Monday, September 24, 2007

Piano Works of Franck on CD by Nigerian Pianist Sodi Braide

Sodi Braide is a 32-year-old Nigerian pianist who brought himself to our attention last year. We recently learned of his Lyrinx CD of solo piano works of César Franck, released this year, and read an online interview he gave to Agnès Jourdain of the French website When we contacted him, Sodi told us of some French reviews of the CD, and recommended the interview to us as well. One of the most compelling passages is Sodi's description of his first piano competition, in Pretoria, South Africa in 1996. He recalls that local people were amazed to see a Black pianist who played classical music. The genre had been identified as belonging to White people. Sodi has vivid memories of the impact of his presence in the finals of the competition: “It was just after the end of apartheid, and some were really thunderstruck to discover that in fact there was not a cultural barrier due to skin color!”

This post presents our English translation of several excerpts from the interview:

“Sodi Braide was born June 14, 1975 to Nigerian parents at Newcastle, U.K. His parents were academics; both were scientists but music lovers as well. 'My father is an amateur pianist (as was his father before him). Moreover, one of my two brothers plays the guitar. Each Christmas my parents organize a concert, with children's chorale, in which I participate, on the piano or in the chorale. My mother had enough musical knowledge to make the chorale work, even though she has never pursued formal music studies.'

The piano of the house naturally made a part of Sodi's world from his childhood. 'I put myself on my father's knees to amuse myself with touching it' and Sodi Braide took courses from the age of 3 years in Dublin, Ireland. The family had moved to follow his father, who was completing his studies as an agronomist. 'My parents saw that I was interested in the instrument, but my father did not want to give me lessons himself, because he was fearful of passing on his faults. He preferred that the lessons be given by a professional. So one beautiful day, they led me to the home of a woman, a tutor. I was only three years old. She didn't want to give me lessons, finding me too young. She said she could not teach the reading of the notes unless children already knew how to read words. My parents told her 'But he already knows how to read!' She would not believe it, so she gave me a book, which I read. I was a little advanced. She found that I had begun to read at the age of two and a half years. She then agreed to take me as a student.'

In December 1979, Sodi had to leave again for Nigeria. 'My father had finished his doctorate. My parents therefore returned to their work at the Ahmadu Bello University, at Zaria, in the North of Nigeria. It was very difficult to find good teachers. At the time, there was no conservatory of music in Nigeria. So these years of piano studies were a little chaotic for me. We sometimes drove up to 100 kilometers, once a week, so I could have my piano lesson. When I think back on it, I tell myself it is a miracle that I became a pianist.'

In 1987, his parents learned, by chance, of a piano competition for pianists under 25 years of age. It was organized by the Musical Society of Nigeria, with the support of the French Cultural Center, in Lagos. His parents decided to have Sodi participate. 'The first prize of the competition was a scholarship for two months of studies in France. The pianist Éric Heidsieck was on the jury, as was his wife, Tania. They were filled with enthusiasm by my playing, and supported giving me the first prize. The other members of the jury were not in agreement, and the prize was finally awarded to someone else. But Heidsieck was so furious that, upon returning to France, he did everything he was able to do so that I would be able to come to France. Finally, thanks to his recommendations, I obtained a scholarship not of two months, but of two years, renewable!'

Sodi Braide was able to perfect his musical studies: 'In arriving in France, I was 13 years old. Éric Heidsieck entrusted me to Françoise Thinat, with whom I had studied at the Conservatory of Orleans. It was the first time I followed a regular course of musical studies. Some years later, I did a great deal of work to prepare for the entrance competition at the CNSM of Paris, where I was admitted at the age of 16 years, in the class of Jacques Rouvier. But at that time, I was not yet sure of wanting to become a professional musician. I also liked the sciences and I was in my final year of science studies that year. I really decided to become a musician two months before the end of the school year, when I requested a temporary leave from classes of the CNSM to be able to pass the baccalaureate. I practically stopped playing the piano for two months, and I missed it very much. At that time I knew that my wish was music.' It was a wish he followed with success since Sodi won the First Prize of piano and of chamber music at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique (CNSM) of Paris in the classes of Jacques Rouvier and Jean Mouillère. He was unanimously awarded the Superior Performance Diploma of the École Normale de Paris, in the class of Françoise Thinat.

Desiring to continue to perfect himself, he entered in the 3rd cycle at the CNSM of Paris in the class of Gérard Frémy, before being admitted in the class of Dimitri Bashkirov at the Reine Sofia School of Madrid.

Sodi Braide won numerous prizes and distinctions – first of all Pretoria, South Africa (1996). 'It was my first competition. I was only 20 years old, and one of my motivations for entering it was simply the fact that my parents did not live very far away at the time. They were working at the University of Lesotho. However, I believe that I was not really conscious of the investment, of the level of preparation, which was required for such a difficult competition! I had already played one or two times in South Africa, and I remembered that most of the South Africans, at the time, had never seen seen a Black pianist of classical music, “music of the Whites”, what's more in the finals of such a competition. It was just after the end of apartheid, and some were really thunderstruck to discover that in fact there was not a cultural barrier due to skin color!'

Sodi was also the winner of the Natexis Banques Populaires from 2001 to 2004, and the winner of the international competitions of Leeds (2003) and Van Cliburn (jury discretionary prize, 2005). 'I didn't like the competitions! I found the notion of “competition” impossible to reconcile with that of “art”. However, it was good the competitions existed, and rare are the young musicians who never enter the competitions. If one decides to enter a competition, then he must try to take the good side – I often say to myself during competitions that I am not competing against the others but against myself, that the competition was an occasion to raise my level of artistic standard beyond what I had done before. All of the competitions in which I have participated have been the occasion for me to make progress as a pianist and as a musician.'

Sodi Braide presently lives in Paris and performs recitals and chamber music in France (Radio France, Salle de l'Archipel, Salle Cortot and the Chopin Festival of Bagatelle, among others) He also performs in England, the United States, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Spain, Luxembourg, Romania and South Africa.

'The "Déclic" program of Cultures France (formerly AFAA) has been extraordinary for me. I have been able, thanks to this program, to make many tours, notably in Latin America, a continent which I adore and where I feel very well. I think the Latin Americans like me because I have been reinvited six or seven times in four years! Next autumn I am due to return there in a tour of Mexico. Thanks to these tours, I have been able to acquire an experience of the scene and a maturity that I never had before. It is not all working on the piano at home, one must also confront the public.'

He recently recorded a CD of works of César Franck. 'Franck is an amazing composer who often succeeds in reconciling simplicity and complexity in the most natural way there is. The idea of working with the Chorals transcribed by Blanche Selva came to me much later. These are very moving works, but difficult to play. They present numerous difficulties already at the organ, and this difficulty is still greater at the piano because we must come to do with our two hands that which the organists do with their hands and the pedals.'

Franck: Works for Piano, by Sodi Braide
César Franck (1822-1890), the Belgian composer who was naturalized French,
was reconciled with the piano only towards the end of his life: against the wishes of his father, who had encouraged him to work on it in excessively high doses in his youth. He was more interested in the organ; however musicians did not miss the chance to transcribe for the piano writings, even late ones, which he had originally written for this other instrument.”

The website writes:
“Jan. 9, 2007 – Romantic
César Franck Performed by Sodi Braide on Piano
Choral Prelude & Fugue FWV 21, Prelude, Fugue & Variation for Organ FWV 30 (Transcription by Harold Bauer & Sodi Braide), Three Chorales for Organ (Transcription by Blanche Selva), Prelude, Aria & Final FWV 23.

The Lyrinx company invites us to discover pianist Sodi Braide in the work of César Franck. A happy encounter and a CD which cannot be overlooked.”

Jean-Jacques Millo writes at the website
(Posted March 13, 2007)

“In this recital devoted to the works for solo piano of Franck, Sodi Braide displays an exemplary sense of architecture. With finesse, his sensible and virtuoso playing reinvents the autumnal colors of the French composer. And for our greatest pleasure, the coherence of his program puts in evidence a customary and inspired talent.”

CDs and Concerts of Sodi Braide and other European websites sell the César Franck CD. The Van Cliburn Foundation Gift Shop offers Sodi Braide's 2005 Competition CD. The pianist says: “I will be playing recitals and chamber music concerts in Paris (Salle Cortot and Invalides), Bourges and the festival Piano à Riom, as well as on a tour of the Middle East.”

+Braide" rel="tag">Sodi Braide

+Pianist" rel="tag">Nigerian Pianist

+Pianist" rel="tag">African Pianist

Pianist" rel="tag">Black Pianist

+music" rel="tag">classical music

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