All posts by Cross-Eyed Pianist

Pianist, piano teacher, music and arts reviewer, blogger, writer, cook, and Burmese cat lover

Daniel Barenboim: The Schubert Project, concert 1

Daniel Barenboim, musical polymath, is in town for a four-concert Schubert Project residency in which he will traverse all 11 of Schubert’s completed piano sonatas. Prior to the first concert, he unveiled a brand new piano – one with his name on it. The Barenboim piano was conceived and developed in a collaboration between Barenboim and Belgian piano maker Chris Maene, with the cooperation of Steinway. What makes this piano different from the modern concert grand is that it is straight strung, and Barenboim used a Liszt piano as the inspiration for his eponymous instrument. It is said to offer a greater variety of colour, transparency and clarity across its range. Audiences at Barenboim’s Schubert recitals will have the opportunity to hear for themselves this new piano in action.

Unsurprisingly, it was a full house at the Royal Festival Hall and there was a distinct buzz of anticipation and reverence ahead of the start of the concert. Sitting in the rear stalls didn’t really offer myself and my concert companions a chance to examine the piano in detail. The piano remained firmly closed, lid down, until a few moments before Barenboim took to the stage, and was closed up again during the interval.

The jury is still out on whether the Barenboim piano was noticeably different to a modern Steinway, and any clarity and crispness of articulation, or nuanced dynamics are surely the result of the pianist’s technique, not the piano: one would expect an artist of Barenboim’s calibre to make even the most beat-up church hall piano sound lovely.

The theme of the first of Barenboim’s Schubert concerts was the key of A, as he presented three sonatas from different periods in the composer’s life. The D537, in A minor, was composed by Schubert when he was 20 and is the earliest surviving completed piano sonata, though it was not published until 1852 as the Op. post. 164. It begins with a dotted motif followed by filigree semiquaver broken chords. It’s emotionally charged and already demonstrates Schubert’s skill in unexpected harmonic shifts which colour the music. The middle movement, in warm E major, is genial and nostalgic, with a theme that would be heard later in the concert (Schubert “exported” it as the Rondo theme of the final movement of the D959). Yet, typically of Schubert, the mood shifts during the trio, a chilly march in A minor. The finale has a Beethovenian cast, with a dash of Haydn’s wit, yet already full of Schubert’s trademark unexpected harmonic shifts and emotional volte-faces.

I think many of us were trying to hear whether the piano really sounded that different instead of concentrating on the music, but the opening Sonata was presented with energy, though not always entirely convincingly, and keen sense of Schubert’s tonal palette, especially in the final movement. The middle movement, whose theme was reprised later in the D959, began genially enough, but the middle section had an ominous tread, for which the bass notes of the piano were suitably rich and dark.

The first A major Sonata of the evening is known as “the little A major” and was the most genial of the three sonatas presented in the concert.  Barenboim created a sense of intimacy in the first movement, but again one had the sense he wasn’t entirely convinced by it himself. It continued into the ethereal slow movement, whose pianissimos were, at times, barely a whisper. The finale was lyrical and good-natured, the opening theme played with a songful elegance, though I felt he pushed the tempo a little too much for my taste so that some of the lyricism was lost.

After the interval was “my’ Sonata, the penultimate of Schubert’s piano sonatas, the D959 in A major, which I have (perhaps recklessly) set myself the task of learning. I was extremely curious to hear Barenboim’s take on this big work, not least whether he could carry the narrative of the first movement right through to the closing sentence of the finale. My difficulty with hearing other people’s versions of this sonata is that they often conflict with my own, which can make me the most pedantic of listeners. I spend a lot of time with this Sonata. To say I eat, drink and breathe it might be excessive, but I often find myself waking in the night and playing it through it my head. The opening statement, a chorale-like sentence, lacked real nobility and drive and the propulsion towards the suspension at the end of the passage was lost in some curious pulling about of the tempo. There were one or two rocky moments as some of the triplet figures were lost – and this issue reappeared in the finale, where perhaps Barenboim was tiring (this is a big work – lasting around 40 minutes, even without the exposition repeat in the first movement), and overall I felt the movement lacked power and drive.

The slow movement, about much has been said, written and surmised, a melancholy folksong with a storm at its centre, lacked cohesion and there were some serious memory issues towards the end. The movement seemed relentless rather than revelatory. However, the scherzo was bright and crisp, with some sensitive highlighting of the melodic line in the trio section. The finale seemed rushed, the triplets often losing clarity, but the sections in the coda where the music stalls, as if to take a long breath, to reflect on what has gone before, were perfectly paced and the closing statement, a recapitulation of the opening sentence from the first movement, was emphatic. The standing ovation which followed was as much for Barenboim the man, the demigod, as for the performance and the new piano.

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’.

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*a post which has been paid for by the promoter

Meet the Artist……Eliza McCarthy, pianist

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

I started playing on a whim. My mother walked in from work one evening and asked out of the blue if I wanted to learn the piano. Neither of my parents are musicians but they have the broadest musical tastes of anyone I know and had a wicked sound system which was playing music constantly. I gave an offhanded “yeah why not” and it all snowballed pretty quickly from there.

After a year or so I started participating in local competitions in Philadelphia where I was brought up and when it looked like I was taking music seriously we moved to England so I could attend the Yehudi Menuhin School.

When I was eleven one of my teachers told me I’d never be a pianist because I started too late. That was it – I had to prove her wrong and here I am! Maybe she was flexing her reverse psychology knowhow.

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

I spent some time in the Gambia to study Wolof drumming and in Bali playing and listening to lots of Gamelan. Both of those trips had a huge impact on my playing. Mostly they changed the way I listen. Especially coming from a background which is so focused on learning visually – from a score. They were incredibly liberating experiences for me.

Some other important influences are watching dance and doing it, the photographs of Ansel Adams and practicing meditation.

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

Staying balanced, healthy, positive and productive in a life which can fluctuate between breathless busy-ness and the threat of total stagnation.

After finishing my formal education and years of having the luxury of playing for my teachers on a regular basis it took some time to start trusting my own musical instincts and to believe my own feedback.

Which repertoire/composers do you think you play best?

All the music I haven’t played yet.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?

Often a venue will request a specific piece or composer and I’ll build a programme around that. I also keep an eye out for anniversaries and featured composers in up coming festivals.

I’m all for choosing pieces that really suit my playing. It can be tempting to perform works I think I ‘should’ play or adhere to what I think will placate a certain kind of audience but if it doesn’t suit me and I don’t totally love it then there’s a risk of a performance falling flat (and it has!)

I always have something on the go that pushes me to my limits and balance that with pieces that come more naturally.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I don’t get much enjoyment out of recording as a soloist but absolutely love recording with ensembles. I used to be a member of the band Jetsam and we wrote and recorded an album called Disruption which was commissioned by the Barbican in collaboration with the street dance company Boy Blue Entertainment. We wrote most of Disruption as we recorded which allowed for our imaginations to run wild. There’s a big Japanese Taiko and Noh theatre influence in the piece which meant a lot of recording us stamping in a padded hallway. I spent a couple days at the piano recording every sound I could think of on the strings, metal frame and wood. Playing with harmonics, using chains, plastic, glass and rubber. It was a proper prepared piano geek-out and the album sounds amazing.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I recently played at Café OTO which was so much fun. It’s small, dark and intimate – I think I nearly head butted someone in the front row when I bowed. The audience was one of the most attentive, supportive an electric I’ve ever played for which restored my faith in the contemporary classical music audience. I also love performing in the Barbican. I’ve performed in every one of their performance spaces as a soloist and in ensembles and bands I’m involved with and it has such a stimulating and creative atmosphere. On any given day there is something weird and wonderful happening in one of its nooks and crannies.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I’m very fickle. I tend to think that whatever I’m playing in the moment is the Best Thing Ever!

I love performing George Crumb’s ‘Makrokosmos’. I have a secret predilection for a bit of theatre and because of the extended techniques, singing and moaning involved in its performance it’s a full body theatrical experience. I used to get so frustrated by the static nature of the piano and was hugely jealous of my cellist friends. The process of learning ‘Makrokosmos’ taught me how to overcome that immovability, become more malleable and dance with the instrument.

To listen to…shall we just say for the Spring/Summer season? Otherwise we’ll be here forever.

Appalachian Spring which, thanks to my dad, is my first memory of music. Lately I’ve been listening to John Legend and The Roots album Wake Up which transports me back to growing up in Philadelphia. Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, Partita for 8 Voices by Caroline Shaw, Chaka Kahn. I’m always inspired by hearing what my friends make and have been listening non-stop to Sam Mumford’s album Scatter and Old Man Diode The King Krill

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are so many I admire for different reasons and on different days. To name a few: Glen Gould, Bjork, my husband and saxophonist Jon Shenoy, John Adams, Beyoncé, John Cage, Seth McFarlane, Joanna Newsom, Pat Metheney, Punch Brothers, Joan Baez, Charles Ives.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A few years ago I performed ‘Phrygian Gates’ for John Adams. Before the concert there was a Question and Answer session in which he said he didn’t like the piece very much anymore. After I performed he came up on stage with tears in his eyes, gave me a hug and said to the audience “I’ve changed my mind, I like it again.”

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

Keep your ‘don’t know’ mind. Play with musicians who challenge you. Get involved with projects that scare the hell out of you. Make mistakes – they could turn into something wonderful. Learn how to meditate. Meditate. Practice as much as you can while you can but remember that it’s only a small part of the process.

You have been working with the composer Mica Levi on some new works for piano. Tell us more about this collaboration and the pieces….

Working with Mica has been my ideal collaborative process. We’ve had the time and space to learn each other’s processes. Trying out loads of ideas, figuring out what works and what doesn’t, trying something else. It’s been such a valuable experience to learn her compositional language in every stage of the works progress. From conception to performance. The pieces she’s writing are a collection of short piano studies. I performed three at Café OTO at the beginning of the year and will be performing three new ones at the Forge in June.

Each of the six pieces presents a single theme, for example an interval, the resonance produced in a particular register of the piano or a specific attack on the keys. They are really ‘studies in piano’ in the purest sense. Beautiful, raw and a little bit dirty. At times quite exposing for the pianist, which exhilarates me. Mica is extremely specific about what she wants to hear and it’s been exciting for me for me to work with her in finding the best way to translate that on to the piano – playing around with notation which can perfectly capture both the sound in her ears and how I can best physicalise it.

What are the particular challenges and pleasures of working with a living composer?

The moment I start playing someone their piece the doubting voice in my head immediately shouts “Ah, you’ve completely misunderstood everything they’ve written – you’re going to embarrass them and yourself”. That voice is a total liar but the fear creeps in nonetheless.

The beauty is that the composer is there to answer every question and wonderment that’s come up for me during the learning process. To help me get down to the bare bones of their work and discover the weird and wonderful processes a composer goes through to translate an idea into sound. The defining moment for me is when a composer trusts me enough to cut the umbilical chord and hand me the ownership of their work.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Yamaha grand piano which has travelled with me from Philadelphia to London with many stops on the way. But if there were a fire I’d grab my red Versace wedding dress.

What is your present state of mind?

Open, alert, mischievous, spacious and a little self-conscious.

Eliza McCarthy premieres new works by Mica Lewis, together with music by Henry Cowell and John Adams at The Forge, Camden, north London on Wednesday 3 June. Further information and tickets here

Daniel Barenboim unveils a brand new grand piano

Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene and renowned conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim are turning the piano world upside down with a groundbreaking new concert grand

Daniel Barenboim is not only a guest conductor of the New Year’s Concert in Vienna, the Ambassador of Music Fund, driving force of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra (where young talents from Palestine, Israel and other Arabic countries play together in peace), but also a celebrated pianist. Together with Belgian piano maker Chris Maene, he has conceived and developed a brand new instrument that may change the piano-world as we know it today.

Today, modern pianos have become highly standardized. There haven’t been many fundamental changes to the design of the modern piano in the last 100 years. Furthermore, it has been more than 80 years since a concert grand piano was built in Belgium. At a time when there are fewer piano factories in Europe, as pianos are now mostly built in Asia, Chris Maene is investing in the development, research and construction for this concert grand for the 21st century.

Photo: Chris Maene

Barenboim discussed his idea with Steinway & Sons who introduced him to Chris Maene, who had also wanted to create a brand new instrument inspired by the past. The two maestri were able to combine their respective musical and technical expertise to begin work on their shared vision. Just 15 months ago, Barenboim’s personal technician Michel Brandjes tested several 19th-century historic grand pianos from Chris Maene’s collection and some of the remarkable replicas made by him. His findings and reflections on the sound and technical aspects of the instruments were discussed with Barenboim who then commissioned Maene to work a detailed concept for the new instrument which was then developed, constructed, tested and revealed today.

Daniel Barenboim says:

“The transparency and tonal characteristics of the traditional straight-strung instruments is so different from the homogenous tone produced by the modern piano across its entire range. The clearly distinguishable voices and colour across its registers of Liszt’s piano inspired me to explore the possibility of combining these qualities with the power, looks, evenness of touch, stability of tuning and other technical advantages of the modern Steinway. I am so delighted to have worked with Chris Maene, who had the same dream and I must pay tribute to his incredible technical expertise and his deep respect for both tradition and innovation. I must also thank Steinway & Sons, for bringing us together and for delivering key components for our new instrument, thus enabling a perfect match of the traditional qualities and modern advantages.”

Chris Maene says:

“All my life I have been building replicas of legendary historic instruments. But for many years I have also been dreaming of building a new type of concert grand. It has always surprised me how the fantastic and unique sound diversity of the grand pianos of the 19th century disappeared. By the end of the 19th century many piano builders tried to copy the success of Steinway & Sons. In this process, they all ignored the straight-strung grand pianos with their unique sound characteristics. As a result, the 20th century offered us very similar instruments in regards of construction and sound. Therefore it has never been my goal to build another copy of a Steinway, but rather to make a different instrument in which I could incorporate all my expertise about building historic instruments. It has been a true honour to be able to work with Maestro Daniel Barenboim. I hold the Maestro in very high regard and was delighted to discover our mutual interest in straight-strung pianos. His input, confidence and order made it possible to build this new instrument: a concert grand for the 21st century. For me it is truly a dream come true.”

Chris Maene and Daniel Barenboim unveiled the new instrument at the Royal Festival Hall, London today, ahead of Daniel Barenboim’s Schubert Piano Sonatas recital series there.

(source: press release)

At the piano with…….Richard Dinsmore


What is your first memory of the piano? 

Well, that depends if you mean playing or listening. Even at the age of 5 I was singing in school performances but I was always fascinated by the piano and how you could get such a large sound from one instrument.  However I don’t think it was until secondary school that I really thought about it – as I began to be in a position to pay for lessons of my own. I remember meeting a boy at secondary school who was already around Grade 7 and being so in awe. I think having that achievement in view really helped me to drive towards my goal of becoming a pianist.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

Before studying music at Lancaster University in 2005 I did teach some beginner students for around two years. I always felt at school that what I didn’t want was a boring nine-to-five job with no creative outlet. Once I left school I had a 2 year gap which is when I began to explore teaching. As I was working on my Grade 8 piano at the time, along with singing, I felt that teaching piano would help me to develop all those skills. After entering my first student achieved a merit in his first exam, I definitely felt I had enjoyed the experience and considered other teaching work at that point. However I think it was probably my father who helped me to realise I should refocus on my main passion for music. Having left that office job I said I would never take, back in June 2011, in part to help look after my father who had been battling Parkinson’s for several years, I finally made the decision to focus full time on teaching and began working freelance by the end of that year. Sadly my father passed away the following January, having not seen me fully realise my ambition, but I think he was at least happy to see me doing what I loved and focussing on it full time.

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

Definitely the most important musical influence is my long time tutor and mentor Daphne Sumbler who trained me as a singer and really helped me to reach my potential when I started secondary school, where she worked as Head of Music. Without her, I know I wouldn’t have pursued music with the same level of determination. She really helped me to see I could achieve something, even though at 12, I was very late starting. Certainly her ethos that students should enjoy music first and foremost has stayed with me and is at the core of my teaching practice.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

So hard to pick one specific moment, one memory that stays with me is my first adult student, who I taught in the 2 years before going to university. I remember being fascinated that this gentleman, who was 67 at the time, who had great aspirations of composing and playing, but had not had much musical training to date. He had so much passion and enthusiasm for learning. It was great to see that at any age, at any point in your life, music can be such a powerful and positive influence.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching beginners and advanced students and adults?

Teaching beginners is often the most interesting as it is a real opportunity to see what excites them musically. I always offer a free consultation so that we can explore ideas right from the very start and we always take 2 or 3 lessons to explore different repertoire before focussing on something longer term. Many parents say to me you must have lots of patience for beginners. I think this is probably true but often I find it very rewarding as it means I have to constantly be refining my teaching, in order to help a student overcome those initial hurdles.

Advanced students offer their own unique challenges. Again often uncertain of what to play, and still very critical of their own playing, they do at least have a sense of those basic elements so you can focus more on musicality and performance. I also make my advanced students work much harder to find answers themselves, rather than expect the answer directly from me.

Both adults and children have different learning styles and objectives. Whilst a child might often be uninhibited, willing to try and explore, and have the years in which to develop towards a specific goal, adult students often come with a much clearer sense of themselves and what they want to achieve, even if they are unsure just how to achieve it. I find adult students the most nervous and self critical, especially those who played when they were young. A common comment always being made to me is “I wish I had continued when I was a child”. It’s definitely wisdom I try to impart to my younger students so that they don’t regret not continuing learning music, in whatever capacity.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adult amateur pianists?

Adult amateurs are often very accomplished so they too often have a specific goal in mind. Often it is simply reassurance of a piece or their interpretation that is needed, or help and guidance with a particularly tricky section. They also tend to be much more knowledgeable about wider musical ideas, often attending concerts or having read about composers and performers. I think the greatest role I have to play is helping them to continue to play and to simply enjoy it, for whatever purpose.

What do you expect from your students? 

Regardless of age or ability, I do ask that students are honest about their goals and aspirations and that they commit to practice, however much that might be, so that they continue to learn and develop as musicians. My aim has always been to get students to really understand and question their own reasons for playing, as this is often the key to inspiring and motivating them to practice.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions? 

I think examinations and qualifications serve a certain purpose. However, in the larger scheme of things they aren’t something to overly worry about. Younger students will often work to examinations as they are used to this structured form of assessment, whereas adults often find this can be the reason they don’t want to learn! As much as possible though I do encourage playing for others, so this is often through my own student concerts, or local opportunities, festivals or competitions. All this experience will undoubtedly improve their playing so I think just go for it…what’s the worst that could happen!

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

A sense of self, their own wants and desires, and to realise that there is no limit to what can be achieved but the limit we put on ourselves.

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

For me, I know my playing has drastically improved since teaching. I think it gives you such a great opportunity to reflect and to find better ways of doing things.  I think it also helps to relax you at the keyboard. I found when I started teaching I was worried about if I made a slip in a piece that the parents might know and think I was a bad pianist. Now I just don’t worry and as a result I am much more confident, both in teaching and performing, and of course there are now fewer slips!

How do you approach the issue of performance anxiety/tension? 

As someone who has really struggled with recital nerves, it is something I am very much aware of. Again I try to reflect on my own achievements and balance that with the negative “what if” moments that are often so consuming. The more experience you have, the easier it is to manage. However, I think I will always feel a little nervous but that it’s also a sign that you care enough about the performance to do as good a job as you can.

As far as teaching goes again I try to provide opportunities for my students to perform and to build on these positive experiences. We do explore elements of posture, hand position, arm weight and tension in the hand whenever it appears to become as issue that impacts on the sound. It’s about trying to be relaxed at the keyboard. As Bach famously said “It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.”

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

Having access to music and to performances by top music professionals is now easier than even and I always find that the internet is a constant source of opportunity to listen, learn and evaluate. Growing up it was friends, students and teachers who I looked to as my inspiration, trying to achieve what they had. However I think some of my favourites are people like Valentina Lisitsa, Horowitz, Zimerman, Rubinstein along with several fantastic teachers I have had the opportunity to study with, including Daphne Sumbler, Peter Noke, John Clegg and more recently Penelope Roskell. I will always be grateful to my tutors who have helped to inspire me to simply play, learn and enjoy making music.

Richard began his musical studies late, and it was not until the age of 12, after taking the part of the young boy in Mendelssohn’s Oratorio Elijah at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he sang the part of the young treble, that he began to explore this potential. Having trained as a singer with Daphne Sumbler, Richard’s musical talents were given opportunity to flourish. Studying both singing and piano at that time, he worked tirelessly to complete his advanced training in both, ahead of university applications. Within 6 years Richard had achieved this goal and had completed his Grade 8 in singing and piano in 2003 & 2004 respectively.  

After initially considering a career in musical theatre, following several successes with Daphne Sumbler in both local choirs and as a soloist, most notably taking part in a launch event at the RNCM for a musical centred around the Busby Babes and the tragic Munich airplane crash, Richard reconsidered his future prospects and decided to spend those years away from academic study to consider his future. By the Summer of 2004 Richard had secured a place as a first study singer at Huddersfield University but turned it down to study at Lancaster University as a pianist, fulfilling his life-long dream to study piano as his first study . Having studied initially with John Clegg, who was a student of Herbert Fryer’s, and then subsequently with Peter Noke, Richard completed his studies and in 2009 graduated with BA Combined honours in Music and German.  

After graduating in 2009 Richard stepped away from music altogether to focus on his German studies. However, he returned to focus on music full time as a freelance musician in November 2011. The move back home, made in part by the deteriorating health of his father who had been battling with Parkinson’s Disease, helped Richard to re-evaluate his long term ambition of making music and he returned to reignite his passion and enthusiasm for piano.  

Richard now works full time as a freelance musician and piano tutor in Manchester. Boasting a busy teaching portfolio and fantastic exam results for his students, along with his most recent success at receiving confirmation of one of his students to being accepted to attend Chetham’s School of Music, he’s now focussed on building a successful music career. Having undergone further study with Penelope Roskell, with an increase in both his freelance and local performance work, Richard is set to continue to prove that with enough self determination and drive, anything is possible. 

For more information about Richard, along with teaching advice and upcoming performance dates, please visit his website at

Beyond Stage Fright

Stage fright remains a largely taboo and highly sensitive subject amongst musicians, yet the anxiety of performance is a common feeling experienced by many, including some of the world’s top-flight artists. Learning how to manage performance anxiety is a crucial part of the performing artist’s craft, and musicians of all levels and ages can learn from the professionals who have developed effective strategies to manage the stress associated with performing.

The Beyond Stage Fright online summit is a series of video interviews given by top international soloists and principal orchestral players, along with leading writers and teachers who all share their unique take on managing performance stress. Host Charlotte Tomlinson, pianist and author of Music from the Inside Out, uncovers the whole topic, giving you a rare chance to look into the inner world of the professional musician. The interviews are fascinating, insightful and inspiring!

To get access to the summit, you need to sign up to the website: www.beyondstagefright

The summit goes live on Friday May 29th and once you register, you will receive access to two video interviews a day for 11 days in your inbox.

Musicians, writers and teachers taking part: • Hilary Hahn (violinist) • John Lill (pianist) • Martin Roscoe (pianist) • Tracy Silverman (US electric violinist) • Claire Jones (harpist) • Amy Dickson (classical saxophonist) • Zuill Bailey (US cellist) • Paul Harris (educator/composer) • Janice Chapman (singing teacher) • David Krakauer (US clarinettist) • Swingle Singers • Maya Beiser (US cellist) • Martin Owen (principal horn BBCSO) • Louisa Tuck (principal cello RNS) • James Rhodes (pianist) • Louise Lansdown (Head of Strings, Birmingham Conservatoire) • Michael Whight (clarinettist) • Roderick Williams (opera/concert singer) • Elise Batnes (leader Oslo Philharmonic) • Eric Maisel (US writer on Performance Anxiety) • Diane Widdison (Musician’s Union)

Sunday feature: The musician as promoter

Programme for Wieniawski’s concert, 26 June 1891 ©Cambridge University Library

A recent piece about Tring Chamber Music by pianist James Lisney in which he states that “it is the role of musicians to be creators of concerts rather than separate themselves from the responsibility of the promoter” set me thinking about the role of promoters and impresarios in today’s busy and competitive world of classical music.

The musician as promoter – by which I mean one who organises and promotes concerts – is nothing new and there are historical precedents in the activities of Handel and Mozart, for example, who both organised their own subscription concerts. As the musician became elevated to celebrity status so the role of the “impresario” became more important: one who talent-spotted, and organisd and financed concerts. Famous impresarios have included Thomas Beecham, Richard d’Oyly Carte and Sol Hurok (who managed, amongst many others Ashkenazy, Gilels, Richter, Rostropovich, Pavlova and Segovia). But today the impresario has largely been superseded (with a few notable exceptions such as Simon Cowell whose role as a “creator” and promoter of new pop stars is, frankly, questionable…..) as musicians have taken over the responsibility of organising and promoting concerts themselves.

There are practical reasons for doing this, perhaps the most obvious being financial, as an independent promoter or impresario will take a percentage of the concert’s income. Musicians I spoke to in the course of researching this article also highlighted a need to remain in control of all aspects of the concert, from hiring the venue to deciding what should form the programme. Composer, singer and crossover musician Clio Em says “the positives include carrying out one’s artistic vision fully and collaborating with the musicians you yourself choose to worth with“, but she also cites social media, marketing and communication with the venue as potential admin headaches. A paid promoter or impresario will take on these administrative roles, liaise with and pay the venue hire, organise marketing and ticket sales and so forth, leaving the musician to concentrate on the music……But in return for this, the musician may be required to play a particular programme to please promoter/venue/audience.

Here is violinist Beatrice Philips who runs Lewes Chamber Music Festival, on the administrative aspects or creating and promoting concerts: “I find that it is important for me to separate my performing state of mind from my “organising a Festival” state of mind……………in the end, having created the programmes and chosen the performers, there comes a deluge of ‘non-musical’ things to deal with in order to make it happen which require a totally different part of the brain.”

Terry Lowry, composer, conductor and pianist, says: “Being responsible for concert promotion has been a strong positive for me.  Knowing how to promote an event myself makes it easier to help venues and presenters who are trying to promote a concert for me be effective.  It also forces me to stay in contact with my audience, which – while I enjoy this part very much – doesn’t come naturally to me.  I think pianists and composers become pianists and composers because they are very comfortable being alone.  Concert promotion forces me to interact in ways that are both effective and personally rewarding.”

Double-bassist Heather Bird says: If nothing else it has given me a greater insight and appreciation of what goes on behind the scenes in putting on gigs. And there’s nothing more satisfying than putting on a successful night that you’ve thought of, fixed, found the venue for, sorted out the tech specs, promoted and played in and watching people enjoying listening to and performing in the gig.”

Pianist Emmanuel Vass says: Art doesn’t pay my mortgage, unfortunately. If I want people to buy into what I do, it has to have an element of “consumer” or “product” orientation. Part of being a product = marketing. Otherwise, you’re just art on the shelf, which consumers will rarely want to automatically buy.

Today the world of classical music is extremely competitive which means one constantly needs to find new and creative ways to attract and engage audiences. Not many musicians, especially young musicians who are just embarking on a professional career, can afford to pay for a specialist promoter, and so putting on and promoting their own concerts, either singly or in collaboration with other colleagues, is the way forward. At London’s Trinity-Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, the BMus degree course includes a module called ‘Engaging Audiences’ which encourages students to consider how to market themselves, create effective promotional materials and think about their own ‘brand’ – i.e. who they are as an artist. This gets students thinking more commercially before they have left the relative comfort of the conservatoire, and a number of Trinity students who are friends of mine have been busy organising and performing in their own concerts in the years prior to graduation. As one student at Trinity-Laban said to me: “You can’t sit back and expect things to happen: musicians need to play an active role in promoting themselves and making things happen!”

A number of people whom I spoke to in the course of researching this article cite retaining control and giving free rein to their own artistic vision as important aspects of being one’s own promoter. Pianist Jeremy Young, artistic director of Alfriston Summer Music Festival, says: “I have a wonderful freedom to programme concerts that are intellectually stimulating and perhaps more daring than other concert promoters might be. Of course, my festival will not be successful if I don’t provide a broad scope of experience for the audience but now that I have built up a loyal audience I sense their hunger for new things and feel less need to consistently programme ‘classical favourites’. Of course, there is still an appetite for that too by both the artists and the audience…………I feel as intrinsically linked to artistic directorship as I do to playing the piano these days and my position as Head of Chamber Music at the RNCM also gives me opportunity to be educationally creative on behalf of the students.”.

The musician as promoter can also enjoy a special relationship with the audience, especially if one organises a regular series of concerts or an annual festival which gives one the opportunity to get to know one’s audience and build loyalty. This has several benefits: an element of familiarity and “trust” is established between performers and audience, which in turn can allow performers the artistic freedom to create more adventurous formats or experimental programmes which may include contemporary music or new commissions.

Pianist Daniel Tong, whose activities include Wye Valley Chamber Festival and a chamber festival based in Winchester, says: “I do see it as a natural extension of artistic directorship to come up with a concept and take ownership of it. To put one’s own stamp upon a concert, festival or series and help to shape it. Often these are the most personal and meaningful concert experiences. I think of my own festival in the Wye Valley, where we have built up a real rapport between artists and audience over the years…… That festival has always had a real family atmosphere, welcoming ambience and this, I am convinced, has in turn fostered a really creative and supportive spirit amongst the musicians. Some of the best performances I have heard have taken place down there……. Having musicians involved in the running of their events also means that some practical issues are understood more intimately. On the one hand, they know what it takes to create the right conditions and atmosphere for musicians and can pass this on to fellow organisers. Conversely, it introduces us to the kinds of details of which we are not always aware – how to publicise and promote, as well as how to look after an audience. We understand the business better and perhaps then sympathise and empathise more with those in administrative roles.”

For all musicians the desire to create, communicate and share music is (or should be) at the foundation of what we do, and organising concerts can be a wonderful way of expressing this desire while also controlling the environment and manner in which we present our music. Of course, practicalities include venue hire, marketing, ticket sales and front of house activities. When one retains responsibility for all these things, the admin and organisational aspects can be migraine-inducing, especially anxieties about selling enough tickets to cover one’s costs. In my experience of co-organsing the South London Concert Series we have had a couple of occasions when ticket sales have been very slow and this definitely creates stress. However, the satisfaction of organising our own concerts, working with musician friends and colleagues, and creating a friendly and convivial atmosphere in which to share music in some of London’s most beautiful and unusual venues outweighs the anxiety. This way of working makes our artform more democratic and, hopefully, brings classical music to a wider audience by making it more accessible. Ultimately, the music benefits – but also the musicians, the audience and the venue.

James Lisney’s ‘Promoter of the Month’ series continues on his website

©Frances Wilson 2015

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.

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