Category Archives: General

At the Piano With…… Diane Durbin

What is your first memory of the piano? 

I think I was about 6 or 7 when I first played a piano. I remember my mother taking my younger sister and me to visit one of our great aunts; there was a ‘piano in the parlour’ – the kind where the music stand appeared out of the lid at the top.  There was treasure trove in the piano stool – full of old volumes of folk tunes and hymn books.  These had tonic sol-fa written over the top; with a bit of help, I cracked the code, added some broken chord accompaniment by ear and away I went.  We adopted the piano and more formal lessons followed.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching? 

A love for learning.  After I left school I went into the banking sector and sat financial exams while attending other arts evening classes.  I suppose I have always wanted to be involved in education and to put something back.  I qualified as a primary practitioner some twenty years ago with responsibility for leading music and literacy, which go together very well, but decided that I would leave full-time school teaching early to concentrate on piano and theory teaching.  Teaching itself provides the opportunity to learn. I had already taken up piano lessons seriously again as an adult and the diploma studies began.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

Probably the first teacher who had a big influence on me was my high school teacher, Margaret Hemingway.  She had high expectations in terms of practice and preparation.  When I was preparing for the Advanced Certificate and LRSM, I had lessons with my daughter’s first teacher, Beverley Clark.  As I was teaching full time while studying for these, she was very supportive; it felt more like a mentoring relationship.   The late Bernard Roberts stands out for me too.  He remarked on the positive before going on to say, “Now let’s see if we can just…”  Exploring ways of producing the precise tone you wanted to hear was something he passed on to me.  He had a wonderful laugh – “Ha! Yes! That’s it!”

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

Watching professional performances plays an important role, but I would say that students have the most influence, because they shape your approaches according to what they need. Apart from my own teachers, there are those I have met over the years with whom I have shared experiences and ideas.  Conferences and courses are always good for such meetings and for opportunities to gather notes and resources; I try to attend something every year at least. Piano teaching can be an isolated profession, so it’s good to get out there and meet like-minded people so that your teaching can evolve.  Now we have social media, the learning net is cast even wider…

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences? 

It’s difficult to choose, because every week brings something special, but I suppose they would have to include:

  • When a beaming student comes to the next lesson, saying their practice went really well;
  • Helping a student to find a way around a persistent issue, be it fingerings, note accuracy or a tricky rhythm;
  • A great lesson with a student who has special educational needs;
  • The 75 year-old who was finally confident enough to be able to play the Rachmaninov Prelude and Brahms Intermezzo he’d always wanted to perform for his family

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

Adults aren’t necessarily driven to pass exams and qualify like younger students – they want to be the best they can and as such are highly motivated.  Experienced players appreciate new ways of practising and will discuss issues of interpretation, sometimes challenging you.  Some beginners have high expectations because they are adults, and want things to be perfect; conversely some arrive with self-imposed limitations and are really pleased to discover what they can achieve.  Having to fit in practice with family and work commitments is something I empathise with.  Some of my most rewarding lessons have been with adult learners who rediscover the joy of playing.

What do you expect from your students? 

Commitment to the lesson and to practising regularly – if necessary I mention the 10,050 minutes in a week that they aren’t with me.  I ask them how they organise their practice time around everything else so they see that it can be done if they manage time well – it’s an important life skill anyway. I want them to talk to me about ‘ups and downs’ so we know how to progress.  I expect them to listen when required in the lesson and to every sound they make when practising.  I want to develop all-round musicianship skills, so engaging in learning activities other than ‘fingers on the keys’, for example aural work and creating tableaux, is a must.  I like to involve parents where students are very young.  In general, it’s important that all show a willingness to take part in music events outside the lesson, be it a performance of their own or a visit to one.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Exams can be a great incentive to achieve high standards and are a useful way to obtain feedback.  Some students work best when they have such structure in their timetables, too.  However, they’re not the ‘be-all and end-all’, and we only embark on an exam syllabus if the student wants to. All three platforms give a student the opportunity to perform and develop confidence.  Uncompetitive festivals with friendly audiences and performing in front of peers at school or as part of extended lessons are great occasions in which to develop artistry.  Competitive festivals can be a bit of a hot potato, depending on which side of the winning post you’re on. I’ve experienced elation and disappointment myself, as a performer, as a teacher and a parent.  I was awarded a piano scholarship at high school in the sixth form, and it’s great when you ‘win’ and your hard effort is rewarded, but winning seems such an odd concept in art; subjectivity always plays a part in adjudications.  Explaining to a youngster how they’ve missed out on a trophy by a narrow margin of marks can be quite hard, even with the ‘it’s all about the taking part’ platitude in advance. But it’s horses for courses – if a student is really serious about a performing career, then they are important, and just as time management is a life skill, so is dealing with competitive situations.

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

For beginners, developing a sense of pulse first, rhythmic subdivisions, independent fingers, wrist/arm alignment and posture.  Lessons should be fun and varied. The ‘Experience, Language, Pictures, Symbols’ progression that I learned as a primary practitioner still holds good on a 1:1 basis for instrumental beginners.  Pedalling techniques come in when they can be reached comfortably and this can be quite early on. More advanced students hopefully have a sound technique on which to develop communication of the music and a sense of style.  We sing a lot in lessons at all levels – the ability to breathe with the music is so important for phrasing, I think.

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

You have to practise what you preach to a certain degree, without doubt.  Even if you’re not a regular on the concert platform, then attending summer schools and other courses, where a performance element is included, is vital to your ability to teach aspects of it.  I have enjoyed masterclasses and performing ‘in turn’ during tutorial groups.  Also, if teachers experience any nerves, it helps them empathise with students and it can be a useful discussion topic.  These days, my ‘public’ performances are mainly accompaniments and I enjoy the feeling of performing ‘with’ others immensely.  I think that imparting enthusiasm for the playing the piano beautifully, whatever the situation, is one of the most important things a teacher does.

Who are your favourite pianists and why? 

Such a difficult one to answer!  I love to watch Paul Lewis play – he has such a relaxed yet thoughtful style and makes controlling the whole playing mechanism look effortless.  I could watch his performances of the Beethoven Concertos in the 2010 Prom season over and over…  I do admire Angela Hewitt’s Bach interpretations and listen to her playing before and during practice. As for modern pianists, Stephen Hough plays my favourite Rach 2 and Keith Jarrett’s piano improvisations are amazing – total commitment evident in both performers.

Diane Durbin BA (Hons) LRSM CTABRSM PGCE  is a private piano and music theory teacher and accompanist based in Lincolnshire.  After qualifying with a degree in English from the University of Nottingham, she went into primary teaching where she led music and literacy.  She gained the CTABRSM in 2000 and the LRSM (Piano Teaching) in 2002.  She also sings with Lincoln Cathedral Consort, The Hungate Singers and The Lincoln Chorale. You can find more information at:

http://www.dianedurbin.com

http://www.epta-uk.org

http://www.music-link.org/teachers

http://www.musicteachers.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/DianePDurbin

Sunday feature: How to listen to music you haven’t heard

I was moved to write this post after reading this article on the wonderful Brain Pickings site, in which Nassim Nicholas Talib (author of Black Swan) talks about the writer Umberto Eco’s “anti-library” of some 30,000 books, many of which he has not yet read. This article struck a chord with me, as a few years ago I read a fascinating book by French psychoanalyst and University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, in which the author makes a very good case for freeing ourselves from the conventions and obligations of being “well read”. Professor Bayard explains that reading is a way of engaging with literature in various ways – books we’ve read, books we’ve skimmed through, books we’ve heard about, books we’ve forgotten, books we’ve never opened. As both Bayard and Taleb both state, the books we haven’t read are the most interesting for they offer new possibilities in broadening our knowledge and widening our cultural horizons. In the world today, knowledge can be accrued incredibly easily and quickly via the internet, and this accrual of knowledge becomes a compulsive need to enable us to rise in the hierarchy of  perceived “intelligence” or “knowledgeability”. In fact, all those books which haven’t been read yet represent a wondrous research tool, for they are all waiting to be explored.

The same can be said of music. Today, with a huge variety of recordings, films and live concerts and opera available to enjoy every hour of every day, we can feel under tremendous pressure to be seen to have covered all the “classics” (the big warhorses of the classical repertoire by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler et al – not to mention 20th century and contemporary classics……) and to know them. I admit to some hefty gaps in my musical and listening knowledge, gaps at which certain friends and colleagues are apt to pull their eyes and wring their hands: “What? You don’t listen to Wagner???!!!”. But for me, those gaps stand for something rather special and exciting.

Just as the large pile of books by my bed attests, so the huge library of music waiting to be explored – via CDs, streaming services, concerts, sheet music and more –  represents a wondrous journey of discovery, and one about which I am very excited. In fact, this journey began at a young age, when I first became aware of classical music through my parents’ own listening and concert-going. By the time I reached my teens, I had developed fairly trenchant ideas about the kind of music I liked, and would touch at the piano. Growing musical maturity and an irrepressible inquisitiveness have led me to discover a wealth of music, but still I have hardly scratched the surface. The great thing is that I know there is plenty more out there, just waiting to be heard and explored.

It is for this reason that I grow increasingly frustrated with concert programmes at London’s mainstream venues (where I spend a lot of time, in my role as a concert reviewer and ardent live music fan). The same diet of largely the same “classics” by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Mahler, Brahms comes round year after year. There are too many “safe” programmes, not enough brand new music, nor even 20th-century repertoire being performed. Sometimes it feels like one is picking up the same dog-eared favourite copy of Austen or Dickens. There’s nothing wrong with the programmes, nor indeed those authors, per se, but our listening horizons would benefit greatly from the opportunity to explore more unusual or lesser-known repertoire.

When selecting concerts, either as a reviewer or simply for pleasure, I tend towards those programmes which include unusual juxtapositions (for example, a recent concert at the Wigmore Hall by the Rubenstein Competition winner, which paired Scarlatti with Ligeti and Chopin with Messiaen), or music which I haven’t heard before. I may not like all I hear (and by the way, it really is ok to admit that you don’t like Schoenberg or Birtwistle: it doesn’t make you a lesser person!) but I intend to remain open-minded and open-eared at every concert I go to.

As an active musician, the voyage of discovery is even more potent: so much repertoire out there just waiting to be explored! The prospect is hugely exciting.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – article on Brain Pickings

Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary

(image credit: http://www.goodwp.com)

Is the “10,000 hours rule” a Myth?

A guest post by David Milsont

The “10,000 hours” rule was first brought to a mass audience by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. In this book he states that this is the amount of time it takes to achieve mastery.

This of course wasn’t just a number that Gladwell made up. A study carried out in Berlin, Germany documented the practice habits of a group of violin students, throughout their childhoods, adolescence and then adulthood.

When asked how many hours they had practiced, over the entirety of them playing, results showed that whilst times were similar in childhood, the most elite players had accumulated more than 10,000 hours individually by age 20.

This strong correlation between time spent rehearsing and level of ability makes a very strong case for the 10,000 hours rule and Gladwell brought the idea to a larger audience.

Famous faces such as The Beatles are often used as an example of the theory but what is the argument for natural talent? The study conducted on the German violinists had no evidence to show that talent was enough to reach the level that they did. So, from novice to expert, the 10,000 hours rule backs practice all the way.

It could be that those who have a natural talent or interest in a particular activity practise more because they are passionate. When we are good at something and enjoy it, practising is not a chore. Therefore it can make an individual look as though they were born with an innate ability to thrive at their craft. You could be born with bags of talent but without working on it, you may never develop to the level that you potentially could.

So, where does that leave you and your piano? The key is to practise with purpose. 40 hours practise over five years is going to give you your 10,000 hours. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to improve to elite level. If you make the same mistakes every single time you sit at your piano, hitting your target hours becomes less relevant.

Achieving your 10,000 hours needn’t be out of your reach but aim for quality over quantity. Not all practice is created equally. Purchase a good piano from a trusted dealer and invest time in finding a fantastic teacher. Every great sportsman started with a coach. Every great musician should have an accomplished teacher to guide them, recognise areas for improvement and track progress.

No matter what you are doing, it’s going to take a lot of time to reach a level that you are satisfied with. The key is to enjoy playing piano, learning, rehearsing and eventually improving. There’s no magic formula to getting the best out of your piano, or any other activity or hobby. Although there are differing opinions around the 10,000 hours rule, all of the research agrees on this: passion is key.

About the Author: 

David Milsont is an avid pianist. He deals with Broughton Pianos and writes in his spare time. 

The Haydn plaque is unveiled!

I was delighted to join a crowd of excited Haydn fans in Soho, London today for the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of the composer Joseph Haydn, who lived at 18 Great Pulteney Street in 1791.

At midday on 24th March 2015, to the cheers of the assembled crowd, Sir Neville Marriner unveiled a commemorative blue plaque in central London to celebrate the work of the composer Joseph Haydn. Sir Neville was joined by Denis McCaldin, director of the Haydn Society of Great Britain, and the Austrian ambassador, who both spoke ahead of the unveiling.

The plaque is the first dedicated to Haydn in London. When he visited for the first time in 1791, the composer was at least as popular as his contemporary, Mozart. Though Mozart has three plaques in London, until today Haydn had none, despite fifty years of attempts to establish one.

Taking inspiration from the successful subscription concerts of his day, the Haydn Society of Great Britain ran a lively and successful crowdfunding campaign to commission and install the plaque.

The Haydn plaque can be seen at 18 Great Pulteney Street, Soho, London W1F 9NE.

(This article first appeared on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc)

The 40-Piece Challenge – a personal piano journey

This excellent initiative was started by Australian piano teacher and composer Elissa Milne. The purpose was to promote and implement the concept of students learning a huge quantity of piano pieces in one year to allow students to learn, experience and perform far more pieces than our exam-focussed culture tends to allow. Known learning outcomes from the exercise include improved sight-reading skills, greater independence in learning, and enhanced musicianship and music appreciation.

Another similar initiative is the Go-Play Project, in which US pianist and teacher Catherine Shefski set herself the task of learning (or relearning) a piece of piano music each week over the course of a year (she recorded the pieces and uploaded them to SoundCloud). Like many piano teachers, Catherine felt she was not spending enough time at the piano for herself amidst all the teaching and admin that goes with running a piano teaching studio. I followed Cathy’s project with interest and told myself that one day I would do something similar.

A new year, and a number of pianist friends and colleagues have embarked on their own 40-Piece Challenge. Despite, or because of, the fact that I have set myself a vast learning challenge in Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata (D959 in A), I decided it was time to try my own 40-Piece Challenge. My motives for doing so are slightly different from the original purpose of the project:

What kind of repertoire?

The Schubert sonata is a big work in four movements, which takes c.40 minutes to play, and the learning process is by necessity long and detailed. It would be foolish to add other very advanced works to my musical diet, so the premise is to learn shorter and “easier” works for the challenge. And the pieces selected do not necessarily have to be “new”: as part of the exercise, I am revisiting some pieces I learnt a few years ago. There is much to be gained from reviving previous repertoire, as new insights and ideas about the music are revealed.

To guard against boredom and retain variety in my practising

I would be crazy to devote all my practise time to the Schubert alone. Adding a variety of shorter works is a supplement to my main learning and a way of ensuring I retain interest and excitement in the piano.

To extend my repertoire

When one is working for exams or diplomas, there is a terrible tendency to focus only on the set pieces. This is not healthy, as too much focus on a narrow repertoire can lead to familiar pieces growing stale. One often finds that even the most disparate repertoire will inform other works. I also wanted to have a “bank” of pieces I could call on for the occasional concerts I give.

Each piece will be recorded and uploaded to my Soundcloud

Recording is an excellent way of evaluating one’s playing and an opportunity to listen in a different way, allowing us to make judgements about which areas need revision or improvement. By insisting on recording each piece, I am forcing myself to prepare each work carefully. This in itself is a useful exercise: just because the repertoire is “easier”, it should still be prepared to a high (concert-ready) level.

Progress so far….

I’m a quarter way through the project, with 11 pieces learnt and recorded. I will post updates as the project progresses.

The pieces recorded so far:

For those considering a similar challenge, I offer some repertoire suggestions (intermediate to advanced level):

J S Bach – Kleine Preludes, Two- and Three-Part Inventions

Chopin – Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas, Nocturnes

Beethoven – Bagatelles

Schubert – Moments Musicaux, Ländler, Waltzes

Heller – Etudes

Rachmaninoff – Preludes, Moments Musicaux, 6 Morceaux Op 11, Etudes-Tableaux

Scriabin – Preludes, Etudes and other shorter piano works

Prokofiev – Visions Fugitives

Bartok – Mikrokosmos (later volumes)

Ligeti – Musica Ricercata

Debussy – Preludes, Children’s Corner

Scarlatti – Sonatas

Single movements from sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.

 

Glenn Kesby at LASSCo Brunswick House

Acclaimed Australian countertenor Glenn Kesby performs at the opulent and unique LASSCo Brunswick House, Vauxhall on 21st May 2015.

Glenn will present a ravishing programme spanning three centuries and two continents, including music by Purcell, Handel, Greig, Tchaikovsky, Vaughan Williams and Finzi, some of which explores less familiar territory for the counter-tenor. Glenn will give a brief introduction to the music he will be performing, accompanied by Claire Williams.

“…Resplendently Baroque…The sound was relaxed and warm” – Early Music Today

Venue: LASSCo Brunswick House, 30 Wandsworth Road, London SW8 2LG
Thursday 21 May, 7.30pm

The bar at Brunswick House Café will be open before and after the concert for the enjoyment of guests.

Tickets https://billetto.co.uk/en/events/notesnotes-with-glenn-kesby

Brunswick House is a magnificent Georgian mansion in the heart of the sparkling new developments around Vauxhall station and Nine Elms.  Part of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Company, it is home to an eclectic collection of antiques and salvaged curiosities, and is one of London’s most unique and beautiful venues.

The Saloon at LASSCo Brunswick House

 

Recollections of Richter – part 2

When I was a child my father had in his LP collection a Schubert album with Richer on Monitor Records. That was one of the very few record labels that was offering artists from the then USSR to the West. During the height of the ‘Cold War’ it was a very esoteric thing to have. I remember the fast movements were so exciting and electrifying. Being a young person, with a young person’s taste, I would ignore all the wonderful slow movements. (PU)

One of my top 5! But he was a very scary man when he was doing our assessments in Moscow. Gilels on the other hand was a pussy cat! I recall his recital in Warsaw……when he arrived late  (weather conditions in Moscow and Warsaw) and went straight on the stage, and after an incredible recital played Prokofieff’s 9th Sonata again, this time as an encore!! What more can one say about that?! (AF)

I have a huge stash of Richter recordings, along with video, and both Monsaingeon’s documentary and the book based on it. I have to say, I don’t always agree with his choices or artistic decisions, but I always learn something new listening to them. I know I’m not alone in that view. There really aren’t many musicians one could say that of,  don’t you think? (JG)

 

I have always admired Sviatoslav Richter since the time I was a little boy and learned how to pronounce Sviatoslav! (PC)

 

Richter was the reason I became a musician. My father heard Richter many times in Budapest in his prime in the 1960s. The concerts were without announced programs–he announced the selections from the stage. People thronged to get tickets. My father came back with such stories of Richter’s aura and magnetism: “he had only to walk on stage for the electricity to happen.” These impressions brought me to the piano… (ZB)

He was a risk-taker: there are very few players on the international circuit today who would be prepared to do what Richter did…. He was truly a musical polymath (FW)

…there will never be another pianist like him in my view….a true philosopher of the piano, although even that does not do him full justice… I was lucky enough to see him in live performance almost 25 times and each concert remains indelibly imprinted in my memory. Such a mercurial, ‘bel canto’ touch, such thunderous power combined with the most delicate phrasing and infinite shades of colour. One was always surprised in his concerts and it always felt like one was hearing the piece for the first time…that global, birds-eye view of the work….one felt one was being taken by the hand and led along a path of discovery…it really felt like that…I will take those memories with me to my grave… (LL)

I know he never had a thirst for fame, narcissism……On the contrary, he was constantly dissatisfied with himself, and, sometimes when he come back home after the success of a concert, he could spend all night at the piano, in order to achieve the desired sound. He was a great worker like Mozart, like all geniuses. He was always moving from internal to external, that is his interpretation of music first born inside him, and after this he begin to embody it into performance. I think this is the true path of art 

 

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these Recollections of Richter posts. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #Richter100 – and please feel free to add further reminiscences, sound and video clips, photographs and more.

Richter playing his favourite Schubert sonata:

 

 

 

Recollections of Richter – part 1

On the centenary of the birth of Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter, I am delighted to present a series of recollections from pianist friends and colleagues, readers of this blog, those who met and knew Richter, and many others around the world.

The internet has proved a fantastic resource for sharing favourite recordings, video clips, quotations, ephemera and reminiscences of Richter. Thank you to everyone who has contributed. To join in the centenary celebrations on Twitter, please use the hashtag #richter100.

His personality was greater than the possibilities offered to him by the piano, broader than the very concept of complete mastery of the instrument.
Pierre Boulez

He doesn’t hurry the first section, which creates a great tension with the string melody, and also the tonal colours he uses to bring out the inner voices in each movement. Definitely a most melodic Rach 2 (DR)

Richter’s 1958 Sofia Recital consists of (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest recordings of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (ML)

This man, along with Glenn Gould, has changed the way I listen to the music.
( “Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto n°2″ – Sviatoslav Richter & Warsaw Philarmonic Orchestra – DGG) (RU)

Richter’s Prokofiev performances in general, the 8th Sonata in particular. He plays as one who has lived through the bleak circumstances during which it was written. For me it is the combination of incredible control and restraint on the one hand and sheer bolshiness on the other that makes his playing so intoxicating. (PL)

His 1960 Moscow ‘Appassionata’ is my favorite recording of that work, which is arguably one of the most important works in the whole repertoire. The energy, speed, tonal range at the most explosive passages and general theatrical effect makes it one of a kind to me. And let’s not forget it is a live performance (like most of his recordings). There are other similar best-in-world achievements that combine athleticism with emotional expression, but always with moderation, refined taste and discipline, like Schubert’s ‘Wanderer’, Dvorak’s Concerto. In summary I would say that his performances in whatever genre was almost always world-class, which cannot be said of many other pianists, which, in combination with perhaps the biggest repertoire ever, creates an almost endless oeuvre for listeners to enjoy the whole life. (JN)
 
I have been in awe of Richter since my student days. His live recording of the ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ has got to be the most staggering performance in the history of the medium. I would be quite happy to have one percent of his interpretive skills. (RI)
Apparently he hated testing pianos – that scary business when you go in to a piano showroom and everyone seems to be playing Liszt from memory and you can barely remember a C major cord – when proffered a test Steinway, he’d poke one note and then back off, looking startled. (RE)
The greatest pianist I ever heard. Why? Because of his fierce commitment, artistic integrity and sound. Even when at his most seemingly ‘perverse’ (Schubert tempi for example) he took you on the most unbelievable musical journeys. Shook hands with him once after a recital in Cheltenham and we spoke in German. Youngsters these days have no idea of the thoroughness of a training he enjoyed….playing on lousy upright pianos in freezing weather on the back of troop carriers in the war. He was largely indifferent to pianos though he displayed a curious penchant for Yamahas in the last decade or so of his life but generally he just played whatever was in front of him. I heard him, I suppose at his best from the mid-60’s on. A transcendental artist, and the film ‘The Enigma’ is essential viewing for anyone interested not just in him but in pianism generally. Not the man for all men though – Brendel told me that when he was listening to SR playing Schubert’s G major sonata live (on radio) from the Royal Festival Hall he wanted to hurl the radio through the window. This probably tells us more about Brendel than Richter. Essential viewing also – Richter’s performance with Rostropovich of the complete Beethoven cello sonatas from the Edinburgh Festival – a hastily arranged, last-minute concert starting (I think) at midnight! Available on dvd. If I had to choose only one pianist’s recordings to take to my desert island it would be Richter. (JH)
I had a privilege having Slava as part of music upbringing through his many LPs, as I may humbly mention my mom has studied and gained her Masters with Heinrich Neuhaus in Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire in the 60s.

As I have studied with my mother, I was raised with Russian School, for which I feel humbled and honoured, as at its time had produced such an array of brilliant players, particularly mastering tone production and voicing.

Of course Slava was one of a kind, just as Heinrich described in every way and very often talked of his incredible artistry during his classes.

I may be wrong, but I personally find his Brahms Concerto No. 2, Franck Prelude Chorale and Fugue and many of Liszt, Schubert, Beethoven, Rachmaninov and Chopin absolutely mercurial and I may imagine, awesome to behold. (DG)

Richter! Takes you by the hand and leads you where only he knows…. (AM)
…the unique atmosphere of a Richter concert. The audience in darkness, the imposing profile, the solidity of the sound, the savage beauty of the interpretation…truly a cataclysmic event, quite outside the usual parameters of the ‘piano recital’ (JL)

I first heard him at the end of my first term at the RCM. Dec 7th 1970. Sat on the platform about 5 yds from the keyboard. The memory of that evening is still so strong. I had never before, and rarely since, witnessed such astonishing playing. Simply spell-binding. The power of Schubert D958 and the alarming speed of the finale was electrifying. Then wonderful Bartók and Szymanowski, and the concert ended with a breathtaking Prokofiev 7th Sonata. I wanted, in equal measure, to rush home and practice and to give up and never play again!

He could sometimes infuriate but at his best he was beyond compare. I feel privileged that I heard him live on many occasions but nothing matched up to that December evening in 1970. (CB)

It’s precisely Richter’s certainty, his integrity, the fact that music seems to speak with an Olympian objectivity at the same time as an impossible-sounding lyricism and sustained tone (listen to his extraordinarily slow yet convincing Schubert sonatas), without ever a shred of indulgence in virtuosity or sensuality for its own sake, that makes these performances definitively Richterian. That’s the point about his musicianship: its strength of conviction and imagination makes you believe when you’re listening to him that this really is the way the music has to go, that what you’re hearing truly is the fundamental core of these pieces.

(Tom Service, The Guardian – 10 of the best: Essential Richter recordings)

What Richter means to me

Guest post by A Piano Fan

I have no personal reminiscences of getting to hear Richter live or meet him. I don’t even remember how I “got into Richter,” when or where I first heard what, but he’s become my favorite pianist. What stands out to me about Richter’s pianism is the amazing combination of structural control and emotional conviction. From his ability to sustain the narrative of a 25-minute long Schubert sonata movement to his ability to impart so much motion into a flourish that it threatens to fly away – there is always something deeply impressive about his performances. I would say I really learned to appreciate piano performance through listening to him. Even in small details – such as the voicing of secondary lines in chords, as in this moment from Rachmaninoff’s Second Concerto: https://youtu.be/uT_ZhhQeudY?t=4m4s , or subtle pedalling in apparently simple music: https://youtu.be/POmD0N9WJ08?t=3m29s

Or in moments of complete apocalyptic piano destruction, as in the coda of his Chopin 4 ballade https://youtu.be/v9Dc2u7P1d4?t=32m35s . I also learned that the piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition is better than any orchestration: https://youtu.be/CitIXrkQfzo?t=26m23s

But what draws me most to his playing is the sense of depth and weight he imparted to so many pieces, as in the mystical adagio of the ‘Hammerklavier’, https://youtu.be/dlwK3IIT6jo?t=53m51s.  And the epic amounts of tension approaching a climax – as in the Liszt Sonata (https://youtu.be/2UFnqYT6DyU?t=3m58s now to me it sounds as though every other pianist rushes that passage). I came to appreciate long structures, even in those meditative, super-slow Schubert sonatas movements https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7_OW2__ZR0 I have no idea know how I used to listen to the piano performance, but Richter transformed my ears – and in such a wide variety of repertoire! These are a just few of the reasons why I consider him the greatest pianist of the 20th century.

Meet the Artist……David Barton, composer

DSC_00032Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

In some ways, I feel I’ve always been a composer. When I started piano lessons age six and had my first keyboard, I was far more interested in making up my own tunes than I was practising the ones the teacher gave me. My piano teacher was very willing though, and more than happy to try and notate my early efforts as a composer! One of the things I’ve always been very comfortable doing is improvising and inevitably, that’s where a composition begins. I think there are really two reasons for this: one is that I started accompanying pretty early on; as far back as the top of the junior school I was able to accompany singers and instrumentalists, and as any accompanist knows, the ability to cover a gap, invent an introduction or rescue the soloist is hugely valuable. Secondly, and really following on from this, at the age of 14, I took on the role of church organist, a role which I filled for 12 years. It was at this point where composing became a bit more important as I felt increasingly confident in writing pieces for the groups and ensembles I was working with.

I continued to develop my composing while I was at school, and I was lucky to have music teachers who encouraged and valued this skill (a skill which it seems to me is so-often seen as second rate to performing). I think the pinnacle of this came when in the Upper 6th I was asked to compose the anthem for the school’s Founders’ Day service. I set a text by Ronnie Wilson titled ‘The Time We Have is Precious’ and it was sung by the school choir in Gloucester Cathedral in July 2002. As for composing becoming a career, I guess this was when I first thought about submitting my compositions to publishers. I knew these pieces worked with the individuals and groups I’d composed them for, and I guess I was curious to see whether publishers would feel the same. I think I had my first pieces, Five Fanfares (Fagus Music) accepted in 2004, and as they say, the rest is history!

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

It’s hard to get away from being influenced by the music we enjoy listening to and playing. Several people have commented over the years that my writing is very ‘English’; not particularly surprising to me as I listen and enjoy an awful lot of English music: it’s part of who I am and it seems natural that it should influence my writing as a composer. Secondly, I think we’re heavily influenced by the musical activities we’ve been and are involved in. My experience has generally been working with amateur ensembles and choirs, often with very limited resources; my teaching also influences what I compose as it gives me an insight into the educational value and appeal of the music I write.

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

I guess the greatest challenge is persuading people that your music is worth trying. Many of the schemes for composers and indeed the emphases in university courses has been to write ‘new music’. This ‘new music’ is, I guess, the music which the BBC commissions for the Proms and leaves out of it is television broadcasts in favour of the ‘classics’. I have, on more than one occasion joked that if I wrote a concerto for empty wheelie bin and silent cymbals, it would be performed and lauded everywhere! I’m not really sure what this ‘new music’ is we’re supposed to write, but I know that the music I write is ‘me’. That’s not to say my compositional style doesn’t change and develop, but it’s still essentially ‘me’: possibly one of the greatest challenges is therefore staying true to oneself? The music I write is, shall we say, pretty conventional? Over the last 10 years, I found in particular that the UK is very conservative in trying things by lesser-known composers; we seem to be very concerned by the composer’s ‘name’ in the UK. Publishers have their ‘house’ composers, something which is not so much the case in the USA where they’re very much more concerned with what you write rather than who you are. This is possibly why the majority of my music is published overseas.

I think that there is huge potential in the internet and social media to get music out there and known, but I also think it has its disadvantages. It’s easy for people to ‘Like’ or ‘Retweet’ your music, but it’s another thing to actually put your money where your mouth is and buy it.

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

There is always a balance to be struck between accessibility and challenge. As I say, I have worked almost exclusively with ‘amateurs’ and I think the music I write reflects that. That, of course, doesn’t mean the music has been dull or boring, but it does have to take into account the skills and abilities of particular groups and individuals. I want performers to enjoy the challenge of learning something new, but I would never want them to lose sight of the act of enjoying making music. Too many challenges in a piece then you’re in danger of being on the wrong side of that line.

Which works are you most proud of? 

Gosh, that’s very difficult to answer! In some ways, I’m proud of them all because they all start from nothing. There are plenty of ideas and melodies which never go anywhere, so finishing a piece is hugely satisfying. I guess we can be proud of pieces for different reason: I’m proud of A Celtic Blessing (GIA Publications, Inc.) not only because it has sold well over 3,000 copies, but because several recordings have also appeared on YouTube (all from the US). It’s lovely to see that something you’ve written is being enjoyed and, more importantly, used. I’m proud of my solo for flute and piano Imagination (David Barton Music) because it was the first piece which generated a PRS royalty! Maybe I’m even more proud of the performers who are willing to give my music a fair hearing?

Who are your favourite composers?

I’ve always enjoyed a hugely diverse range of composers; Walton, Britten, Vaughan Williams, Bax, Moeran, Holst, Howells and Stanford all spring immediately to mind. I’ve always enjoyed early music: Byrd, Tallis, Victoria, Josquin and Penalosa. There’s the tunefully enjoyable Gilbert & Sullivan, and I’ve also a huge respect for light music composers and arrangers: Farnon, Tomlinson, Binge and Morley.

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

I know it sounds so simple, but people should listen to more music. I recently catalogued my CD collection: there are over 6,500 individual tracks…that’s a lot of listening. I am always discovering new music. So often, I’ll hear something on BBC Radio 3 or Classic FM and I’ll be off to buy it straight away. I think, alongside that, always being open to unfamiliar music. I think I’ve always been far more interested in individual pieces than a composer’s entire output, so there aren’t really any composers I ‘don’t like’; amongst their output, there are nearly always a few pieces which I do enjoy.

Secondly, and I’ve mentioned it already, staying true to yourself is important. When you compose, like any creative act, you have to give a bit of your inner-self; your compositions take on some of your identity. By all means push the boundaries and challenge conventions, but don’t try to be something you’re not.

Advice for aspiring composers? I think, above all, compose. Sounds ridiculous, but get composing. I think you need to be composing on a regular basis, and where possible, getting feedback on your writing. Don’t just write because you need to produce an A-Level composition; write because you enjoy writing. I have come across students in the past who want to study composition at university, but have only written four compositions: two for GCSE, one for AS Level and one for A-Level. Also, don’t spend so long planning for and dreaming about the next piece that you never get round to writing it. Getting started is the hardest part (the second hardest part is thinking up a title for your piece, but that’s another story…) Start by writing things for people you know or groups you have a link with.

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

Interesting question! I don’t know many composers who are in it for the money, so in 10 years’ time, making more money from composing would probably be a bonus! I think that above all, I hope I’m still doing and enjoying doing what I do now. I get an enormous amount of pleasure and satisfaction from composing, and I hope those to do buy and perform my music enjoy it too.

 

David was born in Winchester in 1983, and has been at the helm of award-winning David Barton Music since 2001. He combines a busy portfolio of teaching, accompanying and composing both from his base in Lichfield, and across the UK.

He was educated at The Crypt Grammar School, Gloucester, where he won prizes for both music and drama. He took a leading role in all the school’s musical activities including choirs, orchestras and chamber ensembles. He also played a significant part in the school’s productions including as musical director for Cinderella and Bugsy Malone. Whilst at the school, he continued his instrumental studies as a pianist, flautist and singer; he also gained the skills and confidence to be an effective accompanist. Whilst at the school he also learnt the organ, and in the latter years, led the music at the school’s assemblies. In November 1998 he played 2nd flute in Malcolm Arnold’s Little Suite No. 2 under Sir Simon Rattle as part of the World’s Largest Orchestra at the National Indoor Arena in Birmingham.

David Barton Music was established during David’s last couple of years at school, and since leaving, he has developed a successful career as a teacher, composer and accompanist. He graduated with a BA(Hons) Open Degree in 2008, and a MEd in 2010, both with The Open University. He also holds the DipABRSM in Piano Teaching and the CertGSMD(T) in Flute Teaching. He was one of the first students to graduate on the Royal School of Church Music’s DipRSCM in Sacred Music Studies course. As a composer, he holds the LLCM and ALCM diplomas from the London College of Music. He is currently reading for a PhD in Music Education at the Institute of Education, University of London.

David has over 100 compositions and arrangements published in the UK, USA and Canada, and thousands of copies of his music have been sold worldwide. These include works for solo voice, choir, organ, woodwind, orchestra and chamber ensembles. Regular performances, particularly of choral works, take place especially in the USA. Publishers include several major companies including GIA Publications, Inc., Spartan Press (Phylloscopus Publications) and Augsburg Fortress. David also typesets and publishes a number of pieces under the David Barton Music umbrella, and these are sold direct via his website.

David writes in a variety of styles, but mainly classical. His music is designed to be tuneful, generally easy-on-the-ear and accessible to a wide range of ensembles, particularly those with limited resources. A number of works have received favourable reviews in Church Music Quarterly, Clarinet & Saxophone Magazine, and Pan Magazine. In 2011, his setting of A Celtic Blessing was selected as one of the prestigious JW Pepper ‘Editor’s Choice’ for that year.

More about David and his music and teaching on his website