A letter from Dinu Lipatti to a student

This beautiful and instructive letter was sent by pianist Dinu Lipatti to one of his students. I particularly like his advice that one should “discover the complete emotional content by playing it a great deal in various different ways….” This is sound advice for pianists of all levels, amateur and professional. Too often there is a tendency to focus first on the technical aspects of a piece, without considering the emotional content. I firmly believe that technique should serve the music, enabling us to play with greater expression and emotional depth: playing which exhibits only high-facility technique can be lifeless and mechanical.

Lipatti is considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th-century. He died tragically prematurely from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 33 in December 1950, leaving behind little more than three and a half hours of recordings for EMI’s Columbia label. His long-standing international fame is due almost entirely to the widespread distribution of his recorded output: in the words of his producer Walter Legge, “small in output but of the purest gold.” Pianists today still revere Lipatti and many continue to pay tribute to him in recitals and other homages.

“What can I tell you about interpretation? I really ought to talk to you about it rather than write, as I should need thirty pages. In a very imperfect manner I could recapitulate the method which in stages guides us, as I believe, to the truth.

First, one should try to discover the complete emotional content of a work by playing it a great deal in various different ways before ever starting to play it ‘technically’. When saying ‘playing it a great deal’ I think above all of playing ‘mentally,’ as the work would be played by the most perfect of interpreters. Having lodged in one’s mind an impression of perfect beauty given by this imaginary interpretation — an impression constantly renewed and revivified by repetition of the performance in the silence of the night — we can go on to actual technical work by dissecting each difficulty into a thousand pieces in order to eliminate every physical and technical obstacle; and this process of dissection must not be of the whole work played right through but of every detail taken separately. The work should be done with a clear head and one should beware of injecting any sentiment.

Finally comes the last phase, when the piece, mastered technically throughout, must be built up architecturally into its overall lines and played right through so that it may be viewed from a distance. And the cold, clear-headed and insensitive being who presided over the whole of the preceding work on the material of which the music is made, takes part in this eventual performance as well as the artist full of emotion, of spirit, of life and warmth who has recreated it in his mind and has now discovered a new and greater power of expression.

Forgive me for expressing myself so badly about something so solemn. I hope it will not seem incomprehensible to you.”

Dinu Lipatti

Source: http://www.musicandhealth.co.uk/articles/Lipatti.html

Meet the Artist……Susan Tomes

(photo: Robert Philip)
(photo: Robert Philip)

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

We didn’t have a piano in the house when I was little, but gradually my friends’ parents started reporting that I had been trying to play their piano when I came to their house. My parents were surprised (neither of them had had the opportunity to learn an instrument) but intrigued, and eventually they decided to take the plunge and acquire an upright piano. It was a make of piano I’ve never come across since: Eungblut & Eungblut. I remember that when it arrived in our living-room I already felt it was an old friend and I ‘knew how to play it’, though I can’t really account for that feeling as I hadn’t yet had a piano lesson.

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

I think I’d have to name various professors I met at masterclasses when I was in my twenties and had officially ‘finished my musical education’. In some ways, it was yet to begin! I met the Hungarian violinist Sandor Vegh at the International Musicians’ Seminar in Prussia Cove, Cornwall. Later on I met the Hungarian pianist Gyorgy Sebok when I was spending a semester at the Banff Centre in Canada. Those two musicians with their very different personalities and pedagogical approaches were hugely influential, opening my eyes and ears to a larger, more profound and multi-layered way of thinking about music.

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

I suppose being an introvert in a ‘public performance’ profession has been my greatest challenge. It isn’t straightforward, of course – I seem to have a deep need to communicate music to an audience and get their reaction, and I love to be appreciated, but there are many other aspects of being ‘on show’ that don’t come naturally. I’m very interested in people, but I’m quite a private person and need lots of time to myself. I suppose the friction between those things has been the reason that I took to writing about music and being a musician [I’ve written four books]. I find that writing about performance helps me to come to terms with the self-imposed challenge of being an introvert in an extrovert profession.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I feel very fortunate in having lots and lots of concerts I’m proud of having been part of. I’ve worked with so many amazing musicians. Recording-wise, it’s a little different because I’ve never much enjoyed the process of making records. Nevertheless I am proud that many of my recordings have been well-received and have meant something to people. I guess my favourite one is still the first: the Domus recording of Fauré piano quartets. We were all novices then, of course, but we also had a very special bond. I can still hear our freshness and idealism when I listen to that recording.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I really hope I can say Mozart’s works, because he has always been my favourite composer, and I’ve spent a great deal of time trying to live up to his beautifully lucid yet deep and subtle music. Other favourites are Schumann, Schubert and the French composers of the end of the nineteenth century; I adore the piano music of Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. Then there are two ‘greats’, Beethoven and Haydn, whom I used not to feel so close to, but with time I’ve come to appreciate them more and more, and when I perform their music I feel more confident that I have something to say about it.

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

That’s always a blend of things that people ask me to play, and suggestions I put forward if I have the opportunity. Unfortunately, programmes usually have to be planned far in advance, which means that you find yourself committed to play something you suggested two years ago, and may not feel like playing quite so much when it comes to it! But somehow, just because you’re committed to playing a certain work on a certain date,  the appetite to prepare and perform it does develop when the time approaches.

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

For years and years I have loved the Wigmore Hall, where I first played as a child and have been fortunate to play in regularly ever since. Other favourites? Well, there was Domus’s white portable geodesic dome, in which we played memorable concerts and tried to forge a new way of presenting chamber music to new audiences. I also remember a wonderful old hall in Bilbao, very similar in character to the Wigmore in a way. I loved the feeling of Carnegie Hall, where the auditorium seems to open up before you in a very pleasing way as you look from the stage. The Konzerthaus in Vienna is pretty special; I was impressed by a beautiful new hall in Zaragoza, and I have a happy memory of playing in Grieg’s house in Bergen, where the audience sang me ‘Happy Birthday’! I always enjoy playing ‘house concerts’, especially in beautiful drawing-rooms; I often feel that these are the kind of rooms, and the kind of audiences, for which a lot of the classical repertoire was conceived. I love the intimate atmosphere and the closeness of the audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I don’t really have favourite pieces to perform; I find that whatever I’m working on occupies my imagination and becomes my ‘favourite’, or at least my obsession. Funnily enough, at the moment I don’t listen to all that much music when I’m away from the piano. When you spend a lot of time practising or rehearsing, you don’t particularly feel the desire to listen to even more music just for fun. I often listen to jazz radio when I’m working in the kitchen, but in fact I just as often enjoy silence.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I couldn’t single out particular people from the amazing list of musicians I’ve been lucky to work with. There are so many different ways of being a good musician, and so many ways of collaborating with other musicians. Over the years I have been inspired by the attitude and standard of playing of many of the musicians I’ve met and worked with in Prussia Cove, both during the ‘masterclass seminars’ in April, and during ‘Open Chamber Music’ in September. Many of those people have become my long-standing musical colleagues. People travel from all over the world to be in Prussia Cove, and I’ve lost count of the illuminating and stimulating musical experiences I’ve had there. In general, I’ve always got most out of people who are interested in being good chamber musicians rather than single-minded soloists.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As many writers say when asked which of their books is their favourite, I’d probably say that my most recent concert is the one that’s most vivid in my mind. I don’t have a ‘most memorable’ experience – there have been so many. Just for fun I might mention my first-ever piano trio concert when I was a teenager, still at school. Fellow students and I performed the Arensky piano trio, which we had learned in after-school sessions. Unbelievable fun, and we had such a sense of achievement!

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

For me, the most important thing to impart to students is that great music is not ‘entertainment’, nor just a social accomplishment, but a reflection of life. Most of the music I care about is a metaphor for life, of its complexity (and sometimes its simplicity). Great composers have found a way of channelling their thoughts and life experiences into music, in such a way that the rest of us can receive a kind of ‘distilled understanding’ through the music. Once a young musician has grasped this point, working on music becomes much more than a surface task, and they can begin a huge journey of exploration.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m usually pretty organised about working a long way ahead on repertoire. When I get to the day of a performance, I don’t want to have think about producing the right notes; I want all that to have sunk down into an unconscious layer. So I’ve usually got at least the next six months’ worth of concert repertoire on a sort of practising rota. Next up is Beethoven’s A flat major piano sonata opus 110. I’m doing a lecture-recital about the piece – quite a task. On February 16, I’m playing an all-Schubert programme in Wigmore Hall with the wonderful Austrian violinist Erich Höbarth. Our programme includes the rarely played Schubert Fantasie, one of the most virtuosic and most technically demanding pieces I know. Schubert’s imagination soars above the usual capabilities of merely human players with ordinary-sized hands. It’s supposed to sound effortless, too – something to aspire to!

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

In ten years’ time I’d love to be reading in the press that older women have outstripped every other kind of artist in popularity. They will be top of every concert hall’s agenda; they’ll be the toast of the town because of their wit and wisdom, and governments will plead with them to head important initiatives. Images of glamorous young musicians will disappear from adverts and brochures, to be replaced by iconic portraits of wise women. (We can dream – that’s one thing you learn as a musician!)

Susan Tomes appears at Wigmore Hall with Erich Höbarth on 16 February 2015. On 17 February at 7pm she will be talking about her latest book, ‘Sleeping in Temples’, at Hatchards bookshop in Piccadilly. 

Susan Tomes is a leading UK pianist, a rare example of a woman who has achieved several decades as an acclaimed chamber music pianist. In 2013 she was awarded the Cobbett Medal for distinguished services to chamber music.

Born in Edinburgh, she was the first woman to study music at King’s College, Cambridge. She has been at the heart of three internationally admired ensembles: Domus, the Gaudier Ensemble, and the Florestan Trio, winners of the Royal Philharmonic Society Award in 2000. With these groups she has performed and broadcast all over the world. She is a long-standing participant at the International Musicians’ Seminars in Prussia Cove, Cornwall, where she met many of her chamber music partners. She has made over fifty CDs, many of which have become benchmark recordings, winning Gramophone Awards, Classic CD awards, Diapasons d’Or in France, and Deutsche Schallplattenpreise. At Hyperion Records’ 20th anniversary, Gramophone wrote that ‘Susan Tomes’s playing is always magnetic and concentrated whatever the repertory, a rare gift which she consistently employs not for her own glorification but in the cause of corporate music-making.’ Her recital repertoire focuses particularly on French music, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann; as a soloist, she has recorded Mozart piano concertos and 1920s piano music by the Savoy Hotel’s Billy Mayerl.

As well as performing, Susan is a champion of the art of the chamber music pianist, illuminating the role and promoting the status of the collaborative pianist over many years in radio talks, newspaper and magazine articles, keynote speeches, seminars, and masterclasses. She is the author of four books on performance issues: Beyond the Notes (2004), A Musician’s Alphabet (2006), Out of Silence (2010) and Sleeping in Temples (October 2014), which has already been a Books of the Year choice, a Christmas Books selection and Editor’s Choice in various journals. Her books are now studied in ‘performance practice’ courses in various parts of the English-speaking world. She has been a guest on the BBC flagship radio programmes, ‘Today’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’. She has served on many international competition juries and is often invited to give masterclasses at music conservatoires. She is a guest tutor at the European Chamber Music Academy, and holds her own masterclasses every year in London, attracting international chamber groups.

Susan is currently engaged on a long-running duo series with the Austrian violinist Erich Höbarth. They focused on Mozart for two years, and are now exploring the sonatas of Schubert. Susan is the solo pianist on a  record made by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra to celebrate Creative Scotland 2012 with the gift of a special CD for every child born in Scotland during the year.

www.susantomes.com

 

 

A new-look website for Wigmore Hall and a sparkling 2015/16 season

Wigmore Hall today revealed a spanking new website – eye-catching, accessible and easy to navigate – and a sparkling roster of concerts to celebrate its 115th season in 2015/16, including a landmark survey of Schubert’s songs, special projects and major artist residencies. This embarrassment of musical riches will offer audiences the chance to explore a vast range of repertoire and to experience insightful interpretations from great musicians and emerging artists alike. Amongst the highlights for me, as a lover of the piano and its repertoire, are a residency by “triffic” young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, and concerts by Piotr Anderszewski, Stephen Kovacevich, Richard Goode, Leon McCawley, Benjmain Grosvenor, Yevgeny Sudbin, Martha Argerich, Christian Blackshaw, Sir Andras Schiff, Robert Levin, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Marc-André Hamelin, Angela Hewitt, Rolf Hind and Viv McLean (a fine pianist whom I am fortunate to count amongst my friends). Sir Simon Rattle will also make his debut as a chamber pianist, performing alongside his wife, singer Magdalena Kozena.

The backstage area will undergo a major refurbishment (the bulk of the work to be carried out during the hall’s August closure) to create more amenable artist dressing rooms and rehearsal space. Following the building work, the hall will be equipped to stream, broadcast, record and present all its work digitally, whether performances, masterclasses, talks, learning events.

The updated website includes an excellent “wishlist” feature, enabling concert goers to save concerts and events to a personal list. There will also be a new subsidised ticket scheme offering tickets of £5 to anyone aged 35 and under, as well as an increase in the number of tickets priced at £15 or less, making quality chamber music in London’s finest venue accessible and affordable.

See what’s on at Wigmore Hall

wigmore-hall.org.uk

Noted Innovation Fellowship for young Classical Music managers

An introduction by Kathleen Alder

Ideas on napkins can change the world… 

I firmly believe in this principle: that to make great music, we need more than just performers. We need organisers, visionaries, administrators, social media enthusiasts, PR people, composers, marketing managers, photographers, technology personnel, the list is endless. This vast expanse of possibility is why I was determined to become a mentor for Noted’s new Noted Innovation Fellowship. 

I love that there are schemes out there to help young artists start and progress their careers, but I feel that the spotlight needs, not to move, but to be shared with other equally ambitious and talented young people who work in arts administration. The Noted Innovation Fellowship is aimed at 22-35 year olds who have a cutting-edge idea, which will lead the classical music industry into the future. In reality, the funds and expertise needed to lift these ideas from the back of a napkin into the real world aren’t readily available.  As well as receiving £3,500 towards their idea, the winner will also be mentored by some of the biggest names in the non-performance side of classical music and who work for the most prestigious venues, orchestras and businesses. Some of my colleagues involved include: CEO of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, Marcus Axt; composer Max Richter; and Grammy Award winning music producer, Chris Alder. This list is continually growing.

The features of the Fellowship do not stop there. Unique ideas require a unique approach and the mentoring is personally tailored to the winner in order to fully realise their potential. You will also be helped to create all aspects of your brand image through Classical Music Design.

I am really excited to hear ideas that have previously sat there undiscovered being pitched throughout the application process, get yours in by 15th February 2015 for a chance to be a leader in the future of the classical music industry. 

WildKat PR is offering a new fellowship for up and coming talent in arts administration. This fellowship has been created as a way to offer financial support, industry opportunities and mentorship.

The idea is to customize the fellowship around the recipient, in order to maximize their full potential and impact on the industry.

The fellowship will also include placements with WildKat’s various partners including: festivals, concert halls, orchestras and artist managers.

This includes:

  • Get support to implement your personal idea/ project that will help shake up the classical music industry and/ or the cultural sector
  • Gain knowledge and experience about PR, via WildKat PR
  • Create your brand (website, image, brochure, logo), with the help of Classical Music Design
  • Have free and full access to industry events and network
  • Get personalized mentorship
  • Receive £3500 to help fund your project

The deadline for applications for the Fellowship is Sunday 15th February 2015. To apply, please visit http://wearenoted.com/

Noted Innovation Fellowship supporters and collaborators include:

Bernhard Kerres, CEO, Hello Stage; Max Richter,
Composer; Daniel Hope, Violinist; Ben Pateman
Executive Producer, Opus Arte/ Royal Opera House; Jasper Hope, CEO, Dubai Opera; Paul Smith CEO, Voces Cantabiles Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hebden Bridge Piano Festival 2015

Now in its third year, the Hebden Bridge Piano Festival is going from strength to strength, attracting high-calibre international artists to its home in the picturesque town of Hebden Bridge, nestled in the Calder Valley and flanked by the magnificent South Pennine Hills.

Conceived by pianist and teacher David Nelson, this year’s festival takes place from 17th to 19th April and includes a wide variety of music and music making for all, including performances by talented local amateur pianists and concerts by leading international artists including Clare Hammond, Ashley Wass, Lola Perrin and Gordon Fergus-Thompson, acclaimed jazz pianist Zoe Rahman, newly-formed Lisney-Briggs Duo (James Lisney and Sarah Beth Briggs) and BBC Young Musician finalist Isata Kanneh-Mason.

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Alongside recitals there will be activities for families and children, performances by students of local teachers, masterclasses and talks – all combining to create a fabulous and inspiring weekend of music-making and a real celebration of the piano. For more information and to book tickets, please visit the Hebden Bridge Piano Festival website. And if you enjoy hill-walking, why not combine it with some piano music for the weekend?

I have been fortunate to interview some of the participants in this year’s festival for my ‘Meet the Artist’ series:

Clare Hammond

Sarah Beth Briggs

James Lisney

Ashley Wass

And I interviewed the festival’s founder, David Nelson, for my ‘At the Piano’ series

Tableaux and Pictures: Steven Osborne at Wigmore Hall

It is a mark of the popularity of the BBC Radio 3 lunchtime concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, and the high calibre of the performers, that these hour-long recitals are regularly sold out. Indeed, when I arrived at the Wigmore to hear Steven Osborne in a programme of music by Rachmaninov and Mussorgsky, there was a long queue of people waiting for returns. I relinquished my spare ticket (concert companion was indisposed) so that someone else could enjoy Osborne’s superb pianistic mastery and sensitive musicality. The theme of the concert was pictures: Mussorgsky’s popular and evergreen Pictures at an Exhibition preceded by a selection of Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux from the lesser-known Op.33.

Read my full review

Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega
Steven Osborne © Benjamin Ealovega

 

Listen to the concert on BBC iPplayer

Rachmaninov’s Etudes-Tableaux – an earlier article on the Opus 33

CD review: ‘Etude’ by Clare Hammond, piano

Pianist Clare Hammond (photo Julie Kim)

The piano study or ‘Étude’ has long engaged and challenged pianists, and the practice of writing etudes to provide practice material for perfecting a particular musical skill or technique developed in the early 19th century alongside the growing popularity of the piano. Many of us will remember working on studies by the likes of Clementi and Czerny as young piano students. But it was Fryderyk Chopin who elevated the student study into a work of great artistry and beauty, turning humble exercises into glittering concert pieces, and his Opp. 10 and 25 Études remain amongst the most popular works written for piano. Other notable composers of Études were Liszt, Alkan, Rachmaninoff, and Debussy, and the practice of writing piano etudes has continued into the modern area with composers such as Ligeti, Cage and Kapustin.

On her new disc for BIS, British pianist Clare Hammond explores the Étude in works by Lyapunov, Szymanowski, Kapustin and Chin, a truly international line up of composers (Russia, Poland and South Korea). The imaginative programme combines some of the most electrifying and adventurous piano works of the 20th and 21st centuries, ranging from the impassioned late-Romanticism of Sergei Lyapunov to the jazz-inspired rhythms of Nicolai Kapustin and the mercurial, post-Debussyan soundworld of Unsuk Chin. For Clare Hammond the choice of works on this disc represents some of the most innovative, invigorating and imaginative writing for piano and  the opportunity to explore what the piano is truly capable of. All the Études on the disc fulfil the traditional criteria of the Étude (in the Chopinesque sense) of a piece which combines the excitement of technical and virtuosic display with expression, colour and compositional inventiveness.

This disc is not only a showcase for the variety and ingenuity of these composers,  but also a fine vehicle for Clare Hammond to demonstrate a sparkling technical sure-footedness, clarity of touch and musical sensitivity (particularly in the Études by Chin, which are, by Clare’s own admission, extremely difficult). The works by Chin are more closely aligned to Clare’s particular interest in lesser-known and contemporary piano repertoire, for which she has received much praise, and these virtuosic and playful études skip and dance across the keyboard with wit, colour and vitality.

Clare brings a richness to the works by Lyapunov with which the disc begins. They recall the soundworld of Rachmaninoff in their scale and textures, and are modelled directly on Liszt’s set of the same title (Études d’exécution transcendante).

Karol Szymanowski’s Twelve Etudes, Op 33 share Chin’s interest in pianistic colour, and are more closely related the Études of Debussy rather than his fellow countryman Chopin. Fleet and mercurial, Clare deftly captures their transitory moods and luminous colours, dancing rhythms and haunting sonorities, while handling their technical demands with aplomb.

Finally, Five Études in Different Intervals complete this fascinating survey of the enduring appeal of the piano etude. Composed by Nikolai Kapustin, they are characteristic of his output, fusing formal classical structures with idioms drawn from jazz, which Kapustin studied from the age of 16. Clare pulls them off with precision and wit, and an evident relish for this kind of writing for the piano.

‘Étude’ by Clare Hammond is available on BIS Records label and is available from all major online retailers. 

Creating the Definitive Recording – an article by Clare Hammond on the process and experience of creating Étude

Romantic piano style: towards an historically informed performance

by Dr Charles Tebbs

 

My slightly unusual recording of this famous nocturne was inspired after the discovery of a remarkable book over the summer of 2014:  Neal Peres da Costa’s Off the Record: Performing Practices in Romantic Piano Playing.  The basic premise of the book, argued painstakingly and meticulously throughout, is that early recordings (those by pianists born in the nineteenth century) provide a vital and often overlooked window onto 19th-century piano playing.  Far from being the mannerist distortions that later schools of pianism dismissed in favour of so-called fidelity to the score, Peres Da Costa argues that these recordings embody a performance tradition that is quite probably quite close to the playing of Schumann, Brahms and Chopin.  He also charts some of the changes in playing style that occurred during the course of the twentieth century, during which some of the older expressive approaches were deliberately derided and discarded. He refers to a wealth of recordings, pedagogical texts and contemporary accounts of piano playing in support of his argument, and focuses on Chopin’s D flat Nocturne amongst other works.

The musician who spends time listening to the many audio examples Peres Da Costa provides (via an associated website) as well as to full length recordings available elsewhere (see discography below), will be at the very least intrigued by this remarkably different pianistic universe, though to begin with the sound quality and some of the expressive habits of particular pianists can be annoying or puzzling.  Above all it is an emotional, improvisatory, sometimes wildly spontaneous world, though perhaps for that very reason unsuited to the definitive act of recording in the modern sense, in which a masterpiece is perhaps interpreted in an idealised way that will stand the test of being listened to many times.

Read the full article on Charles’s website

Dr Charles Tebbs is a pianist, accompanist and piano teacher based in Nottingham, with a wealth of experience and a diverse range of musical expertise.  He gives regular concerts and recitals and has made a CD of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  His doctorate is in musicology (concerning musical endings) and he has also written prize-winning compositions and music for TV.

Meet the Artist……Jo Quail, cellist

(Photo Jo by Karolina Urbaniak)
(Photo Jo by Karolina Urbaniak)

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

I never wanted to play the cello! But luckily for me, my career wasn’t dictated by a choice I made aged four and a half. I was very fortunate to be in a primary school in inner London that participated in a scheme run by the Centre for Young Musicians, whereby cello and violin lessons were offered to primary aged children, and when the initial letter came home in my bag outlining these lessons I said a resounding no. One term later a gap appeared in the cello group, and I went along with my friend in order to escape some other activity in the school day, and here I am now! I will never ever forget crossing the school playground to go to the library hut where the lessons took place for that first time, holding my friend’s hand, I know how the sun felt, what I was wearing, the smell of the library, and the sight of what became my first cello, a quarter size beauty with ILEA scratched on the back. Without doubt it was the brilliant, enlightened and what I now recognise as freeing approach of the teachers, especially my teacher Vicky Miller, that inspired me continuously and enabled me to sculpt my own career as a solo cellist and composer.

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

Spirituality in the widest sense, and of course music. Tchaikovsky Symphony 6. Rapidly followed by Whitesnake circa 1987 (a great year of rock) and the first time I heard the music of Arvo Pärt, and then listened to this great man say the words “Jesu Cristo” (in answer to an interviewer’s question), and recognising (I think) and respecting the profound and complex meaning this faith has for him. I have my own quite firm spiritual beliefs, (not related to any traditional religion I hasten to add) and at times I find these meditations or invocations to be profoundly influential in the way that I write, or more accurately what I can be a conduit for. On a more down to earth level, pretty much everything has been an important influence! The strength of the brilliant tuition with the CYM carried me back to my cello after a 7 year hiatus following the completion of my performance degree. I was knocked way off course, and left with absolutely no confidence musically and no desire to play my cello after graduation, just one of those things, but when I did return to the cello it was with the spirit of the freedom and joy of music that the CYM staff gave me. I now study with Gwyn Pritchard who is someone I cannot imagine life without. When I’m with Gwyn I feel I want to record every single thing he says, it’s all relevant, related, and delivered with this ability to inspire such belief and confidence. He gets to the centre of the soul of sound, music, whether we discuss cello playing or composition. He is my guru! And the unconditional love and support of my parents and my family gives me both direction and freedom. Having my daughter Eila in 2012 has had a profound influence on my music, largely because I learned how to practice and indeed write in 10 minute bursts! Much of my album ‘Caldera’ was written in these early, earthy months, and I love being a mum.

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

I have an unusual career, insofar as I play concerts all over the world, but mainly I play the music I have written, with occasional ‘guest spots’ of traditional or contemporary solo repertoire. I would feel easier if I could say to you “oh, the greatest challenge was the time I played the Dvorak with such and such famous orchestra in a huge concert hall…”, but that’s not the truth – and me playing the Dvorak is pretty unlikely though one never knows I suppose! My greatest challenge has been myself. I’ve had to do quite a bit of work to overcome my own imposed limitations, to shed myself of the feeling that I’m somehow ‘not good enough’ or without some kind of special power that other widely known soloists seem to embody with ease. Having said that, there is a large chunk of truth attached to that feeling. I’m not good enough to be a great soloist, I’m not a concerto girl, and I think part of the problem for me has been my own (mis)conception that there is only ‘one way’ to be a cellist. Luckily I know that’s not the case now, but it took a bit of time, and was quite a rollercoaster emotionally too. I’ve only recently acknowledged the fact that I am fiercely ambitious and really quite driven in my work, and that’s been a big eye opener for me.

On a lighter and more practical note, it’s sometimes a challenge to work with the technology that I use and keep both hands and feet doing what they are supposed to do (I play my electric cello standing up and use a loop station and an effects board) whilst rattling through some ghastly col legno loop that somehow has to stay in time. That kind of thing, that’s a challenge for me! And allowing the juxtaposition I suppose between highly focussed practical application, the physical aspect of playing my cello, coupled with a non-tangible, emotional yet somehow elemental aspect, allowing the two to co-exist and each being valid and essential. I’m not sure, the more I think about it the more confused I get which isn’t ideal in an interview! And if I was being frivolous I’d say in this line of performance there are times when finding the venue can be a bit of a challenge too – I’m thinking both of the M1 here, and navigating around Japan a few years ago with Tallulah Rendall…

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I always feel a great pride in my recordings, because I know very well the feeling of the blank page, the wav with nothing in it, and the looming deadline, and for me the recording (and more-so the creation) process is a journey that is always unexpected, at times harsh; equally exhilarating and humbling. Each album or EP has somehow developed me as a composer and cellist. ‘Caldera’ has some tracks on that I never knew I could write. Or play for that matter, I’m thinking especially of ‘Adder Stone’ and ‘Amberay’. I’ve also just finished a big piece for Australian filmmaker Michael Fletcher, called ‘This Path With Grace’, and that piece has set a new benchmark for me. It’s built (as is often the way) from a very small fragment, it’s what I call the DNA of the piece, but it just seemed to unfold and arise and became something I didn’t recognise, that I felt in awe of. I don’t mean the compositional merits, I mean the energy that the piece evokes. I’ve even got a choir in there, which obviously makes the solo version a bit tricky, so I’ve got a couple of ways I can play this, solo, or with ensemble.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Probably whatever I am studying or writing at the time, because that’s where my musical focus is. From a traditional point of view, when I’m ‘on it’ I think I do some of the Bach Suites fairly acceptably. I have a very close and complex relationship with these suites, as do all cellists I imagine, but I distinctly feel strong personalities, and I feel infused with different energies when I consider each of them. Quite often when I am invited to perform on ‘acoustic cello’ it’s with the proviso of ‘play anything you like’ so I would usually play some of mine, ‘The Hidden Forest’ and ‘A Leaf’ and then ‘A Key’, for example, book-ending a Bach suite. Post-CYM I had a very unsettling teaching experience with the D minor suite, and it’s only lately I’ve been able to return to that one without feeling sick, and I’m so glad I got over that! I never quite know how I’m going to play them, sometimes I tip the hat to authenticity and sometimes I prefer to languish a bit with them, it depends how I’m feeling really. And I do like a more agricultural approach to the gigues most of the time if you know what I mean, just ballsy. As long as I believe what I’m doing, or feel certain of my intention it feels OK somehow!

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

I’ll have to adapt this question a bit if you don’t mind. I chose my concert programme for each performance with several factors in mind. The first is length of programme, some concerts are 40 mins, some are 80, some have an interval, some don’t etc, and the set needs to be paced well for my sake and the audience. Many of my pieces are quite ‘long’ in terms of gig audiences, especially as I write and perform instrumental music. For an audience used to classical concerts my ‘long’ pieces at 10 minutes are rather short, and so I have to bear in mind to some extent to whom I am playing, and the venue. If I’m on stage following a goth rock band I’ll want to keep it upbeat with perhaps a considered reflective moment two thirds of the way through. If I am playing in a concert hall to a seated audience I can take my time and build from my simple elegiac looped quartet Vigil in to something much more drastic by the end of the set.

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

I love St Leonard’s Church in Shoreditch because I’ve played several concerts there, including a big one when I was 6 months pregnant, where I was joined by 11 brilliant musicians from across the globe, plus Amy Richardson-Impey, pole-dancer extraordinaire (in a church, it was awesome!) to interpret my first album ‘From The Sea’. So I’ll always have fond memories of St Len’s, and Rev Paul Turp. I’ve played some stunning venues in Australia, on my last tour a beautiful open air stage just outside Perth especially springs to mind, the sounds of the bush and the vast Australian night sky right there, all around us. It was breathtaking and I’m hoping to discover even more beautiful spaces to play when I head back in late February. And the Schauspiel Theatre in Leipzig too, because it was the scene of my first solo concert in Germany, I was dead nervous and the crew were fantastic and made me giggle just before I went on, so it was a good one!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love listening to the Brandenburgs, well, any Bach actually. Perfection in so many ways. And I am very fond of Debussy, especially the piano Preludes (book 1) that I sort of hack through now and then feeling rather pleased if I get to the end minus a few notes. Actually that’s one of my favourites to perform come to think of it, the Debussy cello and piano sonata. It’s unbridled, so dark in places, so resigned at the end. Again, powerful stuff. And Pink Floyd ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ is an album I’ll return to over and over again. I fall in love with music, and it forever belongs to that moment or time in my life, so I have strong associations built with both classical and contemporary works, which means I chose what I listen to very carefully.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I listen to all sorts of cellists regularly, the well known greats and the lesser known equally great ones that YouTube flags up, it’s such a superb way to hear performance interpretations and watch too. I learn lots by watching cellists. Then there’s Matt Howden, a looping violinist. He’s a great friend of mine, a colleague I’ve worked with often, and a real inspiration. He’s on fire live, you have to see him. Actually, everyone I work with is a favourite! I am lucky to do a lot of session gigs too, and I work with artists from opera singers to rock and metal musicians, and they are all fantastic. I learn so much from each of them. Quite recently I played a concert with a rap artist who was phenomenal. I’ve never ever seen anyone on stage like that before, in any field of music, classical or otherwise. It was probably only 5 seconds of performance in the middle of one track but it felt like an hour to me, where he was clearly channelling something unseen, it was a pivotal moment for me to witness that kind of power on stage, and also the way he surrendered to and controlled it too.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

To date it has to be in March last year, where I was invited by orchestra Cappella Gedanensis (from Gdansk, Poland) to come and play a concert of my music with them. Jos Pijnappel arranged several of my pieces for me on solo electric cello and the orchestra and choir, and we also played Tavener’s ‘Svyati’ (on electric cello, it worked really well weirdly!). I was playing my music to a packed church full of Baroque music enthusiasts and I am honoured to say they gave me such a rapturous, warm reception and went beserk at the end, and I was in tears. I’ve never done anything like that before, and we have plans for a re-run next year in Poland, I’m very excited. It was always my secret ambition to one day play my music with an orchestra and I just feel so lucky to have met Cappella Gedanensis, they are unparalleled musicians and really really nice people too.

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

From a performance point of view? Believe in what you do, and do it with verve and aplomb. Even if you have no monitors! In all seriousness, I think it’s critical to be focused, to work hard, to study, learn, practice etc but there’s also a big factor in stage craft, and that side of being a musician is not teachable, you just have to get on stage, on platform or on floor and play your music, from start to finish, come what may, without stopping, and with conviction, irrespective of what happened in your dress rehearsal or sound check, good or bad, and then you start to learn the shape of things. I think this is true whether you’re a composing performer or repertoire performer. Well, it is true for me anyway.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I’m working on the arrangements of several short pieces for my amazing cello quartet that we will be performing as part of my next concert on 7th February. I’m doing a real mixed bag, held together only by the common thread that it’s music I like, that means something to me, so stuff by Schein and Bartok as well as something from the Fame soundtrack and some Nine Inch Nails etc. I’ve almost finished the arrangements, and at the same time I’m doing arrangements of some of my pieces for an ensemble in Tasmania that I’ll be playing with in March, so in short lots of dots is what I’m working on! I’ve begun sketching ideas for my next album too, and once ‘This Path With Grace’ is out I’ll feel more able to focus I think. I tend to feel more able to write once the previous project has been released, in whatever capacity. ‘Caldera’ is presented as a beautiful 10 page card book (inspired by the literature I was reading to Eila at the time!) with CD insert, so that took a lot of work, and in contrast ‘This Path’ will be a download only, though there is a stunning 20 minute film attached to it. I usually have a few projects on the go at once, and true to this I’ve two session collaborations sitting in Logic at the moment waiting to get out of the starting block. Things are busy, and I feel very thankful!

What is your most treasured possession? 

Outside of the normal things like Eila’s first babygrow it would be my cellos, and my copy of ‘Women Who Run With the Wolves’. My mum gave it to me on my 21st birthday, and it’s been both a gift and a blessing.

What is your present state of mind? 

Serene, I’ve got three children sleeping peacefully upstairs (I borrowed two of them from my sister!) and I’ve had a glass of wine whilst answering these questions, so the world looks good to me. And I found a fantastic luthier called Colin last week who swiftly sorted out a ‘string height feels funny all of a sudden’ situation I was having, so double serenity. Triple serenity! They are worth their weight in gold eh.

 

www.joquail.co.uk

 

 

 

Many thanks for your participation in this project. 

 

 

Frances Wilson LTCL

 

Frances_wilson66@live.com

 

http://www.crosseyedpianist.com

Creating the ‘definitive’ recording

A guest post by pianist Clare Hammond

 

As a child, I used to curl up on the floor in front of the imposing speakers of my grandfather’s sound system and work my way through his extensive collection of LPs. A lover of the core classical repertoire, he had little beyond Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, but these composers were amply represented. While listening to Beethoven symphonies, piano sonatas by Mozart and Haydn’s string quartets, I imbibed a sense that these works were made permanent, somehow concrete, by their incarnation on disc. It seemed that these renditions were ‘definitive’, in a way that I didn’t feel when listening to live music. I hoped that one day, I too would be able to record ‘the’ Moonlight sonata and somehow set my interpretation in stone.

Despite this orthodox musical education, my specialisms now veer somewhat to the side of the mainstream repertoire and I find myself releasing a disc of études by composers from across the globe; two Russians (Sergei Lyapunov and Nikolai Kapustin), a Pole (Karol Szymanowski) and a South Korean (Unsuk Chin). These études represent some of the most innovative, invigorating and imaginative writing for piano and have given me the chance to really delve into what the piano is capable of (and, rather less pleasurably, where my limitations lie!)

I started preparing for this disc many months before the recording sessions. This was partly because the repertoire is extremely difficult technically, and also because this was a very personal project in which I had invested a great deal of emotional and creative energy. I have developed a reputation for playing works that lie at the more elaborate and frenetic end of the musical spectrum, so these études are essentially my ‘core’ repertoire, where I felt most at ease and most stimulated creatively.

I practised the pieces on different pianos, in varying acoustics, and performed them to different audiences, in order to explore the sonic options available to me. I listened to recordings of the études by other pianists, to orchestral repertoire by the composers, and read about their work in order to ‘live’ the pieces and make them my own. I had long abandoned the idea of a ‘definitive’ recording or interpretation, but I thought that I had a clear idea of what I, personally, wanted to achieve. At least, I did before I set foot in the studio…

The first few minutes in front of a microphone soon put a stop to any notions of creating my ‘ideal’ recording, although not in as devastating a way as you might expect. When recording, as in performance, you are suddenly faced with a single instrument which you may not have played before. In my case, at Potton Hall in Suffolk, I had a beautiful Steinway Model D which had been expertly regulated and tuned. However, all pianos have their foibles and if yours doesn’t have the bloom in the higher register that you had set your heart upon, or the percussive timbre that you sought in the bass, you have to find an alternative solution.

I had not anticipated how dramatically altered my physical state would be. I was nervous, though in a different way from live concert performance. We had a finite amount of time (5 days) to record two discs of challenging repertoire, these études and works by Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik. I wasn’t quite sure how far I could push myself, or for how long (8 hours per day before my wrists give up entirely…) as I’d never done anything this demanding before. The awareness of just how much effort both I and the wonderful team at BIS Records had put into assembling the project, and that my performance over the next few days could potentially undermine all of this, added an extra frisson of anxiety.

Fortunately, I was able to collaborate with producer Thore Brinkmann whose calm demeanour and consummate expertise made the whole process far easier and more enjoyable that I could have expected. We spent the first half hour warming up, with me at the piano and Thore at his desk altering the levels of the seven microphones poised some 12 feet off the ground in a semicircle around the piano. When I heard the first ‘playback’, I was astonished at the sound he had captured. It was so different from what I had heard at the piano. There was a clarity and a crystalline quality in some passages which had not been audible at ground level. Thus began my five-day guessing game where I made alterations at the keyboard whose result I could only hear minutes later in playback.

The specific character of one instrument, the resonance of an acoustic, or the choice of one brand of microphone, would seem to place limitations on the ‘ideal’ performance that I had in mind but, of course, in real life the most interesting results often come when you have to be most pragmatic. I started to respond to the situation and to find creative possibilities that I hadn’t previously considered. While I wouldn’t countenance incorporating the heady cry of a randy pheasant into a recording (and there was one point where I thought I would have to chase a number through the undergrowth away from the hall), certain effects were suggested by the depth of the sustaining pedal on the piano and, fancifully enough, by the vibrations of an aeroplane engine that had ruined a previous take.

It takes some time to fully appreciate that a recording is its own medium and most certainly not a convincing simulacrum of a live performance. For a start, there is no audience and the sense of reciprocal communication that you experience onstage is absent. Secondly, certain effects work much better on tape than they do in the hall. Why this should be, I do not know but there were a number of occasions where a take that I thought unusable, because of its vulgarity or my ineptitude, was by far the best in playback. While we tried to keep editing to a minimum, as with almost any recording, ours involved cutting and pasting tracks together to create a performance that never actually existed. Some may complain that ‘authenticity’ is lost but, again, this assumes that the aim of a recording is to recreate an ‘ideal’ performance for posterity. In reality, people listen to recordings very differently from a live performance and demand a greater level of accuracy and precision than a human being is capable of in one take. As a musician, knowing that if the next passage doesn’t go well you can always redo it, without having to jettison the performance up to that point, is enormously liberating. You are able to take risks that you would rarely contemplate in concert and that adds a vitality that is unique to the recording.

Fast forward nine months and I was able to hear the first edit of my Etude CD, around the time that the other disc, Reflections, of the music of Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik was released. This was a sufficiently long time that the pieces sounded ‘fresh’ to me and I was intrigued to hear what my family and friends thought of the recording. I was struck, as I am again now that the disc has been released, by how differently people listen to a piece. The concept of a ‘definitive’ performance is only meaningful if you can find a ‘definitive’ listener and, of course, both are a nonsense. Listeners bring their own experience, preferences and emotions to a recording and respond accordingly. While this might seem frustrating for the musician, it is actually an intriguing process and has certainly opened my ears to elements that I didn’t initially hear when performing in the studio.

If this is my experience as a pianist, how does the composer feel, compelled to translate their ideas into inadequate notation and submit them to the whims of a performer, and that’s before encountering the uncertainties of the recording studio? It’s important to remember that in order to be authentic, any art-form must be to some extent human and imperfect. The loss of control that one experiences, whether performing on stage or recording, can and should become an integral part of the creative experience. Learning to do this is difficult, and I can’t say that I have succeeded, but the process of becoming receptive to uncertainty is an extremely important part of anyone’s musical and artistic development. When I was younger, I felt that I should strive towards an abstract ‘perfection’ in music. The messy reality is far more interesting.

Clare’s new disc, ‘Etude’, has just been released by BIS Records and is available from all major online retailers. 

“unfaltering bravura and conviction”, Gramophone Magazine

“style and substance”, The Observer

“imagination and bravura”, The Sunday Times

Acclaimed as a pianist of “amazing power and panache” (The Telegraph), Clare Hammond is forging a reputation as an advocate of new and unfamiliar repertoire. In 2014, she gave debut performances at 7 festivals across Europe, including the ‘Chopin and his Europe Festival’ in Warsaw, and world premieres of works by 10 composers. Clare has now released two discs with BIS Records; Reflections, of works by Andrzej and Roxanna Panufnik, and Etude, with études by Unsuk Chin, Sergei Lyapunov, Nikolai Kapustin and Karol Szymanowski.

More information is available at www.clarehammond.com/etude.html

Debussy updated for the modern age: Unsuk Chin’s Six Piano Etudes – guest post by Daniel Harding

Meet the Artist…….Clare Hammond

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