Tag Archives: female pianist

Meet the Artist……Samantha Ward, pianist

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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

 

Valentina Lisitsa at Wigmore Hall

(photo: Gilbert Francois)

Ukrainian-born pianist Valentina Lisitsa first performed at London’s Wigmore Hall in late 2007. Since then, she has gone on to achieve an almost cult following on YouTube, due in no small part to her selfless posting of videos of her practice sessions, usually the most private and personal preserve of the musician’s working life.  I suspect that these glimpses into her daily musical routines have endeared her to her followers, proving that she, like the rest of us, has to work hard for her art. Clearly adept at harnessing the relatively new medium of YouTube and its associated social networking applications, she has enjoyed a cool 70 million clicks on her videos together with concerts at The Yellow Lounge, a neat concept established in Berlin in 2006 to bring classical music to a much younger audience by holding concerts in nightclubs.

I admit to being slightly wary of anything or anyone that is labelled “a sensation” or “must see/hear” (ditto “iconic” – a word which should probably be banned from all publicity material and reviews of musicians, books and art exhibitions!). However, I was curious to hear Valentina Lisitsa in concert as I had read largely positive things about her live performances, so I went to hear her at Wigmore Hall on Monday lunchtime with ears and mind very much open and receptive.

Ms Lisitsa is tall and slender, with long blonde hair, her lissome frame accentuated by a simple black gown and spindly stiletto sandals. Her stage presence is modest, demure almost: there are no flamboyant gestures or crowd-pleasing piano pyrotechnics beyond those technical theatrics necessarily for the music and when she plays she seems entirely focussed on the task in hand. For her lunchtime programme she presented two very well-known and highly dramatic sonatas – Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ and the craggy, Herculean Liszt B-minor, serious fare indeed.

The opening arpeggio of the Beethoven seemed unnecessarily elongated, so that its natural drama threatened to veer into the realms of cliché. However, taken with the explosive agitated first subject, when this motif reappeared, once again over-stretched, the effect was mysterious and convincing. A slow movement of beguiling warmth and tenderness prefaced an elegantly-turned finale, its tempo sufficiently reined in to allow us to enjoy Beethoven’s expression and inventiveness. I heard Maurizio Pollini play the same Sonata at the Royal Festival Hall a fortnight ago, and while the Italian maestro may have offered a more probing account born of many years spent living with this music, there was much to admire in Ms Lisitsa’s performance and there was no doubting her commitment, meticulous preparation, technical fluency and attention to detail. This proved a highly engaging reading of one of Beethoven’s best-loved Sonatas.

Liszt’s B-minor Sonata is a strange creature: heard on disc it can sound sprawling and disparate, but heard live and done well, it is a staggering music edifice. (Liszt scholar Alan Walker described it as “arguably one of the greatest keyboard works … of the nineteenth century”.) It takes an intelligent and daring pianist to pull all the elements together to create a whole. Divided into defined sections, demarcated by different tempo and expression markings – in effect, “movements” – these sections flow into one another, creating a single movement of non-stop music, lasting about 30 minutes.

Ms Lisitsa’s account had the requisite power and darkness in the opening statements, the famous theme which returns throughout the work. Her transitions between the sections were sensitively nuanced, creating a continuous, coherent narrative. There were moments of great transparency of sound, lyrical cantabile playing and delicate pianissimos. Her foot may have strayed to the una corda pedal a little too often in these passages, but overall her account was authoritative, at times thrillingly precipitous in the allegro and presto sections.

Checking with Sara Mohr Pietsch, the BBC Radio Three presenter for the concert, that an encore would be “allowed”, Ms Lisitsa gave a serene performance of Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s Ave Maria. This was followed by a coruscating Chopin Etude (Op 10, No. 12), proving that she is very much a “real pianist” and one who, by her own admission on Twitter in the hours following the concert, “here to stay”.

 

Meet the Artist……Ingrid Fuzjko Hemming, pianist

Ingrid Fuzjko Hemming

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

It was my pianist mother who wanted me to be a piano teacher and in a way, she forced me to learn the piano. She initially taught me, and as I continued my studies in Europe, I began developing a busy concert schedule.

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

Leonard Bernstein while I was studying in Europe, and my pet cats, dogs and birds who have been there throughout my life and career.

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

Just when I was launching my career and I was about to perform with Leonard Bernstein in Vienna, I contracted a really high fever and I ended up losing much of my hearing, much of which is lost still today. My search for medical treatment took me to Stockholm though, and I ended up broadcasting on the Swedish and German radio there, so the positive in me sees the opportunity it brought for me.

However, I would not really say that I think of that as my greatest musical challenge – every collaboration with other musicians and orchestras is a challenge in its own way. One of the greatest recent challenges was the Chopin piano concerto I played with Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra last year. The conductor as well as the whole orchestra were impressed with my performance and I was incredibly honoured to be asked to play with them again.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I am my worst enemy and have never been happy with any of my performances!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I think quite a few by Debussy, Chopin and Ravel.

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

I always try to decide my repertoire with the concert and tour audience in mind, to ensure they enjoy listening; after all, they are the ones who are buying the tickets. I would never choose my repertoire to please the critics.

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

I like venues with a retro feel to them, particularly ones in Paris. I do not remember the name but love the castle in Manheim, Germany where Mozart played just once. It is not famous at all…

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love playing pieces by Debussy, Ravel and Chopin, and listening to recordings by the Moscow Philharmonic and Royal Philharmonic.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Sergei Rachmaninoff and Georges Cziffra for the piano, and Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I do not think I have one – since I am always dissatisfied with my performance, I try to forget about it every time I finish playing!

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

To be artistic and not to care too much about technique. I think the music schools nowadays tend to teach their students only technique. The teachers are not artistic enough and focus too much on the technique which is sad.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am doing a lot of concerts in Europe and Japan this year. I am about to tour in Germany will be performing in London at Cadogan Hall on 23 March 2014.

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

I am planning to be retired by then, surrounded by my cats and dogs under a big tree and peacefully listening to the music such as Debussy’s “La Mer” and praying to God.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Believing in God and God’s promises.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My pet cats and dogs.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Listening to music while sewing.

What is your present state of mind? 

I feel life needs patience.

Ingrid Fuzjko Hemming performs works by Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, Brahms and Sukegawa with violinist Vasko Vassilev at London’s Cadogan Hall on 23rd March. Full details here

Born in Berlin to a Japanese pianist mother and a Russian-Swedish architect father, Fuzjko relocated to Tokyo at the age of five to be raised only by her mother, and also received piano lessons under her guidance. At the age of ten, Leonid Kreutzer, a Russian-born German pianist and her father’s longtime friend, started giving her piano lessons. At this point, he had predicted Fuzjko’s international success as a pianist. At 17, Fuzjko made her concert debut while still a high school student, and later won various prizes in major domestic competitions, such as the NHK Mainichi Music Contest and the Bunka Radio Broadcasting Co. Music Prize. She then began her professional career by collaborating with the Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and other Japanese Orchestras. Samson François who had just happened to be visiting Japan, heard her play and praised her musicianship and interpretation of Chopin and Liszt.

Fuzjko’s full biography

Interview date: 4th March 2014

Meet the Artist……Lucy Parham

pianist Lucy Parham (© Sven Arnstein)

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

Originally, my Mum inspired me to play. She was a keen amateur pianist and there was always music in the house. One of my earliest memories is of her practising for her diplomas and strains of beautiful Chopin and Beethoven sending me off to sleep at night.

I always wanted to be a musician, or, more to the point, I could never have imagined not having music in my life. When I was 18 I was the Piano Winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year and things just progressed gradually from there. I was at the Guildhall but I began to do a lot of professional engagements.

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

Since I was a child I had a profound love for the music of Robert Schumann. Looking back, he seems an unlikely candidate for an eight year old but I felt something spoke to me. As if it was a voice I understood. And I still feel that – although who knows whether my instincts are right, of course! It’s not just the piano music – it is his entire output. I only have to hear the opening of the 4th Symphony and I’m off! Brahms has a pretty similar effect on me.

Pianistically, I have always been inspired by Richard Goode and Mitsuko Uchida. I heard Richard Goode at the Wigmore Hall in June playing the last three Beethoven sonatas. It was a revelatory concert and something I shall always remember.

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

I think everything is a challenge. Performing in itself is the greatest challenge. But all the organising of concerts, learning repertoire, writing scripts, practising, travelling. It all takes it out of you, emotionally.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

My recent performance of Rêverie (with actor Henry Goodman) at the Wigmore Hall was a very happy occasion, as was touring the USA with the Schumann Concerto, conductor Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra. And last year, playing the Clara Schumann Concerto at the RFH with Jane Glover was rather special evening for me. Generally though, I’m pretty self critical and rarely feel that happy with myself. It’s the same with CDs, I think. All my recordings were the best I could do on that day. I don’t like listening back to them – I think they are snapshots of how you were in a particular moment. You always want to re-record them a year later!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

London’s Wigmore Hall

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Brahms’ First Piano Concerto is a particular favourite to perform. But I think these things chop and change depending on your mood and what is happening in your life. There are far too many favourites to name. And I have obsessions about Jerome Kern, all Tchaikovsky’s ballet music and about many jazz musicians like Stacey Kent, Jim Tomlinson and Miles Davis. The John Wilson Orchestra is extraordinary. I have been to all their Proms, which are my idea of heaven. John and I have worked together too (with the Philharmonia) and he is a really exceptional musician.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Where to start..?!

Dinu Lipatti, Daniel Barenboim, Richard Goode, Andras Schiff, Bryn Terfel, Yo Yo Ma, Itzak Perlman, Mitsuko Uchida, Sarah Connolly, Paul Lewis, Natalie Clein, Sir Colin Davis. I could go on and on, but…..

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are too many to list – but playing the Ravel Concerto in Moscow with the Moscow State Symphony Orchestra, with a formidable female conductor called Veronica Dudarova, must rank among them! Being on stage with the most extraordinary actors in my words and music evenings makes my feel very lucky, too. Performing “Nocturne” at the Almeida with Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman on the very same stage I had seen them perform “Duet For One” was memorable for me. I learn a lot from them too and it has opened up a whole new world for me.

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

My own highly inspirational teacher was Joan Havill. She was (and is) quite extraordinary in so many ways and I owe so much of what I do now to her original belief in me and her dedication. I try to pass that on to my pupils but whether I succeed with that who knows?!

I feel that humility as a performer, and as a teacher, is crucial. We really are just the servant of the music. Trying to get to the heart of what the composer wanted and not about you as the performer should always come first.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am learning the Schumann Humoreske Op.20. It has taken me a long time to tackle this piece – and I’m not sure why I never learnt it before. It is a masterpiece and hugely underrated. I am also learning Brahms’ Op.116 which is pure heaven for me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Perfect happiness is being at peace with yourself and being good and kind to those around you. It would also be owning my own private swimming pool – but sadly that isn’t ever going to happen!

Launched in December 2013, Lucy Parham’s King’s Place Sunday Coffee Concerts (Word/Play) continues throughout 2014. All details can be found here: 

2014 sees the launch of her new Sheaffer Sunday Matinee Series at St John’s Smith Square, featuring all four of her words and music concerts. Actors will be: Henry Goodman, Martin Jarvis, Joanna David, Alex Jennings, Juliet Stevenson, Harriet Walter and Simon Russell Beale. There will be a Q and A session after each performance. The first concert ‘Beloved Clara’ is on Sunday 19th January 2014. Further details can be found here: 

Lucy Parham first came to public attention as the Piano Winner of the 1984 BBC TV Young Musician of the Year. Having made her Royal Festival Hall concerto debut at 16, she has since appeared regularly at all the major concert venues in London and around the UK. Conductors with whom she collaborated include Barry Wordsworth, Sir Charles Groves, Bryden Thompson, Jane Glover, En Shao, Richard Hickox, Antoni Wit, Owain Arwel Hughes, Yoav Talmi, Veronika Dudarova, Martyn Brabbins, Sian Edwards, John Wilson and Jean-Claude Cassadesus. Festival appearances include, in the UK, Brighton, City of London, Perth, Leeds Castle, Rye, Bury St Edmunds, Three Choirs, Newbury, Victor Hugo, Guernsey, Canterbury, Cambridge, Winchester, Harrogate, BBC Proms, Welsh and Scottish Proms, Chelsea, Cardiff, North Norfolk and Oxford, and abroad, Bergen, Istanbul and Mexico City.

Full biography and more on Lucy’s website

www.lucyparham.com 

Concert review: Ivana Gavric at Wigmore Hall

Ivana Gavric (image credit: Sussie Ahlburg)

Sarajevo-born British pianist Ivana Gavric gave a lunchtime recital of great insight, emotional intensity, and colourful storytelling combined with musicality and pianism of the highest order at London’s Wigmore Hall on Thursday 28th November. The concert, part of Lisa Peacock Concert Management’s Lunchtime Showcase Recitals series, marked the launch of Ivana’s new disc of works by Grieg and multi award-winning British composer Cheryl Frances-Hoad for Champs Hill Records, a label which actively supports young artists. The Two Lyric Pieces by Cheryl Frances-Hoad received their London premiere at the concert.

Ivana opened her concert with Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, which the composer transcribed for piano in 1911. The work was presented in a concert of new music hosted by the Société Musicale Indépendante where the composers’ names were withheld to avoid favouritism or prejudice on the part of audience and critics. The Valses nobles et sentimentales were greeted with protests, cat-calls and booing, so acerbic was the harmonic and tonal palette, and only a handful of people correctly identified their composer. Ravel intended his Valses nobles et sentimentales to follow Schubert’s example (the 34 Valses Sentimentales D779 and 12 Valses nobles D969), creating a seamless suite of eight waltzes whose tonal colourings and harmonic complexities were already signposted in Gaspard de la Nuit (1908).

Ivana retained strong sense of the waltz rhythm throughout, and took the listener on a sensuous, romantic journey, conjuring up images of decadent Belle Epoque Paris and hinting at the Jazz Age to come. These stylish pieces were brought to life with subtle dynamic shadings, delicacy of touch (particularly evident in the final waltz), and sensitive articulation and pedalling. Moments of reflection were contrasted with bright exuberance in a performance rich in spontaneity, flexible yet convincing tempi, expression and musicality.

Janacek’s Piano Sonata 1.x.1905, “From the Street” signalled a complete change of mood, plumbing, as it does, the depths of melancholy with an aching poignancy in two movements entitled ‘Presentiment’ and ‘Death’ respectively. The incident which triggered the composition of this sonata was the death of a young worker during an anti-German demonstration on 1st October 1905. Ivana’s reading of this angry, agonised and profoundly emotional work was alert to the changing textures of Janacek’s writing, with fluid phrasing, and a convincing  judgement of mood, tempo and tonal colour. The first movement was haunting, with a tolling bell motive at the opening to which Ivana brought a spare stridency, which served to underline the tragedy in inherent in the entire work.

The Two Lyric Pieces by Cheryl Frances-Hoad, receiving their London premiere at the concert, formed a neat bridge between Janacek and the works by Grieg which closed the concert. The first piece, In the Dew, was inspired by the third of Janacek’s In the Mists and his Piano Sonata, and makes use of harmonic material from the former, and melodic material from the latter. The composer intended the piece to be performed after the Sonata, described by the composer as “something of a palate cleanser” after the sombre mood of Janacek’s work, with twinkling sounds and an accessible tonal idiom. Winsome and folksy in its outer sections, the lyrical middle section recalled Messiaen in some of its harmonies.

The second piece, Contemplation, is “a meditation (or contemplation!) on a few bars from the second movement of Grieg’s Sonata Op 7 (bars 17-20)…….I simply elaborated upon Grieg’s chords” (Cheryl Frances-Hoad). The work had a wonderfully transparency, thoughtfully translated by Ivana’s precise and delicate touch, and her clear understanding of the serenity of the piece.

The handful of bars which inspired Cheryl Frances-Hoad came after two charming short pieces by Grieg. The Sonata, in four movements, was performed with great colour, poetry and spaciousness, vividly evoking the landscape and folk music of the composer’s native Norway. And for an encore, Ivana treated us to more Grieg, a bright and rousing Wedding Day at Troldhaugen bringing to a close a recital replete in transparent sound, varied tonal shadings, technical security and an acute musicality.

Ivana Gavric’s new recording Grieg: Piano Works is available now. Details here

www.ivanagavric.com

Concert review: Madelaine Jones at the NPL Musical Society

My local music society based at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington is proving a rich and varied source of fine music this autumn. Last month I attended excellent concerts by Helen Burford, in an eclectic programme of mostly contemporary music, and Joseph Tong who played works by McCabe, Sibelius and Ravel, and ended with a rollicking ‘Wanderer Fantasy’ by Schubert. For the first concert of November, pianist Madelaine Jones returned to the NPL to give a lunchtime recital of works by Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and little-known female composer Louise Farrenc.

4bfbb2f28b-DSCF5588Now in her final year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, south-east London, Madelaine studies with my piano teacher, Penelope Roskell (I first met Maddie at one of my teacher’s weekend courses, some three years ago). A busy performing musician, Madelaine is now looking beyond next summer to where her musical studies might take her next: this recital was an opportunity for her to perform her programme for forthcoming auditions at the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music, Trinity, and Yale, amongst others.

Madelaine introduced her programme, explaining that Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ is considered to be the Old Testament of music, while Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas are the New Testament. As it happened, her programme contained works from both, and the opening Prelude from the Prelude & Fugue in D minor BWV 875 from Book 2 of the WTC was played with vigour, colour, and crisp articulation (Madelaine also plays the harpsichord, evident in her lightness of touch in the Prelude). The Fugue was more thoughtful, with sensitive attention to the strands of counterpoint (in her introduction, Madelaine described a fugue rather charmingly as “voices chasing each other”). This was an authoritative account, and a splendid opener for the concert.

Beethoven’s Opus 10 Piano Sonatas were published in 1798. The first and the third of the Opus are serious and tempestuous (the Op 10, no. 1 prefigures the Pathétique Sonata), but the middle sonata of the triptych, Op 10 no. 2 in F major, is more light-hearted, a “cheeky” first movement which amply displays Beethoven’s characteristic wit and musical humour. Madelaine was alert to the rapid shifts of mood, dynamics, and orchestration in Beethoven’s writing: a sprightly first movement gave way to an elegant minuet and trio, followed by a fugal finale, nimbly played by Madelaine. Sparing use of the pedal, precise articulation and musical intelligence resulted in a very colourful and enjoyable account of this early period sonata.

In a change to the printed programme, Stravinsky’s second Piano Sonata (1924) came next, again engagingly introduced by Madelaine. Composed while Stravinsky was resident in Paris in the 1920s, this Sonata harks back to Baroque and Classical models, and it was an inspired piece of programming to place it straight after the Beethoven, which helped illuminate the classical elements inherent in Stravinsky’s writing (a first movement in Sonata form – exposition, development, recapitulation – followed by a slow movement). Indeed, the slow movement, as Madelaine put it, was written as if Stravinsky had taken a typical Beethoven slow movement and simply “allowed the hands the wander around the keyboard”. Madelaine’s precise attention to detail, tonal clarity, energy of attack, and musical understanding made for a most interesting performance.

To finish Madelaine played the Air russe varié, op. 17 by Louise Dumont Farrenc, a French composer who, according to Schumann, writing in his Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik showed great promise, but who has fallen into obscurity. And indeed the work Madelaine performed was redolent of Schumann’s own music with its contrasting and varied movements and musical volte-faces. This work was proof that Madelaine is equally comfortable in Romantic repertoire, delivering a performance that caught the full emotional sweep and virtuosity of this music: a committed, bravura performance founded on solid technique and undeniable musicality.

Details of Madelaine’s forthcoming concerts can be found on her website:

madelainejones.co.uk

My Meet the Artist interview with Madelaine

Forthcoming concerts at the National Physical Laboratory Musical Society:

6th November – Corrine Morris, cello and Kathron Sturrock, piano

11th November – Alice Pinto, piano

18th November – Nadav Hertzka, piano

22nd November – Kathron Sturrock, piano

26th November – Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist), piano in works by Bach, Cage, Debussy, Liszt, Elgar, and Messiaen

Concerts take place in the Scientific Music, Bushy House, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington TW11 0LW, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.

Meet the Artist……Frances Yonge, pianist & composer

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

I salute my late mother for insisting that I continue with my piano studies despite my pre-Grade 1 tantrums. Once I’d got through the tricky first stage, there was no stopping me. As an adult, I decided to make music my career after three years studying marketing. This time without music showed me that my life would be barren without it. I had a eureka moment, signed up for a music degree at Southampton University and never looked back.

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

My father showed me that I could make anything from anything, and not to put up barriers in the creative process. This idea of creativity was inherent in my upbringing and has given me freedom in my songwriting to get across unique emotions and ideas in a powerful way. I have always been hooked on the craft of songwriting, using the millions of notes and words in my head and weaving them together. The process is much like conceiving and giving birth to a new life, spiritual and mechanical at the same time.

I was fortunate to be taught the piano by composer Debbi Parks. Debbi encouraged my creativity and I often played her my ideas in my lessons, learning the piano without pressure. Debbi has been a great source of inspiration to me and has also guided my career. We are both ISTD ballet pianists (Debbi wrote some of the ISTD music) and also improvise for the Royal Opera House’s ‘Chance to Dance’ education programme!

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

Balancing family life with creativity is always a challenge but my children are very grounding and balance is a good thing. Like most artists, I find it hard to self promote. I don’t have an agent and whilst I enjoy the freedom that brings, my ‘shy writer’ side is filled with dread when I have some new music to market.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?  

I am very proud of my 2012 album, ‘My Garden’. The title song was written about my children and I dedicated the album to them. I was delighted when Code: Marla remixed two of my songs and it’s amazing to hear piano based songs with beats and bass. I particularly love The Big Freeze remix. This song means a lot to me as it is about my recovery after a head-on car crash I had three years ago.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

I don’t perform extensively but every few months I sing at the Grey Lady in Tunbridge Wells. It’s a wonderful place and I have met many inspirational musicians there. The music scene in Tunbridge Wells is thriving and Paul Dunton has played a huge part in this, providing musicians like me with the opportunity to perform in a magical setting.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love playing Debussy and the second Arabesque is my signature piece. Bach’s Preludes and Fugues are intriguing, beautiful and highly addictive. I have recently discovered a strange connection to the music of Shostakovich and am looking forward to trying out some of his piano works (any suggestions?). I listen to a wide range of music, from electronic, to classical, to folk. It’s all music!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

My favourite songwriters are Neil Hannon (Divine Comedy) and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode) and Trent Reznor. PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and Kate Bush have influenced me greatly and I see them as women of musical integrity and emotional depth. I am also in awe of any musician who is self taught and has learnt everything by ear. Such musicians seem to have great musical insight and intuition as well as incredible determination.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

A charity piano recital I did to help me towards doing my diploma in 2011. As an unseasoned Classical performer I was well out of my comfort zone but I gained much from the experience. I find the phrase ‘no pain, no gain’ is very true of Classical piano but joy of a great performance (even to yourself in your own living room) is exhilarating.

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

Be authentic, have integrity, listen, don’t compare yourself to others, don’t rush. Remember why you love music.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A song for a wedding; I love commissions!

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

An Ivor Novello would be nice! I plan to have to have several more albums under my belt. I hope to continue and grow my work as a ballet pianist and also develop my work in music education as a music practitioner and piano teacher.

Piano-wise, I aim to become adept in Blues piano and also nail a few of the Chopin Études, the last of which will probably take the most time!

Frances Yonge is a songwriter, pianist, singer and improviser. She is also a creative musician for Royal Opera House Education and music practitioner.

Frances’ album My Garden is available now. Listen to sample tracks:

See more at: www.francesyonge.co.uk

Concert review: Helen Burford at NPL Musical Society

pianist Helen Burford

pianist Helen Burford

While the famous south London parakeets squawked in the trees of Bushy Park outside, inside Bushy House, home to the National Physical Laboratory’s Musical Society, Brighton-based pianist Helen Burford gave a lunchtime recital of great imagination and musical colour, demonstrating the full tonal, percussive and emotional range the piano can offer.

Now in its 63rd season, the NPL Musical Society hosts regular concerts throughout the year featuring a varied range of artists, both established and up-and-coming, and provides useful performance experience for young musicians in conservatoires and music colleges who are preparing for end of year, or final recitals. (Indeed, my own piano teacher played at the NPL when she was a young woman.) The venue boasts a rather stately 1911 Steinway, and the audience is supportive, friendly and interested.

Helen trained at Birmingham Conservatoire, the University of Sussex and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and has studied with a number of renowned teachers, including Heather Slade-Lipkin, Peter Feuchtwanger and Stephen Gutman. A champion of British and American new music, her NPL concert reflected her passion for this repertoire, with an eclectic programme of works by contemporary composers, including Martin Butler and David Rakowski.

Chick Corea’s ‘Three Improvisations’ offered a gentle entrée to the programme. The first and third pieces in the triptych, Where have I known you before and Where have I loved you before, were played with a wistful, sensuous sensitivity, while the middle movement was a lively, toe-tapping dance.

I have heard Helen perform Somei Satoh’s ‘Incantation II’ several times, and each time it has been slightly different, and always highly absorbing. The work, which has never been published, relies on the minimalist technique of prolonging a single unit of sound, while creating the sensation of a ‘rhythmic limbo’, a sense of stasis that is characteristically Japanese (cf the music of Toru Takemitsu). The music makes full use of the piano’s resonant qualities, creating a remarkable bloom of sound, which suggests a variety of instruments including cello, horn, bells, harp, drums. Building slowly from a simple opening, this music is hypnotic and meditative, and Helen’s controlled and intense performance made this an extraordinary and unusual musical experience.

Following this with a sonata by Scarlatti was inspired, for it highlighted not only the mannered elegance of the Baroque but also how revolutionary Scarlatti was, in his daring use of dissonance and unusual harmonies. It was performed with a lyrical simplicity.

The next work, a piece by composer Ester Mägi, named after an instrument called a kannel, a kind of plucked zither or psaltery, recalled the folk music of Mägi’s native Estonia with stamping off-beats and haunting melodies, to which Helen brought great colour, sensitive dynamic shading, and rhythmic vitality.

From the folk idioms of eastern Europe to the industrial western city in Martin Butler’s ‘Rumba Machine’, a celebratory fanfare-like piece, which suggests swiftly turning cogs and wheels of machines and the blaring sirens and honking horns of the city over a compelling rumba beat. This, together with David Rakowski’s witty Étude ‘A Gliss is Just a Gliss’, a study on glissandi, was played with an extrovert elan, bringing to a close a most enjoyable and refreshingly original lunchtime recital.

Helen will be performing a similar programme at the launch of the South London Concert Series on 29th November 2013 at the 1901 Arts Club. Further details here slcs1901.wordpress.com. Tickets southlondonconcerts@gmail.com

NPL Musical Society concerts take place in the Scientific Museum, Bushy House, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington TW11 0LW. Tickets £3 on the door.

Upcoming concerts this season include: 23 October – Joseph Tong, piano; 1 November – Madelaine Jones, piano; 11 November – Alice Pinto, piano; 22 November – Kathron Sturrock, piano. Further details Stephen.Lea@npl.co.uk

Meet the Artist……Anika Vavic, pianist

Anika Vavic (photo credit: Marco Borggreve)

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

I was lucky to have very motivating teachers from the very beginning of my musical career. I attended Ivo Pogorelich´s recital in Belgrade when I was 9 years old (alone, because it was sold out so my parents couldn’t accompany me) and the atmosphere in the concert hall fascinated me so much – so much that I felt a desire to perform professionally. I remember Pogorelich performing a Chopin programme, and it was so fantastic I couldn’t sleep that night. I felt and thought that I saw a lion making music with that Steinway piano.

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

My teachers Noel Flores, Lazar Berman and Mstislav Rostropovich, and the ‘old school pianists’ such as Sofronitzky, Rachmaninov, Richter, Gilels to name some, as well as Radu Lupu, Sokolov, Barenboim.

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

My “Rising Stars” tour was certainly thrilling where I had the opportunity to perform at the Carnegie Hall and Concertgebouw for example. Another fantastic experience was my debut performance at the great Vienna Konzerthaus performing Tchaikovsky´s Piano Concerto No.1. Also, the first time I performed with Valery Gergiev was very special.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

In general, all the performances where I felt I was going beyond the “concept”, including my visualized 3D model of the composition I was performing [and discovering a new angle of the piece while performing.  I love the Schumann "Kreisleriana" I recorded for the last CD – that’s a recording that I will still love in 20 years.

 Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

My favourite venues are the Vienna Musikverein, Vienna Konzerthaus, the new Mariinsky Concert Hall and definitely the Conservatory in Moscow.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing any piece by Bach, Haydn Sonatas, Beethoven (especially op. 101), Schumann, Ravel, Brahms, Scriabin, everything by Prokofiev… I love listening to Brahms' Double Concerto with Oistrakh/Rostropovich.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The musicians who serve the music and not themselves are my favourite: Oistrach, Rostropovich, Richter, Gilels, Rachmaninow, Sofronitzky, Sokolov, Lupu, Maazel, Gergiev, Jansons…. Unfortunately such musicians seem to disappear with the rise of the younger generation, and the whole music making fashion.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I remember performing Bach´s Italian Concerto among other compositions and enjoying sitting on the grand chair in this great hall in Belgrade, and all the attention that I received along with it. I was 11 I think, and I thought, ‘that´s how Pogorelich must feel on this same chair and piano we are "sharing" as colleagues’.

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

Honesty and real love towards music, and looking back to the old times where there was ‘no selling of emperor's new clothes’ as it is today with making music – my advice to aspiring new musicians is to take it from there and keep the musical morality.

What are you working on at the moment?

The phenomenal 4th Piano Concerto by Rodion Shchedrin for my performance with Valery Gergiev, and Prokofiev´s 3rd Piano Concerto as I will be performing this piece at the Proms this month and the Enescu Festival in September.

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

Continuing the collaboration with my dear colleagues Valery Gergiev, Vladimir Jurowski, Paavo Jarvi, but also performing with Mariss Jansons, for instance.

What is your most treasured possession?

Vivid recollections of beautiful moments.

Anika Vavic performs Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C major with Vladimir Jurowski on Friday 30th August. Further details here

Pianist Anika Vavic made her performance debut at Vienna’s Konzerthaus in 2003, and as a result, was chosen for the 2003/04 season highly commended “Rising Stars” concert cycle, leading to further performances in some of the world’s most famous concert halls. Together with the Musikverein, the Österreichischer Rundfunk produced a CD of her recital program from the season; Anika’s first release. Her latest disc, featuring works by Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin and Prokofiev was released in 2010 to great acclaim.

Anika works regularly with orchestras such as the Mariinsky Orchestra, the Munich Philharmonic and the MDR Orchestra Leipzig, and performs at festivals such as the ”White Nights” festival in St. Petersburg, the Istanbul Music Festival and Valery Gergiev’s Mikkelli Festival in Finland.

Her upcoming engagements include concerts with the Mariinsky Orchestra in July 2013, her debut performances with the London Philharmonic Orchestra at the BBC Proms and at the Enescu Festival in August 2013 and her return to the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra in March 2014. [Biography courtesy of Wildkat PR]

www.anikavavic.com

CD review: Klara Min Plays Chopin Mazurkas

Fryderyk Chopin’s evergreen Mazurkas lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations, and on her CD on the Delos label, Korean pianist Klara Min shines another light on them in a personal survey of her favourites.

The mazurka is a Polish folk dance in three time with an accent on the second or third beat. Chopin elevated the form into the concert miniature, in effect creating a new genre that became known as the “Chopin genre”. The sixty-nine Mazurkas that he composed in his lifetime remain amongst his best-loved music for piano. They offer some of the most intimate musical insights into Chopin’s relationship with his homeland, with their lilting rhythms and harmonies, poignant suspensions, tender, meandering melodies and falling cadences, and the subtle use of rubato. Others are more lively, with bright rhythms and piquant textures; yet all seem imbued with zal, that untranslatable Polish word so often associated with the music of Chopin, suggesting nostalgia and longing.

Klara Min’s approach to these works is sympathetic and thoughtful, if occasionally a little too studied in some of the phrasing and use of tenuto. But overall she neatly captures the individual idiosyncrasies, and shifting nuances and textures of these miniatures, with melodies sensitively highlighted, though never at the expense of the interior architecture of the music (the Mazurkas are replete with complex harmonies and counterpoint). A warm tone and wide-ranging pianistic colours, combined with supple tempo rubato, a plaintive tenderness, which runs through all the works on the CD, and Min’s technical acuity result in a charming reading of these exquisite miniatures. The selection closes as intimately as it opens, with the heartrending Op 68, no. 4, Chopin’s last composition – a piece which my piano teacher says she never teaches to students “because it is so very special”.

The CD comes with detailed notes and is produced with vibrant, clean sounds.

Klara Min will feature in a forthcoming Meet the Artist interview