South London Concert Series – 2014/15 season launch

Praised for its ability to combine quality music making, varied programmes and a convivial atmosphere, the South London Concert Series 2014/15 season launches on Sunday 14th September with a special concert at one of London’s most beautiful small venues.

fitch flyer

‘Notes&Notes’ combines music and words in a concert of music by J S Bach and Joseph Haydn by acclaimed pianist and teacher Graham Fitch. Join Graham after the concert for a cream tea and the chance to socialise with other music lovers.

14 September 2014 Notes&Notes: Graham Fitch Craxton Studios, Hampstead, London NW3.

Buy tickets

Greenwich shot3 October 2014 Matthew Sear at the 1901 Arts Club, London SE1.

Classical guitarist Matthew Sear plays works by Benjamin Britten and John Dowland, together with his own compositions from his new album. Matthew is joined by supporting artists Rebecca Singerman-Knight, Muzz Shah, Jennie Barham and Julie Cooper in music by Prokofiev, Bortkiewicz, and Rachmaninoff. Early Bird Tickets now available. Buy Tickets

large12 December 2014Ernest So, piano, at the 1901 Arts Club. ‘Russian Romantics’.

A concert with a special accent on lesser-known Russian romantic repertoire, including works by Bortkiewicz and Medtner. Ernest is joined by supporting artists Rob Foster, Clio Chu, Petra Chong and Claire Hansell. Buy tickets

IMG_228122nd January 2015 Frances Wilson at LASSCO Brunswick House, Vauxhall, SW8. The South London Concert Series returns to the opulent setting of the Saloon at Brunswick House, a magnificent Georgian mansion which is home to an eclectic collection of antiques and salvaged curiosities. Join SLCS Artistic Director Frances Wilson and supporting artists for a concert of piano music by Debussy, Pärt, Schubert, Satie, and Messiaen, plus the world premiere of Preludes for piano by Matthew Sear.

Early Bird tickets now available. Buy tickets

17 September 2015Daniel Roberts, piano, and Hannah Woolmer, violin, at LASSCO Brunswick House. Set in the wonderful opulence of the Saloon at Brunswick House, we present a recital of music for violin and piano and solo piano. Programme and supporting artists to be announced. Buy tickets

Meet the Artist……Ho Wan Jeremy Leung

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano/composing/conducting, and make it your career? 

Not just a single person has inspired me. I’ve had some great piano teachers before and during my time at university. My last lessons were with Mikhail Kazakevich from Trinity College of Music. I found it amazing that every piece I wanted to learn he was already able play from memory, while looking at me, and could really shake the grand piano playing Liszt. It was a really relaxed environment where I was able to not just ask questions, but also have discussions about the music and I learnt an incredible amount from this. I discovered during this time how to really uncover and convey the music’s narrative as opposed to just learning the technical aspects of a piece.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Unsurprisingly, especially for the people that know me, I relish the spotlight and the idea of putting on a grand performance is always on my mind. However, I do a lot of lounge jazz playing, and I love having an audience who are doing other things and where music isn’t the main focus. I feel completely free to explore music and try new things without the pressure of the spotlight. It’s really easy to make the space a performance for myself.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love the intense emotion and raw power of the late romantic Russians (Rachmaninov, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, etc). I think this is in part due to my style of composition, as I love creating piano works in their style and I can never resist learning a challenging piece of music. However, I’ve always loved the simple beauty and lyricism of Chopin, so I always try and have a piece of his on the go.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Musicians like Vladimir Ashkenazy and Leonard Bernstein I really aspire to, as they are greats in more than just one field. However, for specific pieces, composers and genres I have my favourites. Jazz Trio playing – Brad Mehldau, Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto – Olga Kern, Conducting Stravinsky’s Firebird – Valery Gergiev. The very long list goes on.…

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first time as a concert pianist, I was performing Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. This was such a fun piece to learn, and even though I was nervous before, the moment I started playing I relaxed into the music and for 15 minutes the audience didn’t exist, it was just the music and me. It was over way to soon, and I felt such an incredible rush I wanted to do it again straight away. However, I wasn’t fully satisfied and I think I will always be looking for bigger and better things to get involved in. After the concert, I was told there where children dancing at the back, a success in my opinion!

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

Always have a performance to work toward otherwise it’s really easy to put practicing to the side. Keep an open mind to new pieces of music you are introduced to, I know my taste in music has dramatically changed over the last few years. Join in everything!

What are you working on at the moment? 

Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for a concert later this year, and Blumenfeld’s Etude for the Left Hand, Op.36 for my birthday party/jam night next week – I want to be able to finish a drink in my right hand before the piece is over!

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

I would love to have my hand firmly in the three things I love, which is Performing, Composing and Conducting. My idea of perfect happiness is centre stage in a grand concert hall abroad with the Berlin Philharmonic performing and conducting a piano concerto I have composed.

Ho Wan Jeremy Leung 梁皓雲

www.howanjeremyleung.com

Interview date: September 2013

Brenchley Summer Proms 2014

Marie-Luise Syré, Q11, AKGSet in the beautiful and historic village of Brenchley, Kent, the Summer Proms are a wonderful opportunity to listen to the highest quality music in informal and friendly surroundings. Concerts take place in All Saints’ Church, an inspired and inspiring place to make music, and this year’s Proms will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Adolf Henselt with performances of his complete chamber music, starting with his startlingly original Opus 1 and closing with his crowning masterpiece, the Concerto in F minor.

All concerts begin at 5.30pm in All Saints’ Church, Brenchley. The first concert is on Saturday 30th August and the Brenchley Summer Proms continue on each Saturday of September until 27th with a special concert in memoriam James Naylor, raising funds and awareness of safekent.org.uk

Brenchley Summer Proms are directed by pianist Daniel Grimwood and bring together a fantastic line up of international musicians, including Leslie Howard and Fenella Humphreys.

For more information about Brenchley Summer Proms, please visit brenchleyproms.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Daniel Grimwood

Meet the Artist……Fenella Humphreys

 

Review: ‘Classic Gershwin’ with Viv Mclean & Susan Porrett

The music of George Gershwin remains perennially popular with performers and audiences alike, and his life and work are vividly illustrated in ‘Classic Gershwin’, a new words and music production with actress Susan Porrett and acclaimed Gershwin interpreter, pianist Viv McLean.

It is a mistake to think of Gershwin purely as a composer of “jazz” (a term he in fact disliked, preferring the term “swing” to describe his jazz-inspired music). His musical tastes and influences were wide, from Bach to Strasinsky and Schoenberg. He was particularly influenced by the French composers of the early twentieth-century, notably Maurice Ravel, who in turn was most intrigued by Gershwin’s work. Gershwin’s great skill was his ability to manipulate different forms of music into his own unique musical voice.

‘Classic Gershwin’, the third words and music collaboration between Susan Porrett and Viv McLean, takes the audience on an exhilarating, foot-tapping journey through Gershwin’s life and music, from his early years in Brooklyn to Tin Pan Alley, Broadway and Hollywood to his tragically early death from a brain tumour in 1937. Just as in ‘Divine Fire’, Viv and Sue’s moving concert focusing on the life of Chopin and his relationship with Georges Sand, the text of ‘Classic Gershwin’ offers just enough information to continually pique the listener’s attention and brings Gershwin to life with the clever and eclectic interweaving of words and music. Each nugget is illustrated with sensitively-chosen music selections, including Someone to Watch Over Me and the rarely-performed Three Preludes, to Swanee, the song which marked Gershwin’s elevation into the realms of established composer and song-writer, after Al Jolson heard Gershwin play it at a party.

The first half of Classic Gershwin closes with Rhapsody in Blue, Gershwin’s hommage to bustling metropolis of Jazz-Age New York, the city of his home, complete with wailing sirens, honking car horns and the rattle of the subway. The second half focuses on Gershwin’s later life, his growing success and fame, and his work in Hollywood. The description of his failing health (the result of a then-undiagnosed brain tumour) was told with great poignancy, and the concert closed on a tender note, a fitting contrast to the sparkling bravura of the Rhapsody in Blue.

The great appeal of this words and music concert, aside from the wonderful music, played by Viv with great precision, exuberance and musical sensitivity, all underpinned by his pristine technique, is its ability to offer just enough information in the text to keep the listener wanting more. Viv demonstrated that pieces driven by rhythmic vitality and syncopation can still have the most exquisite tonal palette and a magical dynamic range, and the music provided the most delicious interludes, complementing the text at every turn (the musical selections are made between Viv and Sue). The overall effect is a glorious and intriguing celebration of Gershwin’s life and work.

This was the world premiere of this new words and music collaboration and it was rapturously received by the audience at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes, SW London. Highly recommended.

‘Classic Gershwin’ comes St Mary’s Perivale on 16th November and Bridport Arts Centre, Bridport, Dorset on 16th December. For further information about future performances please visit the Seven Star Productions website.

Read about the fundraising campaign for the piano at the OSO Barnes

My review of ‘Divine Fire’

Repertoire in focus: Schubert – Impromptu in F minor

Franz Peter Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert

Schubert wrote two sets of Impromptus (D899 and D935). Composed in 1827, his post-‘Winterreise’ annus mirabilis, a year of fervent creativity, the Impromptus remain some of his most popular piano works, particularly the first set and the third of the D935 (a set of variations based on the ‘Rosamunde’ theme from his opera of the same name). The first set tend to be performed more frequently and I have occasionally heard both sets in the same concert, with a selection of the Moments Musicaux slotted in between them.

The word “Impromptu” is misleading, suggesting a small-scale extemporaneous salon piece. In fact, all of Schubert’s Impromptus are tightly-knit and highly cohesive works, and the longest lasts over ten minutes. Schubert did not invent the term “impromptu”: Jan Vorisek, the Bohemian composer living in Vienna, published the first impromptus in 1822, and the term was assigned to Schubert’s works by his Viennese publisher. When he sent out his second set of Impromptus, Schubert numbered them five through to eight. Schumann posited that Schubert may have had something much larger in mind when he composed the D935 set, and even suggested that the key sequence of the four pieces formed a piano sonata in all but name. Certainly the F minor Impromptu (the first of the D935 – the set ends with another F minor impromptu) has the grandeur and scale one expects from a piano sonata from this period but all four works also stand alone, each distinct in their own right.

I have lived with Schubert’s Impromptus since my teens, and have muddled through all of them and learnt two of them properly (the E flat Impromptu from the D899 formed part of my first Diploma programme). For me, the works are continually interesting for their range, depth, variety, individual characters and specific musical challenges. They each display in microcosm many aspects and distinctive characteristics of Schubert’s large-scale piano music (sonatas and fantasies for example) and are extremely rewarding to play. They work well in concert programmes, performed either as a complete set, or as separate pieces, and remain perennially popular with artists and audiences alike.

The entire D935 is a much more substantial set of pieces than the first set, and this is especially true of the first F minor Impromptu. Organised in sonata-rondo form, the tone of this impromptu moves between an almost-Beethovenian drama and assertiveness in its opening section and the more flowing, melodic duet of the central sections.

In terms of learning and playing this Impromptu, I would suggest the following based on my current study of the work:

  • The piece is organised in distinct sections (and one will tend to learn it sectionally). Keep in mind the overall structure and narrative of the piece to produce a cohesive whole and be alert to the bridges between each section
  • Be careful not to over-emphasise the forte, fortissimo and fz markings: remember this is Schubert not Beethoven. I feel the dynamic contrasts are not as black and white as one would expect in Beethoven.
  • Bars 13-19 (and also 126-133): here you want to try to recreate a sense of the underlying chords and chord changes. This section must not sound too dry. Aim for a “shimmering” touch with a sense of string articulation. (Extract 1)
  • Bars 30-38 (and also 144-152): don’t begin this section with too much power or heaviness (remember – it’s not Beethoven!). Hold back to allow for a real climax into bars 30/31. Keep the touch light and the RH semiquaver arpeggios delicate.
  • Bars 44-64 (and also 159-177): after some discussion and experimentation with my teacher, I try to keep this section light and rhythmic (there is a danger of making the textures too thick here because of the chords). Although Schubert marks it sempre legato, the staccato markings suggest that one should continue in this vein throughout this section. This gives the chords a wonderful dancing lightness. But be sure to observe all the legato markings very diligently. The RH semiquavers at bar 56+ should just shimmer over the LH chords. (Extract 2)
  • Bars 69-112 (and also 182-225): this is the emotional heart of the piece – plaintive duetting fragments in treble and bass, accompanied by gently rippling semiquavers in the RH. The accompaniment must not intrude, but it is also important to retain a sense of the underlying harmonies and chord changes. Keep the hand soft and the wrist flexible: some of these broken chords are awkward (in particular, bar 204) and at no point must these semiquavers sound “notey” or dry, especially in the forte sections. Meanwhile the duet (played by the LH only) should sing, with careful shaping in the fragments. (Extract 3)
Extract 1
Extract 1
Extract 2
Extract 2
Extract 3
Extract 3

Download the complete score

Further reading

Charles Fisk – Returning Cycles: Contexts for the Interpretation of Schubert’s Impromptus and Last Sonatas

John Daverio – Crossing Paths: Schubert, Schumann and Brahms

Meet the Artist……Graham Fitch

grahamfitchWho or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career? 

I was destined to read modern languages at Oxbridge but my heart wasn’t really in it. The piano was an all-consuming passion by my mid teens, and I’m afraid once the blinkers went on I couldn’t see myself being happy doing anything else.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

Apart from my wonderful teachers Stephen Savage, Peter Wallfisch and Nina Svetlanova (each of whom gave me different parts of the puzzle), I was very influenced by András Schiff. Not only his playing (which blew me away the first time I heard it) but having the privilege of studying with him at Dartington in 1982 and then privately afterwards. Another profound influence was Leon Fleisher’s weekly piano class during my Peabody year, studying Chopin with Ann Schein and having some marvelous lessons with Julian Martin. Playing chamber music with some amazing string players and also playing the song repertoire have made me a more rounded musician than if I had just played solo.

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

I think juggling the various elements of what I do – playing, teaching, writing, adjudicating and now in my role as a principal tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course (EPTA) UK. There never seems to be enough time to practise!

Which particular works/composers do you think you play best? 

I have played a wide variety of styles in my time, from the French and German baroque through to contemporary music. If push comes to shove I would have to say I identify most with the mainstream Classical and Romantic repertoire. I can’t imagine a world without Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin – to name but a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If you mean as a listener, it would have to be Schiff’s Goldbergs at Dartington in 1982. One of the most memorable of my own would probably be playing the same work in Perth, Australia in the late 90’s – in front of an audience of pianists.

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

A love of music, an appreciation of how music is built and how to communicate this in your playing. Aspiring musicians need a heck of a lot of discipline if they are going to amount to anything, but so often they don’t really know how to work. Part of my mission seems to be helping them learn how to practise.

Your ‘Notes & Notes’ recital on 14th September includes works by J S Bach and Haydn. Tell us a little more about why you selected these particular composers and works? 

I chose to play these particular works because I think Bach and Haydn go very well together. The B flat Partita and the G major French Suite are very often played, and I find I often teach them. The Haydn C major is such an inventive work – I just love the humour in it.

Why perform and talk about the music? How do you think this approach illuminates the music and composers for the audience? 

There is a growing trend for performers to talk about music, and to engage with their audience on a more personal and intimate level. If the venue is small enough, it can be a great way of enhancing the listening by offering what are basically spoken programme notes – and maybe some personal observations and anecdotes.

Graham Fitch’s ‘Notes&Notes’ recital is on Sunday 14th September 2014 at 3pm at Craxton Studios, Hampstead, north London. After the concert, the audience is invited to join Graham for a cream tea and a chance to socialise with other music lovers. Further information and tickets here. This concert marks the launch of the 2014/15 season of the innovative and popular South London Concert Series.

Graham Fitch, now based in London, maintains an international career not only as a pianist, but also as a teacher, adjudicator and writer. He has been appointed to the piano staff at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and runs private teaching studios in South West London, and the West End of London.

A published author, Graham has written several articles on aspects of piano playing and musical style. He has also produced a generation of teachers through his influence as a teacher. He is a regular contributor to Pianist Magazine, and is the author of a very successful blog, http://practisingthepiano.com/

www.grahamfitch.com

 

Music Notes – Stephen Hough plays Liszt’s ‘Benediction…..’

by James Holden

Stephen Hough’s recording of Liszt, ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans le solitude’, Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S.173/III on the CD Rhapsodie espagnole; Mephisto Waltz; Bénédiction de Dieu  released on Virgin as 724356112926.

There are moments when the piano ceases to sound like a box full of hammers being thrown against metal. It ceases to be a blacksmith’s instrument, all anvil-struck notes, all blows and impact.

Stephen Hough’s performance of Liszt’s ‘Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude’ is one such moment.

I first heard this recording when I was still relatively unversed in the nineteenth-century piano repertoire. I had listened to some Chopin and knew a few of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words.I wasn’t familiar with anything by Schumann and knew no Thalberg, Alkan or work by any of the other virtuosos.What little I knew of Liszt I had learnt from reading, and not least from those references to him in Proust.

Like so many other happy cultural discoveries, I first borrowed the CD on which this recording is to be found from the local library (Barnsley). It was there on the racks with the other discs, compilations, popular classics, opera box sets and the like. Stephen Hough, Liszt: Rhapsodie espagnole; Mephisto Waltz; Bénédiction de Dieu.I turned it over, looked at the track listing on the back, weighed it up and then walked it to the desk. I thought, ‘Why not?’

The love I immediately felt for the ‘Bénédiction’ made me a confirmed musical Romantic.There is something in its combination of simple melody and complex accompaniment that, from the very first notes, seems to care for me, the listener, and seeks to protect me. This is not just music to love but music by which one is loved. I’ve only ever had this same feeling with a few other recordings, including Björk’s song ‘Undo’ from her 2001 album Vespertine.

Under Hough’s hands, Liszt’s notes spread outwards; they diffuse themselves. There is nothing struck here, or so it seems, nothing metallic. All is radiated.

Hough’s gestures respect both the work’s grandeur and the composer’s profound religiosity whilst never straining for emotion or effect. Consider, for example,the moment when the right hand part is extended by a series of arpeggios (the passage marked ‘poco a poco animato il Tempo’ on the score). The upper notes seem to open out of the main melodic material, as though the chord was always already there, in the tune, and has only now risen to an audible volume.What great touch on the keyboard; what pedal control!

No other performance of the ‘Bénédiction’ has affected me in quite the same manner. Leslie Howard’s recording of it for Hyperion is undoubtedly brilliant but its brilliance is that of the bright midday sun reflected off of polished stone surfaces. It’s a little too insistent, too sharp edged, a performance whose volume and clarity causes the overall effect to be lost. The more Howard makes things visible the harder it is to see the work. I own a recording of Claudio Arrau playing this piece that is, by contrast, seemingly formed of those reflective stone surfaces themselves. It gives the impression of blocks of notes being moved into place. The Andante is especially hard, too clearly delineated, too marked in outline.

For all its wavering poetry, Hough’s performance is unwaveringly certain of the work’s coherence. As the piece stretches out to over seventeen minutes this is very welcome – essential, even. To take some examples: we can sense the connection between the partial melody in bars 44-49 and that in the later ‘quasi Preludio’ passage; and at the end of that same Preludio, just before the return of the main melodic material, Hough calls our attention to the communication between the hands, the passing backwards and forwards of the notes. In the Coda we can feel everything combine in one final, calm cadence.

Hough’s recording has affected my own playing. I’m only an enthusiastic amateur at best and doubt that I’ll ever be able to play the ‘Bénédiction’ properly and in full (I can play the comparatively simple Andante and quasi Preludio sections). However, my joy at listening to this recording did lead me to learn Liszt’s ‘Schlummerlied’, another work in F♯ major, one with a similar, albeit much simpler, repeating C♯-D♯ right hand figure. When I worked at this piece it was like working at a ‘Bénédiction’ in miniature, only one within my ability range.

As the piece ends, as the last chord dies away I have felt myself suspended, unwilling to speak or move, to intrude into the space created by Liszt and Hough.

Dr James Holden was born in Ashford and educated at Loughborough University. He graduated with his PhD in 2007. He is the author of, amongst other things, In Search of Vinteuil: Music, Literature and a Self Regained (Sussex Academic Press, 2010). His website is www.culturalwriter.co.uk and he posts on Twitter as @CulturalWriter

© James Holden 2014

‘Madame X’ – the Opera

Masetto and Zerlina – a young immigrant couple – are impoverished, cold, and starving. Masetto, a brilliant portrait artist, is being ripped off by his unscrupulous agent, and circling art collectors will not take “no” for an answer.

Shivering in a shabby loft, struggling to make ends meet, and exploited by the wealthy and powerful collectors Lady Brannoch and Mr Wilmore, Masetto lives for his art, protected only by his muse and love, Zerlina. Their plight becomes increasingly perilous, desperate, and deadly, until at last: revenge.

‘Madame X’ is a new opera by Tim Benjamin, inspired by the Italian operas of Handel and by Jacobean revenge drama. This dark, passionate and obsessive tale is peppered with black humour and explores the potent combination of money and power in the world of art.

I asked composer Tim Benjamin to tell us more about the genesis of his new opera:

What is the inspiration behind Madame X?

Madame X is a tale of skulduggery in the world of art, specifically portrait-painting. It is created in the style of the Jacobean (and Elizabethan) “revenge” dramas, of which the necessary ingredients included a dastardly plot, a murder, a ghostly visitation, and a gory revenge preferably taking in the entire cast. My opera (I also wrote the libretto) makes the most of these ingredients, finding a lot of fun in them too: it’s not “tragedy” in a particularly sad or weepy sense – though it has its moments! –  indeed there’s a fair bit of comedy in the plot.

‘Madame X’ is the name of a painting by John Singer Sargent. Has this painting had any direct or indirect influence on your work?

The Portrait of Madame X by Sargent has an interesting background: Sargent and a notorious young socialite, Virginie Gautreau, collaborated to produce something of a publicity stunt for both of them. In the event it back-fired, the painting (today considered a masterful study) shocked and scandalised, and had a poor public and critical reception; Gautreau was humiliated and Sargent permanently left Paris to move to London.

Now, while interesting, that isn’t the story of my opera Madame X, but it is one of the many fascinating stories behind now-famous artists and their works that form the essence of the plot of the opera.

Madame X (the opera, not the painting) features a brilliant but impoverished artist, Masetto, and his lover and muse, Zerlina, who are exploited by characters that represent various forces that have shaped the history of art: Mr Wilmore is an American capitalist (“new money” and art-as-investment), Lady Brannoch is an aristocrat of Old Europe (“old money” and patronage), Botney is a double-dealing agent, and The Public who are … the public, featured at play, often drunkenly, and at church; alcohol and religion are, of course, both major influences in the world of art.

The character Masetto only ever speaks (well, sings) the titles of famous paintings. We, the listener, and the other characters on stage must interpret his meaning from these titles. One of these utterances is, naturally, “Madame X…” – but this happens at a key moment in the plot, which I won’t spoil here, so you’ll have to come and see it to find out why!

What are your key musical inspirations in creating this opera?

The sharp-eyed reader will have spotted that Masetto and Zerlina are characters from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and that opera is an influence or inspiration for this. The plot is (very) loosely similar; one could say that the equivalent of the Don in Mozart is “Money”and the women that he pursues are “Art” in Madame X. The primary musical influence is however Handel, specifically his Italian operas (Giulio Cesare, Cerce, Rinaldo, Rodelinda…).

Just as there are numerous references to famous paintings in the libretto, there are references to famous movements in classical (and not so classical) music in the score. Not quotations as such, and not pastiche, but what I might call adaptations or “re-tellings”. These encompass not just Handel, but also composers from Mozart to Britten, and more.

There are one or two quite specific musical references; for example I have used a motif from Beethoven’s final piano sonata which (at least according to Mann’s ‘Faustus’) represents “Fare-thee-well”, as it does also in my opera.

The strong Baroque musical influence is also reflected in the small orchestra, which features a harpsichord (doubling chamber organ), and naturally this prominent sound strongly shapes the overall feel of the piece. The part is not written (as in Handel) in figured bass – as that would pose more than a few challenges given the constantly-shifting harmonic (albeit often tonal) landscape of my score – it is fully written out, but still requires the player to conjure up the essence of semi-improvisatory Baroque performance.

harpsichord-extract

What/who do you think art is for? (!)

From the point of view of who? We all have our own function for art, and these functions seldom if ever coincide with the intentions of the original artist. Take Mona Lisa for example – it is one of the most visited paintings in the world, and it has been used to sell everything from crisps to coffee to software to Lego to headphones to airlines! But none of that was the intention of Leonardo, who was simply commissioned to produce a portrait of the wife of a wealthy silk merchant. So what is Mona Lisa for? For tourists to queue up and look at? For ad-men to sell with? For silk merchants to show off their money and wives? A store of cultural capital and prestige for the French Republic? Or for a jobbing portrait-painter to earn a crust?

All of these, and more, are “functions” of this particular work of art, and every other work of art to differing extents, and all of these are addressed in Madame X, especially when they brush up against each other and cause conflict. My character Masetto is an archetypical artist, and while he might just take each job as it comes and do the minimum that is required to satisfy the client, he also has his own motives, and it is the expression of these motives that transform a merely functional commission into a great work of art.

To relate this back to music, Stravinsky is reputed to have said that the key to being a successful composer was to think what you want to write next, and then persuade someone to commission it! This is quite the opposite to what the silk merchant might have expected when he hired Leonardo, but perhaps the artist had a vision of an enigmatic smile, and all he needed was to find a wealthy patron, with a suitably beautiful wife, to pay him to paint it…

MADAME X, the new opera by Tim Benjamin, is featured in the 2014 Grimeborn Festival at the Arcola Theatre, London, 25th, 26th, and 27th August.

Buy tickets

Madame X website

Meet the Artist……Tim Benjamin

Defining ‘professional’

Many people regard piano teaching as a vocation rather than a profession, including some who are active practitioners, and I have encountered many people outside the profession of piano teaching who regard the role as some kind of superannuated “hobby”: on one occasion the parent of one of my (former) students actually said to me: “You’re so lucky to be able to do your hobby as a job”, thus totally overlooking the fact that I take my job as a piano teacher very seriously, and regard myself as a professional within the sphere of piano teaching.

But how to define “professional” with regard to piano teaching?  Sally Cathcart, a musician, educator, researcher and director of the Oxford Piano Group, has been exploring the issue of professionalism and piano teaching in a series of posts on her blog The Curious Piano Teacher, and she poses some interesting questions about the definition of a professional:

  • Do you consider yourself a ‘professional’ piano teacher? What, in your view, makes you a professional?
  • How is your piano teaching validated ? By reference to others’ expectations or by continuous questioning of fitness for purpose?
  • Do  you adhere to a set of professional standards or teaching principles, either your own or others?
  • Do you think that being a member of a group that represents professional musicians and teachers (e.g. EPTA UK, ISM, MU) is relevant to your work as a piano teacher?

Do visit Sally’s blog to read her articles on this subject. and to respond to these questions, or contact me via my Contact page and I will pass on responses to Sally.  This is an area which is of great interest to myself and many of my piano teaching colleagues, and I would be most interested to hear people’s responses.

Read the full text of Sally Cathcart’s article here

Links to Sally’s previous articles:

Being Professional – the beliefs and attitudes of UK piano teachers

Two Stories about Piano Teachers

Meet the Artist……Daniel Grimwood, pianist

Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)
Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career? 

Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.

Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.

As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.

Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.

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

I am 37 and still a musician – that is challenge enough.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Awaiting release, my complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.

Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Schubert

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

I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.

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

Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.

Currently I am listening to and practising the Sonatas of CPE Bach whilst reading his treatise on keyboard playing. It should be mandatory reading for music students.

Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.

I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.

I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.

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

Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.

What are you working on at the moment? 

JS and CPE Bach for fortepiano and harpsichord, Mozart, Haydn and Ravel’s Gaspard. I recently performed the Adolf von Henselt Concerto in the composer’s birth town, Schwabach; I love the piece although I must confess it challenges me to the point of breaking out in language which would make a London cabby blush whenever I practise it!

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

In front of a piano

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, running

What is your present state of mind?

Contented

With a repertoire, which ranges from little heard Elizabethan Virginal music to composers of the modern day, Daniel Grimwood is one of the most original and insightful musicians of his generation. A pianist of rare versatility, his exceptional talent has been noted by many international music critics.

His musical interest started as a 3 year old playing next door’s piano and from the age of 7 he was performing in front of audiences in his home county of Kent. He continued with his training and was offered a scholarship to the Purcell School in 1987 studying piano with Graham Fitch. He also studied violin/viola and composition/counterpoint giving him a much broader appreciation of classical music. He later finished his pianistic training under the tutelage of Vladimir Ovchinnikov and Peter Feuchtwanger. Although primarily a pianist, he is frequently to be found performing on harpsichord, organ, viola or composing at his desk. Felix Aprahamian once wrote of him “probably the finest all‐round musician I have ever known”.

He has subsequently enjoyed a solo and chamber career, which has taken him across the globe, performing in many of the world’s most prestigious venues and festivals. Whilst he has been the recipient of several international awards, there is no glamorous list of competition wins as Grimwood considers them harmful to the musical community.

Grimwood has been a passionate exponent of the early piano from childhood and recently gave a recital at Hatchlands of Chopin’s Op 25 Etudes and 3rd Sonata on the composer’s own Pleyel piano.

As a solo recording artist his growing discography ranges from Scriabin, to Algernon Ashton (world premiere recording on Toccata Classics). His recent discs of Liszt and Chopin on an 1851 Erard on the SFZ label received a unanimous chorus of praise from the press: the Liszt was Daily Telegraph CD of the week and Editor’s Choice in Gramophone Magazine. Future releases include the complete Faure Nocturnes and the last three Schubert Sonatas. He is also the first European to have recorded for a Chinese record label.

http://www.danielgrimwood.co.uk/

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,690 other followers