Category Archives: General

Meet the Artist……Samantha Ward, pianist

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

My mother was the first major influence in my pianistic life as she saw me fiddling away on our terrible upright piano at home (which had actually been sitting in flood water in a freezing cold garage!) and decided to take me to lessons.  Her idea of taking piano lessons for a term to see how I would take to it was something I wasn’t all that enthralled about and I was convinced I wanted to learn the ‘cello instead.  The rest is history!  Later on, I was inspired by such artists as Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Emil Gilels and many others.

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

I was lucky enough to have fantastic teachers throughout my early years in particular (Leslie Riskowitz who started me off on the piano and Polish pianist AlicjaFiderkiewicz at Chetham’s.  I then went onto study with Joan Havill at the Guildhall).  The people I work with are also wonderful influences, in both chamber music groups and those who I have met and played to in masterclasses.  Stephen Kovacevich and Boris Berman both inspired me immensely.

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

Balancing everything in life and finding enough time to be with the instrument as well as remaining resilient against the odds a lot of the time.  A pianist’s life is a tough but rewarding one and simply managing to find the necessary time to practise enough whilst financing life in London and building a career is a real challenge.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble? 

I find it extremely rewarding to work with orchestras and ensembles and as a pianist, there are so many wonderful concerti and chamber music works out there.  It is a truly great feeling to make music with someone else and to share the whole experience together on stage.  This is something which solo pianists can sometimes miss out on a little, generally needing to spend a lot of time alone in practice rooms to learn all those notes!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I was lucky enough to give my solo debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in 2007 and this was a truly wonderful experience.  Last year, I performed Dora Bright’s piano concerto with Charles Peebles and the Morley Chamber Orchestra, which was the first performance since the nineteenth century as well as the first ever recording of the work.  The same will be true of the ‘Variations for Piano and Orchestra’ which we are going to be recording later this year.  I was also proud to be asked to record Rory Freckleton’s piano works recently and am looking forward to the CD being ready.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season? 

Specific concerti are usually requested by orchestras but in terms of solo repertoire, I tend to play to my strengths as much as possible, whilst trying to create a balanced and varied programme.  At the current stage in my career, I am also trying to learn and perform as much new repertoire as possible, so that I come back to it having already learnt it rather than starting it afresh when I am older.

What repertoire do you think you play best? 

I feel most at home with the Germans!  I particularly enjoy playing Brahms and love the bigger works such as the F minor Sonata and the two concerti.  I also think Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Gershwin and Ireland suit me quite well.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

The Wigmore Hall would have to be my favourite!  I also very much enjoy performing at Edinburgh’s Reid Concert Hall, the De Montfort Hall in Leicester and at St John’s Smith Square in London.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Well this is a very hard one to answer as there are so many!  To name but a few, I would have to say Mischa Maisky, Martha Argerich, David Oistrakh, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Emma Kirkby and Daniel Barenboim.    On a more personal level, there are also many musicians with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It would have to be playing at the Wigmore Hall. I also loved playing on the Greek island of Paros.  I played the inaugural recital in the new piano festival which was launched there a few years ago.  It was amazing to perform in such an idyllic setting in the most beautiful surroundings to people who had rarely been exposed to live classical music concerts.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to? 

I love playing Brahms and Beethoven in particular and also have fun playing Gershwin.  In terms of listening to music, unless I am going to a concert, I tend not to listen to all that much classical music.  I love jazz and could listen to Oscar Peterson all day.

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

Practise like mad when you are studying as there is never the time to do so later on.  I would also suggest learning all the major works of the repertoire and get first performances done as soon as possible, as this helps greatly when returning to them in the future.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Rachmaninoff’s 2nd and Mendelssohn’s 1st for forthcoming performances.  Then a solo recording in September.  Also, I am working at duo repertoire for a recital with the wonderful ‘cellist Brian O’Kane and at trio repertoire for a concert again with Brian and Fenella Humphreys with whom I love performing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Having good health, a busy life as a concert pianist and having a flat on the Greek island of Paros with my partner, Maciej.  The island, despite being small, has an airport so travelling to concerts wouldn’t be a problem and the food, weather and people are wonderful there!

You are artistic director of Piano Week, launched in 2013. Tell us more about Piano Week…. 

Piano Week is my new festival and summer school for pianists of all ages and abilities which takes place this year at Bangor University in North Wales from 10th-15th August 2014.  I wanted to create something new in the piano world and to build an international concert platform for pianists from around the world.  I decided to launch it in North Wales as I grew up there and hadn’t heard of a pianistic venture such as this in the area before, so I decided to make it happen!  We have an international faculty lined up to give recitals and master classes throughout the 2014 festival and we are lucky enough to be supported by Blüthner who are lending us a brand new concert grand for the duration of the festival this year.  Pianist magazine recently included an article about the festival in their April/May issue and Schott Music publishers will once again be presenting a showcase at Piano Week 2014.  Please go to www.pianoweek.com for more information on the summer school and how to apply.

British pianist Samantha Ward has performed extensively around the UK and in Europe and has appeared on British television and radio several times.  In October 2007, she gave her solo debut recital at London’s Wigmore Hall and has given solo recitals in such venues as St Martin in the Fields, St John’s Smith Square, St David’s Hall Cardiff and Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, as well as in concert halls around Europe.  Most recently, in February 2013, Samantha was invited to become a Bluthner Artist and was installed as a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. 

Samantha Ward is also the artistic director of Piano Week, a festival and summer school at the University of Bangor, north Wales. Full details here  

Samantha Ward’s full biography 

www.samanthaward.org

www.pianoweek.com

 

At the Piano with Mark Polishook

What is your first memory of the piano?

My piano journey began more or less when I was 3 or 4 years old. Movers brought a 1932 5’3” Chickering baby grand to our house. It was a gift from my grandparents.

That piano eventually travelled with me from one coast to another in America, which is where I’m from. It came with me when I arrived in the UK 4 years ago.

Last summer I acquired a new Steingraeber Phoenix 205. It’s an amazing instrument. I looked at a lot of pianos in the UK and America  before I selected it. Some of them were very good but none of them had the special, personal “this is the one – this one is it” kind of feeling I was looking for. When I finally met the 205 at Hurstwood Farm Pianos in Surrey it did seem like the one. It’s definitely reaffirmed that to me since arriving in my house.

There are more than a few fascinating lessons I learned looking for a piano which I’ve written up on my blog. Meanwhile, the Chickering has moved to my neighbour’s house for new and more family adventures.

Who was your first teacher and what do you recall about your early days of learning about the piano?

My first teacher was a very nice woman in our town in New Jersey. But after not all that long I mostly taught myself. I wasn’t systematic or organised in what I learned. It was mostly the Chickering was in the house and I’d play by ear.

From the beginning I had an affinity for jazz. I don’t know why or from where or how because I remember hearing Liberace and Victor Borge but not jazz. I also recall trying to pick out bits of the ‘Rite of Spring’ after hearing a recording of it. But picking out tiny bits of the ‘Rite of Spring’ was about all I could do.

Do you remember what you liked to play?

The Joy of Boogie and Blues’ was the book that had my interest. When I played the pieces in it with the right spin they sounded like boogie and blues. But I hadn’t yet heard real boogie boogie such as Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson used to play. And I didn’t know about New-Orleans-style piano playing even though ‘The Joy of Boogie and Blues’ had pieces in that genre. And of course I didn’t know of the great jazz pianists like Art Tatum, Bud Powell, and Bill Evans.

My parents and neighbours used to say I had a “nice touch” when I played boogie-woogie-type things. That phrase resonated with me. I could feel what it meant in my hands. And I could hear how that feeling translated into sound.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

While working towards a PhD in composition at the University of Pittsburgh I taught courses in basic theory and musicianship, jazz history, class piano, and a seminar on Mozart. Teaching was part of what PhdD students did while working towards the degree. So that’s where I began with students and learning about teaching and how to do it – and finding that I really liked it.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

The important teacher who fastened my wheels to the track was Floyd “Floogie” Williams. I met Floyd in the second semester of my first year at university which was mid-1970s. He had recently moved to the area from New York City where he had been a drummer and a percussionist in jazz and studio worlds.

Learning with Floyd was immersion all things musical. I couldn’t possibly have had a better teacher. He had experience in the world I wanted to enter. Essentially he put one on the path towards that world.

Lessons with Floyd always included stories and more stories, all them colourful, about how this or that musician practiced and learned. And there was always an important point that came out of it all. With the piano Floyd boiled it down to one essential: Practice and practice some more.

What he meant was put in time and effort. Serious time and effort – as a method it was brute-force “put-your-back-into-it.” I spent virtually every hour of the day playing Bach, and Chopin, Beethoven, and Oscar Peterson piano transcriptions or picking excerpts out of the Dover editions of scores.

Another big lesson from Floyd was to the importance of being around great pianists – to see and hear firsthand how the did what they did. So Floyd arranged for me to visit to New York City to meet John Lewis, who had who played with Charlie Parker and later formed the Modern Jazz Quartet. A few months later Floyd sent me to New York City again. This time for lessons with Jaki Byard.

Jaki is among the great pianists and teachers in jazz. He played like a one-man jazz repertory orchestra, always with allusions to different pianists and styles, all of which he juxtaposed with wit and great humour.

So for example Jaki’s left hand might play in a stride piano style. But his right hand would play over it in very free bebop style – and perhaps in a different key. But the thing was, no matter what Jaki played he sounded uniquely like Jaki and never like he imitating something. Jaki was postmodern long before postmodernism was a style.

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

At New England Conservatory I continued studying with Jaki and then I switched over to William Thomas McKinley who’s a composer and a jazz pianist. Whereas Jaki’s approach to the piano was based on play, play, and play Tom’s way – because  he was a composer – was write, write, write. So I wrote excerpts and examples – I filled notebook after notebook – of what I wanted to improvise.

I also took lessons outside of NEC from Charlie Banacos who had his own fascinating teaching niche. Charlie was a great jazz pianist but he gave up performing to focus exclusively on teaching. And he was well-known as a teacher – as perhaps “the teacher. All his students first went through his two-year waiting list before lessons began. Many of Charlie’s students went on to play with fabulous jazz musicians. And Miles Davis said he wanted to study with Charlie!

Most of what Charlie taught was simple in concept – for example transcribe a McCoy Tyner solo. But to do that required a lot of focused work with a tape recorder. Once the solo was transcribed, the next step was to play it at speed.

With Charlie simplicity of concept definitely wasn’t the same as ease of execution. Some  of the “simple stuff” Charlie showed me a long time ago is still among what I practice now.

The big picture I synthesised from all of that which is right at the centre of how I teach is “Experiment: cast the net freely and widely.” In other words explore, explore, explore – as Robert Frost said very well:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

I moved to New York City in the early 1980s after New England Conservatory and Boston. New York was exhilarating because it was populated to beyond bursting with fabulously-skilled musicians. If there’s a genre or a style of music anywhere in the world someone in New York is exploring and playing it at some unbelievably high level. Probably along with an entire community of equally-skilled practitioners.

After several years of freelancing there and all sorts of gigs I completed a Masters’ degree in Jazz Piano at the Manhattan School of Music. One of the classes I took there was an introduction to composition. The solo piano piece I wrote for it – along with Tom McKinley’s prescriptions to write, write, write – launched me on to composing.

So I went from the Manhattan School of Music to the University of Pittsburgh for PhD studies in composition and theory. But at the time – mid-1980s – composition there was focused narrowly on serialism through the lens and teaching of Milton Babbitt. Which wasn’t uncommon at that time. But it wasn’t the direction the interested me so I moved on to the Hartt School of Music where there was more plurality of approach and style. That’s where I completed the doctorate.

Beginning in the 1990s I taught composition, music technology, and jazz piano at the University of Maine at Augusta. From there I went to Central Washington University where I directed the music composition and theory programs. During that period I had short and long-term residencies in the United States and Europe – at the Crakow Academy of Music, STEIM in Amsterdam, the Banff Centre in Canada, and the University of California Santa Barbara, among others. And I was always playing jazz.

How do you teach?

Everyone comes to the piano and improvisation with their own interests, strengths, and abilities. So how I teach depends on the interests and experiences my students bring with them. It’s very much based on what they want to learn.

I’d say what I do as a teacher is help students acquire a musical voice. That means on the one hand exploring what, why, and how we do music- and piano-related things. And being creative with whatever comes back from those questions. On the other hand it’s about building as much technique as we can to support creativity. Creativity and technique are the two sides on the same coin.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

I’m keen on teaching improvisation through Skype to students around the world. What’s amazing to me about Skype is it works without getting in the way. So looking into my studio from a distance literally means looking through Skype.

For me, there’s magic and the miraculous in working with students who literally are all around the world. Because with Skype connections to distant places don’t feel distant.

From time to time I’ll think “Well we’re working together in realtime but there’s a 12-hour time difference between us.” Which to me is mind boggling. I’ve had some improvised, interesting two-piano duets with students on Skype.

I’d say what Skype brings out is it’s the creativity and enthusiasm we bring to the learning process that counts. Which is the same for everyone really – without or with Skype. Creativity and enthusiasm are essential.

The biggest challenge with Skype has been managing clock shifts and timezones around the world. So, for example, I’ve since learned some countries – Iran is one and I have a fantastic student there – set their clocks to the half-hour rather than to the hour.

What do you expect from your students?

The first thing I teach is relaxation helps improvisation and playing the piano enormously. Because when we’re relaxed it’s easier to play and make music.

But after that expectations can easily become “it-has-to-be-this-way” or “it-has-to-be-that-way.” If we can reduce “it-has-to-be-this” to as few instances as possible we’re that much closer to relaxation where music and everything can seem easy. So removing expectations is about learning to play and practice in the moment with the skills we have instead the skills we wish we had.

A different example of a removable expectation is the idea that knowledge of theory – scales and chords  – precedes meaningful improvisation. The reality is thinking about theory when improvising is about as helpful as applying theory to playing anything.

Of course later or sooner theory is among the great extra stuff that broadens and deepens how we play. But as a prerequisite to improvisation – and particularly for students who come to improvisation with technique already – it’s not the start point.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

I’m mostly interested in the quality of experience of the individual – instead of the quantity of quality competition judges have to quantify. The thing is, quality of experience doesn’t depend on prescribed skill levels. A different way to say that is I’m focused on processes of music-making – because experience is process.

On the other hand I competed in the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition which is the huge international one of the jazz world. I was a finalist in the the Great American Jazz Piano Competition. My Robots-in-Residence installation which I built in Denmark was a prize-winner in a competition in France. I learned a lot by being in those events and I’m glad I had those experiences.

And many pianists know competitions and such to be exactly what they want to enter into. In that case of course I’m happy to assist and support. But to the question of “are competitions and such things fundamentally part of learning to play an instrument?” my opinion is, no, they’re not.

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

Being in the moment with the music we’re making. Focusing on right now. To do that we have to relax. Which isn’t a question of “Are we relaxed? Yes or no?” It’s that relaxation is a continuum. Which means we can always bring it to deeper and deeper levels.

Also important is listening to the sound that comes from the piano. Listening to how the piano resonates. How it projects. One way forward with this  play and listen to single, sustained notes – long tones at the piano.

It’s like magic but ears and mind usually then go right to the moment – because they’re listening to the attack, sustain, and decay of each note and then each note after that.

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

We all deal with it in one way or another. I wish I knew how to banish it once and forever. But the reality probably is that’s just part of music making and not really all that unusual.

My approach is to work with it in small increments – instead of looking to conquer or suppress it once and for all. Small increments could mean learning to use specific relaxation techniques of which breathing is one of them.

Breathing meaning focusing on and recognising the importance of breath while we’re at the piano. And of course listening to the sound of the piano. Focusing on sound as it floats out of the piano. The more we focus on breath and sound the more we go to those worlds and then on to relaxation and the moment of “right now.”

Differentiating between “practice” and “performance” mode can be helpful. Practice mode is about working out details and looking to improve “this thing” or “that thing” or both things or all things. It’s intentionally focused to things such as “play these notes” or “perform that passage softly.”

Performance mode on the other hand doesn’t require analytic thinking. It doesn’t require that we try to do something better today than yesterday. It’s sitting down at the piano and being in the moment: Comfortable, and relaxed with the music we make, the sound we hear, the ability we have. Then “letting” everything flow together into a performance. Instead of “making” it flow together into the performance.

Are there any books you’d recommend to pianists or musicians or anyone interested in improvising?

The book for the desert island, assuming the piano’s already been delivered, is The Listening Book: Discovering Your Own Music by W.A. Mathieu. It has listening exercises and philosophy for everyone at every level of ability and experience.

How can we contact you?

My Mark Polishook Studio website is a blog about improvising, jazz, and all things of interest to pianists. My email address is mark@polishookstudio.com.

Dr. Mark Polishook, a pianist, composer, and music technologist, teaches improvisation in his studio in Leicester and on the internet through Skype. Among his compositions is Seed of Sarah, an electronic chamber opera that was made into a film seen across North America, Europe, and Australia. As a jazz pianist Dr. Polishook has performed with many eminent artists. 

To the experimental side of sound art Dr. Polishook has worked with graphics tablets, robots, and open-source software. His Robots-in-Residence installation which he created in Denmark was a prize winner in the 2004 International Bourges Electro-acoustic Music Competition in France. 

Dr. Polishook directed the music composition and theory programs at Central Washington University. He’s been a professor of jazz piano at the University of Maine at Augusta and a Senior Fulbright Lecturer at the Crakow Academy of Music in Poland. Dr. Polishook has been a resident artist in the Aarhus Computer Science Department, at STEIM in Amsterdam and at CREATE at the University of California Santa Barbara. 

He has a DMA in Music Composition from the Hartt School of Music, a masters’ degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and the Manhattan School of Music. His undergraduate degree is from the New England Conservatory of Music.

Masterclasses without tears

masterclass

ˈmɑːstəklɑːs

noun

noun: masterclass; plural noun: masterclasses; noun: master-class; plural noun: master-classes

1.

a class, especially in music, given by an expert to highly talented students.

The word “masterclass” can, for some, conjure up a terrifying scenario: the private lesson in public, with a formidable “master” teacher and a student quaking at the keyboard, their every error and slip heard and duly noted by teacher and audience. I remember watching music masterclasses on BBC Two in the 1970s (in the good old days when BBC Two broadcast such edifying and instructive arts programmes), with eminent musicians and teachers such as Daniel Barenboim and Paul Tortelier. It seemed to my junior piano student self a most nerve-wracking experience and certainly one to which I would not wish to submit.

Fast-forward thirty odd years and I’m now a mature piano student and teacher of piano. For me, the masterclass seems one of the most normal and beneficial ways of learning, providing as it does not just a lesson with a fine teacher but also a forum for critique by others and the exchange of ideas and discussion about aspects such as technique, interpretation, presentation and performance practice. It is this element of interaction with other pianists and active listeners/participants that makes the masterclass scenario quite different from the private lesson.

For students in conservatoire and specialist music schools, the masterclass is an every day form of learning, and for the teacher it is a way of sharing and passing on information to a group. A skilled teacher will ensure that all the participants in the class feel included, not just when they play, but also when others play, encouraging comments and discussion on what they have heard. A good teacher will also make sure negative comments are delivered in the kindest and most constructive way, so that participants feel supported and encouraged.

At many of the courses for adult amateur pianists in the UK and beyond, the masterclass is also a popular form of learning and teaching. Some of these classes are called “workshops” to make them sound more friendly, but in reality they are nearly always a group of c10 pianists, seated around the piano, eagerly absorbing wisdom from the teacher.

 My own teacher’s weekend courses are organised in the form of masterclasses, usually with 8 or 9 participants, which allows everyone the chance to play at least once a day. I admit that the first time I participated in one of these courses, I found the experience very daunting. By the end of the first day, I had decided everyone was far better than I! But by the end of the weekend, I had gained a huge amount from it, and I now look forward to such classes with relish.

Masterclasses are not just for advanced pianists either. The format is applicable to students of all levels and early students, and children, can benefit from observing a teacher working with another student on advanced repertoire, and vice versa. Seemingly complex aspects of technique can usually be reframed to suit early/intermediate students, and sometimes working on quite simple repertoire within a group can shed a new light on more difficult music.

 It is also useful training for concert/competition performance and can be a huge help in learning how to manage anxiety.

Watching a masterclass is a window onto how hard the pianist works and an insight into the practice of practising. Sometimes only fragments of a piece are worked over with the teacher, repeated, recast until a new, different or more exciting interpretation begins to emerge. Observing this process can be extremely exciting and enlightening, and for the masterclass participant, the instant feedback one receives from the teacher and other participants can be highly rewarding, often producing interesting and unexpected breakthroughs.

The London Piano Meetup Group, of which I am co-organiser, runs regular masterclasses with eminent teachers in central London locations. The next class is on Friday 25th April at the October Gallery, Bloomsbury, with pianist Ernest So. Further details here

London Masterclasses – now in its 26th year, London Masterclasses offerpublic masterclasses with leading performers working with advanced classical music students and young professionals before audiences in major London venues. Further information about the 2014 courses and tutors here

More on summer schools and courses for pianists.

A BBC masterclass with pianist David Owen Norris, which I attended as an observer:

 

‘Darkness & Light’ at the Royal Festival Hall

For the past three weeks, a very special celebration has been taking place at the Royal Festival Hall, on London’s Southbank. The focus on this celebration is a huge structure of wood, metal, pipes, stops, pedals and keys: it is the Festival Hall’s great organ.

The organ was first heard on 24th March 1954. Days before the opening of the then almost brand new Royal Festival Hall, the organ attracted some controversy in the pages of newspapers and music journals. Described as the “tax-payer’s organ” by the music critic of The Times, the organ was considered by some, in those frugal post-war years, to be unnecessarily extravagant. In 2005 the organ was removed from the hall as part of the refurbishment of the venue and one-third of it was reinstalled when the hall re-opened in 2007. Now, sixty years after its inauguration, the organ is restored to its full glory and can be heard and enjoyed once again.

Usually when one attends concerts at the Festival Hall, the organ is hidden away in its huge “wardrobe” behind the choir stalls, and if one didn’t know it was there, one might be none the wiser. As I tend to visit the Festival Hall only for piano recitals, where the focus is on the pianist seated at a gleaming full-size concert Steinway occupying the middle of the stage, it was therefore rather wonderful to enter the hall for a concert where the stage was completely bare.

This was the final concert in a series of events to celebrate the organ’s 60th birthday and its extensive restoration. Entitled ‘Darkness & Light’, the concert was a collaborative project between Belgian organist Bernard Fouccroulle and Australian video artist Lynette Wallworth who between them have created a programme which seeks to transcend the traditional organ recital by combining 350 years of organ music from Buxtehude to present day with a video installation. Displayed on twin giant screens hung before the organ, the installation presented images of Australian landscapes, the moon, clouds, trees, waters, train-lines and trains, factory smoke stacks, city panoramas, and birds. The project was named after Light and darkness (or “Hell und Dunkel”), a composition by the Russian composer Sofia Gubaidulina, which was included in the programme, and was part of a series of special commissions to celebrate the return of the organ to the Southbank Centre.

In talking about the project, Bernard Fouccroulle says, “In organ music, darkness and light can easily be associated with visual equivalents, but they also refer to obvious theological concepts. Our purpose was to invite the spectator to listen to this music in a new way, and to enrich the music with a visual counterpoint. I very much believe that organ music can be brought into a new life in our time.“ (source: http://www.forma.org.uk)

The programme was an absorbing and at times highly arresting and emotional mixture of music, from Toshio Hosokawa’s atmospheric opening ‘Cloudscape’ to the refined, processional elegance of two Buxtehude Chorale Preludes, and the ecstatic outpourings of Olivier Messiaen’s Messe de la Pentecôte. The entire range of the instrument was explored, offering some interesting insights into its versatility and sonic range. The works were presented in a continuous stream, uninterrupted by applause which made for a deeply involving musical experience. It was a pity that the images in the video installation seemed from the outset to be rather derivative and at times almost clichéd, and, to my mind, added little to the concert. Indeed, at times the images were overly distracting: music has a habit of conjuring very personal images and associations in the minds of the listeners, and to have such visual cues imposed upon one by someone else was not always totally convincing. See an extract from ‘Darkess & Light’ here:

That said, the concert was wonderful, the music extraordinary, profound and uplifting, and it was an absolute treat to hear the Royal Festival Hall organ in all its magnificence.

Happy Birthday, Meet the Artist

This weekend my Meet the Artist interview series is a tender two year old. From rather humble, shy beginnings – the inspiration for the series was an interview I did for Favourite Classical Composers and I started out by interviewing friends and colleagues – the series is now well-established, and features a varied range of musicians, composers and conductors, from internationally-renowned artists (Peter Donohoe, James MacMillan, Leon McCawley, Janina Fialkowska, Pascal Rogé, Rustem Hayroudinoff) to young and emerging artists just beginning to embark on their performing careers (Joy Lisney, Emmanuel Vass, Alex Woolf, Madelaine Jones). The series has put me in touch with a fantastic group of musicians, some of whom have become friends, many of whom I have been fortunate to meet and hear in concert, their interviews providing a wonderful introduction for post-concert and green room conversations.

Each interview is different, each artist offering their own particular insights into their musical life and career, with many fascinating, unexpected and sometimes amusing revelations, but some common threads do emerge, especially in response to the question “What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?”, to which almost every interviewee has replied “stay true to your musical self and don’t measure yourself by what others are doing”, or words to that effect. The importance of looking “beyond the notes” to enjoy a life enriched by art, literature, film, food, friends, travel, love and more is another common theme, and a reminder that musicians do not live in ivory towers, cut off from real life.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this series is seeing young artists develop: Joy Lisney, Alex Woolf, Emmanuel Vass and Nicholas McCarthy have all released debut recordings within the last two years. Meanwhile, established international artists such as French pianist François-Frédéric Guy has released the complete Beethoven Sonatas on nine discs, to accompany a wide-ranging concert tour with this repertoire.

Without the musicians, the series would be nothing, and so I must extend a huge thank you to everyone who has taken part in the series, and to those who have submitted interviews which are awaiting publication (currently, I have enough interviews to take the series to the autumn). Forthcoming interviews in the next few months include pianists Daniel Grimwood, Beth Levin, Jeffrey Biegel, , Daniel Grimwood, Joseph Houston, Samantha Ward, Jozef Kapustka, Inesa Sinkevych, Tom Poster and Zsolt Bognar; composers Lauren Redhead and Douglas Finch; baritone Paul Carey Jones; timpanist Tom Greenleaves; clarinettis Peter Cigleris; and guitarist Matthew Sear.

Links to all the interviews to date can be found on the Meet the Artist page.

Meet the Artist……John Irving, fortepianist

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

A relative had a battered old upright that she was getting rid of. My parents thought I showed some musical talent and saved the instrument from the breaker’s yard so I could have some piano lessons. It got me through Grade 6 before it fell to bits!

 

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

As a youngster, I have to say it was my school music teacher, who conducted the local choral society. He took me to a performance of Haydn’s Creation he was conducting one evening. When the big C major chord arrived (‘and there was LIGHT’) I was hooked forever! My parents were wonderfully supportive. Later, Denis Matthews was a strong influence, teaching me to look beyond the notes and certainly beyond piano music for an understanding of musical language. I’ll never forget one lesson where he simply played (from memory) huge chunks of Mozart string quartets at the piano, explaining how the music worked conversationally and how that should underpin my own playing at the keyboard. But of all the influences, the strongest has to be my wife, Jane (a clarinettist), who makes music speak in ways I could never have imagined possible.

You are a noted performer on harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano. When and how did your interest in early keyboard instruments develop? 

My main interest has always been in music of the ‘long’ eighteenth century, and there came a point when I realised that I simply couldn’t capture the sound I was seeking on a modern piano. The much lighter and articulate touch of clavichords, harpsichords and fortepianos suited my physical connection to this music far more effectively, and I made the decision to ‘emigrate’ from the modern piano. I’ve never looked back since. A strong inspiration has been Ronald Brautigam. His complete Beethoven piano cycle (recorded exclusively on pianos by Paul McNulty copied from originals by Stein, Walther and Graf) is in a league of its own. Partly, too, it’s the fascination I have with fine craftsmanship. It’s a great privilege to know some expert keyboard makers and restorers, and understanding the instruments from their perspective is something that crucially influences my approach to producing sound at the keyboard. There’s something deeply satisfying about the connection between the instrument and the way it can (through my physical actions) produce sound. Incidentally, I make no claims to ‘authenticity’ (a term those of us in the period instrument world never use anymore). I’m not ‘recreating the sound of Mozart’s sonatas as the composer intended’. How could we ever know that? I’m exploring sound possibilities that might be produced by instruments carefully and lovingly built using techniques and materials known in Mozart’s day. I also choose to play in ways that are informed by documentary evidence from his time (including his father’s very famous book on violin playing), rather than approaches that were developed a hundred years or more later and which were, willynilly, just imposed retrospectively on Mozart’s very different musical language.

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

It has to be achieving the balance between the academic and performing sides of my life. I worked for many years in the music department at Bristol University (where I was Professor) and latterly as Director of London University’s Institute of Musical Research. I now split my time (theoretically) 50:50 between being Reader in Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and performing. Finding enough time to practise is the key!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably the DVD documentary on Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio and also the complete Clarinet and Piano sonatas of Vanhal (issued on sfzmusic last year as part of the Vanhal bicentenary), with my wife sounding amazing on 5-keyed B flat and C Viennese boxwood clarinets.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I should say Mozart, really, given that I’ve published five books on his music! But at the moment, I think I’m making serious progress with Haydn (I’m recording four of his sonatas at the end of April). Played on fortepiano, I’m so much more aware of the extent to which Haydn’s music depends on colour and on silence – which suits my approach to sound production on the Viennese instrument with its much shallower key-dip and the immediacy and clarity of sound. I couldn’t possibly do this justice on a modern piano (which isn’t to say that it can’t be done).

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

First and foremost, it revolves around what my group, Ensemble DeNOTE is performing. DeNOTE was founded in 2010 when I was Director of the IMR in London, and was intended originally as a workshop for exploring ideas in Historically Informed Performance, bringing together players and scholars. But the group took off and soon gained an identity of its own, bridging the gap between scholarship and performance in hopefully accessible ways. We’ve done a huge amount in the university and conservatoire environments, as well as the Brighton Early Music Festival, and other festivals across the UK. At the moment, there’s lots of Beethoven (another CD recording at the end of March of the composer’s own arrangements of the Septet as a Trio, and the Piano and Winds Quintet as a Piano Quartet). Next season we are looking forward to Mozart’s Gran’ Partita in a quintet version dating from around 1800, as well as more performances of the “Kegelstatt” Trio at Finchcocks. I try to fit solo repertoire around this (and sometimes around CD releases). Despite the Vanhal disc last year, I don’t really plan repertoire around composer anniversaries. I’m more interested in connections of music and place (I have a Bach and Leipzig programme coming up with oboist Leo Duarte next month), and in the culture of arrangements, which were common in Beethoven’s day. That extends to commissioning new arrangements. Last year I premiered a version of Mozart’s E flat Piano Concerto, K.271 for piano and wind sextet; in June I’ll be doing K.488 for the same forces.

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

I absolutely adore St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh, mainly because it houses one of my all-time favourite instruments, a glorious 5-octave clavichord by Johann Adolphe Hass (1763). The moment I first played this clavichord I just knew it was right for Mozart, and I was lucky enough to record a CD on it (which appeared last year).

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Mozart’s Piano and Winds Quintet, K.452. I never tire of that. The piano part is wonderful in itself, but what really fascinates me is the colours of the ensemble as a whole – on period instruments, at least. For instance, the middle episode in the finale, features a descending chromatic scale on the horn (yes, contrary to popular belief, natural horns can produce lots of notes other than the harmonic series!), each one of which is a subtly different colour from the last. On a valve horn it’s just not the same, really…

To listen to, I don’t really have a favourite piece. The shortlist would include Bach’s “St Anne Prelude and Fugue”, Corelli’s Op.5 Violin Sonatas, Haydn’s Creation, Beethoven 7th Symphony, Schubert’s last Sonata in B flat, large doses of Sibelius and Messiaen (the latter especially if played by Peter Hill, another of my teachers from university days), and at least 626 compositions by Mozart!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One is a piano duet recital with Ronald Brautigam where, contrary to what you might think from listening to his recordings of Mozart, he indulged in the most astonishing improvised embellishments, to the point where we were almost making the content up in musical conversation as the recital progressed! Another is a performance of Beethoven’s Piano and Winds Quintet last year, which was the world premiere outing of an exceptionally fine fortepiano by Yorkshire-based maker, Johannes Secker, whose instruments I’ll be featuring in a historical keyboard course in Lythe this July.

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

First and foremost, to study and respect the score, but never be enslaved by it. The music lies beyond the notes. Notes are symbols for sound. They represent possibilities for the imagination. Resist the notion that the score prescribes what you have to do; that it is something to be robotically obeyed. It’s actually a basis for negotiation, mainly with your own imagination.

Also, remember that humility goes a long way! There are plenty of musicians who have no idea of that concept, who believe their own publicity. Quite a few of them are “famous”. But is that the point, ultimately? Surely music is bigger than that?

What are you working on at the moment? 

For starters…Beethoven Op.16 (quartet version) and Op.38 (his trio arrangement of the Septet); a Mozart Piano Quartet; a clutch of Haydn sonatas for a forthcoming CD recording; a couple of Mozart sonatas; Bach 4th French Suite; Mozart Piano Concerto, K.488.

Tell us a little more about your forthcoming digital book ‘The Mozart Project’. 

I was asked to participate in this project when it was but a twinkle in the eye of two enterprising young men at Pipedreams Collective, Harry Farnham and James Fairclough. It just spiralled from there really. I wrote chapters on the Concertos and Chamber Music, recorded a series of video performances and eventually became their consultant editor. Several other Mozart specialists have contributed chapters, and the result will be an interactive experience that goes way beyond what a traditional book and a single author could achieve. We all hope The Mozart Project will introduce Mozart’s genius to new generations of admirers. You can follow tweets at @themozartproj and it’s due out at the end of this month on the AppStore.

John Irving discusses the immediate impact of Mozart’s Concertos.

JOHN IRVING is Professor of Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, and Associate  Fellow of The Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Previously Director of the IMR – the UK’s national music research institution – John has been Professor of Music at the University of Bristol and at the University of London. He now divides his time between his academic work at Trinity and his performing career as a fortepianist.

www.johnirving.org.uk

 

An evening concert at Brunswick House

A stag with an impressive set of antlers surveys the room, while a white-tuxedo’d Tony Curtis keeps watch over the proceedings from his niche in a corner near the piano, a John Hopkinson baby grand with a rosewood case. Glittering chandeliers hang from the ceiling, illuminating the exposed brickwork on two walls of the room and highlighting the colours of the stained glass panels in the elegant sash windows. Exotic oriental rugs are draped over vintage British Rail first class seats, and at the back of the room, a glass cabinet is filled with antique pharmacy jars. Welcome to Brunswick House, part of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co, a Georgian mansion just five minutes from London’s Vauxhall Station, flanked by the brand new 5-star hotel and luxury apartments of One Nine Elms. Brunswick House is a treasure trove of antiques and salvaged curiosities, and on Thursday night last week, it provided a wonderful and eclectic venue for a fine evening of music making and conviviality.

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Lorraine Banning, Frances Wilson & Lorraine Liyanage (and Tony Curtis) at Brunswick House

“A superb evening – huge fun was had with a mix of musical genres in a delightfully decrepit and stylish Georgian mansion. Best of luck promoting these salon recitals, the way music is meant to be played and heard.”

Rosalind, audience member

The concert was part of the South London Concert Series, and featured a recital by BBC Music Magazine’s “rising star” Emmanuel Vass, together with supporting performances by three talented members of the London Piano Meetup Group, who despite not being “professional” pianists, played with equal poise, musical sensitivity and professionalism. The diverse programme matched the unusual setting, with music by Bach, Chopin, Turina, and Mozart together with Emmanuel’s own transcriptions of pop songs by Queen and The Prodigy. In keeping with the SLCS ethos of recreating the nineteenth-century musical salon, an hour of music was followed by much conversation and socialising in the ante-room next to the Saloon, and continued downstairs in the restaurant adjacent to the house.

“The South London Concert Series is both innovative and traditional. Events blend an appreciation of fine music and music making with conviviality, and blur the artificial distinctions between professional and amateur”

James Lisney, international concert pianist

The final SLCS concert of the 2013/14 season is on Friday 16th May at the 1901 Arts Club. Entitled ‘Eastern Accents’, the concert includes music from Russia and Japan, and features a performance by guest artist Vatche Jambazian. Further details/tickets here

View more photographs from the Brunswick House concert

A selection of videos from the concert:

www.slconcerts.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Geoffroy Couteau

Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot

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

The power of music. the piano repertoire

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

Certainly love!

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

A solo concert with virtuoso studies for the TV channel Mezzo.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

A performance I did some months ago while I felt free.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Romantic works

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

I like doing a mix of new pieces and old pieces I’ve already played

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

London of course, because it’s the first time!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Brahms trio opus 8

Who are your favourite musicians?

Radu Lupu, Gilels, Schnabel, Lipatti…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I‘m very sensitive with the acoustic, and I must say that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful hall for the acoustics.

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

To be honest with the composer and yourself.

What are you working on at the moment?

Many programmes with Scriabin, Chopin, Saint-Saens, Brahms, Schubert and some contemporary composers

What is your present state of mind?

Amused
Geoffroy Couteau gives a recital of works by Scriabin, Saint-Saëns, Liszt and Chopin at the Institut français, South Kensington on Sunday 6 April, 5:30pm as part of It’s all About Piano!

www.geoffroycouteau.com

Meet the Artist……Pascal Rogé

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

I was born in a musical family and there were 3 pianos at home, my mother was a pianist…my choice was obvious!

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

First my mother, she was my only teacher till the age of 9.Then my teachers at the Paris conservatory, Lucette Descaves, Louise Clavius Marius, Geneviève Joy, Pierre Pasquier, and above all Julius Katchen, whom I met when I was 16, more than a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration, I should also mention two great ladies…Marguerite Long and Nadia Boulanger.

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

Always being at the top of my musical abilities and being able to pass through my emotions and my love for music…and enjoy life!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performances are not to be remembered…each of them is a “once in a lifetime” experience, but out of my +\- 300 performances of the Ravel G Major Concerto, I do remember the one in London with Mariss Jansons…something special happened on that day…

Recordings…I still enjoy many of them because I always made a point not allow the release of a recording I was not happy with…but if I need to keep some on a desert island – the St Saens Piano concerti with Charles Dutoit, the Fauré Piano Quintets with the Ysaye quartet and the first CD with my wife, “Wedding cake”

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The French repertoire in general but almost anything I play, since I would never perform a work which I don’t enjoy or I am not convinced I can bring something personal in it.

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

For the reasons I just mentioned…because I love the pieces I play and I can express myself with them.

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

Nearly all the concert halls in Japan…acoustics, design, installation, they arealways perfect…and filled with a fantastic audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The French repertoire in general, with perhaps at the top, Ravel G Major Concerto and Debussy ‘La Mer’ (with my wife)
To listen to…very different and more “eclectic” music…Opera…Jazz…never piano music!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Glenn Gould, Carlos Kleiber, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The creation of a new concerto for 2 pianos written for me and my wife by Australian composer Matthew Hindson, at the Sydney Opera House with Sydney symphony orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

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

To be yourself, express something unique, think different, enjoy everything you do, and as Debussy said: “N’écoute que les conseils du vent qui passe…”

What are you working on at the moment?

Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in the 4 hands version.

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

Traveling the world…in good health…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My life at the moment..traveling the world with my wife, playing music and using Apple devices…!

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPad

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living the way I live! (See previous question!)

What is your present state of mind?

Extremely happy…!

Pascal Rogé gives a masterclass at the Institut français, South Kensington on Saturday 5 April, 6pm followed by a recital of music for four hands with his wife, Ami Rogé on Sunday 6 April, 6:30pm as part of It’s All About Piano!

Meet the Artist……Kenneth Weiss, harpsichordist

 

Photo Arthur Forjonel

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

I was curious, and inspired as a child by the sound of the harpsichord after first hearing it accompany recitatives in Mozart operas on radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

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

I’d say moving to Europe and studying with Gustav Leonhardt was the most important influence on my musical life.

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

The necessary continuous ritual of practice.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The complete Well-Tempered Clavier.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s difficult for me to judge – I hope that I can play in many styles convincingly.

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

It’s usually a mixture of personal choices and music festival criteria.

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

Right now, I enjoy the acoustic at the Abigail Adams house in New York City – it has a perfect acoustic for the harpsichord.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I enjoy performing – and sharing- pieces with emotional and psychological depth. I listen to all types of music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favorite musicians are the ones that have the ability to fully embody and project the essence of the music that they are performing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Usually the last concert performed.

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

Be yourself, keep at it and stay focused.

What are you working on at the moment?

Promotion of my new recording of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’.

Kenneth Weiss gives a harpsichord recital of transcriptions of Opera and Ballet by Rameauat the Institut français, South Kensington on Sunday 6 April, 11am as part of It’s all About Piano!

Kenneth Weiss was born in New York City where he attended the High School of Performing Arts. After studying with Lisa Goode Crawford at the Oberlin Conservatory he continued with Gustav Leonhardt at the Sweelinck Consertorium in Amsterdam.

From 1990-1993 he was Musical Assistant to William Christie at Les Arts Florissants for numerous opera productions and recordings. He later conducted Les Arts Florissants in ‘Doux Mensonges’ by the chreographer Jiri Kylian at the Paris Opera, and was co-director with William Christie of the first three editions of Les Arts Florissants’ ‘Jardin de Voix’ program.

Kenneth Weiss focuses on recitals, chamber music, teaching and conducting. His most recent recitals include Nuremburg, Montpellier, Barcelona, Dijon, Geneva, Antwerp, the Cite de la musique (Paris), Madrid, La Roque d’Anthéron, Santander, Lisbon, San Sebastian, Innsbruck, Santiago de Compostela, La Chaise-Dieu, La Chaud de Fonds, Bruges and New York. He performs in recital with the violinists Fabio Biondi, Daniel Hope, Monica Huggett and Lina Tur Bonet.

Full biography