Tag Archives: amateur pianists

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.

My Night with Fran (and a Bechstein)

Review of Frances Wilson & Friends, South London Concert Series at Brunswick House, 22nd January 2015

by Lucy Butler Gillick

Brunswick House
Brunswick House

The last time I visited LASSCO Brunswick House, my husband and I were looking at furniture for our house in Clapham. Back then it was the place to go for interesting bits and pieces at prices that wouldn’t break the bank. It still is. But in those days the area was very far from a prime location. In the 10 or more years since, I have occasionally looked across from a car or bus as I pass through Vauxhall Cross and noticed the isolated Georgian house, standing in defiantly Dickensian splendour, on an island surrounded by sleek riverside architecture and brutally thundering roads.

Without the encouragement of my dear friend Fran [Frances] Wilson – the energetic co-founder and Artistic Director of the South London Concert Series – I would probably never have bothered to park the car or get off the bus or tube to explore any further. But her invitation to come along to an evening of intimate piano music was far too appealing to refuse. And the venue is practically on my doorstep…

Now, apart from the occasional school event, endured for the sake of my children, or dinner at Fran’s where the piano would inevitably form part of the programme (and a welcome one at that), I have never really experienced such a concert. So it was as a complete outsider to this exclusive piano playing world that I arrived last Thursday evening and finally re-entered the pillared portals of LASSCO Brunswick House. To be frank, I was slightly fearful that my bottom would end the evening sore from a long and laborious sit, after having my eardrums assailed by music that could potentially mean nothing to me at all.

ChandelierBut what an appealing setting and pleasurable event it turned out to be. Downstairs is a cosy bar and lively restaurant, lit and furnished with scene-setting antiques that are – so far as I could tell from the tags – all for sale. For your starter you could order Mussels, Kale & Parsnip plus a Venetian chandelier; with perhaps Roast Lamb Leg and a sideboard to follow. Not bad going for the time-poor, multi-tasking city worker, en route home.

DSC_4092But it was upstairs that the salon vibe really took hold. The private concert room, the opulent Saloon with its belle epoque Bechstein grand piano, heavily swagged stained glass windows, old-fashioned school room-style chairs set in neat rows, lamps, lanterns, chandeliers and ephemera, was a genuinely atmospheric space. The very height of old-world decorous gentility, slap bang in the middle of one of London’s busiest junctions (better known for its gay clubs and pubs). Who’d have thought? It even smelt old-fashioned – a sort of pleasantly musty, sandalwood tang.

Once the concert kicked off, after a short introduction from Fran – dressed to the nines in a floor-length slinky red and mauve gown – the evening progressed apace. The concert included the ‘world premiere’ of a new piece by composer and guitarist Matthew Sear, as well as preludes, fugues, sonatas and impromptus from the likes of Debussy, Shostakovich, Menotti, Rachmaninoff, Scarlatti, Schubert and Satie – all favourite pieces of the artists performing that night. There was even a piece by the incongruously named Bryan Kelly (who sounds more like an Irish builder than an Australian composer to me), and a somewhat ‘difficult’ discordant work by Olivier Messiaen – apparently taken from ‘one of the greatest works for piano of the 20th century’ (the Vingt regards sur l’enfant Jésus) expertly played by Fran, who I think fancied challenging her audience into hearing something unusual at the end of the night.

The South London Concert series typically combines performances by talented amateur musicians with a special “guest spot” featuring professional and semi-professional players. On the evening I attended we enjoyed performances by José Luis Gutiérrez Sacristán, Petra Chong, Lorraine Womack-Banning, Rob Foster and of course our genial hostess Frances Wilson herself. They all looked and sounded amazing to my untutored ears and I would heartily recommend the South London Concert Series to anyone who fancies a very reasonably-priced introduction to the world of glorious piano music in an intimate setting, followed by an opportunity to meet and talk to musicians who are as passionate about their piano music as you probably are about your food, wine and chandeliers. What’s not to love about such civilisation? The only jarring note was re-entering the real world and wintry fug of Vauxhall Cross when it was finally time to head home…


Lucy Butler Gillick is ex-chief sub editor of The Sunday Telegraph Magazine and Harpers & Queen. She has written for many magazines and supplements over the years, on a variety of topics, but mostly on issues related to parenting. She now works in education. 


The South London Concert Series returns to LASSCO Brunswick House on 21st May for a concert by Australian counter-tenor Glenn Kesby. Full details here


Piano Day!

On Sunday 29th June a group of pianists and piano fans gathered in the beautiful tiny church of St Mary’s Perivale for a whole day of piano goodness. Hosted by myself and my friend Lorraine Liyanage (with whom I run the London Piano Meetup Group and South London Concert Series), the aim of the event – and this is true of all LPMG events – was to provide a friendly and supportive environment for pianists to meet to share repertoire, perform and receive tuition from two visiting tutors, Dr Mark Polishook and Graham Fitch.

The small size of the church and the fact that most attendees already knew one another and the tutors, made for a very enjoyable and convivial day, with much conversation and laughter interspersed with some very fine music. (Plus homemade cakes!)

The day began with warm up exercises in the sunny church yard. These exercises, devised by my teacher Penelope Roskell, are drawn from yoga exercises and provide a very comprehensive, yet simple warm up away from the piano. It is not obligatory to do them outside, but it is very nice to do so, in the warm summer sunshine! Then we were back in the church for the first masterclass of the day – improvisation for the classical pianist, led by the enthusiastic and ever-inventive Mark Polishook.

Improvisatory fun and games with Dr Mark Polishook
Improvisatory fun and games with Dr Mark Polishook

Mark’s approach is to take one on a journey of discovery, setting tiny seeds from which more involved improvisation can grow. Sometimes he begins with a piece which the participant is working on, but at Sunday’s class, he simply asked each participant to play a series of notes, very very slowly. His emphasis is on listening and appreciating not only the sound and quality of the notes, but also the spaces in between them. He gives the classical pianist, who may have come from a background of narrow and/or rigorous training, the freedom to let go of many ingrained preconceptions, to be “thankful” for wrong notes (these can be the impetus for further improvisation or musical explorations) and to engage the right hand side of the brain, banishing the more rational voice which might say “you can’t do that!”.

Graham Fitch

Graham Fitch is a highly skilled and most encouraging teacher who has an innate knack of identifying what the student needs there and then, and can offer straightforward and practical solutions to even the most seemingly intractable pianistic problems – from creating intelligent fingering schemes to suggestions for creating vibrancy in Mozart’s semiquavers. His advice is relevant to all, whatever level and whatever repertoire, and everyone who has participated in and observed his classes can go away feeling they have the necessary equipment and, more importantly, confidence, to practise independently and creatively. (This approach is also reflected in Graham’s excellent blog – Practising the Piano.)

The day concluded with an informal concert by masterclass participants performing a range of repertoire by Chopin, Debussy, Poulenc, Liszt, Scarlatti, Pärt and Prokofiev, and a overriding sense of achievement and pleasure.

The London Piano Meetup Group hosts regular performance events and masterclasses with visiting tutors in and around central London. Please visit the LPMG website for further information about upcoming events.

Graham Fitch will give a concert with talk on Sunday 14th September 2014 at Craxton Studios, Hampstead, north London. The concert will be followed by afternoon tea. Full details and tickets here

More photos from Piano Day:


Masterchef: redefining “amateur”

The UK Masterchef competition for amateur cooks has reached its series finale, won by Ping Coombes, a 32-year-old full-time mother who wowed the judges and tv viewers with her original, flavoursome and exciting dishes inspired by her homeland, Malaysia.

2014 Masterchef winner Ping Coombes kisses the trophy

Throughout the competition, contestants’ dishes were critiqued and judged by “external moderators” in the form of previous Masterchef winners, “celebrity” chefs, including Tom Kerridge and Marcus Wareing, and food critics Jay Rayner and William Sitwell, amongst others, many of whom expressed surprise that a bunch of “amateurs” could produce such classy, technically complicated, restaurant-standard food. When it was Marcus Wareing’s turn to judge the semi-finalists, in a nail-biting round for he is famously acerbic and downright scary, he said of one dish “that is remarkably good – for an amateur” or words to that effect. And after that, every time I heard the word “amateur” on the programme, a little bit of me died.

I have blogged before about the definition of “amateur”. The word suffers, in the English language at least, from its association with the hobbyist, the “Sunday painter” or dilettante, and suggests cack-handedness and lack of finesse or refinement. Things which are described as “amateurish” are usually badly done or poorly put together. Not so these finalists in Masterchef: their dishes showed imagination, creativity, highly-developed technical skills and, above all, love for what they were doing. Ping’s sheer enjoyment and delight in producing delicious food for family and friends was evident from the moment she first entered the competition and remained the abiding theme of everything she did, endearing her to judges and viewers alike.

The debate about amateur versus professional is one that continues to run (and will go on running) in the sphere of music and the arts (and beyond), and particularly within the narrow sphere of classical music. I co-host a piano group for adult “amateur” pianists in which the standard of playing is quite varied, but it must be said that the majority of members plays to an extremely high standard. A number have attended specialist music schools or conservatoire but chose a different career path, not having the requisite temperament to hack it as a professional musician (and perhaps preferring a more reliable salary!). Many of us enjoy performing, and we practise and finesse and perform our pieces with a professional mindset.

In a recent post for his own blog, pianist Stephen Hough gave a perfect definition of “amateur”, citing the Latin origin of the word – the verb amare = to love:

An amateur is not someone who is less good than a professional but rather someone for whom love overcomes obstacles…. (Stephen Hough, 7 May 2014)

This sensible and, to my mind, very accurate description struck an immediate chord with myself and many pianist friends who struggle with the word “amateur”. Those of us who play at a semi-professional level, intermediate players, beginners, returners, “Sunday pianists” all share this profound love for the piano. Eavesdrop on any conversation between members of my piano group and this passion is more than evident as we discuss the myriad aspects of our craft: practising, repertoire, exams, concerts, performance anxiety, favourite professional performers, memorable performances and recordings. The only difference between many of us and the pros is, as a professional pianist friend said to me recently, “the pay cheque”.

The author performing in the South London Concert Series at the 1901 Arts Club
The author performing in the South London Concert Series at the 1901 Arts Club

I take issue with those rather ungenerous people in the music world, and beyond, who suggest that people like me and the other members of my piano group should not be performing in public, nor posting our performances on YouTube or Soundcloud (in the same way as I take issue with “professional journalists” who seek to undermine the value of blogs such as this and many others). It suggests a certain envy or resentment – for we are not trying to touch the professionals, but we might just conceivably touch the audience with our fidelity and commitment to the piano and its music. Sometimes the most hesitant performance can move because the audience knows the amount of hard work, and anxiety, that has gone into preparing for that performance. Playing for one another at piano circles, piano groups and at people’s homes offers a supportive environment to put repertoire before a friendly audience, and many amateur pianists use opportunities like these to prepare for exams, festivals, diplomas and concerts. Many amateurs practise seriously, sometimes for several hours every day, and cite the therapeutic benefits of playing the piano, the chance to escape and lose oneself in the music, after a busy day at the office. Those who perform more regularly understand the necessity to conquer performance anxiety and hone their stagecraft in addition to pulling off a polished and convincing performance.

Alan Rusbridger’s book Play it Again (2013), in which the editor of the Guardian charts his learning of Chopin’s G minor Ballade, a famously difficult work even for the most seasoned pro, offers some interesting glimpses into the world of the amateur pianist. There are piano circles, performance platforms, concerts in people’s homes, informal get-togethers, courses and more which bring amateur pianists of all levels together to play, share repertoire and socialise. Meanwhile, popular summer schools at home and abroad offer amateur pianists the opportunity to study with, and gain inspiration from international concert artists and renowned teachers from some of the top conservatoires around the world. The most famous summer school at Chethams, known affectionately as “Chets”, boasts a large and impressive faculty, including “greats” such as Peter Donohoe, Leslie Howard, Noriko Ogawa, and Boris Berman, and is held over two weeks in August. Summer schools like this offer not only specialist tuition, both one-to-one and in a masterclass format, but also performance opportunities, faculty concerts, recordings, chamber ensembles and choirs, and plenty of “piano chat” between students. Firm friendships are made on courses and piano weekends such as these as like-minded people come together to share and express their love of the piano and music-making.

And so back to Masterchef, and Ping and her fellow finalists. Just as my friends in my piano group show a deep passion for the piano and everything connected with it, so these three “amateur” cooks display a deep and consuming love for food, for creating and preparing it and sharing it with others. If Ping and the other finalists Jack and Luke go on to pursue a “professional” career in the food business, I hope they won’t ever lose that love. And just as food is created for sharing, so is music.

Practising for Lovers – Stephen Hough’s blog

London Piano Meetup Group

South London Concert Series


An evening concert at Brunswick House

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

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

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

Rosalind, audience member

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

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

James Lisney, international concert pianist

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

View more photographs from the Brunswick House concert

A selection of videos from the concert:


South London Concert Series Spring recital

“The South London Concert Series is innovative……..events blend an appreciation of fine music with conviviality”

The third concert in the South London Concert Series featured guest artist Anne Shingler, a vibrant and sensitive pianist whose programme reflected her wide-ranging musical tastes with music by Bach, Suk, Messiaen, Stevenson and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Anne was supported by performances by Jose Luis Gutierrez Sacristan, Edi Bilimoria and Lorraine Womack Banning, all members of the London Piano Meetup Group who play to an extremely high standard and who offered works by Ginastera, Brahms and Debussy. The programme was a musical travelogue, taking the audience from Argentina (Ginastera) to the Far East (Debussy’s evocative ‘Pagodes’) via Europe and America.

With a loyal band of “regulars”, who have been to every concert in the series so far, members of the London Piano Meetup Group, friends, family, supporters and music lovers, the atmosphere in the salon at the 1901 Arts Club was warm and convivial, while the after party was cheerful and noisy. All in all, this was very much an evening of music for friends, played by friends and amongst friends, confirming once again that the South London Concert Series offers a formula that works. The enthusiastic feedback from performers and audience more than endorsed this, and we are eagerly looking forward to the next concerts in the series, and to developing the SLCS concept further.

Forthcoming SLCS concerts:

3rd April – Emmanuel Vass at Brunswick House

BBC Music Magazine’s March “rising star” performs music by Bach, Liszt, Granados and Turina, together with his own transcriptions. Emmanuel is supported by Jose Luis Gutierrez Sacristan, Rob Foster and Lorraine Womack Banning, who will perform works by Bach, Chopin and Mozart. Ticket price includes a glass of Prosecco on arrival, and guests are invited to join the performers and hosts for dinner afterwards (not included in ticket price). Tickets here

16th May – ‘Eastern Accents’ at the 1901 Arts Club

Vatche Jambazian is the guest artist for an SLCS concert with a special accent on music from eastern Europe and Russia. Vatche will be supported by SLCS co-founders Lorraine Liyanage and Frances Wilson, LPMG member Jennie Barham and violinist Alex Ewan. Music by Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya (a student of Shostakovich), Khatchaturian, Szymanowski, Biber, and Rachmaninov. This is the final concert of the SLCS 2013/14 season. Tickets here

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South London Concert Series

London Piano Meetup Group

1901 Arts Club

Piano Techniques App from ‘Pianist’ magazine

All the enjoyable and engaging features of ‘Pianist’ magazine are included in this new piano techniques app: informative and easy to understand articles on technique and repertoire, how to play a particular work with guidance from a top teacher, free sheet music (18 pieces in fact, from beginner to advanced level), an interview with Lang Lang, contributions from expert teachers, and more, all presented in an interactive and accessible format.

The organisation of the content will be familiar to anyone who reads Pianist magazine regularly. Clear, well laid out articles are enhanced by video tutorials by renowned teachers and pianists, and soundclips, which enable the reader to listen to the pieces presented in the free sheet music section.

The app is easy to navigate, with clear swipe commands and helpful notes and asides which enhance the articles. In effect, the app offers the very best of ‘Pianist’ magazine in a user-friendly and portable format – read it at the piano or in bed – and is ideal for the beginner, intermediate or more advanced pianist.

Download the app from the iTunes app store

More than hobbyists: the world of amateur pianism

In a recital space somewhere in central London a group of people are seated in a rough semi-circle around a Fazioli 212 grand piano. Some lounge in their seats in a pretence of relaxation, others crane forward eagerly for a view of the keyboard, many clutch music scores. The young man seated at the piano composes himself for a moment, takes a deep breath, and then lifts his hands and launches into the iconic opening bars of Rachmaninov’s G minor Prelude. The music soars from the piano, filling the space. The small audience listens attentively, and at the end there is enthusiastic applause. Welcome to the world of amateur pianism.

This is an extract from a longer article I wrote for Bachtrack’s ‘Piano Month’. Read the full article here


The South London Concert Series launches at the 1901 Arts Club

“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.

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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.



The South London Concert Series

At the risk of sounding pre-emptive, it looks as if the South London Concert Series is going to be a roaring success before anyone has even set foot inside the venue and played a single note…… It’s just under a month to the launch of the concert series which I created with my friend and piano teaching colleague Lorraine Liyanage, and we have already sold all the tickets.


The series developed out of the London Piano Meetup Group, which Lorraine and I launched in May 2013, and its raison d’être is to offer support and inspiration to adult amateur and semi-professional pianists by giving them the opportunity to perform in a formal concert setting alongside professional artists. The 1901 Arts Club was chosen as the venue for the concerts: its intimate atmosphere and decor, redolent of a 19th-century salon, and fine Steinway C grand piano seems just about perfect for small-scale concerts. After the recital, guests will have exclusive use of the elegant upstairs bar and sitting room at the club.

As far as we know, our concept is unique and it has been enthusiastically received by professional and amateur musicians, and music lovers alike. We have performers booked through 2014 and we are already making plans for our 2014-15 season. If someone had asked me at the beginning of 2013 whether I imagined I would be launching a concert series, and taking on the role of impresario, I might have laughed, but Lorraine’s entrepreneurial and adventurous spirit, our shared love of all things piano and a wish to encourage amateur pianists and to support young and emerging professional artists, make our exciting plans seem entirely possible. It will certainly be very interesting to see how things develop over the coming year.

Tickets are now on sale for the first SLCS concert of 2014, on 24th January. Our guest artist is Emmanuel Vass, a prize-winning graduate of the RNCM and rising star. Emmanuel, or Manny, will play a programme of music by J S Bach and lesser-known Spanish composers, and a work inspired by the iconic music of the James Bond films. Four amateur pianists will perform in the same concert in a mixture of repertoire. Tickets are by application only: please contact me via this blog or at southlondonconcerts@gmail.com to apply for tickets.

Read more about the series and how it developed in an article I wrote for Jessica Duchen’s Classical Music Blog.

Concerts in 2014
24 January 2014: Emmanuel Vass
21 March 2014: Anne Shingler
16 May 2014: Vatche Jambazian
July 2014: Adwoa Dickson (singer)
September 2014: Daniel Roberts
November 2014: Angelo Villani

Twitter: @SLConcerts