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2011-18: "Pianist"

solo Astride Schlaefli

Coproduction Collectif barbare / "Gastspiele" Festival Zürich

a pianist solo without a piano

"pianist" offers spectators an intimate and colourful alternative to the classical piano recital. Here, Astride Schlaefli uses "Bontempi" pianos made of orange, red and green plastic, cassettophones, harmonicas, music boxes, a megaphone, a pan flute, a melodica with a foehn, a record player and various toys. All together they constitute a kind of musical machinery, poetic, funny and absurd at the same time. The repertoire naturally includes works for piano, from all periods and styles, played and interpreted in various ways on the instrumentarium available. And all this is punctuated by Astride Schlaefli's comments and little stories, which evoke in a few winks her best and worst memories as a pianist.


Prologue: François-René Duchâble / "Le Monde", July 2003

François René Duchâble - renowned pianist and famous interpreter of Liszt and Chopin - announces that he is putting an end to his career as a soloist. On this occasion, he invites the French and international press to attend a final performance: he will drop his Bechstein grand piano from a helicopter into Lake Annecy and then burn his stage clothes on the shores of the lake.

pianist stories

Pianists generally start playing their instrument at the age of 4-5. It is the beginning of a long and lonely battle against a demanding instrument; the solo instrument par excellence. The limits of virtuosity were pushed to extremes during the 19th and 20th century, putting the physical and mental health of pianists at risk.

In 1833, Robert Schumann built a machine to strengthen his failing ring finger, which broke the bones of his left hand and "condemned" him to composition, leaving his wife Clara to pursue a career as a virtuoso. This was only the beginning; a host of pianists including Annie Fischer, Clara Haskil, Arthur and Anton Rubinstein, Glenn Gould, Martha Argerich would follow, leaving behind interpretations as remarkable as their personal problems.

Digital recording techniques will put even more pressure on the pianists; the listener accustomed to flawless and consistent interpretations of the CD naturally expects the same perfection from the pianist live. This is ignoring the months of post-production in the recording studios, but the demand is there.

What's more, pianists almost never play live on their instrument in concert, a perspective that is absolutely unimaginable for any violinist, for example.

To sum up, 0.7% of pianists graduating in Europe will become renowned soloists and pursue a "classical" career. 70% will teach in music schools or universities. 10% will become entertainers on keyboards for weddings and company parties. And the others will change jobs. This range of professions is particular to the piano and is partly due to the fact that there are few or no pianists in orchestras. In comparison, orchestras and ensembles provide work for 40% of the violinists in Europe.