Saturday 17 March 2018

Classical: The pianist and a treasure by Haydn discovered in a trunk

Irish première: Ivan Ilic will perform in Carrick-on -Shannon tomorrow
Irish première: Ivan Ilic will perform in Carrick-on -Shannon tomorrow

George Hamilton

Back under Irish skies, the four weeks in France for the football seem like a distant memory, magical nights in magnificent stadia, and a jumble of train journeys that weren't always quite so marvellous. The worst of them was an eight-hour cross-country haul from the sunshine of the Riviera that eventually delivered us to Bordeaux. But there I made the acquaintance of Ivan Ilic.

Ivan is a concert pianist who was born in Belgrade, was educated in California (where he took a degree in mathematics as well as music), and now, after studying at the conservatory in Paris, is based in France.

Ireland is regularly on his schedule - he's performing in Carrick-on-Shannon tomorrow, more of which anon - and thanks to the wonders of Twitter, he knew I'd be in his hometown over the course of the Euros. We arranged to meet.

I was in the company of two football folk - former international Jim Beglin and producer Steve Caffery - so the talk was as much about Griezmann, France's new star player, as it was about Godowsky, the American composer whose transcriptions of Chopin's Études for the left hand alone featured on an album Ivan released in 2012 (Godowsky - 22 Chopin Studies, Paraty 311 205).

The recital in Carrick tomorrow will feature the Irish première of another transcription - the reworking of a Haydn symphony for solo piano - with a tale and a half to tell.

Franz Liszt famously converted Beethoven's nine symphonies into what are now popular concert pieces, but nobody knew that there were piano versions of Haydn's music.

Not that long ago, a chance conversation at a supermarket check-out in Cologne unearthed what Ivan described as a gem that he's really excited about.

The chat was the beginning of what's become a friendship between Veronika Lindenmayr - a music publicist - and Tordes Tesmer. Over dinner at Frau Tesmer's one evening the hostess produced a trunk she'd been given by a neighbour who'd recently passed away at the age of 102. That lady had been a concert pianist, and the trunk was full of sheet music.

Not being musical herself, Tordes sought Veronika's advice. Among what was mostly songs and choral pieces there was something that looked out of place. Unlike sheet music now, it was horizontally bound, and the price on the back of it - in thalers and silver pennies - put it close to 200 years old.

The name on it meant nothing - Karl David Stegmann - but the source certainly did, for these were Haydn symphonies, transcribed for piano, something nobody knew existed.

Ivan got a call from Veronika. She needed some expert advice. So he flew to Cologne and found himself sifting through scores covered in thick, black dust.

Black it may have been but it was more like gold dust to him. As he put it: "The old book dates from the 1830s.

"Holding it in your hands, it felt like you were making a direct connection with Chopin, and Schumann, and Mendelssohn, and all the other composers who were writing at the time. It was absolutely thrilling."

What it did for him was give him what he called greater access to the music. "As a pianist, I can only listen to these symphonies, but with the transcription I can learn the details at my own instrument, and hear it much more clearly."

That experience will be shared in St George's Church in Carrick-on-Shannon from 3.30pm tomorrow when Ivan will perform Haydn's Symphony No 44 along with music by Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and Scriabin. Details at ivan-ili-piano-recital.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm each Saturday and Sunday from 10am.

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