Cyprien Katsaris is a world famed pianist and teacher all too little known in UK, with whom I was privileged to spend an early morning half-hour between his arrival from Paris on Eurostar and departure to give a recital tonight at Caernarfon during a strenuous touring schedule [see below R].
Katsaris is, sadly for us and inexplicably so, little remembered in UK, although in the '70s & '80s he did appear in London at South Bank Centre playing Brahms 2; the Emperor Concerto with Simon Rattle & the City of Birmingham Orchestra; he contributed to Lina Lalandi's prestigious English Bach Festival (taking part in Stravinsky's Les Noces); played Mahler's original piano version of Das Lied von der Erde with Thomas Moser and the great Briggite Fassbaender at Wigmore Hall in the early '90s, which they recorded for Teldec: Cyprien Katsaris does an extraordinary job, from the first, long reverberating bass note to the great interlude where he seeks out every breath, pulse and vibration within the piano to realize Mahler's imaginative landscape [Gramophone].
But somehow Cyprien Katsaris never got into the main London concert schedules, having been turned down by major concert agents such as Harrison Parrott etc.
Since those isolated appearances Cyprien has not been back to UK until tonight's charitable recital at Caernafon, one which was thought there to be his UK debut, and billed thus understandably...
Cyprien Katsaris is giving his services gratis, before returning to Paris tomorrow, then straightaway undertaking complicated flights to Lugano, Tokyo, Vienna and Moscow in rapid succession...
Regrettably it was too far for us to go to cover the recital as requested, but I hope to receive a report of this special event.
The receipt of a quite remarkable DVD of South American music, filmed live at a concert in Shanghai, prompted me towards making a special effort to explore more fully Cyprien Katsaris' recorded legacy, which is growing steadily under his personal control in a rare and admirable project, Piano21 (the 21 signifying our 21st Century).
Following a fortnight immersed in his recordings, many of them live and exploring unique repertoires and juxtapositions, I determined to try arrange to meet Cyprien as he passed through London, and was assisted in achieving this by his P.A. in Paris.
His story is salutary; around the time of those UK appearances in his younger days, strenuous efforts to acquire a British concert agent for him failed, an indication that concert promoters, including the BBC, were already slanting their commercial reliance towards young pianists, with whom they tend to fill their schedules.
Now in his artistic and pianistic prime at 60, Katsaris finds himself "on the shelf" in UK.
He appreciates that there are huge numbers of brilliant young pianists emerging and competing for exposure, the problem increasing exponentially with many arriving from the far East. His teaching experience makes him well aware that the profession is increasingly a hard one in which to thrive. A successful career may elude excellent musicians, so Cyprien makes a point to encourage all aspiring young pianists to consider developing alternative careers outside music, as insurance against that serious risk.
Katsaris told me how he became immediately hooked on the piano which was delivered to his home when he was 3. His parents wisely did not interfere with his persistent and sometimes noisy explorations which, at a very young age led towards his exceptional keyboard facility coupled with extraordinary memory development.
He plays almost always entirely without music before him (which is a help to film cameramen !). He quickly developed a phenomenal photographic plus tactile memory - supplemented, he stressed, with long and patient assimilation of new scores before presenting them to the public.
The Shanghai concert already reviewed (in which Cyprien Katsaris on the DVD contributes introductions in twelve languages) is a good example of his exceptional abilities. The full programme consists of a wide variety of shorter pieces by many Latin American composers who one would not expect to be featured in his repertoire (or that of any other European-based pianists). Each piece is presented with charm and spontaneity to growing acclamation by the mainly student audience.
Of his many recordings that I have relished from Cyprien's voluminous and very personalised catalogue, I would mention the following examples:
DVDs: Shanghai - Latin American Music P21 035-N
Chopin in Memoriam 17 October 1999 P21 012N
CDs: Schubertiade 1993 P21 042-A
Mozart concertos Vol 7 P21 039-N
Grieg Concerto + Lyric Pieces P21 028-A
Chopin - 4 versions of Concerto No 2 P21 038
Beethoven/Liszt Symphonies Teldec 2564 60865-2
Mahler Song of the earth [Teldec 246 276-4]
And there is also extensive coverage on YouTube, including Masterclasses in Shanghai (one with a gifted young Japanese girl being taught in English) and at the Liszt House in Weimar, where Cyprien was the first pianist ever to give master classes.
Recalling the many pianists one has heard over the years, it would be a real loss that such an outstanding musician and communicator should continue to be virtually ignored in what he recognises as one of the world's most important musical centres.
Peter Grahame Woolf