Khatia Buniatishvili at Wigmore Hall

(photo credit: Julia Wesely)

For the Wigmore neophyte, I doubt I could have selected a better concert to introduce my companion for the evening to the delights of London’s “sacred shoebox”: Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili dazzled in a highly accomplished performance of music by Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ and a selection of short virtuosic works by Liszt.

Read my full review here

Meet the Artist……Ed Scolding, composer

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

I’ve liked making up music since I was young. It became the thing I most liked doing, so I just carried on doing it. Parents were always supportive.

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

I worked for my uncle John Hardy in Cardiff between degrees, and still do from London. He has a refreshing, inspiring attitude to other people and to music.

Many teachers, in various different ways. The performers, writers, directors and other artists I work with. My colleagues and students at The Conservatoire.

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

Picking up work after finishing education. Dealing with uncertainty. Carving out time to compose in. Writing music can be challenging but it’s a relatively familiar, safe space to be in.

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

It still feels like a huge privilege knowing that someone wants your music – that the notes you’re writing are already wanted by someone. And they’re going to take those notes seriously and invest time and energy and feeling, to bring those notes to life.

Deadlines are useful too, for helping to justify keeping other people waiting for other work!

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

I love collaborating with musicians and artists in other fields. Discovering some of their artistic voice, their sound, their craft, their ideas – taking these and digging into them and finding something new for both parties, hopefully.

Which works are you most proud of? 

It’s always the most recent few works, so brass & percussion piece Torque, chamber piece Black Sea, short opera Adrift, unpitched percussion solo Drawing, vocal ensemble piece The Sickness of Angels.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

At the moment – Screaming Maldini, Richard Causton, The Organelles, Laura Mvula, Ligeti.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Thomas Ades’ violin concerto Concentric Paths performed by Pekka Kuusisto with the Britten Sinfonia in February 2012. And many Organelles gigs back to sixth form days!

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

Be genuine. Be resilient. Work with the best people you can. Don’t be satisfied too easily.  Say yes to everything until you can afford to say no to things. Make your own opportunities. Don’t believe the world owes you a living.

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

Here, but with a bit more room.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Dog.

Ed Scolding is a versatile composer with a strong interest in collaboration and drama. His concert music has been described as as ‘subtle and polished’ (Bachtrack) and ‘succinct, witty and apt’ (Norwich Evening News), and film music as ‘intense but under-stated… extraordinarily effective’ (Richard Paine, Faber Media Music).

Recent projects include Thrown for Sinfonia Newydd, percussion solo Drawing which won the Nonclassical Composition Competition, Black Sea for The Hermes Experiment supported by Bliss Trust / PRS Foundation and a score featuring Dermot Crehan’s Hardanger fiddle for short film The Blood of The Bear which has been screened in festivals across the UK and Europe including at the BFI and the Barbican Centre.

Collaborative projects include short opera Adrift produced by Gestalt Arts, work with rock band Screaming Maldini and electronic producer Hem (aka Geoim), a Mozart flashmob for Welsh National Opera, music for Third Stage Dance and for Anna Jordan’s play Freak.

Ed’s music has been recorded by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Wales and performed by Exaudi, Music Theatre Wales, London Sinfonietta, Ayre Flutes, Aisha Orazbayeva, Ksenija Sidorova and Anne Denholm at Nonclassical, Southbank Centre, St. John’s Smith Square, Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Monmouth Festival, Cardiff Music Festival, Bath Fringe Festival and Wales Millennium Centre.

A keen teacher, Ed is Assistant Director of Music at The Conservatoire, Blackheath, with responsibilty for the Saturday Music School and strategic direction, and teaching GCSE and A-Level music and music technology, theory, composition, technology courses and workshops.

Living in London, Ed keeps close links to Wales through his work as Publishing, Projects and Web Manager for quintuple BAFTA Cymru award-winning composition company John Hardy Music and sister label Ffin Records. Ed is a Council Member of the ISM and a member of the ISM Special Interest Group for composition. He examines Rock & Pop grade exams for Trinity College London, with exam tours completed in Thailand, Malaysia, UAE and Spain and throughout the UK.

Born in 1985, Ed graduated in 2008 from Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama with First Class Honours then completed MMus Composition with Distinction and the LRAM teaching diploma at the Royal Academy of Music in 2011 with support from sources including Arts Council Wales, Seary Charitable Trust, Ismena Holland Award and Harvey Lohr Award.

www.edscolding.co.uk

At the Piano With…… Diane Durbin

What is your first memory of the piano? 

I think I was about 6 or 7 when I first played a piano. I remember my mother taking my younger sister and me to visit one of our great aunts; there was a ‘piano in the parlour’ – the kind where the music stand appeared out of the lid at the top.  There was treasure trove in the piano stool – full of old volumes of folk tunes and hymn books.  These had tonic sol-fa written over the top; with a bit of help, I cracked the code, added some broken chord accompaniment by ear and away I went.  We adopted the piano and more formal lessons followed.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching? 

A love for learning.  After I left school I went into the banking sector and sat financial exams while attending other arts evening classes.  I suppose I have always wanted to be involved in education and to put something back.  I qualified as a primary practitioner some twenty years ago with responsibility for leading music and literacy, which go together very well, but decided that I would leave full-time school teaching early to concentrate on piano and theory teaching.  Teaching itself provides the opportunity to learn. I had already taken up piano lessons seriously again as an adult and the diploma studies began.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

Probably the first teacher who had a big influence on me was my high school teacher, Margaret Hemingway.  She had high expectations in terms of practice and preparation.  When I was preparing for the Advanced Certificate and LRSM, I had lessons with my daughter’s first teacher, Beverley Clark.  As I was teaching full time while studying for these, she was very supportive; it felt more like a mentoring relationship.   The late Bernard Roberts stands out for me too.  He remarked on the positive before going on to say, “Now let’s see if we can just…”  Exploring ways of producing the precise tone you wanted to hear was something he passed on to me.  He had a wonderful laugh – “Ha! Yes! That’s it!”

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching? 

Watching professional performances plays an important role, but I would say that students have the most influence, because they shape your approaches according to what they need. Apart from my own teachers, there are those I have met over the years with whom I have shared experiences and ideas.  Conferences and courses are always good for such meetings and for opportunities to gather notes and resources; I try to attend something every year at least. Piano teaching can be an isolated profession, so it’s good to get out there and meet like-minded people so that your teaching can evolve.  Now we have social media, the learning net is cast even wider…

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences? 

It’s difficult to choose, because every week brings something special, but I suppose they would have to include:

  • When a beaming student comes to the next lesson, saying their practice went really well;
  • Helping a student to find a way around a persistent issue, be it fingerings, note accuracy or a tricky rhythm;
  • A great lesson with a student who has special educational needs;
  • The 75 year-old who was finally confident enough to be able to play the Rachmaninov Prelude and Brahms Intermezzo he’d always wanted to perform for his family

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?  

Adults aren’t necessarily driven to pass exams and qualify like younger students – they want to be the best they can and as such are highly motivated.  Experienced players appreciate new ways of practising and will discuss issues of interpretation, sometimes challenging you.  Some beginners have high expectations because they are adults, and want things to be perfect; conversely some arrive with self-imposed limitations and are really pleased to discover what they can achieve.  Having to fit in practice with family and work commitments is something I empathise with.  Some of my most rewarding lessons have been with adult learners who rediscover the joy of playing.

What do you expect from your students? 

Commitment to the lesson and to practising regularly – if necessary I mention the 10,050 minutes in a week that they aren’t with me.  I ask them how they organise their practice time around everything else so they see that it can be done if they manage time well – it’s an important life skill anyway. I want them to talk to me about ‘ups and downs’ so we know how to progress.  I expect them to listen when required in the lesson and to every sound they make when practising.  I want to develop all-round musicianship skills, so engaging in learning activities other than ‘fingers on the keys’, for example aural work and creating tableaux, is a must.  I like to involve parents where students are very young.  In general, it’s important that all show a willingness to take part in music events outside the lesson, be it a performance of their own or a visit to one.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Exams can be a great incentive to achieve high standards and are a useful way to obtain feedback.  Some students work best when they have such structure in their timetables, too.  However, they’re not the ‘be-all and end-all’, and we only embark on an exam syllabus if the student wants to. All three platforms give a student the opportunity to perform and develop confidence.  Uncompetitive festivals with friendly audiences and performing in front of peers at school or as part of extended lessons are great occasions in which to develop artistry.  Competitive festivals can be a bit of a hot potato, depending on which side of the winning post you’re on. I’ve experienced elation and disappointment myself, as a performer, as a teacher and a parent.  I was awarded a piano scholarship at high school in the sixth form, and it’s great when you ‘win’ and your hard effort is rewarded, but winning seems such an odd concept in art; subjectivity always plays a part in adjudications.  Explaining to a youngster how they’ve missed out on a trophy by a narrow margin of marks can be quite hard, even with the ‘it’s all about the taking part’ platitude in advance. But it’s horses for courses – if a student is really serious about a performing career, then they are important, and just as time management is a life skill, so is dealing with competitive situations.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginner students, and to advanced students? 

For beginners, developing a sense of pulse first, rhythmic subdivisions, independent fingers, wrist/arm alignment and posture.  Lessons should be fun and varied. The ‘Experience, Language, Pictures, Symbols’ progression that I learned as a primary practitioner still holds good on a 1:1 basis for instrumental beginners.  Pedalling techniques come in when they can be reached comfortably and this can be quite early on. More advanced students hopefully have a sound technique on which to develop communication of the music and a sense of style.  We sing a lot in lessons at all levels – the ability to breathe with the music is so important for phrasing, I think.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching? 

You have to practise what you preach to a certain degree, without doubt.  Even if you’re not a regular on the concert platform, then attending summer schools and other courses, where a performance element is included, is vital to your ability to teach aspects of it.  I have enjoyed masterclasses and performing ‘in turn’ during tutorial groups.  Also, if teachers experience any nerves, it helps them empathise with students and it can be a useful discussion topic.  These days, my ‘public’ performances are mainly accompaniments and I enjoy the feeling of performing ‘with’ others immensely.  I think that imparting enthusiasm for the playing the piano beautifully, whatever the situation, is one of the most important things a teacher does.

Who are your favourite pianists and why? 

Such a difficult one to answer!  I love to watch Paul Lewis play – he has such a relaxed yet thoughtful style and makes controlling the whole playing mechanism look effortless.  I could watch his performances of the Beethoven Concertos in the 2010 Prom season over and over…  I do admire Angela Hewitt’s Bach interpretations and listen to her playing before and during practice. As for modern pianists, Stephen Hough plays my favourite Rach 2 and Keith Jarrett’s piano improvisations are amazing – total commitment evident in both performers.

Diane Durbin BA (Hons) LRSM CTABRSM PGCE  is a private piano and music theory teacher and accompanist based in Lincolnshire.  After qualifying with a degree in English from the University of Nottingham, she went into primary teaching where she led music and literacy.  She gained the CTABRSM in 2000 and the LRSM (Piano Teaching) in 2002.  She also sings with Lincoln Cathedral Consort, The Hungate Singers and The Lincoln Chorale. You can find more information at:

http://www.dianedurbin.com

http://www.epta-uk.org

http://www.music-link.org/teachers

http://www.musicteachers.co.uk

http://www.twitter.com/DianePDurbin

Messiaen’s ecstatic visions: Peter Donohoe & Benjamin Frith at Institut Français

The piano music of Olivier Messiaen is not performed enough for my taste, partly because there aren’t that many pianists around who are willing to tackle it. One notable exception is British pianist Peter Donohoe, who studied with Messiaen’s second wife Yvonne Loriod, and who played the composer’s music to the composer himself during his studies in Paris in the 1970s.

The concert at London’s Institut Français, part of the three-day It’s All About Piano Festival, was originally to include the London première of La Fauvette Passerinette, a work fully sketched by Messiaen in 1961 which was discovered by Peter Hill, who worked with Messiaen between 1986 and 1991, and which Hill completed in 2012. Sadly, Peter Hill was unwell, and so the work was introduced by Elaine Gould from Faber Music and Peter Donohoe, who played brief, appetite-whetting extracts, and relayed some interesting and entertaining anecdotes of his studies with Monsieur and Madame Messiaen, and his experiences of performing Messiaen’s music. Benjamin Frith stepped in at the last minute to perform Messiaen’s Visions de l’Amen with Peter Donohoe

Read my full review here

Sunday feature: How to listen to music you haven’t heard

I was moved to write this post after reading this article on the wonderful Brain Pickings site, in which Nassim Nicholas Talib (author of Black Swan) talks about the writer Umberto Eco’s “anti-library” of some 30,000 books, many of which he has not yet read. This article struck a chord with me, as a few years ago I read a fascinating book by French psychoanalyst and University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, in which the author makes a very good case for freeing ourselves from the conventions and obligations of being “well read”. Professor Bayard explains that reading is a way of engaging with literature in various ways – books we’ve read, books we’ve skimmed through, books we’ve heard about, books we’ve forgotten, books we’ve never opened. As both Bayard and Taleb both state, the books we haven’t read are the most interesting for they offer new possibilities in broadening our knowledge and widening our cultural horizons. In the world today, knowledge can be accrued incredibly easily and quickly via the internet, and this accrual of knowledge becomes a compulsive need to enable us to rise in the hierarchy of  perceived “intelligence” or “knowledgeability”. In fact, all those books which haven’t been read yet represent a wondrous research tool, for they are all waiting to be explored.

The same can be said of music. Today, with a huge variety of recordings, films and live concerts and opera available to enjoy every hour of every day, we can feel under tremendous pressure to be seen to have covered all the “classics” (the big warhorses of the classical repertoire by Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Wagner, Mahler et al – not to mention 20th century and contemporary classics……) and to know them. I admit to some hefty gaps in my musical and listening knowledge, gaps at which certain friends and colleagues are apt to pull their eyes and wring their hands: “What? You don’t listen to Wagner???!!!”. But for me, those gaps stand for something rather special and exciting.

Just as the large pile of books by my bed attests, so the huge library of music waiting to be explored – via CDs, streaming services, concerts, sheet music and more –  represents a wondrous journey of discovery, and one about which I am very excited. In fact, this journey began at a young age, when I first became aware of classical music through my parents’ own listening and concert-going. By the time I reached my teens, I had developed fairly trenchant ideas about the kind of music I liked, and would touch at the piano. Growing musical maturity and an irrepressible inquisitiveness have led me to discover a wealth of music, but still I have hardly scratched the surface. The great thing is that I know there is plenty more out there, just waiting to be heard and explored.

It is for this reason that I grow increasingly frustrated with concert programmes at London’s mainstream venues (where I spend a lot of time, in my role as a concert reviewer and ardent live music fan). The same diet of largely the same “classics” by Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Mahler, Brahms comes round year after year. There are too many “safe” programmes, not enough brand new music, nor even 20th-century repertoire being performed. Sometimes it feels like one is picking up the same dog-eared favourite copy of Austen or Dickens. There’s nothing wrong with the programmes, nor indeed those authors, per se, but our listening horizons would benefit greatly from the opportunity to explore more unusual or lesser-known repertoire.

When selecting concerts, either as a reviewer or simply for pleasure, I tend towards those programmes which include unusual juxtapositions (for example, a recent concert at the Wigmore Hall by the Rubenstein Competition winner, which paired Scarlatti with Ligeti and Chopin with Messiaen), or music which I haven’t heard before. I may not like all I hear (and by the way, it really is ok to admit that you don’t like Schoenberg or Birtwistle: it doesn’t make you a lesser person!) but I intend to remain open-minded and open-eared at every concert I go to.

As an active musician, the voyage of discovery is even more potent: so much repertoire out there just waiting to be explored! The prospect is hugely exciting.

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – article on Brain Pickings

Umberto Eco’s Antilibrary

(image credit: http://www.goodwp.com)

Is the “10,000 hours rule” a Myth?

A guest post by David Milsont

The “10,000 hours” rule was first brought to a mass audience by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. In this book he states that this is the amount of time it takes to achieve mastery.

This of course wasn’t just a number that Gladwell made up. A study carried out in Berlin, Germany documented the practice habits of a group of violin students, throughout their childhoods, adolescence and then adulthood.

When asked how many hours they had practiced, over the entirety of them playing, results showed that whilst times were similar in childhood, the most elite players had accumulated more than 10,000 hours individually by age 20.

This strong correlation between time spent rehearsing and level of ability makes a very strong case for the 10,000 hours rule and Gladwell brought the idea to a larger audience.

Famous faces such as The Beatles are often used as an example of the theory but what is the argument for natural talent? The study conducted on the German violinists had no evidence to show that talent was enough to reach the level that they did. So, from novice to expert, the 10,000 hours rule backs practice all the way.

It could be that those who have a natural talent or interest in a particular activity practise more because they are passionate. When we are good at something and enjoy it, practising is not a chore. Therefore it can make an individual look as though they were born with an innate ability to thrive at their craft. You could be born with bags of talent but without working on it, you may never develop to the level that you potentially could.

So, where does that leave you and your piano? The key is to practise with purpose. 40 hours practise over five years is going to give you your 10,000 hours. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to improve to elite level. If you make the same mistakes every single time you sit at your piano, hitting your target hours becomes less relevant.

Achieving your 10,000 hours needn’t be out of your reach but aim for quality over quantity. Not all practice is created equally. Purchase a good piano from a trusted dealer and invest time in finding a fantastic teacher. Every great sportsman started with a coach. Every great musician should have an accomplished teacher to guide them, recognise areas for improvement and track progress.

No matter what you are doing, it’s going to take a lot of time to reach a level that you are satisfied with. The key is to enjoy playing piano, learning, rehearsing and eventually improving. There’s no magic formula to getting the best out of your piano, or any other activity or hobby. Although there are differing opinions around the 10,000 hours rule, all of the research agrees on this: passion is key.

About the Author: 

David Milsont is an avid pianist. He deals with Broughton Pianos and writes in his spare time. 

The Haydn plaque is unveiled!

I was delighted to join a crowd of excited Haydn fans in Soho, London today for the unveiling of a blue plaque in honour of the composer Joseph Haydn, who lived at 18 Great Pulteney Street in 1791.

At midday on 24th March 2015, to the cheers of the assembled crowd, Sir Neville Marriner unveiled a commemorative blue plaque in central London to celebrate the work of the composer Joseph Haydn. Sir Neville was joined by Denis McCaldin, director of the Haydn Society of Great Britain, and the Austrian ambassador, who both spoke ahead of the unveiling.

The plaque is the first dedicated to Haydn in London. When he visited for the first time in 1791, the composer was at least as popular as his contemporary, Mozart. Though Mozart has three plaques in London, until today Haydn had none, despite fifty years of attempts to establish one.

Taking inspiration from the successful subscription concerts of his day, the Haydn Society of Great Britain ran a lively and successful crowdfunding campaign to commission and install the plaque.

The Haydn plaque can be seen at 18 Great Pulteney Street, Soho, London W1F 9NE.

(This article first appeared on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc)

Meet the Artist……Gabriella Swallow, cellist

Photo credit: Philip Gatward
Photo credit: Philip Gatward

Who or what inspired you to take up the cello and pursue a career in music?

My parents were both dentists, but my mother was a keen amateur harpsichord player. I started as a very good recorder player and gradually ran out of music as I devoured everything!! My parents had friends who were Dutch baroque musicians who recommended I start learning a string instrument. I said I wanted to play the biggest – as they didn’t have an estate car at the time they lied, so I am a cellist not a bass player!

I went to Chethams’ School of Music at 9 years old but had only really been playing cello for a year.

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

Early on I would say Jacqueline du Pré, like many cellists of my generation. I became obsessed with new music after hearing Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ for my 10th birthday at the Royal Opera House, so I suppose this experience changed my musical direction. 

I met my former husband, the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, at 22 years old. His music always meant a huge amount to me and I was lucky he wrote for me a lot. We also both shared a huge passion for jazz and as he worked with musicians such as John Scofield and Peter Erskine this had a huge influence in the music and players I was interested in playing and collaborating with.

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

There have been many challenges but for me it has been building the self-belief and confidence which has very much effected the timing of my career. I was all set up and ready to launch into the profession in my early 20’s, but it felt much more natural to support someone else, especially someone whose work I really believed in.  Once I had the children I began the usual work/family life struggle everyone has. I have been a single mother now for three years so I have been trying to rebuild my life as well as restart my career on top of bringing up two very young children – to be honest every day is a struggle! Their father has moved down the road which has helped hugely and we organise diaries so the children are generally with one of us whilst the other works. Mark is a very hands on Dad and I am also lucky to have some incredibly supportive friends, mainly musicians, who have stood beside me during the challenging times.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of a chamber music disc I did for Toccata Classics of all of Hugh Wood’s chamber music with the London Archduke trio, Paul Silverthorne and Roger Heaton. We recorded it at Champs Hill a few years ago.  I adore Hugh’s music and chose to perform his Cello Concerto with the Royal College of Music Sinfonietta when I won the concerto trials in my last year of college.

I’m also proud of jazz  recordings I have done as those sessions have always been a massive musical learning experience for me. Ian Shaw, Judith Owen and Barb Jungr’s albums, on which I have featured, I still enjoy listening to as their artistry is so wonderful! Most of the time I find it almost painful hearing old recordings.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The two things I really enjoy doing and suppose feel comfortable  with now are the polar opposites musically. I have always loved working with classical contemporary composers – the stranger the music and the more demanding the better. I play lots of Lachenmann and Xenaxis when I can choose my own programmes. This is the music which I have always felt very natural  interpreting, probably more so than anything else.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love my work as a session ‘cellist. I like making the switch between styles and improvising does not fill me with dread. I relish the speed needed in interpreting something fast that has normally just been printed off and placed in front of me. Working closely with the artist and great producers in the moment can be very thrilling.

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

I tend to try and programme the same group for a run of concerts or festivals as it’s always nice working with the same players and programmes for more than a one-off performance. I work in so many different capacities as a ‘cellist the kind of booking I get will determine the repertoire. I feel quite passionately that if people are kept ‘safe’ from new music and not exposed to it because of their demographic/concert venue, then how will people ever get a chance to make a judgment themselves? I have been known to present a programme of Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Bach, Earth Wind and Fire and Kaija Sarriaho as I believe in every piece as good music. The musicians I work with on these programmes play each piece with the same passion and integrity which is crucial.

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

My favourite venue would have to be The Forge in Camden, north London, with whose owners I have had a close relationship with since they opened. I love the fact it’s run by musicians and is down the road from me as I am a north London girl now. I have launched both my duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins and my show ‘Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family’ there, and both have been happy occasions.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing Helmet Lachenmann’s Solo cello piece Pression. I was fortunate enough to work with Helmut intensively  on the piece and was invited to perform it for his 75th birthday in the Konzerthaus, Berlin. He essentially made me grow new ears: he hears music in the most intense way and transcribes and describes what he wants so perfectly.

I always get a wonderful musical lift from playing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances with my Quintet – Lizzie ball on violin, Pedro Segundo on drums, Bartek Glowacki on accordion and Dave Maric on piano. Every time we play it it’s slightly different. The tunes are so strong they keep going round my head for days after a show.

I tend to listen to music I don’t get a chance to play much – recently I’ve got obsessed with Ry Cooder after I returned from a trip to make an album in LA. Harry Shearer and a number of the artists featuring on the album are big fans and spent one evening playing me all their favourite songs. I’m also a big D’Angelo fan and recently saw him live for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A very tough question as I’m meeting them all the time and I could list many. 

The musicians with who I am in groups with I have a huge amount of respect for: Genevieve Wilkins from G project, Judith Owen and her band, all my Urban Family collaborators, cellist Guy Johnston, Lizzie Ball-we share similar values and musical tastes and all stand out as people I like to work with and spend time with too. The two classical singers (although they do so much more!) I admire are Ruby Hughes and Lucy Schaufer. 

I became a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet over two years ago now and I would say without a doubt Gwilym is one of the greatest musicians I have worked with – the whole quintet actually (Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev and Martin France) are amazing and I always look forward to our concerts. 

Recently I have probably learnt the most from Leland Sklar, probably the most famous session bass player on the planet. When I have worked with him in sessions or gigs it’s pretty much been a masterclass every time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been so many it’s almost impossible to say but for very personal reasons I would say my Urban Family Concerts both at the Forge and at Wilderness Festival last summer. I am musician who has spent most of my career playing for different artists’ projects and groups so it felt incredible that so many colleagues wanted to support me at these events.  Also seeing classical musicians let their hair down at Wilderness Festival because I brought them there to make music was one of those life-affirming moments!

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

Follow your own path – don’t look over your shoulder as everyone’s journey both musically and in life is different.

There is work out there – you have to be inventive sometimes and even create your own work. The profession changes constantly so it’s wise to be diverse and say yes to everything when you start out, especially during this financial climate.

Obviously everyone is different but I would strongly advise anyone who went through both the music school and music college system like I did (17 years in one unbroken stretch) to take some time out to experience life and truly find out what YOU want to do. This is one thing I really wish I had done differently – even though in my case I would still have probably ended up being a musician. I only started really mixing with non-musicians when I went to antenatal classes!

The damage psychologically of being institutionalised is almost the hardest thing to overcome; I think it took me til 31 to really make the decision for myself to be a ‘cellist and then work on having the confidence and belief to go for it and enjoy it fully.

What is your most treasured possession?

Letters my father wrote to me before I was born. He died nearly 5 years ago and I miss him terribly. I was very lucky to be given a collection of letters he wrote to me as a 49-year-old, half a year before I was born. He told me what kind of person he was, his fears and the love he already felt for me. He didn’t want me to read them whilst he was alive so I was given them for my 30th birthday just after he died, but I could only bring myself to read them two years later when they then gave me so much strength: it was almost like he was speaking to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from the obvious things like spending time with my kids and playing great music, it has to be boxing. I have always loved to box since I was a teenager but for the past year I’ve been training with a professional boxer, Tony Milch. It keeps me fit both physically and mentally and I love watching him in his matches – it’s a real buzz even if I can barely look! 

Gabriella Swallow has emerged as one of the most versatile and exciting cellists of her generation. She studied at The Royal College of Music with Jerome Pernoo. She was awarded the coveted Tagore Gold Medal and performed the Hugh Wood Cello Concerto in her final year. As a soloist Gabriella went on to make her South Bank debut with the London Sinfonietta in the world premiere of ‘About Water’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage. In the same year she performed Paul Max Edlin’s Cello Concerto with the South Bank Sinfonia, which firmly launched her place as a leading performer of contemporary music. This has led her to commission and work with many of the major living composers of today.

In 2013 she made her Wigmore Hall debut with the soprano Ruby Hughes and in the same season performed at the La Jolla SummerFest in San Diego, the Aldeburgh Festival with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Cambridge Jazz Festival as a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet.

Gabriella is the string curator of Music Orbit’s string night ‘Strung Out’ and performs frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club ‘Classical Kicks’ night curated by violinist Lizzie Ball and at Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical club nights.

As a recording artist she has recorded all the chamber music of Hugh Wood for Toccata Classics with the London Archduke Piano Trio, which was released to critical acclaim in 2009. 2012 saw the release of ‘Ivr d’amour’, a disc of Massenet Songs where she appeared with soprano Sally Silver and celebrated pianist Richard Bonynge for the Guild label and also soprano Lucy Shaufer’s debut disc ‘Carpentersville’ for ABC Classics where Gabriella features as soloist. This CD was launched with a concert at The Aldeburgh Festival 2013.

In 2010 she co founded the duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. They made their debut with a sellout concert at The Forge in Camden and continue to perform regularly in the UK and Europe. Alongside her classical career she regularly crosses over in the fields of jazz and pop and is a sought after session musician appearing on many movie and television scores. She has recorded with many of the leading Jazz musicians on the UK scene including Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr, Liane Carroll, Guy Barker, Laurence Cottle, Pedro Segundo, Graeme Flowers, Jannette Mason and Claire Martin OBE. She has performed and recorded with Skunk Anansie, Sade, Dionne Warwick, Charlotte Church and has been a member of Judith Owen’s band since 2007. This year she continues her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock’s Quintet, whose members include the violinist Thomas Gould.

Gabriella is also a passionate broadcaster and arts commentator and has been a regular guest on BBC 4’s coverage of The Proms, Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ and ‘Music Matters’. She has been a guest speaker at the Bath Literary Festival and ‘The Battle of Ideas’. 

Gabriella plays a cello by Charles Harris Senior built in 1820 and an electric cello by Starfish Designs.

gabriellaswallow.com

The 40-Piece Challenge – a personal piano journey

This excellent initiative was started by Australian piano teacher and composer Elissa Milne. The purpose was to promote and implement the concept of students learning a huge quantity of piano pieces in one year to allow students to learn, experience and perform far more pieces than our exam-focussed culture tends to allow. Known learning outcomes from the exercise include improved sight-reading skills, greater independence in learning, and enhanced musicianship and music appreciation.

Another similar initiative is the Go-Play Project, in which US pianist and teacher Catherine Shefski set herself the task of learning (or relearning) a piece of piano music each week over the course of a year (she recorded the pieces and uploaded them to SoundCloud). Like many piano teachers, Catherine felt she was not spending enough time at the piano for herself amidst all the teaching and admin that goes with running a piano teaching studio. I followed Cathy’s project with interest and told myself that one day I would do something similar.

A new year, and a number of pianist friends and colleagues have embarked on their own 40-Piece Challenge. Despite, or because of, the fact that I have set myself a vast learning challenge in Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata (D959 in A), I decided it was time to try my own 40-Piece Challenge. My motives for doing so are slightly different from the original purpose of the project:

What kind of repertoire?

The Schubert sonata is a big work in four movements, which takes c.40 minutes to play, and the learning process is by necessity long and detailed. It would be foolish to add other very advanced works to my musical diet, so the premise is to learn shorter and “easier” works for the challenge. And the pieces selected do not necessarily have to be “new”: as part of the exercise, I am revisiting some pieces I learnt a few years ago. There is much to be gained from reviving previous repertoire, as new insights and ideas about the music are revealed.

To guard against boredom and retain variety in my practising

I would be crazy to devote all my practise time to the Schubert alone. Adding a variety of shorter works is a supplement to my main learning and a way of ensuring I retain interest and excitement in the piano.

To extend my repertoire

When one is working for exams or diplomas, there is a terrible tendency to focus only on the set pieces. This is not healthy, as too much focus on a narrow repertoire can lead to familiar pieces growing stale. One often finds that even the most disparate repertoire will inform other works. I also wanted to have a “bank” of pieces I could call on for the occasional concerts I give.

Each piece will be recorded and uploaded to my Soundcloud

Recording is an excellent way of evaluating one’s playing and an opportunity to listen in a different way, allowing us to make judgements about which areas need revision or improvement. By insisting on recording each piece, I am forcing myself to prepare each work carefully. This in itself is a useful exercise: just because the repertoire is “easier”, it should still be prepared to a high (concert-ready) level.

Progress so far….

I’m a quarter way through the project, with 11 pieces learnt and recorded. I will post updates as the project progresses.

The pieces recorded so far:

For those considering a similar challenge, I offer some repertoire suggestions (intermediate to advanced level):

J S Bach – Kleine Preludes, Two- and Three-Part Inventions

Chopin – Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas, Nocturnes

Beethoven – Bagatelles

Schubert – Moments Musicaux, Ländler, Waltzes

Heller – Etudes

Rachmaninoff – Preludes, Moments Musicaux, 6 Morceaux Op 11, Etudes-Tableaux

Scriabin – Preludes, Etudes and other shorter piano works

Prokofiev – Visions Fugitives

Bartok – Mikrokosmos (later volumes)

Ligeti – Musica Ricercata

Debussy – Preludes, Children’s Corner

Scarlatti – Sonatas

Single movements from sonatas by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc.

 

Recollections of Richter – part 2

When I was a child my father had in his LP collection a Schubert album with Richer on Monitor Records. That was one of the very few record labels that was offering artists from the then USSR to the West. During the height of the ‘Cold War’ it was a very esoteric thing to have. I remember the fast movements were so exciting and electrifying. Being a young person, with a young person’s taste, I would ignore all the wonderful slow movements. (PU)

One of my top 5! But he was a very scary man when he was doing our assessments in Moscow. Gilels on the other hand was a pussy cat! I recall his recital in Warsaw……when he arrived late  (weather conditions in Moscow and Warsaw) and went straight on the stage, and after an incredible recital played Prokofieff’s 9th Sonata again, this time as an encore!! What more can one say about that?! (AF)

I have a huge stash of Richter recordings, along with video, and both Monsaingeon’s documentary and the book based on it. I have to say, I don’t always agree with his choices or artistic decisions, but I always learn something new listening to them. I know I’m not alone in that view. There really aren’t many musicians one could say that of,  don’t you think? (JG)

 

I have always admired Sviatoslav Richter since the time I was a little boy and learned how to pronounce Sviatoslav! (PC)

 

Richter was the reason I became a musician. My father heard Richter many times in Budapest in his prime in the 1960s. The concerts were without announced programs–he announced the selections from the stage. People thronged to get tickets. My father came back with such stories of Richter’s aura and magnetism: “he had only to walk on stage for the electricity to happen.” These impressions brought me to the piano… (ZB)

He was a risk-taker: there are very few players on the international circuit today who would be prepared to do what Richter did…. He was truly a musical polymath (FW)

…there will never be another pianist like him in my view….a true philosopher of the piano, although even that does not do him full justice… I was lucky enough to see him in live performance almost 25 times and each concert remains indelibly imprinted in my memory. Such a mercurial, ‘bel canto’ touch, such thunderous power combined with the most delicate phrasing and infinite shades of colour. One was always surprised in his concerts and it always felt like one was hearing the piece for the first time…that global, birds-eye view of the work….one felt one was being taken by the hand and led along a path of discovery…it really felt like that…I will take those memories with me to my grave… (LL)

I know he never had a thirst for fame, narcissism……On the contrary, he was constantly dissatisfied with himself, and, sometimes when he come back home after the success of a concert, he could spend all night at the piano, in order to achieve the desired sound. He was a great worker like Mozart, like all geniuses. He was always moving from internal to external, that is his interpretation of music first born inside him, and after this he begin to embody it into performance. I think this is the true path of art 

 

Thank you to everyone who contributed to these Recollections of Richter posts. Follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #Richter100 – and please feel free to add further reminiscences, sound and video clips, photographs and more.

Richter playing his favourite Schubert sonata:

 

 

 

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture

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