Daniel-Ben Pienaar

Biography

Daniel-Ben Pienaar is garnering an international reputation for his recordings and concert appearances. He has a particular interest in early music and in the Viennese classics and early Romantics.

Born in South Africa, he came to public notice there at the age of fourteen, performing Liszt's E-flat concerto and Beethoven's ‘Emperor’ with the country's most prominent orchestras. He moved to London to study at the Royal Academy of Music, where he was in the piano class of Christopher Elton. During his time as a student Laurence Dreyfus' imaginative response to the early music debate and Jonathan Freeman-Attwood's understanding of the creative possibilities of recording made a deep impact. Upon graduating in 1997 he received the prestigious Queen's Commendation. He is an elected Fellow and currently the Academy’s Curzon Lecturer in Performance Studies.

Upon completing his formal training he set out on a programme of self-imposed study and reading, eschewing the competition circuit. In 1999 he first played the set of Six Partitas by Bach in one concert; 2000 saw a Mozart Piano Sonata cycle at the Academy. Since then he has, aside from these works, also variously given complete performances of Bach's Goldberg Variations, the two books of the Well-Tempered Clavier, Beethoven's Diabelli Variations, Schubert's finished Piano Sonatas, the Chopin Ballades and Waltzes, in addition to a representative selection of, mostly, 19th-century works.

Much of 1999-2005 was spent travelling extensively in Japan with the popular violinist Narimichi Kawabata, playing a diverse duo repertoire and solo recitals.

A summer of immersion in Bach in 2002 led to his first recording – two days of sessions devoted to The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 in 2003. This was released on the small independent label Prometheus Editions. These session tapes were revisited in 2007 for a revised edit, now released online on Magnatune. The Bach recording in 2003 was followed a few months later by the Chopin Ballades for Victor Japan. The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 2, recorded in autumn 2004, appeared on Magnatune in 2005. 

His subsequent solo recordings (recordings with an * have not been released yet):
2006 Orlando Gibbons – The Complete Keyboard works (first complete recording, released by Deux-Elles)
2008-9 Mozart – The Eighteen Piano Sonatas (Avie)
2010 Bach – Goldberg Variations and Fourteen Canons BWV1087 (Avie)
2011 Beethoven – Diabelli Variations and Bagatelles Op.126 (Avie)
2012-4 Beethoven – The 32 Piano Sonatas (Avie)
2013 Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 (released in 2013 together with the 2004 recording of Book 2, Avie)
2015 Schubert – Twelve Great Sonatas (the eleven finished Sonatas and the fragment D.840)*
2017 Chopin – The Four Ballades and Piano Sonata no.3*
2018 Arnold Van Wyk (1916-1983) – Complete Mature Piano Music (first complete recording)*
2018 ‘The Long 17th Century’ – A Cornucopia of Early Keyboard Music (36 works, each by a different composer, 2CDs)*
2018 Bach – The Six Keyboard Partitas*

Recent recital credits include a Mozart Piano Sonata cycle at the Holywell Room in Oxford, performing at the Singapore International Piano Festival and Eilat Festival in Israel, playing the two books of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier on consecutive nights at London's King's Place (as part of their ‘Bach Unwrapped’ festival), a Wigmore Hall recital of Chopin and Schubert, chamber music at Kioi Hall and Shinjuku Opera City in Tokyo and re-introducing South African audiences to Arnold Van Wyk’s 1950s masterpiece, Night Music.

Collaborations have included re-imagining music from the 1600s through the mid-20th century for the unlikely combination of trumpet and piano with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, and six discs, mostly of Pienaar's own arrangements, were recorded for the Linn label. Several of these arrangements are published by Resonata Music, and a complete Stravinsky Pulcinella Suite is slated for publication by Schott. Further chamber music activities have included a popular cycles of the Brahms Violin Sonatas and Mozart’s mature Violin Sonatas at Wilton’s Music Hall with Peter Sheppard-Skaerved, performing Bach's Art of Fugue on harpsichords and chamber organs with Martin Knizia, and playing at prominent London venues with violinist Giovanni Guzzo. 

Pienaar has been a member of the Royal Academy of Music teaching faculty, assuming a variety of roles, since 2005. His undergraduate teaching has included elective courses on Bach, Mozart, Schubert and Piano Sonatas 1778-1854. He runs an interpretation seminar for master's degree students with cellist Neil Heyde and curates a series of repertoire and performance practice workshops for postgraduate pianists. Public talks on a wide range of performance-related topics are also a regular feature of his Academy work. He views the performer's position in relation to the canonic repertoire as radically 'late' – both with respect to the works themselves, and to the performance traditions and great recorded performances that surround them – demanding an active intervention from the performer. That implies taking critical stock of a gamut of expressive means, drawn from a variety of practices, in a personal and idiosyncratic way, and setting the challenge of making music without taking recourse to a ready-made 'interpretative' philosophy or commercial niche.

His fascination with the recording process extends to acting occasionally as producer: a number of recordings for the Academy's own recording label have appeared, including such diverse ventures as ‘American Icons’ (symphonic brass) and ensemble arrangements of Frank Zappa. He has also produced a Liszt recital on historical and modern pianos by Olivia Sham for Avie, and a Liszt transcriptions programme by Chiyan Wong for Linn.