Sir András Schiff: A Jewel-Maker of Sound

If András Schiff were a dynamic marking, he would undoubtedly be a pianissimo. Sensitivity, delicacy and boundless commitment to the soul of music are the hallmarks of his playing. On October 23 & 24, the OSM has the pleasure of welcoming this undisputed master of the traditional classical repertoire for the concert Sir András Schiff performs and conducts the OSM.

Bach’s primacy

Born in Hungary, the only son of Holocaust survivors, András Schiff began piano studies at a young age. He focused on the works of J. S. Bach, whom he describes as a “great scientist who systematically set new challenges for himself, which he then solved at the highest level possible.” Schiff attests to playing an hour of Bach at the beginning of each work session, which explains his knowledge of the composer’s complete keyboard output by heart!

For me it is essential to close my eyes and open my ears and heart so that I can communicate the composer’s message.

Sir András Schiff

Triple piano

All his life, András Schiff has sought refinement and authenticity, manifested in his quest for ideal sound. He performs both on modern and historical instruments: without any hesitation whatsoever, he purchased an 1820s Franz Brodmann pianoforte for his recording of Schubert’s late works. This period instrument is capable of rendering subtleties that elude modern pianos, notably softer dynamics such as the famous triple piano (or pianississimo) achieved through the instrument’s moderator pedal. And to add luxury to refinement, Schiff is even known to have his instrument flown in for specific concerts

A pianist and conductor all in one?

Performing and conducting a work at the same time may seem unusual to us, but it was common practice until the early 19th century. Orchestras had fewer musicians in those days, and the conductor’s role was generally assigned to the harpsichordist, pianist or concertmaster. Today, some artists still observe this practice in Baroque and Classical repertoires, and one of them is András Schiff. When assuming these two roles concurrently, he sees himself as a chamber musician who cultivates mutual listening, a unified sound while maintaining individuality, and meticulous attention to subtleties — ingredients that make up the delicacy served up in these concerts on October 23 and 24, with works by Haydn, Beethoven, Brahms et Bartók.

© Benjamin Goron