News

Best-selling pianist reflects on Mozart



17 October 2006

Chair of the Conservatorium's Keyboard Unit, Gerard Willems, became a household name in recent years, best selling classical artist in Australia's recording history with his double-ARIA Award winning Beethoven CDs. Now he joins celebrators of this year's 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth with an ABC Classics CD of his personal Mozart favourites.

"His music is so universal in appeal and so exquisite and that's because it's dealing with the proportions of nature all the time,"Willems said. "It's the perfection of the structure."

From the cover of 'Reflections on Mozart': Gerard Willems at the Stuart & Sons piano, Admiralty House.
From the cover of 'Reflections on Mozart': Gerard Willems at the Stuart & Sons piano, Admiralty House.

Superbly played, Willems' Reflections on Mozart is a fascinating mix. Widely loved works like Rondo alla Turca and the Piano Sonata in C Major sit alongside lesser-known gems like Gigue in G Major which, being polyphonic, is unusual for Mozart, Willems said.

Unusual too is Adagio for Glass Harmonica written for blind glass harmonica virtuoso, Marianne Kirchgessner. Sadly, the then popular instrument in which pitched glasses were rubbed by moistened fingers to produce notes, also damaged nerve endings, and Kirchgessner apparently died from the intensity of the vibrations and deterioration of the fingertips.

"But the piece is actually quite harmless," Willems said. "It's very beautiful and though very soft, builds up with an incredible amount of tension."

He uses the Stuart piano to its full capacity for it, having chosen the small Stuart belonging to Admiralty House (pictured) to record this CD, because "it sounds very much like an instrument of the time of Mozart - the clarity of articulation for instance, and the incredible range of dynamics".

Mozart's variations on the Dutch national anthem, written when aged nine, is also on the CD. "It reminds me of home," said Willems who migrated from Holland with his parents in 1958 and who thought the piece appropriate for this 400th anniversary of Dutch arrival in this country.

Marking another big anniversary, Willems can next be heard inconcert on 27 and 28 October, playing de Falla's Nights in the Garden of Spain with the Sydney Conservatorium Symphony Orchestra in a program celebrating 400 years of Australian-Spanish relations and featuring Sculthorpe's premiere of Captain Quiros for Orchestra.

Reflections on Mozart (ABC Classics 476 5696) is available from ABC shops for $30.95.

Media enquiries: Philippa Drynan, pdrynan@bigpond.net.au , 02 9332 4595 / 0414 724 972.