“a wonderful range of repertoire in this most intimate of venues”
“proactive and inspiring”
“Enjoyable time travel at the 1901 Arts Club: The venue was perfect. It transported us back a century or so to the salons of the late 19th century. Even the subdued lighting contributed to the effect. Then the performers gave us a fascinating, varied programme of piano music which again whizzed us from the 18th century back to the present day. The playing was of an excellent standard, and the pre- and post-concert atmosphere warm and convivial. Highly recommended.”
On a windy Friday evening at the end of November, a group of pianists, piano fans and music lovers gathered in the gold and scarlet salon of the 1901 Arts Club, an intimate and stylish venue close to London’s Waterloo Station, for the launch of a unique new concert series.
Conceived by pianist, harpsichordist and piano teacher Lorraine Liyanage, and hosted and curated by Lorraine and myself, the South London Concert Series (SLCS) developed out of the London Piano Meetup Group, which we co-host. We are both passionate advocates of amateur pianism, and we wanted to give adult amateur pianists the opportunity to perform in a formal concert setting on a really beautiful piano (a Steinway C). But that is only half the story: we also wanted to give young and emerging professional artists exposure and support as they embark on a performing career. So we wondered what it would be like to place professionals and amateurs in the same concert format. Our first guest recitalist was Helen Burford, a Brighton-based pianist with a keen interest in contemporary British and American repertoire and an unerring ability to create exciting programmes with unusual musical juxtapositions.
Any anxieties about this new concert concept were soon dispelled when the first performer, Mark Zarb-Adami, stepped up to play two stormy and passionate Preludes by Karol Szymanowski. This was followed by the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K576, played with conviction and some sensitive articulation and shading by Emma Heseltine. Then it was the turn of Helen, our guest artist, whose programme lasting approximately 35 minutes combined the sensuality of Chick Corea’s Three Piano Improvisations with the powerfully haunting Incarnation II by Japanese composer Somei Satoh, an elegantly romantic reading of a Sonata by Scarlatti, the industrial sounds of Martin Butler’s Rumba Machine, and ended with the exuberance of David Rakowski’s Etude: A Gliss is Just a Gliss. In a nice gesture, Emmanuel Vass, guest performer at the second SLCS concert in January 2014, presented Helen with a bouquet, before Susan Pickerill played works by J C F Bach and Stephen Heller. The final performance was by Daniel Roberts, a young professional pianist who will also feature in as a guest recitalist in a later concert in the series. He played a work by his teacher, the maverick pianist and teacher Peter Feuchtwanger. Subtitled “study no. 4 in an Eastern idiom”, Tariqa 1 recalls the harmonies and timbres of Middle Eastern instruments, in particular the santur, an Iranian dulcimer.
Throughout the concert, the audience listened attentively and applause was given enthusiastically for every performer. The immediate reaction from audience members after the concert was praise for the venue, its decor and its unique ambiance – like enjoying music in your own home – and the unusual repertoire choices, which created an interesting and contrasting programme. This is, in fact, the other unique selling point of the SLCS: we actively encourage people to play lesser-known and/or rarely-played repertoire, which one is unlikely to encounter in mainstream concert venues.
The elegant upstairs bar and sitting room at the 1901 Arts Club was available for the exclusive use of performers, audience and hosts, and we enjoyed a very cheerful and noisy post-concert reception, enlivened by Prosecco, the positive feedback from audience and performers, and the feeling that we have created something rather special. A short concert (60 mins) of varied and unusual repertoire in an accessible format combined with the opportunity to meet the performers and socialise with other music lovers seems just about perfect, but perhaps the best part was the poise and conviction with which the “amateur” pianists played, their performances fitting in perfectly with Helen’s recital in the middle of the concert. It was an extremely enjoyable, stimulating and successful launch to what we hope will be a long-running series of concerts.
The first SLCS concert of 2014 with Emmanuel Vass is already sold out. Further concerts take place in March, May, July and September. Full details of upcoming events are on the SLCS website. Visit our dedicated Facebook page for more content, including photographs and soundclips, and follow us on Twitter – @SLConcerts.
Lorraine and I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the launch of the SLCS, from performers and audience to our media partners, friends, family and many other supporters.