Meet the Artist……Roger Proctor, composer

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

My main motivation for composing has been the arrival of my children, which although taking up a great deal of time – has been a constant source of inspiration. In addition to this, I am very inspired by the countryside. When I began composing my latest album ‘Summit’, I was living very close to Richmond Park and I took much inspiration for the music during misty morning walks in the park. I am also very inspired by the area close to where I live now and I have tried to reflect the openness and beauty of the Chiltern Hills.

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

I have been greatly influenced by working with my piano and composition students who have drawn my attention to all manner of composers and musicians both in ‘pop/rock’  genres and classical. I have also been influenced by working with rock and jazz musicians in a band environment where freedom of expression is sought and encouraged.

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

Recording my last album ‘Summit’ took a great deal of time and patience over many months.

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

Commissioned work is an incredibly challenging task as often you do not have sole creative input into the final work. It is a collaboration of at least two or more people all with differing opinions on the final outcome. These challenges can be incredibly rewarding however and can lead to unexpected outcomes.

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

Composing can be a lonely pursuit so I always enjoy collaborations with other musicians. in 2008, I worked with a singer on an album of folk music which was a really enjoyable collaboration.

Which works are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my latest album of solo piano music ‘Summit’ written to reflect my love of the countryside and dedicated to my one year old daughter. Although I have released it as a CD, I primarily wrote it with the pianist in mind. I am very keen that my music should be interpreted and re-composed by the pianist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I love venues which are ‘unconventional’ like outdoor venues. Last year I performed in a disused barn in the middle of a corn field which was great fun and very atmospheric.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I love Bach for the truthfulness and inventiveness of expression. In particular, I am incredibly impressed by the way they solved structural problems in seemingly effortless ways. Modern composers I have taken influence from are John Tavener and Yann Tiersen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Watching sir Simon Rattle conducting Beethoven’s 5th (from the choir stalls so I could see every expression on the conductor’s face) and feeling my daughter wriggle in my wife’s belly.

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

Take advice and instruction in an objective and critical way. It is important to remember that ‘you’ are the musician – it is your creativity and musicianship that are the most important aspects of your performance or composition.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am busy working on my second album of solo music, due to be published in late 2015.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my violin.

www.rogerproctor.com

Frances Wilson & friends at LASSCO Brunswick House

THIS EVENT IS NOW **SOLD OUT**

On 22nd January 2015, the South London Concert Series returns to the opulent setting of the Saloon at Brunswick House, a magnificent Georgian mansion close to London’s Vauxhall Station, and home to an eclectic collection of antiques and salvaged curiosities.

IMG_2281Join SLCS Artistic Director Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) and friends for a concert of piano music by Debussy, Schubert, Satie, Shostakovich, Scarlatti, McLeod, Rachmaninov, Menotti, Messiaen and more, plus the world premiere of ‘Preludes for Piano’ by Matthew Sear.

 

Frances’s Programme:

Debussy – ‘Prelude’ from Suite Bergamasque

Sear – ‘Preludes for Piano’

Schubert – Impromptu in f minor, D935/1

Messiaen – ‘Regard de la Vierge’, from Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus

Frances is joined by supporting artists Petra Chong, Jose-Luis Gutierrez Sacristan, Rob Foster, Lorraine Womack-Banning and Lee Varney.


“Frances Wilson…..a confident and fluent pianist with an authoritative interpretative standpoint” – James Lisney, concert pianist

“Very accomplished and controlled playing” – Murray McLachlan, pianist & Head of Keyboard at Chethams

“A stylistically assured performance founded on secure technique”

On the South London Concert Series

“Events blend an appreciation of fine music and music making with conviviality, and blur the artificial distinctions between professional and amateur.”

“Doing amazing things for pianists in London”

“An entirely delightful event………with a small and wonderfully eclectic audience, including lots of young people (try finding this age group at the Wigmore Hall!), chamber music in its natural setting.”

 

Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, teacher and music and art reviewer. In recent years she has made a name for herself in the classical music community in the UK and beyond via her blog ‘The Cross-Eyed Pianist’ which features articles on classical music and pianism, concert reviews, guest articles and a popular weekly interview series Meet the Artist in which musicians, composers and conductors discuss various aspects of their creative lives. Frances is also a regular contributor to Pianist magazine’s online content, and has written guest articles for a number of classical music and music education websites including Clavier Companion and SoundandMusic.org. A passionate advocate of amateur pianism, Frances is co-host, with Lorraine Liyanage, of the London Piano Meetup Group, which organises performance and social events for adult amateur pianists in and around London.

Meet the Artist……Frances Wilson

Let us now praise British pianists – The List

For my first post of 2015, I’ve compiled a list of British pianists, the result of my call for nominations for British pianists. This is by no means a comprehensive list and readers are invited to continue to add more names (use the comments box below).

Links go to my ‘Meet the Artist’ interview with that pianist

Martin James Bartlett

Alisdair Beatson

Mark Bebbington

Sarah Beth Briggs

John Bingham

Christian Blackshaw

Nick van Bloss

James Brawn

Graham Caskie

Imogen Cooper

Jill Crossland

Christine Crowshaw

Peter Donohoe

Danny Driver

Gordon Fergus-Thompson

Margaret Fingerhut

Michael Finnissy

Norma Fisher

Philip Edward Fisher

William Fong

Ian Fountain

Philip Fowke

Grace Francis

Ashley Fripp

Benjamin Frith

Mark Gasser

Anthony Goldstone

Daniel Grimwood

Benjamin Grosvenor

Clare Hammond

Waka Hasegawa

Anthony Hewitt

Tom Hicks

Peter Hill

Rolf Hind

Nicolas Hodges

Alisdair Hogarth

Timothy Horton

Stephen Hough

John Irving

Julian Jacobson

Martin Jones

Graham Johnson

Peter Katin

Brian Kellock

Renna Kellaway

Mark Latimer

Paul Lewis

John Lill

James Lisney

Joanna Macgregor

Robert Markham

John McCabe

Nicholas McCarthy

Leon McCawley

Murray McLachlan

Viv McLean

Lara Melda

Hamish Milne

Erdem Misirlioglu

Mishka Rushdie Momen

Thalia Myers

Sarah Nicholls

Steven Osborne

Charles Owen

Ian Pace

Lucy Parham

Yuri Paterson-Olenich

Jonathan Plowright

Tom Poster

Jonathan Powell

John Reid

James Rhodes

Paul Roberts

Michael Roll

Martin Roscoe

Stephen Savage

Allan Schiller

Alexander Soares

Colin Stone

Kathryn Stott

Philip Thomas

Susan Tomes

Daniel Tong

Joseph Tong

Roger Vignoles

Mark Viner

Ashley Wass

Simon Watterton

Cordelia Williams

Andrew Wilde

Lyr Williams

James Willshire

Yuanfan Yang

Adopted, Honorary & Honoured Britons’

Alfred Brendel

Barry Douglas

Mary Dullea

Jayson Gillham

Michael McHale

Meng Yang Pan

Murray Perahia

Karim Said

Andras Schiff

Mitsuko Uchida

‘Late greats’

Harriet Cohen

Clifford Curzon

James Friskin

Myra Hess

Terence Judd

Sir Philip Ledger

Moura Lympany

Denis Matthews

Gerald Moore

John Ogdon

Harold Samuel

Irene Scharrer

Phyllis Sellick

Cyril Smith

Solomon

Top 10 posts of 2015

1. An Image Crisis in Independent Piano Teaching?

The results of a survey which I conducted as part of my research for a presentation on Professionalism in Private Piano Teaching which I gave at the Oxford Piano Group in October 2014. Improving the image of the private piano teacher and campaigning for professionalism within the field of piano teaching has become one of my chief preoccupations.

2. Mysteries of the Sustain Pedal

Thoughts on the technique of using the sustain pedal, and why we should never call it “the loud pedal”.

3. Courses and Summer Schools for Pianists

The huge popularity of courses, summer schools and piano groups for pianists of all levels indicates a healthy interest in and enthusiasm for piano playing in the UK. See my overview of courses for 2015, including new courses in luxurious surroundings in the Lot region of France.

4. Playing the Beethoven Piano Sonatas

A resumé of Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas and why they are so special.

5. Why take a music diploma?

Thoughts on the benefits of taking a performance diploma, based on my own experience having completed both the Associate (2011) and Licentiate (2013) Diplomas with Trinity College of Music, London.

6. Mahan Esfahani at Wigmore Hall

I first encountered harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani in 2011 when he performed the Goldberg Variations as a Chamber Prom – the first ever solo harpsichord recital at the Proms. 2014 has been Mahan’s year: he has received critical acclaim for his discs of keyboard music by C P E Bach and Jean-Philippe Rameau, was named the winner of the Baroque Instrumental category at the 2014 Gramophone Awards, and has been signed by Deutsche Grammophon.

7. Meet the Artist……Stephen Hough, CBE

My interview with acclaimed British pianist, composer and writer.

8. The Pianist as Sportsperson

Thoughts on the similarities between the musician’s and the sportsperson’s life and training.

9. On professionalism in private piano teaching

My presentation for the Oxford Piano Group

10. Oblique Strategies in Practice (and Practising)

New ways to approach practising, based on the Oblique Strategies Cards created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt and first published in 1975.

And the fun stuff – I was honoured to feature on the blog Pianists With Kittens

Meet the Artist…… Ashley Wass

(Photo credit: Patrick Allen)

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

My (non-musical) parents ran a seafront guesthouse and had an electric organ standing (unused) in the corner of the lounge. I’m an only-child and got nominated fairly early on to be the one who’d put it to use. (As a 5 year-old I suppose I couldn’t really argue.) I used to play Christmas carols and Richard Clayderman hits to the guests and haven’t looked back since.

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

I think it was Stravinsky who said “great artists steal”. Now, I’m not calling myself a great artist by any means, but I do empathise with that quote; I feel I’m constantly learning – or ‘stealing’, if you like – from other musicians. I guess we all do really; part of what ultimately defines our individual musical personalities is the process of choosing which bits of ‘stolen’ information we nurture and which bits we cast aside.

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

Deciding exactly what kind of career it is I want.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m (thankfully) quite fond of my last two CDs. The first – Bach to the Future – features a collection of solo pieces that have been particularly significant in my life and career to date. It was actually recorded just a couple of weeks after my daughter was born, so the fact I managed to produce something vaguely coherent is quite an achievement. More recently, my piano trio released its debut album. It’s called The Seafarer and includes a collaboration with Willard White and a brand new transcription of Debussy’s La Mer by Sally Beamish. It’s a project which took a tremendous amount of time and effort to realise, so it’s lovely to see it hit the shelves.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Ha – that’s a question which is probably best answered by others. I know what I enjoy playing, but musicians are often their own worst judges.

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

I love the process of developing repertoire-led ideas into fully-fledged projects that can be toured (and sometimes recorded) over a full season. They tend to be getting more eclectic and adventurous as I get older; I think I’m driving my poor agent mad.

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

St. George’s in Bristol. It has the best acoustic of any chamber hall in the UK, a fine piano and – best of all – is within 30 minutes of my home. It means I can play a concert in a beautiful space and still be home in time for Match of the Day. That’s the ideal set-up as far as I’m concerned.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

In truth, I hardly ever listen to music these days unless I’m in the car, and then it’s either jazz (my choice) or nursery rhymes (my daughter’s choice). The Wass household is a strict no-music zone (piano practice aside).

Who are your favourite musicians?

Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Oscar Peterson. Oh, and I’d better say my trio [Trio Apache] partners – Matthew Trusler and Thomas Carroll – too. They’d kill me otherwise.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my Proms debut. Though that’s less because of the performance itself and more because I’d got engaged to my now-wife during the overture.

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

Variety. It’s essential, both to the maintenance of a career and to one’s musical well-being.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on a big project with Matt Trusler for 2015 which involves commissioning 12 pieces from 12 different composers, plus a yet-to-be-written script, so that’s taking up a huge amount of time. It’s going to be awesome – watch this space.

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

Doing what I’m doing now, but with another ‘0’ added to my fees.

What is your most treasured possession?

Photos of my trek to Everest Base Camp. Not only because going there was a dream come true, but because it also reminds me that I was once relatively fit.

The Seafarer‘, Trio Apache’s debut album, featuring Sally Beamish’s transcription of Debussy’s La Mer alongside her original work, The Seafarer Trio (with Sir Willard White narrating), is now available on the Orchid Classics label.

Ashley Wass, began playing the piano at 5, and studied music at Chethams Music School from age 11. In his teens he studied on scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, where his teachers included Christopher Elton and Hamish Milne. Wass later studied with Murray Perahia. He is the only British winner of the London International Piano Competition (1997), prize-winner at the Leeds Piano Competition, and a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist.

Described as an ‘endlessly fascinating artist’, Ashley Wass is firmly established as one of the leading performers of his generation. Increasingly in demand on the international stage, he has performed at many of the world’s finest concert halls including Wigmore Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Vienna Konzerthaus. He has performed as soloist with numerous leading ensembles, including all of the BBC orchestras, Philharmonia Orchestra, Orchestre National de Lille, Wiener Kammerorchester, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and under the baton of conductors such as Simon Rattle, Osmo Vanska, Donald Runnicles, Ilan Volkov and Vassily Sinaisky.

Ashley Wass’s full biography

www.ashleywass.com

Editions Peters launches record label

The well-established music publisher Editions Peters has launched a new recording label, Edition Peters Sounds, which will focus on recordings made by artists represented by Edition Peters’ artist management company, EPAM, including tenor Paul Phoenix and vocal group Apollo5.

The label launches with a new disc of Fauré’s ‘Nocturnes’ by British pianist Daniel Grimwood. Recorded on a Steinway D at Wyastone in Monmouth, this elegantly presented collection is notable for the beauty and transparency of Grimwood’s tone, particularly in the upper registers of the piano. Grimwood’s elegant, sensitive and refined playing perfectly befits these lyrical, gracious and suave works.

Grimwood says of Fauré, “It is hard to name another composer who enjoys such renown in his homeland and such relative neglect elsewhere. Like Liszt, Fauré’s fame rests on a small percentage of his output; an output which is consistently excellent. That pianists tend to shy away from his works strikes me as a peculiar quirk of my profession”.

Listen to a track from the album

The disc is available now via iTunes and other retailers. Read more about Fauré and the Nocturnes on Daniel Grimwood’s website

Let us now praise British pianists

cropped-piano-fingers.jpg

In her recent interview in ‘The Observer’, Dame Fanny Waterman expressed fears for the future of British pianism, blaming the popularity of “electric keyboards”, children starting to learn the piano later than in other countries (in particular the Far East) and lack of discipline for declining standards of playing and competition success. The article also infers that success in international competitions (such as the Leeds International Piano Competition, which Dame Fanny co-founded in 1961) is the benchmark by which “great” pianists should be measured. I have already written two responses to Dame Fanny’s comments (here and here), and acclaimed pianist and writer Susan Tomes has also written on this subject, in particular on the thorny issue of competitions. The interview created a lively debate across my networks on Facebook and other social media, with many people taking issue with Dame Fanny’s inference that there are no “great” British pianists active today.

I don’t agree with her: in my concert-going and reviewing activities, I have been fortunate to hear some fantastically talented British pianists, and some young, emerging artists who are definitely “ones to watch” for the future.

But what defines “greatness?”, and what criteria should we use to determine the most desirable qualities in a “great” performance? Are these criteria also influenced by fashion and changing taste, recordings and performance practice?

I feel it is time to celebrate British pianists, and I’d like readers to submit their own “greats”, which can then be compiled into a comprehensive list of great British pianists active today.

A handful of my personal choices to get the ball rolling:

Steven Osborne – his affinity with and understanding of late-nineteenth century and twentieth-century French music, in particular Ravel and Messiaen, is, for me, hard to match.

Peter Donohoe – for the sheer range of his repertoire and for bringing lesser-known composers, such as Henry Litolff, to the fore

Benjamin Grosvenor – a young British artist who is already showing huge promise, not least for his exquisite control of sound and touch, and his understated, thoughtful approach.

Please submit your nominations via the comments box below or contact me.

 

Meet the Artist……Paul Carey-Jones, baritone

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

There was no great moment of revelation, more a progressive realisation that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I’d sung with choirs and performed in amateur dramatic groups as a teenager, and enjoyed both hugely. Then around the age of 16 I won a county scholarship to have singing lessons at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. My teacher there was Beatrice Unsworth, and from the very first lesson she showed huge faith in me, and was brave enough to stick her neck out and tell me I had the potential to make a career of singing, if I decided that was what I wanted. It’s a far safer bet when giving advice to young singers to preach caution, and rightly so, but at some point an artistic career needs a leap of faith, and it takes great courage and vision to support a young artist in doing that.

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

There are too many to mention, and if I begin to name individuals I know I’ll miss someone out. In all honesty I’d say I’ve taken something, whether it be of great significance or only a small hint or reflection, from everyone I’ve met and worked with. On a personal level, I’m fortunate to have a hugely supportive network of family and friends who are all incredibly patient and understanding. Every singer needs those people if they’re to survive in the long run.

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

Getting into postgraduate music college in the first place, having come from an entirely amateur musical background up to that point. Getting through the tough first few years of my career, when I was strapped for both money and time. Continuing to motivate myself to get to work on each new piece in the first few stages of learning and memorisation.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

In terms of live performances, it’s tricky to know, since you as the performer never get to see it, and once it’s happened it’s gone forever, and more often than not you don’t have time to reflect on it before you’re on to starting work on the next project.

With recordings it’s different – you can come back to them a couple of years later and assess them more rationally. I’m very fond of my first album, Enaid – Songs of the Soul, which I recorded with Llyr Williams a few years ago – I think we came very close to achieving what we set out to achieve with it, and it still excites me to hear it, even though I’m sure we’d do it all differently now. On film, I’m pleased with the recording of Jackie O that was made when we performed it at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna – it’s a rarely-performed piece, and is very idiosyncratic, but I have a great fondness for it, and it brings back a lot of happy memories to watch it.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m not the best one to assess that! But I’d say the composers for whom I feel most affinity in terms of their vocal writing are Mozart, Puccini and Wagner – with all three I get a strong sense of understanding what they were seeking in terms of vocal colour and dramatic and emotional content.

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

First and foremost, I’ll need to sing whatever someone is willing to pay me to sing. That’s not a facetious answer – it’s the basic truth of a professional singer’s life. At the same time, you need to keep an eye on the horizon and the direction you’re headed in the long term. So I’ll listen to my voice, or rather, what my voice is telling me in terms of where it’s happiest, where it’s strengthening and so on (in conjunction with advice from trusted teachers and coaches), with the aim of exploring new areas of repertoire which could be viable in a few years’ time. You have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and be realistic about what you’re asking a casting panel to see and hear in you, while at the same time being clear in your own mind as to what you do best as an artist.

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

If you twist my arm I’d say St David’s Hall in Cardiff, from the point of view of a combination of acoustic, atmosphere and above all sentimental value – it’s where I grew up watching live music, and it always means a lot to me to perform there.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Scarpia in Tosca is always a buzz. Anything by Wagner.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Tom Jones, Titta Ruffo, Shakira.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It’s not repeatable in polite company – you’ll have to wait for my memoirs.

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

Work hard. Learn to switch off. Remember that the work doesn’t lead to rewards – the work is the the reward. Don’t be too ready to take advice from old musicians…. By which I mean, be open to advice and new ideas, but don’t be afraid to reject them, or save them for (sometimes years) later. Remember the bottom line is that as an artist the final responsibility for your technique, career and art is yours, and your aim is to produce something unique, not an imitation of anyone else’s work.

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

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Sitting on the sofa with my wife, with football on the TV and an interesting score on my lap.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Bialetti Brikka coffee pot.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

What is your present state of mind?

Contented.

Is the future of piano playing in the UK really in peril?

I wanted to write a further post in response to Dame Fanny Waterman’s piece in ‘The Observer’ in which she warns of a crisis in piano playing in the UK and blames the popularity of digital keyboards and electric pianos for the fact that UK performers are failing to compete internationally. (Read my initial response to Dame Fanny here.)

I don’t want to focus too much on the issue of competitions, which remains an area of heated debate amongst teachers, students, adjudicators and music journalists, but I would just like to quote some statistics which a colleague flagged up on Facebook in response to Dame Fanny’s article:

……a quick glance over the Leeds previous prizewinners [reveals that] of 95 names only 5 have sustained a major international career after the initial flurry of dates, only 2 of those were first prize winners anyway, and the most recent competitor from the group took part in 1987! Perhaps our British pianists have realised that there are better and more creative ways to create a career in the 21st century

Competitions should not be seen as the be all and end all, and I think we all need to get past this holy grail of “The Three C’s” – Conservatoire Competition Concerto.

In my experience, as a piano teacher and the co-organiser of a group for adult amateur pianists, I see no signs of a decline in interest in piano playing here in the UK. Far from it. I receive enquiries about lessons every week, and I know piano teaching colleagues in my own area of SW London and beyond would say the same. Most of us have healthy waiting lists. The piano remains a popular first instrument for children to learn because it is relatively easy to make a nice sound from the very first note. The members of my piano group range from people who have played the piano since childhood, returners, and adult learners of all levels. Some members are very fine players indeed, who are regular performers but who have chosen a different career path to music. What unites us is a shared passion for the piano and its literature.

In addition to piano groups, piano courses are becoming increasingly popular, offering adults and young people the opportunity to study with acclaimed performing artists and teachers. There are courses to suit all abilities and tastes from “piano retreats” in the French countryside, with five-star accommodation and wonderful food and the opportunity to study with an international artist, to weekend courses for advanced pianists (professional and amateur), courses focussing on contemporary music, accompanying, chamber music, jazz and much more.

Then there are festivals where children and adults can compete, receive constructive feedback from skilled adjudicators and enjoy hearing other people’s playing and repertoire. I am involved in the Dulwich Piano Festival – it is heavily over-subscribed with many classes filling up within days of entries opening, surely a clear indication of the popularity and enthusiasm for the piano?

The UK is host to many fine piano concerts throughout the year and attracts top-class British and international artists. Alongside concerts in mainstream venues, there are myriad other opportunities to hear piano music – but top international artists and also exciting young and emerging artists: in stately homes, churches, art galleries and museums, small regional arts centres, people’s homes, out doors….. Initiatives such as Soirees at Breinton and the South London Concert Series bring piano, and other classical music closer to the audience and make the music and concert experience more accessible and intimate.

The piano is very much alive in the UK – let’s keep it that way.

Pianist and writer Susan Tomes has made an interesting and thoughtful contribution to this debate – read her article

Wishing my readers a very Happy Christmas – and if you are a pianist, of whatever level, love your piano!

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