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The comedy duo of British-Korean pianist Hyung-ki Joo and Russian-born violinist Aleksey Igudesman have produced a self-help book with predictably outrageous suggestions, such as the notion of a ‘piano bench that doubles as a toilet’. About this proposed invention, Joo claims: ‘I could save so much time and do my business while I’m doing my business.’

Igudesman, born in St Petersburg, was perhaps drawn to ludic antics with a pianist because his mother was a piano teacher: ‘I remember that I played games and frolicked under the piano while my mother was practising and teaching.’ Igudesman eventually married a pianist, and recounts her difficulties in finding a place to practise when on holiday, just as his partner Joo has similar difficulties when on tour.

Joo offers keyboard tips, such as to go running before a practice session, then ‘with a racing pulse and out of breath, immediately sit at the piano and play a difficult passage of a piece. The difficult passage can be also be something very slow that requires a lot of control’. The point is to ‘train your psyche to improvise [as] difficulties transform into positive challenges’.

Genuine affection emerges in tributes to their teachers at the Yehudi Menuhin School, such as the accompanist/duo pianist Simon Parkin, a ‘wonderful free spirit’ whose classroom exercises included playing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto ‘as if it were composed by Messiaen’.

After planning to study with Leon Fleisher, Joo opted instead for the Russian-American concert pianist Nina Svetlanova, a Neuhaus pupil, and without going into details, expresses his happiness with the choice. Indeed, an overall bonhomie expressed in these pages explains why international star pianists, from Emanuel Ax to Yuja Wang, agree to participate in their routines: because, they explain, ‘everyone loves to “play”. And everyone is a child at heart’.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2020 - ©Rhinegold Publishing