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Daniel-Ben Pienaar (Piano)

Born: South Africa

The South African pianist, Daniel-Ben Pienaar, came to public notice there at the age of 14, performing Franz Liszt's E-flat concerto, and shortly afterwards L.v. Beethoven's Emperor, with the country's most prominent orchestras. After winning the South African National Youth Music Competition and the University of South Africa Overseas Music Scholarship he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was in the piano class of Christopher Elton, and also made acquaintance with Laurence Dreyfus and Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. Upon graduating from the Academy in 1997 he received the prestigious Queen's Commendation.

Eschewing the competition circuit he set out on a programme of self-imposed study and repertoire learning. In 1999 he first played the set of six partitas by J.S. Bach in one concert; 2000 saw a W.A. Mozart piano sonata cycle at the Academy. Since then he has, aside from these works, also variously given complete performances of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and Well-Tempered Clavier (BWV 846-869 & BWV 870-893), L.v. Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Schubert's twelve major piano sonatas, Frédéric Chopin's ballades and waltzes, in addition to a representative selection of, mostly,19th-century works.

Daniel-Ben Pienaar is active as recitalist and chamber musician. He has a particular interest in early music and in the Viennese classics and early romantics, devoting his time to recording and performing, studying and reading, and teaching at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he is piano professor and academic lecturer.

Much of 1999-2005 was spent travelling extensively in Japan with the popular violinist Narimichi Kawabata, playing a diverse duo repertoire and solo recitals. A summer of immersion in J.S. Bach in 2002 led to his first recording - two days of sessions devoted to The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (BWV 846-869) in 2003. This was released on the small independent label Prometheus Editions. These session tapes were revisited in 2007 for a revised edit, now released online on Magnatune. J.S. Bach recording in 2003 was followed a few months later by the Frédéric Chopin ballades for Victor Japan. The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2 (BWV 870-893), recorded in autumn 2004, was published by Magnatune in 2005. Re-mastered versions of both books are envisaged for the future.

The keyboard works of Jacobean master Orlando Gibbons followed in 2006 - the first complete recording of this oeuvre - recasting the output as idiomatically pianistic and as a single recital. This was released to acclaim by Deux-Elles in 2007. W.A. Mozart's Viennese piano sonatas (Nos. 10-18) were recorded over three days in 2008, and the nine remaining sonatas over two days in 2009. This is the first recording that Pienaar also edited himself. The complete set was released by Avie in November 2010 and received outstanding notices. His most recent recordings are of J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations (BWV 988) and the Fourteen Canons, BWV 1087 (September 2010), and L.v. Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Op. 126 Bagatelles (September 2011). The latter is scheduled for release in 2012.

Currently he is absorbed in the L.v. Beethoven's sonatas, tentatively working on a number of F. Chopin compositions, and compiling another 17th-century recital. Future plans for the studio include returning to the Schubert sonatas and J.S. Bach's Partitas. Upcoming recitals include appearing at the Singapore International Piano Festival, and playing the two books of J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on consecutive nights at London's King's Place (as part of their 'Bach Unwrapped' festival).

Recent collaborations have included re-imagining music from the 17th and 19th centuries for the unlikely combination of trumpet and piano, with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. Three discs, mostly of Pienaar's own arrangements, have so far been recorded for the Linn label and a fourth (centred on the Bach family) is projected for recording 2012. Further chamber music activities have included performing J.S. Bach's Art of Fugue (BWV 1080) on harpsichords and chamber organs with Martin Knizia, playing a wide repertoire with violinist Giovanni Guzzo and, most recently, the Brahms violin sonatas with Peter Sheppard-Skaerved at Wilton's Music Hall.

Since 2005 Daniel-Ben Pienaar has been a member of the Royal Academy of Music teaching faculty with a small class of piano students, also assuming a variety of roles as lecturer and chamber music coach. His undergraduate teaching has included elective courses on J.S. Bach, W.A. Mozart, Schubert and Piano Sonatas 1778-1854. He runs an interpretation seminar for master's degree students with cellist Neil Heyde and curates a series of repertoire and performance practice workshops for postgraduate pianists. Public talks on a wide range of performance-related topics are also a regular feature of his teaching. He views the performer's position in relation to the canonic repertoire as radically 'late' - both with respect to the works themselves, and to the performance traditions and great recorded performances that surround them. That implies taking critical stock of a gamut of expressive means, drawn from a variety of practices, in a personal and idiosyncratic way, and setting the (near-impossible?) challenge of making music without taking recourse to a ready-made 'interpretative' philosophy or niche.

In addition to his other areas of interest his fascination with the recording process extends also to producing CD’s for the Academy's own recording label, including such diverse ventures as 'American Icons' (symphonic brass) and ensemble arrangements of Frank Zappa.

‘He offers answers that push the music to the brink though the bounds of credibility aren't breached. His is a tough but thought-provoking approach.' - Gramophone
‘A kaleidoscope of colours and textures in performances that combined the dramatic with the ethereal, the monumental with the intimate.' - International Piano
‘Daniel-Ben Pienaar's performances are quite simply stunning. The instrument he plays matters much less than his musicianship, which is evident at every turn.' - Gramophone

Source: Daniel-Ben Pienaar Website
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (October 2011)

Daniel-Ben Pienaar: Short Biography | Recordings of Instrumental Works

Links to other Sites

Daniel-Ben Pienaar (Official Website)
Daniel-Ben Pienarr (Magnatune)

Daniel-Ben Pienaar (Linn-Records)
Pianist Daniel-Ben Pienaar in Stellenbosch (Domus)

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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