Wellington Scoop

Jonathan Crayford bringing Steinway to Suite for four concerts

News from SianEClement Publicity
Jonathan Crayford, perhaps New Zealand’s most exciting and creative composer, performer and pianist, will be playing four concerts in Wellington this week as part of his Jonathan Crayford Steinway Tour of New Zealand.

Acclaimed as a highly original compositional talent, he has been responsible for many film soundtracks, albums, and bands. His work today spans many different genres and disciplines, in many parts of the world, including Australasia, Europe, Brazil, Spain, America (particularly New York) and Cuba, working alongside the likes of Kurt Rosenwinkel, David Binney, David Murray, Groove Collective, Amp Fiddler, Questlove, Mambo Macoco, Bruno Lawrence and many others.

His most recent recordings Dark Light and East West Moon received great critical success, with the latter winning the 2017 Tui Award for Best Jazz Album. Most recently Crayford has been living in Paris and Spain, writing a film/opera and recording two albums of solo piano music in Spain and a trio album in New York. Now he has a new project – to tour New Zealand with a Steinway D Concert Grand Piano.

“There is a huge difference between a full sized concert grand in good condition and every other piano. The big ones make a huge sound and the balance of low frequency to high frequency is glorious, the tone divine,” Crayford explains.

“When a pianist performs on an instrument that can deliver such a sound – the instrument inspires greatness and in turn, the audience feel it. This is a special condition reserved only for venues with great pianos. So I proposed to set up a tour with a very special piano, to fill the gap and bring a truly great instrument to audiences throughout the country: We’re taking the music to the people.”

Crayford discovered a NZ-based branch of the Guggenheim family wanted to sell their Steinway D as they had moved back to Europe and the piano could not go with them. The piano is a 1955 full sized Steinway concert grand, signed by several concert pianists throughout its lifetime, including Lily Kraus – “a fantastic pianist from Hungry who had been in a concentration camp, became a refugee and started touring the world in the ‘30s and ‘40s. She was a specialist in Beethoven and Mozart and had quite a strong presence in NZ.”

Crayford continues: “The Steinways built in Hamburg of this vintage are really good and the piano technician/tuner Michael Ashby was putting a new action stack in it – which means all its moving parts are brand new,” recalls Crayford. “I don’t have the sort of money to buy such a piano but I wanted to see if I could find it a good home, so I emailed a few friends, to see if they knew anyone who might want a very good and rare concert grand. One of the people I contacted was Brett Mills – a film facilitator who owns the largest film equipment company in the South Island, based in Queenstown. Brett texted me back and said – ‘why don’t I put up the money and you buy it and do something interesting’.

So Crayford considered what that might be.

“I decided on this tour as I personally relish the opportunity to perform on such an instrument – and this is why I have not previously toured NZ as a solo pianist. I also intend to make it an ongoing project, designed to be built upon every year, with other fine pianists invited to tour. We are creating a template for future tours of the same nature and can increase and broaden the scope of the project to include other artists (International and National), and other venues around NZ that don’t have the facility to host such artists.”

“So this is the set-up year – the ‘Jonathan Crayford Steinway Tour’. Next year it might be called the Michael Houstoun Steinway Tour or the Mike Nock, or the Aaron Parks, or the Deidre Irons, or the Barney McAll or Sarah Watkins… The good thing about having a fine piano is that it attracts fine pianists. In this respect New Zealanders will experience high quality art.”

“In travelling with his own piano Jonathan will be conquering the greatest problem that concert pianists face – that of performing on a different instrument in each venue. Touring with such a quality instrument, is bound to produce a series of concerts second to none,” comments Lloyd Williams, Chair of Chamber Music New Zealand: “The venues where the Steinway Tour will take place are intimate, but with good acoustics, and are reasonably priced, but many previously missed the key ingredient – a grand piano.”

The Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter had a similar idea: “Put a small piano in a truck and drive out on country roads; take time to discover new scenery; stop in a pretty place where there is a good church; unload the piano and tell the residents; give a concert; offer flowers to the people who have been so kind as to attend; leave again.”

Acclaimed New Zealand pianist Michael Houstoun adds: “It is every pianist’s dream, to tour with your own piano. Jonathan Crayford’s desire to take a concert grand Steinway on the road and bring music to interesting venues is inspired. He will be opening the way for other pianists to follow.”

“It will be a great pleasure for me to be able to perform on such a brilliant instrument to people all over New Zealand,” agrees Crayford. “We also have a wide range of venue type: A cement silo, a wine cave, a concert hall and various other types of spaces.”

“I’m going to play everything that’s been in my mind for the last 2 years since I came back to New Zealand to live close to my daughter and grand-daughter. I’ve studied a lot of music in this time and absorbed the sounds from trips to far-away places. When I sit down to play it will be to journey through all that I have seen and heard. In real terms – for the listener, apart from the emotional and spiritual content which can only reveal itself at the time, this means some Ravel, Bach, Ligeti, Monk, Ellington, Mingus, Mompou, Mario Bauza, Claire Fischer, Peter Gabriel, Lorca, and particularly anything that might come to mind at the time.”

April 19 – Suite Gallery, Wellington. 8pm
April 20 – Suite Gallery, Wellington. 8pm
April 21 – Suite Gallery, Wellington (2pm matinee and 8pm evening)