Meet the Artist……Ariel Lanyi

ArielLanyi_Piano13_72SqWho or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

Music was an inseparable part of my life from the very beginning. I heard it from the day I was born, beginning with Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Just as most people don’t remember when they learned to speak, I don’t remember when I learned to make music. The act of performing music came entirely naturally to me. My first interest is music, then comes the piano. I always enjoyed music more than anything else, so I always wanted to make it my career.

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

Most important were probably my piano teachers: Lea Agmon and Yuval Cohen. My recent musical thinking has been heavily influenced by several workshops I attended with Leon Fleischer.

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

The greatest challenge has always been keeping up with my ever increasing standards. Today I’m highly critical of recordings that once seemed to me stellar artistic achievements.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

In general, the performance I’m most proud of is my last one. But this ties in with the previous question. As my expectations of myself increase every day, performances I used to be proud of a few years ago strike me differently today.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The composer to whom I feel closest at the moment is Beethoven. I played his works extensively, including solo works for the piano (like the cycle of the last three sonatas), chamber works, and concertos. I don’t want to create the impression that I’m specialising. In the next two recitals I’ll be playing in London are works by Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, and Ravel – and not a piece by Beethoven.

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

I don’t have any guidelines for making repertoire choices, and I tend to avoid programming pieces with some common factor – a recital of “last sonatas” for example (I realise these clever extra-musical organising principles are quite fashionable today…) My programs consist of selections of compositions I’m working on at the moment. My only guideline is that the programs be balanced and make sense in musical terms.

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

I haven’t performed at enough venues to say which one is my favourite. Generally, I like venues with an intimate atmosphere, where there is an easy and sympathetic give and take between performer and audience. This is why, among others, I don’t do competitions, where the mood in the hall is judgemental and potentially negative.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I find myself nowadays listening more and more to music that is not for the piano. I very much enjoy opera, chamber music and symphonic works. My favourite pieces to perform change all the time. Right now they probably include the works of Beethoven, among many others…

Who are your favourite musicians?

I cannot say. I don’t rank and I don’t think in ranking terms. Moreover, they are simply too many to list…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The one that is yet to come.

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

I don’t have a set of aphorisms at hand. My advice is to be curious and open to new ideas, both musical and cultural, and to question generic advice. (I don’t think the next Richter will come from reading my blog.)

What are you working on at the moment?

I am preparing three recital programs I’ll be playing in London in the coming months. In addition, I am working on my concerto repertoire (Brahms, at the moment) and on a mass of chamber music I’m playing with different ensembles.

What is your most treasured possession?

A wonderful coffee machine. My mother got it as a New Year’s present, but I’m its primary employer.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Writing blogs?.. (Not really, although it is a form of relaxation and it forces me to clarify issues I haven’t given enough thought to.)

Ariel Lanyi will play at St Giles Cripplegate, London, on 21st May. Tickets are available from http://www.arielpiano.com or by phone on 0333 666 3366 (a fee of £1.50 applies to phone bookings)

Ariel has been playing since the age of 4, and gave his orchestral debut at the age of 7. He now plays extensively throughout Europe and in his home country Israel – including recitals at the Menuhin Festival Gstaad, Young Prague Festival, Radio France’s ‘Jeunes Interprètes’ series and St James’s Piccadilly in London. He will finish his studies at the High School and Conservatory of the Jerusalem Academy of Music in the Summer of 2015 and will take up a place at London’s Royal Academy of Music in September 2015.

Meet the Artist……James Fletcher, oboist and director

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

When I regained my hearing during primary school after being born deaf I took up piano lessons. Since then I have always been fascinated by the effect that music can have on your life and how you feel. As a teenager I began to look into classical music and stumbled across a YouTube video of Heinz Holliger playing the Mozart oboe concerto. The next week I gave the instrument a try and was instantly hooked. My home city of Ely had only a couple of oboists so lots of opportunities arose around Cambridgeshire. It was from being busy working and performing with amateur ensembles that I decided that i wanted to be a professional oboist. I found the oboe was a great instrument to put myself into given its versatility.

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

I was greatly influenced by my former piano teacher Jane Holden GRNCM who introduced me to music college and conservatoire study. She accompanied me for performances and indeed for my music college auditions. I am also greatly influenced by my oboe teachers at Birmingham Conservatoire Melinda Maxwell, Jenni Phillips and Gail Hennessy for baroque studies.

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

I’d have to say adapting to the demands of being a freelance musician. Finding time for other things in my life is so difficult as the little free time I have around my work and studies has to be for my personal practise. Whilst the lifestyle is enjoyable it takes a while getting used to long train journeys and sleeping on sofas after concerts!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Vocalise’. I have always loved Rachmaninov’s piano repertoire so arranging it for oboe and coming home to perform it in the stunning surroundings of Ely Cathedral meant a huge amount to me! I’ve recently been working on a couple of Telemann Sonatas which I’m recording in January!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Schumann, particularly his romances. There is so much expression already on the page so when it comes to adding my own it can be overwhelming with emotional tensity. Aside from that I have a keen interest in baroque repertoire as I enjoy the virtuosity of some of the instrumental writing as well as the opportunity to add my own ornaments, cadenzas and further interpretations to my performances!

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

A good musician would choose their repertoire on what they wish to achieve technique wise generally as a result. Whilst I try to do that, I love discovering new pieces and particularly playing the ones I enjoy (perhaps a little to often). The joys of directing my own ensembles mean that most of the time I get to choose the music!

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

Each venue has its own qualities and suitability for different works, though, I’d like to mention Ely Cathedral. Because I have played there so many times, I cannot help but return there most Christmas’ and Summers to perform again and again. The building presents so many acoustic challenges for solo instrumentalists so it adds to the difficulty of what could already be a perfect performance!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

It’s a close call between Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’ and Bach’s B Minor Mass. I love Bach – he’s my favourite composer and so what could be better than a masterpiece that is essentially a catalogue of all of his best tunes arranged for a mass setting? Whilst the Beethoven, although overshadowed by his ninth symphony, the Missa Solemnis is, in its own way, truly something special.

Who are your favourite musicians?

When I was younger and only just discovering classical music I was and still am greatly influenced by the work and music of Herbert von Karajan, enough to inspire me to want to go into conducting. His extraordinary psychological vision of music,how it should sound and how it should touch ones heart deeply fascinates me. Also some of my other favourite musicians are the great oboists of the modern day: Francois Leleux, as well as Albrecht Mayer and Jonathan Kelly of the Berliner Philharmoniker.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

New Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s concert in West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge last summer. Most of the players were people who I’d been in youth orchestras and grown up with, so it was heart-warming reuniting with them to perform Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto to a sold out audience. I also can’t help but remember a carol concert in Ely Cathedral where aged twelve I came in as a guest violinist. My desk partner had fallen off the edge of the stage and grabbed my arm only pull me and my chair off with her!

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

Listening. Music is the most powerful art form for expressing your true inner self and feelings. Don’t just follow the score note by note – add a bit of yourself to your performances. Also, do not be afraid of meeting people and collaborate with them. You’re not just playing say, the violin in the after school band anymore. By making the choice to want to be a musician, you have to put everything you have into into it. Listen, interpret, perform.

What are you working on at the moment?

Alongside my studies, 2015 is my busiest and most exciting year yet. I will be performing in a new, exciting series of large scale orchestral projects and performances across the UK whilst also musically directing Handel’s opera ‘Acis & Galatea’ in the Midlands. I’m also looking forward to returning to Cambridge for a Bach Cantata project, and also (hopefully) going abroad for further work and study!

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

It would be nice to think that I’d have financial security and have settled down but I want to do much the same as what I am doing. The joy of music practically being my only hobby is that i never want to stop. Working in a different country would be nice!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Excuse the clichés, but freedom, love and security. Sat on a beach with a beer in one hand and the [non-existent] wife’s hand in the other! The end of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is also my idea of perfect happiness!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Performing. But unrelated to music I have been known to be a cooking master!

What is your present state of mind?

Ambitious (perhaps a little too much)!

Although born with a severe hearing impairment, James began his musical journey when taken to piano lessons aged 7.  As James’s hearing, speech, and language improved as he got older, he strongly valued the gift of sound and music and decided to take up other more orchestral instruments such as the clarinet and violin as a hobby. As a teenager, however, James realised his desire and ambition to become a professional musician and chose to specialise on the oboe where he went from strength to strength achieving grade 8 ABRSM disctinction after only a few years tuition and coaching under Carol London and Jane Holden GRNCM. He later held several positions in local orchestras, including the Cambridgeshire & Peterburough Youth Orchestra where he served as principal and solo-cor anglais for 3 years, aswell as the acclaimed New Cambridge Symphony Orchestra. James has also had strong affiliations with other local orchestras including the City of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra.

During sixth form college James had a succesful audition period for several UK music colleges which led to him accepting a scholarship to study at Birmingham Conservatoire where he trains as a first-study oboist under Jenni Phillips, Melinda Maxwell and Gail Hennessy for baroque oboe. At the Conservatoire James has a busy diary and is frequently involved in projects in collaboration with other students, including orchestral work, chamber music, choral singing, harpsichord accompaniment, conducting, and participating in recording sessions for new compositions and commissions. More recently James has formed his own chamber choir and is heavily interested in music research, having a particular focus on baroque choral music.

The next year will see James perform in prestigious venues across the UK such as St John Smith’s Square and the Barbican in London as well as returning to the familiar surroundings of Ely Cathedral. James will also be directing a production of Handel’s Acis & Galatea with his own orchestra and chamber choir which will be performed in historic venues across the Midlands.

James has vast experience working alongside arts and dramatics agencies as a musical director for performances ranging from opera, musical theatre to new commissioned plays. Alongside this position, James provided performance coaching to students of secondary school age.

Away from music, James is passionate about campaigning for the awareness of severe mental health disorders, and works with schools and health organisations to provide mentoring to school aged pupils.

jamesfletchermusic.wordpress.com

Presentation to BASCA on classical music blogging

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I was delighted to have an opportunity to talk about my experiences as a classical music blogger and the importance of creating a distinctive online presence at an event organised by BASCA (British Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors). The other speaker was Angharad Cooper of SoundAndMusic.org, who introduced the British Music Collection (about which more in a later post).

My talk covered a number of key areas of being a blogger, including choosing the right platform on which to host one’s blog, creating an eye-catching and engaging design, how to increase the readership and how my role as a classical music blogger has impacted on my career.

The presentations were followed by drinks and socialising, and I enjoyed the opportunity to connect with new people in the music community, including a number of exciting young composers.

You can view my presentation here (PowerPoint file)

Please feel free to contact me if you would like me give this presentation at an event.

A Musician in the Blogosphere – guest article for HelloStage

Music Notes: The importance of music in my writing and in my life

Guest post by Karine Hetherington

Music has always been an important part of my life.  I started playing classical piano aged six, did the usual grades, then abandoned the instrument for two decades.  I picked it up again aged forty.  My Russian grandmother was a very accomplished pianist.  She had attended the prestigious Sergei Rachmaninoff Russian Conservatoire in Paris in the 1930s and encouraged me when I came back to the piano. She would invite me to perform at her annual concerts in her Paris apartment every year.   It certainly kept me on my toes as long as she was alive! She played chamber music until the age of 94 and was tackling physically demanding solo works well into her eighties. It is no accident therefore that when I wrote my novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse,’ music and my grandmother were going to feature heavily. I decided to set my book in 1930s Paris because this city is my second home, and I am fascinated by the period. I took as my starting point the fact that my Russian grandmother had worked in a record shop in the Latin Quarter during this era.  She loved her work, the proliferation of artists and music styles was exciting for her and she took great pride in assembling the record displays in the shop for jazz artists such as Django Reinhardt, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway or for very exciting newcomers such as singer Edith Piaf. Taking my grandmother’s story as an inspiration, I threw myself into the period, using the music as my guide.  I have always been interested in the impact of music on people, its mood-enhancing qualities, its ability to bring people together, to comfort them.  For musicians, playing music is a drug, an experience hard to beat.  But music isn’t everything.  This is the conclusion that my main character, Tatiana Ivanov, arrives, at after some life-changing experiences.  But it is music, which forms her and makes her who she is. Music list: Chopin’s Etudes played by Horowitz 1935 Schubert’s Sonata in B Flat Major Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ Symphony No 9 Josephine Baker – ‘J’ai Deux Amours’ Edith Piaf – ‘L’Etranger’ (The Stranger) Tino Rossi – ‘Marilou’ Cab Calloway – ‘Keep That Hide-di-Hi in Your Soul’ Beethoven’s Sonata Pathétique Op 13.  Adagio cantabile Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer who lives in London. A dual-British and French national, with a Russian ancestry thrown in, her short stories and novels reflect her passion for both the detail and grand sweep of European history. After studying creative writing at Birkbeck College in London, Karine has been telling stories that have brought history to life, with tales of love and adventure that draw on the detail of real events and real lives. Karine’s novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse’ is available now. Read an extract below 2 The next morning Tatiana was at the shop counter, running her finger along the register of orders, when in stepped a small, pink-faced man with round spectacles and straggles of grey hair escaping from under his cap. It took her a second to recognise her old piano professor, whose once seal-slick dark hair and trim body had at one time energised her playing. Not wishing to offend his vanity, she made an effort to avert her eyes from the small mound that stretched the lower buttons of his tweed jacket, and threw her hands in the air with genuine delight: ‘‘Professor Conus, how wonderful to see you!’ she said, lifting the flap of the counter and walking out to greet him.  Pleased to see her but maybe conscious of his altered appearance, Conus removed his cap and patted his unruly strands of hair. ‘How are you my dear?’ he said, now reaching out to squeeze her hand as she stood before him.  ‘Well, thank you Professor, and you?’  ‘Oh, I can’t complain,’ he said in a distracted way, looking away for a minute. Bringing his gaze back to her, he gave her a pained smile, exclaiming: ‘But Tatiana please, call me Sergei. No more of this ‘Professor’ business.’  ‘Very well Sergei,’ she replied, feeling a little coy and letting go of his grasp. It would take some getting used to, for she had been his student for four years, to the age of eighteen.  ‘Yes, fate and our old friend Horowitz have brought us together,’ he said, eyeing her wistfully. Has his recording of Chopin’s Etudes arrived by the way?’  ‘I’m afraid not,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘We have a backlog of orders at the moment. But I understand your anticipation.’  ‘A genius that Horowitz,’ he said, half-closing his eyes. ‘I am quite convinced that one hundred years from now, he will still remain recognised as one of the Chopin’s greatest interpreters.’  ‘Yes,’ she said excitedly. ‘Such energy and urgency in his playing that I find myself wishing to. …Oh I don’t know…’ She shook her arms in front of her. The sentence hovered in the air.  ‘To play them?’ he said, glancing at her affectionately.  ‘Yes.’ Though a little surprised, she was grateful that he fathomed her frustrations without her needing to explain.  ‘You still could.’ He stopped and gave her a quizzical look.  ‘I know, I know,’ she said, conscious of her voice dropping a few tones. She had been working on the Etude in G flat Major, the one on the Horowitz record, when she had stopped coming to his classes.
  ‘Why don’t you come and see me at the Conservatoire?’ How insistent and determined he could be. And how well he knew her.
She glanced up at him. ‘I have so little time Sergei.’ There was a little embarrassed pause as she recalled the ending of their professor-pupil relationship three years previously, when her father had been unable to keep up with the Lycée and Conservatoire payments. Overnight, her musical hopes had been brought to an abrupt close. As he stood before her, giving her that understanding smile, she found it hard to believe that she had been so nervous meeting him. Perhaps it was his brilliant reputation, which her father had impressed upon her on the way to the first audition. “Tatiana, the Bolsheviks have chased him out of Leningrad and inadvertently sent him to us. Their ignorance in all matters of the arts is our gain. Hurry up and stop looking so glum!”  They had been early and had had to wait, she on an uncomfortable chair wrapped up in a woolly hat, coat and gloves, while her father paced the dark, drafty corridor of the Russian Conservatoire. When the professor had eventually arrived, flustered and irritable, she remembered the terror of stepping into his enormous study – his realm — and hearing him sigh as he pulled back a dusty curtain to let in the morning light on her. “What are you playing for me today?”  “Schubert’s Sonata in B flat major,” she had replied, trying to keep a measured tone as her father had advised her to do.  ‘Hmmf,’ he snorted. ‘Difficult, but no matter.’  Sitting on the stool, twisted towards him, she had made an effort to smile.  ‘Begin,’ he had said in a gentler tone.  Swivelling round on the piano stool, she had removed her gloves quickly and stared at her hands fully stretched over the cold, white keys. It was all she remembered for her fingers from then on had just taken over.  ‘Good. Good, Mademoiselle.’ Such words of praise from such an exacting teacher! His analysis had filled her with hope: ‘your voicing and timing in part needs work but you have the touch my dear. It is not given to all. We can start next week.’  From the age of fourteen she had played for him and it had felt like a whole life had elapsed in his presence. He had overseen her development from a shy, timid girl to young woman who believed in her ability to become a professional pianist. But that was in the past.  ‘Tatiana?’ Conus brought her back to the present. ‘Oh sorry, I was just thinking…’
‘Yes, my dear,’ he said, mouth drooping as if he were just on the point of saying something but thought better of it. He put his old leather music case on the counter and stood back, giving a tug on his short, grey beard: ‘And so you are working here. All this music around you.’ And to illustrate the point, he lifted his short arms and turned his small, still agile body this way and that. ‘Perfect,’ he said, his eyes alighting on the Louis Armstrong display in the Jazz section. ‘Do you like it?   I do enjoy working here. No need to go to musical concerts at the Salle Pleyel, when everything I want is…’ She stopped. The professor was looking bothered.  ‘But I do hope you get out a little bit, Tatiana.’ He pursed his lips and shook his head. ‘An attractive, talented young woman owes it to herself to be admired.’  Caught off guard, Tatiana felt the blood rush into her cheeks. She had never been easily able to take compliments from men.  ‘A little thin though,’ he added in a half-playful, half- concerned voice.  She bristled at the remark and started to walk back towards the counter gripped with a sense of injustice. He was not the only one who made her feel awkward in this way. After church she was teased by her parents and their friends, who could not understand why she was so opposed to meeting eligible young Russian men. Her father, dismissing her reticence as shyness, had already designated Sacha Kirov, a rich nephew of his previous and now defunct business associate, as a candidate for her affections. They had met, at social occasions and had been friendly towards another. But that had been all. Vladimir, who still joked about it, told her that, she had acquired a reputation of being choosy and independent.  ‘It’s all right for you, brother,’ she would think to herself. You can go anywhere you please, while I have to have to be escorted!’  The professor realised his indiscretion and trotted after her, flustered. ‘That is not to say that you are not beautiful, my dear.’  She now wished Mme Clerc hadn’t gone out to the bank and left her alone and vulnerable to a conversation of this type. She snapped the counter down, turned back towards him, her back straight, her eyes she hoped, a little cold.  ‘And now I see I have offended you. Too much time spent in stuffy music rooms. All I am saying is that you are young my dear. This is the time to enjoy yourself. For years you were always playing. You are living in the most exciting city in the world!’  She let out a laugh of resignation and shook her head. It had always been impossible to stay angry with him for long. Conscious, however, of time passing, she took out the heavy leather order book from the drawer below the counter. Mme Clerc or another customer would soon be walking back through the door and she couldn’t be seen to be talking idly.  The book was marked at Monday – today — and her eye fell upon the first entry. “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s Symphony no. 9. A faint tingle of warmth rose in her breast. ‘And where am I to meet this Prince?’ she said glancing up at the professor.  ‘Ta, ta, ta, a prince! Why not just settle for a mere muzhik,’ he said, throwing up his arm impatiently.  Tatiana raised her eyebrows in surprise. ‘A peasant?’  ‘Well, not quite, my dear.’ The professor stretched his palms in front of her to placate her.  ‘But you know, a commoner. With talent of course. Energy and generosity of spirit. It goes without saying that he is to be an Adonis and to be madly in love with you. But he mustn’t fawn over you, otherwise you will tire of him,’ he said, wagging his finger.  She crossed her arms. Really the professor was such a nuisance.  ‘Always such high standards. Do not forget that women,’ he paused, to check that she was listening.  ‘Yes Professor? Women …? ’  ‘… Are like flowers. They wilt if they are not nourished by some sunshine!’  Tatiana threw her arms up, letting out another laugh; this time more exasperated than weary. She had never discussed such things with him, or anyone else. There had always been the music and it had been enough.   

Meet the Artist…… Morgan Hayes, composer

photo: Malcolm Crowthers

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

Early years are formative so the environmental factors would include access to pianos (my dad repaired them at one stage) and listening to my mum’s record collection.

Hastings, where I grew up is also a very inspiring place. The American travel writer Paul Theroux singled it out in his tour of the UK coastline as “an artists’ colony full of optimistic romance and spirited intimacy”.

I played one of my piano pieces to Henze and (without knowing where I was from) he said it reminded him of the vague coastline of the south coast of England!

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

Channel 4’s series ‘Sinfonietta’, presented by the pianist Paul Crossley who introduced Berg’s Chamber Concerto. Spurred on by this, I bought a recording and tried to get to grips with this tough piece.

Broadcasts from the BBC Proms which stand out: I particularly remember Xenakis’s Keqrops, Barry’s Chevaux de Frise and Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth.

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

Surviving. Beyond that, every new piece presents an artistic challenge, even a more modestly piece such as this latest one for Jonathan Powell. Titles can be tricky. In this instance, I got the idea from a furniture shop of the same name, near the Columbia Road flower market in London.

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

Of course, It’s ideal to be commissioned (ie.funded,however small the fee!), but  the challenges are identical to that of a non- commissioned piece.

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

Jonathan Powell has a good understanding of my piano music, so it is always a pleasure working with him.

In 1999, I played ‘Flaking Yellow Stucco’ (for piano) to the composer and conductor Richard Baker and he noted a similarity with Jonathan Powell’s piano music. At that time, I didn’t know Jonathan or his work.

Which works are you most proud of? 

My Violin Concerto, written for Keisuke Okazaki. A few years after the premiere, it was recorded for NMC with the Esbjerg Ensemble conducted by Christopher Austin.

On a smaller scale, and more recently, I’m very proud of my ensemble piece for Ensemble Reconsil called “The Unrest Cure”.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?  

Oh, so many!

Of the more recent composers I’d include Aperghis, Babbitt, Dillon, Finnissy, Holt, Toovey and Xenakis.

As well as composing, I also play for dance classes and within this sphere the New Zealand born John Sweeney is without doubt the most amazing improviser I have encountered. He also accompanies silent movies.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The London Sinfonietta celebrated its 25th Anniversary in 1989 at the Royal Festival Hall and a frail Michael Vyner (at that time artistic director of the ensemble) walked onto the stage to give a speech. It was a landmark occasion which was also televised, and with hindsight marked the end of an era. I particularly remember the new pieces by Birtwistle and Simon Holt, and the Suite from Henze’s opera ‘The English Cat’. I went backstage where Simon Rattle and Paul Crossley kindly signed a Birtwistle record I’d recently bought.

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

Don’t get sidetracked by commercial considerations.

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

London is a fantastic city so I’d happily still be here, albeit hoping for a halt on the unfortunate homogenisation and destruction which seems to have taken grip recently. In a nutshell, private interests prioritised above every other value humans might hold.

What is your most treasured possession?  

Besides an upright piano, a huge print I’ve got on the wall of somewhat dilapidated buildings in Cuba.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Besides more art-orientated things, swimming – ideally in the sea, but i like the Olympic Pool in Stratford.

What is your present state of mind? 

Cheerful

Jonathan Powell gives the London premiere of Morgan Hayes’s ‘Elemental’ on Friday 8th May at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hamsptead, London NW3. Concert starts at 7.30pm, tickets on the door.

Morgan Hayes won the Guildhall School of Music & Drama’s coveted Lutoslawski Prize in 1995; he subsequently studied with Michael Finnissy, Simon Bainbridge and Robert Saxton. His early works include Mirage (1995) and Viscid (1996), the latter recorded by the Composers Ensemble for NMC.

Since then, a series of ambitious pieces composed for many of Britain’s leading new-music ensembles, has included Shellac (1997) for piano and orchestra, and Slippage (1999). An accomplished pianist, Hayes has also composed numerous works for solo piano, which have been performed by soloists including Andrew Ball, Stephen Gutman, Rolf Hind, Sarah Nicolls, Ian Pace and Jonathan Powell.

As 2001-2002 Leverhulme Composer-in-Residence at the Purcell School, Hayes’s major achievement was the ‘Tatewalks’ project, based on Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, and involving young composers in collaboration with photographer Malcolm Crowthers and with the London Sinfonietta, who featured the work in the 2002 ‘State of the Nation’ festival; the Sinfonietta also commissioned Hayes’ transcription of Squarepusher’s Port Rhombus for the South Bank Centre’s 2003 ‘Ether Festival’.

Hayes’ works include Opera for violin and piano, inspired by Italian director Dario Argento’s giallo classic Macbeth and written for Darragh Morgan and Mary Dullea; Lute Stop (2003) for solo piano, premiered by Sarah Nicolls; Hayes’  2005 BBC Proms debut with Strip; and the Violin Concerto, a Birmingham Contemporary Music Group ‘Sound Investment’ commission, premiered by Japanese soloist Keisuke Okazaki.

More recent commissions include Original Version, for the 2007 Spitalfields Festival; Futurist Manifesto for string orchestra, commissioned by the Munich Chamber Orchestra. A period as composer-in-association with Music Theatre Wales, resulting in Shirley and Jane, an operatic scena based on the career of Dame Shirley Porter; a Smith Quartet commission, Dances on a Ground (2009); and Dictionary of London, for the NMC Songbook.

Concert for Nepal Earthquake Victims

A group of solo and chamber classical musicians have got together to present a fundraising concert to help the victims of the Nepal earthquake.

Under the initiative of pianist Alicja Fiderkiewicz and cellist Corinne Morris, a fundraising concert will take place in London on 29th May 2015 with the following artists: Murray McLachlan, Artur Pizarro, Viv Mclean, Carlo Grante, Corinne Morris and Alicja Fiderkiewicz. The concert includes the world premiere of a piece by composer Keith Burstein. The concert takes place at St Barnabas Church, Ealing, London W5 1QG.

The entire proceeds of this fundraising concert will go to the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) Nepal Earthquake Appeal
Nepal needs 2 things: manpower to help get things up and running and money to access this help, to start rebuilding their lives

With this fundraising concert, we hope to provide the DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) with a contribution of £10,000.
If you can support our project, either by attending the concert, or making a donation and sharing this with all your friends, then together we will make an impact and via the aid agencies already in Nepal, offer some much needed support and comfort.

To pledge your support and secure a ticket for the concert, please go to https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/classical-music-gala-concert-for-nepal-disaster. Click “select a perk” to choose how much you would like to donate.

Thank you for your support.

Corinne & Alicja

St Barnabas Church

Sunday Feature: Should certain repertoire be “off limits” to amateur pianists?

Occasionally I and indeed other musician friends and colleagues have come across the suggestion from other professional musicians and even some teachers that certain repertoire is the exclusive preserve of the professionals and should be left well alone by “amateurs”. This includes the final piano sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert, the Goldberg Variations, Chopin’s Piano Sonatas, Balakirev’s ‘Islamey’, Ravel’s ‘Gaspard’ and all of the big well-known piano concertos. The suggestion is that no amateur could possibly ever be “good enough” to master any of these great works and that the professional “know” how to play them best. Conversely, I recently I came across a blog post describing a suite of miniature variations as music for the “amateur pianist”, the implication being that no pro would touch it (in fact, the variations in question were premiered by pianist Melvyn Tan and have subsequently been performed by him to much acclaim: more on the blurring of the boundaries between professional and amateur later in this post….)

I posed the question “Should certain repertoire be off limits to amateur pianists?” in a piano group I belong to on Facebook and it was met with a stream of lively and vociferous comments. Most people agreed that no repertoire should be off limits to anyone, with the proviso that we should all be aware of our own limitations and select repertoire which we are capable of mastering. There were interesting comments about bad performances of great music by so-called amateur musicians and how this appropriation of the great composer’s great works shows a lack of respect towards the music, but the general consensus was that amateurs should have the freedom to play whatever they like. Indeed any musician should have the freedom to play whatever they like: music was written to be played and fundamentally it matters not a jot whether one plays badly in the privacy of one’s living room or beautifully to a paying audience. It is about exploring and loving this wonderful repertoire.

I have occasionally taught adult amateur pianists and I find their ambitions to master Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto sometimes have to be tempered by their limitations. A good teacher will guide and advise, suggesting repertoire that is achievable so that the student gains experience, develops technique and musicality and above all enjoys playing the music, rather than growing frustrated by it because it is too challenging. However, I also believe that we shouldn’t always play within our comfort zone, and I think it’s important to have one or two pieces in one’s repertoire that are challenging and “difficult” (for me currently this is Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata). Learning and playing outside our comfort zone pushes us, forces us to problem-solve, tests technique and musicianship, and equips us with useful learning tools which can be applied to easier repertoire. Alongside this, it is also important to have repertoire that is doable, and even some that is “easy”. In fact, it is hard to play easy music well (often because there is nowhere to “hide” in easy music): the simplest pieces played beautifully can be the most exquisite. This brings me back to the suite of variations which have been labelled “for amateur pianists” by another blogger, thus suggesting that this is not the kind of music a “professional” would touch. How ridiculous! Anyone can play this repertoire, and anyone can gain enjoyment and pleasure from it.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am involved in a London-based group for adult amateur pianists which meets regularly for informal performance opportunities and to socialise. Pianists of all ages and abilities are members and everyone clearly adores the piano and its repertoire. Occasionally people have come to performance platforms and stumbled through a favourite piece or attempted something that is clearly beyond their capabilities, or not ready for a public performance. Here it is a case of “knowing one’s limits” rather than feeling that repertoire is “off limits” – and I always advise people to select music they know well and feel comfortable with for such performance events. At the other end of the scale, some members of my piano group are fine pianists and seasoned performers. Many have attended music college or achieved external performance diplomas (such as DipABRSM, ATCL, LRSM, LTCL and FRSM) but have chosen to pursue another career path (we have an actuary, several doctors and scientists, a lawyer and video games designer amongst our members). These “amateur” pianists play to what most people would consider a “professional standard” and if one were to do a blind performance of these people and some professional pianists, I doubt anyone could tell the difference. At this point the boundaries between amateur and professional become extremely blurred and the only difference is the career choice and the pay cheque.

The joy of being an amateur pianist is that one can play whatever one wants to because one is not in the thrall of concert trends, agents, promoters and the mortgage/rent. Many professional pianists envy this freedom because it puts one in touch with the real reason why music was written – to be played and enjoyed. As a professional, it is important to retain that joy and excitement in the music to avoid concert giving and performing turning into a chore (and the best performers, professional or amateur, will transmit that joy and excitement in their playing).

So go ahead, play what you like. Love your piano and its glorious and hugely varied repertoire. And if you are looking for something a little different to try from contemporary piano repertoire may I suggest the following:

Variations for Judith – a set of variations based on the Chorale ‘Bist du bei mir’ (Stolzel arr. J S Bach) with contributions by Richard Rodney Bennett, Tarik O’Regan, Thalia Myers and Judith Bingham.

A Little Book of Hours – Peter Sculthorpe. Don’t be put off by the description “elementary”. These seemingly simple pieces take care and thought to shape their spare melodies and unusual harmonies.

The Complete Piano Etudes – Philip Glass. I’ve just discovered these works by the master of American minimalism. Technically and musically challenging and very satisfying to play

Unicorn in Rainbows – Alison Wrenn. A beautiful short work infused with jazz harmonies, lingering chords redolent of Bill Evans, and subtle rhythms.

Please feel free to join this discussion by adding your comments below. Suggestions for repertoire are also very welcome.

“Stolen Time”

‘The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes – ah, that is where the art resides!’
Arthur Schnabel, pianist (1882-1951)

Tempo Rubato is rhythmic flexibility within a phrase or measure, or a relaxation of strict time. Literally ‘stolen time’, rubato is perhaps most closely associated with the music of Fryderyk Chopin, his friend and fellow composer Franz Liszt, and other composers of the Romantic period. But it is possible to achieve rubato effectively in Bach and other baroque music: indeed, all music, to a greater or lesser extent, should contain rubato in order for it to sound natural. While we should never lose a sense of pulse, music that is strictly metrical, with no sense of shape within phrases or sections, can be dull and monotonous, both to listen to and to play. Playing with rubato allows more space and room to ‘breathe’, giving the music greater expression.

Other instruments, and particularly the human voice, are able to achieve greater expressiveness through sound alone, but because the piano is a percussive machine, the pianist must employ different techniques to achieve expression. When listening to music, the audience want to be ‘surprised’ or ‘satisfied’, and when we are playing, we should be aware of musical ‘surprises’ within the score (unusual harmonies, suspensions, unexpected cadences etc) as well as instances of ‘satisfaction’ or ‘gratification’ (resolutions, full cadences, returning to the home key etc.). We can highlight these through dynamic shifts, and also by the use of rubato – arriving at a note or end of a phrase sooner or later to achieve either surprise or a sense of delayed gratification. Done badly, rubato can sound contrived and self-indulgent; but done well, it can bring subtle shape and expression to a piece.

The opening of Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau from ‘Images’

Rubato is not always written into the score and is often at the discretion of performer or conductor. It is perhaps most obvious when one hears a singer perform, and as a pianist, we can learn much from reimagining – and singing out loud – the melodic line of our music as if it is a line of song. We can make subtle changes in the rhythm, lingering over one phrase, imbuing another with urgency, to communicate the feelings that the music awakens within us. Sometimes simply delaying our arrival at a certain note can increase the sense of an accent or sforzando rather than laying extra emphasis or force on these notes through finger or hand weight alone. It is the placing of the note and the fractional silence before it that can achieve the most poetic effects.

A crescendo marking can be used to set the music free and let it take flight. Often, our natural inclination when we encounter a crescendo marking is to increase the tempo slightly – just as we might slacken in with a diminuendo. We can also highlight other aspects such as dissonance or unusual harmonic shifts by varying the tempo slightly, or allowing a certain spaciousness when playing repeated notes, for example. The key to good rubato is for it to sound natural: it is the subtlety of rubato that makes it so convincing. The best rubato comes from within, and it should always be intuitive and unforced. It is also very personal and something that develops through spending a lot of time with the music, and making a detailed study of the score (at the piano and away from it) to gain a fuller understanding of the composer’s intentions and a sense of one’s own ‘personal sound’. Gradually, rubato becomes intuitive as we achieve a greater understanding of the music’s shape and its natural ebb and flow.

This article first appeared on the Pianist magazine website and in the April 2015 Pianist magazine e-newsletter

Meet the Artist……Shai Wosner, pianist

(Photograph by Marco Borggreve)

 

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

My family owned a piano but no one was playing it. I was somehow intrigued by it and began to pick out all kinds of cheesy radio tunes and later tried to harmonize them. The piano is a very friendly instrument if you are 5 years old and eager to make a sound, much more so than the violin which makes you practically languish for months until anything more than a scratch is heard. But more than that, I particularly remember how gloriously rewarding it felt to be able to add my own crude chords to those tunes and to literally touch the magic that is melody and accompaniment.                                                                                                                          

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

I was very lucky to have a rich musical education from a very early age and the opportunity to study not only piano but also composition and improvisation since I was about 9 had a big influence, I feel, on the way music seemed to me. I would like to think that it enabled me to look at music also through the eyes of the composer and not only from the angle of the performer.

But I was also emotionally affected a lot by the life stories of the great composers, particularly Mozart (Amadeus had just come out as a movie and I went to see it 3 times! At the part where they sing the finale of The Abduction from the Seraglio I completely forgot I was at the movies and started applauding vigorously – I can still remember all those heads turning back at me…) and Beethoven (a dog-eared copy of a book on the lives of composers included a heart-wrenching account of the miseries of his childhood which left me devastated).

Later on, it was mostly recordings that I listened to endlessly as well as a few unforgettable concerts I was lucky enough to be taken to, that made me feel that music was an inseparable part of who I am.

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

The greatest challenge for any performer is to reach the feeling that he or she was able to bring across exactly what they see and feel in the piece and that the audience has been there with them in it throughout. The second greatest challenge is to persist in this quest without being distracted or discouraged by the more mundane aspects of the music business, which are inescapable in their own way.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

The performances that make me feel most satisfied are the ones where I felt as if (and I repeat, as if!) I was creating the piece as it goes along. Doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately but that’s the goal. As for recordings, I don’t really listen to my own recordings after they are finished because one’s views of pieces naturally changes with time and, of course, once a recording is done, it’s done…

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I try to avoid seeing works I play this way, because the ones I feel closest to also tend to be ones you spend a lifetime with and never cease to study. But in recent years, I have gravitated towards Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert to a certain extent.

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

I try to start with a main piece that I feel an uncontrollable urge to learn and then see what could go with it in a way that would either illuminate it in an interesting way or that would provide an intriguing contrast to it. I also try to keep a healthy mix of new and less new pieces, as much as possible.

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

There isn’t a single one, but of course there are some that immediately come to mind, with very special acoustics and atmosphere, such as Wigmore Hall in London, to pick a famous example. But also places like Sala di Notari in Perugia, Italy – which is not a full-time concert hall but is absolutely ravishing.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I don’t get to listen to music nearly as much as I would like, but when I do I am always in the mood for one of the Mozart da Ponte operas, for example. But there are many others.

Who are your favourite musicians?

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a child growing up in Israel, one of the concerts that really left a mark was a recital by Radu Lupu which felt like a transformative experience in real time. Another was the first time I heard the Brahms D Minor Piano Concerto. I actually don’t remember the circumstances at all, but I vividly recall the terrifying bang of the timpani and horns in the very beginning and the overall impression that the opening tutti made on me, as if I was being let into the darker realms of music for the very first time.

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

That what we think we are doing is often perceived very differently to outside listeners and that learning how to listen that way to yourself while you are playing is single most important thing any musician can ever strive to accomplish.

What are you working on at the moment?

More Schubert, as well as Haydn (one of the pieces is subtitled “It takes Eight to sterilize a Sow”…), some Mozart, some Ligeti…

www.shaiwosner.com

Agony & Ecstasy: Garrick Ohlsson plays Scriabin at Wigmore Hall

© Paul Body

On the centenary of the death of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, American pianist Garrick Ohlsson concluded his two-concert “Skryabin Focus” at London’s Wigmore Hall with a recital of works which spanned the final two decades of Scriabin’s life.

It is hard to explain exactly what makes Scriabin’s music so compelling: far easier to explain why his music is not for everyone. It is the music of excess, ecstasy, tumult and passion. It is excessive, overripe, decadent, heavily perfumed, languorous and frenzied, lacking in structure and sometimes downright bizarre. The music of extremes, it is hyper everything, and as such it defies description or categorization. Its language is complex, often atonal and frequently almost impenetrable. For some listeners, and artists too, it is this “over-the-top-ness” that is off-putting; for others, myself and my concert companion included, it is this sense of excess and rapture that is so compelling. By his own admission, Garrick Ohlsson is a true Scriabin fan, the result of hearing Sviatoslav Richter perform the Seventh Piano Sonata. Ohlsson’s studies with a Russian teacher enabled him to regard Scriabin as “mainstream repertoire” and the composer’s music remains a mainstay of his repertoire.

Read my review here

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture

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