Dulwich Music Festival 2016

The Dulwich Music Festival is now in its fifth year. It is an annual event that takes place several times during the year to provide performance and feedback opportunities for pianists, harpsichordists and fortepianists. In 2016, the Festival comprises two separate events:
  • The Clementi House Piano Competition – a chance to perform in the London home of pianist and composer Muzio Clementi. Alongside the competition, there will be concerts by leading harpsichordists and fortepianists. 6th March 2016
  • The Piano Competition – a full day of classes from beginners to advanced and adult recital classes. 11th June 2016

These events are designed to celebrate the piano (and harpsichord and fortepiano) and to encourage enjoyment and progress amongst players of all levels.

Repertoire has been carefully chosen to allow complete beginners the chance to gain their first experience of performing to a friendly and welcoming audience. We seek out innovative repertoire by contemporary composers who also adjudicate the classes. In addition to the contemporary repertoire, we also have graded classes and recital and exhibition classes. The piano competition is well established and fully booked months in advance. We recommend early booking. Some of the June classes are already fully booked.

I am delighted to be involved with the Dulwich Music Festival once again in 2016 as an adjudicator, a role which offers me the opportunity to hear young pianists in action in a variety of repertoire.
Full details about the Festival can be found here:


Meet the Artist……Robert Steadman, composer

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

As far as I can remember, and from the stories my mother tells, I was always composing music in one form or another.

I began playing the recorder whilst I was in Infant School and then started to learn to play brass instruments (initially the cornet in the local brass band) at the age of 7. As soon as I could play a few notes I was rearranging them and experimenting with them.

My mother often tells of times when I was only 7 or 8 years old, armed with a couple of decant recorders, a cornet, a script I had scribbled on a scrappy piece of paper and my sister I would make up and record “radio programmes” onto a cassette player that I would then inflict on the rest of the family. In these shows, I was not only the scriptwriter and presenter, but I also composed all the music that was featured!

Sadly, when I was at school, composition wasn’t really a thing in the way it is these days and, although I continued writing short little pieces for myself to play at home, I didn’t really have any “performances” of pieces until I was in my early teens.

It was whilst at sixth-form college in Andover, on the Pre-Professional Music Course at Cricklade College) that I realised that I seemed to have a bit of a flare for composing, and being on that course meant I had the opportunity to write for lots of players who were quite able. College sorted me out a composition tutor (Tom Eastwood) and gradually I had more and more pieces being performed.

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

I think that my time at Cricklade College was fundamental to me becoming a composer.

Tom Eastwood, my composition tutor, was fantastic teacher – inspiring and very realistic about what I needed. He pushed me in the right direction.

Cliff Bevan, who had been my tuba teacher (yes, as I grew so did the brass instrument I played get larger) and then became the head of the course at Cricklade, was also a massive influence, as he found me opportunities to get pieces played and, because he also ran a small publishing company, he published my first two compositions: Delta IV – a fugue for four trumpets; and Sonata in One Movement for solo tuba – which I wrote as a audition piece for myself to play for County Youth Orchestra and university interviews.

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

I’m fortunate in that I find composing relatively easy, and I work quite quickly. I think, as a composer, the challenges come from trying to persuade people that they’d like to have a new work written, or that they could include a new piece in a concert. Sometimes, it’s such an uphill struggle – and, in fact, it can be soul destroying to think that 200 years ago audiences and performers wanted new music more than they wanted to listen to older things – what went so wrong?

Personally, I guess the biggest struggle for me, as a composer, was about three years ago when I suffered very badly from depression due to a combination of work and home problems. I had it very bad and got to a point where I was being closely watched because I was considered to be a suicide risk. I was put on a complex cocktail of medication that, I felt, turned me into a bit of a zombie and removed my spark and creativity. In July 2012, a couple of weeks before I went to London to be a Games Maker for the Olympics, I stopped taking all the medication and decided to fight back against the depression. My GP was fantastic and supported me throughout this, even though she didn’t necessarily think it was the right thing to do, and, as a result, my composing resumed.

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

The hardest part of working on a commissioned piece is getting the commission in the first place (oh, and getting the second, third, fourth performances).

I love sitting down with a commissioner to discuss a new work – but, of course, by that point they’ve dipped their toe in the water and made the decision that they want a new work written!

I normally talk to a commissioner for ages to find out their needs, about the event, things they’d like, things they wouldn’t like…. I do love the collaboration of working with someone else – it’s like solving a puzzle making sure all the pieces are placed in the right way so that the performer has the piece they want! 

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

Every musician is different and that’s what makes things so exciting and, to be honest, inspirational.

Yes, as a composer there are things I want to write but I realise I can’t just compose what I want (I’m certainly not a big enough name for that – yet!) so I have to adjust my ideas to fit with what someone else wants. A lot of the time I think this helps me hone my thoughts and, I hope, the final piece is better as a result.

Which works are you most proud of?

I’m always most proud of the piece I’m currently working on but, of finished pieces, I am particularly proud of pieces that have had a life beyond the premiere and beyond the first performers: my MAGNIFICAT has had a wide range of performances in its different versions; BE NOT AFEARD,THE ISLE IS FULL OF NOISES is a piano sonata that I wish my meagre piano-playing skills would enable me to perform; IN FLANDERS FIELDS was performed a lot last year – it’s a setting of John McRae’s First World War poem in versions for various different choirs!

There is also MASS IN BLACK, which was commissioned by Basingstoke Choral Society in 1987. It’s had a premiere scheduled twice, by two different choirs, but, on both occasions, it’s been cancelled because the choir has decided the piece is too controversial (it combines a requiem mass text text with the prophecies of Nostradamus and poems on environmental issues and the end of the world). I think it’s one of the best and most original pieces I’ve ever written – but, so far, it remains unperformed!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I have a very eclectic taste in composers (and have only recently fallen back in love with classical music after a trial separation of a few years!

Of modern composers, I adore the music of John Adams who is, to my mind, the greatest of all living composers. I also very much enjoy the music of Michael Nyman and Michael Torke.

Of twentieth-century composers, I always had a thing for the music of Michael Tippett (I wrote a dissertation about him for my O-level music exam) but then it’s the usual suspects: Stravinsky; Bartok; Reich. I am not a fan of serialism though I’m glad it happened (actually, aged about 8, having never heard of Schoenberg or the Second Viennese School, I “invented” a system not dissimilar to the 12-note row…).

Of earlier composer, I particularly like Berlioz and Bach. I’ve recently re-discovered Beethoven (and especially like his later works) and then there’s renaissance choral music, which I adore.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable concert experience has to be when I conducted a school orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall at the Schools Prom in 2005. We played a suite from Jurassic Park and then Elgar’s Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1 – I’m not one for the whole flag-waving jingoistic nonsense but, with a bunch of youngsters that I had coached, it was a truly memorable experience.

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

I think that Roy Castle hit the nail on the head in the lyrics to the song he performed at the end of episodes of Record Breakers: “Dedication’s what you need”.

You need to be dedicated to your art, honing your skills, keeping an open mind and listening carefully to everything around you. You need to be continually learning and you must never accept second best! Being a bit OCD is a positive!

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

In 10 years I’d like to be doing more composing and less of the other bits I do to try to please my bank manager! 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Composing – composing without interruption and then hearing a perfect performance without interruption (though I do hate being in a hall when a piece of mine is being performed because I have no control over it – it’s one of the few times I get nervous).

What is your most treasured possession?

My most treasured musical possession are some of my own hand-written manuscripts from the days before computer notation (I began using notation software in 1990).

My most treasured non-musical possession is a set of encyclopedias I inherited from my paternal grandfather (who I never actually met). They’re from 1921 and have such a different world view.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Composing – and if I’m not composing, I love to cook or watch movies.

I’m a vegetarian, and have been since my Freshers’ Year at uni, but I cook meat for those who need it – yes, in an ideal world everyone would be vegetarian, but, sadly, they’re not! In fact, I’d prefer to be vegan, but I think it would still be too difficult. Maybe in a few years time…

What is your present state of mind?

That’s a tricky one! I have days when I am manic with ideas to the point I feel my head will explode, and other days when I am more relaxed. I’m in a good place now, much better than I was a few years back.

Robert Steadman is a prolific composer of music ranging from symphonies and operas to musicals and pieces for brass band. He has written a great deal for amateurs and children.

Robert has been commssioned to compose works for the percussionist Evelyn Glennie, saxophonist Sarah Field, London Brass Virtuosi and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

His opera Sredni Vashtar was written to a libretto by Richard Adams.

He has also written radio jingles and a song used on Chris Evans‘ Radio One Show.

As well as composing, Robert has written many articles on music education and a number of books alongside teaching and leading creative music workshops for schools, museums and charities.



Omelette Arnold Bennett

(photo: BBC)

‘Masterchef – The Professionals’ is back on BBC TV, the competition for professional chefs. I admit to being glued to the programme every night, and this year I’m watching even more attentively as my son is training to be a chef (and of course this proud mum would love to see him on the programme in the future….)

At the start of the competition, the chefs undergo a variety of “skills tests”, including making brandy snaps, boning, trimming and tying up a joint of meat, preparing a lobster or crab, or making the classic Omelette Arnold Bennett. For a “classically trained” chef, these tests shouldn’t present too many problems, as many of these skills and dishes are standard fare in the chef’s basic training. Of course in the TV spotlight and under the eagle-eyed stare of Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing, nerves can get the better of the contestants and mistakes inevitably happen….

During last year’s contest, I enjoyed lively conversations on Twitter with pianist and writer Susan Tomes, and once again we are exchanging thoughts about the competition. One thing that has puzzled both of us is how these chefs seem to lack basic skills, skills which one would expect them to have mastered within the first few years of their training (my son, for example, who is in the second year of his diploma course, learnt to make Omelette Arnold Bennett in his first year). And it set me thinking about what the equivalent skills would be for a pianist.

So, if the pianistic equivalent of Omelet Arnold Bennett is the first Prelude & Fugue from Bach’s WTC (a suggestion received via Twitter), what other basic attainments should a pianist have, based on an equivalent list of culinary skills? I would love to have your suggestions, which I will then collate into a further blog post exploring this theme. Feel free to post your suggestions in the comments section at the foot of this post.

How to chop an onion

Make a roux sauce

How to cook pasta properly

Salmon en croute

Prepare an artichoke

Black Forrest Gâteau

Make a soufflé

Coq au Vin

Steak Tartare

Prepare oysters

Deboning, trimming and tying a joint of lamb

Word/Play – Sunday Morning Coffee Concerts with Lucy Parham & Friends

Sunday morning coffee concerts devised
 by pianist Lucy Parham
Kings Place (Hall One), London N1

Following the success of the 2014/15 season of Word/Play, pianist Lucy Parham returns to Kings Place for another series of regular Sunday morning Coffee Concerts. Described by BBC Music Magazine as “one of the must-see events on the musical calendar”, the series celebrates the relationship between words and music, whilst exploring a variety of composers, genres and styles. 

‘I am delighted to present a third series of the Word/Play Coffee Concerts with my colleague, Lisa Peacock. I have always loved the combination of words and music and have tried to combine them both in a unique way for each concert. From the Celebrity Gala, via Just William, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff, I hope there will something for everyone to enjoy on a Sunday morning.’ – Lucy Parham

The series starts on Sunday 6th December, when Lucy will be joined by actors, writers, comedians and journalists for a morning of fun at the piano in the Word/ Play Celebrity Christmas Gala. The pianists will be performing from Schumann’s Album für die Jugend (Album for the Young), Op. 68, plus some festive surprises.

The line-up for the Christmas Gala:

Edward Fox actor

William Sharman Team GB athlete

Alistair McGowan actor

Sarah Walker BBC Radio 3 presenter

Alan Rusbridger former Editor, The Guardian and author of Play It Again

Richard Ingrams former Editor, The Oldie

Conrad Williams author

Stephen Boxer actor

Patricia Hodge actor

Niamh Cusack actor

Anneka Rice broadcaster
Cathy Newman Channel 4 News presenter

David Pickard Director, BBC Proms

Barry Wordsworth conductor, Special Guest

Further names to be announced

Iain Burnside presenter

Joanna David narrator
Lucy Parham piano

The Coffee Concert series continues on January 24 with Just William, Jarvis and Jeeves. Martin Jarvis, back by popular demand, brings his dazzling story telling gifts to Kings Place once again.   In The Outlaws and the Triplets, 11-year old William Brown finds himself masquerading as the elder brother of a trio of tots, and in the hilarious Jeeves and The Song of Songs, Jarvis (as ‘Bertie Wooster’) tells of a preposterously unpredictable musical entertainment. The musical accompaniment to both stories is composed and performed by the brilliant Richard Sisson.

Sunday 7 February sees A Morning with Beethoven: John Lill and John Suchet. Following their sell-out performance last season, internationally acclaimed pianist John Lill and Classic FM presenter and Beethoven biographer John Suchet will discuss the music and life of Beethoven, with John Lill performing two more popular Beethoven sonatas – No. 22 in F, followed by the No. 32 in C minor.

On the 6 March, national treasure Alan Titchmarsh shares his green-fingered love for all things horticultural in The Glory of the Garden, with readings from his own writings and others. Pianist and composer Richard Sisson joins him as the programme unfolds, including gems by Tchaikovsky, Chaminade and Billy Mayerl.

Known internationally for her ‘composer portraits’ in words and music, pianist Lucy Parham has created a new programme that chronicles the life of Sergei Rachmaninov –  Élégie: Rachmaninov, A Heart in Exile. Though he became an exile 1917, Russia remained deeply rooted in his soul. Rachmaninov’s cultural identity and his longing for his homeland imbue his music, not least the many much-loved works he wrote for his own instrument, the piano. In this Coffee Concert version Lucy Parham will be joined by renowned actor, Henry Goodman.

Venue: Hall One, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG

Box Office:  020 7520 1490 / www.kingsplace.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Lucy Parham

Don Pasquale at Drayton Arms Theatre

It’s not unusual these days to find operas staged in unexpected locations; the plush velvet and gold of the traditional opera house exchanged for something more earthy and – to use a buzzword of the fringe opera movement – accessible. Here Alisdair Kitchen, director of Euphonia Opera, introduces his latest project – ‘Don Pasquale’ in a pub……

Mounting operas in such places has done much to popularise an often-misunderstood art form, and there is something thrillingly visceral about experiencing operatic voices up close. Certain trade-offs are inevitable; large casts must be slimmed-down, choruses cut, and very often the original language altered to a snappy vernacular translation. And of course, there is hardly room for a full orchestra in an intimate venue.

My company – Euphonia (www.euphoniaopera.com) – is venturing into this territory for the first time with Donizetti’s ‘Don Pasquale’ at the Drayton Arms Theatre in South Kensington. We have been honing our craft for the last five years with full-scale productions at the Rye Arts Festival, most recently presenting an ambitious staging of Mozart’s Don Giovanni set on a vintage train [http://www.ryenews.org.uk/culture/don-giovanni-goes-rails]. Donizetti’s sparkling domestic comedy is the first instalment in what will be a regular opera series at The Drayton, with future productions including ‘La Traviata’ and Gluck’s ‘Iphigénie en Tauride’. Legendary opera director John Copley, whom I am privileged to have as a mentor, is Patron of the season.
‘Don Pasquale’ is an absolute gem in the repertoire – a simple yet effective plot rendered in glorious bel canto. It’s intimacy lends itself well to the guiding principal of Euphonia’s work at this theatre, namely to produce chamber versions of operas which are distillations of the original. We hope to concentrate the essence of a work without distorting it. It’s a question of balance – if you take away the orchestra and grand stage resources that operas were conceived with, you have to ensure that the other side of the scale is well-stacked. For instance, there’s something special about the blend of music and words as the composer originally set them; for this reason, we perform in the opera’s original language.

But above all we aim to be entertaining! We have a splendid cast for ‘Don Pasquale’; the title role is something of a speciality for Graham Stone – it’s his tenth production! He is joined by the wonderful emerging vocal talents of Lauren Libaw, Joseph Doody and Christopher Jacklin, all accompanied by Euphonia’s excellent repetiteur Jonathan Musgrave.

‘Don Pasquale’ by Gaetano Donizetti

The Drayton Arms Theatre, 153 Old Brompton Road, London, SW5 0LJ

November 24th, 25th, 27th and 28th at 7.30pm

Autumn 2015 marks the start of a new venture for The Drayton Arms Theatre – an operatic season, presented by our Associate Director for Music and his vibrant young opera company Euphonia (President: Prof. Lord Robert Winston). These co-productions kick-off with Donizetti’s effervescent comedy, ‘Don Pasquale’, sung in Italian, with English surtitles.

After disinheriting his nephew Ernesto (Joseph Doody), wealthy old Don Pasquale (Graham Stone) seeks a wife to produce an heir for his estate. Dr. Malatesta (Christopher Jacklin) sympathizes with Ernesto and devises a crackpot plan to help him regain his inheritance and his true love, Norina (Lauren Libaw). Also featuring Edward Jowle (Notary) and accompanied on the piano by Jonathan Musgrave.

Music and Stage Direction: Alisdair Kitchen

Patron of Opera at The Drayton Arms Theatre: John Copley, CBE

Tickets (£15, £11 concessions) available at www.ticketsource.co.uk/euphonia

For further information about Euphonia and the opera season at the Drayton Arms Theatre, please visit www.euphoniaopera.com.

Delicious pre-theatre dining is available until 7pm Monday to Saturday, two courses for only £10! 
Call 020 7835 2301 to reserve your table.

Praise for Euphonia’s recent Don Giovanni at the Rye Arts Festival: “It was such a joy, and easily a match for anything seen on much grander stages. The superb professional young cast and orchestra assembled by Alisdair Kitchen, the director and conductor, and the driving force behind Euphonia, would grace any auditorium.” – Rye and Battle Observer

Meet the Artist……Nicolas Nebout, conductor


Who or what inspired you to take up conducting, and pursue a career in music?

Carlos Kleiber! More seriously, I was feeling a bit frustrated playing the cello, not having the big picture. The instrument seemed to be almost “getting in the way” of the music and me. Also I have always enjoyed managing people and was excited by the added challenge of getting the musicians to feel they are fully part of the creative process. Finally I felt I had something to say and express about music. 

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

I have met some fantastic people in my life, ranging from my nursery school teacher to my passionate cello teacher when I was a teenager, and my music teacher in high school. Working with Benjamin Zander was also a great experience. He taught me a lot as a musician and as a person. I believe it is crucial as an artist to keep learning from others throughout your life. It is often said that a great musician should know about philosophy and other arts, cultures etc. and this is absolutely true.

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

Getting it started!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My concert last year with Sinfonia Tamesa, when we performed Nielsen (Aladdin), Grieg (Peer Gynt) and Rimsky-Korsakov (Sheherazade), was pretty amazing – really electrifying and colourful! I was also thrilled to perform Albéric Magnard’s Hymne à la Justice last year on the 100th anniversary of his death. He hasn’t been played at all in France and for me it is a real shame! I am also very proud to be conducting a concert on 11 November at St James’s Piccadilly with the amazing Sarah Connolly in aid of UNICEF Syria Children’s Appeal. Such a worthy and important cause.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I experience and therefore conduct the music in a passionate way. Of course there is always a necessary intellectual approach to the score: you’ve got to analyse it and understand the notes and their relationship, but what’s most important is to love the music, to feel it and make the audience experience it with you. I particularly relate to powerful and expressive composers like Beethoven, Mahler, Sibelius, Bruckner etc. Plus I am an advocate of playing unknown composers; the feeling of discovering something new, another language, another personality is always extremely rewarding and motivating.

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

I always try to put three kinds of pieces in my programmes: something famous to attract the more traditional audience, a premiere or contemporary piece, and a little-known piece or composer to feed the audience’s curiosity. There are so many wonderful things out there we haven’t heard yet!

Supporting new music is also essential. I believe performers should be more involved and work with composers themselves. For example, I think what Fenella Humphreys did with Bach to the Future was really inspiring.

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

I have played in too few venues to have a favourite. Maybe the state-of-the-art concert hall which Simon Rattle has been calling for in London?

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I can be quite obsessive sometimes, and right now I am completely mad about Bruckner’s 8th Symphony. It’s incredibly powerful, meditative, epic…

Otherwise, I like to listen to YouTube channels featuring unacclaimed masterpieces and other hidden gems. The Corymbus blog is also definitely worth following!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Carlos Kleiber (again)! He is such an inspiration. He breathes the music, loves it so much that the way he conducts seems so organic. I’ve also always been fascinated by Furtwängler and his bizarre but magical conducting. Of course we’ve got some fantastic conductors today as well: Mariss Jansons, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Andris Nelsons, Sir Simon Rattle.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my very first concert as a conductor in 2009! Hopefully there is much more to come. The UNICEF concert on 11 November promises to be quite a highlight too and because of the cause it supports, a memorable one too.

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

“You know nothing!” No matter where you are or how good you are, you have to keep learning and be humble. But remember if music is life, life is not only about music!

What is your most treasured possession?

The St Christopher pendant my grandmother gave me a long time ago. Not for religious reasons at all but because it is a reminder of where I come from. Also my cello: it symbolises the efforts and sacrifices I had to make to get where I am and all the support I got from my parents. And very soon my wedding ring!
Sarah Connolly and some of the top professional musicians in London are uniting under the direction of Nicolas Nebout in a special fundraising concert for Syrian refugee children. The concert takes place on 11th November 2015, 7.30pm at St James’s Piccadilly, London W1


Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No.5

Gustav Mahler – Kindertotenlieder (soloist: Sarah Connolly)

Malek Jandali – Phoenix in Exile (World Premiere)

Book tickets http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2265817

Donate https://www.justgiving.com/MusiciansForSyria/
Nicolas Nebout’s website http://www.nicolasnebout.com

Learning Curve

Two of my students, siblings as it happens, are working on pieces which include a continuously moving left hand, scored in triplets. One is a Rondo by Diabelli, the other a Sonatina by Clementi. I am also working on a movement of a Schubert sonata which includes the same figure. The other day, during a lesson with one of these students, I showed her the Rondo from Schubert’s D959 and said, “look, I’m working on something similar”. Her eyes opened very wide and she looked absolutely astonished, as if she couldn’t believe that there could be two pieces of music which were so similar. “I’ve encountered some similar technical issues with this,” I said to her, meaning that I too had had to work on forearm lateral movement (a “polishing” movement in the wrist and forearm) to achieve evenness in the notes, and to prevent my hand and arm becoming tired (also an issue for the student).

This episode highlights two important aspects for me: first, that students should never study music in a vacuum; and secondly, that I think it’s helpful for students to know that their teacher is also studying.

Dealing with my second point first, I firmly believe it is crucial for teachers to continue to study, whether this is independently of a teacher or mentor or by continuing to take formal lessons, and through attending seminars, workshops and courses for continuing professional development (CPD). Learning new repertoire, revising previously-learnt repertoire – no matter how easy or difficult it is – sharpens and informs our teaching skills and enables us to reference such music within the context of simpler repertoire when working with our students. And just because our repertoire may be “harder”, I do not see why we should not share it with our students, to demonstrate aspects as described above, to highlight scale and arpeggio patterns or other technical issues, or simply to share music with our students. Sadly, in my experience, many young people who learn a musical instrument have very little exposure to classical music outside of their lessons: they do not go to public concerts and have limited contact with music in school (and this is not going to improve with continual government attacks on the arts in the UK state education system). I believe one of the crucial roles of the music teacher is to broaden students’ cultural horizons by encouraging them to explore as much music as possible – whatever the genre. I also believe that by demonstrating to my students that I am also studying, there is the sense of a shared experience, that I understand how to practise properly, or prepare for a performance or exam. And for me as a teacher to be taught myself by a master teacher is incredibly useful as I draw on my own teacher’s vast knowledge and experience, and distil his wisdom into easily comprehensible nuggets for my students. And a good teacher will teach in such a way that seemingly complex concepts or technical issues can be simplified for students of any level.

Music should never be studied in a vacuum. And yet I come across students I have inherited from other teachers who have not been taught the context in which the music was created. They may be playing music from the Baroque period, but they have no idea what this means: for them, the music is simply a collection of dots on the page. Some students go right through to Grade 8 having learnt only exam repertoire (a total of 24 pieces) and come out of the process with a limited understanding of the very broad canon of classical music and its historical context. Giving students the opportunity to explore a broader range of repertoire outside the narrow confines of the exam syllabus allows them to experience different styles and genres but also to reference and put into practice technical and artistic aspects learned from their other pieces. Thus their learning – and mine – becomes a continuous process, a learning curve.

Vastly contrasting Chopin at St John’s Smith Square and Wigmore Hall

In the last week, I’ve been to two concerts which have featured the music of Fryderyk Chopin. The first, at St John’s Smith Square, was the second concert in British pianist Warren Mailley-Smith‘s wonderful and ambitious complete Chopin cycle; the second was a concert by young Polish Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki, who performed the Opus 25 Études as part of his Wigmore Hall recital on 30th October.

Warren Mailley-Smith

Warren opened his concert with Chopin’s Fantasie in F minor, Op 49, a dark yet majestic work to which he brought requisite scale and grandeur while also highlighting the more intimate elements of the piece. The rest of the programme featured shorter works: a selection of Waltzes and Mazurkas, and in the second half the complete Op 10 Études. What was apparent throughout the concert is that Warren clearly adores this music. This may sound crass, but I believe it is important to love the music you play. In the many interviews I have conducted with musicians, most will express a real love of the repertoire they play and this is often a deciding factor when planning concert programmes or recordings. Warren’s affection for the music was apparent in every note and phrase and this was transmitted very clearly to the audience both through his sensitive shaping of the music, his elegant soundworld and his body language. Despite the size of the venue, he created an atmosphere of intimacy, amply demonstrating his appreciation for the small scale of many of the works played.

In his Études, Chopin elevates the student study into a work of great beauty and virtuosity – while also cleverly retaining the basic premise of the study, that it tests and hones one’s technique. I think the key to playing the Études convincingly is to treat them first and foremost as beautiful pieces of music. Which is what Warren did. It is fascinating to hear the complete set in one sitting, to appreciate their contrasting characteristics and moods, and to marvel at the range of Chopin’s imagination and powers of expression. In Warren’s hands, each was a miniature miracle, sensitively rendered and deftly delivered. His assured technique was the foundation on which he built this artistry and the overall result was exceptionally engaging and intense. I look forward to the next concert in Warren’s Chopin cycle, at the end of November.

Midweek, I heard Stephen Hough at the Barbican in music by Schubert, Franck and Liszt together with the premiere of his new Piano Sonata III, ‘Trinitas’. There is no doubting Hough’s formidable technique coupled with insightful musicality and this concert reflected this. It was a serious affair, only lightened at the end by the encores, but it was a satisfying and thoughtful concert.

Read my full review here

Finally on Friday to the Wigmore to hear Jan Lisiecki, billed as a “wunderkind” (a description that always makes me suspicious!). At just 20, Lisiecki has already garnered much praise, in particular for his recording of Chopin’s Op 10 and Op 25 Etudes (he has been signed to Deutsche Grammophon since the age of 15). I have read much about Lisiecki, some very fulsome, some not, and I was curious to hear him live. Unfortunately, his concert was a very patchy affair. The opening Mozart Sonata (K 331) was elegantly articulated, tastefully pedalled and with an understanding of Mozart’s orchestral writing, particularly in the middle movement. The Rondo all Turca, which certain pianists, who shall remain nameless, have a habit of thumping out at high speed, was witty and playful, undoubtedly helped by a more restrained dynamic.

Jan Lisiecki (photo: Mathias Bothor)

Things started to go wrong, for me at least, with three Concert Studies by Liszt, with further problems in Mendelssohn’s Variations Serieuses, which were largely lost in unclear phrasing and overly loud playing. After the interval came Chopin’s Opus 25 Études. The ‘Aeolian Harp’ Etude began well, with delicate figurations and a clear sense of the melodic line, but as soon as the volume began to increase, Lisiecki’s touch became heavy handed and unrefined. In the more energetic Etudes, we were “treated” to an unrestrained display from the “louder faster” school of pianism. The ‘Butterfly Etude’ bounced around the keyboard like an over-sized clumsy moth. Phrasing went awry in the noisy melée, left-hand figures were highlighted but made no sense, and by the time we reached the ‘Winter Wind’ Etude, the brutal hammering of the piano had become almost laughable. In short, this was an unnecessarily flashy and tasteless display of arrogant adolescent virtuosity, which seemed to bear little fidelity to the score, nor an understanding of Chopin’s distinctive soundworld (it is said by those who heard him play that even in the forte and fortissimo range, his sound never rose above mezzo-forte: this is of course in part due to the more softly-spoken instrument he favoured). I have a fundamental and ongoing problem with people playing Chopin’s miniatures (and the Etudes are miniatures – just very difficult ones!) on modern concert grands: just because you can harness an enormous sound from such an instrument, it does not mean you should. A sensitive artist will know how to temper the sound to suit the repertoire – and the acoustic. The Wigmore is a relatively small venue and the audience does not need to be hit over the head with the sound of the piano….. I wondered, on hearing Lisiecki’s playing, whether a teacher may have encouraged him to play that way, or whether it was simply the exuberance of youth. I also felt he is still looking for repertoire which truly suits his personality: when he does, I hope he may produce good things.

Stephen Hough premieres his new piano sonata 

Barbican. London, 28th October 2015
As befits this deep thinking musical polymath, the programme for Stephen Hough’s Barbican concert was carefully constructed to reveal every side of his personality – artistic, creative and philosophical. The concert showcased Hough’s new Piano Sonata III, written to celebrate the 175th anniversary of The Tablet, which Hough intelligently linked to his choice of other composers. The spiritual preoccupations of Schubert, Franck and Liszt match Hough’s own, but there were motivic connections between the works in the programme too: for example, the final movement of Hough’s Piano Sonata mirrored the grandeur and hymn-like qualities of Franck’s Fugue. Liszt’s Valses oubliées looked forward to Schoenberg and his cohort in their unexpected harmonies and fragmentary melodies, while Hough’s own work looked back to the 12-tone compositional technique, originally conceived by Schoenberg. There was also virtuosity aplenty too – in his own work and in two of Liszt’s Transcendental Études, which closed the concert.

Read my full review here 
(Photo credit: Sim Canetty Clarke)

Meet the Artist……Filomena Campus


Who or what inspired you to take up jazz, and pursue a career in music?

Since I was a child music made me feel happier, but it took me a long time before it became a professional career. I tried to distract myself with a degree in English Literature at the University of Cagliari and a Master in theatre directing at Goldsmiths College London but in the end music has always been the strongest part of my soul. I needed to express myself through my voice. I started singing and performing when I was a student in Cagliari, Sardinia, where I also attended theatre workshops and contemporary dance classes; I wanted to be a complete performer. All these years of studying literature and theatrical semiotics and practising theatre directing have become part of my performance style, a fusion of jazz, theatre and literature. I even now run a theatre direction course at Essex University, and I’m giving a workshop on 4 November with Cleveland Watkiss at the Italian Cultural Institute. 
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I used to listen to jazz records and attend live concerts when I was very young and had a special interest for Brazilian music. Pat Metheny and Elis Regina were one of the very first jazz musicians I listened to regularly, as a student. I was playing in a Latin Jazz band at the time and it was the bandleader who got me into Brazilian jazz, for which I’m still grateful. Of course, there are jazz stars from my homeland of Sardinia too: Paolo Fresu, Antonello Salis, and the woman I was lucky enough to have as a teacher, jazz singer Maria Pia De Vito. The Sardinian musical tradition has a strong presence in my work, and I’m incredibly curious about rhythms from different parts of the world too. I’ve travelled to many countries – Brazil, Mozambique and Portugal, which have a language in common. Portuguese has music and a natural, fascinating rhythm of its own. I am especially interested in seeing how the voice is used in different cultures.

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

Directing the big theatre production Misterioso, a theatre/jazz play about Thelonious Monk, was a big test. I knew that Stefano Benni, one of Italy’s most prominent authors, had toured with a text about Monk throughout Italy. Through my friend and colleague Paolo Fresu I approached Benni to turn his text, which I translated, into a theatrical production.

Misterioso is a script or poem about the last years of Thelonious Monk’s life, when he fell into a complete creative silence in response to the persecution of the McCarthy years. I got a huge team together, technical staff and also managed to get funding through the English Arts Council. Its first run at the People’s Theatre in Camden in 2006 resulted in a three week run at the Riverside Studios, which was sold out night after night, and the reviews were great.

Now I’ve asked Stefano Benni to join vocalist Cleveland Watkiss and me on stage for a jazz adaptation of ‘Misterioso’ at the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho on 11 November. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Organising the annual Theatralia Jazz Festival is a huge but rewarding challenge; seeing all these musicians come together and make great jazz is fantastic and fills me with pride.

I am also proud of the recording Jester of Jazz with my own quartet as well as my most recent album Scaramouche. That CD contains a track ‘Momentum’ featuring Kenny Wheeler, which might have been one of the last recordings he made before he passed away last year. Hugely memorable to me. 

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Free jazz. Thelonious Monk was a huge inspiration to me; he was so open to all the possible sounds, and so expressive in his use of them. I want to capture that same spirit of exploration, and use my voice to discover new sounds, new melodies, new rhythmic possibilities in performance. I believe that jazz music is a continuous challenge, a never ending learning process. I like to challenge myself continuously, learning difficult melodies, harmonies and rhythms, otherwise I get bored very easily.

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

 My repertoire is entirely original year on year, so every season there are new projects, new songs to write, new musicians to work with. I love meeting new artists and creating new collaborations. I mainly look to poetry, literature and art objects for inspiration. I love going to concerts to see what’s happening around me and meeting people who are just as open-minded as I try to be for collaborations! Having a language in common helps, naturally, but they need to be on my wavelength too.

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

I love to travel and perform in theatres and international festivals. I’ve enjoyed touring in Germany, Croatia, Italy and remember great clubs like A-trane in Berlin, Night Club in the Bayerischer Hof hotel in Munich, Alexanderplatz in Rome, I love the Edinburgh Queen’s Hall too. Last year B-flat opened its doors in Cagliari, a new club that reminds me largely of the PizzaExpress Jazz Club in Soho. The PizzaExpress have believed and supported me in my projects from the very start. They are open to projects that are not exactly conventional, but sometimes experimental and challenging, for the audience as well as for the musicians. Largely, my favourite venues are theatres, I feel at home there.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love the work of Hermeto Pascoal and other Brazilian masters. I love the way they use the voice as an instrument, with or without words, and their melodies are a challenge and an experience to learn and perform. I’m always very curious, always looking for new vocalists I could work with. At the moment I’m working on a piece written by Luciano Berio, Sequenza III; I love Cathy Berberian’s performance of it.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Paolo Fresu, Monica Salmaso, Nana Simopoulos, Orphy Robinson, Cleveland Watkiss, Maria Joao, Egberto Gismonti, Demetrio Stratos and many more.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A duet with Antonello Salis (accordion and piano master), performing ‘Stripsody’ by Cathy Berberian together in a beautiful theatre in Sardinia, Italy. Stripsody is a composition by Berberian, totally based on the onomatopoeic sounds from comic books. Salis didn’t know the piece, written only for one voice, and he started improvising and following my vocal sounds with his piano/vocals and the incredible objects he uses during his performances. It was great fun. I also remember a splendid moment in a huge theatre in Wolfsburg, Germany, when a big Sardinian traditional choir joined my jazz quartet onstage, and we all improvised on a Sardinian tune called No Potho Reposare. There’s even a video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UdaKjGmbl40). We joined in with their singing bit by bit and it was magical, unforgettable. 

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

Learning to search for their own unique voice and sound, never just imitating others. Young musicians must have the courage to take risks and create something new. As for women in jazz, I want to show that they can be leaders of bands, they can be composers of jazz music. I put together my group the 4Njanas as a celebration of women’s art, of women’s contribution to jazz. 

How do you choose the programme for your annual jazz festival? 

I always want to bring together musicians who haven’t performed together before. The duo of Paolo Fresu playing with tuba player Oren Marshall is an example of these new encounters. The revival of ‘Misterioso’ is by popular demand. I look forward to seeing Stefano Benni on stage this time himself in this jazz adaptation of what originally was a theatre production.

For Theatralia this year, we’re putting together Paolo Fresu, a trumpeter, with Oren Marshall, a tuba player. It shouldn’t work, but it does; but who would have thought of it?! Having this kind of open mind is so important to carve out a niche. Not just calling themselves a ‘vocalist’; they’re a jazz artist using their voice. 

What are most looking forward to in this year’s Theatralia Jazz Festival?

The Njanas! This is a new all female-band I started up with three colleagues of mine, all jazz musicians who are leaders of their own band. The Njanas will open this year’s festival as a real statement, to give a voice to women in jazz.

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

Where I am now. I love London, I moved here 14 years ago, I love being around people and artists from all over the world. It’s something I could not live without. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Touring the world performing with fab musicians.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My music and my books.

What is your present state of mind?

Really excited looking forward to my forthcoming festival.

Filomena Campus’s Theatralia Jazz Festival comes to the PizzaExpress Jazz Club, Soho, from 9-11 November, with preliminary events at the Italian Cultural Institute and Italian Bookshop, London, on 4, 6 & 7 November.



Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,674 other followers