Tag Archives: pianist

The Practice of Practising

An interesting programme broadcast on BBC Radio Three in which concert pianist Stephen Hough talks about the activity of practising, memory, how to balance perfection in practise with a sense of “letting go” in performance, and much more. With contributions from Nicola Benedetti, Joyce Di Donato, and Julian Bream. Many interesting insights from top international artists which have relevance to musicians of all levels.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03lzrsk

 

 

Meet the Artist……Christopher Guild, pianist

Christopher Guild, pianist

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

Not my family, initially, although to their great credit my parents were always entirely supportive of me in any of my aspirations – and still are.  A dear friend of the family, who lived round the corner from us at the time, was a great classical music lover and had a piano in her home.  It was she who incited in me a real interest in classical music.

I had already begun to play the violin at my local primary school (this was by the time I was 8 years old), and she was getting in to the habit of practicing with me every day after school for 20 minutes.   I remember being allowed to play on the piano for 10 minutes after my violin practice every day, and chatting to this lady about classical music: she was from Berlin, and I remember her enthusing me about the great German composers, mainly Schumann and Beethoven.  Eventually I asked my Mum if I could start having piano lessons, and so they began in Elgin, the town of my birth, in 1995.

Years passed until I found myself in my third year at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, working hard at the violin and keeping the piano ticking over although not taking it that seriously despite a recent victory at the Moray Piano Competition.  Something happened around this time and I suddenly realised I couldn’t stand the prospect of making the violin my career – although I still maintain I had a real flair for the instrument and indeed could have succeeded as a session musician, I never found it that comfortable to play and I always felt a deeper connection with the piano.  Somehow the piano suited me better: it seemed a more ‘independent’ instrument, you had total command of the music you were playing (I remember my teacher at the time, Margaret Wakeford, counselling me to ‘be your own conductor!’ when I played), and on the whole I much preferred the repertoire.  It promised me a greater deal artistically, even if the career path was to be more precarious.

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

There are many people and many things, but one of the most important people has been Andrew Ball, whom I studied with at the Royal College of Music (London) for six consecutive years.  It was his open-mindedness, his way of thinking about music and indeed his great knowledge of just about everything which has steered me in to becoming who I am artistically.

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

I suppose this might be commonplace among all music college graduates in their mid-twenties, but it is the combination of attempting to make ends meet, whilst pursuing my artistic ambitions, and maintaining my artistic integrity in all that I do.  Keeping up my standards of playing amidst a hectic life of teaching, rehearsing, performing and of course those interminable periods spent on trains is certainly a challenge!

Which performances are you most proud of?  

Tricky!  I have to say that some of my recitals as a student tend to stand out: I’m proud that I performed works by Elliott Carter and Stockhausen in the same recital, for instance, and that I felt completely involved in the music.  Also, performances I gave of Reubke’s magnificent Piano Sonata in B-flat two years ago, a piece which has come to mean a lot to me.  More recently, playing the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor with Sian Edwards in Milton Keynes in 2012 was extremely memorable.  And of course, playing as part of my duo at our Wigmore Hall debut in November 2012 was very special.  Being in the green room before stepping on stage was something in itself, just looking at all the signed photos of so many of ‘the greats’ gazing down on you makes you realise just what a privilege it is to be performing in that hall.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Favourites so far in my career have been: Wigmore Hall, for the acoustic (it’s perfect, that’s it).  There have been a few stately homes and churches that were very comfortable to play in too.  I really enjoyed the Pump Room in Bath

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ask me in ten minutes and I’ll have changed my mind!  These days I’m gravitating largely towards British Music.  I have a real ‘thing’ for the Bridge Piano Sonata, the three Elgar chamber works too.  The music of Kevin Volans interests me currently.  As a performer, I strongly hope to get back in to contemporary music next season.  It sounds trite, I suppose, but any music with a truly strong and vital message will surely grab me.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Glenn Gould, for his individuality, his refusal to compromise his artistic vision and integrity – I think that’s a very important thing.  Whenever I hear piano rolls, or old records, of the now lost age of pianists I come away feeling totally inspired.  I recently bought an LP of a piano roll of Moritz Rosenthal and some of the playing is mindblowing!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but sometimes how people react to a performance I’ve given is what makes a concert particularly memorable.  For example, after performing at the Dorking Halls in Surrey last season, a Russian lady came up to me in the foyer and gave me a little matrioska doll, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for my performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3.  She was visibly moved (slightly choked), and it was the way she did it  anonymously too which made the experience so potent.  I keep the matroyshka on the bookshelves next to my piano: it reminds me of music’s power to enhance peoples lives, its possibilities, its importance.

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

Keep an open mind!  You’re about to enter a field which is enormously competitive, a lot of people will be striving for the same goals.  It pays to think outside the box a little.  Try never to turn down opportunities, even if they seem irrelevant to your interests: I’ve pursued paths I never dreamt of pursuing (or particularly wanted to pursue), and I ended up with quite a few great concerts, or jobs, that I would never have got otherwise.  And never lose sight of your artistic goals.  Above all, have fun!

What are you working on at the moment?

The biggest project this year has been preparing the vast majority of Ronald Center’s piano music for recording.  Ronald Center (1913-73) was an Aberdonian composer whose music has been incredibly neglected both during his lifetime and since his death. Aside from this, I’m preparing quite a lot of duo repertoire, namely works with violin – Sonatas by Grieg, Haydn, Hindemith and Janacek – and works with oboe – Sonatas by Poulenc and Dutilleux.

What is your present state of mind? 

Positive!

Christopher Guild’s new recording of piano music by Ronald Center is available now on the Toccata Classics label. Further details including sample sound clips here

Born in Elgin in 1986 and brought up on Speyside, Christopher Guild studied piano and violin locally before entering St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh aged 13.  He returned to Morayshire one year later to take top honours in the Moray Piano Competition – a victory which sees him as the youngest ever winner to this day. 

Christopher entered the Royal College of Music in 2005 as a Foundation Scholar, and remained there under the tutelage of Andrew Ball until 2011, successfully gaining a First Class BMus (Hons), and the MMus and Artist Diploma’s with Distinction.  He now combines a busy schedule as a performer with extensive work as a teacher, and coaches students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he is the Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance.

Christopher Guild acknowledges the following organisations for their invaluable support to his studies at the RCM: Dewar Arts Awards, the Robertson Scholarship Trust, the Alistair Maclachlan Memorial Trust, the Cross Trust, The Royal Caledonian Schools Trust, the Hope Scott Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarships Trust, the RCM Foundation, a Michael Whittaker Scholarship, and an Ian Fleming Award Award administered by the Musician’s Benevolent Fund. 


Christopher Guild’s full biography here

Christopher Guild’s Facebook fan page

Meet the Artist……Amit Yahav

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

There was a piano in the house ever since before I was born. It was my mother’s; she had played the piano as a young girl, and still plays the piano as a hobby occasionally today. It was a brown upright piano, which her grandfather had purchased for her. I have loved music for as long as I have memories, and have always enjoyed playing the piano. When I was slightly older and more advanced, my teacher at the time, Oscar Cano, explained to my parents that I needed a better instrument in order to make further progress. It was around the times that my parents bought a grand piano that they were able to afford, and I started going to watch concerts at the Concertgebouw (I grew up in Amsterdam) that I remember thinking, I want to be on that stage.

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

The greatest influences on my playing have been three of my teachers: in no particular order, the late Yonty Solomon, Oscar Cano, Mikhail Kazakevich and Niel Immelman. Most of what I know about playing the piano I learnt from these four great pianists.

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

The music profession is one that requires a lot of persistence, and a great deal of determination. From performing and recording to teaching, almost everything in music is a challenge. For me it has always been a question of finding a new approach to learning a passage, or to explaining something to a student, etc.

The fact that classical music is being somewhat pushed aside in favour of other forms of music means that we keep being challenged to keep this century-old tradition alive, and to keep it relevant.

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

In June 2012, I played my Artist Diploma recital at the Royal College of Music. The programme included two Beethoven sonatas (“Moonlight” and “Appassionata”), as well as the Liszt Dante Sonata and Chopin’s G Minor Ballade. This mammoth programme, without a break, was a performance of which I was very proud.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Every performance venue is different. I very much enjoyed playing in the Kleine Zaal of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the the Felicja Blumental Hall in Tel Aviv, and in the Purcell Room in London. I am generally more preoccupied with the instrument than with the hall. I love playing in locations that are more intimate, because I feel that I can then really communicate with everyone in the audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

This is difficult. There are so many! I really enjoy playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Liszt Sonata, Beethoven’s “Appassionata” and his Fourth Concerto, so many things by Chopin, Saint-Saëns’s G Minor Concerto… Like I said, there are so many!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love listening to Radu Lupu and Grigory Sokolov playing live. Of those pianists who are no longer alive, I really love many of Arrau’s recordings, as well as those of

Gilels’s and Richter’s. One of the pianists whose recordings I really admire is Julius Katchen. For some unknown reason, despite being quite a well-known name during his life, he seems to have been somewhat forgotten of late.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I remember watching the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta at the BBC Proms. It was a dreadful experience, in a way, because people with political affiliations made great efforts to try and stop the concert and interrupt it in the middle. The orchestra, however, played all the way to the end. For me, it was a sort of affirmation of the power of music, and how it is above political divisions.

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

I think that good practice habits are crucial. Learning how to practise efficiently can dramatically reduce the amount of time one needs to spend practising a given passage. This has two important implications. Firstly, it allows one to learn a greater amount of repertoire, and to learn works quickly. I had to learn Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in 4 weeks once. Secondly, the risk of repetitive strain injuries is reduced if one doesn’t need to spend 8 hours a day practising.

What are you working on at the moment?

Bach – C Minor Partita

Chopin – Polonaises op. 26, Concerto in F Minor op.21

Liszt – Transcendental Etude in F Minor (no. 10)

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love it when I get the time and the chance to learn something new. Preparing a new work for performance or recording is, for me, the ultimate journey of discovery.

Amit Yahav performs at St James, Piccadilly on Monday 14th October. Further details here

Recipient of numerous international scholarships and awards, Amit Yahav is a graduate of the Royal College of Music with distinction. Following his distinction on the Master of Music course, he was invited to participate in the RCM’s exclusive Artist Diploma programme under the tutelage of Prof. Niel Immelman and Prof. Vanessa Latarche, from which he also graduated with distinction. Previously, he had studied in London with the legendary Prof. Yonty Solomon and Prof. Mikhail Kazakevich, and in Amsterdam with Oscar Cano and Marjès Benoist.

Amit Yahav’s full biography

www.amityahav.com

Meet the Artist……Nadav Hertzka

Nadav Hertzka

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

There was always music in my family, my father played the cello as a boy and my sister played piano for a few years. It was never a conscious decision to make it a career, more of a realisation that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I don’t want to sound too naïve, but I still view it that way.

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

In a way, the early influences are the most important ones, so I still consider the first recording I’ve heard of Murray Perahia as the single most powerful influence on my playing.

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

There are lots of imperfect pianos out there, flight delays, last minute repertoire changes, etc. The main challenge is to have the right approach and try to make the best out of every situation.

Tell me about your new recording. How did you find the recording experience?

I feel very lucky, I’ve had a gorgeous Fazioli and an incredible team to work with. I’ve been in a studio many times before, but Henry Wood Hall felt different of course, a place with such rich history of recordings. At first you’re very aware of the situation, but once you let go it’s really just you and the music, and that’s a beautiful feeling.

I hear there is a second recording coming up in 2014?

Yes, I’m already hard at work. Very exciting repertoire, and it also gives me a chance to work with both my teachers again, Arie Vardi and Christopher Elton, so I’m very happy about that as well.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I’ve performed several times in Wigmore Hall now and each time is special. So that’s probably my favourite.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Anything by Schubert, really. I hope that doesn’t sound too simplistic.

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

Well, I don’t compose, but I did write a few Cadenzas to some Mozart Concerti. Not proud enough I guess, in the end I’ve always played the original Mozart cadenza.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing Mozart’s “Coronation” Concerto, and from the first note everything just clicked, it all fell into place straight away. That’s very rare.

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

I think the most important thing is to understand the language, how music is written. There’s a strange Schenkerian consensus among too many people I think, that no one seems to question. To impose this method on every piece, every composer, is precisely to miss the point. It also goes without saying that one should be familiar with as much repertoire as possible, especially the kind you don’t find appealing at first.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m preparing for some concerts, playing Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet for the first time, as well as some new Liszt and Debussy. I’m also premièring a new work by Freya Waley-Cohen, titled “Five Breaths”.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know about “perfect”, but in one way or another it would include a David Aaronovitch piece, defending free expression and democratic values, a Mahler Symphony and most likely some Baklavas to go with my Turkish coffee.

Nadav Hertzka performs in the “Pietre Che Cantano” international Festival in Rocca di Mezzo, Italy.

Nadav’s Tchaikovsky disc (Skarbo) is available now from Amazon, iTunes and other retailers.

Israeli pianist Nadav Hertzka has performed throughout the United States, Europe and Asia in major venues such as Carnegie Weill Hall, Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Shanghai Conservatory, and Avery Fisher Hall. His festival appearances include the Mostly Mozart Festival in Lincoln Center, the Beethoven Festival in Israel and the Mozart Festival in Malta, as well as engagements in China, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, England and Scotland.

Mr. Hertzka made his orchestral debut at age 14 with the Haifa Symphony Orchestra, and has since worked with conductors Trevor Pinnock, Yi-An Xu, Mendi Rodan, Ishay Steckler, Eliezer Hachiti and Talia Ilan among others. He was featured on Radio and Television, including BBC3 and BBC Scotland. Winner of many international prizes and awards, including the Pinault Society International Piano Competition in New-York, the Frank Peleg and Ben-Haim competitions in Israel, the Rubin Academy Piano Prize, The Daniel Howard Trust Award, the Carlton House Award, and Howard de Walden Award. He is also a winner of the America-Israel Cultural Foundation Scholarship Competition, and has won scholarships in both Piano and Chamber Music.

Born in Tel-Aviv in 1986, Mr. Hertzka began his studies at age seven with Mrs. Nina Tansky. In 1996, he continued his studies with Mrs. Hadassah Gonen at the Israeli Conservatory of Music. He received his BMus Degree from the Tel-Aviv Rubin Academy as a student of Prof. Arie Vardi, and his MA Degree with Mr. Christopher Elton at the Royal Academy of Music, London.

The Beethoven Piano Concerto Project

It has long been my ambition to perform all 5 Beethoven Concertos in one evening, and it is great to be able to do this in a concert in aid of the Musicians Benevolent Fund. This charity has done so much over many decades to support musicians who have fallen into difficulties of one sort or another and provides invaluable scholarship money to talented students. The icing on the cake is that this will happen in my old Alma Mater, the RNCM in its 40th anniversary year, with an orchestra comprising many of its students past and present, with the very talented young conductor Daniel Parkinson. (Martin Roscoe)

All five piano concertos in one evening, performed by Martin Roscoe, one of the UK’s most acclaimed and versatile pianists, and conducted by Daniel Parkinson, together with an introduction by John Suchet. This promises to be a marathon feast of music, culminating in Beethoven’s Fifth ‘Emperor’ Concerto in the final concert at 9pm. By presenting all the concertos in a single day, audience members attending all three concerts will be offered a unique window on Beethoven’s creative life, and insights into the evolution of the piano concerto in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, from the youthful post-Haydn Nos. 1 and 2, through the No. 4, which marked a major turning point in the development of the concerto with the piano entering before the orchestra, to the sweeping proto-Romantic and virtuosic No, 5, the ‘Emperor’.

The concerts take place at the Royal Northern College of Music on 5th October, from 5pm, and tickets are available now. For further information, please visit the Beethoven Piano Concerto Project website: www.beethovenpianoconcertos.co.uk

I recently interviewed conductor Daniel Parkinson for my Meet the Artist series. Read his interview here.

BeethovenPCP A5 FLYER1

Meet the Artist……Clare Hammond

Clare Hammond (image credit Julie Kim)

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

I was given piano lessons for my sixth birthday. My mother had always wanted to learn but had never had the chance so she was keen that I had the opportunity. I enjoyed the lessons, but didn’t consider making a career of music until I was 8 and was taken to an orchestral concert at the Royal Centre in Nottingham. I can’t remember which orchestra I heard now, unfortunately, but I was absolutely swept away by the music and decided then and there that I wanted to be a pianist. Of course, I had no idea then what this would entail, but the seed had been sown!

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

I think it’s important as a musician to be open to all sorts of influences so I couldn’t really point to any dominant strains in my playing. I try to listen to as many live performances and recordings as possible, and also to take what I can from observing theatre, dance and even sport. I enjoy teaching and learn a great deal both from explaining things in novel ways to my students and from the phrases they use to articulate their problems or thoughts to me.

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

I spend a great deal of time working by myself and have found, as a result, that the greatest challenge of my career is to maintain perspective. It’s very easy to be thrown off course temporarily by minor setbacks and I sometimes feel that there is so much to achieve, in such a short space of time, that it can be extremely daunting.

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

I adore working with orchestras and ensembles as it’s such a pleasure to be able to react to somebody else’s sound. You are forced to collaborate in real time, which is both risky and incredibly exciting. It’s easier to track the emotional and psychological development of a work when you’re not solely responsible for it, or at least it’s less exhausting to sustain!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of my debut album, ‘Piano Polyptych’, which is a collection of contemporary piano music by British composers. It was quite a strain to learn all the repertoire in time for the recording, especially as much of it is extremely complex, but I have had so many opportunities as a result of the project. It was a particular pleasure to collaborate with the composers. It’s a completely different experience when you’re working on music by living composers as they can tell you exactly what kind of sound they’re aiming for. It brings an element of dialogue into what can otherwise be a very solitary pursuit.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I’ve performed in a number of venues with wonderful acoustics, but my principal concern when playing in concert is the quality of the piano. Recently, the best that I’ve encountered was at St George’s Hall in Bristol. Their newer Steinway is extremely responsive and has a very pure, glowing tone, supported admirably by the acoustic of the hall itself.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Personally or musically? In either case, I’m not sure I can answer this question. I know so many wonderful musicians who have so much to offer that to place them in any kind of order would be impossible!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

My most memorable experience of performing was not for an official concert per se but at my parents-in-law’s house. My father-in-law is a vicar and I gave a recital for a music society near to his parish a few months ago. Several of his parishioners were keen to hear me but couldn’t make it to the recital so we arranged a coffee concert the following morning. I performed on an upright piano in their front room, surrounded by about 12 people many of whom had never been to a classical music concert before. I’m not sure if it was due to the intimacy of the venue, or the fact that I knew many of these people personally, but I felt that my playing was at its most communicative. I now try to recreate that, with varying levels of success, in larger halls!

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

Again, I can’t give a specific answer to this question. Different works or styles of music are suitable for different occasions and express wildly varying emotions. In fact, one of things I love about being a pianist is the breadth of the repertoire. However hard you work, you can never learn everything that has been written for the piano so there are always new horizons to strive towards.

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

I’ve found that the most important skill in teaching is to be able to tailor what you’re trying to explain to the particular skills and aptitudes of the student. Of course, there is a broad ‘syllabus’ of concepts that you need to communicate to students depending on the level that they’re currently at, but you also need to draw out what is individual and unique about them as a person. When I was studying with Ronan O’Hora, at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, I had the impression that he never taught two students in the same way. First, you have to understand the student as a personality, and then you can start teaching them music.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve been working on Piani, Latebre by Piers Hellawell, whose Das Leonora Notenbuch and Basho I recorded as part of ‘Piano Polyptych’. Piani, Latebre was commissioned by the pianist William Howard who premiered it at the Spitalfields Festival in 2010. I performed it as part of my inaugural recital as Artist-in-Residence at Queen’s University Belfast on 11th October 2012. My programme also included two pieces, Portrait and Spring Fantasy, by the Northern-Irish composer, Hamilton Harty, which have only recently been discovered. It’s quite exciting to give a world premiere of pieces which were written nearly 80 years ago!

What is your present state of mind?

Calm, on the whole, and drowsy. I’ve just eaten an enormous meal and the resulting haze of contentedness is impeding my ability to think clearly…

Acclaimed by The Daily Telegraph as a pianist of “amazing power and panache”, Clare Hammond has performed across Europe, Russia and Canada and has appeared recently at the Wigmore and Barbican Halls in London and the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. Her Purcell Room debut for the Park Lane Group concert series was praised by The Guardian for its “crisp precision and unflashy intelligence”.

A passionate advocate of twentieth and twenty-first century music, Clare combines a formidable technique and virtuosic flair onstage with stylistic integrity and attention to detail. Since her debut with orchestra at the age of eleven, she has acquired a concerto repertoire of over 20 works which she has performed at major venues across the UK and on the continent. Solo engagements have included recitals in concert series and festivals across Britain, in France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Russia.

Clare Hammond’s full biography

Recordings, film clips and an interview at www.clarehammond.com/recordings.html

Forthcoming concerts:

Monday 24 June, City of London Festival

Saxton - Chacony for left hand alone; Bach-Brahms - Chaconne in D minor, transcribed for left hand; Harty - Portrait, Spring Fantasy; Sibelius – Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 75 “The Trees”; Saxton - Hortus Musicae (world premiere)

Tickets and further information here

Further information at www.clarehammond.com/concerts.html

At the Piano With……David Nelson

David Nelson

***The inaugural Hebden Bridge Piano Festival, conceived by David Nelson, takes place from 19-21 April.

Further information and tickets here***

What is your first memory of the piano?

Age 5 picking out tunes on a neighbour’s piano. She encouraged my parents to get me an instrument. To this day I’m not sure whether she recognised my innate talent -or whether she just needed me to make that row in my own home!

Who or what inspired you to start teaching? Nothing really: I just wondered whether I could do it. Made a start and found that I could.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers? My current teacher, concert pianist Paul Roberts. Also Katerina Wolpe at Morley College.

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

Probably all the other musical things I do in addition to playing Classical music. So…jazz, pop, world music, playing guitar and bass, singing, writing music and lots more. All these things  help explain music differently and sometimes better than more formal routes, and add  vibrancy and colour to lessons (and to the music too)

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

The moment a student plays beautifully for the first time – in their piece, or in their lives perhaps. That’s when you know it’s all been worthwhile!

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

Keeping them going! They often demotivate when other aspects of their lives get tough. Musically: bridging the gap between what their highly formed musical minds know the music should go like -  and what their fingers are actually able to do!

What do you expect from your students?

Their best.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions? I don’t really have a view on these things. I have a view as to whether they might benefit or be detrimental to the progress of each individual student which is based on their own needs, wishes and abilities.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

Perhaps the holistic nature of the intervallic relationship between notes. We read, see, hear, and (at the piano) feel them too. Oh, and rhythm obviously. I think these things might be the same regardless of the ability of the student.

What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?

It’s all good: I love it! Worst thing is when good students leave (for whatever reason)

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why? 

Those who are inspirational, with a good sense of humour and infinite patience! Their ability to go deeper into the heart of the music, but into the microcosmic detail too

David Nelson has been teaching piano for over 25 years, giving lessons to hundreds of students/pianists both in London and in West Yorkshire. A sizeable number of these have gone on to become professional performers or teachers, whilst others have become influential in jazz and popular music. Many others have continued to play long after their lessons had ceased and value the life-enhancing qualities of such activity.

More about David Nelson at www.piano40.co.uk

 

The pianist behind the hands of Joyce Hatto

An intriguing envelope, postmarked from Ireland, dropped through my letterbox this morning, a welcome change from the daily deluge of Christmas mail. The A4 sheet of text, which accompanied the enclosed CD, immediately caught my attention when I saw the name Joyce Hatto, and initially I misread the text, thinking I’d been sent a recording to review by one of the artists Joyce and her husband ripped off in the course of their great classical music scam.

Pianist Archie Chen with actress Maimie McCoy who plays Joyce Hatto (right) as a young woman

Pianist Archie Chen with actress Maimie McCoy who plays Joyce Hatto (right) as a young woman

In fact, the CD, a collection of works by Chopin, performed by pianist Archie Chen, relates to the upcoming BBC biopic of Joyce Hatto, Loving Miss Hatto. Written by Victoria Wood and starring Francesca Annis and Alfred Molina, the film will be aired on Sunday 23rd December on BBC One.

Archie Chen is indeed the pianist “behind the hands” -  in that he provides the music for the film, under the direction of the musical director Niall Byrne. Chen himself is the pianist playing in the film, and he was also charged with teaching the actress Maimie McCoy, who plays Joyce as a young woman, how to play convincingly for the camera. The challenge for Chen was to learn some of the most difficult works in the repertoire in a very short space of time. As Chen himself says of working on the film: “I’m in such a privileged position to be involved in this project……I really relished the challenge of learning the most fiendishly difficult Godowsky Studies…..The hardest part was putting in the mistakes!”.

The release of the film coincides with the launch of Chen’s new CD ‘Chopin’, which features some of the composer’s best loved works, including the Ballade No. 3, the Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor op. 31, and all of the Impromptus, as well as the B minor Sonata. The opening Impromptu, in A-flat major, is a joyful outpouring, Chen opting for a more relaxed tempo than some performers, with restrained rubato and a thoughtful middle section. The Ballade No. 3 is graceful and elegant, with tasteful rubato and an enjoyably lilting tempo, which calls to mind the chime of a carriage clock (perhaps on the mantelpiece at Nohant?). In the Scherzo, once again a more spacious tempo allows us to enjoy all the contrasting elements and drama of this work. Likewise in the Sonata, tempos are measured and well thought out, in particular in the final movement (marked Presto non Tanto, far too many pianists, in my opinion, take this movement at such a gallop many of the details of the music are lost). Clean and expressive playing throughout, coupled with considered tempos and spare use of rubato, make this a CD to enjoy over several listenings.

Archie Chen ‘Chopin’ is available on CD or as a download

Archie Chen’s website

An earlier article I wrote on Joyce Hatto

At the Piano With……Karl Lutchmayer

Karl Lutchmayer

What is your first memory of the piano?

Actually, and rather embarrassingly, I used to use the spaces between Bb and C# and Eb and F# to park my Dinky cars – and run them along the fronts of the white notes! It always vexed me that the spaces between other black notes weren’t wide enough for such a clearly useful purpose. However, it is also true to say that, at about the same time, I would hear my mother playing those timeless classis such as Rustle of Spring, Maiden’s Prayer and In a Persian Market.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

I am ashamed to say that in my 20s it was simply an economic necessity! However that changed significantly when I was awarded the Lambert Fellowship to return as a member of the keyboard faulty at the Royal College of Music, and it was here that I realised that I was far better at connecting with older minds, and it was at this time I stopped working with younger pupils.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

One always remembers one’s first teacher! June Luck (with whom I had tea recently!) taught me from middle C up to my Diploma and entry to the RCM, and I know it’s a cliché, but probably taught me as much about life as she did about playing the piano. Then there was John Barstow, who, somehow, and I really don’t know how he did it, managed to turn youthful dreams into grown up realities (as long as students were willing to work!). And here again too, broader culture was as important as practice – he expected students to go to concerts, the theatre, read literature, follow current events. After that there were of course many other extraordinary musicians who helped me to grow, but perhaps Lev Naumov (formerly Neuhaus’ assistant) stands out for showing me how to throw away the score!

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

Of course my own teachers, but also the many extraordinary treatises, from CPE Bach, and Czerny to Schnabel, Brendel, Rosen etc. Each time I open up one of those tomes I become acutely aware of my own ignorance, and try to become a little better! Also Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, which has been by my side for a couple of decades now, but most importantly, as any teacher knows, my students, from whom I learn at least as much as I attempt to impart.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Every time a student tells me that I’ve made a difference to their life – I can’t imagine anything more significant than that.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

The passion – the idea that amidst a busy life here are people who want to be part of the tradition of human creativity. Of course, bringing such a wealth of experience, often quite, quite different from one’s own is also exciting as it offers so many various ways of discussing and understanding a concept. But it is so hard for adults to get used to the idea of necessary repetition, when its something they usually left behind at the school gate.

What do you expect from your students?

I expect them to do all they can with all that they have. The results don’t actually matter, as long as the journey is honest, which is why I get upset with the lazy ones, and those just in it for the buzz/fame/ ego, no matter how good they are, but the honest student with meagre talents is always a joy. If it isn’t about the journey of a whole person I really don’t know what the point is.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Gyorgy Sandor once told me that in his day pianists played concerts, but now they played piano competitions because there were no concerts left! In some ways he was probably right. A judicious use of exams/festivals/competitions in order to fire the work ethic/enthusiasm seems very wise – so that the young artist understands what it is to throw themselves at a particular goal at a particular moment (and let’s be honest, unlike most professions, we can’t just stand up in the boardroom and say ‘sorry been very busy, will a week next Tuesday do?’!), but as soon as they become an end in themselves they can only harm the art. After all, the artist has to throw himself wholly at his art every single day. I remember, when I was teaching in America, how students would ask whether it ‘would be in the test’ – when music becomes about jumping over hurdles, or acquiring laurels then it inevitably forgets about touching souls.

However, perhaps we should start being more honest in the big international piano competitions. We all know they’re fixed, whether through outright skulduggery or old fashioned juror bias, so why not instead make it a purely sporting event. Speed trials with time penalties for wrong notes and split-screen TV coverage, loudest chords and fastest octaves measured electronically, a speed learning competition, audience prizes for the most dolefully dreamy stare into the middle distance etc – what a great spectator sport, and at least it would be honest! ;)

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

I don’t really teach beginners, but from the wrong end of the telescope it seems to me that the fundamentals must be entirely thorough – fluency and lack of tension in the body, a real understanding of notation (I have yet to meet a 1st yr college student who understands the very different purposes of a slur and a phrase mark), a sense of musical style and an understanding of how music works.

For my advanced students these are all the same issues! But most particularly the idea of interpretation – the art of investing a score with life in an honest and coherent way. Once that is understood, adapting one’s skills to allowmit to happen in concert is just a matter of hard work!

What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?

Best is to see a musician grow and be able to help that process, and to meet so many wonderful people (anyone who loves the piano is going to be a friend of mine!). Worst is dealing with the many terrible neuroses which seem to come out so clearly in music making and so hamper the individual.

What is your favourite music to teach? To play?

To teach – Haydn. He knows all the rules, and constantly subverts them! It’s just so joyous!

To play – hmmmm. I love playing Liszt and Busoni, and at the moment I’m thrilled to be immersed in Alkan for the bicentenary next year, but every time I approach Beethoven I know I’m in for a rollercoaster ride – so vexing and daunting, but there is nothing like that moment after you’ve just played the last chord of one of the sonatas!

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

Pierre Laurent Aimard – an extraordinary artist at his best (although it does sometimes appear that he does too much) and his masterclasses combine the practical with the truly revelatory.

David Dubal – although he rarely plays the piano these days, his unique way of challenging, beguiling and even outraging his students, and his unbelievable breadth of culture pays the most extraordinary dividends. A true educator (recalling that the word ‘education’ actually means to draw forth, quite different from instruction, which is putting in!).

Karl Lutchmayer studied at the Royal College of Music under Peter Wallfisch and John Barstow and also undertook periods of study with Lev Naumov at the Moscow Conservatoire. For his Masters’ degree he conducted extensive research into performing practice in the piano music of Busoni, since when his research interests have grown to include Liszt, Alkan, Enescu, The Creative Transcription Network, reception theory, and the history of piano recital programming. He later returned to his alma mater and started his lecturing career when the prestigious Constant & Kit Lambert Fellowship was awarded to him by the Worshipful Company of Musicians – the first time in its history that it was awarded to an instrumentalist.

Full biography here

www.karllutchmayer.com

Meet the Artist……Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont

Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont

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

What an embarrassing question for me! I could say that I immediately fell in love with the instrument, that it was inside me and so on, but that would be a big lie. The truth is I can’t remember how I came up with the idea to learn how to play the piano. I remember I wanted to take a ballet class, but it didn’t work out and I never had my ballet lessons. Next thing I know: I’m playing the piano. But one thing is absolutely sure: my parents didn’t force me. They had no musical background and were pretty scared by my aspirations to be a professional musician. Concerning my career choice, I can’t remember whether someone or something specifically influenced me; I think it grew in me and finally became obvious in my teens. I started studying mathematics alongside my studies at the conservatory; finally I stood up for myself and came out of the closet as a full-time music student!

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

My teachers Véronique Menuet-Stibbe and František Maxián. They are very different pianists and both brought me what I needed at the time I met them. I only recently discovered how much I owe them for the pianist I am now and how deeply they influenced me. Of course, some world-class famous pianists played an important role in my development as well, like Schnabel, Michelangeli, Gould, Pollini or Pogorelich, among others.

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

Being happy with what I do and finding out who I really am as a pianist. It takes time to find your repertoire, to understand who are the composers you’re able to understand and play well, and who are those you like but shouldn’t play. It takes time to get what’s important for you in music, which direction you want to give to your work. And I have the feeling that giving yourself space to think is a real challenge in today’s music business.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

Well, my first album was released 3 months ago and I’m very proud of this achievement. It was a difficult project and I’m happy I managed it from the beginning to the end. It was very important for me to understand the whole process and I gained a immensely valuable insight. I’m also very proud I can offer it for free.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Not really. As long as there is a good piano, the basics of a concert hall and an attentive audience, I’m happy with the venue.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Of course I love performing Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit and Janáček’s On an Overgrown Path as well as In the Mists, and that’s why they are part of my debut album. I have also a special thing for performing Beethoven and contemporary music: both feature in my next recording projects. I don’t listen to a lot of piano music (I used to) but in my current playlist, you’ll find Brahms’ Violin Concerto (C. Ferras/ H. von Karajan), Brad Mehldau’s Elegiac Circle, Dvořák’s ‘cello and piano concerti (Dupré/Barenboim – Richter/Kleiber), Beethoven’s Symphonies (Fürtwangler) or Bach’s Goldberg Variations (Gould – 1981).

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who make me think, those who make me want to play the piano.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing in the dark, with just one little reading lamp for me to see the keyboard. This was a difficult Messiaen/Berio/Takemitsu program: the experience was amazing both for the audience and me. I’d like to do it more often, maybe with a more standard repertoire. I think it really enhanced the performance and was really interesting, musically speaking.

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

Never take anything for granted. Find your own truth and stand up for it. And remember that piano playing can’t only be based on goodwill, feelings, intuitions or piano practice. It is much more than that.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on my next recording dedicated to Beethoven’s Sonatas op. 27, 28, 109, 110 and 111, so I’m diving into his piano works, especially the Sonatas and Concerti, and it’s a real pleasure to go back to this music I haven’t played for a long time. And alongside this work on Beethoven, I’m learning Bach’s Partitas, quite new repertoire for me, and planning several multimedia projects for next year.

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

I hope I’ll keep the same attitude towards life and music, the same amount of insane musical ideas, the same passion for my instrument, with a little more free time and easiness to realize my projects.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t own much things, I don’t really connect with objects. My piano is certainly the best answer I can provide here.

 

Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont has built a reputation as a unique recitalist with an unusually broad repertoire. His multifaceted musical personality and insatiable curiosity have led him to exciting new directions, going beyond the beaten paths of the usual conformist thinking and giving him a particular view on the works he interprets.

His album Introducing Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont, released in July 2012 is Dablemont’s first solo recording and includes works by Janácek and Ravel, two composers who have a particular resonance with Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont and reflect his path in the music world.

In 2013, Dablemont will release two new albums featuring six piano sonatas by Beethoven op. 27 n°1 & 2 “Moonlight”, op. 28 “Pastorale”, op. 109, op. 110, op. 111. Alongside these two recordings, the pianist will issue an essay on piano and interpretation. In the course of 2013, he will also appear in a documentary film about his work and point of views and release video recordings of several recitals.

Actively involved in the expansion and promotion of contemporary piano repertoire, Dablemont has premiered new works by composers Pavel Trojan, Petr Pokorný, Edith Canat de Chizy. In 2013, he will perform and record two new short pieces by British composer Steven Berryman: …brightly illuminated, vividly seen and Can it be such raptures meet decay?.

Born near Paris, he grew up in a non-musical family. Dablemont received his first piano lessons at age 8. Showing a talent for music, he quickly became more serious about piano and began his education under Véronique Menuet-Stibbe. He later studied with the eminent pedagogue and pianist František Maxián at the Prague Conservatory, who particularly influenced his playing.

Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont keeps a widely-read blog. There he writes about his concerts, practicing as well as he publishes detailled essays on music or analysis of works.

www.pierre-arnaud-dablemont.com