Petronel Malan on piano & vintage

Petronel Malan on piano & vintage

South African pianist Petronel Malan started piano lessons at the age of four. Today this pianistic “wunderkind” has a fully fledged career as a concert pianist and recording artist. Although she resides in the USA, she keeps strong ties with South Africa. She is currently on tour in the country and will perform a recital at the Hugo Lambrechts Auditorium on 4 August. On 8 August she will perform with the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 with the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra. 

You started piano lessons at an exceptionally early age. What do you remember from those early years up to your first performance with an orchestra?

My mom taught me the basics and then I continued lessons with Dr. Adolph Hallis. I remember that I didn’t speak English fluently and my mom had to attend my lessons with me to translate! When you are a kid, it is all fun and games, so I remember having a great time. My lessons were on Friday afternoons in Johannesburg. I remember Dr. Hallis was very funny and witty.

Who has been the biggest musical influence in your career this far?

Looking back, I can see that every phase of my life had a different person as biggest influence of that time. Ask me again in another 30 years and I’ll give you the same answer probably.

You are a multiple Grammy® nominee. Tell us more about this outstanding achievement, the recordings selected and how this came about?

I was lucky enough to meet my first record producer at a concert in Oklahoma, of all places! I continued the Transfigured - transcription series with Hänssler Classic based in Germany. I have always had a great interest in transcriptions and I am lucky enough to keep recording this repertoire. I enjoy the research and I have a large number of people who have sent me rare and forgotten scores to consider for future projects. I have so many pieces in my library; I can easily do a Volume 2 of each of the CDs I have recorded to date. I also try to include several World Premiere recordings on each disc. 

Any new CD releases planned in the near future?

“Transfigured Tchaikovsky”. This is my fourth CD in the Transfigured-series with Hänssler Classic. The recording consists of Tchaikovsky art songs transcribed by Isaac Mikhnovsky and Sameul Feinberg, all world premiere performances.  Isaac Mikhnovsky was a phenomenal pianist and gave the Russian premiere of the Rachmaninoff Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini in 1936. He loved the human voice and worked with many singers, where he found the inspiration to transcribe this repertoire. He writes extremely well for the piano and his style of writing actually reminds me a lot of Rachmaninoff’s transcriptions. 

You record exclusively on a Blüthner piano. What is the reason for this and what makes this instrument different from the more “mainstream” Steinway piano?

Blüthners are simply phenomenal pianos. They are hand-built in Leipzig. If you aren’t used to them as a pianist, they take a while to adjust to, but the possibilities on these pianos are endless. To me, each one has a different soul! I am lucky enough to have a model 2 in my house in the United Sates. It really spoils me to practice on this piano! I call it my Blüthner-Baby!

As a multiple gold medallist at competitions, what do you think are the importance of competitions in advancing or contributing to a successful career?

I don’t like competitions. I didn’t like participating in them and I don’t like judging them. I don’t think music is something you can truly measure like that - it is unfortunately a necessary evil in the music industry. There are so many amazing pianists who were eliminated in competitions, but still had big careers later in life, and vice versa, so perhaps we are moving away from this method of creating a career.

Tell us more about life and your career abroad. What would a typical week in the life of Petronel Malan consist of?

This is a really difficult question to answer! There is nothing typical about any week or day of my life. My schedule changes all the time. I am fortunate enough that I can set my own schedule, except for concert-trips, so the only place I have to be at a certain time, is to catch a plane. Even when I am home, I don’t really keep any kind of set schedule. I sleep when I am tired and I practice any hour of the day and night. I’m an insomniac, so sleep, (or trying to sleep,) isn’t very high on my list of things to do…!

What is your favourite composer to perform and why? 

Mozart or Haydn. It is difficult to give you a reason for this, but it just feels right. I also love Liszt. He has remained a favourite through the years. I find his music very comfortable to play. Any pianist will tell you that it lies very well on the hand, very pianistic.

Tell us about your love for vintage gowns! Any particular favourite or story behind one of your most treasured ones?

A dear friend gave me a 1930s dress years ago and I fell in love with the craftsmanship and fabric. I realized that they don’t make clothes like that anymore, so I started building a collection. Some people have given me gowns after concerts; some friends call me when their grandmother pass away and then send me their formal gowns; many gowns I’ve bought at vintage stores or online. I love the 1930s and 1940s, but even have a few gowns as late as the early 1970s. I have several gowns by designers like Givenchy, Halston, Victor Costa and Oleg Cassini (he designed for Jackie Kennedy.)

I also have more recent gowns from early collections by John Galliano for Christian Dior and Vera Wang. I probably have upwards of 70 gowns, but I am constantly shopping for more, and I also give some away to friends, so the number changes all the time. Some I buy and have never worn, (a typical thing women do…!); some I only wear once and never again; some I wear all the time. I always have multiple gowns with me on each trip in the event that something might go wrong or depending on my mood. My favourite pair of concert shoes from the 1940s recently broke and I am desperately searching for another pair… No luck so far. It is difficult to find shoes from that era for my huge feet!

First published 30.04.2012
Interview by Mari Stimie
Re-published 29.07.2013

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