Elan Sicroff

5 posts

Recitals and Lectures

The Thomas de Hartmann Consort was formed in 2016 to bring de Hartmann’s music to the concert stage. Recitals often include performances with different instrumental and vocal combinations in the same program, providing a colorful and varied experience for the audience. Recent concerts have featured music for solo piano, violin, soprano, cello and flute. Other composers, related in some way to de Hartmann’s music and ideas, are also featured in these events, in an effort to integrate de Hartmann’s work into the classical music repertoire. 

Lectures and lecture-recitals are being employed to enhance awareness of de Hartmann’s work. The story of his life, his music and ideas are presented along with live performance, vintage recordings and photographs. Conservatories and universities are ideal venues for bringing de Hartmann’s music to students, who are the performing artists of the future. 

Performing and Recording the Orchestral Works

Now that the Thomas de Hartmann Project CDs have been made available to the public, we are engaged in recording and also seeking performance opportunities for the orchestral works. Efrem Marder, a long-time project team member, is leading this initiative. 

As a first step, in September 2021, a festival of three concerts, Thomas de Hartmann in Ukraine- a Forgotten Master, was organized in Lviv Ukraine, in collaboration with the conductor Theodore Kuchar and the Lviv National Philharmonic Orchestra of Ukraine. During that time, studio recordings for three CDs were completed.

The first was released February 2022 on Toccata Classics

The second recording is slated for release by Nimbus Alliance June 2022 and features Elan Sicroff playing de Hartmann’s Piano concerto, Op. 66 with guest conductor Tian Hui Ng

The third recording from Lviv includes the Bass concerto, Op. 65 and the grand (66 min) Symphonie-Poeme No.1 and will likely be released in Q4 2022.

Additionally, in 2022 Joshua Bell plans to record the Violin concerto Op. 66, and Matt Haimovitz will perform and record the Cello concerto Op. 57 on May 22, 2022 in Leipzig Germany with the MDR Leipzig Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies.

The overall plan calls for three orchestral CDs to be released in 2022 and three more in 2023, with additional performance opportunities emerging as well.

History of the Project

by Elan Sicroff, Artistic Director

In 2006 guitarist Robert Fripp offered to guide me in a long-term project to bring de Hartmann’s music back to the listening audience. This was the beginning of what became the Thomas de Hartmann Project. Before going into detail about the process, it may be helpful to provide some background: 

Thomas de Hartmann’s music was widely acclaimed in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, and the composer enjoyed a successful career in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. However, by the time of his death in 1956, his name had sunk into near obscurity. Due to the circumstances of his life, his career was continually interrupted by moves from one country to another, forcing him to begin anew in each location. Furthermore, his compositions were out of step with the accepted compositional norms. He refused to give up his Romantic roots, even when employing Modernist elements. This was anathema to his twentieth century colleagues. To top it off, he seems to have had little interest in self promotion, maintaining that his job was to write the music, not to promote it. 

After his death, his widow Olga de Hartmann devoted herself to bringing the music back to public awareness. She released several recordings on a private label, including the violin and cello concerti and his opera Esther. She also searched for musicians who could perform her husband’s work. 

I met her in 1975 and studied with her until her death in 1979. She sponsored numerous concerts for me, and had hopes that I would be able to help publicize her husband’s music. However, it took much longer than she would have expected. After trying unsuccessfully to get his name known for more than a decade, I dedicated myself to piano teaching, and concerts became few and far between. 

When Robert Fripp made his offer to me in 2006, I responded enthusiastically. I began to give regular recitals, focusing first on the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music, and then adding some of de Hartmann’s early Romantic pieces to programs. Short tours to Europe in 2009 and 2010 were encouraging. 

In 2010 Robert introduced me to Gert-Jan Blom, Artistic Producer of the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands. Gert-Jan proposed a five year project to record a selection of de Hartmann’s music for solo piano, voice and chamber ensemble. This resulted in the release of a 7 CD box set in 2016 entitled The Thomas de Hartmann Project by Basta Music. These recordings have now been re-released on Nimbus Alliance (April 2021), though in a different format: 2 CDs of piano music, 2 CDs Chamber music, and 1 CD vocal music. 

Beginning in about 2017, Efrem Marder, advisor and supporter of the overall project, took the initiative for having de Hartmann’s orchestral works performed and recorded. Years earlier he had been captivated by a vintage recording of the Violin Concerto Op. 66, masterfully performed by violinist George Alès. 

Efrem’s initial efforts focussed on finding an orchestra and a conductor with whom I could perform de Hartmann’s Piano Concerto Op. 61. He also searched for soloists to play the violin and cello concerti, and eventually aroused the interest of cellist Matt Haimovitz and violinist Joshua Bell. Both are now preparing to record these important works this year.

Efrem also approached a number of conductors before meeting Tian Hui Ng, active in Western Massachusetts. Soon afterwards he was introduced to Theodore Kuchar in Lviv, Ukraine. Both were enthusiastic about de Hartmann’s music, and have taken an active interest in performing and recording the orchestral works. The notable results are catalogued on this website, under the headings Performing and Recording the Orchestral Works and Thomas de Hartmann in Ukraine- a Forgotten Master.

Other activities that have been gathering steam of late are the publication of the sheet music; the performance of chamber, vocal and solo piano music; and the presentation of lectures and workshops on de Hartmann’s output, as described in  Project- Ongoing Activities.

Bringing the music of Thomas de Hartmann to a wider audience

by The Cross-Eyed Pianist

APRIL 2, 2021


Elan Sicroff is one of the leading interpreters of Thomas de Hartmann’s music and his extensive recording project with the Nimbus label brings de Hartmann’s chamber and solo piano music to a wider audience. Here he talks about the project as well as his own influences and inspirations and the experience of recording and performing de Hartmann’s music.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There were two people who influenced my decision to become a professional musician:

I met J.G. Bennett in December 1972. He directed an academy in Gloucestershire modelled after the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man, founded by George Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher and polymath. At the time I was ambivalent about my path as a musician, and he said to me “If you have talent, it is a gift. It doesn’t belong to you, and you have an obligation to share it.”

Bennett was particularly interested in Beethoven’s music, and we worked together on the late sonatas Op. 110 and 111. During this time I also came across the music of Thomas de Hartmann, beginning my lifelong involvement with his music.

A second important influence is the guitarist Robert Fripp. In 1985 he produced my CD Journey to Inaccessible Places – the music of Gurdjieff and de Hartmann. Since 2006 he has helped me with a 21-year effort to bring de Hartmann’s classical music back to public awareness. In 2010 he introduced me to Gert-Jan Blom, Artistic Producer for the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands. We embarked on a five year recording project in 2011, resulting in six hours of music for solo piano, voice and chamber ensemble, now being released by Nimbus Alliance Records.

I would like to mention one other, overwhelmingly important influence on my pianistic and musical development. This was Jeaneane Dowis. When I first met her in 1964 when she was 32 years old: elegant, beautiful, and brilliant. In her early 20s she had become assistant to Rosina Lhevinne, on the strength of her ground-breaking discoveries in piano technique. Rosina had taught Van Cliburn, winner of the Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia in 1958, and students flocked from around the world to study with her. She sent those with technical problems to Jeaneane, and soon she was teaching 70 hours a week. I was 14 years old at the time, and she agreed to teach me if I was accepted by the Juilliard Preparatory School. The four years I spent with her were consistently exhilarating. She had astonishing insights, not only in technique but also in musicianship and interpretation. I went back to her again in the 1980s for further study, and her teaching had moved to another level: her remarkable discoveries about ease of movement, related to skeletal anatomy and visualization, deserve to be more widely known.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

After nearly 40 years teaching piano, I was thrust into the world of professional musicians in 2011, due to the needs of the Thomas de Hartmann Project. The recordings in the Netherlands that began in 2011 presented many firsts for me.

The repertoire was very demanding. Many of the pieces contained technical difficulties, and once those were surmounted the task of turning them into music could be challenging. This was especially true for the later works, like the Commentaries on Ulysses Op. 71 and Musique pour la fête de la patronne Op. 77.

Accompanying vocal music was something I had never done before. Working with musicians of the calibre of Claron McFadden – a celebrated soprano in the Netherlands; and Nina Lejderman, a talented young opera singer, was quite a stretch.

Recording is an uncomfortable process and presents its own challenges. I have had to overcome my self-consciousness, which was magnified whenever the engineer said “You’re On!” After five years in the studio I have learned to trust the process. I now find myself looking forward to it: the birth pains are unavoidable, but the result is worth it.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

In 2016 the Thomas de Hartmann Project gave two memorable performances at Splendor in Amsterdam. The venue is quite special, founded in 2010 by a group of musicians, composers, and artists who needed a place to experiment and perform as they saw fit. When the de Hartmann recording project in Hilversum came to an end, many participants offered their services, pro bono, for the recitals. Music for saxophones, a trio for flute, violin and piano; sonatas for violin and cello, works for solo piano as well as de Hartmann’s songs were among the works featured. The response was very positive, confirming our belief that the listening audience was becoming ready to embrace de Hartmann’s music, after many years of neglect.

As for recordings: I have made 3 CDs of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music. I like all of them, but my favourite is Laudamus…, released in 2010.https://open.spotify.com/embed/track/1lXSIcTExqcrV3QhF4aTvc?si=uUFHNU_8QUSuAL_xzcIrRg

That said, the Thomas de Hartmann Project CDs, now being released by Nimbus, occupy a special place for me. They represent the first commercial recordings of Thomas de Hartmann’s work, ever. I am so happy that this music is now available for the public to enjoy, and also to play. The contributions of Gert-Jan Blom, producer extraordinaire, and Guido Tichelman, one of the leading recording engineers in Europe, cannot be overstated. Gert-Jan brought his wide-ranging knowledge and enthusiasm to the project, and the sound quality that Guido captured is of the highest order.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I find myself attracted to composers who are able express deeper meaning in their music. In May 1970 I sang in a performance of Mozart’s Requiem at the National Cathedral in Washington, presented by the Oberlin Conservatory, as an act of protest against the Vietnam War. I was strongly affected by how Mozart expressed the meaning of the words through his music. It was a seminal moment, which lead me to look for more works by Mozart and other composers that had this power.

Beethoven’s struggles with deafness are well known – he even contemplated suicide in his thirties as a result, but decided to continue and compose for the benefit of mankind. His compositions became a chronicle of his inner life. The same can be said for Schubert – contracting syphilis was a death sentence, and his music often reflects his inner struggles, sometimes leading to defiance, at others to acceptance.

Thomas de Hartmann attempted to express psychological ideas that he encountered through his work with Kandinsky and Gurdjieff, in addition to wide-ranging literary influences. Along with the colour, vibrancy and beauty of his music, his attempts to insert meaning in his music continue to fascinate me.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I find that physical work of various kinds is essential to my feeling of well-being. These days I walk and have a vegetable garden. I also practice yoga and the Alexander Technique, which help to tune the whole body, before sitting down to the instrument.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Since 2011, there has been a flow that has made choices for repertoire fairly easy. The aim to present a body of representative works by de Hartmann for the public, resulted in our recording a substantial portion of his output for piano solo, voice, and chamber ensemble…though to be accurate, we’ve only scratched the surface of his vocal output.

A group of musicians has now come together to form the Thomas de Hartmann Consort. The aim for our programming has been to integrate de Hartmann’s work into the rest of the classical canon. The programming possibilities are almost endless:

— Music by de Hartmann’s composition teachers, Anton Arensky and Sergei Tanaieff.

— The music by Debussy and Ravel, to compare and contrast de Hartmann’s own work with Impressionism.

— Music that relates to de Hartmann’s quest for meaning: Beethoven and Schubert.

— De Hartmann’ Bach transcriptions for Pablo Casals provide the opportunity to perform them next to the originals.

— Music by contemporaneous Russian composers, from Rachmaninoff to Scriabin, Prokofiev, etc.

— Music by Bartok and Kodaly, delving into early attempts to bring World Music to the West.

As for recording, the Piano Concerto Op. 61 is next on the agenda, scheduled for this autumn. There are also a few solo piano pieces that need to be recorded, including a 25 page sonata written when de Hartmann was 17, and some very late works from the 1950s.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Most of my performances have taken place in small halls that seat several hundred people. I particularly like Carnegie (Weill) Recital Hall for its intimacy and acoustic. I’ve played at many universities and conservatories, including the University of Anchorage, Alaska, UCLA and UC Berkeley in California, and the Longy Conservatory in Boston. I always enjoy the energy and enthusiasm of these audiences. Young musicians represent the future, and if de Hartmann’s music is going to be established, it will be those people who will give it voice.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music audiences/listeners?

Quality education is the highest priority. Very young children should hear top-notch recordings and performances to develop an ear for music. This means that parents need to get involved. It also helps when elementary and high schools have good music programs: Zoltán Kodály brought solfège to the Hungarian school system, and Japanese schools also have a quality music program. Dr. Shinichi Suzuki revolutionized violin teaching when he developed the “mother-tongue approach,” in which young children learn to play an instrument in the same way they learn to speak. He has been a major force in bringing youngsters to classical music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Following are two answers to this question, from opposite perspectives: first as performer, secondly as audience participant:

In 1975 Mme. de Hartmann had organized a recital of her husband’s music at McGill University in Montreal. I had been asked to play the Two Nocturnes Op. 84, written in de Hartmann’s late classical style.

This was my first meeting with her. Madame may have been diminutive in size, but she was truly a force of nature. She had been a member of the Russian aristocracy, close to the Tsarina before the Russian Revolution, and had strong ideas that sometimes ran contrary to the relaxed attitudes of young people in the later years of the hippy era. She didn’t approve of women wearing jeans, of young men with beards, or grand pianos on movable platforms being used in performances of her husband’s music. She told me to ignore the audience and play only for her, to look up at the ceiling before playing ‘the Music of the Stars,’ and that a musician must rest on the afternoon of a performance to conserve energy for the event. I was still impressionable at the age of 25, and took it all in.

When my performance was a success, it began a relationship that lasted for 4 years until her death in 1979. It opened the door for further recitals under her tutelage, as well as instruction in de Hartmann’s music.

One of the most memorable performances I ever saw took place in London in the mid 1970s, when I heard the cellist Paul Tortelier give a solo recital. I had not heard his name before, and had no idea what to expect. He came onto the stage, an elderly man, thin, with a shock of white hair. He seemed to float over the cello when he played. The first piece, a Boccherini sonata had 3 movements, but he was so pleased with himself after the first two that he stood up, took a bow and moved onto a Bach cello suite! Then he stopped, began speaking in French, and changed to English: “If you want to cough while I play, please leave the room!” The audience was noticeably taken aback.

In the second half he played the Franck Sonata and (if I remember correctly) also the Debussy cello sonata. By the end he had won the audience over, and began playing encores – without leaving the stage, he continued for another 45 minutes, even including the entire Kodály Unaccompanied Cello Sonata. By this time the audience was in a frenzy, with some people standing to watch him in amazement. Finally he stood up, closed the lid of the piano, and walked off the stage, not turning back….

In the programme notes I noticed that he had studied with Gerard Hekking. De Hartmann had dedicated his cello sonata to him, so I went backstage to ask Tortelier if he knew of the piece. “Yes,” he said, “it has a beautiful second movement, but the rest is not for the masses.”

I walked out of the hall feeling that I had witnessed an event that was a throwback to the Romantic Age, reminiscent of stories I’d read about Liszt and Paganini in performance.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I view my work in music as a process, with different stages, and it is necessary for some form of success to enter into each of them. First there is the functional work of learning the notes, understanding the structure, and overcoming technical challenges. Then another level comes: the music must begin to speak. In some ways it is the opposite of the functional work – activity ends and receptivity begins: one must listen, be still, be open, questioning. This stage is sometimes quite agonizing: the piece still is not music, and one cannot “make it happen.” When one completes this stage and is prepared, the final stage comes with performance. Here the audience becomes a participant, adding its listening to the music. There are then three aspects: the performer, the audience and the music. Occasionally there is an “event,” where something new and memorable occurs. Success!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

In 1972 I went to see Nadia Boulanger in Paris, to inquire about becoming her student. One of the most memorable things she said to me was “If you can live without Music, do!”

This statement has resonated with me over the years. It covers a lot. Anyone considering a career in music should have an all-consuming love for it. If one is fortunate enough to realize that there is nothing one would rather do than make music, then there really isn’t a choice…!

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Seven years remain until the end of the 21-year Thomas de Hartmann Project. For a long time I’ve an image of what completion would look like: I will be standing in front of Carnegie Hall, looking at the billboard announcing the performance of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony and Thomas de Hartmann’s Symphonie-Poème. This would indicate that de Hartmann has finally “arrived.”

I’d be happy to substitute specific works in this visualization – it might be another symphony or concerto by Thomas de Hartmann. Another orchestral work by Beethoven might also be acceptable….!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I would say that true happiness results from a life well lived, in which one manages to achieve one’s goals. As a working musician, I find that self-satisfaction comes from overcoming obstacles in learning the repertoire that I value, and performing it well. Each time this occurs, it gives a taste of happiness.

On 2 April, Nimbus release three volumes of the Music of Thomas de Hartmann. More information here.

Elan Sicroff is known as an interpreter of the music written by Thomas de Hartmann, both the classical works as well as the music from the East composed in collaboration with Gurdjieff . In the 1960s he studied with Jeaneane Dowis, protégée and assistant to Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard School. From 1973-75 he attended the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherborne, in Gloucestershire, England, as a student and later Director of Music. The Academy was directed by J. G. Bennett, a leading exponent of Gurdjieff’s teachings.  It was here that Elan was introduced to the music of Thomas de Hartmann. Between 1975 and 1979 he studied with Mme. Olga de Hartmann, widow of the composer, focusing on the music which de Hartmann composed in the classical idiom.  He performed many recitals under her auspices, and in 1982 toured the United States.

Elan Sicroff

Elan Sicroff is known as an interpreter of the music written by Thomas de Hartmann, both the classical works as well as the music from the East composed in collaboration with Gurdjieff . In the 1960s he studied with Jeaneane Dowis, protégée and assistant to Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard School. From 1973-75 he attended the International Academy for Continuous Education at Sherborne, in Gloucestershire, England, as a student and later Director of Music. The Academy was directed by J. G. Bennett, a leading exponent of Gurdjieff’s teachings.  It was here that Elan was introduced to the music of Thomas de Hartmann. Between 1975 and 1979 he studied with Mme. Olga de Hartmann, widow of the composer, focusing on the music which de Hartmann composed in the classical idiom.  He performed many recitals under her auspices, and in 1982 toured the United States.

In 1985 guitarist Robert Fripp offered to produce a recording of the Gurdjieff/de Hartmann music with Elan, and Journey to Inaccessible Places was released by EG records in 1987.  In 2002 and 2009 Elan recorded two more CDs, Sicroff Plays Gurdjieff  and Laudamus…

Since 2006 Elan Sicroff has spearheaded the Thomas de Hartmann Project. The aim is to bring the composer’s music back to public awareness.  Between 2011 and 2015 nearly 7 hours of de Hartmann’s classical music was recorded at the Muziekcentrum van de Omroep in Hilversum, the Netherlands, with Producer Gert-Jan Blom, recording engineer Guido Tichelman, and 16 outstanding instrumentalists and singers.  A 7 CD Box Set, The Thomas de Hartmann Project – Music for Piano, Voice and Chamber Ensemble was released in September 2016.

Elan is now promoting de Hartmann’s music in live performance, along with musicians from the recording project.  He has also developed a lecture-recital that features the story of de Hartmann’s life, his ideas and music – as well as live performance, recordings, and photos – to create an exciting presentation of the composer’s life and work.