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Discovering Legendary Pianism: YouTube Edition

Featuring "pianopera" with Erwin Poelstra

3/26/2021 • Reading Time: 3min

Portrait of Liszt, made by Sir Hubert von Herkomer in 1904

About Erwin Poelstra 

Based in Japan, Erwin Poelstra is a pianist & pedagogue in high demand.  He is also the face of "pianopera", a YouTube channel which features countless historical recordings & legendary artists of the piano. 


Erwin’s introduction to the fascinating world of historical piano recording was through his first conservatory teacher, Geoffrey Madge, after which he gradually began to collect LPs & CDs for his own collection.  Among his first listening experiences was the playing of none other than Josef Hofmann.


Erwin created his channel in 2007, during the early years of YouTube. before its current commercial developments & paid subscriptions.  Throughout recent years, a number of channels emerged similarly dedicated to sharing historical pianists undoubtedly inspired by his own.  I find Erwin’s channel especially important to cherish given YouTube’s unfortunate changes in current commercial developments & paid subscriptions.

Portrait of Anton Rubinstein


I cannot say I have any favorites on his channel. Frankly, I enjoy & appreciate all of them.  Naturally, there are some pianists I feel closer to interpretatively, as well as repertoire I prefer to listen to.  That being said, I have absorbed something from each recording I have listened to that inspires me & demonstrates the incredible potential of our instrument. 

I stumbled upon Erwin’s channel through discovering one of its many recordings:  Josef Hofmann, performing his own Kaleidoscope, in 1938, from the Casimir Hall Recital.  I certainly knew of & listened to his performances of other composers, but I was not familiar with his own compositions.  This particular one left an impression on me I cannot quantify in words.  I was fascinated not only by the artistry of the work & of his playing, but the highly systematic inventiveness & calculations behind an artistry that I hadn't ever encountered, machinations that I felt perhaps unreasonably determined to understand & fully grasp. 


At the age of twelve, I was very fortunate to perform in a master class for Anthony di Bonaventura, American concert pianist & Professor of Music at Boston University's College of Fine Arts for forty years.  It was a singular forty-five minutes which was both inspired & inspiring. He concluded the master class with the following comment which struck me as rather enigmatic at the time:: That, in piano playing, it is infinitely more important to be intelligent than to be talented.

Josef Hofmann was not only a legendary pianist: he was a composer, professor, polymath, inventor, engineer, and more, all of which contributed to his status as a complete artist. 


The result of stumbling upon that aforementioned recording is this entire interview series as well as my dedication to my studies & performances of Hofmann’s own underknown & underplayed compositions.


I have chosen three recordings to introduce Erwin’s channel.  In honor of the passing of Dimitri Bashkirov earlier this month, the first is a live recording of his playing in 1963. While this recording as well as the second & third feature works of the standard repertoire, it is worth mentioning that I have discovered a handful of underknown & underplayed works through his archive. The fourth is an interview with Josef Hofmann from a radio broadcast in 1952, one day after his 76th birthday.


I haven’t yet come across a recording on Erwin’s channel that hasn’t left me without words. Therefore, my commentary on these three performances is both unnecessary & impossible


Dimitri Bashkirov plays Gluck/Sgambati / Melody plays Orfeo ed Euridice

Egon Petri plays Franz Liszt / Waltz from Gounod’s “Faust”

Jean Doyen plays Maurice Ravel / Gaspard de la Nuit

Interview with Josef Hofmann in 1952


About Maryam Raya


Maryam Raya is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning concert pianist based in New York. Praised for her “Dynamic Stage Presence” by the Union of Excellence, Maryam has performed recitals worldwide, in countries including England, Spain, France, Italy, China, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, and Dubai and has performed at renowned venues across the United States including multiple appearances at New York’s Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The National Opera Center, multiple international embassies, among others.

Described as a “Complete Artist of the 21st Century” by Info Music France, she has been featured in countless international art, fashion, and music magazines across Europe as well as American news outlets such as CBS news. With an extensive and diverse repertoire, including numerous solo programs and over thirty concerti for piano and orchestra, Maryam is passionate about bringing classical music to younger audiences through her captivating performances and lectures.

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