Tag Archives: British pianist

Meet the Artist……Joseph Houston, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up [your chosen instrument], and make it your career?

I started learning the piano when I was five after hearing my older brother play (he started learning a couple of years before me). I remember just being very excited at the prospect of having lessons as I always loved the sound of the instrument and, having heard my brother play a little, I just couldn’t wait to make those sounds myself. Deciding to make the piano my career came rather late for me, though: I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, and the first time I ever saw a professional pianist play wasn’t until I was about 14! So I suppose I didn’t even realise it was a possible career until then. I think the real turning point was when I started having lessons with my second teacher Ian Jones. He used to lend me CDs every week and I’d listen to them obsessively. I grew up in the countryside and there weren’t many opportunities to hear live classical music, so my early knowledge of pianists came mainly from these recordings (Michelangeli’s Gaspard; Lazar Berman playing Rach 3; and Perahia playing Bach English Suites; and Aimard playing Ligeti Etudes to name a few). I think listening to these recordings was what made me decide to be a pianist.

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

As I mentioned above I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical environment, but ever since I started studying at the University of York, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some amazing musicians and people, and it’s very hard to single one thing, or person, out. I learnt with a local piano teacher until I was sixteen, and, while she did cover the basics, I had all sorts of problems by the time I met my second piano teacher, Ian Jones (now teaching at the RCM). I owe a lot to him: he helped me through a really difficult period in my development. I was really quite behind as a pianist for my age, but he was a real inspiration and very supportive, and helped me catch up quickly. But I think the single most important thing that has inspired my musical life has always been the people that I have studied with, worked with, and met throughout my life (and not just musicians!). Anyone who thinks that western art music is on the decline should go to any university music department, festival, concert venue, or music college and they’ll see that there is just so much musical activity happening in every single direction, and involving such intelligent, creative, and interesting people. I find that extremely inspiring.

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

Probably settling into music college once I got there! I had a real crisis once I arrived. It’s such an intense, competitive, and intimidating atmosphere, that I really struggled at first. It took me a long time to realise that you just have to focus on your own activities and ideas and that there’s not one right way of doing anything (even if your teachers say otherwise!). It’s so easy to get distracted by what other people are doing at a music college. Once I got used to all of that I had a great time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’ve been pretty lucky in the last 5 years, having done so many interesting and challenging projects. One of my favourite performances has to be doing Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar, which was in 2011. It’s such an ecstatically joyous piece and so much fun to play that it’s a hard experience to beat! I’d love the chance to do it again someday……

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ve always been fairly proud of my Debussy Images (particularly book II). And Brahms’ 1st Concerto. Turangalîla is up there too.

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

I never have total control over this, which I think is healthy. It’s great when you have to learn a piece you don’t know for a specific project and it ends up being a real discovery for you, and something you might not otherwise have come across. Obviously this does sometimes go the other way! The rest of the time I just try to programme the things I’m particularly interested in at that time. I also like to keep learning new repertoire each season. This makes things a little harder, but it’s so satisfying and you learn so much with every new piece you play that I try to include a new one per programme.

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

Wigmore Hall is a lovely place to play – beautiful acoustics and a wonderful instrument. I also love going back to where I studied for my undergraduate degree (University of York) – the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall there has such an intimate atmosphere. It is a little over-resonant, but for certain repertoire I haven’t yet found anywhere better. But every venue has its own pros and cons really, and you’d have to be unlucky not to find at least one piece in the programme that the venue really suits.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love Bartók at the moment. Any of the piano pieces or string quartets. Morton Feldman has been a recent obsession. I haven’t played anything big yet (but learning For John Cage very soon), so will have to get back to you on the joys of performing Feldman! Debussy has always been a favourite of mine to play. Recently, I’ve played a bit of Ives which was great to perform — really brash, eccentric, and full of life. Will certainly be doing more in the future. And I always love to hear or play anything by Cage.

Who are your favourite musicians?

It’s always the composers that interest me. John Cage is a real hero of mine – amazing ideas, amazing music, and such a positive influence on the 20th Century! Ives was a fascinating character – full of contradictions and astonishing to think that he was writing such experimental music so early in the 20th Century. Pianists I love are Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Cortot, Myra Hess and Maria Joao Pires.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Very hard to single one out. Probably seeing Anton Kuerti give a lecture-recital on Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations several years ago at the Chethams Summer School. He knew the piece so intimately and played so wonderfully that all the usual performer/audience boundaries seemed to break down: it just felt like we were inside the music. I actually found it hard to move from my seat afterwards.

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

Do the things you believe in; don’t be distracted by others; constantly re-assess everything; and don’t give up!

What are you working on at the moment?

Chopin’s Barcarolle; five Scarlatti Sonatas; Luigi Nono’s Sofferte onde Serene for piano and tape; Mists by Xenakis; Sposalizio by Liszt; and Mantra by Stockhausen.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Walking and wild camping in the Scottish Highlands.

Joseph Houston performs at the Ryedale Festival on Friday 25th July. Further details and tickets here

Described by the Financial Times as a musician of ‘versatility and poise’, Joseph Houston is a London-based pianist specialising in Contemporary Music.  He studied at the University of York and the Royal College of Music where he received a first-class honours degree in Music and an Mmus in Advanced Performance with distinction. While at the RCM he won the Frank Merrick Prize, the 2nd Prize in the Beethoven Piano Competition, the Emanuel Piano Trophy (North London Music Festival), and a place on the London Sinfonietta Academy 2010.  His teachers have included Ian Jones, Ashley Wass, and Andrew Ball.   

In his first year at the RCM Joseph was selected to perform British composer Michael Zev Gordon’s The Impermanence of Things for solo piano, electronics, and ensemble with the RCM’s New Perspectives Ensemble.  Since then, he has performed at venues across the UK, including Steinway Hall, St Martin-in-the-Fields, Weston Auditorium (University of Herts.), the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall (University of York), Kings Place, Cafe Oto, the Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, the Royal Albert Hall’s Elgar Room and Wigmore Hall.  Soon after graduating from the RCM, Joseph was invited to perform a piano duet version of Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with his teacher, Ashley Wass, resulting in a performance at the RCM’s Brahms festival and conference in 2011.  He has also been in demand as a concerto soloist, performing such classic 19th and 20th century works as Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie with the University of York Symphony Orchestra and Cynthia Millar (ondes Martenot), conducted by John Stringer; Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 with the Henley Symphony Orchestra conducted by Ian Brown; John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra with the RCM’s Variable Geometries Ensemble; Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto with the De Havilland Philharmonic Orchestra; and the UK premiere of Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s Ryedale Concerto for solo piano and orchestra at the 2013 Ryedale Festival.  Also active as a chamber musician, Joseph is the principal pianist of the Octandre Ensemble, a collective dedicated to the promotion of young composers and rarely-performed Contemporary repertoire.

Full biography on Joseph’s website:

 www.josephhouston.co.uk

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Meet the Artist…….Siwan Rhys, pianist

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

One of my early piano teachers, Christopher Vale. He is one of those amazingly enthusiastic musicians and teachers who couldn’t fail to inspire anyone. His passion for music was contagious at a very crucial time in my life.

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

My conservatoire teachers: Richard Ormrod, Alexandre Léger, and Rolf Hind. And Nelly Ben-Or and Chris Cullen for an inspiring and timely introduction to both the Alexander Technique and to mindfulness. And I really appreciate the time I spent away studying in France.

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

The realisation that what I’ve decided to do with my life will be hard and likely not bring much certainty or security, but that somehow I have to do it regardless.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Messiaen Cantéyodjayâ, Bartók Out of Doors, Ives ‘Concord’ Sonata

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

I pick things that I like – that excite me – and that I want people to hear. And I play new works, which is exciting in itself as I don’t always know what I’m going to get.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Listen to: Bartók Piano Concerto no. 2. Watch: Globokar Corporel. Play: Reich Sextet.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Bartók, Ligeti, Kate Bush.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Feldman’s For Philip Guston (a four-and-a-half-hour-long trio) during which the venue’s heating stopped working (in February). Both musicians and (most) audience members powered through the cold to the end.

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

Keep at it – something is bound to happen.

What are you working on at the moment?

Ives ‘Concord’ Sonata and Stockhausen Kontakte.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Watching birds and doing a jigsaw.

 

Siwan Rhys is performing Charles Ives’ ‘Concord’ Sonata at Occupy the Pianos at St John’s Smith Square on 1st June – http://www.sjss.org.uk/filter-series/occupy-pianos and 4 world premieres in Sounds of the New on 10th June at The Forge, Camden – http://www.newdots.org.uk/events  

Siwan Rhys is a Welsh pianist based in London. She currently holds the position of Artist Fellow at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, specialising in contemporary piano music, and also teaches piano at City University, London. Recent concert engagements include performances of Stockhausen’s Kontakte and of Feldman’s four-hour work For Philip Guston

Meet the Artist……Angela Brownridge, pianist

 

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

I was inspired by my much older cousin Geoffrey who was at the Royal College of Music in London playing the piano when he and his parents came to us for Christmas. We had a good upright piano at home.

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

Ruth Railton of the National Youth orchestra and teachers Dorothy Hesse and Maria Curcio.

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

The greatest challenges have been getting to the top venues in the world.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

A performance in Carnegie Hall New York, after which I was signed up by a big agent.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Beethoven, most of the Romantic composers and Debussy.

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

It depends whether I’m preparing for a recording and include that repertoire, and playing works which didn’t feature in the previous season. Also learning something new.

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

The Wigmore Hall since I played there when I was twelve and it was the most exciting place in the world to me then. I love the warm intimate atmosphere.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Beethoven Op. 2 no. 3, the ‘Appassionata’, Debussy’s Estampes and the Chopin 4th. Ballade. I love listening to Martha Argerich playing Gaspard de la Nuit.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Schnabel, Lipatti, Julius Katchen, Vlado Perlemuter Rubenstein and Argerich.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

First time in the Royal festival Hall with Tchaikovsky 1 and the RPO.

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

To play through repertoire to people prior to a performance, and a concerto with someone accompanying on another piano, and to feel absolutely prepared for a performance. Also to learn how to look good, to walk and bow, and not to be put off if things don’t go well. Go back to the drawing board and try your best to put things right.

What are you working on at the moment?

The Chopin B flat minor Sonata & the 4th Ballade and the Schumann and Gershwin concertos.

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

In 10 years’ time I would like to have gained greater recognition and have become a name synonymous with the top pianists in the world.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Either being on a horse or on a beach in the Bahamas.

What is your most treasured possession?

My cats and my grand piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Practising, and parties after concerts that have gone really well.

What is your present state of mind?

Optimistic.

Angela Brownridge performs Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 57 as part of the third St Barnabas Beethoven Piano Sonatas Festival, 17-18 May 2014. Full details here

Angela’s playing restores spontaneity, character, and beauty of sound to the platform… Hailed as a major star in classical music Angela Brownridge has been compared with such pianists as the legendary Solomon, Rachmaninov, Cherkassy, and Bolet. She began her life in an atmosphere of freedom and individualism virtually impossible to find today. Under the guidance of Maria Curcio, who had been a pupil of Schnabel for many years, she absorbed the ability to produce every nuance of the piano, and to present music flexibly and persuasively instead of concentrating on a single method of technique or continual displays of brilliance, learning to deal with the differing requirements of a varied range of composers which recalls Cortot in his prime. Indeed, by realising that many pianists of a bygone age played with far more individuality, magic, and inspiration than has become the fashion, she was able to develop her own unique personality. In an age which has become over-fascinated with mere technique, and which seeks the degree of ‘perfection’ offered by over-edited CDs, Angela’s playing restores spontaneity, character, and beauty of sound to the platform.

A child prodigy, equally talented in composition, extemporisation, and technically brilliant, Angela first performed in public at the age of seven, and a year later had several pieces published. By the age of ten she had given her first concerto performance, and in her early teens was appearing regularly as a recitalist and concerto performer throughout Great Britain and abroad. She later won a piano scholarship to Edinburgh University, and after graduating B. Mus. was awarded a further scholarship for a two-year period of study in Rome with Guido Agosti. As the winner of several competitions she was able to continue her studies with Maria Curcio in London, where she now lives. Since then Angela has appeared in all the major London concert halls, and has visited Eastern and Western Europe, the USA, Canada, and the Far East, as well as performing extensively in the UK. She has been a soloist with many leading orchestras and conductors, and Festival engagements include Bath, Edinburgh, Warwick, Newport Rhode Island, Bratislava, Brno, Hong Kong, and Maastricht.

Her recorded repertoire is very varied, including some first ever collections of the complete piano music of Barber and Gershwin. Her recordings have received worldwide critical acclaim, several being voted “Critics’ Choice” by Hi-Fi News. She has also appeared on BBC TV in programmes which have involved her in discussion about the music she has performed. She often gives lecture recitals and master classes, and maintains her love of improvisation which has led her on occasions into the world of jazz. In 2004 Angela recorded the complete piano works of Kenneth Leighton who was her professor in harmony, counterpoint, and composition at Edinburgh University where she was on a piano scholarship. Leighton, who died in 1988 has been described as “the most important British composer of piano music of the twentieth century”. The three CD set is available on the Delphian label: DCD 34301. (Source: Mary Kaptein Management)

Meet the Artist……Tom Poster, pianist

Tom Poster (photo credit: Sussie Ahlburg)

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

I don’t think it was the piano specifically that attracted me as a child – I just always loved music and wanted to be involved in it in any way possible. I don’t come from a musical family, and my parents didn’t really know any classical music till I came along (I was brought up on Motown, Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell, Queen…), but they’re both creative people and incredibly supportive, and recognised that I had an absolute fascination for music of all sorts from a very young age. The first ‘classical’ record I remember my parents buying for me was of David Munrow playing Mediaeval and Renaissance wind instruments, which I became quite obsessed with. As a child, I took up the recorder, piano, cello and oboe, but what I really wanted to be more than anything else was a composer. I’m not quite sure how I ended up being a pianist – I don’t remember a conscious moment of decision, and always feel the instrument chose me rather than the other way round. As for making music my career, I just never considered doing anything else, though for a long time I hadn’t the faintest idea how a career actually worked.

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

My first piano teacher, Hilary Morrison, was a schoolteacher who lived round the corner – she’d never taught the piano before, but it’s only with hindsight that I realise what a brilliant start she gave me. I wish she was still alive so I could thank her properly. I was incredibly fortunate to study from the age of nine onwards with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who taught me pretty much everything I know about playing the piano, pushed me to achieve things I thought I couldn’t, and inspired me to work much harder than I ever would have done otherwise. I owe her so much, and my life would have been very different without her. Many of the principles of chamber music playing which I hold dear were instilled in me by the wise guidance of Michael Freyhan at Pro Corda when I was in my teens. He showed me how to really listen – to myself and to others. There are so many other wonderful people who have had a huge influence on me, from primary school music teachers to chamber music colleagues; I can’t list them all for fear of leaving someone out, but I hope they know who they are!

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

In the earlier stages of my career I had to fight hard to avoid being pigeon-holed: I played a lot of chamber music from a young age, because I’ve always loved it, and discovered at a certain point that once people see you in that box, they often assume you’re not really a ‘solo’ pianist, despite the fact that I’ve always had a busy schedule of concertos and solo recitals. Such assumptions strike me as very odd, because it seems only natural to me that a pianist exploring Beethoven (for example) should want to play his solo sonatas, duo sonatas, trios, concertos, songs and so on – everything feeds into everything else. I’ve always thrived off the variety and balance of repertoire, and I’d hate to close the door on any part of it. And I already feel that being a pianist is more of a specialism than I’d originally intended!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m not sure that pride is a feeling I particularly associate with, but sometimes there are wonderful, indefinable moments in certain performances (I wish they happened more often!) where everything comes together in a magical way and it feels like you’re flying, as if anything’s possible. I have so many reservations about the process of recording (not least that I miss the audience hugely when I’m in a studio), and I find it very difficult to listen to my own recordings, but I do feel a sense of achievement over my new recital disc, In Dance and Song, which contains a very personal selection of works and reflects some of my wide-ranging passions. Also, the one time I dared to listen to it, I quite enjoyed the disc of the Chausson Concert which I recorded two years ago with Jennifer Pike and the Doric Quartet – it’s a wonderful piece, full of soaring melodies (and a ridiculous number of notes for the pianist).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Not sure if I can answer that, but I’ve always adored melodies and vocal music, so I find pieces with a lyrical bent particularly gratifying to play.

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

Pianists are spoiled for choice when it comes to repertoire, and it would take so many lifetimes to explore all the great works – as time goes on, I realise more and more that it’s a waste of time for a pianist to play anything that doesn’t really grab them. I enjoy hugely (though it sometimes requires an exhausting amount of thought) coming up with interesting and (I hope) cohesive programmes. Often, however, the ones I’m most pleased with are then scuppered by promoters saying e.g., “[A much more famous pianist] is already playing most of those pieces in his recital this season” or “Can you include a barcarolle by Snosveldt to mark his 186th anniversary year?” or (and this is a genuine quote, from a much missed promoter in Ireland) “Fauré spells death at the box office”.

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

Among many others, I love the Holywell Room in Oxford, Kettle’s Yard in Cambridge, and the Wigmore Hall. Playing at the BBC Proms is always a huge thrill. The Spoleto Festival in Italy when Gian Carlo Menotti was around was unforgettable.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To play – far too many to list, but here are some which I find particularly enjoyable and/or rewarding to play: Beethoven concertos (including the Triple), Brahms piano quartets, Chopin solo works, Dvorak chamber music, Fauré (lots), Grieg miniatures, Mendelssohn chamber music, Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time, Mozart (all!), Rachmaninov concertos, Ravel (lots), Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, Schubert and Schumann Lieder, Richard Strauss’ early chamber music, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio. And – stretching back to my schooldays and early jobs in hotel bars – I’ve always loved playing Gershwin, Kern, Cole Porter and the Great American Songbook. To listen to – this changes a lot, but perhaps most consistently Bach, Mozart operas, Sondheim musicals, Ella Fitzgerald’s songbook recordings.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Along with the great composers whose music I play (of whom Mozart has perhaps brought me most joy of all) and the wonderful colleagues I have the pleasure of working with (not least my dear friends in the Aronowitz Ensemble), here is a very incomplete list featuring some musicians who have greatly inspired me in some way or other, which I’ve restricted to those I don’t know personally: Leonard Bernstein, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Emil Gilels, Fritz Kreisler, Dinu Lipatti, Radu Lupu, Joni Mitchell, Ginette Neveu, Luciano Pavarotti, Oscar Peterson, Lucia Popp, Nina Simone.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As a listener – a concert in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge in 1999, part of John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage; most specifically the final aria of BWV 159, one of the most heart-stopping moments of my life so far. As a performer – I think I have a pretty good memory, so I remember most of my concert experiences, both good and bad, quite vividly. Two experiences which I will always associate with a wonderfully heady mixture of fear and immense joy both involved Robin Ticciati and the SCO – touring with the Ligeti Concerto in 2010 (the most fiendishly difficult piece I’ve ever played, but also utterly enthralling), and playing my first Brahms 2 at three days’ notice when Pierre-Laurent Aimard cancelled. (That wasn’t actually my most last-minute stand-in: I once got off a plane at 4.30pm and, when I turned on my phone, there was a message asking if I’d play the Grieg Concerto at 7.30pm that evening. The rehearsal had already taken place, but I jumped in a taxi and somehow got through the performance unscathed, and with a curious sense of liberation on stage!) I will always remember with huge fondness my appearance in the BBC Young Musician final back in 2000, under the starry ceiling of the Bridgewater Hall. It was a big, thrilling moment for a rather naïve boy who’d always felt something of an outsider and who’d never experienced anything remotely on that scale. It also opened a lot of doors. On a non-pianistic note – and perhaps reflecting my early desires to be an actor as well as a musician – I enormously enjoyed appearing as reciter in Walton’s Façade a few years back at Aberystwyth Musicfest (where I’ve also played the swanee whistle in drag).

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

First and foremost, that music is the most important thing, and if you love it so much that you can’t be without it, then immerse yourself and go for it – but try to be flexible and open-minded about your exact path. Avoid cynics and negative people – there are a lot of them around, such as the ones who like to hover after a concert and say helpful things like, “It’s a terrible struggle, the music business, isn’t it? Must be very difficult for you.” Of course there are tricky times, but no money in the world could persuade me to switch to another profession.

Regarding education, I personally think it’s important to remember there are valid alternatives to the music school/music college route. All my schooling took place in the comprehensive system, and my first degree was at university. It dismays me when people express surprise (which they really do) that some of us in the classical music profession hail from a regular state school background; I’m also immeasurably saddened that, if music in state schools continues to be eroded and marginalised by the government, before long there may not be many aspiring musicians to pass such advice to.

What are you working on at the moment?

On my music stand right now are three mini-concertos which I’m performing soon: Bach F minor, Judith Weir, and Finzi’s Eclogue. Also Dohnanyi’s Variations on a Nursery Theme (a truly brilliant piece for piano and enormous orchestra), Beethoven ‘Pastoral’ Sonata, and Ravel La Valse. I still compose a little – I’m currently writing a chamber opera for puppets, The Depraved Appetite of Tarrare the Freak, in collaboration with my brother’s theatre company, Wattle and Daub Figure Theatre, as well as a short score for an independent film. And trying to finish some DIY before my girlfriend gets home from tour.

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

Doing pretty much what I am now. Though I’d like to have written a hit West End musical in the interim. And to have successfully campaigned (without it having taken up too much time) for the provision of free music education for all children, which would incidentally have enabled world peace.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To see an aardvark, moose, tapir or dugong in its natural habitat.

What is your present state of mind?

Sleepy.

Tom Poster’s new solo CD, In Dance and Song, is available from Champs Hill Records. Further details here

Tom Poster is internationally recognised as a pianist of outstanding artistry and versatility, equally in demand as soloist and chamber musician across an unusually extensive repertoire. He has been described as “a marvel, [who] can play anything in any style” (The Herald), “an unparalleled sound-magician” (General-Anzeiger), a “young lion” (The Guardian), and as possessing “great authority and astounding virtuosity” (Est Républicain). He won First Prize at the Scottish International Piano Competition 2007, the Ensemble Prize at the Honens International Piano Competition 2009, and the keyboard sections of the Royal Over-Seas League and BBC Young Musician of the Year Competitions in 2000. 

Tom’s full biography and diary is available on his website: www.tomposter.co.uk

Interview date: 10th March 2014

(photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke)

Meet the Artist……Stephen Hough

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

I think the piano was its own inspiration.  We had no classical music in my home at all but an aunt had a piano and it was love at first vamp.  I picked out tunes on its yellow keys and wanted to take lessons.  it was a short step (over a long time) for that to become my career.

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

Definitely my main piano teacher Gordon Green.  Also Derrick Wyndham (both taught at the RNCM) then later Robert Mann (former 1st violinist of the Juilliard Quartet) with whom I played and recorded all the Beethoven sonatas in the 1980s.  I was 23 and had everything to learn; he was a great partner and, indirectly, a teacher.  I would also cite Alfred Cortot and many other pianists from the first decades of the 20th century whose playing I got to know well through recordings.  They were always and remain my favourites.

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

Just doing it – day after day.  Specifically the extreme contrast between being as tough as a old boot offstage (travel, hotels, paperwork etc. etc.) and as sensitive as a bejewelled ballet shoe when at the piano.  It requires a unique kind of schizophrenia!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ah tough to say!  The Hummel concerto record was the first one where I felt good in the studio, despite very little time.  We had less than six hours for each concerto, to rehearse from scratch (correcting parts along the way) and record.  it was seat of the pants but I still remember the exhilaration and excitement of playing those pieces and making the first complete recording of works which were absolutely central to the repertoire of Liszt, Chopin, Schumann etc.  Later Mompou was a joy to record and more recently my own 2nd piano sonata (on the CD ‘In the Night’).  Strange to record your own music!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really can’t say.  But I do feel able to slip into different roles.  I feel as involved and connected playing Mozart and Beethoven as I do playing Chopin and Liszt as I do playing Schoenberg and Webern.

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

Some of it ties in with recording plans, sometimes there are anniversaries, or specific requests.  With concertos it depends a lot on the programming being done by the conductor and management of the orchestras.

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

Not really.  Many famous halls are famous because they’re great – main stage of Carnegie New York or Concertgebouw Amsterdam or Musikverein Vienna.  The Wigmore of course is special.  I also love Severance Hall in Cleveland … too many to name though.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Impossible to say!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Mainly those who died before I was born – Cortot, Rachmaninov, Friedman, Kreisler etc.  I’ve worked a lot with Steven Isserlis and he is one of my favourites, for personal as well as musical reasons.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably my debut at the Hollywood Bowl when I raced over from Cheshire to replace Pogorelich at the last minute.  it was my first taste of the fast-lane, crazy side of having a career.  Paganini Rhapsody with Sir Charles Groves.

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

Study the score intensely then play as if you’re improvising.

What are you working on at the moment?

Always three sorts of work: refreshing pieces for upcoming concerts; revising works not played for a while; and learning new ones.  All the Beethoven concertos are around me at the moment and they fall into all three of these categories.

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

Same place but deeper.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Surprised by happiness when not looking for it – and sharing it with someone else.

What is your most treasured possession?

My sanity.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Many things.  To choose one would be to squeeze it dry of magic.

What is your present state of mind?

Content yet tired and a little anxious – but grateful for life and health and food and friends.

Named by ‘The Economist’ as one of 20 Living Polymaths, British pianist Stephen Hough is a rare renaissance man of our time. Over the course of a long and distinguished career as one of the world’s leading concert pianists, he has also excelled as a writer and composer. Mr. Hough combines an exceptional facility and tonal palette with a uniquely inquisitive musical personality, and his musical achievements have resulted in many awards and accolades for his concerts and a discography of more than fifty recordings.

Stephen Hough was made a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2014 New Year’s Honours List.

Stephen Hough’s full biography

www.stephenhough.com

 

Helen Burford at Burgh House

helenpic

Critically-acclaimed Brighton-based pianist Helen Burford will give an afternoon recital on Sunday 11th May at Burgh House, an elegant Queen Anne house in the heart of Hampstead. The programme includes Debussy’s atmospheric ‘Pagodes’ from Estampes, Martin Butler’s contemporary evocation of the mechanised modern age Rumba Machine, Japanese composer Somei Satoh’s compelling Incarnation II, Julie Harris’s American Triptych inspired by traditional folk melodies, and Gershwin’s evergreen hommage to the New York City of the jazz age, Rhapsody in Blue.

Programme
Martin Butler – Rumba Machine
Somei Satoh – Incarnation II
Debussy – Pagodes (Estampes, L.100)
Haydn – Sonata in C major, NO.60, Hob.XVI:50
Julie Harris – American Tryptych
i. Old Joe Clark
ii. Hush-A-Bye
iii. Shortnin’ Bread
Gershwin – Rhapsody In Blue

Venue & further details
Burgh House
New End Square
Hampstead
London NW3 1LT

Sunday 11th May, 2.15pm

Tickets (£11 & £7 concessions): http://www.wegottickets.com/event/262000

Helen is also performing as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. Full details here

http://helenburford.com/

http://www.burghhouse.org.uk/

 

Meet the Artist……Samantha Ward, pianist

piano_14234_large(1)

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

My mother was the first major influence in my pianistic life as she saw me fiddling away on our terrible upright piano at home (which had actually been sitting in flood water in a freezing cold garage!) and decided to take me to lessons.  Her idea of taking piano lessons for a term to see how I would take to it was something I wasn’t all that enthralled about and I was convinced I wanted to learn the ‘cello instead.  The rest is history!  Later on, I was inspired by such artists as Martha Argerich, Daniel Barenboim, Emil Gilels and many others.

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

I was lucky enough to have fantastic teachers throughout my early years in particular (Leslie Riskowitz who started me off on the piano and Polish pianist AlicjaFiderkiewicz at Chetham’s.  I then went onto study with Joan Havill at the Guildhall).  The people I work with are also wonderful influences, in both chamber music groups and those who I have met and played to in masterclasses.  Stephen Kovacevich and Boris Berman both inspired me immensely.

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

Balancing everything in life and finding enough time to be with the instrument as well as remaining resilient against the odds a lot of the time.  A pianist’s life is a tough but rewarding one and simply managing to find the necessary time to practise enough whilst financing life in London and building a career is a real challenge.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble? 

I find it extremely rewarding to work with orchestras and ensembles and as a pianist, there are so many wonderful concerti and chamber music works out there.  It is a truly great feeling to make music with someone else and to share the whole experience together on stage.  This is something which solo pianists can sometimes miss out on a little, generally needing to spend a lot of time alone in practice rooms to learn all those notes!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

I was lucky enough to give my solo debut recital at the Wigmore Hall in 2007 and this was a truly wonderful experience.  Last year, I performed Dora Bright’s piano concerto with Charles Peebles and the Morley Chamber Orchestra, which was the first performance since the nineteenth century as well as the first ever recording of the work.  The same will be true of the ‘Variations for Piano and Orchestra’ which we are going to be recording later this year.  I was also proud to be asked to record Rory Freckleton’s piano works recently and am looking forward to the CD being ready.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season? 

Specific concerti are usually requested by orchestras but in terms of solo repertoire, I tend to play to my strengths as much as possible, whilst trying to create a balanced and varied programme.  At the current stage in my career, I am also trying to learn and perform as much new repertoire as possible, so that I come back to it having already learnt it rather than starting it afresh when I am older.

What repertoire do you think you play best? 

I feel most at home with the Germans!  I particularly enjoy playing Brahms and love the bigger works such as the F minor Sonata and the two concerti.  I also think Beethoven, Schumann, Schubert, Gershwin and Ireland suit me quite well.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

The Wigmore Hall would have to be my favourite!  I also very much enjoy performing at Edinburgh’s Reid Concert Hall, the De Montfort Hall in Leicester and at St John’s Smith Square in London.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Well this is a very hard one to answer as there are so many!  To name but a few, I would have to say Mischa Maisky, Martha Argerich, David Oistrakh, Emil Gilels, Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Emma Kirkby and Daniel Barenboim.    On a more personal level, there are also many musicians with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

It would have to be playing at the Wigmore Hall. I also loved playing on the Greek island of Paros.  I played the inaugural recital in the new piano festival which was launched there a few years ago.  It was amazing to perform in such an idyllic setting in the most beautiful surroundings to people who had rarely been exposed to live classical music concerts.

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to? 

I love playing Brahms and Beethoven in particular and also have fun playing Gershwin.  In terms of listening to music, unless I am going to a concert, I tend not to listen to all that much classical music.  I love jazz and could listen to Oscar Peterson all day.

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

Practise like mad when you are studying as there is never the time to do so later on.  I would also suggest learning all the major works of the repertoire and get first performances done as soon as possible, as this helps greatly when returning to them in the future.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Rachmaninoff’s 2nd and Mendelssohn’s 1st for forthcoming performances.  Then a solo recording in September.  Also, I am working at duo repertoire for a recital with the wonderful ‘cellist Brian O’Kane and at trio repertoire for a concert again with Brian and Fenella Humphreys with whom I love performing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Having good health, a busy life as a concert pianist and having a flat on the Greek island of Paros with my partner, Maciej.  The island, despite being small, has an airport so travelling to concerts wouldn’t be a problem and the food, weather and people are wonderful there!

You are artistic director of Piano Week, launched in 2013. Tell us more about Piano Week…. 

Piano Week is my new festival and summer school for pianists of all ages and abilities which takes place this year at Bangor University in North Wales from 10th-15th August 2014.  I wanted to create something new in the piano world and to build an international concert platform for pianists from around the world.  I decided to launch it in North Wales as I grew up there and hadn’t heard of a pianistic venture such as this in the area before, so I decided to make it happen!  We have an international faculty lined up to give recitals and master classes throughout the 2014 festival and we are lucky enough to be supported by Blüthner who are lending us a brand new concert grand for the duration of the festival this year.  Pianist magazine recently included an article about the festival in their April/May issue and Schott Music publishers will once again be presenting a showcase at Piano Week 2014.  Please go to www.pianoweek.com for more information on the summer school and how to apply.

British pianist Samantha Ward has performed extensively around the UK and in Europe and has appeared on British television and radio several times.  In October 2007, she gave her solo debut recital at London’s Wigmore Hall and has given solo recitals in such venues as St Martin in the Fields, St John’s Smith Square, St David’s Hall Cardiff and Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, as well as in concert halls around Europe.  Most recently, in February 2013, Samantha was invited to become a Bluthner Artist and was installed as a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Musicians. 

Samantha Ward is also the artistic director of Piano Week, a festival and summer school at the University of Bangor, north Wales. Full details here  

Samantha Ward’s full biography 

www.samanthaward.org

www.pianoweek.com

 

Meet the Artist……John Irving, fortepianist

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

A relative had a battered old upright that she was getting rid of. My parents thought I showed some musical talent and saved the instrument from the breaker’s yard so I could have some piano lessons. It got me through Grade 6 before it fell to bits!

 

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

As a youngster, I have to say it was my school music teacher, who conducted the local choral society. He took me to a performance of Haydn’s Creation he was conducting one evening. When the big C major chord arrived (‘and there was LIGHT’) I was hooked forever! My parents were wonderfully supportive. Later, Denis Matthews was a strong influence, teaching me to look beyond the notes and certainly beyond piano music for an understanding of musical language. I’ll never forget one lesson where he simply played (from memory) huge chunks of Mozart string quartets at the piano, explaining how the music worked conversationally and how that should underpin my own playing at the keyboard. But of all the influences, the strongest has to be my wife, Jane (a clarinettist), who makes music speak in ways I could never have imagined possible.

You are a noted performer on harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano. When and how did your interest in early keyboard instruments develop? 

My main interest has always been in music of the ‘long’ eighteenth century, and there came a point when I realised that I simply couldn’t capture the sound I was seeking on a modern piano. The much lighter and articulate touch of clavichords, harpsichords and fortepianos suited my physical connection to this music far more effectively, and I made the decision to ‘emigrate’ from the modern piano. I’ve never looked back since. A strong inspiration has been Ronald Brautigam. His complete Beethoven piano cycle (recorded exclusively on pianos by Paul McNulty copied from originals by Stein, Walther and Graf) is in a league of its own. Partly, too, it’s the fascination I have with fine craftsmanship. It’s a great privilege to know some expert keyboard makers and restorers, and understanding the instruments from their perspective is something that crucially influences my approach to producing sound at the keyboard. There’s something deeply satisfying about the connection between the instrument and the way it can (through my physical actions) produce sound. Incidentally, I make no claims to ‘authenticity’ (a term those of us in the period instrument world never use anymore). I’m not ‘recreating the sound of Mozart’s sonatas as the composer intended’. How could we ever know that? I’m exploring sound possibilities that might be produced by instruments carefully and lovingly built using techniques and materials known in Mozart’s day. I also choose to play in ways that are informed by documentary evidence from his time (including his father’s very famous book on violin playing), rather than approaches that were developed a hundred years or more later and which were, willynilly, just imposed retrospectively on Mozart’s very different musical language.

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

It has to be achieving the balance between the academic and performing sides of my life. I worked for many years in the music department at Bristol University (where I was Professor) and latterly as Director of London University’s Institute of Musical Research. I now split my time (theoretically) 50:50 between being Reader in Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and performing. Finding enough time to practise is the key!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably the DVD documentary on Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio and also the complete Clarinet and Piano sonatas of Vanhal (issued on sfzmusic last year as part of the Vanhal bicentenary), with my wife sounding amazing on 5-keyed B flat and C Viennese boxwood clarinets.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I should say Mozart, really, given that I’ve published five books on his music! But at the moment, I think I’m making serious progress with Haydn (I’m recording four of his sonatas at the end of April). Played on fortepiano, I’m so much more aware of the extent to which Haydn’s music depends on colour and on silence – which suits my approach to sound production on the Viennese instrument with its much shallower key-dip and the immediacy and clarity of sound. I couldn’t possibly do this justice on a modern piano (which isn’t to say that it can’t be done).

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

First and foremost, it revolves around what my group, Ensemble DeNOTE is performing. DeNOTE was founded in 2010 when I was Director of the IMR in London, and was intended originally as a workshop for exploring ideas in Historically Informed Performance, bringing together players and scholars. But the group took off and soon gained an identity of its own, bridging the gap between scholarship and performance in hopefully accessible ways. We’ve done a huge amount in the university and conservatoire environments, as well as the Brighton Early Music Festival, and other festivals across the UK. At the moment, there’s lots of Beethoven (another CD recording at the end of March of the composer’s own arrangements of the Septet as a Trio, and the Piano and Winds Quintet as a Piano Quartet). Next season we are looking forward to Mozart’s Gran’ Partita in a quintet version dating from around 1800, as well as more performances of the “Kegelstatt” Trio at Finchcocks. I try to fit solo repertoire around this (and sometimes around CD releases). Despite the Vanhal disc last year, I don’t really plan repertoire around composer anniversaries. I’m more interested in connections of music and place (I have a Bach and Leipzig programme coming up with oboist Leo Duarte next month), and in the culture of arrangements, which were common in Beethoven’s day. That extends to commissioning new arrangements. Last year I premiered a version of Mozart’s E flat Piano Concerto, K.271 for piano and wind sextet; in June I’ll be doing K.488 for the same forces.

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

I absolutely adore St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh, mainly because it houses one of my all-time favourite instruments, a glorious 5-octave clavichord by Johann Adolphe Hass (1763). The moment I first played this clavichord I just knew it was right for Mozart, and I was lucky enough to record a CD on it (which appeared last year).

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Mozart’s Piano and Winds Quintet, K.452. I never tire of that. The piano part is wonderful in itself, but what really fascinates me is the colours of the ensemble as a whole – on period instruments, at least. For instance, the middle episode in the finale, features a descending chromatic scale on the horn (yes, contrary to popular belief, natural horns can produce lots of notes other than the harmonic series!), each one of which is a subtly different colour from the last. On a valve horn it’s just not the same, really…

To listen to, I don’t really have a favourite piece. The shortlist would include Bach’s “St Anne Prelude and Fugue”, Corelli’s Op.5 Violin Sonatas, Haydn’s Creation, Beethoven 7th Symphony, Schubert’s last Sonata in B flat, large doses of Sibelius and Messiaen (the latter especially if played by Peter Hill, another of my teachers from university days), and at least 626 compositions by Mozart!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One is a piano duet recital with Ronald Brautigam where, contrary to what you might think from listening to his recordings of Mozart, he indulged in the most astonishing improvised embellishments, to the point where we were almost making the content up in musical conversation as the recital progressed! Another is a performance of Beethoven’s Piano and Winds Quintet last year, which was the world premiere outing of an exceptionally fine fortepiano by Yorkshire-based maker, Johannes Secker, whose instruments I’ll be featuring in a historical keyboard course in Lythe this July.

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

First and foremost, to study and respect the score, but never be enslaved by it. The music lies beyond the notes. Notes are symbols for sound. They represent possibilities for the imagination. Resist the notion that the score prescribes what you have to do; that it is something to be robotically obeyed. It’s actually a basis for negotiation, mainly with your own imagination.

Also, remember that humility goes a long way! There are plenty of musicians who have no idea of that concept, who believe their own publicity. Quite a few of them are “famous”. But is that the point, ultimately? Surely music is bigger than that?

What are you working on at the moment? 

For starters…Beethoven Op.16 (quartet version) and Op.38 (his trio arrangement of the Septet); a Mozart Piano Quartet; a clutch of Haydn sonatas for a forthcoming CD recording; a couple of Mozart sonatas; Bach 4th French Suite; Mozart Piano Concerto, K.488.

Tell us a little more about your forthcoming digital book ‘The Mozart Project’. 

I was asked to participate in this project when it was but a twinkle in the eye of two enterprising young men at Pipedreams Collective, Harry Farnham and James Fairclough. It just spiralled from there really. I wrote chapters on the Concertos and Chamber Music, recorded a series of video performances and eventually became their consultant editor. Several other Mozart specialists have contributed chapters, and the result will be an interactive experience that goes way beyond what a traditional book and a single author could achieve. We all hope The Mozart Project will introduce Mozart’s genius to new generations of admirers. You can follow tweets at @themozartproj and it’s due out at the end of this month on the AppStore.

John Irving discusses the immediate impact of Mozart’s Concertos.

JOHN IRVING is Professor of Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, and Associate  Fellow of The Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Previously Director of the IMR – the UK’s national music research institution – John has been Professor of Music at the University of Bristol and at the University of London. He now divides his time between his academic work at Trinity and his performing career as a fortepianist.

www.johnirving.org.uk

 

Meet the Artist….Daniel Roberts, pianist

 

Daniel Roberts performing at the 1901 Arts Club
Daniel Roberts performing at the 1901 Arts Club

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

My Grandfather. When I was very young, I would watch him playing in his house, and even though he didn’t play professionally, his deep passion for music must have transmitted to me.

Also I went to a live performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto in St David’s Hall Cardiff, with pianist Stephen Hough, and the thrill and intensity of that performance pushed me more into playing for a career.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

I had a wonderful teacher called Alison Dite who introduced me to the composers I enjoy now, such as Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and many more. Helen Reid taught me at Leeds College of music, and I learnt great ways to practice, and how to project the meaning of a piece to an audience.

Now I’m studying privately with Peter Feuchtwanger, and his vast knowledge of styles of playing, along with his unique technical approach, have been incredible for my development, and I’m constantly amazed at his generosity, and commitment to teaching. In every single lesson I discover something that can benefit all pieces.

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

In March 2013 I gave the world premiere of a duo piece by a hardly-known composer Peter Hatfield, called ‘Infatuation’ with violinist Hannah Woolmer, and I felt a huge responsibility in giving a good first performance of this work, and bringing it to life. We enjoyed a successful performance, and felt very happy when people told us they loved the music.

Which performances are you most proud of?

A few I’ve really enjoyed and given everything in:

  • My final recital in Leeds College of music for my Degree, including Chopin’s lovely 3rd Sonata, along with the kind support of fellow students, some of whose are now colleagues, friends, and the teaching staff.
  • A London recital at Schott’s music shop, where I played Sonatas by J.C. Bach, which deserve so many more performances, Songs Without Words by Mendelssohn, and Tariqa No. I (Iranian) a piece composed by my teacher Peter Feuchtwanger. Pieces that I love sharing with audiences, and can be viewed here http://www.danielrobertsmusic.com/videos/
  • Performing the ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’ by Rachmaninov for the first time. I listened to this work along with Rachmaninov’s piano concerti countless times growing up, so it was one of my biggest dreams to play this incredible piece. I entered a beautiful colourful world during the piece, that Rachmaninov has created with his genius variations on Paganini’s Caprice 24. It was very nice to play second piano in the orchestra for ‘Carmina Burana’ in the last half of the same concert too!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Although I haven’t performed there I would love to play the Royal Albert Hall, as I’m sure its huge space combined with a fantastic acoustic, gives a performer the potential of performing with no limits, and a great sense of rapport with audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing Prokofiev Sonatas, Mendelssohn’s Andante Cantabile and Presto Agitato, Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata, Rachmaninov Preludes, Chopin, Beethoven Concerto No. 1, and of course the Paganini Rhapsody.

I love listening to large-scale works such as Messiaen’s ‘Turangalila Symphony’ the Busoni Piano Concerto, music by Karl Jenkins, as well by Alkan, Saint-Saens’ Piano concerti in the wonderful recording by Stephen Hough. Also I love listening to jazz artists such as Oscar Peterson, and Hiromi Uehara.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Jools Holland, Valentina Lisitsa, Peter Donohoe, Marc André-Hamelin, Hannah Woolmer, Harry Connick Jr, Noriko Ogawa, Clara Haskil, Vladimir Horowitz, Erna Sack, John Ogdon, and many others.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A few years ago I heard Martha Argerich performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, and I still think this is the best concert I’ve been to in my life! It was a masterful, and timeless performance, which left a positive mark in my musical heart forever.

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

Stick to the music you love, and give unfamiliar pieces time to grow on you, because as you mature you begin to love a whole different collection of works. Remember that the music is to be shared with the audience, and that you are the narrator of the musical adventure you present to the world. Remember that everyone responds to music differently, so it’s important to listen to different perspectives from people’s experience of your performance, to gain valuable insights into the true power of music.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m practising Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Peter Feuchtwanger’s ‘Variations on an Eastern Theme, Books 1 & 2′, Medtner’s ‘Fairy Tales’ and Saint-Saens’ ‘Wedding Cake’ valse for piano and orchestra.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?

I always aim to include lesser known works, which will sometimes be a premiere performance, as well as more populars ones. This comes from pieces I’ve been listening to for years, and a wish to experience in a personal way performing them.

Which works do,you think you play best?

Two pieces that I believe I play well at Feuchtwanger’s incredible ‘Tariqa 1′, which I’ve always enjoyed performing, and Mendelssohn’s beautiful ‘Andante Cantabile & Presto Agitato’.

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

Sharing music with people around the world, whether it’s in a live concert, an online broadcast, or through recordings that I plan to produce during this time. I also want to be helping young musicians to love music, and encouraging them to explore new pieces, relate it to their lives, and how it can help them. Most importantly I would still wish to be learning new things, and gaining inspiration each day so the music can be healthy and alive.

What is your most treasured possession?

My brain, because with it I can ‘work’ anywhere in the sense of imagining a piece I’m working on, and listening to music stored in my ‘mental iPod.’ Also you can recall life’s most fantastic experiences through the audio, visual and kinaesthetic memories, and this for me is better than anything else.

Daniel Roberts’ biography

Leon McCawley at Eaton Square

Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)
Leon McCawley (Photo credit: Clive Barda)

BEETHOVEN: Sonata in C minor Op. 10, No. 1
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words, Op. 38, No. 2 in C minor
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words, Op. 19, No. 6 in G minor
MENDELSSOHN: Song Without Words, Op. 30, No. 1 in E flat major
BRAHMS: Two Rhapsodies Op. 79 (No. 1 in B minor and No. 2 in G minor)
RACHMANINOV: 13 Preludes, Op. 32

Leon McCawley, piano

Deep in the heart of Belgravia, just five minutes from Victoria Station, is St Peter’s Eaton Square, an early nineteenth-century neo-classical church which has undergone extension modernisation following a fire some years ago. It is home to Eaton Square Concerts, now in its fifteenth season, which showcases established artists and rising talent.

For the first concert of the Spring 2014 season, Leon McCawley, one of Britain’s foremost pianists, performed works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Rachmaninov. The concert was introduced by managing director Carl Anton Muller, and Leon McCawley was received most enthusiastically – and indeed throughout the entire evening.

Beethoven’s early piano sonatas should never be dismissed as “juvenilia” – for in them we find a composer already fully conversant with this genre. Many of the early sonatas display characteristics of style, form and expression which prefigure the later, more well-known piano sonatas, and the Opus 10, No. 1 in C minor is no exception. This sonata looks forward to the more famous ‘Pathétique’ with its robust outer movements enclosing a middle movement of great serenity with a beautiful cantabile melody.

McCawley gave an energetic account of the first movement, its dark and angular opening sentence contrasted with a lyrical second subject, the entire movement crisply articulated with fine attention to the string quartet and orchestral writing and startling dynamic changes. The middle movement offered a respite from the darkly-hued outer movements. Scored in warm-hearted A -flat major, it was an opportunity to enjoy some fine legato playing. The final movement was a burst of nervous energy, only just held in check by McCawley, which allowed him to highlight not only the dramatic possibilities inherent in Beethoven’s writing, but also the composer’s wit: the movement ends with a slower coda and a final sentence which is almost a whisper.

In the Songs Without Words by Mendelssohn there was further opportunity to enjoy McCawley’s exceptionally fine legato playing. Beloved of Victorian salons, Mendelssohn invented the concept of the Lieder Ohne Worte, and produced eight volumes of these varied and lyrical miniatures. McCawley’s selection of just three from the Opp 38, 19 and 30 was intimate, expressive and poignant.

Brahms’ Two Rhapsodies Op 79 closed the first half of the evening, McCawley giving free rein to the climactic nature of these works and capitalising on the rich bass sonorities of the piano. It also set the scene for the Rachmaninov which followed after the interval.

Rachmaninov was following the precedent set by Chopin’s Preludes, and his two sets Op 23 and 32 complete the twenty four. In the Op 32 set, Rachmaninov uses four pairs of parallel keys (E, F A and B, major/minor) but no relative keys. Each Prelude opens with a tiny melodic or rhythmic fragment on which the whole is built. Alert to the contrasting and varied nature of these short works, McCawley gave an account that was committed and emotionally charged, highlighting both the expansiveness of Rachmaninov’s writing as well as the interior details of each piece.

What better way to close than with an encore of Schumann’s Traumerei, tenderly delivered.

This was my first visit to Eaton Square Concerts and I was impressed not only with the fine acoustic of the venue, but the high quality music. I very much look forward to attending further concerts at Eaton Square.

 

Meet the Artist……Leon McCawley (interview from April 2012)

www.eatonsquareconcerts.org.uk