Bach in Barnes: Li-Chun Su plays the Goldberg Variations

Li-Chun Su is a Taiwanese pianist based in Berlin and last week she was in the UK for a series of concerts, supported by Kumi Smith-Gordon, creator of the imaginative Soirées at Breinton. I was fortunate to hear Li-Chun at the OSO arts centre in Barnes, and with an audience of just eight people arranged around the piano, the experience was intimate and intense.

J S Bach’s Goldberg Variations are considered to be amongst the finest music for the keyboard. Originating from a simple idea – a beautiful aria over a ground (repeating) bass – the thirty variations present the history of Baroque music in microcosm: lavish displays of modern, fashionable expressive elements of the high Baroque, with just a hint of Classical idealism, together with magnificent structure and formal beauty. There are dances and canons, riddles and doodles, lightning flashes and filigree arabesques. Not until Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations was a similar work conceived on such a scale.  Li-Chun’s performance was vibrant, colourful and absorbing, showing a deep understanding of the structure, voicing and contrasting and varied material contained within the movements. The opening Aria was played with a spare elegance while the livelier variations were bright, poised and nimble. The slower variations were almost romantic with warm legato and sensitive dynamic shading. Li-Chun revealed herself to be a sympathetic and intuitive Bach player, and it was clear from her performance that she feels great affection for this music.

During the interval the audience were invited to vote for the pieces we wanted to hear in the second half. The choices included Schumann’s ‘Carnaval’, Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ and a handful of Chopin’s Nocturnes. In the event, Li-Chun played a triptych of works by Handel, including the variations known as The Harmonious Blacksmith, Mendelssohn’s ‘Variations Serieuses’, which tied in nicely with the Goldbergs, and Debussy’s ‘Claire de Lune’ and ‘Feux d’artifice’. Here she proved the breadth of her technique and musicality, a sensitive yet muscular pianist who is equally at home in Baroque repertoire as the late nineteenth-century. In ‘Claire de Lune’, for example, she revealed some interesting bass highlights, which are not always made apparent by pianists who prefer to focus on the melody in the treble. Her playing had a lovely lucidity which brought a special clarity to Debussy’s writing, something that it not easy to do.

Definitely ‘one to watch’, I very much look forward to hearing Li-Chun again when she next visits London.

Li-Chun Su kindly completed my Meet the Artist interview:

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

The piano chose me. We had a piano at home. I love the piano and playing beautiful music so much. It happened without making a clear decision.

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

My teacher Gabor Paska, living in Berlin and supportive friends.

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

Four Liszt Concertos in one concert and Bach’s well-Tempered-Clavier Book I in one concert.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

The live concert recording of 2009 at the musical instruments museum in Berlin. I played Bach’s Well-Tempered-Clavier Book I for the first time without an intermission and almost achieved perfection in day.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Difficult to say. Time by time it changes.

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

I have usually instinct to sniff out what I want and need to play.

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

A lot of places. It is like making friends. I feel comfortable with some people, and some less.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One nocturne by Chopin. I always play it after a good concert evening as an encore.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I remember well almost every concert

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

A love for the music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

A calm and confident feeling.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My passion for life.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

The process of making a thing come true.

What is your present state of mind? 


A native of Taiwan, Li-Chun Su received her musical training in Taipei and Berlin. She graduated from the Berlin University of Arts with the Konzertexsamen, the highest degree in graduate courses. She has studied with Tsia-Hsiuai Tsai, Laszlo Simon, Martin Hughes, Gabor Paska and Mitzi Meyerson.

Li-Chun Su took first prize in the Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Competition and in the Artur Schnabel Competition in 2007. In 2008 she was awarded the first prize in the Porto International Piano Competition in Portugal. She has had numerous invitations to perform across Asia, Europe and South America.

Meet the Artist…… Graham Lynch, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

In my late teenage years I’d dropped out of school and was working in a dull office job in London, but also playing keyboards in a rock band and having piano lessons. My piano teacher was also a composer, and one day I sat down and wrote a piano piece and immediately I knew that this was what I wanted to do with my life – write music. It was very much a ‘Road to Damascus’ moment. After that things changed completely and I went to university and music college for the next seven years to catch up on the training I’d missed.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

All my composition teachers taught me useful things, but my lessons with Oliver Knussen were especially helpful. I studied with him privately for a couple of years. He’d put the music up on the piano and play it whilst scribbling alterations and improvements. It was very practical, and great to be around a musical mind with so much to offer.

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

Developing a musical language that is coherent and expressive. It’s been a slow journey for me, from atonal composing through to a style that is tonal/modal. I see music as about communication (what else can the arts be?) and for that one needs clarity of images and ideas; through this one reaches towards the strangeness that lies beyond our quotidian existence. As Paul Valéry once wrote “what is there more mysterious than clarity?”. I think that’ll go on my gravestone.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

The pleasures are being paid to write it and having a performance at the end. The challenge is the deadline. I compose very slowly, almost every day for hours but only producing a few bars of music each week. I sometimes prefer to write pieces without a commission because they can develop at their own speed.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

Working with orchestras and ensembles is incredibly exciting but there’s always limited rehearsal time, which can be frustrating. Because of this I particularly like working with soloists, especially keyboard players and guitarists as their instruments are capable of doing so much. I’ve written quite a lot of music for piano (and harpsichord) and had some fantastic performances where the players have really taken the time to get inside the music. Giving a pianist some music is like handing over a novel, they can immerse themselves in it in their own time and space.

Which works are you most proud of?  

Probably the pieces that reflect a temporary cohesion of my musical language at a given moment, in whatever guise that language presents itself. These would include the early orchestral piece Invisible Cites, the tango Milonga Azure, the White Books for piano, and recently Beyond the River God for harpsichord, and others.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Bach, Couperin, Stravinsky, Debussy, Mozart, Ravel, to name just a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It’s impossible to pick one as there have been many memorable concerts, in a generally terrifying way; first performances in particular are always nervy experiences. One of the most unusual performances, although it wasn’t a concert, was when an orchestral piece of mine was used as the modern test piece in the last Leeds Conductors’ Competition. I was able to hear it conducted and rehearsed in the semi finals by six different competitors.

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

Hard work and perseverance. I know that sounds very boring, but much the same advice was given out by the likes of Rilke, Mozart, Rodin, Ravel, and Cezanne. Plus, a relationship with all the arts. I’m a complete art gallery and book addict, and all these other arts feed into the music I’m writing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

West Ham winning the Premier League, but as that’s never going to happen I’d settle for the FA Cup.

What is your present state of mind? 


Graham Lynch was born in London. He has a PhD in composition from King’s College London, and he also spent a year at the Royal College of Music, as well as studying privately with Oliver Knussen.

Graham’s music has been commissioned and performed in over thirty countries, as well as being frequently recorded to CD and featured on radio and television. Performers of his music include the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, BBC Singers, Orchestra of Opera North, BBC Concert Orchestra, and El Ultimo Tango from the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He has also worked as an arranger for the Belcea Quartet. His works have been played in venues as diverse as the South Bank, Wigmore Hall, Merkin Hall New York, Paris Conservatoire, Palace of Monaco, and from the Freiberg Jazz Club to a cake shop in Japan, and everything in between.

In 2009 his orchestral work, Invisible Cities, was used as the modern test piece in the Leeds Conductors Competition, and the same year saw the release of the first CD devoted entirely to his music, Undiscovered Islands, which received high critical acclaim. Since that time many of his works have been recorded across a wide variety of CDs.

Graham’s interest in many musical styles has resulted in pieces that reach from complex classical works through to compositions that tread the line between classical music and other genres such as tango nuevo, flamenco, jazz, and café music. These diverse works are in the repertoire of ensembles such as Las Sombras, Ardey Saxophone Quartet, Terra Voce, Dieter Kraus and Tango Volcano. He has also written educational music as part of the Sound Sketches piano series.

Recent commissions include Present-Past-Future-Present for harpsichord (Finland), Arche for violin (UK), Sing-Memory for guitar and harpsichord (Finland), and Lyric Duo for two saxophones (Chile). Premieres for 2014 will include Apollo Toccate for guitar (Finland), Beyond the River God for harpsichord (Finland), Trio Cocteau for piano trio (UK), and French Concerto for baroque violin, harp, and harpsichord (France).

Graham has been the recipient of funding and awards from many organisations, including the Arts Council, Britten-Pears Foundation, PRS, RVW Trust, and the Lyn Foundation.

Carlo Grante at Riverhouse Barn

Acclaimed Italian pianist Carlo Grante will give a gala concert on Saturday 30th May as part of the International Piano Series ‘Concerts for Alex’ at Riverhouse Barn, an intimate concert venue in a converted eighteenth-century barn close to the river in Walton-on-Thames, Surrey.


F. Chopin – 24 Preludes, op. 28
Chopin / Godowsky – 12 Etudes on Chopin’s Etudes op. 10
Bruce Adolphe (2014) – New York Nocturne. 

The latter work is one movement of a 6-part new work entitled ‘Chopin Dreams’, commissioned by HH Promotions London Ltd. Carlo Grante is giving the world premiere of ‘Chopin Dreams’ at Lincoln Center in New York on 15th September 2014.

Tickets for this gala event are available now from the Riverhouse Barn box office and the ticket price includes champagne and   canapés beforehand. The reception starts at 7.30pm and the concert at 8pm.

Book tickets

Carlo Grante is one of Italy’s foremost concert artists, and one of today’s most active and accomplished pianists in the recording studio.

His recorded output encompasses different areas of the piano repertoire and contains both mainstream and lesser-known works. Still in progress is the recording of the complete works of Godowsky and Scarlatti for the Music&Arts label, and recent concerto recordings include Franz Schmidt’s piano works for left hand with Fabio Luisi and MDR Leipzig, Mozart’s Concertos K. 365, 449, and 488 with Bernhard Sieberer and Orchestra dell’Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome and a live recording of Busoni’s Concerto with Wiener Symphoniker and Fabio Luisi. A dedicatee of a number of compositions by contemporary composers.Grante has recorded works dedicated to him, including Michael Finnissy’s Bachsche Nachdichtungen, Paolo Troncon’s Preludi e Fughe, George Flynn’s “Glimpses of our inner lives,” Roman Vlad’s Opus Triplex, (a monumental twelve-tone work based on the B.A.C.H. motif) and his newly written Concerto Italiano for piano and orchestra.

In his concert activity he has performed in major concert venues and prestigious halls: Grosser Saal of the Konzerthaus and Goldener Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna, Wigmore Hall and Barbican Hall in London, at the Parco della Musica (Sala Santa Cecilia) in Rome, Leipzig Gewandhaus, Dresden Semperoper, Stuttgart Opera, in New York, Chicago, Milan, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hanoi, Zagreb, Bucharest, Lima, Rio de Janeiro, the Vienna Festival, Istanbul, Husum, Newport, “Neuhaus Festival” in Saratov, Miami, Tallin, Ravello, MDR Musiksommer, etc., with major orchestras, such as Dresden Staatskapelle, Royal Philharmonic in London, Vienna Symphony, Orchestra of St. Cecilia, Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano, Orchestra of Radio-TV in Zagreb Radio Orchestra of Leipzig (MDR), Capella Istropolitana of Bratislava, Chamber Orchestra of Europe, etc..
Carlo Grante graduated from the Conservatorio di S. Cecilia, in Rome, under Sergio Perticaroli, studied composition with Claudio Perugini in the same city, earned his Master’s Degree with Ivan Davis at the University of Miami, and completed post-graduate studies with Rudolf Firkusny at the Juilliard School as well as in London with Alice Kezeradze-Pogorelich.

A Bösendorfer artist, Carlo Grante is the author of the book ‘Fundamentals of Piano Methodology’.

Sponsored post*


*a post which has been paid for by the promoter

The (Piano) Circus is coming to town

Six pianos and six passionately committed pianists: Piano Circus came together to play Steve Reich’s ‘Six Pianos’ back in 1989 and have never looked back. Fast-forward to 2015 and a new generation of pianists make up Piano Circus, still innovating and thrilling audiences with their performances and with over a hundred pieces in their repertoire.

Described as ‘Totally Compelling’ by the Guardian; Piano Circus are one of the world’s leading contemporary music ensembles. They regularly collaborate with film and video makers, theatre and circus performers, dancers and choreographers, and in a variety of educational settings. They’ve recently been seen at the BBC Proms Family Music Intro for Multiple Piano Day (broadcast on bbc Radio 3) and Keyboard Collective Project (Sound Festival, Scotland). They’ve also released seven cds with Decca and now on their own label; the latest release is ‘Skin & Wire’, featuring drummer Bill Bruford.

Known for stunning audiences both visually and musically, they’ve performed throughout the UK and internationally and have gained an enviable reputation for the dynamic rapport they establish with young people in their educational work.

For their 25th Anniversary relaunch concert Piano Circus comes to London’s Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush on Thursday 2nd July 2015 to perform works by Steve Reich, Graham Fitkin and premiere two new pieces by Dave Maric (Steve Martland Band and Colin Currie group) and Adrian Sutton (‘War Horse’).

Further information and tickets11072433_10155458056750417_6045247214293465366_o

When Ireland met Elgar: Steinberg Duo at the 1901 Arts Club

John Ireland (1879-1962)


The splendidly intimate and elegant 1901 Arts Club played host to Steinberg Duo on Friday evening in a concert of music by John Ireland and Edward Elgar. Steinberg Duo, which comprises husband and wife Nicholas Burns and Louisa Stonehill, are regular performers at the 1901 Arts Club and curate a series of concerts there.

The music of John Ireland is, perhaps unfairly, rarely performed. The majority of his output was piano miniatures and songs. He studied with Charles Villiers Standford at the Royal College of Music (who also taught Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells and Butterworth, amongst many others) and by the end of the First World War had emerged as a celebrated composer following the overnight success of his second Violin Sonata, of which more later.

The Steinberg Duo have been praised for their “warm musicality” and virtuosity and this was more than evident throughout their programme which opened with Ireland’s first violin sonata in which the influence of the French impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel was evident in its adventurous harmonic palette. The work is no gentile Edwardian drawing room piece and it was played with requisite muscularity and poise by Louisa on violin, with a nimble and sympathetic accompaniment by Nick on piano.

Ireland did in fact meet Edward Elgar and described the few hours in Elgar’s company as “the finest lesson I ever had”. To celebrate this meeting, Steinberg Duo performed a group of miniatures which represented the kind of salon music which was popular at the end of the nineteenth century and entirely appropriate for the small music salon at the 1901. These short but charming works were a pleasant and contrasting interlude between the sonatas by Ireland.

The second part of the concert was occupied by John Ireland’s second Violin Sonata, the work which made him famous. Since the composer was unfit for military service during the First World War, he was able to continue composing. The Violin Sonata No. 2 was premiered on 6 March 1917 by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch, who performed in uniform, and was an immediate success, so much so that the published Winthrop Rogers was on the composer’s doorstep before breakfast the following day. The first edition sold out before it was put on sale, and the work secured Ireland’s success and reputation.

By 1917, the British populace had developed a weary stoicism about the progress of the War. The work perfectly captured the mood of the period by avoiding sentimentality. Instead, it is imbued with pathos in its arresting themes, striking chromatic twists and turns and harmonic and rhythmic motifs redolent of Debussy’s Violin Sonata or Ravel’s Piano Trio. The middle movement is one of great poignancy with a simple song, on the violin, at its heart. Its expressive melancholy suggests a musical anthem for doomed youth, but also a requiem for a way of life destroyed by the War.

Speaking of his own music, Ireland said “Whatever I have to say is said in the music, and if this does not speak for itself, then I have failed”. This powerful and emotional work was given a passionate and involving account by Steinberg Duo who allowed the music to speak for itself.

Steinberg Duo

1901 Arts Club

Meet the Artist……Ariel Lanyi

ArielLanyi_Piano13_72SqWho or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

Music was an inseparable part of my life from the very beginning. I heard it from the day I was born, beginning with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Just as most people don’t remember when they learned to speak, I don’t remember when I learned to make music. The act of performing music came entirely naturally to me. My first interest is music, then comes the piano. I always enjoyed music more than anything else, so I always wanted to make it my career.

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

Most important were probably my piano teachers: Lea Agmon and Yuval Cohen. My recent musical thinking has been heavily influenced by several workshops I attended with Leon Fleischer.

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

The greatest challenge has always been keeping up with my ever increasing standards. Today I’m highly critical of recordings that once seemed to me stellar artistic achievements.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

In general, the performance I’m most proud of is my last one. But this ties in with the previous question. As my expectations of myself increase every day, performances I used to be proud of a few years ago strike me differently today.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The composer to whom I feel closest at the moment is Beethoven. I played his works extensively, including solo works for the piano (like the cycle of the last three sonatas), chamber works, and concertos. I don’t want to create the impression that I’m specialising. In the next two recitals I’ll be playing in London are works by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, and Ravel – and not a piece by Beethoven.

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

I don’t have any guidelines for making repertoire choices, and I tend to avoid programming pieces with some common factor – a recital of “last sonatas” for example (I realise these clever extra-musical organising principles are quite fashionable today…) My programs consist of selections of compositions I’m working on at the moment. My only guideline is that the programs be balanced and make sense in musical terms.

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

I haven’t performed at enough venues to say which one is my favourite. Generally, I like venues with an intimate atmosphere, where there is an easy and sympathetic give and take between performer and audience. This is why, among others, I don’t do competitions, where the mood in the hall is judgemental and potentially negative.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I find myself nowadays listening more and more to music that is not for the piano. I very much enjoy opera, chamber music and symphonic works. My favourite pieces to perform change all the time. Right now they probably include the works of Beethoven, among many others…

Who are your favourite musicians?

I cannot say. I don’t rank and I don’t think in ranking terms. Moreover, they are simply too many to list…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The one that is yet to come.

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

I don’t have a set of aphorisms at hand. My advice is to be curious and open to new ideas, both musical and cultural, and to question generic advice. (I don’t think the next Richter will come from reading my blog.)

What are you working on at the moment?

I am preparing three recital programs I’ll be playing in London in the coming months. In addition, I am working on my concerto repertoire (Brahms, at the moment) and on a mass of chamber music I’m playing with different ensembles.

What is your most treasured possession?

A wonderful coffee machine. My mother got it as a New Year’s present, but I’m its primary employer.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Writing blogs?.. (Not really, although it is a form of relaxation and it forces me to clarify issues I haven’t given enough thought to.)

Ariel Lanyi will play at St Giles Cripplegate, London, on 21st May. Tickets are available from or by phone on 0333 666 3366 (a fee of £1.50 applies to phone bookings)

Ariel has been playing since the age of 4, and gave his orchestral debut at the age of 7. He now plays extensively throughout Europe and in his home country Israel – including recitals at the Menuhin Festival Gstaad, Young Prague Festival, Radio France’s ‘Jeunes Interprètes’ series and St James’s Piccadilly in London. He will finish his studies at the High School and Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music in the Summer of 2015 and will take up a place at London’s Royal Academy of Music in September 2015.

Tring Chamber Music: professional chamber music on your doorstep

Pianist James Lisney, a regular performer with Tring Chamber Music, introduces this recital series which places quality music in the heart of the local community.

I must (for the sake of transparency) admit to a partisan interest in Tring Chamber Music. Two of my colleagues and friends are central to the initiative and, additionally, the series fulfils one of my central beliefs – that it is the role of musicians to be creators of concerts rather than separate themselves from the responsibility of the promoter.

Paul Barritt & Josephine Horder

Tring Chamber Music illustrates this most eloquently and is the brainchild of cellist Josephine Horder and violinist Paul Barritt.  Back in 2003, in the midst of thriving international careers, they resolved to act upon a passionate conviction that top class chamber music could be presented within their community and using the most beautiful venues in their corner of Hertfordshire. As many music societies throughout the country withdrew from presenting expensive and adventurous programmes of chamber music, Jo and Paul met the problem face on and have now become an indispensable part of the local arts calendar.

From the start, an emphasis was placed upon both continuity and variety. Jo and Paul formed the basis of the groups of guest musicians (drawn from other distinguished ensembles such as the Lindsay, Allegri and Sorrel string quartets performing with pianists such as Howard Shelley or myself). Their familiar faces ensured that the local audience were reassured at what to expect and they developed a sense of ‘ownership’ of the concerts.

Also fundamental to the success of the series is the lack of stuffiness in the concert experience. Performers introduce the music, concerts are often themed and popular additions such as cakes and wine have created an excited and enjoyable buzz. At a time when many chamber music promoters are becoming increasingly conservative, Tring Chamber Music has been able to lead a willing audience towards music that might otherwise be the province of the aficionado: this season, for example, includes mainstream masterpieces such as the Franck Piano Quintet, but also items by Gideon Klein and Schoenberg.

There are many aspects that I really like about Tring Chamber Music. There is a simplicity about its constitution: two main figures who choose the programmes, perform within the concerts, act as box office and promoters and inspire a loyal band of volunteers to provide support on the day; luxurious and high class concerts worthy of many an international festival or major venue are produced at a fraction of the normal cost; established, mature performers are central to the project and the concerts are ‘events’ rather than risk the spirit of ‘off-the-peg’ productions; and, ultimately, music is the obvious winner as the audiences concentrate upon what they are hearing rather than evaluating the abilities of new musicians.

There is no reason why the people of Tring and its surroundings should keep these wonderful concerts to themselves: the area is easily accessible by train and road (with free and convenient parking), and there are excellent pubs and eateries close by. If you want to enjoy the summer festival experience of top class concerts, performed with a palpable sense of freshness and discovery, I suggest that you visit the TCM website and bag yourself a bargain.

For further information please visit the Tring Chamber Music website.

24th May at 7.30pm – Hastoe Village Hall

Mozart – Piano Trio, K 564
Ravel – Pavane pour une infant défunte
Bridge – Three Idylls
Franck – Piano Quintet

Paul Barritt and Catherine Yates, violins
Louise Williams. viola
Josephine Horder, cello
James Lisney, piano

Church Lane, Hastoe, Hertfordshire HP23 6LU

Meet the Artist……James Fletcher, oboist and director


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

When I regained my hearing during primary school after being born deaf I took up piano lessons. Since then I have always been fascinated by the effect that music can have on your life and how you feel. As a teenager I began to look into classical music and stumbled across a YouTube video of Heinz Holliger playing the Mozart oboe concerto. The next week I gave the instrument a try and was instantly hooked. My home city of Ely had only a couple of oboists so lots of opportunities arose around Cambridgeshire. It was from being busy working and performing with amateur ensembles that I decided that i wanted to be a professional oboist. I found the oboe was a great instrument to put myself into given its versatility.

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

I was greatly influenced by my former piano teacher Jane Holden GRNCM who introduced me to music college and conservatoire study. She accompanied me for performances and indeed for my music college auditions. I am also greatly influenced by my oboe teachers at Birmingham Conservatoire Melinda Maxwell, Jenni Phillips and Gail Hennessy for baroque studies.

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

I’d have to say adapting to the demands of being a freelance musician. Finding time for other things in my life is so difficult as the little free time I have around my work and studies has to be for my personal practise. Whilst the lifestyle is enjoyable it takes a while getting used to long train journeys and sleeping on sofas after concerts!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’. I have always loved Rachmaninov’s piano repertoire so arranging it for oboe and coming home to perform it in the stunning surroundings of Ely Cathedral meant a huge amount to me! I’ve recently been working on a couple of Telemann Sonatas which I’m recording in January!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Schumann, particularly his romances. There is so much expression already on the page so when it comes to adding my own it can be overwhelming with emotional tensity. Aside from that I have a keen interest in baroque repertoire as I enjoy the virtuosity of some of the instrumental writing as well as the opportunity to add my own ornaments, cadenzas and further interpretations to my performances!

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

A good musician would choose their repertoire on what they wish to achieve technique wise generally as a result. Whilst I try to do that, I love discovering new pieces and particularly playing the ones I enjoy (perhaps a little to often). The joys of directing my own ensembles mean that most of the time I get to choose the music!

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

Each venue has its own qualities and suitability for different works, though, I’d like to mention Ely Cathedral. Because I have played there so many times, I cannot help but return there most Christmas’ and Summers to perform again and again. The building presents so many acoustic challenges for solo instrumentalists so it adds to the difficulty of what could already be a perfect performance!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It’s a close call between Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Bach’s B Minor Mass. I love Bach – he’s my favourite composer and so what could be better than a masterpiece that is essentially a catalogue of all of his best tunes arranged for a mass setting? Whilst the Beethoven, although overshadowed by his ninth symphony, the Missa Solemnis is, in its own way, truly something special.

Who are your favourite musicians?

When I was younger and only just discovering classical music I was and still am greatly influenced by the work and music of Herbert von Karajan, enough to inspire me to want to go into conducting. His extraordinary psychological vision of music,how it should sound and how it should touch ones heart deeply fascinates me. Also some of my other favourite musicians are the great oboists of the modern day: Francois Leleux, as well as Albrecht Mayer and Jonathan Kelly of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

New Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s concert in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge last summer. Most of the players were people who I’d been in youth orchestras and grown up with, so it was heart-warming reuniting with them to perform Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto to a sold out audience. I also can’t help but remember a carol concert in Ely Cathedral where aged twelve I came in as a guest violinist. My desk partner had fallen off the edge of the stage and grabbed my arm only pull me and my chair off with her!

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

Listening. Music is the most powerful art form for expressing your true inner self and feelings. Don’t just follow the score note by note – add a bit of yourself to your performances. Also, do not be afraid of meeting people and collaborate with them. You’re not just playing say, the violin in the after school band anymore. By making the choice to want to be a musician, you have to put everything you have into into it. Listen, interpret, perform.

What are you working on at the moment?

Alongside my studies, 2015 is my busiest and most exciting year yet. I will be performing in a new, exciting series of large scale orchestral projects and performances across the UK whilst also musically directing Handel’s opera ‘Acis & Galatea’ in the Midlands. I’m also looking forward to returning to Cambridge for a Bach Cantata project, and also (hopefully) going abroad for further work and study!

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

It would be nice to think that I’d have financial security and have settled down but I want to do much the same as what I am doing. The joy of music practically being my only hobby is that i never want to stop. Working in a different country would be nice!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Excuse the clichés, but freedom, love and security. Sat on a beach with a beer in one hand and the [non-existent] wife’s hand in the other! The end of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is also my idea of perfect happiness!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Performing. But unrelated to music I have been known to be a cooking master!

What is your present state of mind?

Ambitious (perhaps a little too much)!

Although born with a severe hearing impairment, James began his musical journey when taken to piano lessons aged 7.  As James’s hearing, speech, and language improved as he got older, he strongly valued the gift of sound and music and decided to take up other more orchestral instruments such as the clarinet and violin as a hobby. As a teenager, however, James realised his desire and ambition to become a professional musician and chose to specialise on the oboe where he went from strength to strength achieving grade 8 ABRSM disctinction after only a few years tuition and coaching under Carol London and Jane Holden GRNCM. He later held several positions in local orchestras, including the Cambridgeshire & Peterburough Youth Orchestra where he served as principal and solo-cor anglais for 3 years, aswell as the acclaimed New Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. James has also had strong affiliations with other local orchestras including the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra.

During sixth form college James had a succesful audition period for several UK music colleges which led to him accepting a scholarship to study at Birmingham Conservatoire where he trains as a first-study oboist under Jenni Phillips, Melinda Maxwell and Gail Hennessy for baroque oboe. At the Conservatoire James has a busy diary and is frequently involved in projects in collaboration with other students, including orchestral work, chamber music, choral singing, harpsichord accompaniment, conducting, and participating in recording sessions for new compositions and commissions. More recently James has formed his own chamber choir and is heavily interested in music research, having a particular focus on baroque choral music.

The next year will see James perform in prestigious venues across the UK such as St John Smith’s Square and the Barbican in London as well as returning to the familiar surroundings of Ely Cathedral. James will also be directing a production of Handel’s Acis & Galatea with his own orchestra and chamber choir which will be performed in historic venues across the Midlands.

James has vast experience working alongside arts and dramatics agencies as a musical director for performances ranging from opera, musical theatre to new commissioned plays. Alongside this position, James provided performance coaching to students of secondary school age.

Away from music, James is passionate about campaigning for the awareness of severe mental health disorders, and works with schools and health organisations to provide mentoring to school aged pupils.

Presentation to BASCA on classical music blogging


I was delighted to have an opportunity to talk about my experiences as a classical music blogger and the importance of creating a distinctive online presence at an event organised by BASCA (British Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors). The other speaker was Angharad Cooper of, who introduced the British Music Collection (about which more in a later post).

My talk covered a number of key areas of being a blogger, including choosing the right platform on which to host one’s blog, creating an eye-catching and engaging design, how to increase the readership and how my role as a classical music blogger has impacted on my career.

The presentations were followed by drinks and socialising, and I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with new people in the music community, including a number of exciting young composers.

You can view my presentation here (PowerPoint file)

Please feel free to contact me if you would like me give this presentation at an event.

A Musician in the Blogosphere – guest article for HelloStage

Music Notes: The importance of music in my writing and in my life

Guest post by Karine Hetherington

Music has always been an important part of my life.  I started playing classical piano aged six, did the usual grades, then abandoned the instrument for two decades.  I picked it up again aged forty.  My Russian grandmother was a very accomplished pianist.  She had attended the prestigious Sergei Rachmaninoff Russian Conservatoire in Paris in the 1930s and encouraged me when I came back to the piano. She would invite me to perform at her annual concerts in her Paris apartment every year.   It certainly kept me on my toes as long as she was alive! She played chamber music until the age of 94 and was tackling physically demanding solo works well into her eighties. It is no accident therefore that when I wrote my novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse,’ music and my grandmother were going to feature heavily. I decided to set my book in 1930s Paris because this city is my second home, and I am fascinated by the period. I took as my starting point the fact that my Russian grandmother had worked in a record shop in the Latin Quarter during this era.  She loved her work, the proliferation of artists and music styles was exciting for her and she took great pride in assembling the record displays in the shop for jazz artists such as Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway or for very exciting newcomers such as singer Edith Piaf. Taking my grandmother’s story as an inspiration, I threw myself into the period, using the music as my guide.  I have always been interested in the impact of music on people, its mood-enhancing qualities, its ability to bring people together, to comfort them.  For musicians, playing music is a drug, an experience hard to beat.  But music isn’t everything.  This is the conclusion that my main character, Tatiana Ivanov, arrives, at after some life-changing experiences.  But it is music, which forms her and makes her who she is. Music list: Chopin’s Etudes played by Horowitz 1935 Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat Major Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ Symphony No 9 Josephine Baker – ‘J’ai Deux Amours’ Edith Piaf – ‘L’Etranger’ (The Stranger) Tino Rossi – ‘Marilou’ Cab Calloway – ‘Keep That Hide-di-Hi in Your Soul’ Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique Op 13.  Adagio cantabile Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer who lives in London. A dual-British and French national, with a Russian ancestry thrown in, her short stories and novels reflect her passion for both the detail and grand sweep of European history. After studying creative writing at Birkbeck College in London, Karine has been telling stories that have brought history to life, with tales of love and adventure that draw on the detail of real events and real lives. Karine’s novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse’ is available now. Read an extract below 2 The next morning Tatiana was at the shop counter, running her finger along the register of orders, when in stepped a small, pink-faced man with round spectacles and straggles of grey hair escaping from under his cap. It took her a second to recognise her old piano professor, whose once seal-slick dark hair and trim body had at one time energised her playing. Not wishing to offend his vanity, she made an effort to avert her eyes from the small mound that stretched the lower buttons of his tweed jacket, and threw her hands in the air with genuine delight: ‘‘Professor Conus, how wonderful to see you!’ she said, lifting the flap of the counter and walking out to greet him.  Pleased to see her but maybe conscious of his altered appearance, Conus removed his cap and patted his unruly strands of hair. ‘How are you my dear?’ he said, now reaching out to squeeze her hand as she stood before him.  ‘Well, thank you Professor, and you?’  ‘Oh, I can’t complain,’ he said in a distracted way, looking away for a minute. Bringing his gaze back to her, he gave her a pained smile, exclaiming: ‘But Tatiana please, call me Sergei. No more of this ‘Professor’ business.’  ‘Very well Sergei,’ she replied, feeling a little coy and letting go of his grasp. It would take some getting used to, for she had been his student for four years, to the age of eighteen.  ‘Yes, fate and our old friend Horowitz have brought us together,’ he said, eyeing her wistfully. Has his recording of Chopin’s Etudes arrived by the way?’  ‘I’m afraid not,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘We have a backlog of orders at the moment. But I understand your anticipation.’  ‘A genius that Horowitz,’ he said, half-closing his eyes. ‘I am quite convinced that one hundred years from now, he will still remain recognised as one of the Chopin’s greatest interpreters.’  ‘Yes,’ she said excitedly. ‘Such energy and urgency in his playing that I find myself wishing to. …Oh I don’t know…’ She shook her arms in front of her. The sentence hovered in the air.  ‘To play them?’ he said, glancing at her affectionately.  ‘Yes.’ Though a little surprised, she was grateful that he fathomed her frustrations without her needing to explain.  ‘You still could.’ He stopped and gave her a quizzical look.  ‘I know, I know,’ she said, conscious of her voice dropping a few tones. She had been working on the Etude in G flat Major, the one on the Horowitz record, when she had stopped coming to his classes.
  ‘Why don’t you come and see me at the Conservatoire?’ How insistent and determined he could be. And how well he knew her.
She glanced up at him. ‘I have so little time Sergei.’ There was a little embarrassed pause as she recalled the ending of their professor-pupil relationship three years previously, when her father had been unable to keep up with the Lycée and Conservatoire payments. Overnight, her musical hopes had been brought to an abrupt close. As he stood before her, giving her that understanding smile, she found it hard to believe that she had been so nervous meeting him. Perhaps it was his brilliant reputation, which her father had impressed upon her on the way to the first audition. “Tatiana, the Bolsheviks have chased him out of Leningrad and inadvertently sent him to us. Their ignorance in all matters of the arts is our gain. Hurry up and stop looking so glum!”  They had been early and had had to wait, she on an uncomfortable chair wrapped up in a woolly hat, coat and gloves, while her father paced the dark, drafty corridor of the Russian Conservatoire. When the professor had eventually arrived, flustered and irritable, she remembered the terror of stepping into his enormous study – his realm — and hearing him sigh as he pulled back a dusty curtain to let in the morning light on her. “What are you playing for me today?”  “Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major,” she had replied, trying to keep a measured tone as her father had advised her to do.  ‘Hmmf,’ he snorted. ‘Difficult, but no matter.’  Sitting on the stool, twisted towards him, she had made an effort to smile.  ‘Begin,’ he had said in a gentler tone.  Swivelling round on the piano stool, she had removed her gloves quickly and stared at her hands fully stretched over the cold, white keys. It was all she remembered for her fingers from then on had just taken over.  ‘Good. Good, Mademoiselle.’ Such words of praise from such an exacting teacher! His analysis had filled her with hope: ‘your voicing and timing in part needs work but you have the touch my dear. It is not given to all. We can start next week.’  From the age of fourteen she had played for him and it had felt like a whole life had elapsed in his presence. He had overseen her development from a shy, timid girl to young woman who believed in her ability to become a professional pianist. But that was in the past.  ‘Tatiana?’ Conus brought her back to the present. ‘Oh sorry, I was just thinking…’
‘Yes, my dear,’ he said, mouth drooping as if he were just on the point of saying something but thought better of it. He put his old leather music case on the counter and stood back, giving a tug on his short, grey beard: ‘And so you are working here. All this music around you.’ And to illustrate the point, he lifted his short arms and turned his small, still agile body this way and that. ‘Perfect,’ he said, his eyes alighting on the Louis Armstrong display in the Jazz section. ‘Do you like it?   I do enjoy working here. No need to go to musical concerts at the Salle Pleyel, when everything I want is…’ She stopped. The professor was looking bothered.  ‘But I do hope you get out a little bit, Tatiana.’ He pursed his lips and shook his head. ‘An attractive, talented young woman owes it to herself to be admired.’  Caught off guard, Tatiana felt the blood rush into her cheeks. She had never been easily able to take compliments from men.  ‘A little thin though,’ he added in a half-playful, half- concerned voice.  She bristled at the remark and started to walk back towards the counter gripped with a sense of injustice. He was not the only one who made her feel awkward in this way. After church she was teased by her parents and their friends, who could not understand why she was so opposed to meeting eligible young Russian men. Her father, dismissing her reticence as shyness, had already designated Sacha Kirov, a rich nephew of his previous and now defunct business associate, as a candidate for her affections. They had met, at social occasions and had been friendly towards another. But that had been all. Vladimir, who still joked about it, told her that, she had acquired a reputation of being choosy and independent.  ‘It’s all right for you, brother,’ she would think to herself. You can go anywhere you please, while I have to have to be escorted!’  The professor realised his indiscretion and trotted after her, flustered. ‘That is not to say that you are not beautiful, my dear.’  She now wished Mme Clerc hadn’t gone out to the bank and left her alone and vulnerable to a conversation of this type. She snapped the counter down, turned back towards him, her back straight, her eyes she hoped, a little cold.  ‘And now I see I have offended you. Too much time spent in stuffy music rooms. All I am saying is that you are young my dear. This is the time to enjoy yourself. For years you were always playing. You are living in the most exciting city in the world!’  She let out a laugh of resignation and shook her head. It had always been impossible to stay angry with him for long. Conscious, however, of time passing, she took out the heavy leather order book from the drawer below the counter. Mme Clerc or another customer would soon be walking back through the door and she couldn’t be seen to be talking idly.  The book was marked at Monday – today — and her eye fell upon the first entry. “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9. A faint tingle of warmth rose in her breast. ‘And where am I to meet this Prince?’ she said glancing up at the professor.  ‘Ta, ta, ta, a prince! Why not just settle for a mere muzhik,’ he said, throwing up his arm impatiently.  Tatiana raised her eyebrows in surprise. ‘A peasant?’  ‘Well, not quite, my dear.’ The professor stretched his palms in front of her to placate her.  ‘But you know, a commoner. With talent of course. Energy and generosity of spirit. It goes without saying that he is to be an Adonis and to be madly in love with you. But he mustn’t fawn over you, otherwise you will tire of him,’ he said, wagging his finger.  She crossed her arms. Really the professor was such a nuisance.  ‘Always such high standards. Do not forget that women,’ he paused, to check that she was listening.  ‘Yes Professor? Women …? ’  ‘… Are like flowers. They wilt if they are not nourished by some sunshine!’  Tatiana threw her arms up, letting out another laugh; this time more exasperated than weary. She had never discussed such things with him, or anyone else. There had always been the music and it had been enough.   

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,968 other followers