Classical Genius
Sello S Alcock speaks to a rising star on the international piano circuit

Up-and-coming young pianist Ben Schoeman sits at the piano and tilts his head sideways – animated. He switches from an intense stare to his trademark sideways bop and says about the piece he is playing: “Ah, it’s so difficult.” His words are forceful, but a smile plays on his lips. Schoeman has his back to an entrance that leads to the lounge of his home in Brooklyn, Pretoria.

His grand piano faces a spacious area filled with homely couches and a large window overlooking a tree-lined garden. On a coffee table are newspaper clippings and neatly stacked letters. Among them is one Schoeman is particularly proud of – a letter from Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan congratulating the 24-year-old. On another table across the room, rolled up certificates still in their protective cardboard are neatly placed in a line, the pride of Schoeman’s educationist mother.

He plays a piece that is discernable, even to an ear that is not classically inclined, because it contains a hint of jazz. It is a composition by prolific South African pianist Surendran Reddy and was composed for the 11th Vodacom Unisa International Piano Competition. The composition, for which Schoeman bagged a special prize for his rendition, was noted for its complexity and punishing length.

It is a piece characteristic of the brand of music that the composer has aptly coined “clazz”. Titled Toccata for John Roos, the music is a fitting tribute to a man Schoeman considers the pride of the South African classical music industry. Roos, who was on the adjudication panel for the piano competition, is considered the most prominent South African in the international classical music scene and can be found on the adjudication panels of most major international piano competitions.

Schoeman se spel vul meesters se kreatiwiteit aan {Afrikaans}

Beethoven: Klavierkonsert Nr 4, JPO, Linder, Parktown
Thys Odendaal, Beeld, 27/10/2009

Die Suid-Afrikaanse pianis Ben Schoeman soek in sy vertolkings na die sinryke betekenis wat komponiste deur hul musiek probeer bepaal; in die dieperliggende labirinte van die menslike gees, die satiriese, komiese en so meer.

Insgelyks is ’n geskakeerde weergawe ook ’n prioriteit; om note op ’n blad as meer as net klankkolletjies te sien.

Dit is wanneer ’n vertolkende kunstenaar bewondering afdwing; as die kreatiwiteit in die vertolking die oorspronklike, kreatiewe inspirasie van die komponis se kunswerk aanvul.

In sy weergawe van die Klavierkonsert no. 4 van Beethoven was dit van die opvallende kenmerke in Schoeman se spel.
Dit is dalk ten beste geïllustreer in die eerste beweging, Allegro moderat o. Sy beheer van die kontraste, soms sterk uiteenlopend en andersins uiters subtiel, is prysenswaardig.

’n Mens roep in herinnering die rekapitulasie van die openingstema – die aanvanklike, majestueuse toonskakering word verfyn tot delikaat gemoduleerde spel.

Dit mag wees dat hy die lirisme van die Andante te brandend wou belig en die lig- en-skadu-spel ’n enkele oomblik of twee effens oneweredig aangedoen het.

In die slot-Rondo was die vivace-dinamiek met ’n veerligte aanslag en ragfyne vingerwerk in ’n uitbundige momentum oorgedra.


Ben Schoeman wins the 11th Unisa International Piano Competition
Dr Z Pallo Jordan, Minister of Arts & Culture congratulates Mr Ben Schoeman for winning the 11th Unisa International Piano Competition

“This is a splendid achievement for 24-year old Mr. Schoeman who is destined for a bright future in the performing arts, especially music. There is no doubt that he will make a significant contribution to the development and growth especially of piano recital.”

Mr. Schoeman’s achievement is an assurance that we have among us young people who are matured visionaries. They are prepared to go to the ends of the earth to raise the South African flag.

It takes a young life whose day-to-day business has been unusual to be awarded the Piano Competition!

We toast the young Mr. Schoeman’s success, and join his peers, fellow competitors, family and the entire music loving community of the country in wishing him the best in his future endeavours.

I personally want to thank him and tell him how deeply we have been inspired and moved by this marvelous achievement.

To the other finalists who may not have walked away with the coveted prize: you, too, are winners in your right.

Through you, we have seen the high standard of instrumental performance and self discipline that characterizes the lives of our future artists.

Mr. Schoeman epitomizes youthful confidence, pride and determination of young South Africans who seek to pursue a life of integrity. His is the spirit of a young person who appreciates that it is a time for ‘business unusual.’

This significant milestone would not have been possible without the unconditional love of family and support of the sponsors.

As Government we stand solidly behind agents who espouse forging a partnership that creates a better life for our young talented people.

Mr. Ben Schoeman, thank you very much for your perseverance, discipline and artistry. The whole of the African continent celebrates and is very proud and happy for you.

– The Times

Top international pianist Ben Schoeman chats to Aspasia Karras

There is a right and a wrong way to play Rachmaninov. I am watching Ben Schoeman ham up this point on the grand piano in his parents’ 1930s art deco lounge in Brooklyn, Pretoria.

With a gushing gusto worthy of Liberace he shows me the wrong way.

“Serge Rachmaninov was a great pianist; people should really listen to the way he played his own compositions, there is something aristocratic in the music. But instead they play it sentimentally.”

His lampoon is replete with facial expressions and a great deal of flourish and I find myself giggling at his musical joke.

It feels as if the first South African to have won the Vodacom Unisa International Piano Competition has granted me a privileged glimpse into the rarefied world of the international classical musician.

It’s a world that exists in its own plane of reference, a bit like a science-fiction novel.

Here, the primary medium of communication is music, and

the language of diminished 5ths and dominant 7ths is wielded at such a technically profound level that it is capable of inducing a range of emotions in even the least well-tempered member of an audience.

Ben is certainly having a visceral effect on me as I watch him play an incredibly difficult piece of music, the Toccata for John Roos, composed by South African pianist Surendran Reddy.

Apparently it effected an emotional crescendo on the audience at the semifinals.

Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music 2011

After being the first South African to win the first grand prize in the 11th UNISA Vodacom International Piano Competition in Pretoria in 2008, Ben Schoeman (27) now also adds the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Music 2011 to his long list of professional accolades.

“The Standard Bank Young Artist Award is a wonderful recognition, and I feel really honoured to be part of the list of creative artists that have won this Award over the past three decades,” said Schoeman. “This award gives a great amount of international exposure, but it also builds stronger ties with my home country South Africa. It also inspires me as an artist to achieve higher standards,” he added. 

“As a young pianist who has already begun to make his mark, Ben Schoeman is someone to watch,” said Richard Cock, National Arts Festival committee member for Music. “He will certainly make his presence felt at the Festival, and it is a long time since we have had a pianist as the Music winner.”

After obtaining a Masters in Performing Arts (cum laude) from the University of Pretoria, Schoeman completed a Master Diploma from the Accademia Pianistica ‘Incontri col Maestro’ in Imola, Italy. He is currently undertaking a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at City University of London and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He has studied with well-known musicians, including Joseph Stanford, Michel Dalberto, Louis Lortie, Boris Petrushansky and Ronan O’Hora.

“I grew up in a very musical family. My parents often took me to concerts and I started with violin lessons at the age of four. Music has therefore played a very important role during my childhood. My mother is an organist and I always had the music of JS Bach in my ears,” said Schoeman. “It was, however, the sound of the piano that had captured my imagination most vividly, and I started listening to many recordings of great artists such as Arthur Rubinstein, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels.”

Schoeman has performed across Europe, Canada and the United Kingdom. He has played in prestigious concert halls, such as the Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, the Grande Auditorio of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, the Teatro del Giglio in Lucca, the Paleis Het Loo in the Netherlands, Schloss Moritzburg in Dresden and the Konzerthaus in Berlin. He also gave critically-acclaimed recitals at various international festivals, among others the Chester Festival and King’s Lynn Festival (UK), the Festival da Bach a Bartók and the Festival Pianistico

“Mario Ghislandi” (Italy), the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival (Canada) and the Crans-Montana Semaines Musicales (Switzerland). 

“My greatest heroes are those musicians who show real integrity and creativity in their music-making,” said Schoeman. “A musician that inspires and moves me tremendously is the pianist András Schiff. When he plays, I forget about anything that is material and earthly. I hear only the beautiful and transcendental qualities of the music itself. I would love to perform with more South African singers in the future.”

He regularly performs concertos with the leading South African symphony orchestras, including the Johannesburg, KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Philharmonic Orchestras. He also regularly gives solo and chamber music recitals throughout South Africa. His recent nationwide tour of 23 concerts received rave reviews.

“Humanity and spirituality are the things that inspire me the most. Music is something that brings me great joy, but I also want to share this with a large public. I feel that we can never work hard enough to emphasise the important role of music and art in basic education.

I feel really inspired when I see someone being moved by a great work of art,” said Schoeman.

In 2008 he received the prestigious Laureate Award from the University of Pretoria Alumni Association for his achievements as well as his contribution to music in South Africa.

In 2009 he also won the coveted gold medal and first prize in the Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition in London. Salon Music and UNISA recently launched his DVD-recording of concertos by Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

 “I hope that I can create a greater awareness of classical music in South Africa and to be a cultural ambassador for my country,” said Schoeman about his hopes for the year ahead.

“I also see this as an important year to expand my repertoire, and I hope that I shall have the opportunity to introduce the music of South African composers to more audiences in South Africa and abroad. I would like to give my heartfelt thanks to Standard Bank for their loyal and continued support of the arts, and in particular their great investment towards the Standard Bank Young Artist Award.”


Ben Schoeman raak liries oor Liszt {Afrikaans}
Ben Schoeman is ’n wandelende musiek-ensiklopedie. Sonder dat hy dit besef, word elke gesprek ’n musiekles vol name, datums, sienings en insigte. Daarby druk hy homself so goed uit dat hy woordeliks aangehaal kan word.

Dié Suid-Afrikaanse pianis het gister uit Oudtshoorn gesels kort voor sy eerste optrede op die KKNK, wat ook die begin van sy kort konserttoer is. Dit eindig aanstaande naweek in Bloemfontein.

Ons val met die deur in die huis: Hoekom Liszt?

“Behalwe dat dit dié komponis se 200ste geboortejaar is, wil alle musici, of pianiste, sy musiek speel. Ek is besonder aangetrokke tot Liszt omdat dit hy is wat my na die klavier gebring het.

“Ek was 10 jaar oud toe ek ’n TV-program, Golden age of the piano, gesien het waarin Claudio Arrau die fonteine by Villa d’Este buite Rome besoek het en oor Liszt se Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este uit sy Années de Pèlerinage gesels het.

“Baie mense sê Liszt is net tegniese vertoon, maar dié werk het my betower omdat dit ’n filosofiese instelling het.

“Die pianis Alfred Brendel het gesê die beste ding vir enige jong pianis is om Liszt se Sonate (in B mineur) en sy Danté-sonate te leer. Dit was die hoeksteen van sy opvoeding, het hy gesê.

“Ek was 16 toe ek die eerste Liszt-werke geleer het.”

Fassinerende Liszt

“Liszt was die fassinerendste mens en die eerste groot pianis in die geskiedenis van musiek. Hy het duisende konserte gegee, sowat 1400 klavierwerke geskryf, in verskeie lande in Europa gewoon, was die mees gefotografeerde persoon in die 19de eeu, en meer as 400 studente het by hom meesterklasse gehad waarvoor hy nie ’n sent gevra het nie.

“Vanjaar bied dus ’n wonderlike geleentheid om op dié besonderse kunstenaar se musiek te fokus.”

-Volksblad: 5 April 2011

Bedrywige Schoeman terug vir SA fees {Afrikaans}
Die Suid-Afrikaanse pianis Ben Schoeman, wat nou in Londen woon, keer hierdie jaar na Suid-Afrika terug om deel te neem aan die Nasionale Kunstefees einde Junie begin Julie in Grahamstad.

Later vanjaar onderneem hy ’n konsertreis in Suid-Afrika saam met sy swaer, die fluitspeler Dawid Venter. Dié konserttoer volg op sy uitgebreide eerste konsertreis van 23 konserte in sy geboorteland.

Schoeman was besonder bedrywig verlede jaar, wat in Januarie begin het in die Princess Alexandra-saal in Londen. Dit was ’n konsert vir twee klaviere met die Suid-Afrikaans gebore pianis Tessa Uys.

In Februarie het hy deelgeneem aan ’n “Chopin-marathon” in die Imola Accademia Pianistica in Italië om dié Poolse komponis se geboorte twee eeue vroeër te gedenk.

Dit is deur met ’n uitsluitlik Chopin-konsert in Maart vir die City Music Society in Bishops-gate, Londen, waarna hy na Italië teruggekeer het vir ’n Beethoven-konsert in die Teatro Vittoria in Turyn.

In April maak hy sy solo- en kamermusiekdebuut in die beroemde Wigmore Hall in Londen.

Begin Junie is hy in die St. James-paleis aan die Britse koninklikes voorgestel tydens die eeufees van die Royal Overseas League.

Tot in September het Schoeman deelgeneem aan talle musiekfeeste, waaronder die Chester-, King’s Lynn-, Hampstead- en Edinburg-feeste. Hy het op dié internasionale feeste musiek van onder andere Bach, Chopin, Poulenc en Prokofiëf uitgevoer.

In Oktober het Schoeman op die EstOvestfees in Turyn uitsluitlik werke van Suid-Afrikaanse komponiste uitgevoer – Stefans Grové, Peter Klatzow, Hendrik Hofmeyr, Surendran Reddy en Andile Khumalo.

Einde November was hy in Boekarest vir ’n uitvoering op twee klaviere met die Roemeense pianis Matei Varga.

Ná sy optrede met die KwaZulu-Natal Filharmoniese Orkes as die Jong Kunstenaar van die Jaar in Musiek op die kunstefees vroeg in Julie, moet hy verpligtinge oorsee nakom voordat hy in Augustus terugkeer vir die konserte saam met Venter.

-Beeld: 03 Januarie 2011, Thys Odendaal