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.
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 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
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
Is your practising getting you down? Do you need inspiration and encouragement? Would you like to meet other pianists and learn from the professionals? Then why not try a piano course or summer school this coming year…..
There are courses and summer schools for pianists of all levels, from single days and “taster” courses to piano weekends and whole weeks of piano goodness in the company of some of the finest pianists and teachers from around the world. Courses are a great way to connect with other pianists and like-minded people and are brilliant for improving skills such as technique and performance. Here is my round up of some of the best courses in the UK and beyond:
**NEW** London Master Classes. Not for amateur pianists, though anyone may go and observe these classes run by top professional teachers, coaching the artists of tomorrow. (I attended one of the piano sessions last year and found the experience inspirational and instructive, both as a pianist and a teacher – my review here). Tutors include pianist Norma Fisher, cellist Ralph Kirshbaum and conductor Benjamin Zander. Showcase weekend 12th & 13th July at the Purcell Room. Full details here
Hindhead Summer Piano Course. Held at Hindhead Music Centre in the picturesque South Downs, the 2014 course will have a special accent on the last three piano sonatas of Beethoven. Masterclasses, lectures, faculty and student concerts, discussion groups, “recorded treasures”, and more, plus fine food and a relaxed country house atmosphere. Taster and single day options. Ability cGrade 5 to post-diploma. Tutors: Simon Nicholls and James Lisney. Details here
**NEW** Lythe Chamber Music Course, 20-24 July 2014 Set in the historic coastal village of Lythe on the edge of the glorious North York Moors, LYTHE CHAMBER MUSIC COURSE 2014 is a DeNOTE Educational project offering a unique opportunity to explore a wide range of solo and ensemble repertoire for early keyboards (fortepiano, harpsichord, clavichord) and early clarinets, chalumeaux from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries with specialists JOHN IRVING and JANE BOOTH. It is also a celebration of the craftsmanship of local keyboard builder JOHANNES SECKER and clarinet maker GUY COWLEY, whose instruments will be used in the course. Aimed at aspiring professional players, teachers, advanced students, and amateurs with good sight-reading ability (Grades 6 – 8+), the course will be of particular benefit and interest to clarinettists and pianists who wish to develop their interest and experience in playing on early instruments. Teaching will be in a diversity of formats, including individual tuition, ‘technical surgeries’, group workshops, lectures, seminars and a film showing. The course will include several concerts (including student performances) in local venues, including the historic St Oswald’s Church – an enchanting setting for music. A PDF giving more information about the course, along with application details as costs are available from the Lythe Chamber Music page of the Ensemble DeNOTE website: www.denote.org.uk
Jackdaws Music Education Trust. Courses throughout the year for pianists, instrumentalists and singers of all levels. Piano faculty includes Philip Fowke, Elena Riu, Margaret Fingerhut, Mark Tanner and Julian Jacobson. Details here
Chethams Summer School for Pianists. Known affectionately as “Chets”, this is probably the most famous summer school and boasts a fantastic faculty of international artists and teachers. Masterclasses, concerts, ensembles and more. 2014 faculty includes Leslie Howard, Carlo Grante, Leon McCawley, Murray McLachlan, Ashley Wass and Noriko Ogawa, amongst many others. Full details here
Walsall Summer School for Pianists. PLACES STILL AVAILABLE Formerly the well-established and popular Hereford Summer School for Pianists, the course successfully moved to a new home at the University of Wolverhampton in 2013. Mixed ability classes. Tutors will aim to cover both technical problems and interpretative points which will be of interest to the entire class. Faculty: Graham Fitch, Karl Lutchmayer, Christine Stevenson, Lauretta Bloomer, James Lisney. Details here
Penelope Roskell’s Advanced London Piano Courses. An inspiring and supportive weekend course (3 full days) focussing on repertoire, technique, and yoga for pianists. Ideal for pianists preparing for concerts, competitions, diplomas or auditions, or for anyone suffering from technical problems, physical tension, injuries or nerves. The course is run as a series of masterclasses with plenty of opportunities for discussion and exchange of ideas, and ends with a concert on the Sunday afternoon. Ability level: post-Grade 8 to post-diploma. Full details here.
Penelope also runs one-day workshops for pianists and piano teachers exploring aspects such as performance anxiety and teaching technique. Further details of all courses here
Piano Week. Based at Bangor University in North Wales, Piano Week offers courses for adults and children of all levels. Masterclasses, recitals, talks and workshops. Artistic Director: Samantha Ward. Full details here
Lot Music. PLACES STILL AVAILABLE A convivial course, now in its 17th year, in a beautiful part of France. Fine food and a relaxed atmosphere for pianists of around Grade 8 ability. Tutors: Susan Tomes, James Lisney. Further information here
Music at Ambialet. Summer school for professional, advanced and amateur pianists in the Tarn region of France, established by renowned teacher and Debussy scholar Paul Roberts. The courses are select, with a maximum of 20 resident participants on each of the three eight-day courses throughout August. Full details here
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Summer SchoolsThis five and a half-day intensive summer schools aims to inspire pianists who are currently studying at conservatoire level or considering studying at a conservatoire. Students on the music summer school will benefit from using the Royal Conservatoire’s leading training and performance facilities, including a fleet of new pianos, wonderful concert venues and a state of the art recording studio. Full details here
London Piano Meetup Group. Not strictly a course, the LMPG, run by myself and Lorraine Liyanage, offers monthly performance platforms and masterclasses with visiting tutors for pianists of all levels in a friendly and supportive environment. Piano Day on 29th June – classes with Graham Fitch and Mark Polishook, sheet music exchange, participants’ concert and plenty of time for socialising. Full details of all our events here
Dartington Summer School. The Summer School runs for five weeks, with 20-30 courses week-long courses taking place every day during each week – from individual instrumental and vocal classes to chamber music, large ensemble courses and composition. You can take part in up to four courses per week, and stay for one or all five weeks! Full details here
CoMA (Contemporary Music for All)16 – 22 August. “an exhilarating and supportive environment for exploring new repertoires, developing music-making skills and forging new and enduring friendships.”. Full details here
**NEW** Dublin International Piano Festival Founded in 2013 by pianists Archie Chen and Rhona Gouldson, the Dublin International Piano Festival & Summer Academy showcases mastery in piano performance and provides a series of workshops and masterclasses for advanced students of the piano to improve their own performance skills and technique. The masterclasses are open to the public and will provide a special insight into music making. Full details here
**NEW**The Alan Fraser Piano Summer School An opportunity to study with pianist, teacher and author of The Craft of Piano, Alan Fraser. The Alan Fraser Institute organises masterclasses and coaching sessions around the US and in Europe. Full details here
This weekend I had the privilege of sitting in on a master class run by renowned pianist and teacher Norma Fisher at the Royal College of Music. The master class was one of a series of public classes which form the annual London Master Classes, of which Norma Fisher is artistic director. This year’s faculty includes Ralph Kirshbaum (‘cello), Rosalind Plowright (voice) and Benjamin Zander (conducting).
These are very much master classes in the traditional sense of the word: a master teacher offers tuition to a student in front of an audience of other students and observers – the “private lesson in public” format. I remember watching similar master classes with ‘cellist Paul Tortelier and pianist Daniel Barenboim on tv in the 1970s (at a time when BBC2 broadcast such things). As a young piano student, the classes seemed to me both terrifying and inspirational.
Now in its 25th year, London Master Classes attract participants from around the world. This course is not the sort of country house retreat or friendly piano holidays offered by courses such as Hindhead Music Centre, Walsall Summer School for Pianists or Lot Piano. The format was familiar to me from courses I have attended run by my teacher, but this is a course for professional musicians. Students are required to audition for a place on the course and the standard is exceptionally high. All students are at conservatoire or are conservatoire graduates and many have already embarked on a professional performing career.
The class took place in the thankfully cool and airy Recital Room at the RCM. Two Steinway D’s sat side by side on the small stage, one for teacher and one for student.
Norma Fisher is a highly experienced and skilled teacher. Her approach is direct and she constantly challenges the student to think deeply about their music, encouraging them to go beyond the notes to focus on aspects such as the individual sound world of each composer, and getting over one’s self and ego to communicate the meaning of the music
Talking during the lunch break, Norma told me she is “a glutton for punishment”, not surprising with a daily schedule of 6 hours teaching over seven days, plus evening recitals by students and faculty. But she also admitted that she loves working with such exceptional students, nurturing their talent and drawing out the very best in them. She may be in her early 70s now, but she exudes energy and commitment, and a real love of the piano and its literature.
Each student’s session lasted an hour, and the student usually played two pieces (students can expect at least 2-3 hours of individual tuition during the course). The repertoire was all of an advanced level – Chopin Ballades, Liszt Paganini Etudes, Gaspard de la Nuit, Rachmaninoff Etudes-Tableaux, a scattering of Beethoven sonatas. Aspects such as arm weight, touch, phrasing, articulation, and musicality were covered in great detail, the student often being asked for focus on a small passage of music at a time.
There is much to be gained from tuition in this format, as much for observers as for the student. Even if one has never played any of the pieces under scrutiny, one can apply the aspects discussed to any piece – we should never study works in isolation, and every learning experience and outcome informs the next. I found the following aspects particularly interesting:
Levels of sound and touch – decide which “level” is required for every single note
Energy – create a column of energy across the entire keyboard and remain fully focused within this energy zone while playing (this aspect was particularly with reference to playing Bach – see my comment below for more about this)
‘Rhythmic release’ – rhythm comes from the release of the note
The leaving of the note is as important, or even more important, than the sounding of it
Be a conductor at the piano – helping to create a sense of flow, continuity, meaning
“Acting” the music/becoming the music – getting past yourself/your ego to convey the meaning of the music
The course runs until 18th July and visitors can drop in to the masterclasses at any time, for the single season ticket price of £10. Full details here
Jackdaws Music Education Trust in Frome, Somerset, offers a wide range of courses for musicians of all abilities, with a great team of visiting tutors. Forthcoming courses of interest to pianists in 2013:
10-12 May 2013 – Piano Workshop with Philip Fowke
If you enjoy playing the piano, suffer from nerves, yet long to perform with greater security and confidence, then this is the course for you. Bring along your favourite pieces for discussion and exploration in a relaxed, informal environment. There is no obligation to perform any piece in full; it may be that you only wish to tackle a few bars at a time. The general standard is from about Grade 5 upwards, though this does not preclude those of a humbler ability. The emphasis is on learning with enjoyment, sharing difficulties with others, and discovering comfortable, practical ways to overcome musical and technical problems (NB this course is repeated in September).
24-26 May 2013 – Pianos for All with Caecilia Andriessen
Are you an amateur pianist who can play Bach’s Inventions and Haydn’s Sonatas? Would you like to play in an ensemble with other pianists, just like string players do in a string quartet? Then join “Pianos for All”!
31 May-2 June 2013 – Russian Miniatures with Julian Jacobson
As well as writing some of the grandest works in the repertoire, Russian composers poured forth a stream of piano miniatures; music that can be passionate, reflective, charming or fantastical but which always demands a heartfelt response and a big but varied tonal palette. Composers such as Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Medtner, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Kabalevsky, Kapustin and many others have given us a wealth of exquisite music in preludes and other short forms. Julian Jacobson, himself of partly Russian descent, will guide you through this challenging and inspiring repertoire. Course suggested repertoire: two or three contrasted pieces of up to 5 minutes each.
25-28 July – Piano Summer School with Mark Tanner
A very popular course, offering the opportunity to use the longer time of three days to get a better understanding of the sprawling piano repertoire. This lively course will concentrate on repertoire, style, technique and practice methods. How to choose music for diploma, grade exams and skeleton score study, improvisation, duets and more will all be discussed. Support will be available for those taking grade and diploma exams as well as those who just want to play for pleasure.
Announcing Penelope Roskell’s forthcoming piano courses and piano events in 2013
Advanced Piano Course
The next three-day advanced courses will take place on 26-28 April 2013, and 11-13 October 2013 (10am – 5pm). Penelope is an inspiring and dedicated teacher, and the courses, which are open to all advanced pianists (Grade 8 – post-diploma), amateur, student or professional, offer a very supportive and stimulating learning environment.
Taking place over three days, the advanced course focuses on repertoire, technique, and yoga for pianists, and is ideal for pianists preparing for concerts, competitions, diplomas or auditions, or for anyone suffering from technical problems, physical tension, injuries or nerves. The course is run as a series of masterclasses with plenty of opportunities for discussion and exchange of ideas, and ends with an informal concert on the Sunday afternoon.
Limited to eight students per course for maximum participation – one student scholarship available.
Fee: £195 (ISM and EPTA members £185) Students £120
One-day Performance Workshop 23rd June 2013
A relaxed, supportive opportunity for pianists Grade 7 and above to meet other pianists and work on own-choice repertoire.
Fee £70 (half day £40)
Workshop for Piano Teachers on Teaching Piano Technique
Sunday 3rd March 2013. This workshop is open to all piano teachers, who are interested in discussing aspects of teaching technique within an encouraging setting. Each teacher will be invited to prepare one or two short students’ pieces, which will form the basis of discussion.
Fee £70, (EPTA and ISM members £65)
New North London Piano Group
Regular monthly meetings in North East London, first Tuesday in the month, 7.30-9.30 (except during holiday times).
Fee: £180 for 8 sessions
Venue for all courses:
66 Queen Elizabeth’s Walk
Some student comments on recent advanced piano courses:
“This was an Epiphany for me: I felt so moved by my own playing”. S.D. (UK)
“Thank you for another very inspirational course. I came home on such a high! Already looking forward to the course next year” E.G-J (Eire)
“I liked the course 100%. I achieved even more than I had hoped” C.B (Romania)
“I wanted to thank you again for this extremely rewarding day of masterclasses! Thanks a lot for your welcome, your generosity and your highly beneficial musical advice! M.E. (France)
Penelope Roskell, short biography
Penelope Roskell is an international concert pianist and Professor of Piano at Trinity College of Music. She has taught at undergraduate and postgraduate level for over twenty five years and has a special expertise in the field of piano technique. She is the only piano teacher in England recommended for referrals for physical tension and injuries by the British Association for Performing Arts Medicine. Her DVD on Yoga for Musicians is recognised as a major contribution to research in this field, and she is currently preparing a DVD on Effortless Piano Technique.
As a performer, she has appeared as soloist at major concert halls throughout Britain, and in over thirty countries in Western and Eastern Europe, the United States, Africa, Asia, and the Middle and Far East.
My apologies, but the wrong dates for this course were given in my earlier blog post about courses for pianists. The correct dates of Penelope Roskell’s next course are:
October 5th to 7th 2012
The course runs for three days, and is open to all advanced pianists (post-Grade 8) – professional, student or amateur. It is particularly helpful for those studying for diplomas or preparing for auditions, competitions or concerts, and for those who suffer from physical tension or performance anxiety.
Cost: £195 (EPTA and ISM members £185).
The course takes place in Penelope’s home in north London.
There are still places available on Penelope Roskell’s Spring course (16th-18th March). Penelope is an inspiring and dedicated teacher, and the courses, which are open to all advanced pianists (Grade 8 – post-diploma), amateur, student or professional, offer a very supportive and stimulating learning environment.
Taking place over three days, the March course will focus on repertoire, technique, and yoga for pianists, and is ideal for pianists preparing for concerts, competitions, diplomas or auditions, or for anyone suffering from technical problems, physical tension, injuries or nerves. The course is run as a series of masterclasses with plenty of opportunities for discussion and exchange of ideas, and ends with an informal concert on the Sunday afternoon.
Limited to eight students per course for maximum participation – two scholarships available.
Penelope Roskell is an international concert pianist, and Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance.
Please contact Penelope direct for further information or to book a place
Dates: Friday 16 March – Sunday 18 March 2012, 10am – 5pm
Course fee: £195 (ISM and EPTA members £185)
66 Queen Elizabeth’s Walk
Last weekend I attended another of my teacher’s 3-day intensive courses for advanced pianists. This is now the third course I have been on, and each time I have gained a great deal from it. The course is open to all advanced pianists, amateur or professional, student or teacher, and offers guidance on repertoire, technique, teaching and exercises to prevent tension and injury. It is particularly helpful for those preparing for Diplomas (as I am), auditions or public performances, but it is also an enjoyable forum to exchange ideas, hear new repertoire and share thoughts. The best part, for me, is total immersion in all things piano for three whole days.
This time we were quite a mixed bunch: three students from Trinity Laban Conservatoire where my teacher is Professor of Piano, two of whom I had met before on previous courses, a professional pianist and teacher who specialises in contemporary and twentieth-century repertoire, and a teacher from South-East London who, like me, is preparing for the ATCL Recital Diploma this winter. While the course is organised in the form of a masterclass, there is nothing intimidating nor scary about the experience (at least, not after one has got over one’s initial anxiety on the first day of playing to a group of people you’ve never met before!), and the whole atmosphere is very supportive and encouraging.
Despite slaughtering Schubert’s Impromptu Opus 90, No. 2 in E flat when I played it for the first time on the Friday, I managed to redeem myself – and the music – by Sunday, having spent two days thinking about what I wanted to do with the music, rather than hack away at it at the piano. One of the key things to come out of this course is to allow oneself “thinking time” before playing, hearing the sounds you would like to produce in your head. One student, Stephen, who was preparing for a competition in Germany, seemed particularly good at this, and his second performance of Debussy’s Prelude Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest was atmospheric and very colourful.
Helen, meanwhile, a teacher and pianist based in Brighton, astonished us all (teacher included) with her choice of repertoire, from David Rakowski’s witty and sprightly etude A Gliss is Just a Gliss to Peter Feuchtwanger’s Tariqa 1 in which Helen recreated the sounds of a Middle Eastern plucked instrument, and Somei Satoh’s arresting Incarnation II, during which we all forgot we were listening to a piano being played!
Even the more traditional repertoire (Beethoven, Bach, Liszt and Chopin) was played with individuality and flair, and it was wonderful to hear each person’s performance (the Spotify playlist at the end of this post includes tracks of nearly all of the music we played over the weekend, except the Satoh, which is on YouTube with Helen playing it). What was particularly helpful for me, apart from having my own playing critiqued, of course, was to hear Lorraine, a fellow piano teacher, play two of the pieces I am including in my Diploma programme, Liszt’s ethereal and romantic Sonetto 123 del Petrarca, and Messiaen’s meditation Regard de la Vierge, from the ‘Vingt Regards de l’enfant Jesus’. It was very helpful to compare notes about these pieces with someone who, like me, is now on pretty intimate terms with them, and reassuring to find that certain passages or sections were bugbears for both of us, particularly in the Messiaen.
One of the most revelatory things about these courses is hearing how a performance can be transformed with just a few words or suggestions from teacher. Maddie’s G-flat Impromptu became serene and spacious as she allowed the music to “breathe”, while Sally’s final movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata was nicely held in check, colourful and urgent, though without sounding hurried (far too many pianists take this movement at such a lick, one misses all the really interesting parts of it). Lorraine’s Malambo by Ginastera (also for her Diploma programme) was earthy and vibrant.
The course always ends with a concert. Participation is not obligatory and nobody is forced to play if they don’t want to. In fact, it is less nerve-wracking than one might imagine, playing for friends and family. It is also an important part of one’s study, for new ideas or insights often emerge during a performance, allowing one to view one’s music from a slightly different perspective. I opted to play the Messiaen, and while I “winged” it in places, overall I was pleased with it and have resumed working on it with renewed enthusiasm and interest. And suddenly, the sections which seemed so hard before are beginning to come together nicely, and the overall shape and flow of the piece is far better.
For anyone thinking about doing a piano course, Penelope Roskell is offering some “piano days” to give one a taster of the full course. More details about piano courses and workshops for piano teachers here:
Here’s a Spotify playlist based on the pieces played in the end of course concert at Penelope Roskell’s latest Advanced London Piano Course. I will write up the weekend properly when I have time, but in the meantime, I thought readers would enjoy the wide variety of repertoire we played over the weekend. As usual, the course was very supportive, inspiring and instructive, and I think everyone got a huge amount out of it. I know I did!
There is just one track missing from this playlist, an etude by American composer David Rakowski (b. 1958), which was the final piece in the concert, performed by pianist Helen Burford who specialises in contemporary repertoire (she also played Tariqa 1 by Peter Feuchtwanger). I’ve posted a YouTube clip of the piece instead.