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The German pianist Johannes Friedemann achieved international fame when he interpreted Beethoven's Emperor Piano Concerto No. 5 at the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Philharmonic. His playing was broadcast on television several times. 


Johannes Friedemann was born in West Berlin in 1980. At the age of 16, he became student of Barbara Szczepanska, who is recognized to be the best piano teacher in Germany due to her many young prize winners.  

He was also teached by the celebrated Vladimir Ashkenazy and passed his concert exam with distinction at the Zurich University of the Arts in the class of Homero Francesch. In Italy, he took another course of study in the master class of Maestro Alfredo Speranza and completed his Italian State Diploma at the Novara Academy of Music with the highest score. 


Friedemann won first prize at the national competition "Jugend Musiziert" in Germany, followed by further awards at the international piano competition Seiler in Rhodes as well as the international music competitions Città di Cesenatico and Città di Vasto in Italy (among others). 


In 1996 he performed for the first time at the Gewandhaus Leipzig and in the same year he was honoured by the Minister President of the State of North Rein Westphalia for his outstanding musical achievements after a concert at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf. 


As part of a television production, he played Beethoven's last great piano work, the Diabellivariations op. 120, in Europe's oldest concert hall.  The press is enthusiastic about his passionate expressiveness, his sparkling technique and his extraordinary stage presence.  


Since his brilliant success at the Münsterland Music Festival in 2012, he has been engaged as a soloist and chamber musician in Europe and the USA and teaches as a guest professor at several music academies. 


Press reviews

"...With the unique "Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 5 in E-flat major, op. 73" by Ludwig van Beethoven, this fall concert came to a grandiose conclusion. This work seemed to be written for the still young pianist Johannes Friedemann. Technically brilliant, he was able to devote himself entirely to the expression beyond the pure musical text.
He was able to use his cultivated touch brilliantly in a work that is considered a touchstone of high pianism. His colorful playing left nothing to be desired; one could simply enjoy this Beethoven interpretation. With Klaus Böwering, he had a partner at the conductor's podium, who took up the playing perfectly and continued it with the orchestra. Johannes Friedemann showed himself to be a very mature musician."

Axel Engels, Münsterländische Volkszeitung

...A brilliant conclusion with a musician at the grand piano, who brought the whole range of his skills to light in his performance. He put his stamp on this part of the concert with his filigree playing.
Solo interludes with technical refinements and parts with orchestral accompaniment were strung together like pearls and made this concert finally an experience. The completely enthusiastic audience applauded standing ovations and received several encores from Johannes Friedemann at the grand piano in return for their applause."

Helmut Schwietering, Westfälische Nachrichten

"...Ludwig van Beethoven's last piano concerto has a heroic sound. World-famous the opening triad of the orchestra with the following virtuosic composed cadenza of the piano. Johannes Friedemann gave a brilliantly interpreted concerto, revealing himself as magnificent both in the difficult solo passages and in the interplay with the well-led orchestra. Friedemann's confident playing was evident both in his attentive playing of the orchestral part and in the prominence he gave to his solo parts. Klaus Böwering led through this concertante dialogue, taking into account different dynamics and timbres, through various musical motifs and surprising key changes...And once again, the excellent interplay between piano and orchestra was evident, making this piano concerto a milestone of such compositions on the way to symphonic concerto style."

Ingmar Winter, Münsterländische Volkszeitung



In the following interview, pianist Johannes Friedemann talks about his concert activities and the current solo program.


Johannes Friedemann, in your solo recitals you are currently playing Beethoven's 5th Symphony as a piano transcription by Franz Liszt. How did you come up with this work?

JF: This piano transcription was not performed live for many years, but every music lover is familiar with the orchestral version. The piece is a pianistic challenge and a very special experience for the audience. People usually come to the concert curious and are surprised at the impact of the orchestral piece on the piano.


Why has the transcription not been performed for a long time?
JF: For a long time, the piece was considered unplayably difficult. Franz Liszt transferred the symphonic format of the work with its sonority to the keyboard. You literally have your hands full and move a much larger mass of tones than in any other virtuoso piece. The symphony transcription became popular in the 1960s through a recording by pianist Glenn Gould.
Even then, Gould used the possibilities of recording technology and recorded the work in multiple tracks. You can hear him playing 4 hands in passages - a trick to avoid the technical risks and impurity. After that, the risky piece was rarely performed live and was avoided by most pianists. Indeed, it takes a long time to prepare and mature.


Then you probably love the technical challenge above all?
JF: The technical question should not be separated from the musical question, which unfortunately often happens. Pianistic technique isn't just the way you play a sequence of notes quickly and easily. It is the origin of the sound and begins with the musical imagination. Technical difficulties can therefore often be solved simply by imagining and shaping a phrase more naturally.
The foundation of my piano technique is the Russian piano school, which I learned at the beginning of my training. I owe her the explosive power in my fingers, which allows me to master all levels of difficulty. Later, during my time in Italy, I was able to refine my touch with the help of the Italian school and find my very own tonal language.
I love a natural piano sound. All day I'm looking for new sounds. I attach particular importance to great dynamic tension and colour, colour, colour!


In another interview you said that you want to appeal to a young audience in particular.
JF: Some organizers complain that the audience in the concert halls is getting older. In fact, young people are often still in the minority at piano recitals.


Could this be due to the classical repertoire?
JF: Absolutely not, although this is often claimed.
Maybe it's because most musicians still don't do enough music mediation in classical music.
In pop music, one is already further along where, in addition to the musical statement, the personality and lifestyle of the artist is also conveyed. Music has something to do with people and life should be reflected in a creative activity.


How do you envision music education for young people?
JF: You first have to give many young people real access to classical music. Most of the time, the enthusiasm comes naturally.
I often play for teenagers in school projects. On these occasions, I moderate the performance with small lectures and anecdotes about the music. That's part of the program and the audience is already "warmed up" when it starts.
Also, some evening events could have a less conservative touch. That can change with an appropriate preliminary program or with a “meet the artist program” after the concert, which is very popular with all age groups.


Ludwig van Beethoven seems to be your favorite composer and focal point in your repertoire. The Piano Concertos, Diabelli Variations, symphony transcription…
JF: Beethoven suits my character very well. I am fascinated by the span between the male expressiveness and his often almost childlike sensibility. But I don't commit myself to a favorite composer. The music of Franz Liszt is above all a lot of playful fun for me. But Johannes Brahms is also my great passion! You see, it would be a shame to commit yourself.


Interview with the Münstersche Zeitung

Music is his life. Anyone who hears him play will not doubt it for a second. Johannes Friedemann is a pianist and winner of various international piano competitions. The graduate of the Gymnasium Arnoldinum lives in Zurich/Switzerland. A few days ago he was once again a guest in his home country and gave a concert in the Alter Speicher Laer. Parents and siblings live in Burgsteinfurt. They are happy when the sought-after soloist finds time to come home between his commitments. Critics appreciate the extraordinarily high level of perfection, but also the unusual empathy for compositions from the Baroque to works of the 21st century. His favorite composer is Ludwig van Beethoven. “I have a constant need to deal intensively with music. That's why I became a pianist,” is how the virtuoso characterizes himself. He has already met the greats of the music business. For example the Russian pianist and conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy. "I met him in Lugano," says Friedemann, "and worked with him on works by Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt." Many interesting artists live in Ticino. "Meeting them," emphasizes the young pianist, is very helpful after graduation." It is good to have a "trainer" before concerts.


"I discovered music when I was a child," remembers Friedemann. Since his parents played music every day, he quickly developed the need to play the piano intensively. Father played piano, mother violin, the two sisters flute and guitar. At the age of four, the boy wanted to play the violin and was given his own instrument. At the age of six he began to learn to play the piano. Father Meinhard taught him the basics. "I have always made music out of my own motivation," emphasizes Johannes Friedemann. "My parents never forced me, but supported me to the best of their ability." The music education began long before the regular study time.


"I knew when I was ten that I wanted to be a musician," says the former Arnoldiner. At that time he was particularly fascinated by playing the organ. "When I was eleven, I thought it was great to simply turn the organ to 'tutti' and let the large evangelical church tremble with the music of Johann Sebastian Bach," says Friedemann with a smile.
After graduating from high school, he initially considered going into the music industry as a career. He got an internship in the marketing department of the "Milan Scala". A few weeks were left to deepen the knowledge of Italian. "In the meantime, however, I realized that I prefer to make music myself," says the pianist.


The most important thing for him is the emotional empathy with the music. However, he says, this cannot be played off against technical perfection. "For me, technical perfection is a means of achieving an artistic goal," explains Friedemann, and he continues: "Emotional empathy and technical perfection together are not enough. You should also deal with the music intellectually. These things have to go hand in hand at work.” For him, music is the reflection of his life. "The personality of a musician occurs to a certain extent while making music," Friedemann explains the phenomenon.


The emotional effect of playing the piano is no accident. "The emotional power of creative processes must come from life," says the virtuoso. So you need a balance to work and enough relaxation. The daily walk is important to him. He also likes going to museums and concerts. For the appropriate interpretation of the works one must also deal with the personality of the composer. "That helped me especially with Ludwig van Beethoven," says the pianist.


Doing a concert as a performer is not routine. "The special thing about it is that this performance takes place in real time," says the musician. "You have to be mentally and physically fit and do something for it every day." Concentration is extremely important. Meditation, various mental techniques and a light sporting balance play an important role.


For Johannes Friedemann, the dialogue with the audience is of particular importance. "For me, a concert is like a dialogue with the listener," he says. “I can feel exactly whether the audience is paying attention. The tension in the room and the expectations help me with the game". Above all, he wants to appeal to a young audience. At his last concert he gave an introduction before the start. "People resonate better with a demanding program if you explain something about it beforehand," says the pianist. "I was very pleased to see young people among the audience." In order to get young people excited about classical music, teaching music is very important, says the virtuoso. "I think the times are over when the pianist appeared on stage as an unapproachable being and then simply disappeared again after the performance. The listeners should also learn something about the work on the piece and about the musician's profession". A great role model is Herbert von Karajan because he made classical music accessible to so many people.


Friedemann is very satisfied with the current status of his pianist career. The number of his appearances is constantly increasing. In June alone he plays in four countries and also flies to the USA. The work for the concert series "World Classics on the Piano", which gives guest performances all over Germany, is a particular pleasure. One thing is absolutely certain for the passionate pianist: "I will continue to work as a soloist".

Rainer Nix, Munstersche Zeitung
Photo: Oliver Look

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