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The most remarkable career of George Li (黎卓宇)

GeorgeLiAnd what a career it has been for this 15 year old pianist!

George Li began winning competitions at age 6 and he made is first public performance at Boston Steinway Hall at the age of nine.

One of his biggest achievements came in 2010 when he performed Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1 with the Cleveland Orchestra, which garnered him the first prize in the Cooper International Piano Competition. The package included an astonishing full scholarship for four years to attend the Oberlin Convervatory of Music, as well as concerto performances in Beijing and Shanghai, China.

In addition to performing with the Cleveland Orchestra and conductor Jahja Ling, George Li has performed with orchestras from around the world: Xiamen Philharmonic (China; Tao Lin conductor), Symphony Pro Musica (Mark Churchill conductor), Simon Bolivar Youth Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela (Venezuela; Sarah Ioannides conductor), Boston Philharmonic Orchestra (Benjamin Zander, conductor), Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra (Arkady Leytush conductor), Miami Symphony Orchestra (Eduardo Marturet conductor), Princeton Symphony Orchestra (Benjamin Zander, conductor), Albany Symphony Orchestra (David Alan Miller conductor), Lexington Symphony Orchestra (Jonathan McPhee), and Orchestra “I Solisti di Perugia” (Spoleto, Italy).

Another interesting achievement was an appearance on television with Martha Stewart… at the age of 11!. You can watch the segment here.

Every great pianist performs at Carnegie Hall and George is no exception. Here is a clip from Live at Carnegie Hall of George performing Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 11.

Visit George Li’s website and Vancouver Recital Society for more information. To reserve your tickets to George Li’s December 4 performance please call the VRS box office at 604-602-0363. Tickets also available through (service fees apply).

Getting to Know: Juho Pohjonen

“I receive something valuable through music – and I hope that each listener will feel that they have too.”

On his music education:Pohjonen email
“I started to play violin in a children’s music school at the age of two-and-a-half. My brother – now also a professional pianist and a composer – was already studying piano at the Sibelius Academy, so it was a natural decision for me to play an instrument as well. When I was four, I began to study piano at the suggestion of the piano teacher in the music school.”

“I played violin for several years before I realized I would never become a violinist, the physics of it. I don’t have the flexibility for it. But piano — I have never had any trouble acquiring the techniques.”

On his major professional debut at Carnegie Hall in 2004:
“There was a cancellation at Carnegie Hall. Another Finnish pianist was going to play there, but he had to cancel because he got another concert. So I went there and got a very good tribute from the New York Times.”

“Andràs Schiff has always been one of my favourite pianists, so I was delighted to become acquainted with him at a masterclass he gave at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki in 2003. Since then he has invited me to his courses elsewhere in Europe, such as in Lucerne and Schwarzenberg, and I’ve also had some private lessons with him. Salonen’s music became familiar to me when I was 16 years old; I selected his piece Yta II for a national piano competition in Finland, where I was awarded a special prize for the best performance of a contemporary Finnish work. However, I didn’t get to know Salonen personally until 2004 – and it was Mr. Schiff who introduced me to him. Schiff found out that I was about to perform all Salonen’s piano works at my debut recital in New York, and he thought I should first play them to the composer. Naturally, I was excited to have a chance to meet the composer of music I had studied for nearly 10 years. Eventually, I played the pieces to him, and he liked the performance — so much so that he later brought his manager to my recital in Helsinki, and that is how I came to be with the Van Walsum agency.”

“Praise is always nice, but usually I listen to other musicians instead of critics — I can get much better feedback.”

On performing:
“Of course, every public performance has the potential to be a key moment – at least that’s how I treat it – but many key moments happen off-stage, such as inner discoveries related to piano playing: my ambitions relate above all to my development as a musician and as an individual. I receive something valuable through music – and I hope that each listener will feel that they have too.”

On Finland:
“I really like the nature in Finland and the landscape, and I guess that reflects in my playing. I think that we have a very unique culture, which is not really European and it’s not Russian or anything else. It’s very unique.”
“Geographic isolation has preserved many unique features of our culture, and this enables us to look at Western art from an original viewpoint and create something new from it.”

(Sources: Kalamazoo Gazette,

Getting to Know: Simon Keenlyside

“I am a story teller, I am a narrator.”

“I spend my entire working life dealing only with beauty; I rarely sing with a piece of music in front of me, so all of these beautiful songs are committed to memory.”

Performing opera does not come without its risks: injuring his back in one performance, Keenlyside was prevented from appearing in Chicago and San Francisco opera productions of Iphigénie en Tauride. An earlier injury was sustained when, as a young singer in Turandot, he fell of a ramp into a pit with a mask on, “smashing myself to pieces.” Keenlyside’s debut in Eugene Onegin was delayed after mangling his hand due to a fall through a trap door.

Keenlyside explains, “All singers get hurt. The backstage area is deadly, full of cables and sharp things. I’ve never hurt myself doing stunts. As you come out of the light into the wings, there’s the danger. But also, if you’re any sort of a stage animal, this is a contact sport. It happens to everyone. It’s a bit of a circus job.”

Some interesting Keenlyside clips:
Renee Fleming interviews Simon Keenlyside backstage at the Met.

Bill Richardson interviews Keenlyside for Saturday Afternoon at the Opera.

Critical praise: The BBC Music Magazine has described Keenlyside as “the greatest lyric baritone of our time, indeed one of the greatest of any time. He submerges his personality in the roles he portrays, and does it with virtually unique insight and completeness. Everything is built, however, on superb breath control and a remarkable capacity for colouring the voice, combined with flawless legato, the principles underlying all great singing.”


Getting to Know: Maxim Rysanov

“If they say the violin is a human voice, I would say the viola is the voice of the soul.”

Discovery: “I studied at the boarding school, and there was a viola player in the next room. Its vibrations touched me deeply when I played it. That was how I realized that I can play this instrument.”

Repertoire: “[There is] a huge gap in the Romantic period. Since I’m a romantic character, I would miss this repertoire, and so I make all sorts of arrangements – for example, Tchaikovsky’s Rococo variations, which I arranged for viola and performed at the Proms in London; and there is an arrangement by Sitkovskaya of the Cello Concerto by Saint-Saëns, or [Cesar] Franck’s sonata, to name a few.”

On the highly competitive world of music: “Once you lose your quality, there are many young boys and girls who would gladly take your place. At the same time, I believe there is a place for everybody. If the player is good enough for an international scene, we don’t need to push each other in and out. A top-class, world maestro like Rostropovitch felt to his last day that he had to prove to everybody that he was No. 1. I think a musician cannot survive without an ego – yet, that said, I’m concerned that my ego should not become larger than the world itself.”

Maxim Rysanov performs at West Vancouver’s Kay Meek Centre on Sunday, October 16 at 3:00pm. His repertoire includes Bach’s Suite no. 2 in D minor, Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, and Franck’s Sonata in A major.

Call Cory at the Vancouver Recital Socity to book tickets: 604-602-0363.


A Passing Thought

GiltburgOur 32nd season opened this past Sunday with the Russian-born, Israeli-based pianist Boris Giltburg. He may be young (27 years), and he may not be a household name, but he left no doubt he is an artist to watch.

The buzz in the lobby at intermission was great: one woman described to me his ‘magic fingers’ and the beauty of the tone Boris summoned from the piano. No bashing here.

Boris’s program avoided the crowd-pleasing, bravura works that are often the mainstay of the recital stage, but his repertoire of Prokofiev, Bartok, Franck and Liszt still would have tested the mettle of any pianist. For me, what really set his playing apart were the breathtaking, gossamer pianissimos (if you attended the performance, think of the slow movement of the Prokofiev Sonata). Anyone who has played an instrument knows, it is one thing to make a loud sound, it is entirely different to produce the quietest tones and still have your instrument ‘speak’ with clarion tones.

Boris was charming and gracious in the question-and-answer session that followed his performance. It made the afternoon all that more special to have a glimpse into Boris’s life as a touring musician and his insight into his artistic choices.

Thank you Boris – it was a great way to begin the season!

We would love to hear what you have to say about our opening recital. You can leave your comments here.

Paul Gravett
Executive Director

PS  Boris graced us with two encores: the Rachmaninoff arrangement of Kreisler’s Liebesleid, and the Prelude in C sharp minor, again by Rachmaninoff.

Getting to know: JSQ

jerusalemstring-quartethome_photoIn the beginning… first violinist and founding member Alexander Pavlovsky explains: “We have started to play together at 1994, and our average age then, was 16. That is a very unusual age to start playing in a string quartet. We grew up together, spending about six months together since the very beginning.

I believe all this gave us a big advantage in a very special sound blend. Musically, we can do many interesting and spontaneous things without really spending a lot of time and discussing them. When I listen to our recordings, many times I feel that we are very close to the golden balance between an ensemble unity and the very personal playing of each member.”

Controversy: the JSQ has been the focus on protests and political attacks for its alleged connection to the government of Jerusalem. “The protests that happened were based on a wrong assumption,” says Pavlovsky, “that we are presented, employed or supported by the Israeli government. That is categorically untrue.”

He continues, “As musicians, our commitment is to performing the music at the highest level possible, not to make political statements. We don’t see ourselves as qualified to do that. The protests have not changed that and have not pushed us into getting involved as a group.”

Introducing: a few words from the JSQ press release (February, 2011) announcing the appointment of violist Ori Kam: The Jerusalem String Quartet is delighted to announce, that after period of searching for Amihai Grosz’s successor we have now arrived at the decision to appoint Ori Kam as the new violist of the ensemble.The JSQ had a long personal and professional relationship with Ori Kam dating to the early days of its career. Having performed concerts with him both in the US and Europe last autumn, we are happy to welcome him as permanent member of the quartet.


Lasting Impressions: Jerusalem String Quartet

JerusalemStringLeila’s great story about the Jerusalem String Quartet’s first visit to Vancouver inspired to ask you for your stories.

Since their memorable debut, they have returned to Vancouver several times, most notably for a week in 2006 when they performed the complete string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich, and more recently with clarinetist Martin Fröst in the 2008/09 season. The Quartet returns to the Chan Centre (with a new member!) on Sunday, October 2.

We would like to know what is your lasting memory of the Jerusalem String Quartet? Perhaps it comes from one of the VRS presentations, or from a performance in another city, or perhaps you are especially found of one of their recordings.

Tell us about your lasting memory of the Jerusalem String Quartet.

Getting to Know: Boris Giltburg

“The best about being the musician is that you get to experience that magical atmosphere…. created between the music, you and the audience…” Boris Giltburg

  • Who: 26-year-old Russian residing in Israel
  • First teacher: mother
  • Debut: age seven
  • Hobbies: languages and computer programming
  • Biggest inspiration: “classical music in its entirety – I learn and experience a lot by listening to the huge amount of works that exist in musical literature…”
  • Listening to: “I’m a heavy classical music fan – late Shostakovich Quartets, that type of thing. I like also opera and baroque music and of course jazz, which I unfortunately cannot play.”
  • Boris’s Facebook ‘likes’: Rainer Maria Rilke, Artur Rubenstein, Sviatoslav Richter, Grigory Sokolov (some of whom he counts among his inspirations).
  • Boris Giltburg makes his Vancouver debut at the Vancouver Playhouse on Sunday, September 25.

Call the Vancouver Recital Society box office this week to reserve your tickets and you will receive a special 15% discount: 604-602-0363.

(sources:, Facebook,

A dedication to die over!

When Javier Perianes dedicated his first encore to me (Chopin Nocturne in c sharp minor, Op. 20) at the Vancouver Playhouse I was rendered speechless for at least 20 minutes. What an extraordinarily wonderful thing to have happened.

There’s actually a story behind Perianes and that Nocturne.  This goes back about three years.  I had been dealing with a London Management to book a date for the young Finnish pianist, Juho Pohjonen (on the recommendation of Andras Schiff).  The particular manager with whom I was making the arrangements sent me an email telling me that he had just added another pianist to his roster and he thought that I would really like his playing.  He asked “shall I send you a CD?”….to which I replied “no, not yet, as my season is already fully booked”.  “Wait a couple of months” I said.  He then sent me an email by return which said “oops, I already put it in the mail”.

Of course, I didn’t have the willpower not to open it when it arrived and I put it on.  The Nocturne was the first piece on the CD, and it caused a major stir in the office.  Next thing, before even listening to the rest of the CD, I was frantically trying to fit him in the series for the following year.  I can’t remember displacing anyone, so maybe we just added another concert.  Oh, and because all the literature on the CD was in Spanish I went over to CBC where Gloria Macarenko translated for me.

So now Javier has appeared twice, and hopefully before long, we’ll have him back.

See what you have to do to get a return engagement with the VRS?

Murray Perahia has some wild fans!

A few weeks ago, I was sitting at YVR waiting for a flight to Seattle – Frankfurt – Johannesburg – Cape Town for a reunion with my friends from the College of Music in Cape Town.  My husband recently won an iPod Touch which I quickly appropriated, so now I have finally joined the iPod world, and I’m loving it.  In any case, there I was at the airport listening to Mozart, having downloaded Murray Perahia’s complete recording of the concerti, and I was reminded of an incident on a trip to South Africa about 18 years ago involving Murray Perahia.  Books and CDs cost an absolute fortune in South Africa, so I usually travel with CDs to give friends.  I, and my then-teenage daughter, Sara, were driving from Cape Town to Hermanus (a coastal town about 80 miles from Cape Town) to spend a week with some friends.

The route winds over a very beautiful mountain pass with a lookout at the top.  We parked the car and locked the doors…but forgot to close the rear window.  There are signs all over the place warning of baboons and to keep car windows closed and food out of sight, but we hadn’t noticed that we had left the window open.  So there we were, a few yards away from the car with our cameras in hand, when, all of a sudden a baboon entered the car through the open rear window.  I watched in horror as it rummaged through my handbag which I had left in the back seat.  Out came my wallet.  He tasted it and threw it out of the window.  Next, the passport, which couldn’t have tasted very nice either because it soon followed the wallet (thanks heavens!).  I stood shrieking, much to my daughter’s embarrassment and drew a crowd of onlookers.  Next, the baboon, getting fed up with the fact that he couldn’t find anything edible, seized a Murray Perahia CD, climbed out of the window and ran around the parking lot with it in his hands.  I followed, shouting “oh what a publicity shot!”   The baboon disappeared into the bushes and I’m sure that generations of baboons in the area of Sir Lowry’s pass have grown up listening to Mozart.  My friends in Hermanus never got their gift.

And whilst on the subject of Murray Perahia, it is he who introduced me to YouTube on his last visit to Vancouver. He wanted me to see Dudley Moore doing an imitation of Peter Pears singing Benjamin Britten songs (if you haven’t seen it you really should check it out…you’ll find it under Benjamin Britten).  I have to confess that after that introduction, I spent hours glued to my computer exploring the great musicians of the past and present on YouTube.  And now I’ve even found another weakness of mine, Tony Hancock!