Daniel-Ben Pienaar was born in South Africa. He made his debut there at the age of 14, playing Liszt's E-flat concerto. After winning his country's National Youth Music Competition and the University of South Africa Overseas Music Scholarship Competition he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London. There he won the Queen's Commendation in 1997 and held the Hodgson Fellowship in 1997/8.
Performances include appearances at the National Arts Fesival, the State Theatre and the Nico Malan Theatre in South Africa, debut concerts in America (including the Goldberg Variations) and Japan (including the Chopin Ballades), a Schumann concerto with the Philharmonia and the Stravinsky Concerto at the RNCM. In 2000 he gave the complete cycle of Mozart's 18 piano sonatas at the Duke's Hall of the Royal Academy of Music and later the same year also the 6 keyboard partitas of Bach.
In 2003 he recorded Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier Book 1 for Prometheus Editions in London, and a Chopin recital (including the 4 Ballades) for Victor Japan. Future recording projects will include the Goldberg Variations and complete Gibbons keyboard works.
With violinist Narimichi Kawabata he has performed all over Japan, at the Wigmore Hall in London, and for his American debut.
Performances in 2005 include a Liszt Sonata at Hamarikyu Hall,Tokyo and the Well-Tempered Clavier in the US.
The keyboard works of Jacobean master Orlando Gibbons followed in 2006 – the first complete recording of this oeuvre – recasting the output as idiomatically pianistic and as a single recital. This was released to acclaim by Deux-Elles in 2007.
Mozart's Viennese piano sonatas (nos. 10-18) were recorded over three days in 2008, and the nine remaining sonatas over two days in 2009. This is the first recording that Pienaar also edited himself. The complete set was released by Avie in November 2010 and received outstanding notices.
His most recent recordings are of Bach's Goldberg Variations and the Fourteen Canons, BWV1087 (September 2010), and Beethoven's Diabelli Variations and Op. 126 Bagatelles (September 2011). The latter is scheduled for release in 2012.
Currently he is absorbed in the Beethoven sonatas, tentatively working on a number of Chopin compositions, and compiling another 17th-century recital. Future plans for the studio include returning to the Schubert sonatas and Bach partitas. Upcoming recitals include appearing at the Singapore International Piano Festival, and 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).
Recent collaborations have included re-imagining music from the 17th and 19th centuries for the unlikely combination of trumpet and piano, with Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. Three discs, mostly of Pienaar's own arrangements, have so far been recorded for the Linn label and a fourth (centred on the Bach family) is projected for recording 2012.
Further chamber music activities have included performing Bach's Art of Fugue on harpsichords and chamber organs with Martin Knizia, playing a wide repertoire with violinist Giovanni Guzzo and, most recently, the Brahms violin sonatas with Peter Sheppard-Skaerved at Wilton's Music Hall.
Since 2005 Daniel-Ben Pienaar has been a member of the Royal Academy of Music teaching faculty with a small class of piano students, also assuming a variety of roles as lecturer and chamber music coach. 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 teaching.
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. 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 (near-impossible?) challenge of making music without taking recourse to a ready-made 'interpretative' philosophy or niche.
In addition to his other areas of interest his fascination with the recording process extends also to producing CDs for the Academy's own recording label, including such diverse ventures as 'American Icons' (symphonic brass) and ensemble arrangements of Frank Zappa.
© Daniel-Ben Pienaar
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