January 23, 2012

Grieg, the orchestrator

One of the marvels about Grieg's compositions is his use of a wide range of tonal colours. His genius in this regard shows itself not only in his orchestration techniques but also in the way he uses all the possibilities of the piano.

This past summer, I had the great fortune to attend the International Grieg Society's conference in Copenhagen.  Many wonderful presentations were given on various aspects of Grieg, with the main focus on Grieg's connections to Copenhagen.  Grieg spent a lot of time in Copenhagen, and like me, felt it to be somewhat of a second home.

One of the most illuminating presentations at the Copenhagen Conference 2011  for me was given by the Norwegian conductor Bjarte Engeset, on orchestration.  If you have any interest in learning more about Grieg as orchestrator, I urge you to download the pdf of his talk. As a pianist, I am always trying to hear more orchestrally and to emulate the timbres/colours of other instruments.  As mentioned in a previous post, some pianos are more up to this task than others.  In any case, Maestro Engeset's research has been hugely inspiring and helpful to me in further developing my understanding of Grieg's use of instrumental colours.

January 22, 2012

re-Post on Grieg's Transcriptions of his Own Songs

[re-posting this entry from April 2009, regarding Volume 2]:

The most recent work I've been doing regarding the edits has been on some of the beautiful pieces in Opus 41 & 52, with the somewhat awkwardly translated title, "Piano Pieces after His Own Songs".  Grieg, who of course is well known for his piano music, was a masterful composer of songs for voice and piano.  Of the 181 songs he wrote, Grieg himself chose twelve of his songs to transcribe for solo piano. They comprise the two volumes mentioned above, each volume with six pieces.  

These transcriptions are not widely known or performed by pianists, unlike the favourite Lyric PiecesBallade, Sonata, and Piano Concerto. I myself only happened upon them in rummaging through my mother's music cupboard.  My mother must have purchased the Vilhelm Hansen edition of Opus 41 #1-3 on one of our family vacations to Copenhagen, while browsing the famous Danish music shop.

My particular enjoyment of these pieces comes of course because of their beauty, but also because of the opportunity to combine the two dominant aspects of my career as pianist: as soloist and as accompanist to singers.  In these works, I am soloist, singer, and accompanist. Although the poetic texts are not articulated, I very clearly hear the words as I play the part of the singer.  As many of these pieces are somewhat virtuosic elaborations on their original song counterparts, I delight also in the opportunity to explore the sonorities of my instrument.

I suggest that pianists consider exploring this repertoire, as the opportunity to focus on the lyrical element and the aspect of letting phrases "breathe" as if sung is instructive in developing one's musicality and pianism.  At the same time, I would encourage singers to listen to these transcriptions in order to gain a new perspective on the songs: directly from the composer.  It is interesting to notice the subtle differences between a particular song and its corresponding transcription.  Quite often the piano transcription has been expanded or lengthened from the original, but there are also more subtle differences in terms of the placement of expression markings or tempo directions.

I also find it interesting to contemplate the possible reasons for Grieg's choices of songs to transcribe.  Some of his most famous songs (Solveig's Song, and Jeg elsker dig) were chosen, and placed next to some much lesser known songs (Jeg giver mit digt til Vaaren, and Kaerlighed).  I'd love to know what Grieg's choices were based on.  Were these songs simply among his favourites?

For this "Volume Two" CD, I have recorded four of the transcriptions; this in addition to five that are on my first CD means I just have three left to record...for "Volume Three"?  (Don't let me get ahead of myself here!)  I hope you enjoy them.  

[Indeed, I am now going ahead with the remaining 3 in Volume 3: Hun er saa hvid, Prinsessen, and Gamle mor. :) ]

January 21, 2012

The venue and the instrument

Volume One of this series of recordings was recorded at the Glenn Gould Studio in December 2006.  Volume Two was recorded in the sanctuary at St. James Anglican Church in Stratford, where I was Director of Music from 2007-2009.  While the 7' Yamaha piano at St. James is one of my favourite instruments and responds well for the subtleties and colourings of Grieg, and my producer Earl McCluskie was able to create the sonic ambience of a concert hall in that space, the logistical complications of disruption to the church community’s routines and the constant worries regarding traffic noise have led me to the decision to return to the Glenn Gould Studio for Volume Three. 

The primary factor in deciding on location for all three of these recordings is of course the quality of the instrument. The Steinway pianos at the Glenn Gould offer the kind of range of tone and colour that this music deserves.  The excellent care of the pianos there and the fact that the GGS has a tuner-technician on call for the duration of the project, as well as the sound-proof quality of the hall are also great advantages to using that space.  The piano that I used in 2006 is known as  “Bertha” & is a lovely, responsive 1986 Steinway ‘D’ and I assume this will be my choice again.  

Bertha, like many high quality instruments is extremely sensitive. I performed a recital on "her"/it a few years ago, and was shocked at how rough things were sounding and feeling when I arrived for a morning sound-check and short rehearsal.  When I asked what had happened to my beloved piano, I was told that there had been a boogie-woogie concert there the night before.  Bertha had taken on the character of that music and performer. Within half an hour of my playing that morning, Bertha started to sort herself out and settle into the piano I had remembered her to be.  I have had the same experience with the piano at St. James in Stratford.  I once called my tuner in a panic before a concert as the piano was very unresponsive, out-of-tune, and dull sounding. By the time he arrived, after I had played it for an hour or so, there was no longer any panic as the piano had returned to its usual glory. 

Instruments of this kind of quality are for me sheer bliss, and greatly expand the range of possibility and beauty.

January 20, 2012

Shaping the Program

I am quite excited about the shape this disc's program takes.  There is a definite sense of an overall arch. The first track starts gently and the music gradually intensifies towards the last third or so of the recording, culminating in a very beautiful piece that I stumbled upon with the fantastic title "I wander absorbed in Thoughts" (Jeg går i tusen tanker), which obviously is again quite introspective.  

My guiding principle in programming my recordings is perhaps somewhat unique.  I have a great passion for creating a progression or “flow” for the listener, very consciously choosing repertoire and the order of the repertoire so that the listener is taken on a journey from the beginning to the end of the disc.  Although the current prevalence of single downloaded tracks and the “shuffle” function is widespread, my listeners often express to me that they listen to my entire disc repeatedly.  I take this to mean that my focus on this aspect of the recording is not for nothing.

This third disc will again feature a mix of both well-known and rare pieces, programmed not in order of opus, but with a focus on how the listener will move from one piece to the next. This third disc will also offer a bit of completion to the other discs, in that if a listener is looking for a recording of a complete opus, this will now be possible to find within the “trilogy”: over the course of the three CDs, one can find the entire Opus 41 and Opus 52 (Grieg’s own transcriptions of 12 of his songs), as well as From Holberg’s Time (Opus 40), and the Lyric Pieces Opus 57 and Opus 62.

January 19, 2012

Why record another volume of Grieg piano music?

For the past several years, the music of Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg (1843-1907), has been a growing area of specialty for me as a pianist. Perhaps originating with a love for this composer that began in my childhood, and perhaps as well due to my Northern European heritage, I feel a deep connection to his music and this has been appreciated by my listeners.  To mark the centenary of Grieg’s death, I released my first solo CD in 2007.  The recording was very warmly received and was soon followed by a second volume, released in 2009.  At the time of the first CDs release, Grieg provided me with the vehicle to expand back into solo concertizing after years of focusing almost solely on collaborative playing.  My "dual-track" career as soloist and accompanist continues to develop and Grieg continues to be a part of this development. It seems that the more I get to know Grieg's music, the more my love for it grows!

Although much of Edvard Grieg’s repertoire is considered to be standard piano repertoire, there are not a great number of recordings available.  The most famous of the recordings are Emil Gilels’ recording from 1974 (with which my discs have been favourably compared) and Leif Ove Andsnes’ two discs from 1993 and 2002.  At this stage in my career, I feel that there would be an audience and a market for one more volume in my series of recordings of Grieg’s miniatures for piano.  I look forward to implementing what I learned in doing the first two recordings with even greater focus and efficiency in this third volume.

I am so grateful that my audience continues to be interested in this work. Please show your support by "pre-buying" your copy of volume 3.  Details are found here and you can use the "donate" button at the right of this page.  

January 18, 2012

Recording again!

Happy 2012! With the dawning of the new year I find myself finally ready to get on with life!

After having taken the past many months in a reflective and contemplative mode, I am now moving forward with some new creative projects. I am excited about completing my trilogy of Grieg piano music and will be recording the 3rd volume at the Glenn Gould Studio on February 9, 10, & 11. Again I turn to my community of supporters to help fund the project through pre-buying the CD. As you probably know, a recording such as this costs between $10,000 and $15,000 to produce.


• For a $20.00 donation, you will receive an autographed copy of Volume 3 as soon as it is released. 
• For a $35.00 donation, you will receive an autographed copy of Volume 3 as soon as it is released & a copy
of Volume 2. 
• For a $75.00 donation you will receive the above & your name will be printed in the liner notes of Volume 3.

Please contact me to find out about private concerts & hosting house concerts as micro-funding initiatives.

Donations can be made in several ways:
1. Cheque made out & mailed to Sandra Mogensen (please email me for mailing address)
2. Email payment to mogenpianist"at"gmail.com 
3. Use PayPal by clicking on the "Donate" button at the right of this webpage.

MANY THANKS! I look forward to sharing this music with you!