Meet the Artist……Daniel Grimwood, pianist

Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)
Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)

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

I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.

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

Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.

Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.

As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.

Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.

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

I am 37 and still a musician – that is challenge enough.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Awaiting release, my complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.

Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Schubert

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

I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.

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

Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.

Currently I am listening to and practising the Sonatas of CPE Bach whilst reading his treatise on keyboard playing. It should be mandatory reading for music students.

Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.

I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.

I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.

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

Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.

What are you working on at the moment? 

JS and CPE Bach for fortepiano and harpsichord, Mozart, Haydn and Ravel’s Gaspard. I recently performed the Adolf von Henselt Concerto in the composer’s birth town, Schwabach; I love the piece although I must confess it challenges me to the point of breaking out in language which would make a London cabby blush whenever I practise it!

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

In front of a piano

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, running

What is your present state of mind?

Contented

With a repertoire, which ranges from little heard Elizabethan Virginal music to composers of the modern day, Daniel Grimwood is one of the most original and insightful musicians of his generation. A pianist of rare versatility, his exceptional talent has been noted by many international music critics.

His musical interest started as a 3 year old playing next door’s piano and from the age of 7 he was performing in front of audiences in his home county of Kent. He continued with his training and was offered a scholarship to the Purcell School in 1987 studying piano with Graham Fitch. He also studied violin/viola and composition/counterpoint giving him a much broader appreciation of classical music. He later finished his pianistic training under the tutelage of Vladimir Ovchinnikov and Peter Feuchtwanger. Although primarily a pianist, he is frequently to be found performing on harpsichord, organ, viola or composing at his desk. Felix Aprahamian once wrote of him “probably the finest all‐round musician I have ever known”.

He has subsequently enjoyed a solo and chamber career, which has taken him across the globe, performing in many of the world’s most prestigious venues and festivals. Whilst he has been the recipient of several international awards, there is no glamorous list of competition wins as Grimwood considers them harmful to the musical community.

Grimwood has been a passionate exponent of the early piano from childhood and recently gave a recital at Hatchlands of Chopin’s Op 25 Etudes and 3rd Sonata on the composer’s own Pleyel piano.

As a solo recording artist his growing discography ranges from Scriabin, to Algernon Ashton (world premiere recording on Toccata Classics). His recent discs of Liszt and Chopin on an 1851 Erard on the SFZ label received a unanimous chorus of praise from the press: the Liszt was Daily Telegraph CD of the week and Editor’s Choice in Gramophone Magazine. Future releases include the complete Faure Nocturnes and the last three Schubert Sonatas. He is also the first European to have recorded for a Chinese record label.

http://www.danielgrimwood.co.uk/

The Great Grand Piano Fund & Classic Gershwin at the OSO

The Old Sorting Office (OSO) arts centre in Barnes, SW London, provides a vibrant and busy community for artists and audiences to gather and interact. The Centre opened in September 2002 and provides a venue for theatre and live performances, art exhibitions, dance classes, music, drama for all ages and abilities, writers’ groups, Yoga, Pilates classes, education opportunities… in fact, anything and everything!

Yvonne Evans, Barnes resident and indefatigable concert promoter, is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign to secure £10,000 for the purchase and upkeep of a Steinway grand piano for the OSO, a beautiful historic instrument with a fascinating provenance, generously donated by Susan Tod Boyd, whose late husband David Tod Boyd, was a long time Barnes resident and an illustrious member of London’s musical life. For details of how to contribute to the OSO Steinway Fund, please contact Yvonne direct on Yvonne7star@live.co.uk

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The piano will be unveiled in a special concert at the OSO on Saturday 9th August. ‘Classic Gershwin’ explores the world of ever-popular composer George Gershwin  by weaving his vibrant music with the fascinating story of his life – from his birth in the colourful, teeming New York of 1898 to his tragically early death in 1937. David Tod Boyd loved Gershwin so, fittingly,  this concert will be dedicated to him.

With prize-winning pianist and famed Gershwin interpreter Viv McLean and renowned classical actress Susan Porrett narrating, this music and words concert presents an eclectic mix of Gershwin’s music from the much-loved Rhapsody in Blue, I got Rhythm Variations and Swanee to the rarely-played, classical Preludes and the virtuoso challenge of the Piano Concerto and offers an intriguing insight into Gershwin’s little-known, many faceted personal history.

‘Classic Gershwin’ is the third words and music collaboration between actress/writer Susan Porrett and pianist Viv McLean, and comes in the wake of their much-loved Shakespeare show ‘Touches of Sweet Harmony’ and the critically acclaimed ‘Divine Fire’ - the story of Fryderyk Chopin and George Sand, which has now toured throughout the UK for three years.

‘Classic Gershwin’ is at the OSO Barnes on Saturday 9th August at 7.30pm. Book tickets

The formal dedication of the Tod Boyd Steinway will be on 23rd September at the Grand OSO  Black & White Piano Party – a celebration of  the piano and musical theatre in music and words featuring pianists Bobby Chen, Anthony Hewitt, Viv McLean and GeNIA, poet Graham Roos and actress Susan Porrett and friends. The legendary Fenella Fielding will officially launch this very special piano. Further details and tickets here

www.sevenstarconcerts.com

Guest post: A conversation with Matthieu Idmtal

by Guy Rademaeker.

He is 25, lives in Brussels, and things are going well for pianist Matthieu Idmtal. He just organised the second edition of the ‘Brussels Chopin Day’, next month he goes to France and Switzerland to perform with his violin partner Maya Levy, and his concert agenda for the future looks full. “I try to find my way” he says almost laconic.

We sit in a bar in Ixelles, the town where he lives, and during our conversation he will order three coffees. Nevertheless, the calmness of this young man will never disappear.

How did you start playing the piano?
I always found that I walked a rather atypical path to arrive at where I am now. I don’t come from a musical family, and compared to many others I started relatively late with playing the piano. I never went to a music academy and so on.

I remember we had an old upright piano standing in our house to which I was always going as a child. On a good day my mother kind of decided that she maybe had to do something with the kid that was always plucking that piano, and she searched for a private teacher for me. I must have been 7 or 8 at that time. Thinking about it, I believe that she was a very good teacher: a Russian pedagogue who was able to give me a good foundation. She noticed a certain talent, but I had no clue at that point that playing piano could or would become my profession. Maybe the people around me noticed faster than myself my potential and my need to play music. I remember how I would walk to school, and midway just decide to walk back home because I considered playing the piano a much nicer way to spent my day than sitting in a classroom. The problem was that I took these decisions more and more often. And that is how I entered to the Kunsthumaniora Brussel, a high school in Brussels that offers, next to standard courses, music courses as well which prepare you for entering conservatoire. From that moment, there was no doubt anymore. Music took me every day more and more. Till now.

Who do you consider as your significant teachers?
Without doubt, I must mention Vitaly Samoshko. I could say that he taught me how to play the piano. Of course we’re all made out of our lived experiences, what we hear and see, how much we invest in our art….… but Samoshko is the one I refer to.

You’re not studying in conservatoire anymore. Do you still work with him or do you study on your own now?
We still see each other. Less often than before, but I regularly visit him as a kind of……touching base. It is true that I work much more on my own, but that is what we all will have to do. At a certain moment you must become your own teacher. And it makes you think a hundred times more about each note and decision you take. When, after a concert, someone comes to you and asks “why did you play that piece that way?”, you can’t answer “because my teacher wanted it so”. Everything I do now is my own decision. I follow my intuition.

You also teach yourself. What advice do you give your students?
To give you the best answer you should actually ask my students how I teach, but I believe that it is a mix of my own experiences as a student, together with my own personality and ideas that I formed myself during over the years. I see my role as a teacher a bit like a sounding board. I prefer to suggest than to oblige, and I like to see a lesson as a moment between two friends who try to work and search together for the best possible solution to play a certain piece. Of course, some things can be radically wrong and I will say them, and I have some general ideas. Never to imitate for example, search for your own way. I also encourage them to experiment, try something, to dare. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong and you will learn from it, but dare to do something wrong. Take a risk, surprise me and yourself..… and at the end of the trip, remember and take all the best of these experiments. Sometimes I will ask a student to exaggerate something, to make something more clear, or just to give it all a bigger dynamic range. I also notice that I speak a lot about pulsation in the lessons, or to see a piece in orchestral terms, or to imagine a singer. And of course, sound is crucial.

It goes with your last question. When teaching, you’re very much faced with questions that force you to think how to play a certain thing very concretely. That helps yourself tremendously. For example, in a recent lesson, some of my better students asked me how to position the fingers on the keyboard, flat or curled. Honestly, there is not one answer to me. Everything depends on the sound you want to create. When I play a Scarlatti sonata for example, I can imagine myself playing with curled fingers, but I would never do that which a Chopin Nocturne. It all depends on sound. Play with your nose if you wish, if it sounds fantastic, do it!

What about your chamber music collaborations? I noticed that you have two regular duos?
I do. I have a piano duo with Ukranian pianist Anastasia Kozhushko. We met years ago in the class of our teacher, and started playing together. We won some competitions, mostly in the Netherlands, and most of the time we perform there. We aim to include less familiar pieces and composers in our programs. In combination with the more known works we play works by Cui, Rosenblatt, Vilensky, Clementi, etc. Absolutely amazing music but unfortunately underplayed.

I have also formed a duo with violinist Maya Levy. I consider her one of the young upcoming violin talents. We’ve worked together for about a year now, and some nice projects are coming up.

Playing chamber music is a real joy to me. You know, being a pianist is a lonely profession most of the time, you sit for hours a day alone behind your instrument – something that other instrumentalists rarely do because they all need a pianist to play with them! – and so it is a very welcome change to collaborate with someone. To have some interaction, to search together and to find compromises. And the repertoire is also fantastic.

Do you have any favorite pianists?
This generation has amazing pianists, absolutely amazing. But for most of them, the individuality has rather disappeared. Before you could hear two bars of a piece, and nearly say: “ah, that is Gould playing!” or “no doubt, that’s Horowitz”.

To answer your question, the latter is absolutely one of my favorites. I generally like the old generation. I think of Cortot, of Friedman. No one plays Chopin Mazurkas like Friedman.

Do you have a particular system how for selecting and learning  the pieces that you play?
Good question because I wondered about it myself recently. More and more it seems that a work “chooses” me, and not the other way around. What very often happens is that a work is floating in the air for a very long time. The work attracts me, in a free moment I will open the scores and play it a little, I listen to it, it is present in my life but I don’t study it. That process can be very long, years even. And than, at an inexplicable moment, it’s like the work is calling me. And there is no way back, I just have to learn it. So I lock myself in my flat and study all day long that one and only piece. That happens very often to me. It’s a bit like a love story: when you fall in love with someone, there is nothing to do about it anymore, your whole being is focused on that one person.

Besides playing the piano, do you enjoy other kinds of music or activities?
In every genre you can find good music. But I must admit that I don’t often listen to non-classical music. I feel a big affection to the work of Jacques Brel, and I regularly listen to his music. And I enjoy jazz. In my younger years, there were periods when I listened more to Oscar Peterson than to anybody else.

Considering real activities, I’m afraid I must disappoint you. Music became my life, and my life music.

Recently I have enjoyed playing chess, or having a coffee on a terrace in the sun with some nice company, that’s a perfect activity to me.

What would you be doing in life if you weren’t a pianist?
[thinking] I don’t know. Maybe I would have been a writer. I enjoy writing, and I’ve always wondered what I would be able to do when fully engaged in writing a book, or poetry. But that’s not for now.
In my youth, like many children I guess, I thought of becoming a tennis player.

When I’m into something, I am quite fanatic. So also with tennis: when I had my period of playing tennis, it was the only thing I could think of, doing it from morning til evening. But I don’t think the music will ever stop. It’s a gift for life.

May I conclude that you consider music as the most beautiful thing in life?
No, that is love. But music is more faithful.

Meet the Artist……Joseph Houston, pianist

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

I started learning the piano when I was five after hearing my older brother play (he started learning a couple of years before me). I remember just being very excited at the prospect of having lessons as I always loved the sound of the instrument and, having heard my brother play a little, I just couldn’t wait to make those sounds myself. Deciding to make the piano my career came rather late for me, though: I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, and the first time I ever saw a professional pianist play wasn’t until I was about 14! So I suppose I didn’t even realise it was a possible career until then. I think the real turning point was when I started having lessons with my second teacher Ian Jones. He used to lend me CDs every week and I’d listen to them obsessively. I grew up in the countryside and there weren’t many opportunities to hear live classical music, so my early knowledge of pianists came mainly from these recordings (Michelangeli’s Gaspard; Lazar Berman playing Rach 3; and Perahia playing Bach English Suites; and Aimard playing Ligeti Etudes to name a few). I think listening to these recordings was what made me decide to be a pianist.

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

As I mentioned above I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, but ever since I started studying at the University of York, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing musicians and people, and it’s very hard to single one thing, or person, out. I learnt with a local piano teacher until I was sixteen, and, while she did cover the basics, I had all sorts of problems by the time I met my second piano teacher, Ian Jones (now teaching at the RCM). I owe a lot to him: he helped me through a really difficult period in my development. I was really quite behind as a pianist for my age, but he was a real inspiration and very supportive, and helped me catch up quickly. But I think the single most important thing that has inspired my musical life has always been the people that I have studied with, worked with, and met throughout my life (and not just musicians!). Anyone who thinks that western art music is on the decline should go to any university music department, festival, concert venue, or music college and they’ll see that there is just so much musical activity happening in every single direction, and involving such intelligent, creative, and interesting people. I find that extremely inspiring.

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

Probably settling into music college once I got there! I had a real crisis once I arrived. It’s such an intense, competitive, and intimidating atmosphere, that I really struggled at first. It took me a long time to realise that you just have to focus on your own activities and ideas and that there’s not one right way of doing anything (even if your teachers say otherwise!). It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing at a music college. Once I got used to all of that I had a great time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been pretty lucky in the last 5 years, having done so many interesting and challenging projects. One of my favourite performances has to be doing Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar, which was in 2011. It’s such an ecstatically joyous piece and so much fun to play that it’s a hard experience to beat! I’d love the chance to do it again someday……

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ve always been fairly proud of my Debussy Images (particularly book II). And Brahms’ 1st Concerto. Turangalîla is up there too.

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

I never have total control over this, which I think is healthy. It’s great when you have to learn a piece you don’t know for a specific project and it ends up being a real discovery for you, and something you might not otherwise have come across. Obviously this does sometimes go the other way! The rest of the time I just try to programme the things I’m particularly interested in at that time. I also like to keep learning new repertoire each season. This makes things a little harder, but it’s so satisfying and you learn so much with every new piece you play that I try to include a new one per programme.

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

Wigmore Hall is a lovely place to play – beautiful acoustics and a wonderful instrument. I also love going back to where I studied for my undergraduate degree (University of York) – the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall there has such an intimate atmosphere. It is a little over-resonant, but for certain repertoire I haven’t yet found anywhere better. But every venue has its own pros and cons really, and you’d have to be unlucky not to find at least one piece in the programme that the venue really suits.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love Bartók at the moment. Any of the piano pieces or string quartets. Morton Feldman has been a recent obsession. I haven’t played anything big yet (but learning For John Cage very soon), so will have to get back to you on the joys of performing Feldman! Debussy has always been a favourite of mine to play. Recently, I’ve played a bit of Ives which was great to perform — really brash, eccentric, and full of life. Will certainly be doing more in the future. And I always love to hear or play anything by Cage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s always the composers that interest me. John Cage is a real hero of mine – amazing ideas, amazing music, and such a positive influence on the 20th Century! Ives was a fascinating character – full of contradictions and astonishing to think that he was writing such experimental music so early in the 20th Century. Pianists I love are Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, Myra Hess and Maria Joao Pires.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Very hard to single one out. Probably seeing Anton Kuerti give a lecture-recital on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations several years ago at the Chethams Summer School. He knew the piece so intimately and played so wonderfully that all the usual performer/audience boundaries seemed to break down: it just felt like we were inside the music. I actually found it hard to move from my seat afterwards.

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

Do the things you believe in; don’t be distracted by others; constantly re-assess everything; and don’t give up!

What are you working on at the moment?

Chopin’s Barcarolle; five Scarlatti Sonatas; Luigi Nono’s Sofferte onde Serene for piano and tape; Mists by Xenakis; Sposalizio by Liszt; and Mantra by Stockhausen.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking and wild camping in the Scottish Highlands.

Joseph Houston performs at the Ryedale Festival on Friday 25th July. Further details and tickets here

Described by the Financial Times as a musician of ‘versatility and poise’, Joseph Houston is a London-based pianist specialising in Contemporary Music. He studied at the University of York and the Royal College of Music where he received a first-class honours degree in Music and an Mmus in Advanced Performance with distinction. While at the RCM he won the Frank Merrick Prize, the 2nd Prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition, the Emanuel Piano Trophy (North London Music Festival), and a place on the London Sinfonietta Academy 2010. His teachers have included Ian Jones, Ashley Wass, and Andrew Ball.

In his first year at the RCM Joseph was selected to perform British composer Michael Zev Gordon’s The Impermanence of Things for solo piano, electronics, and ensemble with the RCM’s New Perspectives Ensemble. Since then, he has performed at venues across the UK, including Steinway Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Weston Auditorium (University of Herts.), the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall (University of York), Kings Place, Cafe Oto, the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and Wigmore Hall. Soon after graduating from the RCM, Joseph was invited to perform a piano duet version of Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with his teacher, Ashley Wass, resulting in a performance at the RCM’s Brahms festival and conference in 2011. He has also been in demand as a concerto soloist, performing such classic 19th and 20th century works as Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot), conducted by John Stringer; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Henley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ian Brown; John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the RCM’s Variable Geometries Ensemble; Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with the De Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra; and the UK premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Ryedale Concerto for solo piano and orchestra at the 2013 Ryedale Festival. Also active as a chamber musician, Joseph is the principal pianist of the Octandre Ensemble, a collective dedicated to the promotion of young composers and rarely-performed Contemporary repertoire.

Full biography on Joseph’s website:

www.josephhouston.co.uk

Playing Elgar on Elgar’s piano

This week I returned to the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands Park with my friend and pianist colleague Elspeth Wyllie, to see and play a square piano which had belonged to Elgar. Elspeth has been working on and performing Elgar’s own transcription for piano of his Enigma Variations and so the visit was part curiosity (on both our parts) and part research.

The first thing which struck us on being shown the piano is its very small size, and the delicate strings and hammers. Examining this tiny piano, it was easy to imagine it in a room in the composer’s cottage in Great Malvern. The piano came into the possession of Edward Elgar’s father and uncle who together ran a piano business in Worcester, and Elgar chose it from his father’s stock. He inscribed on the soundboard the names of some of the works he composed on it, including ‘Caractacus’ and ‘Sea Pictures’. The Enigma Variations were composed in 1898-99: of course we don’t know if Elgar used this piano to work on the Variations, but in any case, the experience of playing his music on his piano was most enlightening and very touching, for both of us.

Despite its size, the piano has a remarkably colourful voice and a rich bass. In the treble there are string quartet sonorities which brought a wonderful vibrancy to the music and revealed strands of melody, sub-melody and accompaniment which are sometimes lost in the lush resonance of a modern grand piano.

Hear Elgar’s Broadwood here:

 

More about The Cobbe Collection

An earlier post about the ‘Chopin’ pianos at the Cobbe Collection

Meet the Artist……Rosie Whiting, pianist

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

Initially it was my older sister. She started taking piano lessons and we were very competitive so anything she did I did too! Then it was really my mother who encouraged me to continue. She took me all over the country for lessons and competitions and really invested a lot of time in my early musical career.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I have been really lucky to study with the most incredible teachers and they have definitely influenced the direction of my career. My teacher at the Purcell School, Carole Presland, had a fabulous career and ever since we met, I have always strived to have a career like hers. And then my current teacher Douglas Finch really nurtured my love of contemporary music. We have been working together now for 5 years and he has really been an invaluable source of encouragement and inspiration.

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

All the knock backs I have had. There were many people who told me that I wasn’t good enough so I will always be grateful to those who have had faith in me!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my latest performance at the 1901 Arts Club. It really took a lot of pain and suffering to get there and I feel I really gave the audience something new and special. Shortly after that I recorded some Chopin Preludes which have turned out really well so I am very proud of them!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Contemporary works are definitely my thing. I love compositions by my teacher, Douglas Finch. I have performed his work Preludes and Afterthoughts quite a lot recently and it is just the most fun! The more obscure the better!

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

It depends on what I have got going on further down the line. I listen a lot. I do, to some extent, go out of my way to find the weird and wonderful pieces that people don’t hear so much. I like to bring something new to the performance platform with every concert I do. I also get asked by composers to perform their works also, which is always a privilege.

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

The 1901 Arts Club is just phenomenal. It is the most intimate and friendly venue in London. It’s a different kind of concert there. Audience members talk to each other and as a performer you really feel like you are performing to a room full of friends, even though you maybe don’t know a soul!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

That’s a very difficult question. I like to perform all pieces. Performing is just too much fun to not enjoy performing everything! Chamber music is particularly enjoyable. I work with a violinist and we have had particular fun performing Schnittke – Violin Sonata No. 3. To listen to, always Argerich playing Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 1.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many it is difficult to pick! I love Pierre-Laurent Aimard, he is an inspiration. Argerich as well. I cannot live without her Prokofiev

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When Charles Rosen came to perform and give a master class at the Purcell School. I will never forget that day!

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

To enjoy what you are doing. I think a lot of musicians forget we are not only doing this for a job but out of choice. We made that choice because we love music. You can hear when people have forgotten to love their art.

What are you working on at the moment?

Takemitsu – Litany, Scriabin Fantasy in B Minor, Schnittke – Little Piano Pieces and Prokofiev Sarcasms.

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

In 10 years’ time I would like to be doing something that makes me as happy as I am now.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Days off where I can practice, sit in the sun, read a good book and do everything at my leisure. Generally do all the things I never have time to do.

What is your most treasured possession?

My rabbit, Sausages. And my sanity (sometimes wavers!)

What do you enjoy doing most?

Practicing… sometimes… only when it goes well! I am a keen powerlifter so I really enjoy working out. Drinking copious amounts of tea with Mili Leitner, the violinist who I work with.

What is your present state of mind?

Stressed but excited about studying with Corey Hamm at the University of British Columbia in September!

British born pianist Rosie Whiting is a musician who likes to get under the skin of contemporary performance and bring something new to the performance platform. In every concert she performs the audience can be guaranteed of hearing something new and unexpected.

Rosie started playing the piano at the age of 7 after hearing her sister practice. In 2007 she won a place to study at the prestigious Purcell School of Music, with a full scholarship. Under the tutelage of Carole Presland she explored music from all the epochs and soon realised that her passion was with the contemporary repertoire.

In 2009 Rosie began to study with Douglas Finch at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, and under his guidance immersed herself in modern music. During her time at Trinity, Rosie was able to work with many composers including Tansy Davies, Errollyn Wallen, John White and Mark Grey to name a few. Rosie graduated in 2013.

In 2013 Rosie was awarded first prize in the John Halford Competition for contemporary piano music for her performance of Boulez Piano Sonata No. 1 and Messiaen L’Alouette Lulu. She also made her concerto debut with a performance of Mozart Piano Concerto K. 449.

www.rosiewhiting.co.uk

Birmingham International Piano Academy 2014

cons-inst-perf-mmusThe first Birmingham City University International Piano Academy (IPA) will run 14 July to 2 August 2014. This exciting three-week course is part of the Birmingham City University International Summer School. The IPA is designed to help pianists from across the world develop their interpretative, technical and platform skills.

There are concerts, masterclasses and lectures with leading international artists and renowned teachers, including Peter Donohoe and Julian Lloyd Webber, together with special interest events such as an exploration of playing Mozart’s music on different pianos, including the fortepiano and modern grand piano, allowing participants to discover the differences in phrasing, fingering and interpretation at different periods in history. Peter Donohoe will also give a lunchtime recital of works by Schumann, Scriabin, Tchaikovsky and Brahms. All events are free for those under 18 years of age.

Image credit: Peter Donohoe © Sussie Ahlburg
Image credit: Peter Donohoe © Sussie Ahlburg

In addition to this unique series of concerts, talks and other activities, the IPA offers a full programme of one-to-one tuition, group lessons and developmental activities.

The IPA is directed by Di Xiao, an international pianist, educator, writer and cultural ambassador.

Further details of the IPA here

Full programme of events brochure

http://www.dixiao.co.uk/

Meet the Artist……Oliver Rudland, composer

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

Like a great many other composers, the initial impetus or inspiration to write came from a deep-seated desire to emulate (and often imitate!) the music I had encountered in childhood and adolescence, through performing and learning music – in my case, through brass bands, orchestras and youth opera (I was blessed by the fact that Leeds County Council has an amazing music service with many inspirational teachers). Over time, I discovered the great power of music to express ideas about the world and about oneself, and this awoke in me the desire to make composition my vocation.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your composing and your musical career to date? 

My initial passions were fired by the English pastoral school, perhaps best represented by Vaughan-Williams and Holst. After this, I went through a Steve Reich phase (pun intended!), which had a very substantial impact upon my development, since it led me to realise that tonality could still be used in original and meaningful ways. Subsequently, I underwent a somewhat obsessive infatuation with Wagner, whose protean use of a wide variety of musical influences to create dramatic works of enormous philosophical depth planted in me the ambition to write opera. At this point, I re-discovered Benjamin Britten, who I came to see as a composer who had achieved equal dramatic mastery and psychological understanding, but in a more English and down-to-earth manner.

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

Undoubtedly my first two operas. Through these, I have learnt how to synthesise all my musical influences and gradually, from naïve beginnings, to write music and libretti which not only work poetically and musically but which also function well dramatically on the stage. Organising the performances and staging productions was just as much a challenge as the actual composition. For my first opera, The Nightingale and the Rose (after Oscar Wilde), written while I was still an undergraduate, I combined an orchestra of RCM students with the hundred-strong Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir and professional opera singers. My children’s opera, The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark (after Jill Tomlinson), then involved co-ordinating sixty primary-school children from around Cambridgeshire with professional musicians, as well as singers from Cambridge University, which was an even more formidable logistical challenge, since it meant one had to deal not only with some fairly mischievous young spirits, but also with their anxious parents!

What are the particular pleasures/challenges of working with individual artists, ensembles or orchestras? 

I always enjoy working with musicians and artists to bring a project into being. I would consider myself the entrepreneurial type, and tend to gather together a team of creative people to build a project around a dramatic conception. Collaboration involves a balance between allowing plenty of creative freedom to the individuals that you are working with, whilst striving to direct everybody’s energies towards a mutual goal. Maintaining this balance without creating too many frictions and tensions is always a challenge; the trick is to find people who share your ideals.

Please tell us more about your new opera Pincher Martin

Pincher Martin is an operatic adaptation of William Golding’s novel and poetic masterpiece. Recreating on the stage the existential plight of a marooned naval officer who struggles to survive first in the ocean, then on a lonely rocky islet in the middle of the Atlantic, has stretched my imagination to the limit, and has required the use of devices and technology which were previously unfamiliar to me. Throughout the course of the drama, we will be using a silver-screen movie-style cinematic backdrop, both to aid us in realising difficult scenarios such as a man drowning in the Atlantic, and to evoke the drama’s World War II setting.

Just one example of how this will work in practice is a scene in a moving motorcar, where the protagonist terrifies a woman with his dangerous and aggressive driving in a terrible attempt to make her acquiesce to his desires (yes, this is in the book…!). Musically, I have accompanied this scene with continuous unpitched and then pitched fluttertongues in four solo brass instruments, to evoke the sound of a car engine, first stationary and then in faster and faster motion. In terms of staging, this coordinates with the film, in that what is displayed on the screen is the view seen from the back seat of a car, first shaking very slightly as the car is parked in a layby with its engine idling, and then changing as the car moves off down the road. This is combined on-stage with the set, which in this case consists of a car bonnet behind which the protagonists will sit, with the backseat view behind them on the film. The bonnet itself is half-car, half-rock-like in substance, so that we can move expeditiously from a scene taking place on the rocky islet to this memory scene in the car, whilst also suggesting to the audience that the rock is actually an imaginary environment created by Pincher’s subconscious, and that we are dealing with scenes from his past life, which he is recalling during his purgatorial existence on the island.

Using this synthesis of music, film and staging to bring William Golding’s story to life has been an incredibly difficult challenge, but one which I am very glad to be undertaking, as it has expanded my creative world substantially.

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

To be yourself whilst learning from others.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To build a life where I can continue to realise my musical and dramatic ideas, whilst also starting a family with my wonderful and brilliant wife Helen (whose ambitions equal mine in her own field of scholarship), balancing both of these enormous challenges in harmony.

Oliver Rudland’s opera Pincher Martin is at the Royal College of Music from 24-26 July. Tickets available here

http://pinchermartinopera.com/

View the trailer

 

Oliver Rudland was born in West Yorkshire in 1983. He studied composition with Huw Watkins and Joseph Horovitz and piano with Niel Immelman at the Royal College of Music as a Foundation Scholar, and then studied at Cambridge University with Robin Holloway, where he also taught harmony and counterpoint for five years. 

His orchestral music has been played in masterclasses directed by James MacMillan, Colin Matthews and Mark-Anthony Turnage, and he has had chamber works performed at the Cheltenham International Music Festival, the Southbank Centre, and the DiMenna Center (NYC), as well as at other venues across the U.S. and Europe. Oliver’s works have been performed by, among others, Matthew Gee (principal trombonist of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra), the Britten Sinfonia, the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir, and Gonville and Caius College Chapel Choir. 

Oliver’s first opera, The Nightingale and the Rose, received its première at the Royal College of Music, London, and was then staged at the Carriageworks Theatre for four nights in 2008 by Leeds Youth Opera. ‘Exceptional talent…Oliver is going to be a big name in the future.’ (Yorkshire Evening Post) 

In 2011, he staged a production of his children’s opera, The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, based on the classic story by Jill Tomlinson, which received very positive reviews from audiences and critics alike. ‘This was children’s opera at its best; it was fun and accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds,’ (GSM News). Further productions of this opera are planned for Leeds (2015) and Freiburg imBreisgau, Germany.  

Future projects include a commission for a new choral work for Leeds Grammar School’s nine lessons and carols service, and a commercial recording of his choral music directed by Michael Waldron. For more information please visit: www.oliverrudland.co.uk

Concert for NPL Music Society, Teddington

On 8 July I gave a joint concert with my pianist friend José Luis Gutiérrez Sacristán for my local music society based at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington. It was Jose’s idea to present a joint concert and the result was a varied programme which reflected our personal and quite wide-ranging musical tastes. We closed the recital with the ‘Berceuse’ from Faure’s Dolly Suite.

The complete programme:

Mozart – Fantasia in C minor K475 (Frances)
Shostakovich – Prelude & Fugue in C, Op 87 (José)
Part – Für Alina (Frances)
Haydn – Andante with variations in F minor, Hob XVII/6 (Frances)
Villa-Lobos – Cirandinhas W.210 nos. 6, 8, 12 & 11 (José)
Ginastera – Danza de la moza donosa (José)
Fauré – Berceuse from ‘Dolly Suite’ (duet)

Programme notes 8 July

Listen to the entire programme here

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