Category Archives: General

Piano Dao: the way of piano

Pianist and teacher Andrew Eales introduces his new blog:

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

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

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

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

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

Pianodao will have five main sections:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Artist…….Martin James Bartlett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which performance are you most proud of? 

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

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

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

Who are your favourite musicians?

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

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

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

What is your most treasured possession?

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

What is your present state of mind?

Introspective, a little anxious and excited for the future.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

www.martinjamesbartlett.com

YOUNG PIANIST KICKSTARTS CUTTING-EDGE RECORD LABEL

Another example of musicians doing it for themselves……

PRESS RELEASE 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The deadline is 1 August, so share the link today 

Meet the Artist……Christina McMaster

‘Piano Out There’

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

The Concept:

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

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

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

IMG_3810The Inspiration:

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

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

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

Get Involved:

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

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

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

To get involved or for more information please contact:

Ben Kidger

Landmark Gallery Curator

Landmark Arts Centre

ben@landmarkartscentre.org

07989 570831

Twitter: @LandmarkArts

Website: www.landmarkartscentre.org

Meet the Artist……Marco Fatichenti, pianist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

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

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

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

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

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Right now it would be Brahms’ Piano Quintet.

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

Who are your favourite musicians?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

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

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

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

What are you working on at the moment? 

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

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

What is your present state of mind? 

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

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

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

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

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

www.marcofatichenti.net

Why Lucas Debargue should be allowed to develop as an artist

Much has been written about the young French pianist Lucas Debargue, a finalist in the 2015 edition of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition. The concept of him being “self-taught” (until relatively recently) has been debated across a number of articles, together with his rather unusual technique (“Scales played with only the thumb and index finger and his pinkie sticking up as daintily as Hyacinth Bucket’s” – The Spectator, 18/7/15) and glorious sound. He’s not out of the traditional mold of the international competition winner (commences piano studies at a young age, undertakes rigorous study with a master teacher and progresses to the “Three C’s” of Conservatoire, Competition and Concerto) – and he didn’t even wear a tie during the final! In an honest and touching interview with Ismene Brown of The Arts Desk, Debargue comes across as a sensitive and intellectual young man for whom music is profoundly important, not just in terms of beautiful sound, but also as a “a place to live in. It’s about real emotions, real sensations”.

Let’s just clear up a few inaccuracies. In ‘The Spectator’ article quoted above, he is described as “the man who came last”. He didn’t come last. He achieved what most can only dream of: he reached the final of the most prestigious piano competition in the world. That he did this following only four years professional study with a Russian master teacher (Rena Shereshevskaya) is remarkable. (And by the way, it doesn’t really matter that his scale fingering is unusual: there is no “one size fits all” fingering scheme, because hands and fingers come in different sizes.) Now everyone is asking what next for this extraordinary young man?

It is at this point that I start to worry for a talented and obviously sensitive young man like Lucas Debargue. He is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, young artist to be thrust into the limelight before he is ready. Unlike the other competition finalists, he has not undergone the long and rigorous traditional professional training which would prepare him for the concert platform: he still needs to hone his stagecraft and, more importantly, learn how to deal with the journalists, agents, promoters, and fans who besieged him as the competition progressed – and continue to. The classical music industry is not a particularly pleasant place, and the world of international pianism is highly competitive, almost ruthlessly so. At the big competitions, representatives from the big artist agencies are waiting to scoop up the winners and runners up, offering tempting contracts, a slew of international engagements, recording deals and more (look how much Martin James Bartlett, winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014, has done since his win, including several performances at the Proms, and he’s only just 19; he has, however, undergone a professional training in specialist music school and conservatoire). It’s true that success in an international competition can make an artist – but it can break one too. From the moment one chooses the life of the international concert pianist, one lives in the public eye: every performance and recording is held up for scrutiny, and one is under almost continual pressure to meet the expectations of agents, promoters, fickle audiences, critics and fans. The life of the concert pianist is tough, restrictive and lonely. In addition to the many hours of solitary practise, there is the traveling, nights spent in faceless hotels, fine historic cities viewed through a fog of fatigue, never having the option to be less than perfect, even if one is ill or tired, knowing that one is judged on one’s last performance (here I recall the unpleasant hoopla surrounding Ivo Pogorelich’s London concert in February). The pressure can be unbearable if one is not equipped to handle it. (Read Charles Beauclerk’s excellent and sympathetic biography of John Ogdon for some brutal insights into the life of the international concert pianist. For Ogdon, the piano was his saviour and his tormentor, and there is no question that the pressure of so much traveling to perform around the world contributed to his breakdown.)

Add to this that peculiarly British fascination with the maverick, the eccentric, the tortured genius with the unconventional “backstory”. We risk endangering Debargue further by holding him up as curiosity, instead of allowing him to develop and mature in his own time. There is something very authentic about his playing, his particular soundworld and his special and personal connection to the music which has clearly touched people.

Lucas Debargue plays Ravel – ‘Gaspard de la Nuit’

In his interview with Ismene Brown, Debargue talks of having few friends and little support from his family. His teacher was his mentor and supporter, encouraging him to take a tilt at the Tchaikovsky Competition and saying when he got through the first round “It doesn’t matter when you pass or not, it’s really good that you are here to play and I am grateful and proud of you.” He has yet to develop the necessarily resilience, thick skin and artistic temperament to survive the “wild west” of the international concert circuit, and I only hope that whoever he chooses to manage him, should he decide to go down that route, is sympathetic and puts his well-being before all else. Otherwise, I dread to think what might happen….

So please let’s allow him – and others like him – to develop at his own pace to emerge onto the international circuit, should he choose that path, when he is truly ready. To conclude this article, I think it is worth quoting a comment on Peter Donohoe’s piece for Slipped Disc about the competition (Peter was a juror this year):

Aside from all of this, what happens to each of these young artists remains to be seen. How will they carry on with their studies as musicians? Which repertoire will they cultivate? Will they develop chamber music careers, teaching, new works, recordings? This is what is most important as they begin to soul search and decipher how and what they will contribute to the world of music outside of the usual parameters. (Jeffrey Biegel)
Read Peter Donohoe’s thoughtful and intelligent article here

View clips of Lucas Debargue’s performances in the International Tchaikovsky Competition

Meet the Artist……Fiona Bennett, composer

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

I had my first piano lesson at just four years old, my dad would love to have played but came from a family who just couldn’t afford lessons. He played me Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony when I was about seven years old and I vividly remember being bowled over by the storm section. My first pop single was the Adagio from Spartacus and Phrygia which was in the charts because ‘The Onedin Line’ was a very popular TV series. I began writing songs when I was 15, mainly due to my father’s encouragement.

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

Coming from Wales and being surrounded by music in school the whole time meant it was a huge part of my life, right from the very beginning. I really enjoyed piano lessons, took my first exam when I was just six and music was always my great love. Sounds daft but significant influences are every single piece of music I’ve ever heard, all the classical greats plus Barry Manilow and Abba. I love good pop music and Abba wrote the best, most beautifully constructed songs. I don’t have a favourite composer, too many to choose from!

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

Small hands! I have always had to choose my music carefully. Rachmaninov was never going to be possible but I played Mozart, Mendelssohn well. Becoming a mum meant being permanently busy and not having the time (or inspiration) to write. I didn’t compose a note between 1998 and 2011 but when my elder son was working towards his Winchester College entrance exams and spending lots of time at his dad’s to study, I began playing again.  Within a few months, I had composed the whole ‘A Country Suite’ album, eight pieces for piano.

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

I wrote to order early in my career. Jingles, incidental music for TV drama but I’m afraid I prefer working independently and putting together music for my own enjoyment (which, thankfully appeals to a wider audience too). I am a huge fan of Debbie Wiseman (she and I studied with James Gibb at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the 1980s) and she is expert at composing to pictures and being able to change things quickly. I am still very much a full time mum and would find that aspect very challenging. I still write at the piano with manuscript paper and a pencil!

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

Again, this isn’t something I do much. I composed a piece for SATB choir back in 2014 and it was a huge thrill to sing in a choir actually performing a piece I had composed in the beautiful setting of Douai Abbey in Berkshire.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I was a prolific songwriter in my teens/20s/30s and the first song I wrote ‘Ti a Mi’ (Welsh for ‘You and Me’) was a big hit for me. It has generated a lot of royalties over the years and is still played on the radio now.  I am very proud of ‘A Country Suite': it has some lovely melodies and the piano pieces are rather more complex than they sound!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love good music, melody, harmony and so, as well as classical music, I loved 1970s pop music, ABBA, Barry Manilow, Wizzard, Sweet, Slade, The Osmonds. In terms of classical music, I adore Puccini, Rachmaninov, Mozart, Bach.  I love a big romantic melody!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Singing ‘One Voice’ in Barry Manilow’s choir at the Royal Albert Hall in January 1982 was very exciting.  My own ‘Concert for Autism’ was very special too. I put on a free concert at St Nicolas’s Church in Newbury in September 2009. I invited along some of Newbury’s most talented musicians and we raised almost £5000 for the West Berkshire branch of the National Autistic Society. I sang, played Mozart duets and a massive ragtime medley. It was great!

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

I am not one to sweat over a piece. If it works, it tends to come quite quickly and I rarely (if ever) change things. If it works and sounds good, just do it.  I have broken many of the ‘rules’ of harmony and counterpoint, parallel fifths and octaves, parallel fourths. I’m not a fan of tritones and haven’t used those as yet but never say never! If the piece I’ve written sounds nice to the ear, is well structured, has a good intro, beginning, middle and end, then I’m happy.  If you have to keep changing it all the time, chances are it wasn’t that great to begin with.

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

Happily married and sharing my life with my new fiancé, John. He is also a trumpet player and we both practise together! Aw!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Loving someone special and knowing they love and cherish you too.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am not a big one for ‘things’ but my new engagement ring is very special to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Several things: attending concerts with John, playing the piano and realising a new piece is starting to form, going for pizza with my two amazing sons, walking my greyhounds in the woods.

What is your present state of mind?

As happy as I have ever been in my whole life!

Fiona Bennett’s ‘New Lady Radnor Suite’ is available now. With a nod towards Hubert Parry who composed ‘Lady Radnor’s Suite’ in 1894, Fiona has composed and dedicated her new album to her friend, Melissa (The Countess of Radnor). 

fionabennettmusic.co.uk

Teaching our students to teach themselves

Following on from my earlier post about the notion of the “self-taught pianist”, I would like to explore further how teachers can – and should – enable their students to teach themselves.

The word “teach” comes from the Old English tǣcan which means “to show, present, point out”. This for me, (and having studied Old English at university), gives a big clue to how teachers should approach their teaching. We should not be telling our students how to learn, but showing and guiding them.

My personal stated aim as a piano teacher, in addition to encouraging a love of all things piano in my students, is to enable them to become independent learners – to show them how to teach themselves. Based on my own piano studies as a teenager and as an “adult returner”, there is nothing more satisfying than discovering that it is possible to explore, learn and enjoy music without constantly running back to teacher for support.

Sadly, it strikes me that due to the way children are taught in primary and secondary school in the UK, they are being robbed of the ability to think and work independently, instead relying on teachers to spoon-feed them information to enable them to pass tests and exams, and to meet targets set higher up the educational hierarchy. I have observed this unwillingness to think and act independently in a number of my students, and I try to encourage them to instead take a leap of faith and rely on their musical knowledge and experience gained during their lessons with me.

There is a lot of mystique surrounding music teachers, particularly those who teach at a high level in conservatoire and specialist music school. Students may compete to be assigned to a “top” or “famous” teacher, and there can be huge advantages, real or imagined, in studying with these teachers, for they have been taught by the great teacher-pianists of an earlier generation and can pass down “secrets” from these teachers to their own students. This heritage can be very important – I have studied with high-level teachers/concert pianists who in turn have studied with such pianistic luminaries as Peter Feuchtwanger, Maria Curcio, Guido Agosti, Phyllis Sellick, Peter Wallfisch, Nina Svetlanova and Andras Schiff – but I think it is also important for students not to be too much in awe of these teachers, and to learn how to take from their current teacher what they need to enable them to play and progress to their best of their ability.

To quote from Leon Whitesell, a US pianist and teacher, At best, we as teachers, must become like a wonderful cafeteria, where the pupil chooses and takes, as well as applies, whatever he/ she desires. We really can’t ” teach” anything, but pupils may take from our offerings that which they choose!”

In order for our students to select from our teacherly “cafeteria”, we first need to equip them with the necessary tools to learn independently. This may include:

  • notation
  • rhythm
  • sight-reading
  • technique and an understanding of how it serves the music
  • structure
  • an understanding of keys and key relationships
  • musical terms and signs
  • historical context
  • performance practice and stagecraft

In addition, the teacher’s role is to build self-esteem to enable the student to play with poise, expression and musicality. A good teacher supports the student to find their own musical voice and personality, will guide the student to find an appropriate and tasteful interpretation of their music, and encourages the student to be a musical explorer, to discover music outside of the repertoire under study for regular lessons. A sympathetic teacher tailors lessons to suit each student individually, is adaptable and flexible, and is able to identify what the student needs at that moment. In fact, the best teacher to teach students to teach themselves is one who is also engaged in ongoing study, who remains open and receptive to new ideas, and who is also willing to learn from their own students.

In contrast, an egotistical and/or possessive teacher wants to produce students in their own image whose sound reproduces that of the teacher, and whose students feel enthralled to their teacher. This approach does little more than boost the teacher’s ego, and makes students anxious

Adult students can present different challenges for the teacher as they often self-teach before seeking regular lessons, or enjoy exploring and studying outside of their lessons and may bite off more than they can chew and then become discouraged. I find that some adults, while being voracious learners, can lack confidence when it comes to trusting the musical instinct which enables them to work independently, and much of my work with adults, both as private students and via my piano group, is building self-esteem, encouraging them to let go of negative experiences with previous teachers (as both child and adult), learning to be wary of comparing themselves to others, and understanding how to practise effectively and intelligently in order to prepare music properly.

Adults also often like to seek feedback and advice from others aside from their regular teacher, through workshops, masterclasses and piano courses. I have met adult students who have attended so many courses and masterclasses they they have become confused by the myriad suggestions and signals given by different teachers. From my own experience attending courses and masterclasses, I would stress that it is important to take from these sessions only what you feel you need at the time (that notion of the “cafeteria” again!).

I encourage all my students to be questioning, to challenge me, and to set off on a path of musical self-discovery. I regard my teaching style as flexible, open-minded and sympathetic, and I tend to teach by asking questions of my students, or making suggestions, rather than saying “this is how to do it!” or “do it my way”. My own study currently involves two teachers/mentors who hold me to account for what I am attempting and who set the bar for my technical preparation through detailed study and knowledge of the score (Schubert Sonata D959). They do not impose their interpretation but allow the music-making to be my business, thus encouraging me to develop my own musical voice and to take ownership of the music.

One of the best aspects of my job is when a student arrives having resolved an issue which was proving problematic in an earlier lesson. Or the student who has selected a piece to learn on their own initiative and who simply needs some guidance from me to enable them to progress. Hearing my students perform in their end of term concert, as I did last weekend, was a wonderful indication of how much they are developing as young musicians, each with their own individual sound and style.

Angelo Villani’s Inferno

Pianist Angelo Villani is not exactly a household name, though he was identified as a musical prodigy as a child growing up in his native Australia, and was selected to take part in the 1990 edition of the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. He never got to play: a trapped nerve in his right arm, the result of a sports injury, forced him to withdraw. The loss of sensation in his hand caused by the injury prevented him from performing, except only sporadically, while he sought a cure for his condition.

A quarter of a century on and Angelo is reigniting his performing career and planning his debut CD. Entitled Dante’s Inferno, the album will celebrate the 750th Anniversary of Italian poet Dante Alighieri with piano works by Liszt, Purcell and Wagner, all inspired by Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. The music selected recreates the world of Dante’s Inferno, depicting the burning desires, love and pain suffered by those condemned to inhabit the Underworld.

Tracklist

Dante Sonata by Franz Liszt

Dido’s Lament by Henry Purcell (arr. by Villani)

Tristan & Isolde by Richard Wagner (concert etude paraphrase by Liszt/von Bülow/Villani)

Sunt Lacrimae Rerum by Franz Liszt

Dante’s Sonnet by Hans von Bülow (arr. by Liszt/Villani)

Angelo has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his recording and the launch of the CD will be accompanied by a concert tour in Italy, tracing the footsteps of Dante Alighieri and the great composers Liszt and Wagner, playing in venues they once performed or were inspired by.

He has just three days left to achieve his target amount to enable the CD to go ahead. Please consider supporting Angelo Villani’s Kickstarter campaign

The Pianist who came in from the cold

Meet the Artist……Angelo Villani