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#2114288 - 07/07/13 04:16 PM Famous/Known Sight Readers?
Dwscamel Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/22/13
Posts: 448
We often hear about the piano-breaking transcendental technique of geniuses past and present, like Liszt, Godowsky, Backhaus, Hamelin, Volodos, and others.

But I wonder: are there, or have there been, pianists who could sight-read virtuosic works, for the first time, with minimal hiccups or losses of tempo? To be 100% clear, I mean: grabbing a random score and simply playing through the piece, without ever having practiced it.

Obviously, I don't expect anyone to sight-read a concerto or sonata. But who were and are the famous sight readers, and what kind of pieces could/can they play "cold"?

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#2114290 - 07/07/13 04:20 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
Orange Soda King Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 6070
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky, United S...
John Ogdon. Look up the story about him and Brahms' second piano concerto wink

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#2114312 - 07/07/13 05:10 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
bennevis Online   content
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Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4794
Mikhail Pletnev 'learnt' the Scarlatti Sonatas while on the flight to London for the recording, and then just played them in the Abbey Road studio, basically sight-reading them. The best ones were chosen for the 2-CD set, which won the Gramophone Award.

Michael Collins related the story of their collaboration for the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas, which they recorded for Virgin. After they'd finished, the producer said that there was space for a substantial filler on the CD, so Collins suggested Weber's Grand Duo Concertant, Op.48, a virtuosic warhorse for both players. He'd brought the music, so Pletnev sat down at the piano....and sight-read his part for the recording, which is on the CD.

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#2114360 - 07/07/13 08:44 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
DanS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/28/12
Posts: 546
Saint Saens was reported to be an excellent sight reader. I seem to remember reading that he was reading through orchestral scores at age 6.
_________________________
"Most pianists are poor musicians, they dissect music into bits-and-pieces, like a roast chicken" -Debussy

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#2114376 - 07/07/13 10:00 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Orange Soda King]
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8815
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
John Ogdon. Look up the story about him and Brahms' second piano concerto wink

I always get this confused, I thought it was the Brahms D minor which he sight-read, at least according to Brenda Lucas. (But over on the Radio 3 Forum, her bio is not legit.)

Argerich reportedly memorized the slow movement of the Ravel G major from an initial read-through... which would have been sight-reading.

But -without reigning over the earnestly felt parades- sight-reading isn't quite the miracle some think it is. Of course no one will be a Liszt, but organists routinely deal with this, they sink or swim on that ability, it is neither magical nor mystical.

Furthermore, as a pianist, I sight-read the beginning of the Schonberg Piano Concerto in a master class. Of course it was not up to speed, but to me, it seemed much like all in a day's work.

Sight-reading improves when you just DO IT. As a boy I used to borrow scores from the library and take them home to read at the piano. It sort of fulfilled a loneliness in my life, but that is a different issue.

_________________________
Jason

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#2114386 - 07/07/13 10:52 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
Ridicolosamente Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/08/08
Posts: 1456
Loc: Miami, Florida, USA
I wonder what people intend when they use the term "sight read" in this context?

Many amateur pianists seem to think that it's this magical concept. Like Jason and many others on here have said before, if you just "DO IT" the mystique goes away.

Surely many could potentially sight read something like Brahms 1st or 2nd concerto without knowing the score but having heard the piece. What pianist wouldn't know these pieces?

Now picking up Feux follets and playing through with no prior knowledge of the piece, at even 75 to 80% standard performance speed? Fingering alone would cause even the most capable pianist to stumble.

Aren't many of these legendary sight-reading feats misleading? Surely notes are being played, but so much of a worthwhile performance of a piece requires a meaningful relationship between point A and point B, and an on-the-spot reading would never capture this.

I believe in the ability for someone to memorize a score away from the instrument, then come and play without issue. But to sit at the keyboard with a challenging unfamiliar score, and play on the spot? What's the point? Who is being impressed by a mediocre performance at best?

-Daniel
_________________________
Currently working on:
-Dane Rudhyar's Stars from Pentagrams No 3

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#2114388 - 07/07/13 10:55 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: argerichfan]
Ridicolosamente Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 07/08/08
Posts: 1456
Loc: Miami, Florida, USA
Originally Posted By: argerichfan

Argerich reportedly memorized the slow movement of the Ravel G major from an initial read-through... which would have been sight-reading.

I remember something like - the night before her first performance, she snuck away early from dinner to go "learn" the 2nd movement. I guess we all learn at different rates and by rather different means and methods smile

-Daniel
_________________________
Currently working on:
-Dane Rudhyar's Stars from Pentagrams No 3

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#2114402 - 07/07/13 11:33 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: argerichfan]
Kuanpiano Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/10
Posts: 2114
Loc: Canada
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
[quote=Orange Soda King]
Sight-reading improves when you just DO IT. As a boy I used to borrow scores from the library and take them home to read at the piano.

How I feel exactly (well, I read from books, or printed IMSLP scores, or just from my tablet)! Some of the most enjoyable time spent at the piano is just reading through books of music and having fun. I wouldn't say that I'm fluent at reading yet, but it's certainly something I'm comfortable doing.
_________________________
Working on:
Beethoven - Piano Sonata op. 109
Brahms - 6 Klavierstucke op. 119
Rachmaninoff - Piano Sonata no.1

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#2114431 - 07/08/13 12:39 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Ridicolosamente]
Dwscamel Offline
Full Member

Registered: 03/22/13
Posts: 448
I was purely curious.

I appreciate your post, because it's true that I view sight-reading as a sort of magic. More generally, there is a tendency for people who don't play music to regard it as a special, sacred, magic process. That spirit of wonder still hasn't left me.

The point is positive news for me: sight-reading doesn't have to be magic, it can be improved like anything else. I just need to do it more.

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#2114509 - 07/08/13 05:15 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: argerichfan]
timmyab Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/15/08
Posts: 452
Loc: Bristol, UK
Originally Posted By: argerichfan
Originally Posted By: Orange Soda King
John Ogdon. Look up the story about him and Brahms' second piano concerto wink

I always get this confused, I thought it was the Brahms D minor which he sight-read, at least according to Brenda Lucas. (But over on the Radio 3 Forum, her bio is not legit.)

I'm pretty sure it was the second concerto.I think it was Colin Davis told the story on the South Bank Show twenty years or so ago.Someone dropped out of a concert at the last moment and Ogden said he could stand in but he'd need a page turner shocked
Ogden didn't think it was anything much to worry about because he knew the work thoroughly in his head from recordings, just hadn't ever played it before.

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#2114517 - 07/08/13 06:02 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
ronde des sylphes Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/08
Posts: 29
Loc: Scotland
My teacher told me an anecdote about Ogden sightreading. He was interviewing Ogden on some BBC arts show. As it came to the end of the program, he asked Ogden if he had anything to play for the audience. Ogden said something to the effect of "uh, no, I'm not working on anything just now". On being pushed further, Ogden said he'd bought some scores that day, delved into a bag he had with him, picked out a fairly stereotypical 19th century salon/fantasy-ish score full of scales, arpeggios and octaves, sat it on the piano, and proceeded to sightread it, live on national TV.
_________________________
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#2114524 - 07/08/13 06:28 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: ronde des sylphes]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4794
Just to clarify - it's Ogdon, not Ogden. grin

Yes, he's a truly amazing pianist. I don't know why RCA still haven't reissued his Rachmaninov Piano Sonatas recording on CD, which carries all before it.

And he's the only pianist who's recorded Sorabji's Opus clavicembalisticum complete....

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#2114527 - 07/08/13 06:34 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: bennevis]
ronde des sylphes Offline
Full Member

Registered: 11/23/08
Posts: 29
Loc: Scotland
Yes, of course it is. I've no idea how that happened! frown
_________________________
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#2114537 - 07/08/13 07:27 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: bennevis]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7753
Originally Posted By: bennevis


And he's the only pianist who's recorded Sorabji's Opus clavicembalisticum complete....


So the Madge recordings are incomplete? I never noticed, not in the one I have. But then, one wouldn't.

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#2114555 - 07/08/13 08:43 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Ridicolosamente]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Ridicolosamente
I wonder what people intend when they use the term "sight read" in this context?
Many amateur pianists seem to think that it's this magical concept.
The magical part is when it reaches a certain level.
Originally Posted By: Ridicolosamente
Aren't many of these legendary sight-reading feats misleading? Surely notes are being played, but so much of a worthwhile performance of a piece requires a meaningful relationship between point A and point B, and an on-the-spot reading would never capture this.
I don't think many are claiming that the sight reading performance, no matter how skilled, is usually worthwhile compared to a performance that has been carefully worked out and studied.

I think Pletnev is a sensstional pianist, but if he really learned the Sonatas for his Scarlatti recording on the plane ride before his recording, I think that's unfair to those who buy the CD. No matter how excellent the recording, surely he could have made a better recording if he had studied these pieces at greater length.


Edited by pianoloverus (07/08/13 08:43 AM)

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#2114560 - 07/08/13 08:59 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
fnork Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/01/04
Posts: 1702
Loc: Helsinki, finland
Roberto Szidon hasn't been mentioned, has he? Heard he had ridiculous sight-reading skills from a student of his.
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http://www.martinmalmgren.com/

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#2114565 - 07/08/13 09:27 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: pianoloverus]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4794
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus


I think Pletnev is a sensstional pianist, but if he really learned the Sonatas for his Scarlatti recording on the plane ride before his recording, I think that's unfair to those who buy the CD. No matter how excellent the recording, surely he could have made a better recording if he had studied these pieces at greater length.


Well, it was good enough to win the Gramophone Award, and it's also the most virtuosic and colorful (and individual) recording ever.... wink. It's certainly my favourite Scarlatti by a long way. After that of course, he played the Sonatas frequently in concert, usually as encores.

I have to say that story is apocryphal, but the one about the Weber is definitely true: Pletnev more or less sight-read his part for the recording that's on the CD.

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#2114597 - 07/08/13 10:37 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: bennevis]
argerichfan Offline
8000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/15/06
Posts: 8815
Loc: Pacific Northwest, US.
Originally Posted By: bennevis

I have to say that story is apocryphal, but the one about the Weber is definitely true: Pletnev more or less sight-read his part for the recording that's on the CD.

I've also read that about the Weber.

As reported in Harold Schonberg's book, Walter Gieseking learned and memorized the Petrassi concerto just by studying the score on the train. I have never seen anything to refute that, and in any case it wouldn't surprise me: I've run across too many other anecdotes about Gieseking's extraordinary abilities. (Now I just wish I responded more favourably to Gieseking's non-Debussy recordings.)
_________________________
Jason

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#2114615 - 07/08/13 11:35 AM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: bennevis]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: bennevis

Well, it was good enough to win the Gramophone Award, and it's also the most virtuosic and colorful (and individual) recording ever.... wink. It's certainly my favourite Scarlatti by a long way. After that of course, he played the Sonatas frequently in concert, usually as encores.

I have to say that story is apocryphal, but the one about the Weber is definitely true: Pletnev more or less sight-read his part for the recording that's on the CD.
I didn't know the recording won the Gramaphone award but I always thought his YouTube Scarlatti was sensational. If he played many of those Scarlatti in concerts, then the whole idea that he learned them on the plane is wrong...just a huge exaggeration.

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#2114631 - 07/08/13 12:09 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: argerichfan]
bennevis Online   content
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 4794
Originally Posted By: argerichfan

..... Gieseking's extraordinary abilities. (Now I just wish I responded more favourably to Gieseking's non-Debussy recordings.)


If Gieseking had practised (USA = practiced wink ) more and sight-read less, his recordings might well be more accurate and better overall. Especially his Ravel.

His live Rach 3 I can easily forgive, because he plays the BIG cadenza, at a time when everyone else was playing the little one.

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#2115658 - 07/10/13 12:34 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: bennevis]
Gflat86 Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/17/13
Posts: 1
Yes, it is true. When Pletnev was young he could prepare a piece he had never played before in a few hours and then play it as if he had practiced on it for years. Same with the Scarlatti, however he had played some of the sonatas on his Scarlatti CD in recital before (I have recordings of them).

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#2115678 - 07/10/13 01:07 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Gflat86]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19218
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Gflat86
Yes, it is true. When Pletnev was young he could prepare a piece he had never played before in a few hours and then play it as if he had practiced on it for years. Same with the Scarlatti, however he had played some of the sonatas on his Scarlatti CD in recital before (I have recordings of them).
If he could learn it in a few hours and play it as if he had practiced it for years, that wouldn't say much for his ability to think about a piece of music. He may have been able to learn the technical aspect of a piece incredibly quickly and perform it at a level that was very excellent, but I don't think anyone can play a musically challenging masterpiece at the highest level they're capable of after a short amount of time learning it. Surely no one can develop their final and best interpretation in a few hours.

What is the source of your information? There seems to be some disagreement on this thread about whether he had played some or most of the Scarlatti in previous recitals. If so, then the idea that he learned them on the plane is just extreme exaggeration.

No matter how well he played them on the record, IMO if he really learned them on the plane he was unfair to his listeners.

Pletnev is, by the way, one of my favorite pianists.

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#2115742 - 07/10/13 04:09 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: Dwscamel]
Auntie Lynn Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/07/04
Posts: 1105
Loc: San Francisco, CA
Good sight-reading is a bankable, marketable musical skill. If you are in the music biz, it is worth your while to hone it up...

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#2115751 - 07/10/13 04:20 PM Re: Famous/Known Sight Readers? [Re: pianoloverus]
Orange Soda King Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/25/09
Posts: 6070
Loc: Louisville, Kentucky, United S...
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
He may have been able to learn the technical aspect of a piece incredibly quickly and perform it at a level that was very excellent, but I don't think anyone can play a musically challenging masterpiece at the highest level they're capable of after a short amount of time learning it. Surely no one can develop their final and best interpretation in a few hours.


I think they definitely can! When your technique is at that level it would take a very short amount of time to prepare it, and past knowledge and experience in music (and music of that specific style/composer) would help many pieces fall into place incredibly quickly. And such a deep musical intellect would help one create a fine, "mature" sounding interpretation.

Okay, maybe not "their final" or "their best" but most definitely professional, valid, and even "musically great" (I don't like terms like that, by the way). Final and best interpretations always change in the mind of a great artist; nobody will play a piece in a few years how they do today.

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