Tag Archives: Steinway Hall

Emmanuel Vass at Steinway Hall

As befits an up-and-coming young artist who draws inspiration from James Bond not just in his music but also his image, pianist Emmanuel Vass’s debut at London’s Steinway Hall was stylish and suave.  And the title of Emmanuel’s concert tour and debut CD, ‘From Bach to Bond’, reflected his varied musical tastes and repertoire.

He opened the “rush hour” recital (so-called because it started at 6pm) with Morton Gould’s Boogie Woogie Etude (1943), a work replete with classic foot-tapping boogie-woogie rhythms offset by traditional etude elements more commonly found in the music of Chopin and Liszt. The piece was a great opener, played with wit and energy. Placing it before Bach’s Italian Concerto was inspired: to hear Bach after Boogie-Woogie highlighted all the “jazz” idioms present in Bach’s music, some 300 years before the genre came to be – syncopation, counterpoint, and dynamic diversity. This was a lively and colourful account. The slow movement, which bears some relation to the Adagio of the Concerto in D minor after Marcello, was a study in restrained elegance. I was pleased too, that Emmanuel opted for a more reined in tempo in the final Presto, allowing us to enjoy all the elements of this movement. The entire concerto was convincing and proof that Emmanuel is equally at home in this type of repertoire.

The first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op 27 No. 2, the ‘Moonlight’, was pensive and mysterious, while the middle movement had a pleasing rusticity. There were a few anxious moments in the final movement, but despite this a strong sense of forward motion and purpose was retained.

Chopin’s Op 27 Nocturnes followed, with some sensitive handling of the melodic lines, the subtle shifts in mood and romantic sweep of these works. Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm reprised the humour and swagger of the Boogie-Woogie Etude. And another Etude closed the concert, the James Bond Concert Etude, Emmanuel’s own arrangement of classic Bond film themes, given a Lisztian treatment with vertiginous cadenzas and sparkling fiorituras. It could have been cheesey, but in Emmanuel’s hands it was classy and clever, and looks set to become a sophisticated virtuoso showpiece or encore.

Emmanuel’s debut CD includes more from his wide-ranging repertoire, including a sensuous Malaguena by Leuona, works by Debussy, and another of Emmanuel’s own arrangements, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, all stylishly rendered.

Further concerts in the ‘From Bach to Bond’ tour:

Friday 3rd May – St. Saviourgate Chapel, York YO1 8NQ

Saturday 4th May – St James’s Piccadilly, London W1

Saturday 11th May – Heswall Hall, the Wirral, CH60 0AF

My Meet the Artist interview with Emmanuel Vass

www.emmanuelvass.co.uk

James Bond Concert Etude for solo piano – Barry/Fleming, arr. Vass

Performance review: Fraser Graham at Steinway Hall

For his first concert in London, presented in the recital room at prestigious Steinway Hall (which boasts a fine Model D), Rutland-based pianist Fraser Graham offered a broad chronological survey of some 250 years of classical music from Bach to Adams, and taking in works by some of greatest composers for the piano – Mozart, Schubert and Chopin.

Bach’s Prelude & Fugue in C from Book II of the ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ was a pleasing opener, a “settling in” piece, for audience and performer. The Prelude was elegantly turned, unhurried and tastefully pedalled with some delightfully mellow bass notes. A lively Fugue ensued, and if some of the contrapuntal lines were not always clear, its uprightness and poise more than compensated for this.

Mozart’s Piano Sonata in A minor K310 is a work that confirms the second part of Schnabel’s famous quote “…too hard for artists”. It was composed in Paris in 1778, when Mozart was just 22, during a period of professional disappointment (he failed to secure a contract for an opera while in Paris) and personal tragedy (the death of his mother). Despite the composer’s age, this is a mature work, serious and turbulent, with a particular musical and emotional world all of its own.

Some pianists have a tendency to gallop through the first movement, peppering the frenetic writing with over-enthusiastic fortes. Not so Fraser whose slightly reined-in tempo only increased the sense of anguish in the opening movement. Passage work was carried off with clarity and accuracy, and throughout there was a firm command of the varying textures of the score, in particular the orchestral writing.

By contrast, the slow movement was an oasis of rich expression, with expansive melodic lines offering opportunities for some fine cantabile playing and subtle dynamic shading. The sense of urgency returns in the final movement, its swirling theme and slithering motifs all carried off with conviction. Throughout, the sonata was tastefully pedalled with fine attention to detail.

Schubert’s A flat Impromptu from the D899 set bridged the gap between the Classical and Romantic periods, with good attention to the ‘dancing’ bass figures and a climactic trio, leading us nicely onto Chopin’s Nocturne in E-flat Op. 9 No. 2. This is one of his most well-known and well-loved piano works, but there was nothing clichéd in this performance. Again, there was fine cantabile playing in the right hand over a serene waltz figure in the left. The ornaments and fiorituras were relaxed, giving them an improvisatory feel. This was music very much at ease with itself.

Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor was climactic and suspenseful, the contrasting moods and textures handled with precision and conviction, with a strong sense of the narrative line evolving throughout the piece, well-judged climaxes and an explosive, highly dramatic finale

The Skylark, Balakirev’s virtuoso paraphrase on Glinka’s song Zhavoronok, was romantic, liquid and expressive, with its soulful melody, delicate trills and Lisztian figurations.

Fraser finished with John Adams’ China Gates, five minutes of luminous and hypnotic minimalism, the subtle shifts of colour and sound sensitively executed – and, for me, the highlight of this enjoyable and thoughtfully presented recital.

Fraser Graham graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in 2004, having studied under Malcolm Wilson and Simon Nicholls. He is an active performer, soloist, accompanist and event pianist in the UK. He teaches privately, and is also a teacher and accompanist at Oakham School, Rutland.

Fraser gained honours in his Guildhall recital diploma aged seventeen and went on to perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with full symphony orchestra aged eighteen. He was awarded his degree in piano performance in 2004 and now performs a wide variety of music. Recent recitals have included ‘An Evening of Late Viennese Sonatas’ by Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert and several performances around the UK of Schubert’s vast song cycle ‘Winterreise’ with baritone David McKee.

Forthcoming events include a programme of Chopin, Ravel, Scriabin and Prokofiev which Fraser will be touring around the UK.

Twitter @fgrahampiano

Fraser Graham’s SoundCloud

The Saturday Piano Salon

Another lovely afternoon at London’s Steinway Hall for the second Piano Salon, hosted by Melanie Spanswick and Lorraine Liyanage. Once again, there was a great range of repertoire and some very impressive performances: I particularly enjoyed Claudia’s Chasse-Neige by Liszt, Petra’s Ricercare & Toccata by Menotti, Debussy’s Étude No. 11 played by David Griffiths, and two pieces (The White Mountain and Berceuse) by English composer Ernest Moeran, played by David Barton. (I played Rachmaninov Étude-Tableau in G minor from the Opus 33 set.) The atmosphere was friendly and supportive, with everyone listening in a most concentrated way, and after the music there was time for socialising over a glass or two of wine. It was very nice to catch up with friends, including soprano Jane Wilkinson, who opened the afternoon with a delightful song by Liza Lehmann (Jane is a recent ‘Meet the Artist’ interviewee).

The Piano Salon is a really great initiative as it offers adult amateur pianists the chance to perform, share repertoire and meet in a relaxed and non-competitive setting. There are future Salons planned in the autumn: visit the Piano Salon website for further information.

Saturday Piano Salon

A selection of videos from the event:

Jane Wilkinson & Melanie Spanswick: ‘Evensong’ by Liza Lehmann

 

David Barton: ‘The White Mountain’ & ‘Berceuse’ by Ernest Moeran

 

David Griffiths: Debussy – Etude No. 11 Pour les Arpeges Composes

 

Rachmaninov – Étude-Tableau in G minor, Op 33 no. 8

Saturday Piano Salon at Steinway Hall

The second Piano Salon will be held at London’s Steinway Hall on Saturday 7th July, from 1.45pm. Participants will have the opportunity to play a magnificent Steinway Model D piano (a full-size concert grand). Do join us to share repertoire and meet other pianists.

For further information and to book tickets, please visit the Saturday Piano Salon website.

(playing Bach at the first Piano Salon)

‘Piano Salon’ at Steinway Hall

The first Piano Salon was held on Saturday 12th May in the recital room at London’s Steinway Hall. Billed as “an informal performance opportunity for amateur adult pianists” and hosted by Melanie Spanswick and Lorraine Liyanage, it was a friendly gathering of around 15 performers and some observers (mostly family and friends of those performing).

The motivation for establishing the Piano Salon is that adult amateur pianists often lack the opportunity to perform, particularly on such as fine instrument as a Steinway Model D. Many amateur pianists are quite content to practice and play at home, but for some of us the will and the need to perform is there: certainly, for me, it is important to put repertoire “out there”, to hold it up for scrutiny before an audience. Interesting things can happen when you perform a piece you’ve been working on, and performance opportunities like this are particularly helpful for people who are working towards exams or diplomas, or who are preparing for festivals. There is less pressure when playing before a friendly audience, and plenty of compliments were exchanged after the performances at the Piano Salon.

There was an interesting mix of repertoire, including pieces by Bach, Rachmaninov, Schumann, Liszt, Ginastera and Suk, and two pianists performed their own compositions. The event opened with a performance of one of Roger Quilter’s songs by soprano Jane Wilkinson, accompanied by Melanie Spanswick on the piano, which allowed everyone the chance to settle ahead of their own performance, and gave a real sense of occasion to the afternoon. When the music was finished, we enjoyed plenty of ‘piano chat’ with wine. It was very nice to meet other pianists and to catch up with people I’d met previously on courses and at festivals.

The organisers of the Piano Salon intend to hold the event bi-monthly, and I am also investigating the possibility of hosting a similar event in my area (south-west London). Keep an eye on the Piano Salon website for updates and details of future events.

Meet the Artist……Keith Porter-Snell, pianist

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

I guess I would have to credit my mother as the first inspiration to take-up the piano. She was a very fine pianist who earned her degree from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. When I was an infant and young child (and even when I was in the womb!) she was regularly practising four hours a day, and playing a dozen or so concerts each year. So I heard all the big works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, and so on, from the time I was born. She also had a record collection which I regularly availed myself of — I remember that it included a recording of La Traviata that I listened to so many times, that by the time I was five I had completely ruined the vinyl! So, I guess it was fairly natural given my ear and inclination for music and the piano, that I was begging for lessons, which she gave me, starting at age four. My mother also regularly took me to concerts, and I remember vividly going to hear Rubenstein, Horowitz, and Van Cliburn before I was even a teenager. I think this early exposure to hearing pianists in concert, along with listening to my mother practice, and the family friends who were also concert performers, gave me an early notion of what it meant to perform. So, I suppose this really lit the spark within me. I recall making a conscious decision when I was about twelve years old and watching the Finals of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition on the television. I remember listening and watching and thinking “I’m going to do that.” Well, I did win one international competition, but by 1989, which was the year I had always planed on entering the Cliburn, my right hand was already suffering from focal dystonia, so I was unable to compete.

Who or what were the greatest influences on your playing?

I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful experiences which have influenced my playing, but to narrow it down, besides what I discussed in the first question, I would have to credit two of my teachers in particular. At the University of Southern California, I was a student of John Perry for six years. His approach to teaching suited me so perfectly, and I trusted him completely. What I have always appreciated the most about how he taught me, was that he gave me the tools to do what I wanted to do, better — rather than trying to make me into a replica of Perry. I never had the feeling that he tried to change me; instead he was able to show me how to give my own voice wings, to have the freedom to play as I wanted.

As great a gift as Mr Perry’s teaching was to me, I must still credit my teacher before university, Maria Clodes Jaguaribe, as being the deepest, most profound influence on me as a pianist. I worked with Maria during the Summers I spent at the Tanglewood Music Festival, while I was a teenager. Musically and technically she is at the core of my approach: the sound I listen for, the way I make a line “speak”, rhythmic inflection, and the attention to harmonic movement as well as the inner life of each line in counterpoint. (I remember working with her on the Schubert Op. 90 No. 3, and she had me sing the tenor line as I played the whole piece!) From her I truly gained the understanding of weight transfer, the importance of a relaxed and flexible wrist, and the necessity of strong fingers and a stable bridge of the hand to support the weight of the arm. All of these things were hugely important parts of both my mother’s and Mr Perry’s teaching as well, but there was something particular in Maria’s teaching, and her own playing, that resonated with me most strongly. From the time I first worked with her, there has rarely been a moment when I have not felt her presence while at the piano.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

With out a doubt, the greatest challenge for me was the development of focal dystonia in my right hand. If you are unfamiliar with focal dystonia, here is a link where you can read about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Focal_dystonia. About a year and a half after I made my London debut at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (1984), and a year and a half before my return engagement at the Barbican Centre (1987), I began to notice something very subtle, but very deep, was going wrong in the 2nd finger of my right hand. The first thing that gave-way were scale passages, or anything which required individual finger movements. The gradual breakdown of control happened over the course of several years, not all at once. Not that it was easy, but I think this actually helped me adjust to the loss, rather than having it all taken at once. I do remember in 1988 when I had to cancel a Tchaikovsky concerto that I was engaged to play in California, I had a bit of a break-down. But, as I tend to do, I rallied and proceed to embrace the idea that when life deals you lemons, make lemonade! I focused more deeply on teaching (which I had already been doing since I was a teenager). My teaching eventually led me to ideas for educational products which got me stated in publishing. Later, I dug into the wonderful world of music that is available for the left hand alone, and have enjoyed playing this music in concert over the last decade. Despite the injury to my right hand, I have enjoyed a rich and wonderful career in music, and have come to believe that our greatest challenges often reap the greatest rewards.

Which CD in your discography are you most proud of?

This is going back a bit, but I still feel such a thrill about the recording we made in 1987 of the Carnival of the Animals. The other pianist was Anton Nel, and we played with the Academy of London Orchestra under the direction of Richard Stamp. We recorded it for Virgin Classics. The disc also included Prokofiev Peter and the Wolf and Mozart Eine Kleine Nacht Musik. This was all wonderful, and we did a good job and the disc sold well; but the things that still really thrill me are the fact that we recorded in Studio One at EMI Abbey Road Studios, and that the narrator was Sir John Gielgud. I mean, really, how do beat that for a thrilling life experience?! (I also recall that the Steinway D I used for the recording is still one of the finest pianos I have every played.)

www.arkivmusic.com

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I will speak first about music for left hand alone that I love to play most, since that is what I do now. Then, a little bit about favourite pieces from my life as a two-handed pianist.

The first piece the comes to mind is the great Chaconne, from the Violin Partita in D minor by Bach, transcribed for piano, left hand alone, by Johannes Brahms. I never get tired of practising or performing this incredible piece of music — there seems to be no bottom to the gratification of working with this monumental masterpiece. Of course the powerful concerto by Ravel for the left hand alone is another work that one never tires of playing. I also adore the Scriabin Op. 9 Prelude & Nocturne for the left hand alone — so very beautiful. These works I have mentioned are among the most known of left hand literature, but there are also a few lesser known gems that I cherish. One is the Etude in A-Flat, Op. 36 by Felix Blumenfeld. Pretty much a perfect piece that is lovely to play, and always the stand-out audience favourite when I include in a recital. There is a little piece by Godowsky, the fourth of his six “Waltz- Poems” which is a real juicy delight. He manages to create three and four voice textures that hold together incredibly well in one hand. I am also a big fan of the Concerto in C-sharp by Korngold. A fantastic piece, rarely heard. I’ve not had the opportunity to play it yet, but do hope to do so!

Looking back at my two-handed days, pretty much anything by Mozart was a favourite. I loved to play the Chopin Ballades, and especially the Barcarolle. I also loved to play the Schubert Op. 90 and the Wanderer Fantasy. The “Deux Legendes” by Liszt (one usually only hears the second) were favourites; and Mussorgsky Pictures from an Exhibition frequently found its way onto my my recital programmes. Oh, and I love the Schumann G minor Sonata — especially the second movement is so gorgeous. The D minor Piano Concerto of Brahms is my hands-down favourite concerto, but I do adore any Mozart concerto as well.

As far as what I like to listen to, any and all Mozart — he would be my desert island composer. I also love the symphonic and chamber works of both Beethoven and Brahms. But I could easily start to spin out of control with this question, so I will stop here — there is just so much wonderful music in the world, and and for me, favourites ebb and flow at different times of my life.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I will stick to pianists for this, even though that field is rather wide as well. I have always found Evgeny Kissin’s playing a realisation of my ideals about piano playing. Many times after listening to him, I have thought that he played something how I always thought it should go, but just did not know that it was actually possible! I love how, despite his apparently unimpeded technique, he always sounds completely engaged in the process, nothing ever sounds too easy or too tossed off. To my ears, he pushes levels of expression and excitement right to the edge of the precipice, sometimes narrowly escaping falling off. I have never understood those who find his playing “cold”. Those who do must listen for something very different than I do.

I am also very fond of Marc-Andre Hamelin. Partly, I must confess, because of the friendship that has developed between us; but even before that, because he plays and has recorded so much of the left hand literature. He is the only one to have recorded the Korngold piano concerto for the left hand, and his recording of the Godowsky Chopin Studies is definitive (22 of the 53 are for the left hand alone). On his Wigmore Hall debut, he included the Alkan Fantasy for left hand alone, and the Etude No 7, from his own set of 12 Etudes in All the Minor Keys, is for the left hand alone. Needless to say, he was my left hand “hero” long before we met. But, setting his enthusiasm for left hand piano music aside, I find that there seems to be no bottom to Marc’s musicianship, pianism, artistry, or intelligence. He is, I believe, one of the most remarkably brilliant musicians in the world today.

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

Play musically always. Listen, with a sense of responsibility, to every note. Say something; express something; find your own voice. I am so tired of listening to young pianists who play all the right notes of all the hardest pieces faster and faster and faster. It is a crashing bore! We take for granted that you will be accurate and have sufficient technical command, but that is all meaningless if the music is not about self- expression and revealing something of the human experience.

What are you working on at the moment?

My newest pet project is the Twelve Etudes for the Left Hand Alone, Op 92, by Moszkowski — a fabulous set of richly diverse pieces. I have also been looking a bit at the Seven Polyphonic Pieces for Left Hand Alone by Kapustin. The jury is still out on that one.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I love my morning tea ritual, and sitting for a bit staring at a beautiful view. Then, those first few minutes at the piano…and I always start my day playing Bach.

http://www.keithsnellpianist.com

Keith Snell’s album ‘Verbs, Book 2′, 24 Preludes for Piano by Kathleen Ryan, is  available now.

The Saturday Piano Salon at Steinway Hall

Steinway Hall, London (Picture source: Wikipedia)

The Saturday Piano Salon is a new venture by my colleagues and friends Lorraine Liyanage and Melanie Spanswick to give adult amateur pianists the opportunity to meet and share repertoire. The Salon meets twice a year at London’s prestigious Steinway Hall, where participants will have the chance to play a magnificent Steinway Model D, a full-size concert grand. The first Salon is on Saturday 12th May. Do come along to play and to meet other amateur pianists.

Further details, including tickets, here:

Welcome to The Saturday Piano Salon

SE22 Piano School

Classical Mel’s piano and music education blog

Piano day at Steinway Hall

There was an expectant hubbub of chatter, and some rather nervous laughter, when we arrived at Steinway Hall on Saturday for the first EPTA Piano Day, hosted by Scottish pianist and UK EPTA Chairman, Murray McLachlan. I met my friend Lorraine ahead of the event for strong coffee, and, in Lorraine’s case, a big breakfast, at a nearby Carluccio’s. Thus fortified, we walked the short distance from St Christopher’s Place to the hallowed ground that is Steinway & Sons London showroom on Marylebone Lane.

Like many an aspiring pianist, I have pressed my nose to the windows of the Steinway showroom ever since I can remember, marvelling, as a kid, at the big black shiny beasts squatting in the spotlit window displays. I’ve never, until now, had the chutzpah to go in and actually play one. My friend Michael, a fine amateur pianist with a penchant for Rachmaninov and Debussy, bought his Model B there a few years ago: apparently, the level of service was beyond superb. Well, so it should be if you are spending a cool £67,000 on what is, for some people, a glorified piece of sitting room furniture.

The piano - Steinway Model D

Behind the grand showroom, and the Steinway Hall of Fame, there is a small recital space, complete with a big black shiny Model D, a full-size concert grand. The event, the first, (hopefully of many) organised by EPTA, was open to EPTA members and their adult students, and was run in the form of a workshop, with verbal and written feedback on each individual performance by Murray McLachlan.

Although I have attended several courses at my teacher’s house, and performed in her house concerts, I had never participated in an event like this before, which would involve playing in front of 30 people I’d never met before. However, I regarded it as useful preparation for my performance Diploma – plus an opportunity to play a really fine piano.

The repertoire offered was quite varied, with, perhaps unsurprisingly, a good helping of Liszt, some Chopin Nocturnes, two of Schubert’s Opus 90 Impromptus, the opening movement of Beethoven’s Opus 109 Sonata and his Rondo  ‘Rage Over a Lost penny’ (energetically played by my friend), Messiaen’s Prelude La Colombe (‘the Dove’) and my own piece, his Regard de la Vierge, from the ‘Vingts Regards de l’enfant Jésus’. The standard was generally advanced; thus, we all had great admiration for a woman who played a piece from her Grade 4 repertoire. As she told me afterwards, “I was determined to come, no matter. I just wanted to play this piece in front of other people.”. The atmosphere was supportive and sympathetic, and, as Murray kept saying, there was a strong sense of a real love for the instrument and its literature amongst the participants: we were all there because we love it!

Formerly a very reluctant performer, I have learnt the benefits of playing for other people. Interesting things can emerge from a performance and can offer a wholly new perspective on one’s music. Also, it is very important to put it “out there” and to offer it up for scrutiny before an audience. Performing also endorses all those lonely hours we spend practising, and reminds us that music is for sharing. After a fairly rigorous morning the day before having my playing critiqued by a pianist friend, I was fairly clear about what I wanted to do with the Messiaen. It was therefore very cheering and encouraging to receive such positive feedback after my performance. Murray was extremely understanding, kind to those people whose nerves got the better of them, or those who stumbled. This was not a professional concert, after all, but rather a gathering of committed amateurs. It was a very enjoyable and encouraging day; my only criticism is that is was perhaps too long. The day finished with a performance of Liszt’s Italian Années de Pèlerinage by Angela Brownridge, but I did not stay for this as I had to get home – and Lorraine was playing in a competition.

Just before we left, we nipped into the Steinway Hall of Fame, and, like proper “piano tourists”, photographed each other at a Model D with a price tag of £115,000.

It was an excellent day of piano music, and I do hope EPTA will organise further events like this in the future.

EPTA

Steinway & Sons

Some of the repertoire played (links open in Spotify):

Bach/Busoni – Chaconne in D Minor

Beethoven – Rondo a capriccio in G, Op.129 ‘Rage over a lost penny’

Schubert – Impromptus, D. 899 (Op. 90): Impromptu No. 1 in C minor. Allegro molto moderato

Chopin – Nocturne No.13 in C minor Op.48 No.1

Liszt – Années de pèlerinage: 2ème année: Italie, S.161 – 6. Sonetto del Petrarca no. 123 (Più lento)

Ravel – Sonatine: Modéré

Messiaen – 8 Préludes : I La colombe

The author playing Messiaen’s Regard de la Vierge