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

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

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

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

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

The line-up for the Christmas Gala:

Edward Fox actor

William Sharman Team GB athlete

Alistair McGowan actor

Sarah Walker BBC Radio 3 presenter

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

Richard Ingrams former Editor, The Oldie

Conrad Williams author

Stephen Boxer actor

Patricia Hodge actor

Niamh Cusack actor

Anneka Rice broadcaster
Cathy Newman Channel 4 News presenter

David Pickard Director, BBC Proms

Barry Wordsworth conductor, Special Guest

Further names to be announced

Iain Burnside presenter

Joanna David narrator
Lucy Parham piano

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Artist……Lucy Parham

Don Pasquale at Drayton Arms Theatre

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

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

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

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

‘Don Pasquale’ by Gaetano Donizetti

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

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

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

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

Music and Stage Direction: Alisdair Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the Artist……Nicolas Nebout, conductor


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

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

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

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

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

Getting it started!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

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

Which particular works do you think you play best?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

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

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

Who are your favourite musicians?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

What is your most treasured possession?

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


Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No.5

Gustav Mahler – Kindertotenlieder (soloist: Sarah Connolly)

Malek Jandali – Phoenix in Exile (World Premiere)

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

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

Learning Curve

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warren Mailley-Smith

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

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

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

Read my full review here

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

Jan Lisiecki (photo: Mathias Bothor)

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

Stephen Hough premieres his new piano sonata 

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

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

Meet the Artist……Filomena Campus


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

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

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

Which particular works do you think you play best?

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

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

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

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

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

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

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

Who are your favourite musicians?

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Touring the world performing with fab musicians.

What is your most treasured possession?  

My music and my books.

What is your present state of mind?

Really excited looking forward to my forthcoming festival.

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



There’s something about André….

(Picture source: ClassicFM)
Recently I was contacted by a marketing company working for superstar Dutch violinist, composer and concert master André Rieu. In addition to inviting me to review Andre’s latest CD ‘Roman Holiday’, I was also asked if I might help advertise “André Rieu themed parties”.

For many “serious” classical music fans, André Rieu epitomises high schmalz and low culture: the Disney-esque concert master with the curly mullet, his concerts brimming with Viennese waltzes and polkas, the women in his orchestra resplendent in bouffant crinolines. Ye gods! The man even has his own tv series on Sky Arts. However, for many people he also represents an accessible way into classical music: his concerts sell out, he makes millions in CD sales, he has undeniably clever and powerful marketing and PR. The latest strand in the André Rieu empire is “themed parties” where, presumably, people sit around listening to his new CD (mullets and crinolines not necessarily obligatory). Whilst enjoying a joint guffaw with my musician friends and colleagues on Facebook, a number of people suggesting that these parties might be like updated Tupperware or Anne Summers parties which take place “guiltily behind closed doors”, the idea of a classical music themed party began to gain some credence – for me at least…..

How to engage new audiences is a constant preoccupation of almost everyone in the classical music industry. Many things have been tried, from The Late Shift (classical music in a pub) and Speed Dating with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to performers eschewing formal clothing in favour of comfy sneakers and jeans and swearing a lot while talking about Bach’s sex life, or asking the audience to pay only what they think the concert is worth (a recent initiative from the Hallé). These days you can enjoy contemporary classical music in a carpark, or Baroque music in a semi-ruined church (The Asylum in Peckham). I’ve hosted and performed in several concerts at Brunswick House, part of the London Architectural Salvage & Supply Co, where you can buy the chair on which you are sitting, or even the piano, as everything in the building is for sale. 

Performers, promoters and concert organisers are constantly trying to find new ways to rebrand the notion that most classical music was written by “dead white males” to sex it up for new audiences and the younger generation. Trouble is, the younger generation can spot an older person trying to get on down with the kids a mile off, or recognise when they are being patronised – and to be honest, classical music doesn’t really need sexing up: it’s quite sexy – and exciting and varied and heart-stoppingly wonderful – enough as it is.

(Picture source: Kef store)
Is the idea of a “themed party” where one enjoys classical music really such a preposterous one? Once upon a time there were record clubs where people met to listen to LPs and enjoy and discuss the music/performers they heard. If not André Rieu, what about a Philip Glass themed party, or a Mozart party (with the option to wear powdered wigs and brocade waistcoats), or a Messiaen party where we all wear shades of mauve and orange with flashes of sky blue? Joking apart, such events could be another way to engage new audiences by allowing people to sample classical music in an informal setting (someone’s home or a small intimate venue), where there is no etiquette (beyond good manners), no need to worry about clapping at the wrong time, or not knowing enough about the Second Viennese School….. (In fact, this notion is not so far removed from something I was involved in until recently – the London Piano Meetup Group, an informal group of pianists and piano fans who met in various venues to perform, share repertoire and generally rave about what we love about the piano and it’s literature.) You see, I believe that if people are allowed to explore classical music on their own terms in a friendly and unpretentious environment, they might just consider buying a ticket to a concert at the Southbank or Wigmore Hall. In some ways, it’s just about giving them to confidence to make that leap from living room to Leipzig Gewandhaus…..

Returning to Mr Rieu, here is an intelligent and entertaining article on what mainstream classical musicians and orchestras might learn from André. After all, he must be doing something right, given his full houses and million-dollar CD sales….. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

More on engaging audiences for classical music here

Five Ways to Attract New Arts Audiences

What’s wrong with the classical concert experience in the 21st century?

Classical music isn’t a secret society unless we allow it to be

Meet the Artist……Gavin Higgins, composer

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

I grew up surrounded by a family of musicians. Everyone played in the local brass band and my grandparents were really my first teachers. When I was 15 I received a scholarship to study at Chethams School of Music in Manchester and whilst there a friend and I sneaked out of school one day to see a production of the Rite of Spring. It was the first time I’d experienced orchestral music and dance performed live together and I found the whole experience hugely overwhelming. As soon as I left the theatre I knew I wanted to write music.

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

Early on in my career it was brass bands that provided me with a way into music. I grew up playing the tenor horn and moved onto French horn when I started at Chethams. It was here that I experienced orchestral music for the first time. The music of Stravinsky, Turnage, Prokofiev, John Adams really struck a chord with me. Even now I find those early influences really underpin what I want to do as a composer. My music is often very fast, driven and rhythmic. It’s immediate, and for me that’s important.

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

I’m about to start working on an opera. I think this will be my most challenging project, but I can’t wait to get started on it.

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

For me the aim of the process is to hear my music performed. I’ve never been good at writing music without a performance in mind. The process is hard, long and at times frustrating but to finally hear the music performed is what drives me. Of course when you are working to a specific commission or brief you can’t necessarily write whatever you want, but the restraints that come with a commission are good for me; it gives me structure and a guide.

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

I love collaborating with other artists. As a composer you spend a great deal of time alone and this can sometimes be counter productive. So the opportunity to actually create music with other musicians, artists or choreographers is something I thrive on. I really work my best when I’m working with others, so when I’ve collaborated with choreographers or librettists I feel I’ve written some of my strongest pieces. When you know the ensemble you are working with so well it can help drive the creative practice. I have a great relationship with Tredegar Town Band, for whom I have written two large works now. Since I know the players and conductor so well we can just get straight the heart of the music. It’s wonderful.

Your new work receives its world premiere on 23 October 2015. Tell us more about how this work developed and the particular pleasures and challenges of creating it and working with LMM’s Bridge Project children and the LPO 

I’ve been fascinated by dance suites for some time now and I’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to explore this kind of music. When I was approached by LMM to write this new work I thought this would be the perfect vehicle for it. So the piece very much follows the structure of a baroque dance suite. There are four movements: Allamande, Courante, Sarabande and finally a very lively Gigue.

It’s been one of my most challenging commissions to date, not least because of the involvement of the LMM students. Writing music for a combination of professional and student musicians is a difficult thing to get your head around. I had to write the LMM student parts out before I’d written any of the orchestral music so I had to know how the rest of the music would fit around these lines a long time before I’d had chance to really get stuck into the material.

It’s been hard to write but I hope it’s fun to play!

Which works are you most proud of?  

That’s a tough one because I am very self-conscious about the music I write. In most of my works there are moments that bother me, either because listening now I find it naïve or I feel I could do it better if I was able to write the piece again. But I suppose the two pieces I’m most proud of are Dark Arteries, a ballet I’ve just completed about the miners’ strike, and Velocity, which was commissioned to open the Last Night of the Proms in 2014. It was such an honour to be asked to write that piece, the whole experience was just incredible.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A few years ago I heard the Berlin Philharmonic play Brahms 2 in Oxford at 10:30 in the morning. I have never heard such an incredible sound in my life. Every single player, from the front desk to back, played like they were leading the orchestra and the performance was thrilling. I heard them play the whole of the Firebird score last year at the Proms and I was in tears at the end. They’re such an incredible group of musicians.

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

A career in music is tough and is full of challenges and frustrations and so you have to work hard and practice your craft every day. Go to lots of concerts and listen to lots of different kinds of music. Take what you do seriously and be self critical, but don’t be self critical it impedes on you improving, know when to give yourself credit!

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

Happy, comfortable, maybe taking a walk in the Blue Mountains.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having a lovely time on my roof with my London family…. Also eating sushi….

What is your most treasured possession? 

My pictures of my friends and family.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Time in London. I love this town and it breaks my heart to see what’s happening to it at the moment. I just hope that we can get it back on track, it’s the most amazing city in the world and we shouldn’t allow greedy, corporate villains to take it from us. It is the centre of cultural universe and we must fight to keep it that way.

What is your present state of mind? 

Slightly tense! I’m trying to finish Tänze for the performance at the South Bank Centre in October!

Gavin Higgins’ Tänze will be premiered at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and children from London Music Masters’ Bridge Project at 6pm on Friday 23rd October 2015. Further information here

Described as ‘boldly imaginative’ and ‘extraordinary’, Gavin Higgins has been consistently praised by critics for his distinct and visceral compositional style.

The early stages of his career saw Higgins receive substantial commissions for some of the country’s leading orchestras, including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Manchester Camerata, Northern Sinfonia and the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Great Britain. He has worked with soloists and ensembles such as Mark Simpson, the Flotilla Saxophone Quartet, the Tredegar Town Band, Rambert Orchestra, London Sinfonietta and the Fidelio Trio.

The Gloucester born composer comes from a long lineage of brass band musicians, dating back to 1895. Growing up in the Forest of Dean, he followed an initial musical training in the family brass band, with studies of french horn and composition at Chethams School of Music, the Royal Northern College of Music and the Royal College of Music with Gary Carpenter and Ken Hesketh.

Higgins has continued this heritage with high profile commissions and performances of vigorous, daring brass band pieces including Freaks (2007), Tango (2008) – both recorded by Black Dyke Band’s principal trombone, Brett Baker; Fanfares and Loves Songs (2009) for the National Children’s Band of Great Britain and, Destroy, Trample, As Swiftly As She, commissioned for the 2011 European Brass Band Championships in Montreux, Switzerland.

In 2010 he was appointed Rambert Dance Company’s Inaugural Music Fellow. This appointment has led to the ‘blasting, warping score’ (The Guardian) of, What Wild Ecstasy, and more recently the innovative and ambitious Dark Arteries. This music of ‘such ingenuity, flair and skill’ was premiered at Sadler’s wells by the Tredegar Town Band.
What Wild Ecstasy was nominated for a British Composer Award in the stage works category 2012. This follows on from nominations for, A Forest Symphony (2009) and, Diversions After Benjamin Britten (2013).

A Growing collection of ensemble and orchestral works have been featured at major festivals, such as the saxophone quartet, ENDGAME, commissioned as part of the 2011 Cheltenham Festival; and his ‘boldly imaginative response to last summer’s riots’ (The Times), Der Aufstand, which was commissioned as part of the 2012 BBC Proms.

Recent successes includes performances of music theatre piece, Uncle Dima, by the London Sinfonietta; the premiere of his ‘striking’ (The Guardian) piano trio, The Ruins of Detroit – commissioned by the Britten Pears Foundation and performed by the Fidelio Trio at the Cheltenham Festival; and the premiere of the ‘fast, exciting and brilliantly scored’ (The Telegraph), Velocity – commissioned by the BBC to open the Last Night of the 2014 Proms.




G is for…….

Philip Glass

As a string player who can make a claim to only the most rudimentary pianistic ability (accompanying On the Dodgems in a pupil’s ABRSM preparatory test really did make me go cross-eyed), I embarked on this Pianist’s Alphabet entry on Philip Glass with the fitting trepidation of the interloper.

Why do I want to write about Philip Glass’s piano music? The answer is envy. There are many marvellous tricks that we string players can execute – vibrato, portamento, flying staccato – but one thing that is harder for us is the motoric or raindrop ostinato which is so integral to Philip Glass’s music. We can try, in pieces like Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, but various physical impediments stand in the way of pellucid purity, the bow being the major one; therefore, in Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, we are far better suited to the long notes, which can be made expressive with different bow pressure, or judicious vibrato No doubt there are also many difficulties inherent in Glass’s piano music, which require the same attention to the voicing and spinning out of its long harmonic lines as a piece of Bach, but the results are marvellous: mesmeric, crystalline, resonant, and eloquent, despite the ‘limitations’ Glass places on his musical palette.

Like many people – I assume – I first became properly acquainted with Glass’s music through film scores (specifically The Hours and Notes on a Scandal) and when I came to know more of his music, I began to wonder how it was that his minimalism possessed such rhetorical power. I also wondered why so many people, hearing similar styles of music, by composers less aesthetically adept than Glass would tut ‘Sounds like Philip Glass’ with a dismissive, mirthless laugh.

In Tristian Evans’s Music, Multimedia, and Postminimalism (Ashgate: 2015), the author’s more positive and open-minded analyses explore why Glass’s music possesses such infinite adaptability, moving between the spheres of absolute music and ‘film music’ with ease – an ease which, as Edward Strickland writes in New Grove, has led to Glass becoming ‘one of the most commercially successful, and critically reviled, composers of his generation.’ You can read an example of such criticism by Justin Davidson, in the New York magazine. However, the ways that Davidson, amongst others, censures Glass, are precisely the reasons why I like his piano music: Glass is famous for his musical intertextuality (mainly quotations of his own ideas) and references to other music. In his Etude No. 2, there’s a clear referential link to the first Prelude of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, and it is pursuing the twisted paths of motivic reference – through the repetition that Davidson finds so distasteful – that I love.

Finally, performance. As an encore to Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E-flat at the 2015 Proms, the Labèque sisters played the fourth of Glass’s Four Movements for Two Pianos. Witnessing the intricacy of their interaction, the delicacy required to balance the musical texture, and extract its essential melodic trajectory, was a masterclass in communicative, rhapsodic piano playing.

Corrina Connor

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture


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