Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis go head-to-head in Piano Battle, March 29 |

Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis go head-to-head in Piano Battle, March 29

Pianists Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis joined forces for the first time at the Hong Kong City Festival. "It was a small festival, and they basically had one concert left, which they offered to us but as a joint project," Cibis said.
Mathias Bothor | Special to the Daily |

If you go …

What: Piano Battle, featuring Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis.

When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 29.

Where: Vilar Performing Arts Center, 68 Avondale Lane, Beaver Creek.

Cost: $10 for students, $45 for adults

More information: Tickets are available now at the VPAC box office, by calling 970-845-8497 or at

BEAVER CREEK — Andreas Kern and Paul Cibis will bring their piano skills to Beaver Creek when Piano Battle arrives at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Wednesday, March 29, at 6:30 p.m. The brainchild of Kern and Cibis, the show sees the duo go head to head on stage, entertaining the audience with a variety of classical pieces.

The Vilar Center caught up with the Piano Battle co-creators to chat about the show’s origins,

1. VPAC: So I understand Piano Battle was originally created for the Hong Kong City Festival, but what gave you guys the idea to create such a show?

CIBIS: Well, we were both in touch with the festival …

KERN: Nah, I was in touch with them.

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CIBIS: Andreas was in touch with them, and we were both going to play solo projects, and then it was their idea that we do something together. It was a small festival, and they basically had one concert left, which they offered to us but as a joint project, and Andreas and I knew each other. We had met once before about seven years before, or so. So we knew of each other, but we had not been in touch.

And so we met up in Berlin and decided very quickly that we would not play together and we would basically have to fight for this one concert available. I tried to transfer that fight on stage, so that’s what started the idea. It was very spontaneous and unscripted. We just had our music. It was such a great success that they invited us back one year later.

We didn’t expect this to grow into such a project. We then decided to take it more seriously as a project and start working with a director. We had our first performances in China and Taiwan and then started slowly in Europe with the first performance in Berlin. By then, we had a new script and a new organized show. Then it started to grow organically, step by step each year.

2. VPAC: Did Piano Battle bring you both together as the dueling duo that you are today or did you know each other before?

CIBIS: We knew of each other, and we had met. Basically, I had played at a concert, a little festival, Andreas organized a few years before. So we had met before and knew of each other, but we were not collaborating or not even in contact for five years at all, until the Hong Kong location brought us together.

3. VPAC: How do you select the pieces you play — Chopin versus Liszt, Debussy versus Schubert, etc.?

CIBIS: Well, we have several rounds where we play pieces of a similar kind of mood, a similar challenge. So we try to find pieces which are not too different in length and in character. Then the people have something to compare for the competition.

KERN: We have different pieces in our repertoire, and then sometimes we change them in between, spontaneously so that when you feel, “Okay, today is better for going for Brahms than for Debussy.” It should fit to the mood of each round.

4. VPAC: What is the most memorable experience you’ve each had through Piano Battle?

CIBIS: Several come to mind. We once had a concert in front of 7,000 people in Taiwan, and that doesn’t happen every month, so that was a very special moment, especially because the presenter had told us there might be 1,500 maybe 2,000 people. That was the normal amount of people they got. And we had brought classical music on stage, no pop, no local Taiwanese pop, so they didn’t expect more. That was already a great number but then we basically broke the record of the venue. And that was very special.

KERN: Actually Lady Gaga was there before. I think my most memorable experience is a performance which premiered two years ago in Berlin at the Berlin Philharmonic Hall. It is the most prestigious hall in … I mean … maybe not in Europe. I don’t want to …

CIBIS: E, yeah.

KERN: It’s like the Carnegie Hall, but it’s home of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and it has wonderful acoustics. It’s a great hall, and I was preparing so much for this performance, and then it went so well and was sold out. It is a night which I will remember for the rest of my life. Paul is talking about many people, but I’m talking about quality.

CIBIS: Haha, it’s funny we both mentioned performances, but there are lots of little moments where people thank you and have very touching words they say at meet-and-greet situations after the show. We once played in Armenia and the people surprised me by how welcoming and warm they were, and they were so touched by hearing the music. The same thing happened in Moscow last year. We had another fantastic moment two days ago in Charleston. It was a fantastic hall at the university and people were very welcoming and appreciative. It’s about bringing music to the people, and you want the people to react to it.

5. VPAC: You both have very different performance styles. Would you tell us more about what differentiates you both as pianists?

CIBIS: Well, haha, I actually like to quote Andreas on this. Once we were asked, “So what do you really want with this project?” And then Andreas, very spontaneously, said, “Well I like to be on stage and Paul, I think, just likes to play the piano.” We are not actors, so the personalities we bring on stage, they are part of us and even maybe slightly better. They fit our true personalities, even if they are slightly more black and white than we are. So that shines through, I think, more in every aspect of our work and the way we play and approach a piece; the way we talk with the audience from the stage, the way we move, I don’t know.

6. VPAC: Would you both tell me a little more about how you got started in your music careers? What inspired you?

KERN: I started playing the piano at 6 years old, but before I was getting ready to start college, I wasn’t sure if I should try to go into acting or music. So I was never into the pure concert career or I was never interested in the 100 percent classical piano concerts where the audience is not allowed to cough. This is the natural outcome of my vision, or what I want to bring together.

I started when I was 17 years old doing solo concerts. Even back then, my first solo concert was kind of a lecture concert where I would talk about the music and play in between or I played something twice to give a better impression of the music because, you know, if you go to a normal concert, you get millions of melodies in 90 minutes and no one can go out and whistle a melody because its too much information, and that’s why at that time I thought, OK, it’s better to play one bigger piece, longer piece but then twice. Or play it once and give an explanation and then play it again. And then people listen with a different ear. How about you, Paul?

CIBIS: I was different. I think my habits and the experiences I had before were much more common, more classical. I used to do normal concerts, and I worked a lot with singers and vocal recitals. I also taught, as well. So, I must say I always had an interest in other forms, but I never really got involved.

I was, however, involved in a film project, so not that I only did classical recitals and classical concerts, but they were not so theatrical. I was definitely not used to talking on stage. So when we started this project, we came from very different backgrounds regarding the performance history of ourselves. So I was not used to talking on stage and I always wanted to rehearse the dialogues, but Andreas never wanted to rehearse dialogues. And then yeah, you make your experiences and you grow.

KERN: Yeah, and I think in the last years we learned from each other.

7. VPAC: Andreas, your unconventional performances have been known to attract a younger audience. Why is this?

KERN: The idea is, I feel like a human being in the 21st century and I don’t want to do museum concerts. So that is why I try to connect from our time with what I love. And, of course, I love classical music. But still, I’m a person who knows how to deal with an iPhone 7, so I try to find settings for concerts that are more natural and true. I don’t want to feel like we are zoo animals for others to watch.

For example, I’ve done concerts in clubs, where there is normally techno music, and in lounges, where there is typically a DJ. In these venues, I found people go there because they are familiar with the space, and when they know the venue, they feel comfortable. Whether it’s a lounge or a club, in these locales, they listen to modern music or whatnot, but in between sets of that, I play two or three live parts. I’ve found all 500 people there will sit with a beer in their hand but they’ll get quiet and listen to 20 minutes of classical music.

It’s not that you have to force them or something. You just have to pick them up where they are and this is with many different things. I always like to compare it with storytelling. People love to listen to stories. In the beginning of our interview, you said, “Oh, I like this story” of the Hong Kong Festival. It’s a true story about meeting at a festival, and then we played and then we found out this may be an intellectual way of bringing classical music to another audiences because they are allowed to vote.

If you tell a story, people remember much better and there should be truth inside, of course. Piano Battle is a story — Paul against Andreas — and it’s a very simple story you can find in life. It’s two people having two different ways of presenting themselves or having two different opinions but they respect each other. Yeah? We are not spitting on stage or anything of that nature. There is a respect, and at the end, there is one winner, but this is the story and that’s what people can connect with.

8. VPAC: Paul, I understand that you frequently give lectures and teach classes. Would you tell us more?

CIBIS: Yeah, I actually, honestly love teaching and it’s something I grew up thinking I would do. When I was 20, I expected to go into full-time teaching. I didn’t expect this other work to pick up and keep me busy. I love doing workshops, and I do that regularly in Asia, mainly, when we are there. And I learn a lot, it’s inspiring. It’s wonderful to hear the different experiences and teaching traditions.

I don’t want to be too cliche, but a lot of young people are not used to the teacher asking questions, and I love asking questions. I hate giving recipes. I want to trigger more thinking, more experimentations, more trying out, more discovering their own way. So that is something close to my heart and why at some point I’d love to do more.

9. VPAC: Now, the most important question, who will win the VPAC Piano Battle?

CIBIS: Haha! Well, I of course, I think I will win but sometimes, you know, I have a bit of a disadvantage. I wear the black suit and have the black side of the card, and that’s much harder to see. Two days ago, I think everybody agreed that I won (Kern laughs in the background) but we had the person on stage, at the very end, who decides and he was very biased. So I think I will win, or at least I should win, but then you never know what color will be chosen at the end.

KERN: I think I will win. You know, I’m more down with nature, and they will see that I am.

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