The maestros of the world generally conduct the music of others, but a Japanese record label has scored a minor hit with a CD of piano pieces that conductors themselves composed.
Selling steadily since its release in November 2002, “Piano Works by Great Conductors” has shifted about 5,000 copies.
“This figure is exceptionally high in the world of classical music,” says Yukihisa Miyayama, producer with King International Inc. “Usually, sales of a classical music CD come to a halt several months after the release, but this CD continues to find customers.”
“For a classical music performer,” says pianist Mitsutaka Shiraishi, who plays on the CD, “it is something to raise a toast to if CD sales go over 1,000 copies.”
The CD features compositions by Arturo Toscanini, Ernest Ansermet, Hans Knappertsbusch, George Szell, Wilhelm Furtwaengler, Carl Schuricht and Evgeny Mravinsky.
The success of the CD led to a similar release in May, which featured only Mravinsky, in preparation for the 100th anniversary of his birth on June 4.
The two CDs are a byproduct of Miyayama’s hobby of collecting rare sheet music that is no longer available on the market. Not surprisingly, Miyayama had a hard time assembling the music of these conductors. Mravinsky’s music was especially difficult to acquire. Miyayama’s Russian wife was able to contact the widow of the late conductor of the Leningrad Philharmonic orchestra, but she initially refused to cooperate. After two years, though, she agreed to give him photocopies of Mravinsky’s handwritten music.
“I don’t think anyone knew about these compositions before,” Miyayama says. “Foreign music labels were surprised and have been seeking to buy the overseas release rights.”
“The compositions are interesting in that they convey the earnestness of these conductors in their 20s, endeavoring to compose,” he says.
But they’re also compelling because of the surprises. Mravinsky wrote a tango and a fox-trot, for example, which is rather out of character for the stern-faced conductor.
Miyayama tapped the 38-year-old Shiraishi as pianist after seeing him perform with Swedish trombonist Christian Lindberg. “I was astounded by the beauty of his playing,” Miyayama says.
Shiraishi says that 70 percent of the piano compositions on the CDs have the potential for becoming standard piano tunes. He hopes the pieces will be published someday so music students can learn from them.
The success of the two CDs has led Miyayama to consider a third one that will comprise compositions by noncomposers from Russia, such as playwright Aleksandr Griboedov, choreographer George Balanchine, ballet producer Sergei Diaghilev and novelists Vladimir Odoevskii, Leo Tolstoy and Boris Pasternak.
Miyayama has already obtained 40 minutes’ worth of music, including a photocopy of Tolstoy’s music. But he is still facing difficulties. He has not been able to obtain Diaghilev’s music, and though he knows that a piano piece by Balanchine is in the possession of Madeleine Malraux, pianist and widow of Andre Malraux, he cannot locate her.
“Although there are still many hurdles, the third CD, if produced, would rouse a lot more interest among the general public,” Miyayama says, “because it would contain music made by people who have established names in fields other than music.”
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