Happy Birthday, Meet the Artist

This weekend my Meet the Artist interview series is a tender two year old. From rather humble, shy beginnings – the inspiration for the series was an interview I did for Favourite Classical Composers and I started out by interviewing friends and colleagues – the series is now well-established, and features a varied range of musicians, composers and conductors, from internationally-renowned artists (Peter Donohoe, James MacMillan, Leon McCawley, Janina Fialkowska, Pascal Rogé, Rustem Hayroudinoff) to young and emerging artists just beginning to embark on their performing careers (Joy Lisney, Emmanuel Vass, Alex Woolf, Madelaine Jones). The series has put me in touch with a fantastic group of musicians, some of whom have become friends, many of whom I have been fortunate to meet and hear in concert, their interviews providing a wonderful introduction for post-concert and green room conversations.

Each interview is different, each artist offering their own particular insights into their musical life and career, with many fascinating, unexpected and sometimes amusing revelations, but some common threads do emerge, especially in response to the question “What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?”, to which almost every interviewee has replied “stay true to your musical self and don’t measure yourself by what others are doing”, or words to that effect. The importance of looking “beyond the notes” to enjoy a life enriched by art, literature, film, food, friends, travel, love and more is another common theme, and a reminder that musicians do not live in ivory towers, cut off from real life.

One of the most satisfying aspects of this series is seeing young artists develop: Joy Lisney, Alex Woolf, Emmanuel Vass and Nicholas McCarthy have all released debut recordings within the last two years. Meanwhile, established international artists such as French pianist François-Frédéric Guy has released the complete Beethoven Sonatas on nine discs, to accompany a wide-ranging concert tour with this repertoire.

Without the musicians, the series would be nothing, and so I must extend a huge thank you to everyone who has taken part in the series, and to those who have submitted interviews which are awaiting publication (currently, I have enough interviews to take the series to the autumn). Forthcoming interviews in the next few months include pianists Daniel Grimwood, Beth Levin, Jeffrey Biegel, , Daniel Grimwood, Joseph Houston, Samantha Ward, Jozef Kapustka, Inesa Sinkevych, Tom Poster and Zsolt Bognar; composers Lauren Redhead and Douglas Finch; baritone Paul Carey Jones; timpanist Tom Greenleaves; clarinettis Peter Cigleris; and guitarist Matthew Sear.

Links to all the interviews to date can be found on the Meet the Artist page.

Meet the Artist……John Irving, fortepianist

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

A relative had a battered old upright that she was getting rid of. My parents thought I showed some musical talent and saved the instrument from the breaker’s yard so I could have some piano lessons. It got me through Grade 6 before it fell to bits!

 

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

As a youngster, I have to say it was my school music teacher, who conducted the local choral society. He took me to a performance of Haydn’s Creation he was conducting one evening. When the big C major chord arrived (‘and there was LIGHT’) I was hooked forever! My parents were wonderfully supportive. Later, Denis Matthews was a strong influence, teaching me to look beyond the notes and certainly beyond piano music for an understanding of musical language. I’ll never forget one lesson where he simply played (from memory) huge chunks of Mozart string quartets at the piano, explaining how the music worked conversationally and how that should underpin my own playing at the keyboard. But of all the influences, the strongest has to be my wife, Jane (a clarinettist), who makes music speak in ways I could never have imagined possible.

You are a noted performer on harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano. When and how did your interest in early keyboard instruments develop? 

My main interest has always been in music of the ‘long’ eighteenth century, and there came a point when I realised that I simply couldn’t capture the sound I was seeking on a modern piano. The much lighter and articulate touch of clavichords, harpsichords and fortepianos suited my physical connection to this music far more effectively, and I made the decision to ‘emigrate’ from the modern piano. I’ve never looked back since. A strong inspiration has been Ronald Brautigam. His complete Beethoven piano cycle (recorded exclusively on pianos by Paul McNulty copied from originals by Stein, Walther and Graf) is in a league of its own. Partly, too, it’s the fascination I have with fine craftsmanship. It’s a great privilege to know some expert keyboard makers and restorers, and understanding the instruments from their perspective is something that crucially influences my approach to producing sound at the keyboard. There’s something deeply satisfying about the connection between the instrument and the way it can (through my physical actions) produce sound. Incidentally, I make no claims to ‘authenticity’ (a term those of us in the period instrument world never use anymore). I’m not ‘recreating the sound of Mozart’s sonatas as the composer intended’. How could we ever know that? I’m exploring sound possibilities that might be produced by instruments carefully and lovingly built using techniques and materials known in Mozart’s day. I also choose to play in ways that are informed by documentary evidence from his time (including his father’s very famous book on violin playing), rather than approaches that were developed a hundred years or more later and which were, willynilly, just imposed retrospectively on Mozart’s very different musical language.

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

It has to be achieving the balance between the academic and performing sides of my life. I worked for many years in the music department at Bristol University (where I was Professor) and latterly as Director of London University’s Institute of Musical Research. I now split my time (theoretically) 50:50 between being Reader in Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and performing. Finding enough time to practise is the key!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably the DVD documentary on Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio and also the complete Clarinet and Piano sonatas of Vanhal (issued on sfzmusic last year as part of the Vanhal bicentenary), with my wife sounding amazing on 5-keyed B flat and C Viennese boxwood clarinets.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I should say Mozart, really, given that I’ve published five books on his music! But at the moment, I think I’m making serious progress with Haydn (I’m recording four of his sonatas at the end of April). Played on fortepiano, I’m so much more aware of the extent to which Haydn’s music depends on colour and on silence – which suits my approach to sound production on the Viennese instrument with its much shallower key-dip and the immediacy and clarity of sound. I couldn’t possibly do this justice on a modern piano (which isn’t to say that it can’t be done).

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

First and foremost, it revolves around what my group, Ensemble DeNOTE is performing. DeNOTE was founded in 2010 when I was Director of the IMR in London, and was intended originally as a workshop for exploring ideas in Historically Informed Performance, bringing together players and scholars. But the group took off and soon gained an identity of its own, bridging the gap between scholarship and performance in hopefully accessible ways. We’ve done a huge amount in the university and conservatoire environments, as well as the Brighton Early Music Festival, and other festivals across the UK. At the moment, there’s lots of Beethoven (another CD recording at the end of March of the composer’s own arrangements of the Septet as a Trio, and the Piano and Winds Quintet as a Piano Quartet). Next season we are looking forward to Mozart’s Gran’ Partita in a quintet version dating from around 1800, as well as more performances of the “Kegelstatt” Trio at Finchcocks. I try to fit solo repertoire around this (and sometimes around CD releases). Despite the Vanhal disc last year, I don’t really plan repertoire around composer anniversaries. I’m more interested in connections of music and place (I have a Bach and Leipzig programme coming up with oboist Leo Duarte next month), and in the culture of arrangements, which were common in Beethoven’s day. That extends to commissioning new arrangements. Last year I premiered a version of Mozart’s E flat Piano Concerto, K.271 for piano and wind sextet; in June I’ll be doing K.488 for the same forces.

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

I absolutely adore St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh, mainly because it houses one of my all-time favourite instruments, a glorious 5-octave clavichord by Johann Adolphe Hass (1763). The moment I first played this clavichord I just knew it was right for Mozart, and I was lucky enough to record a CD on it (which appeared last year).

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Mozart’s Piano and Winds Quintet, K.452. I never tire of that. The piano part is wonderful in itself, but what really fascinates me is the colours of the ensemble as a whole – on period instruments, at least. For instance, the middle episode in the finale, features a descending chromatic scale on the horn (yes, contrary to popular belief, natural horns can produce lots of notes other than the harmonic series!), each one of which is a subtly different colour from the last. On a valve horn it’s just not the same, really…

To listen to, I don’t really have a favourite piece. The shortlist would include Bach’s “St Anne Prelude and Fugue”, Corelli’s Op.5 Violin Sonatas, Haydn’s Creation, Beethoven 7th Symphony, Schubert’s last Sonata in B flat, large doses of Sibelius and Messiaen (the latter especially if played by Peter Hill, another of my teachers from university days), and at least 626 compositions by Mozart!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One is a piano duet recital with Ronald Brautigam where, contrary to what you might think from listening to his recordings of Mozart, he indulged in the most astonishing improvised embellishments, to the point where we were almost making the content up in musical conversation as the recital progressed! Another is a performance of Beethoven’s Piano and Winds Quintet last year, which was the world premiere outing of an exceptionally fine fortepiano by Yorkshire-based maker, Johannes Secker, whose instruments I’ll be featuring in a historical keyboard course in Lythe this July.

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

First and foremost, to study and respect the score, but never be enslaved by it. The music lies beyond the notes. Notes are symbols for sound. They represent possibilities for the imagination. Resist the notion that the score prescribes what you have to do; that it is something to be robotically obeyed. It’s actually a basis for negotiation, mainly with your own imagination.

Also, remember that humility goes a long way! There are plenty of musicians who have no idea of that concept, who believe their own publicity. Quite a few of them are “famous”. But is that the point, ultimately? Surely music is bigger than that?

What are you working on at the moment? 

For starters…Beethoven Op.16 (quartet version) and Op.38 (his trio arrangement of the Septet); a Mozart Piano Quartet; a clutch of Haydn sonatas for a forthcoming CD recording; a couple of Mozart sonatas; Bach 4th French Suite; Mozart Piano Concerto, K.488.

Tell us a little more about your forthcoming digital book ‘The Mozart Project’. 

I was asked to participate in this project when it was but a twinkle in the eye of two enterprising young men at Pipedreams Collective, Harry Farnham and James Fairclough. It just spiralled from there really. I wrote chapters on the Concertos and Chamber Music, recorded a series of video performances and eventually became their consultant editor. Several other Mozart specialists have contributed chapters, and the result will be an interactive experience that goes way beyond what a traditional book and a single author could achieve. We all hope The Mozart Project will introduce Mozart’s genius to new generations of admirers. You can follow tweets at @themozartproj and it’s due out at the end of this month on the AppStore.

John Irving discusses the immediate impact of Mozart’s Concertos.

JOHN IRVING is Professor of Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, and Associate  Fellow of The Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Previously Director of the IMR – the UK’s national music research institution – John has been Professor of Music at the University of Bristol and at the University of London. He now divides his time between his academic work at Trinity and his performing career as a fortepianist.

www.johnirving.org.uk

 

An evening concert at Brunswick House

A stag with an impressive set of antlers surveys the room, while a white-tuxedo’d Tony Curtis keeps watch over the proceedings from his niche in a corner near the piano, a John Hopkinson baby grand with a rosewood case. Glittering chandeliers hang from the ceiling, illuminating the exposed brickwork on two walls of the room and highlighting the colours of the stained glass panels in the elegant sash windows. Exotic oriental rugs are draped over vintage British Rail first class seats, and at the back of the room, a glass cabinet is filled with antique pharmacy jars. Welcome to Brunswick House, part of the London Architectural Salvage and Supply Co, a Georgian mansion just five minutes from London’s Vauxhall Station, flanked by the brand new 5-star hotel and luxury apartments of One Nine Elms. Brunswick House is a treasure trove of antiques and salvaged curiosities, and on Thursday night last week, it provided a wonderful and eclectic venue for a fine evening of music making and conviviality.

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Lorraine Banning, Frances Wilson & Lorraine Liyanage (and Tony Curtis) at Brunswick House

“A superb evening – huge fun was had with a mix of musical genres in a delightfully decrepit and stylish Georgian mansion. Best of luck promoting these salon recitals, the way music is meant to be played and heard.”

Rosalind, audience member

The concert was part of the South London Concert Series, and featured a recital by BBC Music Magazine’s “rising star” Emmanuel Vass, together with supporting performances by three talented members of the London Piano Meetup Group, who despite not being “professional” pianists, played with equal poise, musical sensitivity and professionalism. The diverse programme matched the unusual setting, with music by Bach, Chopin, Turina, and Mozart together with Emmanuel’s own transcriptions of pop songs by Queen and The Prodigy. In keeping with the SLCS ethos of recreating the nineteenth-century musical salon, an hour of music was followed by much conversation and socialising in the ante-room next to the Saloon, and continued downstairs in the restaurant adjacent to the house.

“The South London Concert Series is both innovative and traditional. Events blend an appreciation of fine music and music making with conviviality, and blur the artificial distinctions between professional and amateur”

James Lisney, international concert pianist

The final SLCS concert of the 2013/14 season is on Friday 16th May at the 1901 Arts Club. Entitled ‘Eastern Accents’, the concert includes music from Russia and Japan, and features a performance by guest artist Vatche Jambazian. Further details/tickets here

View more photographs from the Brunswick House concert

A selection of videos from the concert:

www.slconcerts.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Geoffroy Couteau

Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot

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

The power of music. the piano repertoire

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

Certainly love!

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

A solo concert with virtuoso studies for the TV channel Mezzo.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

A performance I did some months ago while I felt free.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Romantic works

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

I like doing a mix of new pieces and old pieces I’ve already played

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

London of course, because it’s the first time!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Brahms trio opus 8

Who are your favourite musicians?

Radu Lupu, Gilels, Schnabel, Lipatti…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I‘m very sensitive with the acoustic, and I must say that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful hall for the acoustics.

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

To be honest with the composer and yourself.

What are you working on at the moment?

Many programmes with Scriabin, Chopin, Saint-Saens, Brahms, Schubert and some contemporary composers

What is your present state of mind?

Amused
Geoffroy Couteau gives a recital of works by Scriabin, Saint-Saëns, Liszt and Chopin at the Institut français, South Kensington on Sunday 6 April, 5:30pm as part of It’s all About Piano!

www.geoffroycouteau.com

Meet the Artist……Pascal Rogé

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

I was born in a musical family and there were 3 pianos at home, my mother was a pianist…my choice was obvious!

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

First my mother, she was my only teacher till the age of 9.Then my teachers at the Paris conservatory, Lucette Descaves, Louise Clavius Marius, Geneviève Joy, Pierre Pasquier, and above all Julius Katchen, whom I met when I was 16, more than a teacher, a mentor, an inspiration, I should also mention two great ladies…Marguerite Long and Nadia Boulanger.

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

Always being at the top of my musical abilities and being able to pass through my emotions and my love for music…and enjoy life!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Performances are not to be remembered…each of them is a “once in a lifetime” experience, but out of my +\- 300 performances of the Ravel G Major Concerto, I do remember the one in London with Mariss Jansons…something special happened on that day…

Recordings…I still enjoy many of them because I always made a point not allow the release of a recording I was not happy with…but if I need to keep some on a desert island – the St Saens Piano concerti with Charles Dutoit, the Fauré Piano Quintets with the Ysaye quartet and the first CD with my wife, “Wedding cake”

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The French repertoire in general but almost anything I play, since I would never perform a work which I don’t enjoy or I am not convinced I can bring something personal in it.

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

For the reasons I just mentioned…because I love the pieces I play and I can express myself with them.

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

Nearly all the concert halls in Japan…acoustics, design, installation, they arealways perfect…and filled with a fantastic audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The French repertoire in general, with perhaps at the top, Ravel G Major Concerto and Debussy ‘La Mer’ (with my wife)
To listen to…very different and more “eclectic” music…Opera…Jazz…never piano music!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Glenn Gould, Carlos Kleiber, Oscar Peterson, Ella Fitzgerald…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The creation of a new concerto for 2 pianos written for me and my wife by Australian composer Matthew Hindson, at the Sydney Opera House with Sydney symphony orchestra conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

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

To be yourself, express something unique, think different, enjoy everything you do, and as Debussy said: “N’écoute que les conseils du vent qui passe…”

What are you working on at the moment?

Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ in the 4 hands version.

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

Traveling the world…in good health…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

My life at the moment..traveling the world with my wife, playing music and using Apple devices…!

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPad

What do you enjoy doing most?

Living the way I live! (See previous question!)

What is your present state of mind?

Extremely happy…!

Pascal Rogé gives a masterclass at the Institut français, South Kensington on Saturday 5 April, 6pm followed by a recital of music for four hands with his wife, Ami Rogé on Sunday 6 April, 6:30pm as part of It’s All About Piano!

Concert review: Maurizio Pollini at the Royal Festival Hall

Maurizio Pollini (© Cosimo Filippini)

Maurizio Pollini (© Cosimo Filippini)

How does one define “greatness” in a pianist? Is it the willingness to tackle a broad sweep of repertoire from Baroque to present-day? Profound musicality and penetrating insights, founded on pristine technique? A fearless approach to risk-taking in live concerts? Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini is the sum of these parts – and much more – as his recent concerts in London have demonstrated. Here is an artist who is equally at home in the elegance of Bach, the intimacy of Chopin’s miniatures and the spiky modernism of Pierre Boulez, always bringing supreme pianism and fresh insights to his performances.

For his second International Piano Series concert at a packed Royal Festival Hall, Pollini trod a more traditional path in an all-Beethoven programme. Traditional, but also ambitious: to perform three of the most well-known, revered and technically demanding of Beethoven’s thirty-two piano sonatas would be a challenge for any artist. For a man of seventy-two (and he looks older and frailer) this was a monumental programme, which scaled the highest Himalayan peaks of pianism…..

Read my full review here http://bachtrack.com/review-maurizio-pollini-beethoven-apr-2014

Meet the Artist……Kenneth Weiss, harpsichordist

 

Photo Arthur Forjonel

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

I was curious, and inspired as a child by the sound of the harpsichord after first hearing it accompany recitatives in Mozart operas on radio broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

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

I’d say moving to Europe and studying with Gustav Leonhardt was the most important influence on my musical life.

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

The necessary continuous ritual of practice.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The complete Well-Tempered Clavier.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s difficult for me to judge – I hope that I can play in many styles convincingly.

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

It’s usually a mixture of personal choices and music festival criteria.

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

Right now, I enjoy the acoustic at the Abigail Adams house in New York City – it has a perfect acoustic for the harpsichord.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I enjoy performing – and sharing- pieces with emotional and psychological depth. I listen to all types of music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favorite musicians are the ones that have the ability to fully embody and project the essence of the music that they are performing.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Usually the last concert performed.

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

Be yourself, keep at it and stay focused.

What are you working on at the moment?

Promotion of my new recording of ‘The Well-Tempered Clavier’.

Kenneth Weiss gives a harpsichord recital of transcriptions of Opera and Ballet by Rameauat the Institut français, South Kensington on Sunday 6 April, 11am as part of It’s all About Piano!

Kenneth Weiss was born in New York City where he attended the High School of Performing Arts. After studying with Lisa Goode Crawford at the Oberlin Conservatory he continued with Gustav Leonhardt at the Sweelinck Consertorium in Amsterdam.

From 1990-1993 he was Musical Assistant to William Christie at Les Arts Florissants for numerous opera productions and recordings. He later conducted Les Arts Florissants in ‘Doux Mensonges’ by the chreographer Jiri Kylian at the Paris Opera, and was co-director with William Christie of the first three editions of Les Arts Florissants’ ‘Jardin de Voix’ program.

Kenneth Weiss focuses on recitals, chamber music, teaching and conducting. His most recent recitals include Nuremburg, Montpellier, Barcelona, Dijon, Geneva, Antwerp, the Cite de la musique (Paris), Madrid, La Roque d’Anthéron, Santander, Lisbon, San Sebastian, Innsbruck, Santiago de Compostela, La Chaise-Dieu, La Chaud de Fonds, Bruges and New York. He performs in recital with the violinists Fabio Biondi, Daniel Hope, Monica Huggett and Lina Tur Bonet.

Full biography