by Anri Stenden
Prof Piet Koornhof can certainly flaunt the acclaimed CD recordings to his name. Not only have his performances evoked impressive praise from The New York Times, Feuille d’Avis of Neuchatel (Switzerland), The Cape Times, and the Natal Daily News (amongst others), but he boasts having recorded the complete JS Bach trio sonatas for violin, flute and piano and the Hendrik Hofmeyr Double Concerto (for flute, violin and string orchestra) with Rafaele Trevisani and the Moscow Chamber Orchestra.
Quite recently, Prof Piet and Prof Nicol Viljoen, who is a recognized pianist (and the former head of the Odeion School of Music in Bloemfontein), joined forces to record some of the Mozart sonatas. They have performed together on numerous occasions, giving performances of works by Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, and together are known for their perfect execution of challenging classical works.
Prof Nicol himself is a powerful inspiration as a musician and as an individual. As a pianist, he is quite extraordinary, especially considering that he suffers from almost complete blindness! Only having about seven percent vision in both eyes, Prof Nicol is unable to drive a car or perform other mundane tasks (such as signing his name, for which he uses a stencil). But, amazingly, he still plays piano with proficiency (yes, what’s your excuse?!?) As Prof Piet went on to explain in our interview, Prof Nicol simply learns his music by ear or checks a note by bringing the score really close to his eyes.
According to Prof Piet, Prof Nicol is also a fantastic jazz pianist, his fingers easily finding their place on the keyboard in astonishing improvisations (which he did simply to unwind after a long recording session). This gave Prof Piet an excellent idea: “I beseeched him to compose a jazz suite for us to play and record, and he agreed!”
It turns out that Prof Nicol is also a huge fan of the Pink Panther movies, so much so that he is able to quote entire sections from memory! “He is a Pink Panther ‘freak’ and can retell parts of the movie so well, it’s as if he could see everything … which, of course, he couldn’t. He knows every part by heart. During one of our practising sessions, he found the piano part more challenging. So he stopped and said (in a perfect Pink Panther accent), ‘Nothing worth having is ever easy. That is why I have always failed where others have succeeded!’”