Category Archives: Meet the Artist

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

 

Meet the Artist……Christopher Guild, pianist

Christopher Guild, pianist

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

Not my family, initially, although to their great credit my parents were always entirely supportive of me in any of my aspirations – and still are.  A dear friend of the family, who lived round the corner from us at the time, was a great classical music lover and had a piano in her home.  It was she who incited in me a real interest in classical music.

I had already begun to play the violin at my local primary school (this was by the time I was 8 years old), and she was getting in to the habit of practicing with me every day after school for 20 minutes.   I remember being allowed to play on the piano for 10 minutes after my violin practice every day, and chatting to this lady about classical music: she was from Berlin, and I remember her enthusing me about the great German composers, mainly Schumann and Beethoven.  Eventually I asked my Mum if I could start having piano lessons, and so they began in Elgin, the town of my birth, in 1995.

Years passed until I found myself in my third year at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, working hard at the violin and keeping the piano ticking over although not taking it that seriously despite a recent victory at the Moray Piano Competition.  Something happened around this time and I suddenly realised I couldn’t stand the prospect of making the violin my career – although I still maintain I had a real flair for the instrument and indeed could have succeeded as a session musician, I never found it that comfortable to play and I always felt a deeper connection with the piano.  Somehow the piano suited me better: it seemed a more ‘independent’ instrument, you had total command of the music you were playing (I remember my teacher at the time, Margaret Wakeford, counselling me to ‘be your own conductor!’ when I played), and on the whole I much preferred the repertoire.  It promised me a greater deal artistically, even if the career path was to be more precarious.

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

There are many people and many things, but one of the most important people has been Andrew Ball, whom I studied with at the Royal College of Music (London) for six consecutive years.  It was his open-mindedness, his way of thinking about music and indeed his great knowledge of just about everything which has steered me in to becoming who I am artistically.

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

I suppose this might be commonplace among all music college graduates in their mid-twenties, but it is the combination of attempting to make ends meet, whilst pursuing my artistic ambitions, and maintaining my artistic integrity in all that I do.  Keeping up my standards of playing amidst a hectic life of teaching, rehearsing, performing and of course those interminable periods spent on trains is certainly a challenge!

Which performances are you most proud of?  

Tricky!  I have to say that some of my recitals as a student tend to stand out: I’m proud that I performed works by Elliott Carter and Stockhausen in the same recital, for instance, and that I felt completely involved in the music.  Also, performances I gave of Reubke’s magnificent Piano Sonata in B-flat two years ago, a piece which has come to mean a lot to me.  More recently, playing the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor with Sian Edwards in Milton Keynes in 2012 was extremely memorable.  And of course, playing as part of my duo at our Wigmore Hall debut in November 2012 was very special.  Being in the green room before stepping on stage was something in itself, just looking at all the signed photos of so many of ‘the greats’ gazing down on you makes you realise just what a privilege it is to be performing in that hall.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Favourites so far in my career have been: Wigmore Hall, for the acoustic (it’s perfect, that’s it).  There have been a few stately homes and churches that were very comfortable to play in too.  I really enjoyed the Pump Room in Bath

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ask me in ten minutes and I’ll have changed my mind!  These days I’m gravitating largely towards British Music.  I have a real ‘thing’ for the Bridge Piano Sonata, the three Elgar chamber works too.  The music of Kevin Volans interests me currently.  As a performer, I strongly hope to get back in to contemporary music next season.  It sounds trite, I suppose, but any music with a truly strong and vital message will surely grab me.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Glenn Gould, for his individuality, his refusal to compromise his artistic vision and integrity – I think that’s a very important thing.  Whenever I hear piano rolls, or old records, of the now lost age of pianists I come away feeling totally inspired.  I recently bought an LP of a piano roll of Moritz Rosenthal and some of the playing is mindblowing!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but sometimes how people react to a performance I’ve given is what makes a concert particularly memorable.  For example, after performing at the Dorking Halls in Surrey last season, a Russian lady came up to me in the foyer and gave me a little matrioska doll, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for my performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3.  She was visibly moved (slightly choked), and it was the way she did it  anonymously too which made the experience so potent.  I keep the matroyshka on the bookshelves next to my piano: it reminds me of music’s power to enhance peoples lives, its possibilities, its importance.

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

Keep an open mind!  You’re about to enter a field which is enormously competitive, a lot of people will be striving for the same goals.  It pays to think outside the box a little.  Try never to turn down opportunities, even if they seem irrelevant to your interests: I’ve pursued paths I never dreamt of pursuing (or particularly wanted to pursue), and I ended up with quite a few great concerts, or jobs, that I would never have got otherwise.  And never lose sight of your artistic goals.  Above all, have fun!

What are you working on at the moment?

The biggest project this year has been preparing the vast majority of Ronald Center’s piano music for recording.  Ronald Center (1913-73) was an Aberdonian composer whose music has been incredibly neglected both during his lifetime and since his death. Aside from this, I’m preparing quite a lot of duo repertoire, namely works with violin – Sonatas by Grieg, Haydn, Hindemith and Janacek – and works with oboe – Sonatas by Poulenc and Dutilleux.

What is your present state of mind? 

Positive!

Christopher Guild’s new recording of piano music by Ronald Center is available now on the Toccata Classics label. Further details including sample sound clips here

Born in Elgin in 1986 and brought up on Speyside, Christopher Guild studied piano and violin locally before entering St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh aged 13.  He returned to Morayshire one year later to take top honours in the Moray Piano Competition – a victory which sees him as the youngest ever winner to this day. 

Christopher entered the Royal College of Music in 2005 as a Foundation Scholar, and remained there under the tutelage of Andrew Ball until 2011, successfully gaining a First Class BMus (Hons), and the MMus and Artist Diploma’s with Distinction.  He now combines a busy schedule as a performer with extensive work as a teacher, and coaches students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he is the Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance.

Christopher Guild acknowledges the following organisations for their invaluable support to his studies at the RCM: Dewar Arts Awards, the Robertson Scholarship Trust, the Alistair Maclachlan Memorial Trust, the Cross Trust, The Royal Caledonian Schools Trust, the Hope Scott Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarships Trust, the RCM Foundation, a Michael Whittaker Scholarship, and an Ian Fleming Award Award administered by the Musician’s Benevolent Fund. 


Christopher Guild’s full biography here

Christopher Guild’s Facebook fan page

Meet the Artist……James Lisney

(image credit: Suzie Maeder)

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

I have never seen playing the piano as a ‘career’; rather I started enjoying a life with music when my parents had the foresight to purchase a ‘cottage’ Pleyel piano for nineteen shillings. It had beautiful veneer inlay, brass candlesticks and a soundboard that could only cope with a pitch of A 430. This piano was a playground for improvisation and storytelling during a pretty easy-going childhood: a country school just down the road, plenty of woodlands to explore and sports facilities attached to my parents’ workplace. Music was always a natural part of life and I was lucky enough to be assessed by Gordon Jacob at the age of six for a bursary that provided lesson fees and assisted in the purchase of a really good Welmar piano.

We lived in a tiny semi-detached house and I felt particularly sorry for my family and neighbours who had to endure my doodling at the keyboard and, much later, large scale ‘noise’, such as produced by hard work on Brahms’ Concerto in D minor. My neighbour retaliated by playing Fur Elise – every day!

The first concert I attended was following a masterclass given by Sidney Harrison. He was full of amusing stories and played really popular repertoire with great care and taste (I heard him years later and I was pleased to note that his Liszt Liebestraum was really excellent). The next concert was supposed to be given by Clifford Curzon but ill health necessitated his replacement by John Ogdon (this must have been around 1969) with a typical programme of Beethoven’s final two sonatas, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, the Schumann Toccata and Balakirev’s Islamey.

On the radio there were musical encounters with Antony Hopkins (‘Talking about Music’), Semprini’s ‘Serenade’ – and Reginald Dixon on the cinema organ from Blackpool. Favourite early recordings included Serkin, Cyril Smith (playing the Dohnanyi Variations), Wilhelm Kempff, Solomon, Rostal and Schaefer, Eileen Joyce and The Beatles. Oh yes – I nearly forgot Danny Kaye.

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

My teachers. I cannot stress too much how important it is to have a really good start. There could have been none better than Jean Murphy, who combined great thoroughness with excitable inspiration (singing, dancing, trying to get my shoulders down and collapsing in giggles – what more could a young pupil want?)

Jean had studied with Phyllis Sellick and I was extremely fortunate to learn with her from around eleven years old for about a decade. An amazing artist, who took exceptional pains with preparation, tone, complete understanding of the music, a rich comprehension of how the body worked: I use her inspiration every single day. In addition, her memories of Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Bertrand Russell, the Sitwells, Solomon Cutner, Curzon – an apparently golden age – provided constant stimulus. When I was tiring from our long lessons, she would take me into the drawing room to listen to Horowitz’s left hand in Scarlatti or Scriabin, ‘Louis’ (Kentner) in Liszt, Rosalyn (Tureck) in Bach – a whole host of musicians that she seemed to either adore or know very well. Rosalyn Tureck was at the house on one visit and generously helped me with some Bach. Phyllis certainly gave me a sense of what musical Britain must have been like fifty years earlier: on one occasion, after we had worked on the Brahms D minor, she looked out the window and said that in the old days she would have phoned Henry Wood to see whether he would hear me. I am still waiting for the Proms to call……

After Phyllis came two more important teachers. John Barstow remains a strong friend and his gift was to broaden one’s appreciation of music and build confidence. Together we saw my first Parsifals (Reginald Goodall), Mahler Symphony of a Thousand (Pritchard), Alexander Nevsky (Rostropovich), Shostakovich String Quartet cycle (the Borodin Quartet) etc. All stirred into the mix of a love and respect for piano playing that was ultimately much ‘bigger’ than merely being a pianist. I believe it was Arrau who said that it was necessary to be ‘at least a virtuoso’ and John incorporated model playing with a wide range of musical images. We had very few lessons – but they were supplemented by discussions and shared musical experiences.

The last teacher was at a summer school in Nice in 1983. I was there courtesy of the Anglo-French Society, the first Perlemuter Scholar. The lessons were taken in the class of Dominique Merlet, a concise and accurate teacher who had the gift of the utmost support combined with the ability to demonstrate to an astonishing level. He was an example of what was possible, what was essential in terms of ability, knowledge and the craft to consider a life in music.

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

Pianistically, everything remains impossibly difficult and, ultimately, relatively easy. The music of Schubert and Beethoven remain my central marker – and everything they wrote appears to be frantically challenging and yet so completely natural, so human. The late sonatas of both of these masters provide constant challenges, opportunities to develop, but their early works, chamber music, song and miscellaneous pieces provide similar nutrition. It is as if their vision is in their musical DNA and that the explicit mysteries of the late works are implicit in every phrase of their lifetime’s work.

One of the biggest challenges of recent years has been my work on the music of Jan Vriend. Having heard me play the Beethoven ‘Cello Sonatas with the wonderful Alexander Baillie, Jan set about writing a bouquet of astonishing pieces for me. It is no exaggeration to equate this achievement with the late flowering in Debussy’s compositional life. Music of such vigour, virtuosity and concentration, it has really made me dig deep to cope with its complex language and strive to do justice to its amazing message. Having played Anatomy of Passion with Alexander Baillie, I am now benefitting from the process from preparing performances with my daughter Joy – she has grown up hearing Vriend’s music and appears to have absorbed it by osmosis. With Imagine the Mountain premiered with violinist Paul Barritt, JOY (written for ‘guess who?’), I have been amazingly blessed – and challenged. On top of this, my simple request for a piano triptych to emulate a set of Debussy’s Images or a book of Albeniz’s Iberia, resulted in the astonishing Meden Agan, with its exuberant ‘Erotica’ movement. I loved taking ‘Erotica’ to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for my fiftieth birthday series – but this is music to build into the repertoire and live with for many years. Thank you Jan!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

This is a very difficult one. I am permanently upbeat about my concerts (I enjoy performing immensely) – but also extremely critical. They are never ‘good enough’ but, at the same time, my vanity or standards are not what they are about – they are events for audience and performer alike; it’s ‘about the music’, not James Lisney.

Given that caveat, I recently heard some live playing from the late 80’s on Classic FM (an early Performer’s Platform kind of programme with Petroc Trelawny, and performed on a Boston piano and surrounded by office desks and computer screensavers). It was a set of Rachmaninoff transcriptions (Bach, Kreisler, Bizet and the like), and I was rather proud that I managed to deliver adequately in not the most glamorous of circumstances. That it was Rachmaninoff makes me extra proud as he is a composer of whom I am particularly fond.

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

I remember playing in the Ateneul Roman in Bucharest, one year after the end of Ceausescu. A Christmas concert – one of the first in many years – and I was playing Mozart K 488. The orchestra, amazing hall and spirit of the audience crystallised a remarkable musical experience.

I recently played Beethoven and Vriend at St George’s in Bristol and I think this is one of the United Kingdom’s best halls for the kind of music I play (along with the Arts Centre in Stamford – a gem!)

I also love non-standard and small halls. I have played almost one hundred and seventy times at the little concert hall at the Hindhead Music Centre (on the remarkable Steinway that dropped from the Covent Garden stage) and I regularly play at the Mosterdzaadje in Santpoort–Noord, the Netherlands. I recently opened the thirty-first season of Mosterdzaadje – a model of how a modest hall can be run simply, beautifully and with great warmth, providing music within a quiet suburb. No public subsidy – and no cuts.

When one can add the library at Wittem, the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Studio Music in Brightlingsea, my series at the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham etc I think I can say that I have completely failed to answer your question!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Performing – (mostly) what I have chosen to play. Recently came back to the warhorse concertos of Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and they gave me a real buzz. If anyone out there wants to commission me for a Brahms concerto, please get in touch…

Listening to? Wagner and Mozart operas. If anyone out there wants to take me to Parsifal, please get in touch….

Who are your favourite musicians?

Well, there are many pianists but Gould, Arrau and Richter seem to be on a different level from the rest. After that, I would not want to be without Cherkassky, Tureck, Sokolov and special performances from the likes of Horowitz, Haskil, Ogdon and many more. I heard Ernest Levy recently and I thought his Beethoven and Liszt to be some of the most affecting and remarkable performances I have heard in many years.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Borodin Quartet playing the final two Shostakovich Quartets perhaps, or the awe-inspiring Richter playing Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis in the Grange de Meslay. I was also lucky enough to visit Bayreuth………and then there are the performances that one comes across by so called ‘amateur’ pianists at summer schools or suchlike: little glimpses of heaven, pure music making, generously given.

In terms of my own performance, however, I have one choice: the Bremen ‘Konzert im Dunkeln’ Schubert recital I gave to raise money for stroke rehabilitation and to commemorate the centenary of Phyllis Sellick. This was at the fabulous Bremen Sendesaal – a venue that has a remarkable series of concerts that are given in the complete (and utter!) darkness. I will never forget coming out onto the stage to give my recital, the lights dimmed and the packed audience very excited by the novel idea. As the switch was thrown on the lights, plunging us into an all-enveloping black, the audience gasped as if they were at a fairground. It was a lesson to me in reaching out with music, without professional vanity and, on a practical level, how it is inner hearing that enables us to perform accurately and reliably rather than any visual cues.

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

Returning to my opening idea of not having a career, I also would advise musicians not to ‘aspire’. It is more a case of finding a way to live with this remarkable music, to enjoy and, if possible, to share it. Whether it is helping a small person to play First Tune by Barbara Kirkby Mason, my continuing struggles with Beethoven’s late sonatas or playing chamber music with colleagues, I can only advise that we enjoy the process.

If I read the question in terms of those who wish to dedicate a large proportion of their time to music (and even, on occasions, use it to pay the mortgage) then the advice is to spread as wide as possible. Improvise, compose, explore, teach, read, remain curious – and make your own mistakes. The cult of the teacher is not one that I subscribe to – try to build your own musical life, way of playing, whatever, from one’s own personality. Recently a wise friend said that he felt that Cherkassky’s great talent was to play every note entirely true to himself.

Oh yes – if you are going to depend upon music for a living, be prepared to work insanely hard, keep as fit as possible and it helps to have extremely good ‘chops’! (fingers!)

What are you working on at the moment?

I am building (painfully slowly) a programme that includes Vriend’s Meden Agan along with a Bach Ricercare, the Mozart Rondo in A minor and Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli” Variations. Whether anyone will want to listen once I get through it all is another matter.

In addition, I am constantly fascinated by the piano music of George Enescu, and I am also memorising the Beethoven ‘Cello Sonatas to play with my daughter. The memorising was her idea…

What is your present state of mind?

Very happy, keen to learn more music and determined to do it better. Advancing middle age is a great period in life, and taste, emotions, awareness seem to get deeper and more focussed. Arrau said that passion intensifies with age, and I can only agree with him – and try to emulate a little of what he achieved in terms of identification and self-fulfilment.

A Beethoven Grand Tour – a journey through all five of Beethoven’s Sonatas for Cello & Piano, with cellist Joy Lisney, is taking place at various venues throughout the UK and Europe this autumn.

James Lisney enjoys a rich musical life, moving seamlessly from concerto and recital soloist to chamber musician, song accompanist and pianist director. Initiatives, such as his Schubertreise series at London`s South Bank Centre, his extensive Beethoven Project or the recording company Woodhouse Editions, provide a platform for his wide-ranging musical sympathies.

Following study with Jean Murphy, Phyllis Sellick and John Barstow, James Lisney made his Wigmore Hall debut in 1986. Early representation by the Young Concert Artists Trust in London lead to a career that has taken him to many prestigious venues and gained invitations to appear with major orchestras.

James Lisney`s repertoire ranges from baroque masterpieces to music of the present day. In the past decade, the music of Schubert and Beethoven have been a central pre-occupation (in performance and in recordings) and he regularly presents cycles of the piano sonatas and relevant chamber music. His recordings (on Naxos, Bis, Somm, Olympia and Carlton) have gained the highest recommendations.

Review of Schubertreise Volume 2 (music for piano and cello, with Joy Lisney)

www.jameslisney.com

www.woodhouseeditions.com

[Original interview date: 12 September 2013]

Meet the Artist……Yvonne Fontane

(photo: Josh Gooding)

Who or what inspired you to take up a career in singing and directing?

My grandmother was a painter and she always saw and showed me the world through an artist’s eyes. My mother was a singer, and although my father was a physicist, he would always play classical music at full volume at home or in the car, conducting the radio and screaming at the tempi.

Later, my passion for singing derived from the physical sensation when producing the classical sound, as well as from the different facets of the art form itself, including the drama, languages and poetry in the various genres of opera, oratorio and song.  After I had been active as a singer for many years, I wanted to be involved in opera productions at a much earlier stage in the process. I became interested in the ideas and concept of staging and directing opera, and found it riveting to work with a team on finding solutions to express a particular way of telling a story.

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

Love for what I do, and respect towards the piece in front of me and the people I am working with.

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

Figuring out what I needed to do in order to get to where I wanted to get to. This goes for my own life and career journey, but also for the individual projects and engagements I have been involved in.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am currently working on my third, new production of Bizet’s Carmen at Winslow Hall Opera (WHO) in Buckinghamshire. I am directing and also singing the role of Carmen, bringing my number of performances of this role to around 165, but still feel there is so much to tell about the story and the character.  Joining me are a superb cast and team, and I can’t wait to get back into the experience that is WHO after last year’s success with Le Nozze di Figaro: high quality theatre making in very unique surroundings.

Italian tenor Gianluca Paganelli as Don José, South African baritone Njabulo Madlala (winner of the 2010 Kathleen Ferrier Competition) as Escamillo and Scottish-Polish soprano Natasha Day as Micaëla are leading a select cast which is supported by the company’s Founder and Music Director Robert Secret, set designer Francisco Rodriguez-Weill and lighting designer Tony Simpson.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working in an opera company? 

An opera company has to fulfil many different roles. Either subsidised privately or by the state, it has to find a healthy balance of serving its audience, finding and re-confirming a strong position in the artistic life of the community and its social calendar and co-operating with other art forms and arts institutions.  But at the same time, it has to remain free to accommodate the integrity and space which the artistic process and the artists’ work demand.

Do you have a favourite venue? 

There is no easy answer to this question. My favourite venue tends to be where I am at the present time. Certainly, Winslow Hall Opera has a very special place for me as I have worked closely with this company for many years, beginning in 2003 when it was still based at Stowe. It is an ambitious and inventive opera festival surrounded by the exceptional backdrop that only a magnificent 17th Century mansion by Sir Christopher Wren – the only Wren building outside of London – can present. It is now owned by former restaurateur Christopher Gilmour and his wife Mardi Gilmour, who have brought this festival to life with great vision and courage and out of their love for opera.

Who are your favourite musicians/singers/directors? 

My favourite singer is the German tenor Fritz Wunderlich who unfortunately died too young at the age of 35. To me, his singing represents complete honesty in sound and emotion. Especially his Schubert songs are the “truest” kind of music-making that I know.  One of my favourite musicians is the pianist Martha Argerich with her technical brilliance, power and risk taking. Both artists’ music always travels with me.  But aside from those two, I get most of my inspiration from other artists such as jazz, soul and blues musicians and all kinds of cross over artists, painters and sculptors.

One of my favourite productions is Jean-Louis Martinoty’s Le Nozze di Figaro for the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in 2004, conducted by René Jacobs. Here, simplicity and beauty, detail and clear characterisations are given time and space in an admirable synthesis between the artistic and musical direction.

What is your most memorable performing experience? 

The performances that are most memorable to me are the ones where all my performance skills and techniques were freely at my disposal and working perfectly together. But I’m afraid I can count on two hands the amount of times that has happened.

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

My favourite music to sing is Italian verismo. I’m afraid that I cannot possibly say what my favourite music to listen to is. The music in my car at this moment is Afro Celt, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Tom Jones, Steve Ray Vaughn, Paolo Nutini and Richard Strauss’ four last songs.

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

Be true and honest to yourself and others and then show yourself, your ideas and work with confidence. I am always amazed when holding auditions or interviewing potential team members, how quickly and clearly that comes across and how strong it features in the decision-making.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The point at which a balance has been achieved between family, work, relaxation and finances.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I feel slightly foolish, but it does seem to be my dishwasher and my SatNav!

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Aside from work, I enjoy waking up in the morning to fresh snow and clear blue skies, deciding on half a day’s skiing, then sailing down a ski slope which is drenched in sunshine and cold, soft snow with my carvers at the bottom of my boots.

What is your present state of mind? 

Now that I’ve just been thinking about skiing down a mountain, I’d say delirious.

Yvonne Fontane will be performing the title role and directing Bizet’s Carmen at Winslow Hall Opera on July 25th, 27th, 28th, 30th, August 1st and 3rd.  Saturday and Sunday performances start at 5.00pm, weekday performances at 5.30pm.  All performances will have a 90-minute supper interval. To book tickets to Winslow Hall Opera, please call 07504 298575 or email winslowhallopera@outlook.com

For more information on Yvonne please visit www.yvonnefontane.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Gregg Kallor, pianist and composer

***NEWS***

Greg Kallor will be performing at Subculture in New York’s NoHo on 26 September, with cellist Laura Metcalf, as part of the venue’s first annual ‘Piano Fest’ and to promote his new music video Broken Sentences, and premiere a new work ‘Undercurrent’. Further details here

 

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

I’ve always felt a sort of inexorable pull toward music – almost as soon as I could walk I made my way to the piano in my parent’s home. A piece of string was thoughtfully tied around the length of the instrument to prevent the fallboard from crushing my fingers. My older brother studied with a piano teacher whom I begged for lessons every week for a year; she finally relented when I turned six – and I abandoned my assignments almost immediately. (Improvising was more fun than playing, say, “The Typewriter”.) I’ve become somewhat more disciplined. Supportive parents, wonderful teachers, encouraging friends and colleagues – a career in music just seemed… right.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing/composing? 

When I was nine or ten I heard Brad Mehldau play in the jazz band at the high school I would attend a few years later; I was absolutely blown away. (I added jazz piano lessons to my music curriculum so I could play the way he did – but it doesn’t quite work that way, I quickly discovered.)

In college I began studying with Fred Hersch – who, in addition to being a master improviser, produces one of the most beautiful sounds from the piano I have ever heard. He encouraged me to explore the full range of the piano’s sonic possibilities, to pay attention to the sound.

After I moved to New York City, Fred introduced me to his piano teacher, Sophia Rosoff, and to composer Herschel Garfein. I’m so grateful to Sophia and Herschel for encouraging me to draw upon my background in jazz and improvisation in my classical playing and composing – working with them has helped me to embrace all of those elements, and my playing and writing has become much more personal as a result. I’m a musical mutt, I suppose.

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

It’s taken me a little while to reconcile all of my musical passions – playing and composing, classical music and jazz – into a professional trajectory that makes sense. Audiences and friends who’ve watched my development have been super-encouraging, and more and more presenters are getting excited by the mix of things that I do.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m really proud of my recording of my piano suite, A Single Noon. It’s a tableau of life in New York City – moments of caffeinated bliss, embarrassing subway mishaps, etc. The interplay of freedom and structure is something I think about a lot, and I wanted to write a piece in which both composition and improvisation would be significant in shaping the musical narrative. (Note to pianists: A Single Noon can be performed with or without improvisation. The sections for improvisation are sort of like scenic detours on a highway; the musical narrative won’t be compromised if you stick to the paved road – you’ll just arrive a little sooner.)

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Wherever I’m playing next.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ginastera’s Argentinian Dances are a blast to perform – brief, but potent miniatures. The second dance has that sort of sad/happy vibe. Seductive. And the last – “Dance of the Arrogant Cowboy” – feels like the musical id of a crazy dancing gaucho on amphetamines. (Probably not what Ginastera intended, but there you go.)

I love performing Rachmaninoff’s Preludes and Etudes-Tableaux, and his Corelli Variations. Gorgeous, and super-pianistic. Rachmaninoff was a master of both the short form and of the long, singing line.

Speaking of which, I love playing songs – particularly those delicious German Romantic lieder. Schumann. Schubert. Brahms. Wolf. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

And Elliott Smith songs. They’re like the Schumann of the (19)’90s.

I had a lot of fun playing Janacek’s Violin Sonata last fall – strange and wonderful piece. Still not entirely sure that I totally get it.

At the risk of sounding egocentric, I’m rather fond of performing my own music – I feel greater freedom to take chances with it than when I play other composers’ music that I love. Of course I try to play their music with the same freedom, but I always feel a little bit like a guest in a friend’s home – no matter how close we are, it’s still probably not a good idea for me to walk around naked just because it’s more comfortable. In my apartment, it’s come as you are. (Maybe I need some new friends.)

Favorite listening? This could take all year…..

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Martha Argerich. That woman must be from another planet.

Brad Mehldau has been an enormous influence since the first time I heard him play, and he continues to inspire me.

Yannick Nézet-Séguin – I’ve heard him conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra twice this season (Verdi Requiem, Stravinsky Rite of Spring). Phenomenal! And such a generous leader/conductor.

Dawn Upshaw. I wrote my Dickinson and Yeats songs with her voice and artistry in mind.

I heard Anthony McGill perform the Copland concerto last year – big fan. Gorgeous tone, soulful playing.

Thomas Quasthoff and Justus Zeyen – left every one of their recitals without tears in my eyes.

Gil Shaham – incredibly beautiful player. Never an impersonal note.

James Levine conducting the MET orchestra = perfection.

Radiohead – one of the most energetic and exciting group of performers I’ve seen/heard.

Alisa Weilerstein, Chris Potter, Byron Janis, Maxim Vengerov, Larry Grenadier… so many. I’m very lucky to live in New York where I get to hear all of these extraordinary musicians.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first Weill Hall solo concert in 2007 was incredibly special. Entering the stage door at Carnegie Hall was surreal (Rachmaninoff walked in this way!), and I giddily assumed that my concert was as momentous for the security guard and the stage manager as it was for me. (They graciously indulged my newbie delusion.) I premiered my Dickinson and Yeats songs with mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala, and played solo pieces by Ginastera, Scriabin, Bach, and Rachmaninoff. Kind of a big night.

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

Beware of people offering unsolicited advice!

Here’s something that’s not too offensive: take care of your body. Hike, stretch, run, play basketball, swim, lift weights, whatever brings you joy – but be active. It’s good for the long-term health of people with sedentary vocations (um, hello musicians), and it really helps me out of my head. (Not a whole lot of thought going on when veins are popping out of your neck as you struggle to finish that last pull-up.) I used to LOVE rock climbing, but I gave that up when I realized that a cavalier attitude towards injury probably wasn’t recommended for a pianist.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Playing: I’m digging into some of Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch – absolute gems. I’m performing them with mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala at the end of the month, along with my settings of Dickinson and Yeats poems. Also, Faure’s insanely beautiful D-flat Nocturne is on my stand, calling to me…

Composing: I just finished my piano concerto! Super excited about that – and about some new chamber music sketches I’m working on for cello and piano, and piano trio. I’m almost ready to play through some of them with friends and see what works and what needs to be burned.

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

Doing exactly what I’m doing right now – except more of it. And, hopefully, better.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

A beautifully-pulled espresso.

Gregg Kallor’s new album A Single Noon is available now, a musical tableau of life in New York City, told through a combination of composed music and improvisation in nine movements that coalesce into a more complete story like an album of postcards, or memories. Each movement develops an aspect of the Single Noon theme, and improvisation is incorporated throughout the suite as a commentary on and development of the themes in the music.

My review of A Single Noon

Gregg Kallor’s biography

Meet the Artist……Jocelyn Pook, composer

Jocelyn Pook (image credit: Matthew Andrews)
Jocelyn Pook (image credit: Matthew Andrews)

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

I came from a family in which music and art was important. To this day I don’t know how my mother, a single woman raising 3 children with no money, managed to pay for piano lessons for all of us, but I’m glad she did. There were free violin lessons offered at my primary school so I took up the violin when I was 8, then changed later to viola. I had inspiring and encouraging teachers along the way, in particular my first piano teacher Jean Marshall who also encouraged my early interest in composing.

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

I used to compose simple songs on the piano as a child, but it didn’t occur to me to take this further, and when I went to music college it was as a performer, studying viola and piano. After I left, I began working as a professional viola player – sometimes performing in theatre companies and pop bands. Seeing how untrained musicians, some of whom couldn’t even read music, were able to compose, inspired me and gave me confidence, so that when small composing opportunities subsequently came my way – such as writing music for my quartet, or a friend’s video, a colleague’s dance piece, etc. – I seized the opportunity.

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

I am usually filled with trepidation at the start of every new project. Each feels like the biggest challenge at the time. My last piece, Hearing Voices, a song cycle for voice, orchestra and recorded voices, was the first commission for symphony orchestra (for the BBC Concert Orchestra) so that was a big challenge.

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

Working with a symphony orchestra was exciting because there are so many possibilities of texture and timbre and combinations of instruments. It’s fun to play with large forces, especially percussion and brass sections which I have less experience of using, and it’s always so thrilling when you hear it all come alive.

Which recordings are you most proud of?  

My albums Flood, Untold Things and Desh.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

No, there are many I love!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Yehudi Menuhin, Daniel Barenboim, Nigel Kennedy and Gustavo Dudamel are amazingly talented artists whose passion for music has inspired and communicated so widely. And they don’t shy away from ethical and moral issues.

Plus, singers such as Kathleen Ferrier and ones I’m lucky enough to work with: Melanie Pappenheim, Natacha Atlas, Tanja Tzarovska, Manickam Yogeswaran, Parvin Cox and Lore Lixenberg.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A gypsy ensemble that played in our living room in Serbia.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A song for the Brodsky Quartet and singer Lore Lixenberg, with libretto by Richard Thomas. Also some vocal music for the dancer Akram Khan’s new show iTMOi.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My daughter.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Writing music and spending time with family and friends

What is your present state of mind? 

Pretty chilled out considering I’m writing this on a flight back from China!

Further information/links:

The DESH soundtrack is available on CD now on Pook Music (PM001) and the single ‘Hallelujah’ is available to download on iTunes.  DESH returns to Sadler’s Wells in June for a third run after a sell-out world tour.

Jocelyn Pook’s next collaboration with Akram Khan, iTMOi, will be performed at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, Tuesday 28 May – Saturday 1 June.

The Brodsky Quartet and singer Lore Lixenberg premiere a new song cycle, which includes music by Jocelyn Pook, at Drapers’ Hall on Monday 24 June as part of the City Of London Festival.

To find out more information about Jocelyn Pook, visit her website www.jocelynpook.com

Best known for her score for Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, Jocelyn Pook is an award-winning composer who writes music for film, television, theatre, dance and the concert platform.

Jocelyn graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 1983, where she studied the viola. She then embarked on a period of touring and recording with artists such as Peter Gabriel, Laurie Anderson and PJ Harvey and as a member of the Communards. She has also toured extensively with The Jocelyn Pook Ensemble, performing repertoire from her albums and music from her film scores. For her music-theatre piece Speaking in Tunes she won a British Composer Award and, for the National Theatre’s production of St Joan, she won an Olivier Award. Jocelyn has worked with a variety of acclaimed choreographers including, most recently, Akram Khan Company on the contemporary solo work DESH. Jocelyn has established an international reputation as a highly original composer of screen music following her score for Eyes Wide Shut, which won a Chicago Film Award and a Golden Globe nomination. Other film scores include: The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino (Dir: Michael Radford), Time Out (L’Emploi du Temps, Dir: Laurent Cantet) and Brick Lane (Dir: Sarah Gavron). She also contributed a piece to the soundtrack of Gangs of New York (Dir: Martin Scorsese).

Jocelyn has composed scores for television shows and commercials, and was nominated for a BAFTA for Channel 4’s The Government Inspector (Dir: Peter Kosminsky). With a blossoming reputation as a composer of electro-acoustic works and music for the concert platform, Jocelyn continues to celebrate the diversity of the human voice. Her work Mobile was a commission from the BBC Proms and The King’s Singers and is a collaboration with the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion. Portraits in Absentia was commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and is a collage of sound, voice, music and words woven from the messages left on her answerphone. Ingerland, Jocelyn’s first contemporary opera, was commissioned and produced by ROH2 and performed in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre in June 2010 to wide acclaim. Jocelyn has chaired and been a judge on various panels including the British Composer Awards, Ivor Novello Awards and BBC Proms Young Composers Competition.

Meet the Artist……Angelo Villani, pianist

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

My mother always wanted to play but never had the chance. One day she asked me if I wanted to learn, and I said yes.

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

I really love and admire the older pianists who themselves emulated the great singers of the past. One can always hear the influence of great singing on pianists such as Horowitz, Nyiregyhazi, Sofronitsky, and Tiegerman.

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

After not playing for over 25 years, it was a very long walk to the wonderful Fazioli at St James’s last October.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

My dream venue would be an open-air concert in Loch-ard Gorge along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia. The acoustic there is phenomenal. Just a slight logistical problem of getting a piano and full orchestra down there.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ramon Vinay (Tenor), the late Dietrich Fischer – Dieskau (Baritone), Zara Dolukhanova (Mezzo Soprano), Adolf Busch (Violinist), Bronislav Hubermann (Violinist), Carlos Kleiber (Conductor), Victor de Sabata (Conductor), Wilhelm Furtwangler (Conductor)…. and many more.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I heard Shura Chekassky play at Wigmore Hall just before he died. He made the most ravishing piano sound I’ve ever heard in that Hall.

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

Being a pianist, I am really spoilt for choice as there is so much truly great music written for the piano. Where does one stop? And to listen to….. I constantly marvel at the sense of novelty and invention of Errol Garner’s concert by the sea (I also seduced my fiancée listening to this album).

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

There is no such thing as perfection. The greatest performances, no matter how extraordinary and ‘ideal’, are in a state of flux. We must never forget that some of the greatest performers in history i.e. Bach, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Scriabin, Art Tatum, Errol Garner and Miles Davis et al, were great improvisers.

What are you working on at the moment?

I love to work on a number of things simultaneously. My old Russian piano teacher often spoke about walking past Sviatoslav Richter’s apartment and eavesdropping, hearing the great master practicing completely different works to what he was going to play later that very evening.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Opening a sensational bottle of red wine after a good concert and sharing with friends.

Angelo Villani performs at London’s St John’s Smith Square on Wednesday 8th May in a concert featuring works by Debussy, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner/Von Bulow/Liszt/Villani and Alkan. Further details and tickets here

Born in Australia to Italian parents, Angelo Villani attended Melbourne’s school for musically- gifted children, the Victorian College of the Arts, where his teachers included Alexander Semetsky, a pupil of Emil Gilels, and Stephen McIntyre, a student of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. A flourishing career as a teenager included performances of the Tchaikovsky 1st Piano Concerto and Rachmaninov 2nd Concerto with Melbourne Symphony, acclaimed for their dramatic intensity, vision and musical conviction.

Following further recitals and appearances on ABC Television, Angelo Villani won considerable respect and esteem and a promising career seemed forthcoming. Following recommendations by Leslie Howard and Joyce Greer de Holesch to take part in the Moscow Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, the 23-year-old pianist was accepted for the 9th International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1990.

The young Australian pianist arrived in Moscow a week earlier to prepare himself for the Herculean contest. Shortly before the first round, Villani withdraw owing to a trapped nerve. A potentially important career came to an abrupt halt, whilst Villani travelled internationally seeking effective treatment.

Since settling in London in 1991, Villani has performed sporadically in mostly private gatherings such as the Liszt Society annual meeting performing alongside Kenneth Hamilton and at the Royal Overseas League. He has channeled his extensive knowledge of piano repertoire and recording history in new ways. He gives masterclasses to professional musicians, has written for specialist publications and worked for 7 years in Tower Records, providing expert advice on recordings to customers. When specialist music shops disappeared from the high streets, Villani took up employment as piano teacher at Rosary Primary School (Belsize Park) and Kentish Town Church of England Primary.

Since 2010, tangible improvements have emerged which have allowed Angelo Villani to make a full return to the keyboard and over the past couple of years he has given several private concerts across the UK. 2012 marked a return to form culminating in his official London recital debut.

 

www.angelovillani.com

Meet the Artist……Joseph Middleton, pianist

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

When I visited my maternal grandparents as a child I was always drawn to their piano. It was in their front room, a room reserved for I’m not sure what. They didn’t ever sit in there, and it was filled with objects I was told not to touch which all added to the mystique of this instrument. I was fascinated by it and they decided to have it moved to my parents’ house in Gloucestershire when I was five so that I could begin piano lessons. Looking at it now, it is a very small upright, with not much tone and poor action made by that infamous piano maker ‘Luton’. This was my piano until I left home at 18. When I went to University I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with music and while I enjoyed playing the piano it wasn’t my sole musical interest and as such I left school with an advanced diploma on violin and grade 8 flute and organ too. At University I was joint study violin and piano until my second year when my piano teacher was unwell for one term and so a replacement from the RAM was sent, Jeffrey Harris. He was a wonderfully generous man who said in my first lesson ‘Frederick [I’m still not sure why he called me this], you’ve got a technique from Mars’ and so he began rebuilding from scratch my understanding of what it meant to sit at a piano. He taught me for two years during which time I travelled to his home in Surrey and he would give me whole days of free lessons. After two years of the most remarkable and hugely influential lessons, he died suddenly while on tour in the far east. I think ten years after my first lessons with him, I am beginning to understand many of the concepts he was trying to impart. Shortly after he died I won the conducting and concerto prizes at University and applied to the Royal Academy of Music half thinking I’d stay at University and turn my MPhil into a PhD. The RAM offered me a generous entrance scholarship however and I ticked a box to be taught by Michael Dussek and Malcolm Martineau which was one of the best uses of biro I’ve ever made. They turned out to be a superb double act and Malcolm, with his customary generosity, introduced me to the song literature and also instilled in me the desire to, having done ‘all the work’, rely on my musical instincts. Through him I also found what I wanted to do, be a song accompanist.

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

Now that I have chosen to specialise in the art of playing for singers, I’d say the most important influences are the texts great composers chose to set: that magical marriage of word and music, when ‘music does not run its course beside, beneath or even above the poem. It is entirely born of the poem‘ (to paraphrase Henri Sauget). That, and having a fascination with art. A memory bank of images is a wonderful thing if you have an over-active imagination and can find pleasure in music’s play of light and shade. I am also influenced on a daily basis by the other artists with whom I’m fortunate enough to make music.

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

Any challenges of this career soon pale into insignificance when you stop and realise what an incredibly fulfilling life you can have as an artist doing what interests you and working with a medium you feel is important. Providing your income is such that you can survive, it is a privilege beyond measure to work for yourself doing what you love. That being said, piano-playing is the easy part of the puzzle. Balancing a home life so that you feel you’re not jeopardising the quality of your playing or missing out on experiencing life with family and friends needs constant reassessment. Admin is also a necessary evil. Vulnerability is also worth mentioning. It is one of the greatest assets a musician can have, to be able to let his or her guard down when performing but with this comes an openness which can be at odds with the business elements of this profession. Having a part of you that you keep sacred for music-making sounds pretentious, but it is necessary.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I performed Dichterliebe with Tom Allen in Toronto a few years ago and his mastery of timing and the way he made a 2000 seater hall as intimate as the spaces Schumann would have known in performance was miraculous. I look back with fondness on the recording sessions I enjoyed with Felicity Lott for our Elgar disc. She is a very generous colleague and a very warm person and even though the repertoire is not from the top drawer, to have recorded with her is something of which I’m proud. Tom and Flott seem to me like beacons in the music business of people who got it right as good musicians and good humans. I’m also proud of my first Wigmore Hall concert which I performed in 2007 with Clara Mouriz. We worked for months on that recital programme and it was the beginning of a fruitful collaboration and friendship as well as the start of many happy hours of music-making in that hall. I’ve also been very fortunate in being offered recitals to programme myself for Wigmore and in series for the BBC. It’s an aspect of my work I relish and the singers I’ve worked with for these projects have been very special.

Schubert’s Winterreise holds a spell over me too and I first performed it at the RAM with Allan Clayton and got totally obsessed with how rich the psychological tapestry is within the masterpiece. Recently I played it through with Tom Allen in his front room, just because we both had half a day free and fancied it. It was a strange performance that I wish the whole world could have been able to hear because of it’s spontaneity and informality – we didn’t discuss it or rehearse, we just opened the book, began at song 1 and performed it to each other without break. As with all live music it was a moment that passed in time without record.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Wigmore Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

This is impossible to answer. I am attracted to most classical music. I do however feel my life would be much the poorer without Bach, Handel, Schubert, Schumann, Debussy, Fauré, Ravel and Britten.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’d better just mention pianists, otherwise we’ll be here for a while:

Martha Argerich, Benjamin Britten, Krystian Zimerman, Emil Gilels, Walter Gieseking, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Menahem Pressler, Maria João Pires, Paul Lewis, Radu Lupo, Rosalyn Tureck, Gerald Moore, Graham Johnson, Malcolm Martineau, Bengt Forsberg.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I remember playing violin in Mahler 4 and thinking, aha, I finally think I get this composer. It was music so much easier to understand from within the orchestra. The last piece I conducted was Shostakovich 5 and it’s a work where every gesture must count. I remember being at Symphony Hall and hearing Barenboim conduct the Berlin Staatskapelle in Brahms symphonies over two nights. It was an occasion when everything seemed to line up perfectly – repertoire, musicians, hall, audience’s attentive listening. It was electric, the standing ovations were immediate and for once, necessary and I’ve never heard wind playing like it since.

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

  • To learn to sing or play clearly. That is, to communicate the essence of whatever you are performing by having a clear map before you begin and to put across the work in the strongest possible light (much easier to write about than to do!). To be humble and learn, because the composer teaches us what to do.
  • Preparation is freedom in performance – Try to understand what the symbols in front of you mean – with each composer they mean a different thing.
  • If you are an instrumentalist, learn to sing. Singers phrase music instinctively and instrumentalists can learn much about music’s natural ebb and flow from vocalising music. All music consists of consonants and vowels, a mixture of singing and speech. Also become aware of how singers breathe and support breath and use it in piano playing. Loads of pianists hold their breath when they play and this stops the music. As an accompanist you get used to sharing a collective lung with the singer you’re playing for.
  • It’s very helpful when you’re accompanying a singer to imagine how you would support them as a conductor.
  • Become obsessed with the quality of the sound you make, how it takes up space and time and how it resonates to put across emotions.
  • Everyone has a safe, default setting in their playing or singing. Know what yours is and try not to spend time there.
  • Don’t have regrets for too long after a recital, just have expectations for yourself in the next one. Will yourself to play it better next time.
  • Let people ‘overhear’ what we do on stage (don’t put the ‘emotion’ over to an audience).
  • To take huge and guiltless pleasure in what we do. Music is one of mankind’s greatest achievements and without being all quote-y, I love what Fauré wrote: ‘music exists to lift one as far as possible above what is.’
  • To exploit the right kind of tension. Much music relies on the performer using emotional tension without getting physically tense.
  • Be vulnerable.
  • Have an obsessive curiosity to learn.
  • I wish I could achieve some of these things more of the time!

What are you working on at the moment?

This season I return to the Wigmore and make my Concertgebouw debut with Katarina Karneus, I have BBC broadcasts with Christopher Maltman and next season will make my Vienna Konzerthaus debut accompanying him and then in San Francisco too. I’m also looking forward to returning to the Cheltenham Festival with Dame Felicity Lott, the Tetbury and Three Choirs with Sarah Connolly, I’m playing for Christianne Stotijn’s study of Britten’s Phaedra with it’s dedicatee Dame Janet Baker, recitals in Oxford, Leamington and Cambridge with Roderick Williams, Sussex with Christiane Karg, and in Freiburg with Carolyn Sampson. I’m also recording Purcell/Britten songs with Ruby Hughes, Anna Grevelius, Robin Blaze, Allan Clayton, Ben Nelson and Matt Rose and I’ll have my residency from the Lammermuir Festival broadcast by BBC Radio 3 with Sophie Bevan, Jennifer Johnston, Andrew Kennedy and Marcus Farnsworth. Recital CDs will be released with Amanda Roocroft and Clara Mouriz.

Pianist Joseph Middleton specialises in the art of song accompaniment and chamber music and has been highly acclaimed within this field. The Times recently described him as ‘the cream of the new generation’ and The Telegraph wrote that he ‘represents the crème de la crème of young British-based musical talent’. He performs and records with the greatest international singers in major music centres across Europe and North America.

Read Joseph Middleton’s full biography here

@jpianomiddleton

Meet the Artist…….Richard Black, repetiteur

Richard Black

Who or what inspired you to take up your chosen instrument and make it your career?

I can’t remember what inspired me to take up playing the piano. I remember asking my mother for a piano for my 7th birthday. She bought me one, then made sure I learned it.

As for the career, I pretty much stumbled into it. I studied physics for my degree and worked for 8 years in industrial electronics, but never gave up practising the piano and was doing various accompanying work (initially unpaid, of course) from student days. Eventually I found I had enough to live on, though to this day I have one or two other strings to my bow, which I keep up as much for sentimental reasons as financial ones. Making recordings is one which has a frequent practical use, with singers and instrumentalists being often asked to submit recordings as a preliminary for competitions or auditions.

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

I was lucky to have an excellent teacher, Bernard King, when I was in my teens, and also lucky to be at a school with a very good music department. Fellow-pupils gave me good advice which I forget in the specifics but remember receiving. One school-friend founded a record label and through him I met Ronald Stevenson, who has been a good friend for nearly 30 years: I’ve played a lot of his music, solo vocal and chamber. His playing was uniquely beautiful and passionate and his verbal advice no less inspiring. The latter is still true, though sadly his health prevents him performing these days. I met John Ogdon through the same record label and watching him play (I turned pages for him on many occasions) was an object lesson in achieving the (apparently) impossible.

I’ve also learned a lot from singers I’ve worked with, both seasoned professionals and those of my own generation. Sir Donald Macintyre has made me think a lot about effective sound production

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

Pianistically, the greatest challenge has been learning and performing Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Passacaglia on DSCH’. I hardly ever play solo anyway, and that’s a fair-sized challenge for anyone, so it was some way out of my comfort zone. Immensely rewarding, though. I promised Ronald back in the early 1980s I would do it, and hate to break a promise.

As an accompanist, I’ve played plenty of music that takes a bit of learning. One of the most interesting challenges was getting to grips with the songs of Bernard van Dieren. It took me several months to get a proper feeling for them, though I could sense from the first that there was real beauty there. I haven’t performed any in a while, and miss them. Alan Bush’s song cycle ‘Voices of the Prophets’ was a headscratcher – I reckon it includes the most difficult, second most difficult and third most difficult song accompaniments I know of.

Accompanying auditions is always a challenge. The singer (or instrumentalist) relies on you, and the accompanist can basically make or break a career. It’s no stress at all when someone turns up with a bit of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ or ‘Carmen’, but sight-reading ‘Wozzeck’ or ‘Die Aegyptische Helene’ requires some concentration.

As an accompanist, you do sometimes get asked to do concerts at rather short notice, especially if you’ve a reputation as a reasonably handy sight-reader. That may be for no better reason than someone having forgotten to book anyone for the gig! But then there’s the situation where a soloist is flying in from another country and even if you have plenty of notice of the repertoire you may have very little time to rehearse together. One soon learns to work efficiently under such circumstances. Orchestral musicians of course are also all too familiar with the under-rehearsed scenario. When I got together with my two colleagues in the Pizzetti Trio, one of our main aims was to ensure we had adequate – plentiful! – rehearsal for every concert. It’s much more rewarding like that.

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

I don’t do a huge amount of orchestral piano work, but the big difference from anything else a pianist does is that you don’t have the score, only an orchestral part, so you actually have to count – just like everyone else does all the time, of course. Once you’ve disciplined yourself to do that it’s not too tricky, though some of the piano parts are surprisingly awkward and of course you have to follow the conductor, usually from the back of the band.

In a chamber ensemble, by contrast, the pianist does have the score and so is, if not by any means the leader, at least the referee – you need to keep an eye on the other parts and make sure everyone is in the right place. And of course in any kind of ensemble work you have to listen to the whole sound, not just your own. This is why Wilhelm Fürtwängler said that if you can’t be an accompanist you will never be a musician. True! If you can’t accompany you’re obviously not listening properly. Fitting the sound of a piano seamlessly with voice(s), strings and/or winds is great fun.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve done very few recordings for commercial sale (though certainly over 200 demo and private recordings), and I think my first is probably my favourite: three song cycles by Ronald Stevenson (initially on CD, now on iTunes, CDBaby and all the rest). Moira Harris, Wills Morgan and me. I think we did the music justice, and we organised it all ourselves, which was a useful lesson in musical practicalities. I did the technical stuff and editing too.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

The Wigmore Hall, as much for sentimental reasons as any others. I’ve played there a couple of times and it’s a lovely feeling, but I’ve been in the audience countless times, often listening to friends performing, and it’s great. I’m not sure it’s the ultimate acoustic for piano, but it’s as good as it gets for string quartet, which is a favourite genre of mine, and voices bloom in there too.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’ve already mentioned Ronald Stevenson and John Ogdon, and among pianists I could also mention Marc-André Hamelin, Marta Argerich, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Art Tatum, Percy Grainger… and lots more, of course. A rather random handful of other kinds of musicians might include Igor Markevitch, John Barbirolli, Furtwängler, Maxim Vengerov, Wissam Boustany, Alexander Ivashkin, Elizabeth Connell, Hans Hotter, Pavarotti and Dame Anne Evans.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing John Ogdon play Busoni’s ‘Fantasia Contrappuntistica’ at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in the late 1980s. He was in a bad mood and played with the kind of intensity you just don’t forget. The opening of the Coda Stretta, where there’s a fortissimo bass ostinato, was the loudest thing I’ve ever heard from a piano, by a long way.

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

For me, few things can match the pleasure of playing Brahms’s and Beethoven’s chamber music – trios and quartets and the sonatas for various instruments. I also love playing Wagner’s operas in rehearsals: some of the piano reductions are very ingenious transcriptions, done in many cases by Liszt pupils.

I couldn’t possibly single out one composer or genre as a favourite to listen to, but string quartets by anyone rank highly, alongside symphonies by all the usual suspects and a few more besides, Martinu for instance. Anything at all by van Dieren and Ildebrando Pizzetti, two of my favourites among less-well-known composers. Stevenson, Shostakovich, Alkan…

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

My work as a repetiteur is often very much about detail, and I do think that developing an eye and an ear for detail is crucial. But what I find myself missing most often in contemporary performances, by comparison with recordings from 50 or more years ago, is the sense that the music really means something to the performer. There’s no point at all in going after ‘individualism’ as an effect – that’s just a party trick. If you can work out for yourself what a piece means (which of course need not be verbal in the slightest), and transmit that through attention to the details, you’ll be individual all right.

What are you working on at the moment?

Untypically, a work for two pianos, ‘The Fortress of Illusion’ by Michael Maxwell Steer. It’s a marvellous piece in three movements which we’re playing at the Chetham’s Summer School in a few days from now. After that I’ve got a singer to accompany at the Leicester Square Theatre in a show based on Noel Coward, repetiteuring and coaching on operas of all kinds, accompanying auditions here there and everywhere and a handful of exams. This is why I enjoy my work: it’s practically never the same two days running.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Solving problems.

Richard Black is a highly versatile pianist whose work takes in opera, the symphony orchestra, chamber music and song recitals. He has worked for opera companies great and small in the UK, on operas ranging from half-forgotten gems of the late baroque (Opera Italiana) to the largest works of Wagner (Scottish Opera, Longborough Festival Opera) to new pieces composed in the 21st century (Royal Opera House, Tête à Tête Opera). His ability to play almost anything at sight and his wide knowledge of the opera repertoire have made him a familiar face at opera auditions, and he employs similar talents in accompanying students of every voice and instrument at Goldsmiths College.

As a recital accompanist, Richard has played for singers at Wigmore Hall and St John’s Smith Square, as well as in New York, Paris and Luxembourg. He has accompanied a wide range of instrumental works and played in a variety of chamber ensembles: he recently gave what was almost certainly the first UK performance in some decades of the piano trio by Pizzetti. He has for over 20 years had a strong interest in music by the Scottish composer and pianist Ronald Stevenson, and has performed and recorded many songs by Stevenson as well as playing several of his chamber and solo piano works, including the large-scale Passacaglia on DSCH. Other recordings include songs by Alan Bush and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, and he has broadcast several times on BBC Radio 3.

Apart from playing the piano, Richard is an experienced recording engineer, producer and editor and a consultant on audio technology.

Meet the Artist……Nimrod Borenstein, composer

Nimrod Borenstein

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

My parents tell me that I started to learn music when I was 3 years old, so I had no choice but to become a musician! Apparently, when my parents and I were on holiday in France, one late afternoon we heard one of the “Orchestra in the Park” concerts. I stayed hypnotised for more than an hour and then announced that I wanted to play the violin. Soon after that I began to learn music and started to compose a few years later. I still have a clear memory of wanting to be like Beethoven when I was eight years old!

Who or what were the most important influences on your composing?

I have been inspired by many great composers from the past (including Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Mozart, Schubert, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and many others) but can say that my greatest influence has been my father, who is an artist. We often discussed all aspects of creation and tried to find parallels between painting and music. Our discussions were immensely pleasing and challenging and I find that these abstract exchanges have helped me being the composer I am now.

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

The white empty page always has and always will be the greatest challenge of all. Maybe composing would not be such a great passion if it weren’t for the white page!

Which compositions are you most proud of?

I feel proud of having written pieces for many genres including orchestral, vocal, chamber music and solo instruments. But the first time I heard my orchestral piece The Big Bang and Creation of the Universe premiered at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford I felt really proud to have written what I felt was my first symphony. I am very attached, in particular, to the second movement, Peace, which has a natural flow and evokes so many deep human feelings and longings.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

As long as I love the music and the musicians, it can be anywhere!

Favourite pieces to listen to?

It varies. At the moment I am very interested in writing concertos, so I have been listening to the Beethoven Piano Concertos a lot.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many great musicians I admire and am lucky to work with. During my formative years I spent a considerable amount of my time listening to some special recordings, which included the Menuhin/Furtwangler’s Beethoven Violin Concerto, the Oistrakh/Rostropovich Brahms’ Double Concerto, Rubinstein’s Chopin Ballades and Richter performing Schumann’s Fantasie opus 17. Having heard them so many times I can replay them in my head whenever I want to!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I would have to say that this must be the concert, which made me want to become a musician when I was three years old. It must be lodged somewhere in my subconscious….!

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

Two ideas that complement each other: work on making yourself more than you are every day of your creative life (in other words, the artistic life is passionate Sisyphean work), and secondly trust your judgement and do not believe anyone else!

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently writing a violin concerto for Dmitry Sitkovetsky to be premiered in February 2014.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Blue sky, beautiful music and my wife and daughters with me!

Interview date: March 2013