difficult Chopin for the left hand? (performance) And if someone plays all four hours of Sorabji's Opus Clavicembalisticum, written across four staves to fit the extra notes, will anyone listen? (perfomance excerpts, score excerpts)