Meet the Artist……Gwilym Bowen, tenor

(photo credit: Ruairi Bowen)

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

In common with a lot of singers, I’ve been singing for most of my life – first as a chorister for my dad at St Davids Cathedral in Pembrokeshire, then at St Paul’s Cathedral. The latter part has come much more recently and still takes me a bit by surprise: for my whole teenage years I was working towards a career as a jazz pianist, but singing took over during my undergraduate degree.

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

An insultingly short list would have to include my parents and extended family; my singing teachers to date – Ulla Blom, Susanne Carlström, Philip Doghan and Ryland Davies; Ralph Allwood, Nick Goetzee and Jim Wortley at school; at Cambridge, Stephen Layton, the director of music at Trinity College, Paul Wingfield, my director of studies, Maggie Faultless, who took over performance at the music faculty, and Alice Goodman, chaplain at Trinity; hosts of generous teachers, colleagues and friends.

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

As I’m still a student, I’m hoping sure the biggest challenges are still to come, but a fair answer for now might be the two roles at Cambridge which were my operatic baptisms of fire, Pelléas and Tom Rakewell.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

When often working on the maxim that “you’re only as good as your last gig”, I’m going to go with the positive version: each project or concert, whether it’s months or hours long, is something worth taking pride in, and I wouldn’t particularly like to pick between them.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

My musical first love is Bach, and I’m lucky to have a voice which fits some of his occasionally specific challenges – all human life is there, I think, even if filtered through potentially arcane theology which is a fascinating area in itself. I need a new music fix quite frequently, and have been lucky to work with some brilliant friends in that regard – new operas by Kate Whitley and songs by Joel Rust & Jude Carlton are some recent things which have stayed with me.

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

Within vocal reason (sadly I see little Wagner in my imminent future), I’ll jump at anything which leaps off the page, makes light work of all the defences daily life throws up, and goes for the guts: recently that’s been Ives and Messiaen in the 20th century, Rameau and Handel in the early 18th, Mozart Mozart Mozart. The rhythm of the year gives a natural shape with regard to concert work – the Passions in Lent, the Messiahs and Christmas Oratorios in December, and summer throws up interesting operatic projects.

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

Not particularly: currently I’m enjoying the Duke’s Hall at the Royal Academy of Music, where I’m studying, which affords a mixture of grandeur and intimacy. But every venue has its ups and downs – I can’t recall any real shockers, however, which is perhaps tempting fate.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

A tricky one – I’ve mentioned the Passions, which are inexhaustibly wonderful masterpieces, but very often it’s whatever I’m involved in at the moment. Listen to is a very different matter – the last concert I went to was the LSO’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, which is up there for its extravagance, visceral thrills and blinding virtuosity, but day-to-day between me, the tube and my iPod, it’s mostly jazz, funk, soul.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

An endless list, but the letter J is a good start: JS Bach, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Jaco Pastorius, John Zorn, an expensive vocal quartet of Jessye Norman, Joyce Di Donato, Jonas Kaufmann and John Tomlinson.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Turangalîla again, actually, at the Proms in 2008 with the BPO and Pierre-Laurent Aimard. I’d queued my way to right in front of Aimard, and could see every single intention between score, eyes, hands and whatever else. Then in the outrageous piano cadenza in the fifth movement I fully lost track of time – that 12-second shower of notes seemed an ecstatic eternity, which was something. Seeing Dave Brubeck when I was eleven was pretty influential for the next decade, and I was lucky to see Ravi Shankar at the Proms in 2005 – I’d just started playing the sitar, and to see the global master incredibly close was wonderful. As a treble, a run of concerts with Oliver Knussen on Louis Andriessen and Elliott Carter made a lasting impression, both in terms of loving new music and having the nerve to get out on a big stage and deliver – much harder to start from scratch as an adult, I’m sure.

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

I’m still very much an aspiring musician, but hard work, keeping a childish enthusiasm, and a streak of punk aesthetic seems a good mix.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’ve been working on two different productions of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea, in a tour with Ryedale Festival Opera and on the Britten-Pears Young Artists Programme in Aldeburgh – a work which could take a lifetime to unpick, let alone a summer. In between those,  plenty of work preparing for my first year in the Academy’s opera school, with Gianni Schicchi, The Rake’s Progress and Lennox Berkeley’s A Dinner Engagement.

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

Hopefully doing more or less what I’m doing now, at as high a level as who’ll have me, and 10 years into my project of writing about every song written by Schubert in chronological order, 200 years after the fact – 1824’s a fairly quiet year, actually, but doing any kind of justice to Die schöne Müllerin the year before might take a bit of work.

Born in Hereford, Gwilym Bowen is a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, having graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2011 with a double First class degree in Music. He studies with Ryland Davies and Jonathan Papp, and is due to take up a place at Royal Academy Opera from September.

Gwilym’s full biography

Interview date: 19th July 2014

Running a successful piano studio

The following text formed the basis for a presentation and discussion which I led at a workshop for piano teachers held on Sunday 23rd November at Cecil Sharp House in north London. The presentation slides can be accessed here (Powerpoint presentation) or here (PDF file).

A vocation and a profession

Many people regard piano teaching as a vocation rather than a “profession”, and many do not understand or see the need for admin and business practice to enter into the craft of piano teaching. However, with a few simple steps you can organise your studio to run it in a way that is enjoyable, largely stress-free and profitable



1. Website

This is the 21st century business card and the first port of call for most people who are looking for a piano teacher.  Your website is your “shop window” and you should present a professional appearance. Pick a website design that is clear, accessible and easy to navigate. Having a website allows you to put up things like your studio policy, fees, term times (if applicable), business hours, your CV and qualifications, and teaching philosophy. Some teachers also like to include exam results and testimonials, sound and video clips and links to other sites. A well-designed website reduces time-wasting questions. You don’t even have to pay a specialist web designer to create a website: attractive and easy to build templates are available free from platforms such as WordPress, Blogger, Wix and Tumblr.

2. Get listed

Take advantage of free listings on sites such as and also local sites such as Mumsnet or a local site for small businesses (I belong to something called Teddnet). Being listed shows you are proactive and “out there”. Local music shops often have teacher listings too.

3. Use social networks

Don’t underestimate the usefulness of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Use both platforms to advertise your studio and connect with other teachers and music professionals etc around the world. Include links to your Twitter and Facebook profiles on your website. You can set up a Facebook page which is separate from a personal Facebook profile. Be intelligent about how much information about yourself you share on these networks, but don’t be afraid to use them: they can be a fantastic source of resources, information sharing and interaction between others in the profession.


Adopt a professional demeanour in everything you do – from the way you dress to teach to how you interact with your students and their parents (your “clients”)

Have a clear studio policy/T&Cs and post this on your website. And stick to it! If you don’t offer catch up lessons, don’t make an exception for one or two students. Your policy must include information on payment, cancellation and make-up policies, punctuality, practising, exams and your expectations of parents and students. Some teachers ask students/their parents to sign a contract to indicate they have understood the T&Cs. Clear policies like these give credibility and confidence by setting expectations from the outset and let everyone know they are being treated fairly. You can also refer to them in the future to clarify things for anyone who may have forgotten or who queries missed lessons, payment of fees etc.

You can obtain a contract template from bodies such as EPTA and ISM.

Fees – always a tricky area as you don’t want to price yourself out of the market nor undersell yourself. Your fees should reflect your experience and qualifications but also take into account the demographic of area you live/work in. Look at what other teachers in your area are charging for guidance. The ISM publishes an annual survey of fees which gives a national average (currently £25 – £36 per hour for private instrumental teaching outside London) and London average (currently between £30-£50). How you choose to bill your students is up to you, but invoicing termly or half-termly reduces admin. Collecting fees can be a major headache so encourage all your clients to pay by direct bank transfer and give a date by which fees must be paid each term. Consider using billing software such as Music Teacher’s Helper (30-day free trial)

Tax and record keeping – be scrupulous about record keeping and keep your tax affairs in order. Use a tax accountant to help you if necessary.

Join a professional body such as EPTA or ISM if you feel this will lend credence to your professional standing. These bodies offer free listings, legal advice, , child protection, and can assist in disputes about fees etc

Get CRB checked – if you work with children you need to be completely transparent. An Enhanced Disclosure Certificate (formerly CRB check) is easy to obtain State on your website that you have this certification.

Ongoing professional development – attending seminars, workshops and courses all feed into your teaching experience, allow you to connect with other teachers, and demonstrate that you are a teacher who is enquiring and interested in keeping up to date with new trends in piano pedagogy.

Personal development as a pianist – taking lessons and attending courses, masterclasses and conferences, learning new repertoire, performing, demonstrating to students that study does not end at Grade 8; that it is an ongoing process

Extra-curricular activities – enhance and add value to the teaching experience for your students by organising concerts and encouraging them to enter competitions and festivals, attend concerts and visit museums with musical connections. Student concerts are a wonderful way of celebrating your students’ achievements and allow family and friends a chance to see how your students are progressing. They are also a way of showing that piano lessons and regular practise bring recognisable achievement and progress.

Feel in charge of your own professional destiny and maintain your integrit  - for example, setting fees which you feel reflect your value and experience; being honest about who you want to tell (you don’t have to take on everyone!), setting high expectations of yourself and your students; not resting on the laurels of exam successes.

Related articles

An Image Crisis in Independent Piano Teaching?

Being Professional – the debate

Meet the Artist……Florian Uhlig


(photo: Marc Borggreve)

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

When I was young there was always music at home: my father was an amateur pianist and my parents used to play old records with all sorts of classical music: opera, lied, symphonic repertoire and piano music.

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

Studying with truly wonderful piano teachers: Peter Feuchtwanger, Bernard Roberts at the Royal College of Music and Hamish Milne at the Royal Academy of Music. But also the legendary German baritone Hermann Prey with whom I was fortunate to work in my early twenties.

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

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 3, I guess.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’d rather leave this for the critics to decide! But I am quite happy with my latest recording, Ravel’s complete works for piano solo.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have developed a very soft spot for Schumann since I started recording his entire piano oeuvre four years ago.

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

Generally, the concerto repertoire is decided by the orchestras and conductors. The choice of chamber music pieces, in turn, is a result of a dialogue with the chamber partners I love working with. For my solo recital repertoire I am almost 100% in the driving seat in terms of making the decisions. Often I try to programme pieces I am about to record during or just after a given season.

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

The Wigmore Hall in London and the Musikverein in Vienna – wonderful acoustics and atmosphere!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Beethoven’s Piano Concertos

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Leonard Bernstein, Chick Corea, Jacqueline du Pré – at least one for each letter of the alphabet…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

2007 in Caracas: performing Penderecki’s Piano Concerto under the baton of the composer with the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela.

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

True passion for what you do, hard work, patience, perseverance and a good sense of humour

Your new disc is the complete solo piano music of Maurice Ravel. What is the particular attraction of this composer’s music for you? And what are the special challenges of his piano music?

Ever since my childhood I have been in love with Ravel’s music: the colours, the atmosphere, the exotic beauty and inner lucidity of his writing. The special challenges: an enormously nuanced virtuosity, subtlety of hearing and colouring.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my family.

What is your present state of mind?

Onwards and upwards!


Florian Uhlig’s new Ravel: Complete Solo Piano Works is available now on the Hänssler Classic label.

Born in Dusseldorf, pianist Florian Uhlig gave his first solo recital at the age of 12. He studied with Peter Feuchtwanger and continued his studies at the Royal College of Music and at the Royal Academy of Music in London where he now lives, as well as in Berlin.

Full biography on Florian’s website:



Being Professional – the debate

L to R: Sally Cathcart (standing), Frances Wilson, Sharon Mark-Teggart, Nigel Scaife & Lucinda Mackworth- Young

Those readers who have followed and contributed to my research and articles on Professionalism in Private Piano Teaching may like to read a summary of the presentations and subsequent debate at The Oxford Piano Group last month. This is taken from TOPG organiser Sally Cathcart’s blog:

At the end of October the first Oxford Piano Group meeting of the year focussed on discussing definitions of what ‘being professional’ means for the UK piano teacher.  It was a fascinating discussion stimulated by the thoughts of four presenters; Lucinda Mackworth-Young, Director of the Piano Teacher’s Course (EPTA UK), Nigel Scaife, Syllabus Director at ABRSM, Sharon Mark-Teggart, Founder and Director of Evoco and Frances Wilson, pianist, teacher and writer. 

Read the rest of Sally’s article here

Those who are interested in continuing this important debate about professionalism in private piano teaching may like to join a Facebook group which I have set up in order to share thoughts and resources and to debate issues which concern us:


Related articles:

An Image Crisis in Independent Piano Teaching?

On Professionalism in Private Piano Teaching

Improving the Image of the Independent Piano Teacher

Meet the Artist……York2 Piano 4 hands (John and Fiona York)

York2 is the piano duo of John and Fiona York

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

John: My mother played quite well, we had a decent upright and the best teacher in Eastbourne lived round the corner. She was recommended to my mother by our piano tuner!

Fiona: My father. He was an extremely talented amateur pianist who was torn between career choices – Law won but he loved seeing me develop into a fully-fledged professional.

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

F: My first teacher who was taught at Guildhall by Cimbro Martin, who also taught John, who also taught me…! The methods passed on to me are still going strong in my own teaching.

J: All four of my teachers – all very demanding and revealing – and my early, chance discovery of Debussy and French piano music in general which gave me direction for at least ten years at the start of my career.

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

J: Doing the Tchaikovsky competition was tough, demanding, horrible and a bit distressing – ultimately pretty pointless, too, considering that the UK government had only just evicted over a hundred spies from London!

F: In the early days, learning the big repertoire and persuading fixers and audiences that they really do want to hear the entire Planets Suite played on one piano!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

J: The York2 recording of Debussy’s La Mer – and one or two of our many Rite of Spring performances.

F: Of course the above, but also an extraordinary, impossibly fast, brilliant and thrilling four-minute piece called Impulse by Benjamin Wallfisch which he wrote for two pianos and two marimbas. We never actually met the marimba players…

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

F: The big orchestral duet works and, in total contrast, some of the ‘smallest’ salon repertoire such as Dolly Suite by Fauré or Jeux d’Enfants by Bizet which are extremely sophisticated in their own way and ever popular.

J: Those same pieces with York2 – and the Beethoven ‘cello works with Raphael Wallfisch.

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

[J and F discuss…] No particular plan – the usual delving into anniversaries perhaps, unusual repertoire perhaps, nice couplings and strong juxtapositions – whatever feels good and is attractive to promoters and audiences.

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

J: Like everyone else I’d always say the Wigmore Hall and, more recently, the main Kings Place hall near King’s Cross station. Both are beautiful, sound great and have real atmosphere.

F: The Singing Hall in St.Paul’s Girls’ School is a favourite – [J interrupts:I’d forgotten that one but absolutely agree!”]. It was designed and used by Holst in his role as Director of Music and the acoustic is still wonderful.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

F: To perform – The Rite. To listen to – Brahms 4

J: To perform – La Mer.  To listen to – Bruckner 8, or the entire Ring cycle.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

J: I’d always say one of the great orchestras before any soloist – but I admire some of the great singers – and also pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who has integrity and real class.  I really believe very few other pianists deserve the adulation they get these days – you probably know who I mean!

F: He might say that – I couldn’t possibly comment.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

F: A particularly bad one was playing Lutoslawski Paganini Variations for two pianos, 20 feet apart, to six people at 11 o’clock at night in the Salzburg Festival and hearing the receding footsteps of one of those six, who turned out to be the janitor.

J: A bad one? – the Greenwich Festival 6-Steinway concert at Eltham Palace years ago, a horrendous, long, difficult, fractious, uncomfortable and very unpleasant experience.

A good one? – York2’s Wigmore Hall recital at my 30th anniversary concert.

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

J: To read the score and study the context, not to impose ego or allow ignorance – only then you can allow yourself freedom with complete confidence.

F: To show the musical complexity of your repertoire and not patronise your audiences with over-simplified and obvious renditions.

What are you working on at the moment? 

J: Some enormous cello and piano sonatas for upcoming concerts – and the complete works of Rebecca Clarke and Ernest Bloch for cello.

F: Some tiny, utterly beautiful miniatures for a friend’s Soiree.

[F notes that J is keen to answer all of the questions as follows…]

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

Still strong and still giving concerts – and still enjoying doing it!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

J: Does it exist?  It sounds complacent.  Life should be, and is, a good mix.

Perfect Happiness? 

F chose just one question: A quiet mind – to love and be loved – an inextinguishable sense of humour.

York2John and Fiona York – four hands one piano


YORK2 has a reputation as the ‘piano duo with a difference’, gained through husband and wife team John and Fiona’s exploration of larger scale and contemporary scores, alongside the rich and familiar duet repertoire.  

Fiona and John have given countless concerts in the UK, on BBC Radio 3, in Australia, for CBC TV and TV Ontario Canada, on boats on the Great Lakes, at the Salzburg Festival, concertos at the Barbican Centre and at the South Bank in London. 

York2’s 2nd recording of ‘The Planets’ was released in 2010 on Nimbus, coupled with duet music by York Bowen. At that session, they also recorded, on a second disc, Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’, Debussy’s ‘La Mer’ and Ravel’s ‘Rapsodie Espagnole’.  This special repertoire was released in 2010 to critical appreciation and admiration. 

Their earlier recordings on the LondonHall label include minimalist music by contemporary Austrian composer Norbert Zehm, and their first recording (now deleted) of Holst’s ‘The Planets’ was recorded for Black Box in 2001. It was the world première recording of the composer’s own four-hands version and the disc also includes Holst’s complete piano solo works. 

As well as giving concerts, Fiona has been a long-standing teacher at several London schools.  She has worked in the junior departments of the Royal College, Trinity and Guildhall and this year marks her 15th year with the piano staff at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, London.  

John was Professor at Guildhall for 33 years and was Senior Music Head of Department at St. Paul’s Girls’ School where Holst was Director of Music for 20 years in the early 20th century.  During his time at the School, John discovered the long-forgotten four-hands score of The Planets in a cupboard in the room where it was composed, leading to York 2’s re-editing and recording of this great English score.  Tony Palmer, the well-known film director, included them in his Holst bio-pic ‘In the bleak midwinter.’ 

A highly successful and emotional recital of ‘The Planets’, the ‘Rite’ and ‘La Mer’ at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2004 marked the 30th anniversary of John’s début in that hall. Although York 2’s repertoire is so demanding, at only one day’s notice in 2010 John and Fiona gave a recital of ‘The Planets’ and ‘The Rite’ in a major festival in Madrid, to a full house, broadcast live on Spanish radio. 

The Independent and Financial Times reviewers were very enthusiastic –  

“York2 goes stratospheric!” – “the playing was enough to confirm the evening in its ambition, scope and sheer grit as something exceptional, duly exciting a prolonged ovation from its capacity audience”.

News from Meet the Artist #2

Left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy has released a special limited edition disc, recorded in commemoration of the First World War Centenary and Nicholas’s  dedication to the Left Hand Repertoire that developed as a result of injuries sustained in battle.

Featuring great works that Nicholas has performed across the BBC, ITV and the Cheltenham Music Festival including music from Scriabin, Liszt, Ivor Novello and with a rare arrangement of ‘Ave Maria’ by Paul Wittgenstein an Austrian soldier who lost his right hand in WW1 and as a result commissioned many pieces for Left Hand Alone. An earlier exponent of Left Hand Repertoire was Count Geza Zichy, a student and friend of Liszt. The Zichy transcription of Der Erlkönig was said to have been played at his famous 1915 troop concert. Nicholas also performs his own left hand alone transcription of ‘Roses of Picardy’ an anthem of the Great War popular both at home and at the Front. The music is in tribute to all of those that have suffered through War whether at home or over seas and it is dedicated to the memory of those that made the ultimate sacrifice. Full details here

Pianist Amit Yahav has just released his debut disc ‘Amit Yahav Plays Chopin’. The disc contains the four Ballades, the Scherzo in C-sharp minor, and two Polonaises. Full details here

At the end of October, Emmanuel Vass was featured on ClassicFM on John Suchet’s flagship breakfast programme. Emmanuel’s debut album ‘From Bach to Bond’ was given a very warm recommendation by John Suchet. Details of Emmanuel’s CD here

Sarah Beth Briggs new disc of piano music by Debussy and Chopin is due for release in early December. The disc includes Debussy’s ‘Suite Bergamasque’ and ‘Pour le Piano’, and Chopin’s first Ballade, Berceuse, Fantasy in F minor and the fourth Scherzo. In 2015, Sarah will be performing in a duo partnership with James Lisney.

Cellist Corinne Morris is exploring music from la Belle Epoque in a mini series of concerts at the 1901 Arts Club.  The concerts offer a chance to discover the music of the Belle Époque era  through famous works and composers such as Debussy, Franck and Saint-Saëns to the hidden gems of songwriters Hahn, Chaminade, Duparc and many more….. Full details and tickets here.

Dream Rotation, the debut CD from pianist Natalie Bleicher (forthcoming Meet the Artist interviewee) is out now. The disc includes works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Sally Beamish, and will be reviewed on this blog in the near future. Further details here.

Forthcoming Meet the Artist interviews include: tenor Gwilym Bowen; pianists Ashley Wass, Simon Callaghan, Ivan Ilic, Natalie Bleicher, Cordelia Williams and Zsolt Bognar; oboist and conductor James Fletcher, percussionist and composer Dame Evelyn Glennie, and baritone Paul Carey Jones. Full details of the series including links to all the interviews published to far here

Meet the Artist…… Jenna Sung, pianist

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

When I was 8 years old, I had a chance to play for a renowned pianist in Korea and I was very nervous for a whole week. One day before meeting her, I had a nightmare that she told me not to play piano and I cried a lot. That was the point when I realised that I want to play piano my whole life, no matter what. In fact, she was very lovely in person.

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

My piano teacher for 5 years from age 10. She was a very active performer and I went to her every concert. From the moment when she would enter the stage with the conductor until the end of concert, the audience was enchanted by her. She was my absolute idol. She always told me that your music starts when you enter the stage and at her concerts she demonstrated to me what she meant. She was magnificent and it was my dream to be a pianist like her.

I am grateful that I have met so many wonderful musicians who are a big influence in my life and not just in music: especially Leon McCawley, Deniz Gelenbe, Gabriele Baldocci, Pascal Roge, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, Ola Karlsson and Peter Grote.

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

For a long time I played piano for someone else. One day I lost that person and I was really lost for a year. Slowly I learnt to love music again and play piano for myself. Now I will always have a reason to play my music because it is finally truly who I am.

Which performance are you most proud of?

I am fortunate to have played at prestigious concert venues all around the world. I enjoy playing at big halls, and was surprised when I had a life-changing experience at a lower standard hall. After the recital an elderly lady came to me crying. She was speaking Spanish, which I could not understand, but I could feel how happy she was. I was really touched and proud that I could make people happy, or happier, with my music. After that point I was reminded of the origin of music and my purpose in being musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The music that means something to me.

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

I aim to have a mixed repertoire so that there is something for me and for the audience.

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

Wigmore Hall in London, Palau de la Musica in Valencia and the Berlin Philharmonic are amazing and at the top of my favourites list.

On one occasion I played a solo recital on a big stage (the stage itself has a capacity of 500 people) in Korea. It was interesting for me as it was hard to control the acoustic. It was very challenging but gave me joy.

Favourite pieces to listen to?

I love listening to Chopin piano concerto recordings. Every pianists has a different interpretation.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Alfred Cortot and Jacqueline du Pre

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no.3 for Alzheimer’s patients and a solo recital at an army base. I never had such a concentrated and enthusiastic audience.

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

Know yourself. Physically and psychologically.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am preparing two world premieres for a Wigmore Hall recital this month, by Stephen Montague and Gwyn Pritchard. These works were commissioned as part of my project to commemorate lives lost at sea – an idea that came to be after the tragic disaster of the Korean ferry MV Sewol on the 16 April 2014. I sometimes forget the many different sides of nature and tend to label it based on what is visible on the surface. For the second part of my recital I have selected pieces related to this idea, including the two premiered pieces.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Spotify subscription and Edwin Fischer’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Identified by Gramophone as the ‘talent of tomorrow – today’, Jenna Sung gives her debut Wigmore Hall recital on 16th November 2014 as a prize for the 2013 Jaques Samuel Pianos Competition. The programme includes works by Haydn, Skryabin, Chopin and Ravel, together with the premiere of new works by Stephen Montague and Gwyn Pritchard. Further information and tickets here

Jenna Sung’s biography

Francois-Frederic Guy at Wigmore Hall

Brouillards swathed the Wigmore audience in mist, yet the sound was never foggy”

Photo credit: Guy Vivien
Photo credit: Guy Vivien

Occasionally one comes across an artist who seems so at one with the music, that one can almost hear the composer at the artist’s shoulder saying ”yes, that is what I meant”. Such was the effect of French pianist François-Frédéric Guy’s performance of Beethoven’s final Piano Sonata, the Op.111, at London’s Wigmore hall on Friday night: a performance replete in insight and an emotional intensity which comes from a long association with and admiration for this composer and his music.

Read my full review here

Meet the Artist…..Saira Clegg, saxophonist

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

I learnt to play the recorder from my best friend in the playground when I was 6 years old. We would practise together every break-time and I was instantly hooked on playing music. My parents gave me the choice between the clarinet or the viola; my mother having played the viola at a younger age and my uncle the clarinet. I started having lessons with the woodwind teacher at my school and it was there that I was introduced to the saxophone. I heard the sound through the door from the pupil before me and I went home and told my parents “that is the instrument for me”.

I started the saxophone aged 9 and a year later, I performed my first concerto with the local orchestra, the Ronald Binge Concerto for saxophone and orchestra. I wish I could hear a recording of it now!

I went to the Purcell School of Music and studied clarinet with David Fuest and saxophone with Simon Stewart. I then ended up completing my degree and masters in performance at the Akademie fuer Tonkunst in Germany, with a former member of the Rascher Saxophone Quartet: Frau Linda Bangs.

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

My parents were very supportive of my playing and would always take me to hear classical concerts, both orchestral and specifically saxophone. But, it wasn’t until I heard The Rascher Saxophone Quartet and had lessons from Bruce Weinberger that I really realised what the saxophone could do. The sound they create, the way in which the instruments blend together and the amazing virtuosity in which the players can perform, effortlessly; I wanted to play like that! That is really where I decided the direction and style of playing and decided to study with Frau Linda Bangs.

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

One of the hardest points in my career was the unfortunate sports injury which meant I had to have four operations on my hip, removing cartilage, cysts and bone. I continued playing, although it was and still can be painful to sit for long periods of time, sometimes sitting at all! My lecturers and teachers were very kind, letting me postpone exams until after surgery and letting me lie on the floor during lectures and rehearsals (mainly choir!) I really came to understand the importance of health: being healthy in your body but also in mind. I had the opportunity to spend time listening to other players, researching the saxophone and the history and feel that I am a more rounded player because of this.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My final masters performance has to be one of my proudest moments. I played a programme which was 1hr 45mins long, including pieces for an 11-piece saxophone ensemble with percussion, a trio for xylophone, timpani and saxophone and also a piece for tenor saxophone and boombox. It was such a demanding programme, the adrenaline was racing and the audience were fantastic!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Even though people are surprised at the idea, I enjoy playing music from the baroque era the most. It dances and sings all by itself and is such a pleasure to play.

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

This all depends on the audience and venue I will be playing at. That’s a hard question to answer!

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

I haven’t found it yet, although my dream (since I was a child and saw the proms there) is to perform a solo saxophone concerto on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall. I am performing at the O2 next year which has to be the biggest venue for me yet.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I enjoy performing all types of music, especially Baroque and rock n roll!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

The Rascher Saxophone Quartet were, and still are a huge influence and inspiration for me and I enjoy listening to their work very much. I also am a great fan of Maceo Parker, The London Community Gospel Choir and Anthony Strong.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Towards the end of my time in Germany, I performed a baroque Sonata with myself and my colleague Sarah Wuensche on soprano and Frau Linda Bangs on the baritone. I still cannot believe I performed alongside the woman who inspired me and moulded me into the musician I am today. I still have the recording and it brings butterflies every time I watch it.

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

I think one of the most important things for any student, being old or young, is to have fun. Music is such a spiritual aspect of a potential fast-paced world and it can bring so much joy and happiness that if it isn’t fun to play, then maybe should be listened to. Passion enables dedication and practise, which in turn can create the most amazing and versatile of players on any instrument. Music is an important part of every life, whether it is being played or listened to.

What are you working on at the moment? 

At the moment I am the most recent member in a 1950s Rock n Roll band and I learning the repertoire by ear, listening to the original records. It’s a wonderful and lively genre of music and performing it in 50s attire is an exciting experience! The band is called The Wonderers and you can find them at !

I have recently founded a saxophone and cello duo, called SaxnCello and we are learning material ready for a series of concerts we have lined up next year. We are playing a wide range of music, from Mozart cello duets to tangos and even the theme tune from the Swedish Series ‘The Bridge’, which my husband has arranged for us.

It is an exciting time at the moment and I am enjoying be part of many different groups and genres.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My most treasured possession would have to be my soprano saxophone, a Buescher, curved gold saxophone from around the 1930s. I bought it from Frau Linda Bangs about half way through my studies and couldn’t give it back. Although it looks small and rusty the sound is sweet and round, producing a true saxophone sound that Aldophe Sax had intended.

Saira Clegg was born in July 1985 in London. She started the clarinet at the age of 8, and one year later started the saxophone. In 1997 she began studying both instruments with a scholarship under the Governments Music and Ballet Scheme at The Purcell School of Music. After leaving school she continued onto The Royal College of Music gaining a Foundation Scholarship for Clarinet and Saxophone. She then spent one and a half years studying with Bruce Weinberger in Switzerland, before restarting  and completing her Degree and Masters in Darmstadt, Germany with Linda Bangs-Urban.

At the age of 10, Saira performed her first solo saxophone concerto and one year later became the principal clarinettist of the English National Children’s Orchestra. Her last performance with the orchestra, at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (UK), was recorded for Classic FM radio. In 1999, she won the “Watford Twin Town” competition resulting in two solo recitals at the Rachmaninoff Festival in Novgorod, Russia. In 2001, Saira played the clarinet for Prince Charles at the UNESCO building, Paris. She won the “Three Rivers Young Musician” and “Watford Young Musician of the Year” in 2002. Saira has performed at Buckingham Palace, the Wigmore Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and St. Johns Smith Square.



Alexandre Tharaud at Queen Elizabeth Hall

(photo: Marco Borggreve)

I first heard French pianist Alexandre Tharaud at the Wigmore Hall in October 2013, and his performance of Bach, Schubert and Chopin left me somewhat underwhelmed.

In his concert at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of the International Piano Series, he left me wanting more….

How clever of Alexandre Tharaud to open his QEH concert with Schubert’s Moments musicaux, salon pieces which combine charm and tenderness with an unsettling edginess to create Schubert’s emotional and musical landscape in microcosm. From the opening notes of the first of the suite, Tharaud imbued the music with intimacy and set the tone for the whole evening, even in the more extrovert sentences of Ravel’s “Alborada del gracioso” from Miroirs. This was piano playing which encouraged concentrated listening.

Read my full review here


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