Meet the Artist…… John Metcalf OBE, composer

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

I fear my answer may sound pretentious . . . When I was 12 years old there was a single moment when, while out walking, the idea came to me to be a composer and it was an idea which for the first time seemed to make sense of my whole life. It was quite unusual in that it wasn’t an obvious choice – I do not come from a particularly musical background

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

I see it as much as a vocation as a career. There are very many influences – it’s a life’s work. Anything that helps to reconnect new music with an intelligent audience has been important. I also love the simplicity and rigour of minimalism. Working with other artistic disciplines, especially but not exclusively in opera, has also been very formative

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

Again several. Being true to myself; understanding that recognition needs to come from within rather than without; and seeking a radical artistic path despite composing in a non-modernist idiom.

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

I think the obvious ones either way. It can be helpful to have a structure and a deadline. Even for the best organised composer creative work can at times be chaotic as well as totally absorbing. Similarly the timing of commissions can be a help or a further challenge.

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

It’s a commonplace of course but the best collaborations are those in which all those involved have a part in the decision making and there’s a huge range within music from individual performers who commission specific works to orchestra members who have little or no choice over what they play. At its best collaboration – the  highest sum of the best parts – can be the pinnacle of artistic work

Which works are you most proud of?

Well, I have put on ice much of my music before 1990. However, I am not one of those composers who doesn’t like to listen to his own music and I am proud of so many of my works since then. A breakthrough piece for me was Paradise Haunts (1994) violin and piano, later (1999) violin and orchestra. The short piano piece Endless Song (1999) is probably my most played work and there is a set of variations for Harp and Strings, Mapping Wales, based on it.  I’m also proud of the song cycle In Time of Daffodils (2006) and my last two operas –  A Chair in Love (2005) and Under Milk Wood (2014). Most composers have their ‘ugly duckling’ work. Mine is Cello Symphony (2004) – only one performance to date but there is happily a recording. (Thank you for this promotional opportunity, I think I’ve made the most of it!)

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Bach, Stravinsky, Elgar and Arvo Part are among them and I love listening to new pieces that I don’t know! I have the greatest admiration for new generation of young British performers also. They are really extraordinarily good. It is an odd realisation that the fees for classical musicians have decreased markedly as the standard of playing has increased.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been some very special concerts at the Vale of Glamorgan Festival. The 1996 concert at Llandaff Cathedral with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir performing Part, Vasks and Kutavicius stands out. Hearing the Kutavicius work – The Last Pagan Rites – prior to that at a cathedral in Vilnius following a very traumatic travel day was also memorable. Finally the premiere of Under Milk Wood: an Opera on April 3rd 2014 is still fresh in my memory

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

I think, excellence. As few compromises as possible. Never the middle ground, always the high ground. And spend as little time as possible teaching, administering, examining – crucial, wonderful skills though those are – and as much time as possible be it on composing or playing.

John Metcalf is a leading Welsh composer who has composed major works in many musical forms. While his cultural roots are in the heart of Wales, his work has a broad international following and is represented in a growing catalogue of recordings.

In 2009 he received one of four inaugural Creative Wales Ambassador Awards from the Arts Council of Wales. The awards recognise artists’ achievements, their standing in the arts in Wales and their capacity to push the boundaries of their art inherently as form and as a point of contact with contemporary Wales.

2010 highlights included the release in September by Signum Records of the ‘Paths of Song’ CD, containing Septet, Llwybrau Cân (Paths of Song), Castell Dolbadarn (Dolbadarn Castle) and Mapping Wales and a recording of his six piano palindrome Never Odd or Even in a multi-track version by Dutch pianist Jeroen van Veen on Brilliant Classics 9171/7. On October 29th his new saxophone quartet On Song was premiered by the Lunar Saxophone Quartet at the Riverfront Centre, Newport. Several performances followed and the work was also released on Signum Records SIGCD233.

In Her Majesty the Queen’s 2012 New Years Honours List John was awarded an MBE for services to music.

www.johnmetcalf.co.uk

An impressive debut: Antonii Baryshevskyi at Wigmore Hall

© Neda Navaee

I seldom select concerts to review based on performer. An interesting programme is usually what will pique my interest, and this was certainly true when browsing the Wigmore’s spring season of concerts: it is unusual to find Ligeti and Messiaen in the same programme. I didn’t know the performer and was unaware at the time of booking the concert that he was first prize and gold medal winner of the prestigious Arthur Rubinstein International Piano Master Competition.

Winners of competitions are often paraded before audiences with the promise of greatness. Generally young performers poised on the brink of an international career, too many may offer a bland synthesis of music, technically polished but lacking in insight or maturity. Not so Antonii Baryshevskyi, a young pianist from Kiev, whose impressive Wigmore Hall debut combined pristine technical facility and consummate musicality in a challenging and highly varied programme.

Read my full review here

Mindfulness and piano playing

The other day I was on my way to my Monday job (I work as an assistant to an elderly writer who lives in London’s Notting Hill). My train drew into platform 1 at Earl’s Court station. I alighted the train, crossed the platform and boarded another identical tube train without pausing to consider whether this was in fact the train that would take me up to Notting Hill Gate station. It was only when I heard the announcement that this was in fact a Tower Hill train that I “came to”, so to speak, and got off the train to wait for the right one. As the tube rattled up to Notting Hill, I pondered my “mindless” behaviour and decided I should pay more attention, not just to my Monday commute, but to other aspects of my daily life, specifically my musical life.

After completing my Licentiate Diploma in spring 2013, I had nearly a year where I “drifted” through my piano playing. I learnt a handful of pieces, enough to create a couple of interesting and varied concert programmes, but nothing particularly challenging nor “difficult”. I fell out of love with the piano for awhile (admittedly, this was during a period of noisy and disruptive building work in my home which prevented the long practise sessions I had previously enjoyed); I acquired my beautiful Bechstein piano and fell back in love with the piano, more passionately this time, but always with a sense that I wasn’t quite worthy, as a pianist, of such a gorgeous instrument. Family and friends told me I was being ridiculous, that I had worked hard and the piano was absolutely well-deserved. Meanwhile, I was busy helping to run a piano group for adult amateur pianists and setting up a concert series, making new piano friends; still blogging and writing articles for other music websites, and reviewing concerts. And all the time I felt I wasn’t really playing the piano with the seriousness it required. I considered studying for a final Fellowship diploma, but was dismotivated by comments from others insinuating that I would find it “extremely challenging”, or  that I wasn’t “good enough” to attempt it.

So, why “mindfulness”? My interest in this form of meditation was piqued when a friend talked of following a mindfulness course and employing mindfulness as a way of dealing with feelings of inadequacy as a musician and the exigencies of everyday life. I decided to explore further to see if employing some techniques drawn from mindfulness could help me, and the start of a new year (2015) seemed the perfect opportunity to put this into practice.

Basically, “mindfulness” is an awareness of yourself and your surroundings. When in a mindful state, mindless “daydreaming” is replaced by presence, and attention to the here and now. It can also refer to specific meditative processes, such as those popularized by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the University of Massachusetts Medical School Stress Reduction Clinic. Mindfulness has been shown to help people suffering from stress, anxiety and depression, including physical manifestations of stress disorders such as eczema and psoriasis, pain and ill health, and is approved by the UK Mental Health Foundation.

How I am using Mindfulness in my musical life:

Reaching a state of acceptance

I suffer from a certain lack of confidence as a musician (despite appearances to the contrary when I play and the many positive endorsements I receive from teachers, colleagues and friends). I realised that part of this stems from a habit of constantly comparing myself to others. I have resolved to stop comparing myself to others, to accept that certain repertoire just isn’t “right” for me (for whatever reason, technically or emotionally), that I don’t have to attempt pieces just because others are, and to focus on developing my own playing in repertoire that I enjoy and which interests me.

Banishing the inner critic

Alongside this sense of acceptance, I am learning to switch off the voice in my head which tells me I am “just not good enough”. I’ve realised that this voice is, in part, the manifestation of a variety of critical comments, from a music teacher at school to certain others who have hinted that I am committing some form of pianistic “hubris” by performing in public concerts or taking on works such as Beethoven’s Opus 110 or Schubert’s Sonata in A D959 (my current preoccupation). I now try to draw confidence from the positive and supportive comments from colleagues, diploma adjudicators, mentors and friends.

Mindful practising

Mindfulness enables us to practise thoughtfully, with concentration, commitment, improved focus and care. Too often I come across students (and others) who simply “type” their pieces, processing notes with little care or thought and revealing that their practising has been repetitive and mindless. Repetitive practise is important, for sure, but it should be both thoughtful and repetitive – and each repetition should be considered. Taking notice of what one is playing – each phrase, dynamic nuance, subtleties of touch, expression, articulation – will result in more efficient and rewarding practise, leading to vibrant and authoritative playing.

It also enables us to become more aware of our physical state when playing, to check that the wrists are supple and mobile, arms are soft, shoulders relaxed, and so forth, and to know to stop playing when the body becomes tight, sore or stressed.

On a broader level, mindfulness can make us more insightful as musicians, to connect better with our inner selves, be less self-critical, to see mistakes honestly and without fear and know how to understand and adjust them more easily, and to improve our playing and musicianship based on experience and intuition rather than self-criticsm: in essence, to better trust our musical self.

Dealing with anxiety

My main strategy for dealing with performance anxiety is knowing that the music has been practised deeply and is fully prepared, including at least three “practise” performances. In addition to this, I try to perform “in the moment”, to focus on the “now” of performing and to silence the destructive inner critic voice that wants remind one of all the slips and errors, and can stifle creativity and spontaneity in performance. After a performance, I try not to post-mortem it too closely, but to return to practising the day after with renewed interest and (hopefully) deeper insight, while looking forward to the next opportunity to perform the pieces.

Daily meditation sessions may not be for everyone (and this is not something I actively engage in) but increased awareness while engaged in music practise can help us reconnect with our instrument and our musical self, leading to improved concentration, physical awareness of the feel of the instrument under the fingers, tone control, quality of sound, expression, a vibrant dynamic palette, flow, musical insight and communication. While playing, banish the “mindless” thoughts that distract and fill the mind – “what shall I cook for dinner?”,  “did I remember to collect the dry-cleaning?” – and focus instead on observing and listening to yourself playing. Try to notice things that perhaps weren’t apparent before or which you previously took for granted, and bring meaning, value, love and life to every note and phrase you play.

(source http://www.gracebelgravia.com)

The surprising world of synaesthesia

Article from ‘The Psychologist’, vol. 28, no. 2, February 2015

(image source: BBC)

In its simplest form Synaesthesia is best described as a “union of the senses” whereby two or more of the five senses that are normally experienced separately are involuntarily and automatically joined together. Some synaesthetes experience colour when they hear sounds or read words. Others experience tastes, smells, shapes or touches in almost any combination. I have ‘grapheme synaesthesia’ which means I experience colour when I think of letters, words, numbers, the musical keys, chords, the notes on the piano keyboard and music in general.

In this interesting article from The Psychologist, Jack Dutton meets people with the condition and the researchers who study them to reveal the very surprising world of synaethesia, including its impact on memory and how it may even be taught.

Download and read the article here (PDF file)

Meet the Artist……Wim Henderickx, composer

(photo: D Franssens)

 

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

The intention to become a musician came very early. As a small boy I was mainly concerned with percussion. When I was sixteen composing started to fascinate me, especially after hearing a concert with Stravinsky’s .The Rite of Spring’.

Making music continues to captivate me. It is so elusive.

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

I believe my travels. Africa taught me to experience a special joy in life and a new sense of rhythm and movement. India and Nepal inspired me in the area of spirituality. These foreign experiences were an inspiration to support my work with a deeper meaning. The link between music and spirituality became particularly important.

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

There are multiple ones! For instance composing my first major orchestral work, my first opera, basically any new commissioned piece is another big challenge. But the most ambitious project so far was definitely my work Antifoon (A resonating bridge) (2014) for multiple orchestras, wind bands, choirs, different ensembles, carillons and two solo voices. Composing this work was one thing, but also taking the musical direction of 500 musicians on different stages on a large bridge between Hasselt and Genk (Belgium) was an almost undue risk. I had conducted my work before, but this was certainly of a different caliber.

It was quite a relief when it all worked out great.

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

Knowing who you compose for and working together with particular, often excellent performers can be very enjoyable. I work with very diverse musicians and cultural institutions, but I am also artist-in-residence for the Royal Flemish Philharmonic and for Muziektheater Transparant. Both of them give me a lot of credit, I can shape my ideas in my own way, what I experience as an incredible luxury.

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

You can go into the depth of a work and to the extreme. You can compose for people who are anxious to perform your work and often for an audience that is getting to know you. Also the feeling that the performance will be in good hands, is wonderful and reassuring.

Tell us more about your new CD releaseDisappearing in Light’. What were the main inspirations and impulses which led you to create this?  

The Orient, the spirituality of the environment I experienced there. Also, the music and the specific sense of time were a fabulous inspiration. Not to forget the very beautiful partnership with the HERMESensemble, musicians who often work with non-Western music, have led to the creation of this album.

How has your interest in Eastern philosophy influenced and shaped your composing? 

It became the foundation of my artistic thinking. It has also influenced my musical experience of time.

Which works are you most proud of? 

Tejas for orchestra and Disappearing in Light (from the CD), but I think Void the most, a work for music theatre in commission of Muziektheater Transparant. There was no semantic text, only sound combinations I had designed myself. I worked without a libretto or a story. A deep and spiritual performance of 75 minutes arose from an abstract, Buddhist yantra inspired form, and the impact on the audience was huge.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

They are very different in styles, historical and geographical, ranging from contemporary music to jazz, pop and ethnic music. Some names: Ligeti, Xenakis, Messiaen, Harvey but also Miles Davis, Björk and Frank Zappa. Also musicians from various ethnic regions.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A concert that probably determined my musical evolution the most, was that with the Indian bansuri player G.S. Sachdev, in Antwerp in 1993.

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

Work hard and never give up. Have a positive attitude, an open mind, faith in your own abilities. Sometimes go against the flow, if you feel that it is right. Enjoy what you are doing. Communication is essential, both in terms of artists among each other, as with the audience.

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

I would like to compose really vast works, an opera for example.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Experiencing life intensely, with people I love and with music of course.

What is your most treasured possession?

Naturally you don’t possess people, but my family is very important to me.

Also health in the broadest sense – and of course music.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Very simple: composing

 

DISAPPEARING IN LIGHT: A New CD Release by Flemish composer Wim Henderickx  is released on 2nd March 2015.

www.wimhenderickx.com

Sublime and Ridiculous: Ivo Pogorelich at Royal Festival Hall

Guest review by Tristan Jakob-Hoff

Whatever you may think of Ivo Pogorelich’s piano playing, there is no doubt you will think *something* about it. He’s not a pianist who inspires an indifferent shrug, nor a polite round of applause. With Pogorelich, you’re either with him, or against him.

I found my position wavering during his Royal Festival Hall performance on 24th February. There were moments where his eccentricities utterly overwhelmed the music, smothering it in a blanket of weirdness. Entire passages verged on – and frequently crossed the line into – incoherence. His slow tempos constantly felt like they would break off and stop altogether. Faster sections were often magicked into slow sections, seemingly just to see what would happen.

So: infuriating, yes. But this is Pogorelich. We know this about Pogorelich. This is why the RFH was only about three-quarters full for a pianist who would once have sold it out easily.

The thing is, sometimes all those mannerisms and bizarre quirks coalesce into something magical. And that happens more frequently than we might have been led to believe by his reviews over the last decade or so. Those moments where he hits just the right wavelength and makes you feel like you’re wandering around inside the music, gazing at the melodies and counter-melodies and harmonies and rhythms as though they were exhibits in an art gallery. In these moments, you notice things you’d never noticed before, discover a hundred shades of pianissimo you never knew existed, comprehend the most obscure of connections between notes. Those moments can revitalise even the mangiest of warhorses.

Other times, of course, he misses that special wavelength completely and turns in a clunky, thumping performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Three Movements from Petrushka’, or a disjointed, unmusical opening movement of the Schumann ‘Fantasy in C’. It’s telling that his best performance tonight was of the Brahms ‘Paganini Variations’, whose short contained little blocks of music offered few opportunities for epic self-indulgence.

And yet, I think it is the strange and beautiful closing movement of the Schumann I will most remember from this evening. It’s a piece I sort of play myself (slowly, with many wrong notes and retakes) and yet it felt thoroughly unfamiliar in Pogorelich’s hands, as if he were inventing it there and then. It’s that sense of spontaneity and discovery that makes Pogorelich a special artist. Yes, he may frequently discover utterly perverse new ways to play something. But even those failures are fascinating, and worth hearing.

In an age where young musicians are hewing ever closer to a uniform, idealised style of performance – as exemplified by whatever classic recordings they’ve heard growing up – here is a resolutely individual performer who sounds like he’s never heard another pianist in his life. We need more Pogorelichs in our world, in all their perverse, egotistical, infuriating and ultimately scintillating glory.

Tristan Jakob-Hoff is a freelance writer and critic based in London. He plays the piano not nearly as well as he would like to.

Concert review: Maria Joao Pires & Pavel Kolesnikov at Wigmore Hall

Teacher and pupil took the stage at London’s Wigmore Hall on Friday 20th February in a joint concert by Maria João Pires and Pavel Kolesnikov featuring late works by Schubert and Beethoven, and Schumann’s love letter in music to Clara Wieck, the Fantasy in C, Opus 17.

Pavel Kolesnikov © Colin Way
Pavel Kolesnikov © Colin Way

Pavel Kolesnikov, the young Siberian pianist who has already garnered many prizes and much praise for his playing, is a soloist of the Music Chapel in Brussels, studying with Maria João Pires as part of her ‘Partitura Project’ which offers a benevolent relationship between artists of different generations and seeks to thwart the “star system” by offering an alternative approach in a world of classical music too often dominated by competitions and professional rivalry. In keeping with the spirit of the Partitura Project, the pianists shared the piano in two works for piano four-hands by Schubert and each remained on the stage while the other performed their solo. From the outset, this created a rather special ambience of support and encouragement.

Read my full review here

At the Piano with……Natalie Tsaldarakis

What is your first memory of the piano?

I saw and played a piano when we were visiting one of my father’s colleagues at his family home. It was a long visit, and I had time to explore: I fell in love with it at first sight and although I was around 4 years old, I remember I sat and tried to play using my fingers. I was glued, and although my parents looked a bit embarrassed I had taken over somebody’s possession, they were clearly impressed. Apparently our hostess tried to impress on my parents I should start lessons.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

My piano teacher in Greece, the well-known concert pianist and pedagogue D. Toufexis, a Julliard graduate and former Lateiner pupil along with concert pianist Danae Kara, both staff at The American College of Greece, inspired me to maintain a portfolio career. I loved how I could go see them perform at major venues and festivals and then have the privilege of private conversations and lessons with them.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

The teacher who inspired me to become a musician was the head teacher of a large, state primary school in a well-to-do leafy suburb of Athens. He was himself a frustrated violinist with real passion for music education. His class produced three concert pianists (me included), one musical theatre singer-actress, and a musicologist. Yet the school was an ordinary non-selective state one.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

I finished my studies at the conservatoire in Greece, yet I knew that I could not trust myself to teach. When I came back from my Master of Music studies in the US at West Chester University of Pennsylvania (1994), I felt I could tackle anything: intensive courses in piano pedagogy were compulsory and included teaching practicums under supervision. At the end of my studies, my teachers were very eager to impress on me the need for certain books which became my bibles, especially the Denes Agay books on Teaching Piano, and were packed in my already impossibly heavy suitcases. Greece at the time felt quite cut off in many ways, and I still remember sending and receiving letters to the US which took about a couple of months: this was the era before Internet and Amazon!

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Despite having taught at all levels for at least 20 years, I still remember being 10 or 11 and helping my friend practice her sonatina. After about 20 minutes her mum couldn’t help herself anymore and stormed in with my mum to stop me from what she thought was merely distracting my friend. My friend whispered “thank you”, as I had helped her to repeat sections rather than play through mindlessly. Years after, when we met again, the first thing she remembered was how grateful she was for helping her practice that one time. I’m sure her mum is still not convinced, but I know it was the earliest confirmation that I could actually be of real help, and is certainly my fondest memory.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

I’ve been teaching adults almost from the beginning of my career. Challenges, except for time constraints, include self-imposed limitations, mainly arising from clashes with self-image, and definitions of achievement and prospects. That’s why my best adult student to date is a hard working dad of three who is totally committed to his lessons because he sees it as personal growth.

What do you expect from your students?

A certain level of commitment: I can inspire, demonstrate and explain, but I can’t force them to practice. There needs to be an initial interest, and in the case of younger students, there has to be parental support.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Exams and festivals can be great motivators while providing benchmarks of attainment. Competitions are both exciting and a necessary evil: as long as there are transparent selection processes they have a place in one’s development. I think it is important for a musician to enter any form of competition trying to achieve playing their personal best (rather than focusing on being better than the other competitors). At the same time it is important to come into contact with one’s peers. What I do not like is the message that one has to comply with what’s expected – and certainly there are pianists who are unhappy at the suggestion of modifying their affinities for certain repertoire. I also do not condone excessive emphasis on performativity at younger ages: young children and teenagers should not be criticised for being their awkward selves on stage, especially if this does not interfere with projecting the music.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginner students, and to advanced students?

Smart practice, healthy posture-technique, and fingering, along with reading notation and counting are all concepts presented from the very first lessons and reinforced throughout the studies. Style and phrasing, along with pedalling, however, take a lot of exposure to repertoire and are more gradually introduced.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

My preference is for teachers who teach by example, as I found it most exciting to watch my own teachers perform. I am therefore a performer who teaches pupils how to perform on the piano, rather than how to play the piano. To perform is more than just pressing keys as instructed through notation: it is to communicate without the burden of words. The process of learning to perform is a complicated one of empathy with the perceived intention of the composer, and of enculturation.

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

Martha Argerich is a firm favourite for her transcendental technique, as are the Labeque sisters. I saw the Labeque sisters perform live in Greece and their communication and poise were simply amazing. From my own teachers, Dimitri Toufexis taught me a lot about projecting phrasing through physical gestures, Danae Kara stepped in as my mentor at the early stages of my career and pushed for a totality of conception in extended works. Dr. Bedford introduced me to Alexander Technique and Tai Chi to focus the mind, and my dearest Dr McHugh taught me how to control my hands and the piano keys in what she termed “slow key-depression”. Martino Tirimo and Elena Riu will always occupy a special place for being so flattering and incisive as duet coaches.

 

Natalie Tsaldarakis is a concert pianist and member of the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble. Natalie has also been active as a lecturer, piano teacher and examiner since the 1990s.

In 1994 Natalie was invited to membership by the American National Music Honour Society Pi Kappa Lambda for excellence in performance and she has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including first and second place winners in piano competitions in the US, and Greece (MTNA Wurlitzer Collegiate Competition, West Chester State University Concerto Competition, the Pottstown Orchestra Competition, Deree College Faculty Development Award, WCU Graduate Development Award etc.).

Since 2005 Natalie has been based in London, UK. Between 1995 and until 2005, Natalie was artist teacher in residence at the American College of Greece as well as piano professor and examiner for Greek conservatoires of music including the National Conservatory of Greece.

Natalie has performed extensively at various venues and festivals in the UK and abroad, including the Southbank Centre, St John’s Smith Square, Oxford University, St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Glasgow City Halls, Sibelius Academy, Athens Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Winchester Cathedral.

Natalie has recorded both solo and with the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble for the National Greek Radio (ERA-1, ERA-3), and has appeared on Greek television, and UK’s Resonance FM 104.4. The duo’s CD “Romantic Dance Music for Piano Duet” was requested by the Archive for Greek Music and Musicians (Lilian Voudouris Library, Athens Concert Hall) and hailed as an important musical event of international standing by the Greek specialist press.

http://natalie6784.wix.com/ivoryduopiano

https://m.youtube.com/Ntsaldaraki

http://www.twitter.com/Ntsaldaraki

 

 

Meet the Artist…… Ivan Ilic, pianist

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

The San Francisco Symphony concerts I attended as a child were my inspiration.  I also attended concerts by brilliant young musicians in Belgrade that were just as inspiring.

In college I studied mathematics, but music seemed like a bigger challenge.  It seemed like a bigger risk too; that attracted me.  Also, I intuited that a career in music would be a more enriching way to develop as a person.

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

At a pivotal moment in my musical development, just before I moved to France, I met Steve Coleman, a saxophonist, improviser and composer.  By a stroke of luck, my final year at university coincided with the year he was in residence there.  Studying improvisation with him changed everything for me.  He is the most inspiring musician I’ve ever met.

But in general I’ve learned more from non-musicians than from musicians.  Music is a technical subject; as a result musicians often have limited horizons.  The most important lessons I’ve learned were from personal experience, analogies I drew from other fields, and my own research.

What has been the greatest challenge of your career so far?

The reconciliation of my intellectual curiosity with my career as a performer.  I’m starting to find ways of combining the two.  But for years it was terrifying to be in a field where there is so little critical questioning of the fundamentals.  The typical performer’s career is, in many ways, anti-intellectual.  One is expected to act, and to leave the thinking to others.  Countering that trend has become a guiding principle for me.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recordings are more important to me than performances.  From experience, I know not to trust in-the-moment feelings I have at concerts.  Performances feel like experiences, whereas recordings feel like achievements (or failures).  Studio recordings are, first and foremost, an incredible tool for self-knowledge.  I can’t imagine my musical life without them.  For musicians, a recording is “proof” that they can do something.  It’s a powerful message.

Further, the ability to edit has elevated recording into a process of constructing a version of a piece that is what you would like it to be, within the limits of what you can do.  Recordings have become frozen, idealized performances that can be revisited.  Making them is exhilarating.  At its best, a recorded version of a piece feels like it has an almost physical weight, or inertia, like a sculpture.  It’s built to last.  If it’s good enough, it does.

People often remark that recordings rarely have the same “magical” atmosphere as a fine performance.  There does seem to be a Faustian bargain involved: you trade the feeling of communion with an audience for a musical artifice.  But the insight you gain and the ability to spread the music are just two of many reasons why recordings have become an unavoidable part of how we experience music.

A friend of mine suggested that performers make recordings as a way of compensating for the fact that they don’t “create”.  It’s an interesting idea.  But my reply is that recordings are proof that we do create, that playing is a creative act.  The ability to forge an interpretation that doesn’t instantly evaporate has destabilised the work-performance dichotomy, which has become outdated.  Now there is a trichotomy: work, performance, and recording.  One might even say that recordings are neither performances, nor works, but something in between.  Or perhaps they form a triangle.  The position of recordings is ambiguous and hard to pin down.

This has certain philosophical implications.  For example: does an excellent recording erode the importance of the score?  What is the essence of the work: the dots on the page?  The sounds that result when you play the dots?  Your intention, the ideal that you strive for, or the actual sounds themselves?  A combination of all of these?  These questions are important, and when you try to answer them you realize how elusive they are.  Strangely, classical music is a field in which many people get angry if you even ask such questions.

The recording of sound is only about 140 years old.  It is the musician’s printing press.  We still haven’t come to terms with the extent to which it has changed musical culture.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Any work I’ve never heard before.  When I have no reference points I am the most free.

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

It’s changed over the years.  I used to play repertoire at the intersection of my interests and those of concert promoters.  Now things are much more skewed towards what I feel I must do, for myself.  I’ve come to rely on fear as a guide for finding the right repertoire.

My left-hand Godowsky project (2012) is an example.  When I had the idea, I was petrified.  As I began to pursue it, many people tried to talk me out of it.  The amount of work was overwhelming.  But it was a great success, the reaction was like a tidal wave.  It allowed me to break out from my generation, and from the pernicious influence of other people’s opinions.  The experience transformed me.

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

Before an important recital I often play for a friend at home, a few days before.  Always a non-musician, and always someone I trust.  The person is only 2 meters away, which makes it very difficult.  But the one to one communication is powerful.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

At the moment my favourite piece to perform is Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari (1986).  I’ve never heard audiences listen as intently as they do when they listen to it live.  I expect that in ten years the piece will become mainstream, i.e. it will be programmed alongside Chopin, Debussy, and Scriabin.

When it comes to listening, nothing replaces the physical vibrations and the welling-up of emotion one gets when listening to a first-rate orchestra, live, in a great hall.  And, contrary to popular opinion, we live in an age with many worthwhile composers.  I heard a wonderfully glamorous orchestra piece by Péter Eötvös recently, the orchestra sparkled.

Who are your favourite musicians?

For the past two years my favourite musician has been Morton Feldman.  His works have deeply affected me, as well as his interviews and his lectures about music.  He’s taught me so much, even though he’s been dead for 27 years.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been concerts where I had epiphanies that permanently changed my playing.  Those are the most memorable.

Progress is not linear in music.  You can labour for weeks on something, then one day it comes together.  Sometimes the practice accumulates.  But other times you just try something differently and – bang! – you understand something you never understood before.  For musicians, as with athletes, these moments are usually coupled with a new physical sensation.  Sometimes there is even a transcendental sense of being “connected” to something.

One example was a recital I gave in 2006.  Because the audience was seated all around me in an intimate setting, I changed my gestures at the piano, making them more expressive, because it fit the moment and the sound of the room.  I could never have planned it, I just did it.  And that aspect changed permanently from then on.  Being in a new situation seems to be an important common factor with these experiences.

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

Read.  Write.  Refine your mind as well as your musicianship.  Cultivate what makes you different from others.  Exercise.  Don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.  Socialize with people with whom you have nothing in common, preferably of all ages.  In addition to music school, study at a university and take classes in as many diverse subjects as you can.  Demand access to the best teachers.  Listen to them carefully and with scepticism.  Never compromise anything having to do with your education.  If a subject is difficult for you, ask for help.  Eat well.  Be wary of distractions (read: smartphones).  If you can, live somewhere other than where you were born, preferably in a foreign language; it’s the best cure for arrogance.  Be generous: if you pursue a living as a musician, chances are you were the recipient of selfless generosity from dozens of people over the years.  Say thank you.  Never let anyone tell you you can’t, or won’t succeed.  You will.

What are you working on at the moment?

Improving my learning speed.  It’s interesting how if you focus on improving one quantifiable aspect of your playing, everything else tends to improve with it.

Ivan Ilić recently released a new CD on Heresy Records entitled The Transcendentalist, featuring works by Alexander Scriabin, John Cage, Morton Feldman and Scott Wollschleger (b 1980). The album has enjoyed substantial critical acclaim and is broadcast often on six continents.  

Ivan Ilić’s full biography

http://www.ivancdg.com

 

 

Recalling Richter

20th March 2015 is the centenary of the birth of Sviatoslav Richter, one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century. Born in Russia, Richter studied with Heinrich Neuhaus (who also taught Emil Gilels and Radu Lupu). It is said that Neuhaus declared Richter to be “the genius pupil, for whom he had been waiting all his life,” while acknowledging that he taught Richter “almost nothing.” Richter was acclaimed (and continues to be) for the depth of his interpretations, virtuoso technique, and vast repertoire.

Richter’s huge repertoire encompassed music ranging from Handel and Bach to Szymanowski, Berg, Webern, Stravinsky, Bartók, Hindemith, Britten, and Gershwin. He claimed to have “around eighty different programs, not counting chamber works” in his repertory, and he was also an acclaimed chamber musician who regularly worked with cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, violinist David Oistrakh and baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, as well as British composer Benjamin Britten.

To mark the centenary of his birth, I would like to compile an article comprising contributions from readers: recollections of concerts by Richter, favourite recordings, anecdotes, ephemera, what you feel makes him a great artist, and so forth….. Please feel free to leave your contributions in the comments section below or via the Contact page. I very much look forward to reading your recollections of Richter. The article will be published on his birthday.

Richter Centenary concert in London, 20th March at the 1901 Arts Club, given by British pianist and admirer of Richter James Lisney

Prokofiev – Legende Op.12/6
Haydn – Sonata in F, Hoboken XVI:29
Chopin – Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op.22
Schubert – Sonata in G, D.894

“This recital features works from his 1961 London recital and concerto debut. Richter often named the Schubert Sonata D.894 as his favourite and it featured in his return to the London concert platform in 1989.”

Full details and tickets

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