Daniel-Ben Pienaar

MMus, DipRAM, FRAM

Academic Studies - Curzon Lecturer in Performance Studies
Research Programmes - Curzon Lecturer in Performance Studies

Divides time between studying, reading, performing, recording and teaching

Significant discography includes cycles of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven

Daniel-Ben was born in South Africa, where he made his debut aged 14 playing Liszt’s First Piano Concerto. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music where he won the Queen’s Commendation in 1997. He divides his time between studying and reading, performing and recording, and teaching at the Academy.

His international recital appearances have included cycles of works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. Over the last fifteen years he has begun recording that repertoire, with much interest in the special artistic possibilities that the studio affords. His discography includes much-praised traversals Bach’s ‘48’ and Mozart’s complete Piano Sonatas, the first complete recordings of the keyboard works of Orlando Gibbons and of the mature piano works of South African composer Arnold Van Wyk, and both the Goldberg and Diabelli Variations. His most recent release is a complete Beethoven Sonata cycle which is proving more controversial than his previous publications.

His chamber music collaborations have included extensive travelling in Japan with violinist Narimichi Kawabata, Mozart and Brahms violin sonata cycles with Peter Shepard Skaerved, playing prominent London venues with violinist Giovanni Guzzo, performing Bach’s Art of Fugue on the harpsichord and chamber organ with Martin Knizia, and recording music for trumpet and piano (mostly arrangements of his own) on the Linn label with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood.

‘Interpretations where within the letter critically observed, a numinous potency breaks free’ — Gramophone

‘Pienaar responds with an astonishing range of expression and colour’ — Sunday Times (London)

‘A veritable Mo Farah of the keyboard’ — BBC Music Magazine

‘One of the most exciting pianists of his generation’ — Rondo Magazin (Germany)

Recordings

My main recordings to date (dates refer to recording, not release):
2003 Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (Magnatune)
2003 Chopin: The Four Ballades and other works (Victor Japan)
2004 Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 (Magnatune, re-released on Avie)
2006 La Trompette Retrouvee (French works arranged for piano and trumpet), with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Linn)
2006 Gibbons: The Complete Keyboard Works (Deux-Elles)
2007 Trumpet Masque (17th century works arranged for piano and trumpet), with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Linn)
2008–9 Mozart: The Eighteen Piano Sonatas (Avie)
2010 Romantic Trumpet Sonatas (19th century works arranged for piano and trumpet), with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Linn)
2010 Bach: Goldberg Variations BWV 988, Canons BWV 1087 (Avie)
2011 Beethoven: Diabelli Variations Op. 120, Bagatelles Op. 126 (Avie)
2012 A Bach Notebook for Trumpet (works by ten members of the Bach family, arranged for trumpet and piano), with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Linn)
2012-14 Beethoven: The 32 Piano Sonatas (Avie)
2013 Bach: The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (new recording, Avie)
2014 The Neo-Classical Trumpet (20th century works arranged for trumpet and piano), with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Linn)
2015 Schubert: The 11 finished Sonatas and the unfinished fragment D. 840 (not released yet)
2016 An English Sett for Trumpet (early music works arranged for trumpet and piano by Timothy Jones), with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood (Linn)
2017 Chopin: The Four Ballades (new recording) and Sonata no.3 (not released yet)
2018 Arnold Van Wyk (1916-1983): The Mature Piano Music (not released yet) 2018 ‘The Long 17th Century’ - A Cornucopia of Early Keyboard Music (36 works, each by a different composer, not released yet)
2018 Bach: The Six Keyboard Partitas

Research Profile

My recent recordings of Beethoven and Schubert's Sonatas examine how the canonical status of works, reception stereotypes and historic recordings can inflect current practice. My 2CD compilation of 17thC works advocates re-imagining early music on the piano beyond ‘HIP on modern instruments’.

My primary focus is the mainstream (canonic) piano repertoire and the ‘late’ position the performer finds himself in, both in relation to the repertoire itself and to the performance traditions and conventions, reception stock-in-trades and great recorded performances that surround the repertoire. I am keen to explore the variety of expressive potential that these exemplify and in assimilating techniques from a all of them without subscribing to any particular one of the performance or interpretation philosophies that underpin them – notably not that of performer as conduit between the composer and audience. My aim is not a simplistic commercial hybrid like ‘historically informed performance on modern instruments’, rather taking critical stock of the whole gamut of expressive means at the instrument in a personal and idiosyncratic way; thereby setting the challenge of making compelling music now without taking recourse to a ready-made school or niche.

Recent projects of mine have sought to bring these principles of lateness to bear also on advocating early keyboard music on the piano; and in making the first complete recording of the mature piano music of South African composer Arnold Van Wyk.

With recent recorded cycles of the 32 Beethoven Sonatas and Schubert’s finished Sonatas complete, I am currently working on the Brahms Klavierstücke and a William Byrd collection.

I am also in the process of recording a compilation of multiple readings of each movement of the Bach Partitas, moving also in this manner away from the notion of a fixed or idealised ‘interpretation’.

I engage intensively with the recording process itself, both mapping and editing my own work – and having long discussions with engineers about the aesthetic possibilities of recorded sound in relation to given projects.

Website

danielbenpienaar.com

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