Tag Archives: pianists

Let us now praise British pianists – The List

For my first post of 2015, I’ve compiled a list of British pianists, the result of my call for nominations for British pianists. This is by no means a comprehensive list and readers are invited to continue to add more names (use the comments box below).

Links go to my ‘Meet the Artist’ interview with that pianist

Martin James Bartlett

Alisdair Beatson

Mark Bebbington

Sarah Beth Briggs

John Bingham

Christian Blackshaw

Nick van Bloss

James Brawn

Graham Caskie

Imogen Cooper

Jill Crossland

Christine Crowshaw

Peter Donohoe

Danny Driver

Gordon Fergus-Thompson

Margaret Fingerhut

Michael Finnissy

Norma Fisher

Philip Edward Fisher

William Fong

Ian Fountain

Philip Fowke

Grace Francis

Ashley Fripp

Benjamin Frith

Mark Gasser

Anthony Goldstone

Daniel Grimwood

Benjamin Grosvenor

Clare Hammond

Waka Hasegawa

Anthony Hewitt

Tom Hicks

Peter Hill

Rolf Hind

Nicolas Hodges

Alisdair Hogarth

Timothy Horton

Stephen Hough

John Irving

Julian Jacobson

Martin Jones

Graham Johnson

Peter Katin

Brian Kellock

Renna Kellaway

Mark Latimer

Paul Lewis

John Lill

James Lisney

Joanna Macgregor

Robert Markham

John McCabe

Nicholas McCarthy

Leon McCawley

Murray McLachlan

Viv McLean

Lara Melda

Hamish Milne

Erdem Misirlioglu

Mishka Rushdie Momen

Thalia Myers

Sarah Nicholls

Steven Osborne

Charles Owen

Ian Pace

Lucy Parham

Yuri Paterson-Olenich

Jonathan Plowright

Tom Poster

Jonathan Powell

John Reid

James Rhodes

Paul Roberts

Michael Roll

Martin Roscoe

Stephen Savage

Allan Schiller

Alexander Soares

Colin Stone

Kathryn Stott

Philip Thomas

Susan Tomes

Daniel Tong

Joseph Tong

Roger Vignoles

Mark Viner

Ashley Wass

Simon Watterton

Cordelia Williams

Andrew Wilde

Lyr Williams

James Willshire

Yuanfan Yang

Adopted, Honorary & Honoured Britons’

Alfred Brendel

Barry Douglas

Mary Dullea

Jayson Gillham

Michael McHale

Meng Yang Pan

Murray Perahia

Karim Said

Andras Schiff

Mitsuko Uchida

‘Late greats’

Harriet Cohen

Clifford Curzon

James Friskin

Myra Hess

Terence Judd

Sir Philip Ledger

Moura Lympany

Denis Matthews

Gerald Moore

John Ogdon

Harold Samuel

Irene Scharrer

Phyllis Sellick

Cyril Smith

Solomon

Is the future of piano playing in the UK really in peril?

I wanted to write a further post in response to Dame Fanny Waterman’s piece in ‘The Observer’ in which she warns of a crisis in piano playing in the UK and blames the popularity of digital keyboards and electric pianos for the fact that UK performers are failing to compete internationally. (Read my initial response to Dame Fanny here.)

I don’t want to focus too much on the issue of competitions, which remains an area of heated debate amongst teachers, students, adjudicators and music journalists, but I would just like to quote some statistics which a colleague flagged up on Facebook in response to Dame Fanny’s article:

……a quick glance over the Leeds previous prizewinners [reveals that] of 95 names only 5 have sustained a major international career after the initial flurry of dates, only 2 of those were first prize winners anyway, and the most recent competitor from the group took part in 1987! Perhaps our British pianists have realised that there are better and more creative ways to create a career in the 21st century

Competitions should not be seen as the be all and end all, and I think we all need to get past this holy grail of “The Three C’s” – Conservatoire Competition Concerto.

In my experience, as a piano teacher and the co-organiser of a group for adult amateur pianists, I see no signs of a decline in interest in piano playing here in the UK. Far from it. I receive enquiries about lessons every week, and I know piano teaching colleagues in my own area of SW London and beyond would say the same. Most of us have healthy waiting lists. The piano remains a popular first instrument for children to learn because it is relatively easy to make a nice sound from the very first note. The members of my piano group range from people who have played the piano since childhood, returners, and adult learners of all levels. Some members are very fine players indeed, who are regular performers but who have chosen a different career path to music. What unites us is a shared passion for the piano and its literature.

In addition to piano groups, piano courses are becoming increasingly popular, offering adults and young people the opportunity to study with acclaimed performing artists and teachers. There are courses to suit all abilities and tastes from “piano retreats” in the French countryside, with five-star accommodation and wonderful food and the opportunity to study with an international artist, to weekend courses for advanced pianists (professional and amateur), courses focussing on contemporary music, accompanying, chamber music, jazz and much more.

Then there are festivals where children and adults can compete, receive constructive feedback from skilled adjudicators and enjoy hearing other people’s playing and repertoire. I am involved in the Dulwich Piano Festival – it is heavily over-subscribed with many classes filling up within days of entries opening, surely a clear indication of the popularity and enthusiasm for the piano?

The UK is host to many fine piano concerts throughout the year and attracts top-class British and international artists. Alongside concerts in mainstream venues, there are myriad other opportunities to hear piano music – but top international artists and also exciting young and emerging artists: in stately homes, churches, art galleries and museums, small regional arts centres, people’s homes, out doors….. Initiatives such as Soirees at Breinton and the South London Concert Series bring piano, and other classical music closer to the audience and make the music and concert experience more accessible and intimate.

The piano is very much alive in the UK – let’s keep it that way.

Pianist and writer Susan Tomes has made an interesting and thoughtful contribution to this debate – read her article

Wishing my readers a very Happy Christmas – and if you are a pianist, of whatever level, love your piano!

South London Concert Series – 2014/15 season launch

Praised for its ability to combine quality music making, varied programmes and a convivial atmosphere, the South London Concert Series 2014/15 season launches on Sunday 14th September with a special concert at one of London’s most beautiful small venues.

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‘Notes&Notes’ combines music and words in a concert of music by J S Bach and Joseph Haydn by acclaimed pianist and teacher Graham Fitch. Join Graham after the concert for a cream tea and the chance to socialise with other music lovers.

14 September 2014 Notes&Notes: Graham Fitch Craxton Studios, Hampstead, London NW3.

Buy tickets

Greenwich shot3 October 2014 Matthew Sear at the 1901 Arts Club, London SE1.

Classical guitarist Matthew Sear plays works by Benjamin Britten and John Dowland, together with his own compositions from his new album. Matthew is joined by supporting artists Rebecca Singerman-Knight, Muzz Shah, Jennie Barham and Julie Cooper in music by Prokofiev, Bortkiewicz, and Rachmaninoff. Early Bird Tickets now available. Buy Tickets

large12 December 2014Ernest So, piano, at the 1901 Arts Club. ‘Russian Romantics’.

A concert with a special accent on lesser-known Russian romantic repertoire, including works by Bortkiewicz and Medtner. Ernest is joined by supporting artists Rob Foster, Clio Chu, Petra Chong and Claire Hansell. Buy tickets

IMG_228122nd January 2015 Frances Wilson at LASSCO Brunswick House, Vauxhall, SW8. The South London Concert Series returns to the opulent setting of the Saloon at Brunswick House, a magnificent Georgian mansion which is home to an eclectic collection of antiques and salvaged curiosities. Join SLCS Artistic Director Frances Wilson and supporting artists for a concert of piano music by Debussy, Pärt, Schubert, Satie, and Messiaen, plus the world premiere of Preludes for piano by Matthew Sear.

Early Bird tickets now available. Buy tickets

17 September 2015Daniel Roberts, piano, and Hannah Woolmer, violin, at LASSCO Brunswick House. Set in the wonderful opulence of the Saloon at Brunswick House, we present a recital of music for violin and piano and solo piano. Programme and supporting artists to be announced. Buy tickets

‘Eastern Accents’ at the South London Concert Series

The final concert in the South London Concert Series Spring 2014 season has a special accent on music from Russia and the east, and features guest artist Australian-Armenian pianist Vatche Jambazian in music by Galina Ustvolskaya (a pupil of Shostakovich), Mozart’s popular Fantasia in D minor, and a selection of Preludes & Fugues from Dmitri Shostakovich’s Opus 87. Supporting artists Jose-Luis Gutierrez Sacristan, Lorraine Liyanage (SLCS co-founder), Alex Ewen (violin) and Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist & SLCS co-founder) will perform works by Granados, Villa-Lobos, Rachmaninoff, Khatchaturian, Auerbach, de Falla and Takemitsu. This promises to be an exciting and eclectic evening of music, held in one of London’s most beautiful and intimate small venues, the 1901 Arts Club, close to London’s Waterloo Station. The elegant bar and sitting room at the club will be open before and after the concert for the exclusive use of ticket holders, and guests are invited to join the performers afterwards for drinks and socialising.

“A wonderfully creative idea”
Peter Donohoe, internationally-acclaimed concert pianist

Tickets are on sale now: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/252495

“Events blend an appreciation of fine music and music making with conviviality, and blur the artificial distinctions between professional and amateur.” James Lisney, concert pianist

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Meet the Artist & It’s All About Piano!

This weekend sees a celebration of all things piano at London’s Institut Français, with workshops, lectures, film screenings and performances. In the run up to this surfeit of piano goodness, I am delighted to be publishing Meet the Artist Interviews with some of the performers, including acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé (who also performs at Wigmore Hall in June) and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss. The first interview is with French pianist David Bismuth.

Full details about the festival here:

www.institut-francais.org.uk/itsallaboutpiano

Dulwich Piano Festival 2014

Now in its third year, the popular and extremely well-organised Dulwich Piano Festival takes place on Sunday 15th June at The Old Library, Dulwich College, London SE22. There are classes for all levels from beginner to advanced, and adult learner, and there is even a harpsichord class. This year’s adjudicators are Emmanuel Vass, Elena Cobb and Rosa Conrad.

Dulwich PIano Festival is a competition for amateur musicians of all ages including adults. All musicians perform for the adjudicator and an audience. All competitors receive a Comment Sheet and Certificate with a category award. Certificates and Comment Sheets will be distributed from the front desk at the end of each class. Adjudicators may choose only to give verbal feedback on medal place winners if the timings of the class do not allow for individual verbal feedback. Medals are awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place (subject to class numbers of 9 entrants and above for the full 3 medals). Cups are awarded for many classes thanks to the generosity of our event supporters. Outstanding: 90+ Highly Commended 87-89 Commended 84-86 Pass 83 and below. A trophy will only be presented for a mark of 87 or above. For a mark of 86 and below, the Adjudicator will offer a Medal for first place and 2nd and 3rd if class numbers are sufficient.

Full details of all the classes and syllabus plus online entry can be found on the Dulwich Piano Festival website

Adult amateur pianist Jack Thompson performing in the first Dulwich PIano Festival in 2012

South London Concert Series with Emmanuel Vass

Emmanuel Vass
Emmanuel Vass

The 2014 season of the South London Concert Series (SLCS) got off to a rollicking start with a sell out concert on Friday 24th January, featuring guest artist Emmanuel Vass. Described by The Independent as “one to watch”, Emmanuel, or Manny to his friends, is a rising star and with a deal with ClassicFM to promote his debut CD ‘From Bach to Bond’, the omens are good for this young Filipino/Yorkshire pianist.

The format of the event was the same as our launch concert: a guest recital of around 35 minutes, bookended by performances by “supporting artists” (we have dropped the moniker “amateur” because so many of our amateur pianists play to a very high level – and last night was no exception). And now that we have already run one successful event, the second one seemed much easier in comparison; in fact, the event basically ran itself. It helped that the bar at the beautiful and intimate 1901 Arts Club was open before the concert, which allowed guests to have a drink and socialise while the performers warmed up downstairs. And as an added benefit, which contributed to the convivial atmosphere, patrons were allowed to take their drinks into the music salon.

The concert was opened by Marina, an amateur pianist and violinist who works in financial services, playing an Etude in G minor by Moszkowski. This proved a lively opener, which caught the audience’s attention. Julie, a piano teacher from Surrey, took to the stage next, with Gershwin’s evergreen standard ‘The Man I love’, which had a lovely romantic lilt. Then it was time for our headline performer, Manny, who introduced his programme engagingly before launching into the bright and haughty first movement of Bach’s popular Italian Concerto. The middle part of his programme was all Spanish, an exotic Orgia by Turina and a sensuous Secreto by Mompou. Manny rounded off his performance with his witty and luxuriant James Bond Concert Etude, complete with Lisztian fiorituras and some vertiginous cadenzas, all of which were applauded very enthusiastically by the audience.

From Bach to Bond and then back to Bach with Alan’s measured and elegant performance of the Prelude & Fugue in C# from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The concert closed with a piece by Japanese composer Kozaburo Hirai called Sakura Sakura, which translates as Cherry Blossom, appropriately. Performed by Kyoko, it was atmospheric and arresting.

In keeping with the nineteenth-salon atmosphere of both event and venue, most of the audience retired to the upstairs bar and sitting room where the conversation grew louder as more Prosecco was consumed. It was lovely to chat to friends, old and new, and to be amongst so many music lovers and piano fans. Manny signed copies of his CDs and charmed everyone. The stalwarts amongst us then proceeded to the pub, where the conversation continued…..

The Spring edition of the South London Concert Series is on 21st March, featuring guest artist Anne Shingler, and a limited number of tickets are available.

Tickets are now on sale for our May event. Entitled ‘Eastern Accents’, it has a distinctly Russian flavour and includes music by Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya, Szymanowski and Stanchinsky, performed by Armenian-Australian pianist Vatche Jambazian, myself and Lorraine Liyanage. Buy tickets

Future SLCS concerts feature Angelo Villani and Daniel Roberts, and a new concert format ‘Notes&Notes’, in which a guest artist will give a short recital with talk. Full details on the South London Concert Series website. There is also the opportunity to hear Emmanuel again in a solo concert at a unique London venue. Again, details are on the SLCS website.

Pianists and stage persona

Lang Lang (photo © Philip Glaser)

Here’s an article from Bachtrack’s ‘Piano Month’ on pianists and their gestures. Whether you love or hate Lang Lang’s extreme facial expressions and flamboyant OTT gestures, or feel the perfomer’s gestures should only serve the music, this is an interesting and thoughtful read.

Every age has its own tastes, its own aesthetic lines drawn in the sand. Since the 19th century, with its seminal guardians of musical decorum (Clara Schumann chief among them), pianists and their critics have debated the role of stage persona. Most outspoken are those who believe that a quiet, undemonstrative approach to the instrument – à la Arthur Rubinstein – best reflects a serious commitment to earnest musicianship. The corollary is presumed true as well: that excessive body movement or facial expressions can cheapen an interpretation or betray a lack of real understanding. Pianist Lang Lang, often insensitively derided as “Bang Bang”, is held in this case to be Public Enemy Number One. Our current notion of good taste is less extreme, and concedes that a bit of visual display can be acceptable and even beneficial, so long as it is a natural byproduct of a performer’s interpretation. Read more

 

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“Your wonderful Bechstein has afforded me great joy.”

Sviatoslav Richter

I have recently sold my Yamaha upright piano, to fund the purchase of a 1913 Bechstein grand. Naturally, I am very much looking forward to becoming the owner of a grand piano and to exploring the wider range of possibilities afforded by a larger instrument (and a very beautiful one too), but I can’t help but feel more than a twinge of sadness to be saying farewell to my trusty upright. Purchased brand new from Chappell of Bond Street in 2007, six months after I set up my piano teaching practice, the piano has given me many hours of pleasure (and quite a few hours of frustration too!), and has seen my students through their lessons. It has brought exam success, for my students and myself, and has acted as a form of therapy, a companion and a much-loved piece of furniture.

Pianists have a curious relationship with pianos: unlike other musicians, who take their own instrument with them wherever they play, the pianist is expected to arrive at the venue and accept the instrument provided. Of course, top class concert instruments in venues such as Wigmore or Carnegie Halls are beautifully set up, and the soloist will spend some time with the technician before the concert discussing any adjustments that need to be made. The tuners and technicians who work with concert artists and instruments are highly skilled people, sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of instrument and performer. Once upon a time, in the days before air travel, the pianist might travel by ship or by train with his own instrument. There is some lovely footage in Bruno Monsaingeon’s film about Sviatoslav Richter, showing the great man selecting a grand piano at the Yamaha showroom in New York ahead of a performance. These days such executive treatment is largely afforded only to the greatest. The pianist Gary Graffman, in his book I Really Should be Practising, relates an occasion where he arrived at a concert to find that one of the notes on the piano when depressed sounded with all the subtlety of a gunshot: to remedy this, Graffman simply replaced the action of that note with one seldom-used from the top of the register.

Of course, we grow attached to and familiar with the piano which we play most regularly, usually the one we own and play at home. It took me awhile to really get used to my piano. It has quite a stiff action and a very bright tone (I had it voiced twice to make it more mellow), and I know there will be a “settling in” period as I get to know my Bechstein. I have played a few pianos in my time and I can remember something about nearly all of them. A friend has a lovely Steinway B which I play fairly regularly. The first time I played it was like driving a Porsche after pottering around in a Ford Fiesta. That is not to say it is an “easy” piano to play: sure, it is beautifully set up and it feels very well-made and finely engineered, but it is quirky too, and, just as when driving a sports car, one needs to be alert to its particular traits. Probably the most wonderful piano I have played is the Model D in Steinway Hall in central London: not just its size, but also the feel of it. The local music society, where I occasionally perform, has a very old Steinway (at least 100 years old) which is rather eccentric: rattly and squeaky keys and a tendency to wobble alarmingly when the pedals are applied. Perhaps the worst was the Edwardian upright (complete with decorative candelabra) at the old people’s centre where I used to play at lunchtimes. In fact, it didn’t matter because the music gave so much pleasure to the very elderly audience.

Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)

In his memoirs, Richter describes playing on indifferent school pianos in the Russian provinces during the war, forcing him to think beyond the instrument. The sound of the piano could not be changed but through his extraordinary imaginative powers, he could draw the audience along with him and take them to another place, to make them focus on higher things. This has to be our aim, as pianists, when confronted with an indifferent instrument, or one not exactly to our liking. We play, and the best we can hope is that we capture the audience’s attention and imagination, and get beyond ourselves and our ego to convey the meaning and emotion in the music.