Gershwin Piano Quartet: Gershwin was used to hearing his own music in different guises

Gershwin Piano Quartet: Gershwin was used to hearing his own music in different guises

Have you heard of Gershwin Piano Quartet? If you haven’t, now you can drop into their magical music. The date is 18th of December, the place is National Palace of Culture.

Who are they?

The Gershwin Piano Quartet sheds new light on the music of George Gershwin and his contemporaries. The group consists of four (Mischa Cheung, André Desponds, Benjamin Engeli, Stefan Wirth) of the finest Swiss pianists is successfully touring the world with its current program.

DJambore.com wanted to find out who sit behind the 4 royals just before their concert in Sofia…

gershwin piano quartet

anna: Hello crew! Can’t wait for your performance on the 18th of December in the National Palace of Culture! You are coming in Bulgaria for the first time, so what are the three things in your mind when someone mentions our country?

Mischa Cheung: As musician the first thing that comes to my mind is Bulgarian folk music, especially irregular rhythms like 7/8 meter. Then И also think of „les voix bulgares“ with their characteristic bell-like timbres.

André Desponds: For me there is also the fond memory of my beloved teacher Sava Savoff who came to Switzerland from Bulgaria and left his mark on Swiss pianism as the mentor of a whole generation.

Can you name some other Bulgarian composers/classical musicians?

Benjamin Engeli: Boris Christoff is unforgotten as one of the greatest bass-baritones of all times, as is Nikolaj Gjaurow as a bass. Of all composers I would say that Pancho Vladigerow is perhaps still the best known, interestingly there is also a connection to Switzerland here, as he was born in Zurich, Switzerland.

How interesting, I didn’t know that… Your music “sheds new light on the music of George Gershwin”. What is the story behind your quartet? How did you met each other and decide to play Gershwin, together, on 4 royals?

André Desponds: It all started way back in 1996 when I asked three of my students to do a one-time concert with four pianos. On that occasion we came to the attention of manager Richard Bächi, who was very enthusiastic about the idea of having 4 grand pianos and really launched our international career. This was the first generation of the Gershwin Piano Quartet of which me and Stefan Wirth still remain. For several years now we have been playing with the second generation of pianists, namely Mischa Cheung and Benjamin Engeli, who joined the group in 2008.

You have started 20 years ago! So what is next? Besides Gershwin do you have plans to experiment with other great composers?

We have already taken up a number of composers which are directly or indirectly linked to Gershwin, such as Maurice Ravel and Igor Stravinsky as well as some older composers like Piotr Tschaikovsky and Paul Dukas. The wonderful thing about Gershwin’s music is that it is so versatile and one can combine it with so many different kinds of music, such as jazz, improvisation, French impressionism and not to forget the strong Eastern European Jewish influence, as Gershwin came from a family of Russian-Jewish immigrants, his real name being in fact Jacob Gershwitz.

Talking of improvisations, how would you feel if you compose a song of your own and afterwards you hear the leitmotif in completely different arrangement?

We think we would be rather happy to see that our idea could inspire other musicians to develop it in their own way. Also, Gershwin was used to hearing his own music in different guises, for instance he did not orchestrate Rhapsody in Blue himself at first, so I think that his music is often conceived with the possibility of having several possible forms. We cannot ask Gershwin for his approval but we sincerely hope that we are doing a good job!

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Are you tired of listening the same melodies over and over again?

I guess that this is precisely the reason why we keep developing and arranging new repertoire, so we don’t get tired of constantly listening to the same melodies over and over again… 🙂

Are you afraid of some kind of music?

Interesting question… In a sense we like to be scared of music because it presents a challenge and something one must overcome. So it’s good to be proactive and to go against the fear in order to get to a different place than one would have got to just by playing „safe“ music.

Do you have a recipe of how classical music could reach wider audiences?

This project is one possible recipe!

For sure, thank you!