30 Apr 2018

Talking Story with French Pianist Philippe Bianconi

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Love and romance is in the air on Mother’s Day as the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra presents German Treasures, a romantic program showcasing the works of Mozart, Schumann, Brahms and Wagner.

Maestro Naoto Otomo returns to conduct the orchestra once again and this time he’s joined by French piano sensation Philippe Bianconi, who will perform Schumann’s Piano Concerto. And we are thrilled to have Bianconi join us in Hawaii for his debut with the HSO on Sunday, May 13. Click here to purchase tickets.

Since winning at the Van Cliburn International Competition in the 1980s, Philippe Bianconi has been leading an international career, pursuing his musical itinerary and patiently carving out his path far from the media hype. He’s been described as an artist whose playing is “always close to the soul of the music, filling the space with poetry and life” (Washington Post). After winning the Silver Medal in the Seventh Van Cliburn International Competition, Bianconi made an acclaimed recital debut at Carnegie Hall in 1987 and since then, has enthralled audiences and critics throughout the world.

We had the pleasure of talking story with Bianconi – about music, mentors, life and the importance of reaching younger audiences.

HSO: How did you become involved in music?

PB: My parents were not musicians, but they were passionate lovers of classical music, and they had a very nice record collection. They used to play those records all the time, and from the time I was a baby I heard music in the house. All this music was just very natural to me, and when I turned seven, I told my parents I wanted to play the piano. They were thrilled!


HSO: Where did you study?

PB: I studied at the Conservatoire de Nice in France, my hometown. I received all my musical education there.


HSO: Getting started in music, who were your role models and influencers?

PB: I had the privilege to study in Nice with Madame Delbert-Février. She had been a student of Marguerite Long and Robert Casadesus. She was not really famous, but she was a fabulous teacher. She taught me how to play the piano technically, but more importantly, she taught me everything about musicality, such as phrasing, sound, style and how to reach out to the audience. I was very shy as a young boy and she helped me open up and express more intensely all the emotions conveyed by the music.

Among the great recordings I heard as a child, I think Dinu Lipatti, Arthur Rubinstein, Wilhelm Kempff were certainly a major influence.


HSO: Where is home for you? And how much time do you spend during the year on the road traveling and perfomring?

PB: I was born and raised in Nice, in the South of France, but I’ve been living in Paris for over 30 years now. It’s a beautiful city and I deeply love Paris, but like every big cities it has its downsides, crowd, noise, pollution – so it’s nice to get away, too. I spend about four to five months every year traveling and performing, and I couldn’t dream of a more fantastic getaway than Hawaii!!


HSO: What upcoming performances/projects do you have planned for 2018 and 2019?

PB: This summer I’m playing numerous recitals and chamber music programs in several music festivals in France. I will play at lot of French music, especially Debussy (this year we are commemorating the hundredth anniversary of his death), and a cycle of Schumann solo works in four recitals.

One of my most exciting projects for next season will be the two Brahms Concertos with the Monte Carlo Philharmonic and Michal Nesterowicz, a wonderful polish conductor, during the Festival du Printemps des Arts in Monaco. We will perform and record the concertos live for release with the festival label.


HSO: You are performing Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. What are your thoughts and feelings about this piece?

PB: The Schumann Concerto was the first concerto I learned and I performed it with the orchestra in Nice when I was 15. It was such an exhilarating experience to play with a symphony orchestra for the first time, and every time I perform this concerto again, I recall the same excitement and emotion I felt so many years ago as a teenager.

The Schumann Concerto is such a romantic piece! To me it represents the essence of romanticism with its passion, its dark moments, its dramatic cadenza at the end of the first movement, its ecstatic second movement, and the excitement and enthusiasm of the finale.


HSO: What is your favorite performance piece, and why?

PB: Oh my goodness, it is absolutely impossible to answer this question! The piano repertoire is filled with masterpieces and I wouldn’t be able to choose one piece. The Schumann Concerto, the two Brahms Piano Concertos, the Debussy Preludes, Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit, and the Chopin Ballades are just a few of my favorite pieces to perform.


Philippe Bianconi is an extraordinary exhibition of musicianship, technical control and good taste which lent the music a freshness, immediacy and conviction one all too seldom encounters.” The London Times

HSO: A challenge many symphony orchestras are facing today is engaging younger listeners. How do you feel we can reach younger audiences with classical music, and encourage them to attend recitals and symphony performances?

PB: This a big challenge! I have had the opportunity to do educational events in grade schools and it’s a great way to reach younger audiences. It’s important to show them that classical music is for everybody, not just for the elite. This style of music is not boring, it’s exciting. It’s about passion, emotion, and sometimes it can even be fun!


HSO: You’ve had a very distinguished career. What items are on your bucket list?

PB: The piano repertoire is so huge, a lifetime is not enough to explore even a small part of it! I’m ashamed to admit there are some Beethoven Sonatas I haven’t played yet, as well as some 20th century repertoire (Bartok, Messiaen) and even with my beloved Schumann. So there is a lot on my bucket, and many exciting things to look forward to in the near and more distant future!


HSO: Outside of the piano and performing, how do you enjoy spending your time?

PB: When I’m not playing music, I love going to the movies, the theater, the opera, and visiting museums and art exhibits. I also read a lot in airplanes and hotel rooms when I’m traveling. I love the mountains, so when I can get away from Paris I enjoy hiking very much. I also enjoy swimming, but not swimming pools, so I have to wait for the summer and go to the ocean. When I’m in Hawaii, I hope I can find and hour or two to go swimming! ”

Tickets for German Treasures, our Mother’s Day performance, are on sale now and range from $34 to $92. For more information, call the Hawai‘i Symphony Orchestra Box Office (808) 94-MUSIC (946-8742) from Monday to Friday from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.