Icons of Music: Andras Schiff, a Towering Man of Music

By Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com
July 29, 2021 Updated: July 29, 2021

Sitting calmly at the keyboard he moves but slightly, yet his tone ranges from the most delicate to extreme tempestuousness when, for example, he plays intense passages from a Beethoven sonata. Sir Andras Schiff exudes an inner calm and spirit of relaxation, as if he were playing in his own living room, seemingly unaware of the audience.

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2014 for his “service to music,” Hungarian-born Schiff continues, in his 67th year, to concertize, record, conduct master classes world-wide, and take on specialized conducting projects.

His repertoire encompasses the greats of music: He has mastered the complete works of Bach, Haydn, Schubert, Bartok, and has recorded all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, which he likens to the New Testament of music.

He can speak about his art with authority. At a recent concert at London’s Wigmore Hall (2021), before beginning to play, he regaled the audience with a brief talk on the important elements of Bach and Beethoven, whose works he was about to perform. He noted how difficult it was to plan a program two or three years in advance and deliberately choose that night’s program, like a chef whom one trusts to give a good meal.

A Passion for Teaching

Watching him conduct a master class is a special treat: He will first listen closely to the young aspirant’s performance. Then, on the second play-through, Schiiff will take his place at a second piano and passionately interrupt the young player numerous times in order to clarify or correct the interpretation.

This makes a fascinating contrast to his behavior during his own performing. As stated earlier, he seems never to move a muscle when playing. Here now, as mentor, he may even rise from the piano bench and leap about in his intense desire to make an important point: “No. Look at the markings. It says ‘presto.’ So you must go faster!”

He supports new talent primarily through his “Building Bridges” series, which offers performance opportunities to promising young artists. He also teaches at the Barenboim-Said and Kronberg academies.

Performances and Recordings

Schiff keeps active in collaboration with some of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. During his fall 2019 tour of North America, he conducted and played with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal. He was joined by his wife, violinist Yuko Shiokawa for an all-Mozart program opening New York’s 92nd Street Y this year’s season at the nonprofit cultural and community center.

In 1999, Schiff founded his own chamber orchestra, Cappella Andrea Barca, in Venice. The orchestra’s soloists, musicians, and talented friends perform around the world. The group anticipates a tour of Asia as well as performing a cycle of Bach’s keyboard concertos in Europe.

Needless to say, Schiff ‘s discography is prolific, with such highlights as the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas recorded live in Zurich, and solo recitals of the major composers including Bach (Partidas, Goldberg Variations, Well-Tempered Clavier), Schubert, Schumann, and Janacek.

His lifetime in service to music has resulted in many international honors, including the aforementioned knighthood granted by Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, Sir Andras Schiff has given enough to music to fill several lifetimes.

Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com

Diana Barth
Diana Barth
Diana Barth writes for various theatrical publications and for New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth99@gmail.com