On September 21 I’m conducting the Grieg Piano Concerto with my longtime friend and collaborator, Jeffrey Biegel as soloist.
I really love this piece and remember its main themes being featured in an early piano book I studied as a young piano student. I played that easy piano arrangement on the very first performance I ever did when I was 10 in an elementary school talent show. I thought it would be fun to pose Jeffrey, who of course plays the real piece, some questions about Grieg and the piano concerto. Here’s what came out…

KR: When I say the name Grieg, what comes to mind?
JB: The majesty of Norwegian fjords, mountains, warmth and beauty. He was, for me the “Chopin of the North” with his beautiful melodies and heartfelt harmonic language.

KR: Let’s talk about the piano concerto. When did you first play it?
JB: I learned the Grieg Concerto during the same summer when I learned the Schumann Concerto, age 14.
Had you heard it before? I had heard it in the movie, “Song of Norway”.

KR: Was it a known quantity to you?
JB: I knew the legendary recording of Artur Rubinstein, and loved the piece my entire life.

KR: It’s pretty famous. I think, like many things, it might have been more of a household name 40 years ago, than today…what do you think? JB: It was perhaps, the most popular piano concerto for the masses, along with the Rachmaninov 2nd and Tschaikovsky 1st. It was also a household name during a time when there were many recording companies churning out records by many artists, which is cost prohibitive these days.

KR: Just to put it in perspective, at the time, was it way harder than the other pieces you were playing then?
JB: It was not any more difficult or easier than the Mendelssohn 1, or Schumann and Liszt 1.

KR: Have you played it many times relative to the other most popular Piano Concertos like Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff?
JB: I play it equally as the others, depending on whether or not the orchestra is due for another playing of it.

KR: How does it change for you playing this absolute top favorite of the repertoire now, vs. when you first played it? Do you appreciate it in a different way?
JB: The changing moment for me with this concerto happened during the early 1990s when I was allowed to play Grieg’s own piano in his home, Troldhaugen, in Bergen. As I played the first movement, looking at his wife, Nina’s shawl draped over the piano, and the furniture in the living room as it was during his lifetime, something incredible happened. I felt as though something to0ok over for me and, perhaps, Mr. Grieg’s spirit hovered throughout the residence. I didn’t feel as though I was playing 100%. It was a very special moment.

KR: You play a lot of brand new works as well as a lot of traditional concertos. What is the biggest difference in the preparation? What do you notice is different about the learning or-relearning process? the performing experience?
JB: In some ways, playing new works can be easier in that nobody has a sense of the piece from earlier hearings. I learn the new works just the same as I did with standard works. But in the new works, I have to set the standard of performance, because nobody else has ever played them. With standard works, especially as young students, we were very easily influenced by many recordings, but in the end, I did whatever came naturally to me as an artist. I have learned in the re-learning process to allow the melodies to sing naturally, and not to play the last movement so quickly. There is a wonderful rhythmic buoyancy to it.

KR: Do you/have you played any other Grieg?
JB: I have played many of the Lyric Pieces, the Ballade in g minor and Sonata for Violin and Piano in G. I love and adore his music, and it is always a very special pleasure to play the Piano Concerto.

Traverse Symphony Orchestra September 21, 2014
Wagner Overture to The Flying Dutchman
Grieg Piano Concerto – Jeffrey Biegel piano
Sibelius – Symphony No. 5

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