A journey through the piano music of Fryderyk Chopin

On 4th September 2015, British pianist Warren Mailley-Smith embarks on year-long survey of the complete piano music of Fryderyk Chopin through a series of 11 concerts at St John’s Smith Square, London.

Chopin’s life and music was a phenomenon. Unlike most composers, his music has never been out of fashion and this series is a rare opportunity to explore the reasons for his enduring popularity. The concerts focus on various aspects of Chopin’s output, including the Waltzes, the Preludes, the heroic Polonaise, the Ballades and the Scherzi.

Here Warren to explains what makes the piano music of Chopin so special and describes how he planned and prepared for this pianistic marathon.

What do you love about Chopin?  

Chopin is one of those composers whose music is equally rewarding to play, as it is to listen to. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but it isn’t necessarily always the case. Some composers can create the most heavenly music to listen to, for example Beethoven or Rachmaninov, but it doesn’t necessarily ‘fall under the fingers’ or ‘lie in the hand’ in the same way that Chopin does.

Why is Chopin’s music so amazing to play?

His music is written in a way that allows the hand to follow a very natural movement over the keys, but is so much more than that. There is something very sensual and beautiful about the whole experience of PLAYing Chopin which is present in almost every one of his pieces. They are so driven by this ever-­present, persistent  cantabile line, which really gives you, as a performer, a feeling of singing through the piano.

Chopin also has the most amazing way of building up the most deeply felt and exhilarating climaxes in his music so that it can becomes the most overwhelming feeling when you are actually  performing  it.

Tell us more about your feelings on Chopin’s music  

For me there has always been something very exciting and gratifying about the way Chopin uses harmony to surprise and enthrall – for example, in the 2nd subject of the Barcarolle, or the transitional passage in the G-flat-major Impromptu. And in equal measure the way that he uses it to say something profound – as in the opening bar of the Polonaise Fantasy -­ and magical, for example, in the middle section of the Scherzo No. 3. But above  all, it’s the way that Chopin uses his harmonic progressions to build up to the most overwhelming climaxes,  for example in the last full statement of the theme in the 4th Ballade.

What is it like to play some of Chopin’s hardest music?

The short answer is exhilarating. Chopin rarely writes difficult music ‘for the sake  of  it’ – and there’s always an underlying musical idea, phrase or shape that  is involved. So, even when your fingers are flying around at 60 notes a second, your brain is able to focus on the bigger picture which makes it easier to make the passage sound convincing. But of course the complex passages (of which there are many!) require hours of slow, careful, repetitive practice in order to train the fingers, almost (but not quite) into ‘auto pilot’ which allows you to take your focus away from each individual note and concentrate more on the bigger shapes in the music – and of  course certain key turning points!

Concept of the programmes  

When you have an almost infinite number of possible combinations of pieces to build 11 programmes, it becomes necessary to have a structure behind it.  So I decided each programme had to:

  1. feature an important work, or group of works that stands out from his output as being exceptional or ground­‐breaking in some way.
  2. contrast well-known Chopin with lesser-known Chopin
  3. contrast early Chopin with late Chopin
  4. follow a chronological thread, through the Mazurkas.
  5. offer a sufficient contrast of moods, emotions and colour for the audience
  6. be well timed, with good key relationships

It’s actually been a lot of fun designing them over the past 3 years – and, as you can imagine, there has been a lot of tweaking, and juggling over that time.

Journey of the series  

Each individual programme is designed to stand alone as a compelling presentation of the composer’s genius. However, the series as a whole is designed to take you on a bold journey from his Op 1 in the first concert through to one of his last masterpieces, the breath-­taking Sonata No. 3.  By experiencing EVERYTHING, we can gain a fuller understanding of both the music and the man.

What is so special about Chopin  

As a man, Chopin was highly refined and reserved in manner, moving as he did in the upper echelons of society. But his music belies a highly-charged emotional and sensual depth – to the extent that, I believe he was using his music to express what he felt unable to say in words -­ or indeed actions.  It is surely the underlying emotional depth in every note he wrote that accounts for the enduring popularity of his music. 200 years on and his music is arguably more popular today than it has ever been, bearing in mind that his music has never really been out of fashion!

What does this series mean to you?

This is a truly amazing opportunity for a performer to go on such a journey with an audience.  Although it will be an uplifting experience for me to pass my hands through Chopin’s entire works, I believe it will also be a great experience to offer audiences an opportunity to get to know the music of this great genius of the piano a little better and hopefully discover some  new favourites whilst reacquainting themselves with old ones!  This is something I have wanted to do for nearly 10 years and so for me it is the realization of a great ambition.

Why take on the whole piano works of Chopin?  

When you learn a piece of music by a composer, you obviously learn a little about their style, their feelings and the composer themselves. When you learn a second piece -­ you often discover something further, something contradictory or complimentary. The more works you learn, the more you learn about how to interpret any given piece by that composer and you start to build a very comprehensive picture of both the music and the man. I’ve obviously been playing Chopin for many years – and  after a while you start to fill in the gap your repertoire and before you know it, it’s not quite such a mammoth task as it might first appear.

This also happens at a very relevant time in my life. I will be the same age when I start the series as Chopin was when he died. It is quite a humbling feeling to have absorbed so many masterpieces, written by the same person in so few years

Why do this in London? 

As a Londoner, I began my performing career here in London nearly 20 years ago, at the same venue. I was just thrilled to have the opportunity to give these concerts at St John’s as it is a wonderful feeling to return to the same stage, with so many experiences of performing now behind me. I can honestly say that I am now a very different artist as a result of the many concerts I’ve given since m  student days and the many thousands of hours of practice that I’ve undertaken since then!

Have you got any plans to take the series to Poland? 

I certainly have plans to take these pieces with me everywhere I go from now on!

How long does it take to learn the whole cycle?  

I’ve spent 4 years planning these concerts. But that certainly hasn’t been 4 years of uninterrupted practice. Other concerts and demands have often taken priority for large chunks of time.  But I could not have prepared it any sooner, as the many big, complex works simply take a long time to ‘settle  in’ and you can’t force that number of notes into your fingers all in one go!

Are you doing it all from memory?

That is most certainly my intention. Simply because I believe one can perform to one’s best without the music there, because it removes a constraint between me and the audience.  Most of all I want the audience to feel that the focus of my attention  isn’t on the pages in front of me, but that my whole attention is focused on communicating what is in my fingers, to them. That is the goal!

How many hours a day do you practice?  

It really varies so much from day to day. But it doesn’t seem to matter how many hours practicing  I  do – 2  or 12 – I  always end up wanting to do a bit more.

Why do so many pianists love playing Chopin?  

I am sure that every pianist has had a slightly different reason for playing Chopin.  But the bottom line is that people love listening to his music and to watch a pianist performing his music live takes that experience to a new, more personal and heightened level. But for pianists themselves, I think that Chopin consistently takes the performer on a satisfying journey  – whether it’s a short hop, or an epic voyage, you nearly always feel better for having played it when you reach the last bar!

What will make these Chopin recitals different from the many others before them?

Any one combination of pieces paints a slightly different picture.  I think the 11 pictures, or programmes which I’ve painted, will portray striking contrasts of the man and his music. A number of pre-concert events are also designed to paint a truly comprehensive picture of his music and influences.  There will be talks, dancing, chamber music and workshops to complement the concerts.

How do you prepare for such a marathon as this?        

A lot of careful planning, advice, preparatory performances, honest self-assessment and a good deal of ruthless goal setting! It’s quite a lot of repertoire to learn over a sustained period of time, which makes it essential that one’s love for the music you are practicing is unquestioned. Therefore, it never really feels like work, but more like an extended indulgence in your favourite chocolates.

Browse the complete series of concert

Further information and book ticket

D is for….

“D” is for Duet, a piece for two players. In the case of piano duets the players share the instrument and enjoy closer physical proximity than was generally allowed between bourgeoisie young ladies and horny composers. Mozart and Schubert delighted in the possibilities of the form, but the next generation seriously dropped the ball – Chopin and Schumann were undoubtedly too gauche, and Liszt simply wanted the whole piano to himself. Subsequently, the duet was particularly popular with French composers, with Bizet, Fauré, Debussy, Ravel, Poulenc and Messiaen all contributing to its survival.

There are many great composers with names starting with the letter “D”, not least Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812), a Czeck composer who made the mistake of not settling in Vienna at the height of the Classical Era. Instead his career ranged freely across Europe from London to St Petersburg, but subsequently his music largely dropped off the radar. He wrote 34 Piano Sonatas, which vary in style from easy-going melodic writing through to crazy experimentation. Worthy of rediscovery…

Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960) was hailed early on in his career as Hungary’s best hope since Liszt. His works include the ridiculously gorgeous Piano Quintet in C minor Op.1, two criminally neglected Piano Concertos, about four hours worth of brilliant solo piano music and a couple of Symphonies. However, he is best remembered for the rather more facile “Variations on a Nursery Song Op.25” for piano and orchestra, and (with less affection) for his “Essential Finger Exercises”. Between composing and touring as a virtuoso pianist and conductor, Dohnanyi became perhaps the most successful piano teacher in history, with students including György Cziffra, Annie Fischer, Andor Földes, Géza Anda, Sir Georg Solti, Istvan Kantor and Joseph Weingarten (my own teacher).

“D” is also for Dampers, the little felt things inside a piano that stop a string vibrating when you release the key. The Damper Pedal lifts these across the full range of the piano so that the strings continue to sound until they fade or the pedal is released. Strings not struck are also free to vibrate “sympathetically”. With care, artistry and sophistication, use of the damper pedal can transform the instrument into an infinite magical sonic colour machine.

Claude Debussy (1862-1918), the French composer and notorious bounder, knew a thing of two about sonic magic, and although he supposedly hated the term “impressionism” it appears to have stuck to his music like superglue. Several of his pieces have established themselves in the hearts of music lovers all over the world, in spite of a temporary setback when the Japanese synthesizer freak Isao Tomita released his electronic renditions on the hit LP “Snowflakes are Dancing”, which soiled several of Debussy’s most popular works.

On the subject of French keyboard composers, Jean-Henri d’Anglebert (1629-1691), whose music nicely bridges the transition between Chambonnières and Rameau, deserves an honorable mention. Judging from contemporary portraits, had he lived a few more years he might have become the original “Cross-eyed pianist”.

Andrew Eales is a pianist, writer and teacher based in Milton Keynes UK, where he runs his independent teaching practice Keyquest Music www.keyquestmusic.com. An active social networker, Andrew founded and ran “The Piano Cloud” (2011-15), the Piano Network UK Facebook group (2014- ) and his latest project Pianodao www.pianodao.com

D IS FOR DEVIL

There’s flaming strings and smoke

From a dance at a village inn

Mephistopheles made an appearance

Grasping Faust amidst the din

There’s Prokofiev’s suggestion

And there’s Dante’s dark crevasse

There are witches, whims, and fancies

At a candle-lit Black Mass

There’s a shooting for a soul

Which Weber bravely traversed

There’s a sabbath and a bonfire

That’s Idée Fixe immersed

There’s a night atop a mountain

Where a Russian mist grows thick

“There’s Totentanz and Danse Macabre”

Chime in Saint Saens and Liszt

There’s a horseride that ends horribly

The face of death stares back

There’s destruction from an ancient bird

Who leaves an amber track

 

There’s walking to the gallows

As bells ring death and sin

There’s an eater of young children

You’ve mistakenly let in

So, before you sit and listen

With your headphones blasting sound

Lock your doors and bolt your windows

You’re going under ground

To a place that’s dark and evil

Where the devil tempts your soul

Where tritones, dims, and augs reside

Where music pays your toll

Daniel Johnson

Daniel Johnson is an Australian pianist, composer and writer. Find out more at danieljohnsonpianist.com

 

Piano Dao: the way of piano

Pianist and teacher Andrew Eales introduces his new blog:

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Pianodao is my new blog site launching Saturday 1st August 2015.

Built around the metaphor of piano playing as a lifetime journey, the site will focus on our musical and creative development as well as on our personal well-being: mind, body and spirit.

Pianists usually find that self-evaluation is crucial to their progress and musical development. When I started teaching piano I quickly also realised that one of the best ways I can improve is to continuously reflect on my teaching practice and student response. Pianodao takes this basic principle and places that process of reflection and evaluation within a much broader context – our journey through life.

When teaching I continue to observe that many of the problems and issues that I and my students grapple with have very little to do with our pianism and musical understanding, and far more to do with our physical limitations, tension, mental state and internal beliefs.

We all have a life outside of our piano playing, and it is clearly worthwhile considering the connections between our experience of life and our ongoing musical development. But where do we start? When it comes to considering those connections, I believe that the wisdom teachings of Dao (or “Taoism”) can offer a uniquely powerful and insightful approach.

Pianodao will have five main sections:

The Pianist’s Path focuses on specifics of how we learn, play, teach and help others develop as pianists. I hope to explore what it means to be a pianist in today’s world. There will also be articles about developing our creativity and performing with confidence and enjoyment.

The Pianist’s Well-being takes a broader look at our lives – our inner beliefs, physical health, and general lifestyle. This section will consider powerful quotes from great musicians past and present, as well as the teachings of wise thinkers ancient and modern.

Piano Qigong will offer suggestions for applying qigong practice to the needs of piano players, developing into a free resource offering simple breathing and stretching movements and exercises suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. This part of the site will go live sometime before Christmas this year.

Interviews with pianists about their journey as players will focus on the obstacles they have faced and overcome in order to move forward on their path.

Music & Reviews complete the site, providing a space to share news and comment about resources that will hopefully be of interest to readers.

Pianodao is ultimately a record of my own journey, but I hope that in sharing I will encourage others. Making connections between my experiences as a pianist and teacher, my practice of qigong and interest in the wisdom of Dao, I hope to offer insights which will bring clarity to your own “Way of Piano”.

Please take a moment to visit www.pianodao.com and “follow” the blog. Thanks!

Meet the Artist…….Martin James Bartlett

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

At a very young age I was drawn to the music room where my mother would be teaching the piano some evenings. When I was six she started teaching me and a few years later took me to audition at the Royal College of Music. During my ten years at the Junior Department I studied with Emily Jeffrey, who cultivated my love of music and inspired me to pursue the career of a concert pianist.

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

The most influential years of my musical and personal development were when I studied with Emily Jeffrey. Over the many years she always challenged me to be more disciplined and strive for greater heights. Apart from the wealth of knowledge she imparted upon me I can remember the many laughs and fun we had together. Her unerring passion and all-consuming dedication to music were a constant source of inspiration for me.

I am also immensely grateful for the constant support and guidance that my parents have given me, and their unequivocal belief in me.

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

At a young age I was always a little agitated and anxious before a performance. I disliked the tense moments before walking onto the platform, however once I started to play those feelings dissipated and the enjoyment took over.

After a few successful concerts my confidence began to grow and it gradually became less challenging

Which performance are you most proud of? 

I am proud of my performances throughout BBC Young Musician, at the ‘BBC Proms in the Park’ in Belfast and also my recent debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I greatly enjoy performing and listening to so many works from totally different periods. Personally I feel a natural affinity to the works of Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff, however I also love the works of Schumann and Prokofiev.

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

I hope to offer fresh interpretation and convey the emotions from the repertoire that I perform, so I keep this in mind when I select certain pieces.

I also spend many hours deciding on programme length, balancing the stylistic aspects and contrasts.

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

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite hall, because there are many different aspects from every hall that I enjoy. I love the intimate atmosphere and acoustic of halls such as Cadogan Hall and Wigmore, however I also appreciate the immense space and grandeur of halls such as Usher Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I greatly enjoy listening to operas such as ‘Tosca’, ‘La Traviata’ and ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and all the Tchaikovsky Symphonies. My current favourite pieces to perform are Gershwin ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, Prokofiev Sonata no. 7 and Mozart Concerto in D minor K466.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I hugely admire Leonard Bernstein, for his immense talent as a musician but also his dedication to musical education and inspiring younger generations. Maria Callas is another idol of mine, due to her unwavering, serious dedication to Opera.

Pianistically I am inspired by so many different artists, but Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich are amongst my favourites.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The final of BBC Young Musician is a performance I will never forget. The BBC team were so supportive and encouraging and on stage I was totally immersed in the atmosphere and the music.

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

Firstly, to embark on a musical career, one must absolutely love and enjoy music. Of course there is a huge amount of dedication and work to be done to succeed, but the most important aspect is to passionately devote yourself to it. Stay true to yourself, the composer and the music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Watching the sunset with a glass of red wine, an excellent book and a recording of Dinu Lipatti performing ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’

What is your most treasured possession?

I have a collection of complete recordings from Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas and Shura Cherkassky that I could not live without!

What is your present state of mind?

Introspective, a little anxious and excited for the future.

Martin James Bartlett performs Gerhswin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ in Prom 32 with Eric Whitacre and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Further details and tickets here

In May  2014, at the age of 17, Martin James Bartlett was awarded the title of BBC Young Musician. His winning performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’, with conductor Kirill Karabits and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, received overwhelming acclaim from Edinburgh’s Usher Hall audience and from those tuning into the live recording broadcast on BBC4 and BBC Radio 3.

Martin began his piano studies with Emily Jeffrey at the Royal College of Music Junior Department when he was 8 years of age, and then at the Purcell School also some 5 years later. Last autumn, he commenced his undergraduate studies with Vanessa Latarche at the Royal College of Music, notably as a coveted Foundation Scholar. Martin also previously studied the bassoon and the recorder, achieving Grade 8 Distinction on all three instruments by the age of 12.

Throughout these formative years, Martin enjoyed considerable success in numerous competitions and festivals. During his time at the Royal College of Music Junior Department, Martin won the Gordon Turner Competition, the Teresa Carreño Competition, the Angela Bull Competition and the Peter Morrison Concerto Prize. He was several years running a top prize winner also in the Jaques Samuel Junior Department Piano Festival. In 2012, Martin was granted a Tsukanov Scholarship, which generously supported his final years of study at the RCMJD. During his time at the Purcell School, Martin won the Middle School Concerto Competition, the Freddy Morgan Competition, the Wigmore Competition (both solo and chamber) and the Senior School Concerto Competition. At the end of his studies at both RCMJD and Purcell, Martin was honoured to be awarded the prestigious Leaver’s Prize for Outstanding Musical Contribution, the Esther Coleman Prize and the Rosemary Rapaport Prize.

Following his success in such competitions, Martin has given solo recital performances in the Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, St. John’s Smith Square, Bolivar Hall and Novi Sad Town Hall, as well as the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room, Steinway Hall and Moscow’s Multi-Media Arts Hall. He has also participated in masterclasses with Lang Lang, Stephen Kovacevich, Mikhail Petukhov, Kathryn Stott, Aaron Shorr and Alberto Portugheis. In addition, Martin has organised and performed in numerous charity concerts too, to date raising over thirty thousand pounds for a wide range of deserving causes.

In September 2014, Martin made his debut at the BBC Proms, performing Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with the Ulster Orchestra at the “Last Night” celebrations, which were broadcast live from Belfast on the internet as well as BBC Radio Ulster. Martin has also performed with the BSO in Bournemouth Pavilion as soloist in the opening concert of their 2014/15 Season.

Martin was one of 27 international artists, including Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Nicola Benedetti and Alison Balsom, to be chosen by the BBC to record a cover of the Beach Boys classic ‘God only Knows‘. The song was first aired on the 8th October 2014 on all BBC TV and Radio channels and later was released as the BBC Children in Need single with the first ever collaboration between Warner, Sony and Universal music.

www.martinjamesbartlett.com

Renowned pianist comments on the current state of music education

Acclaimed pianist and teacher Andrei Gavrilov has made the following statements about the current state of music education, as he perceives it. You may not agree with everything he says, but I feel he makes some valid points, which is why I am publishing his comments in full here:

Time has come to summarize my impressions about state of music education after four years of master classes all over the world. I had a great time with the international family of young musicians. We were progressing fast and productive when we were working together. Everywhere in the world I was working with talented guys, I had met the same (more or less) obstacles for their artistic development. What are those major mistakes?? What or who is producing the greatest damage to young souls? I will point it very briefly below:

  • Fake authorities, false “examples to follow”, established by music business (which only cares about money) – they are totally misleading, devastating for the young talents
  • No clear idea about the proper tasks of music making
  • No perception about goals and esthetics of Art in general, great lack of general knowledge
  • False view on the musician as a human being “cut off from the rest of the real world”
  • View on music as a separate world – perception of cheap amateurs and mediocre petite bourgeois
  • Lack of courage to take any risk
  • No knowledge and understanding of the total loneliness in serving the art, of the real artist’s path
  • No understanding that performer’s task is not a self-expression but transmission of other spirits
  • No knowledge about Christianity which is the basis of European-Russian culture, music in particular
  • No understanding of the need to study precisely all cultures and folks involved in creation of so called European music
  • No idea about the world of philosophy
  • No idea about different styles, characters of the compositions, national characters of composers, their consciousness, philosophical goals and ideas, religious consciousness and personalities
  • No knowledge about different epochs and the differences between them
  • No understanding in the need for actor-like ability to transform
  • Failure to understand the need for in-depth knowledge of related arts (painting, sculpture, theater, film, literature) etc.
  • Almost zero theoretical knowledge of the composer’s tools
  • No ability of theoretic analysis of any composition
  • No ability to analyze even a simple musical form of compositions – as a result nobody who could be able to touch a single serious composition without destroying it in all senses.

Please feel free to join this debate by leaving your comments below

YOUNG PIANIST KICKSTARTS CUTTING-EDGE RECORD LABEL

Another example of musicians doing it for themselves……

PRESS RELEASE 

A brilliant young pianist is turning the recording industry on its head by setting up a classical label with a difference 

Christina McMaster is on a mission: the bold, vivacious pianist is creating her own record label to release her debut album ‘Pinks and Blues’ this autumn. MC|MASTER Records, a groundbreaking fusion of music, art and fashion, is the result of more than 12 months’ work, from practising, recording and mastering to planning and promotion – a testament to this remarkable musician’s vision, energy and drive.

Christina, who has previously collaborated with London Fashion Week at venues including the Royal Opera House, is now joining forces with graduates of Central Saint Martins, such as the photographer/filmmaker Barney McCann and the jewellery designer Dennis Song (both currently have work on display in the V&A’s major Alexander McQueen exhibition).

The debut album, ‘Pinks and Blues’, is a compelling mix of contemporary classical, jazz and blues. Music by leading 20th-century composers Ligeti and Rzewski is deftly placed alongside Gershwin, Nina Simone and Bill Evans, and the pianist has also commissioned new works from exciting young British composers.

Christina’s eclectic taste belies a serious musician with impeccable credentials – she studied at the Royal Academy of Music with her mentor Joanna MacGregor, gaining an MMus with distinction in 2013 – but this pianist is also a canny businesswoman who knows what it takes to stand out in today’s ultracompetitive musical climate.

Starting her own label gives Christina the creative freedom to realise her pioneering vision. Future musicians will follow in her footsteps, but Christina is the artist blazing this trail.

To read about Christina’s Kickstarter initiative, and to support MC|MASTER Records visit http://kck.st/1JaMlJU 

The deadline is 1 August, so share the link today 

Meet the Artist……Christina McMaster

CD review: ‘Flowing Waters’ by Luke Whitlock

Flowing Waters – Luke Whitlock
Suite Antique (piano solo)
Flowing Waters (piano solo)
Evening Prayer (piano solo)
The Faust and Mephisto Waltz (piano solo)
Three Pieces for Wind Trio
Flute Sonata

It’s always nice when someone contacts me to tell me about a new CD which they think I will like, and Luke Whitlock’s debut recording Flowing Waters is no exception. It was recommended to me by librettist Ben Kaye, and I have enjoyed exploring it over the course of several days.

This is the first album devoted to Luke Whitlock’s work (in addition to composing, he is also a producer for Radio 3 and 4) and it reveals a composer whose music is firmly rooted in melody, tonality, lyricism and expression. There are hints of folksong in the Suite Antique, as well as a very obvious hommage to the Baroque tradition of composing dance suites in the titles of the individual movements. It is also redolent of works by Debussy and Ravel which also looked back to Baroque antecedents, with quirky nods to Prokofiev and Shostakovich in the ‘Gigue’. The music is lyrical, elegant and witty, at times mininalist and at others more richly textured in the manner of Chopin or Liszt (‘Minuet’, a sensuous Chopinesque waltz), all sensitively executed by acclaimed pianist Duncan Honeybourne.

The title track ‘Flowing Waters’ was a commission from the Arts Council of Wales and the Welsh Government, and is a musical portrait of the River Teign in Devon. The piece opens with simple chords before moving into a flowing passage which owes much to Philip Glass in its spare textures and unexpected harmonic shifts, but also to Beethoven in the repeated LH quaver figure (the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata springs immediately to mind here) and also Liszt’s second ‘Petrarch Sonnet’ from the Années de Pelerinage. There are some Lisztian harmonies in the middle section of the work too, and the music plots a course through different tonal, melodic and harmonic landscapes, reflecting the winding and varied course of the river which inspired it. I was particularly taken with this track because it echoes a number of piano pieces (including several of Philip Glass’s ‘Etudes’) which I am currently working on.

The ‘Three Pieces for Wind’ trio are haunting and reflective pieces which depict certain landscapes and the listener’s interaction and response to them. There is a pleasing balance and sense of conversation and humour between the instruments (flute, clarinet and bassoon). The ‘Flute Sonata’, composed for flautist Anna Stokes (accompanied here by pianist Wai-Yin Lee), is the major work on the disc and reveals hints of Chopin and Poulenc in its melodies and scope. Meanwhile, ‘Evening Prayer’, which comes between the works for wind, is a tender meditation, redolent of some of Satie’s piano music.

The disc closes with ‘The Faust and Mephisto Waltz’, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to Liszt whose music is taken from a score for a silent film. It is jokey and enjoyable in its pastiche, while presenting some technical challenges for the pianist (Duncan Honeybourne), and does indeed have a very filmic quality.

The music contained on this album is very accessible and will certainly appeal to those listeners who may initially shy away from “new music”. Recommended.

Flowing Waters is available on the Divine Art label. Further information here

Composer Luke Whitlock will feature in a future ‘Meet the Artist’ interview

‘Piano Out There’

‘Piano Out There’ is an engaging collaborative community project that will combine art, music and performance. It has been conceived by the creative team behind Piano in the Woods and the Landmark Arts Centre.

The Concept:

Unwanted pianos will be placed outside in publicly accessible locations in the boroughs of Richmond and Kingston, including one in the grounds of the Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington. These locations could be a public park, community allotments, the grounds of a housing estate or historic house or any other open space. Members of the public will be encouraged to play and interact with the pianos over a six-month period and to record visually and/or audibly their interaction, sending their photos, artwork, audio or video recordings to the Landmark.

As the pianos physically change through being subjected to nature, their sound will change too, becoming increasing deformed from something familiar to something abstract and the public thus become performers of an ever changing auditory experience. The culmination of the project will be at the Landmark Show in January 2016, which will comprise an exhibition of images and videos submitted by the public plus a specially created performance by composer Sam Bailey and other performers. Using some of the pianos and the gathered information to create a new piece.

Finally at the end of the project, the aim is to extend life of the pianos even further by commissioning an artist to create a sculpture from their surviving parts.

IMG_3810The Inspiration:

The project is inspired by the ‘Piano in the Woods’ project. In May 2013 a piano was left outdoors in private woodland near Canterbury, Kent. Each month for a year composer Sam Bailey played the piano, improvising in response to the instrument’s changing state. A community of audience members and artists grew around the project and the performances began to involve other musicians, dancers, poets and filmmakers. By the time the last performance took place on Saturday 3rd May 2014 over 50 different artists had taken part in the project.

The project was documented by Neil Sloman (photographs), Ben Rowley (16mm film) and Ben Horner (interviews). Each performance was audio-recorded and made available via a blog http://pianointhewoods.com

Piano in the Woods culminated in an exhibition the Sidney Cooper Gallery and has been developed by Canterbury Dance Company into a multi-media performance.

Get Involved:

The project’s creators are seeking community partners who can host a piano on land owned or managed by them from late June 2015 to early January 2016. They will install and de-install the pianos and provide signage to explain the project including details of how the public can upload visual images and recordings.

Community partners are also asked to help promote the project either through websites, social media or newsletters. We would also like them to take photos of their piano each month in addition to any taken by the public.

There is no financial commitment expected from community partners nor are you expected to insure them whilst on your land – all we want is your enthusiasm and creative support!

To get involved or for more information please contact:

Ben Kidger

Landmark Gallery Curator

Landmark Arts Centre

ben@landmarkartscentre.org

07989 570831

Twitter: @LandmarkArts

Website: www.landmarkartscentre.org

Intimacy combined with heroism: Marc-AndrÉ Hamelin at Wigmore Hall

(photo: Fran Kaufman)

My final visit to Wigmore Hall this season (the hall is closed during August) was to hear one of my piano heroes, Canadian pianist and composer Marc-Andre Hamelin. Each of his London concerts I’ve attended has offered coruscating technical facility combined with musical insight and the impression of a thoughtful musician who is very connected to the music he plays. This is in part created through his economy of physical movement when he plays. There are no unnecessary gestures in Hamelin’s playing, no pianistic histrionics or flashy pyrotechnics (except in the music itself), and because he never gets in the way of the music, his performances are concentrated and intense.

This concert was no exception, its intensity made even greater by the inclusion of Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, the “Funeral March”, with its third movement theme made so infamous by its associations with the deaths of Russian Communist leaders, and its extraordinary and ghostly finale.

Read my full review here

Meet the Artist……Marco Fatichenti, pianist

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

One Sunday morning, on satellite television, I heard for the first time W. A. Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik; the family legend says I was in rapture for the whole broadcast and this gave my parents the idea to buy a small toy piano for my next – fourth – birthday. Since that day, piano and music have been faithful companions in my journey through life.

Making it my career was, quite simply, a question I really never posed myself. Practicing the piano was much more entertaining and challenging to me than any other school subject. Certainly it felt much more natural than solving mathematical equations or translating verses from Latin.

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

It is amazing how much one can learn from a fellow musician and how the smallest detail, the simplest word or metaphor can have an impact and open a whole new landscape of possibilities and thoughts. I have been very fortunate to study with and learn from tremendously inspirational figures and feel I have inherited from all a composite array of ideas and teachings.

Admiration for artists of the past has played an important role too in my development, on top of being a subject that has often spurred wonderful debates, and I feel that different periods of my life have been marked by an attraction for different giants of the past. When the great Horowitz-Rubinstein debate raged in pianistic circles in the late ‘80s I remember being a faithful follower of the former. Cortot captivated me ever since I heard a Chopin recording in class during my Master’s degree in the USA. Although, if I were forced to make one single name, and I feel you are challenging me for it, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli is an artist who leaves me speechless and towards whom I am constantly drawn.

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

Mainly the struggle to keep my own development as the primary focus, especially after finishing formal education. I reached emancipation from any doubts after realising the gratification I get in trusting my instinct supported by historical research of a score. Upholding certain principles and my own artistic integrity has guided me through any glitches I may have had at times.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It is hard to avoid falling for the clichéd answer in this case: the last one. In fact, each album I have recorded is a unique creation; each represents, together with the build up that precedes the red light going on, a set of memories and a particular state of mind in a time and place.

I would like to share a few thoughts on my latest effort, Empire of Sound. The label A Fly on the Wall was set up to allow artists to express their individualities and to capture them at their most creative, taking live footage during recording sessions. A slight, but fundamental, difference with purely studio recordings.

It was by chance I noticed that Debussy’s Second Book of Preludes, Granados’ Second Book of Goyescas and Stravinsky’s Petrouschka (the ballet/orchestral version) were all composed in 1911. All signify a key moment for pianistic writing and music history in general, hence the title – a quote from Debussy in a letter to Stravinsky of the same period. This serendipity was too beautiful to be overlooked.

I could not have asked for a better artistic partnership to put on disc my passion for this programme.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I like to think I have a particular affinity for the music and worlds of Schumann and Brahms, although this is just my opinion. Posterity, or the listener, will judge if required.

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

Planning for repertoire often takes unusual and unforeseen twists and turns. One piece may lead to ‘discovering’ another and I especially enjoy finding relations and threads that unite them, to create a combination that, with a little bit of luck, has not been tried before.

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

As an adopted Londoner, Wigmore Hall – inaugurated by the Italian pianist Ferruccio Busoni – is a gem that remains dear to me above all others. I debuted there with the Pavào Quartet on the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing, a date I will forever remember. Aside from the glorious beauty of the stage and the intimate character of the hall, the backstage rooms are inspiring and make one feel part of a centenary musical legacy.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Right now it would be Brahms’ Piano Quintet.

Surprisingly perhaps, I seem to escape listening to music as a pastime. Although when the mood strikes, recordings of Bernstein’s version of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony or a Mozart Opera are never far away. I also indulge in some jazz – Jaques Louissier’s Bach arrangements are always in the car – and, probably even more surprisingly, enjoy the dark sounds of Pink Floyd.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who know how to listen and have an individual voice.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

When this question arises my memory invariably goes to a solo recital in Nottingham a few years back. I was being driven to the venue and due to difficult road conditions I was still in the car by the 19:30 starting time. Phone calls were made in order to keep the audience reassured of my arrival, which meant I had to change to my performing clothes in the car, enter the venue through the main entrance (free of charge, I admit) and – summing up all courage – start Chopin’s first Scherzo without trying the instrument nor having had a chance to warm up. It all conjured up for a very pleasant post concert celebration.

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

As with many things in life, it is all about balance. Without a doubt great sacrifices are required through the years, but the priceless payoff is the spiritual relationship created with our instrument. I always insist on the fact that this life-long endeavour gives us a special perspective on the world and a unique means to learn about our own selves.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I have two recording projects in the pipeline for A Fly on the Wall. The complete Clarinet Sonatas by J. Brahms (including the transcription for clarinet of his First Violin Sonata) with Jordi Pons and a Violin and Piano recital with Giovanni Guzzo; accidentally, musicians and friends who have an individual voice.

As far as solo repertoire is concerned, I am building a rather wonderful programme based on Variations by different composers, including an exciting 20th century English work.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

A fleeting moment of awe, a momentary loss of control over the senses. If that fails, a fine meal and a challenging conversation accompanied by a glass of Mosel Riesling and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro will get me close to a perfect happiness.

What is your present state of mind? 

Rachmaninov is ominously looking towards me and it is suitably late for a short practice session. It’s a good state of mind!

Marco Fatichenti was born in Italy in 1980 to parents of Italian and Spanish heritage. After receiving his Diploma at the Rossini Conservatoire in Pesaro, Italy, he moved to the United States to continue his studies in the class of eminent pianist Joaquin Achucarro at the Southern Methodist University, Dallas. At this institution, by the age of twenty-one, he completed an Artist Certificate program and consequently a Master of Music in Piano Performace. In 2002 Marco was granted a full scholarship to attend the Royal Academy of Music to study with Professor Christopher Elton. Having been a recipient for two consecutive years of the Myra Hess Scholarship, presented by the Musicians Benevolent Fund, and of a prestigious grant by the George Solti Foundation, Marco finished his formal studies receiving the highly coveted DipRAM award.

A keen performer both as recitalist and chamber musician, Marco has performed in some of the most prestigious venues across Europe and the United States, including the Auditorio Nacional de Musica in Madrid, the Teatro Arriaga in Bilbao, the Auditori in Barcelona, the National Concert Hall in Dublin and Birmingham’s Symphony Hall. Recent highlights include an invitation by the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs to perform at the EXPO in Saragozza, performing on the revolutionary instrument Fazioli ‘Onda’, his debut at Wigmore Hall collaborating with the Pavao String Quartet and a chamber recital in the Palau de la Musica in Valencia.

His performances have been recorded and broadcasted by the Spanish RTVE, Irish RTE, Polskie Radio and several times by the BBC, including a live appearance in the program ‘In tune’ presented by Sean Rafferty. Marco has also released two albums under the Jaques Samuel label, which have received roaring press reviews as well as a great success among the public.

In the past few years Marco has become a very sought after teacher and lecturer, being invited to take a position at Uppingham School and holding annual masterclasses in the prestigious National Young Pianists’ Week.

www.marcofatichenti.net

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture

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