In a neat piece of programming, Monday’s Wigmore Hall lunchtime concert brought together two French master-pianists to play two French masterpieces for the ballet, Debussy’s erotic and ecstatically playful Jeux, and Stravinsky’s “beautiful nightmare”, The Rite of Spring. Read my full review here
Recently, The Guardian published an article by Leo Benedictus on the subject of badly behaved audiences at theatre, film, concerts, and similar events. The article included a sort of ‘manifesto’ for audiences, with tips and advice on how not to behave. It is both amusing and true. I ran an informal poll amongst Twitter and Facebook followers, asking for people to submit their particular “audience irritations”. The best ones follow below:
People who sit behind and scratch their knees… An odd one I know, but sat in a tiered theatre their knees are at ear level!
Flash photography when one is performing – very distracting!
People talking through overtures is my worst bugbear. I was at South Pacific in Cardiff recently and it was so noisy throughout the overture, and the chap behind me constantly was singing and humming along to most of the songs and making comments….
At a Proms concert once, I saw a Prommer reading a John Grisham novel while Abbado conducting the Bruckner’s 9th symphony provided some no doubt pleasant background music.
Child unwrapping sweets during a Bach Suite… grrrrrr!
People who go to a concert with a cold! Sniffling every other minute. So distracting, inconsiderate and unhygienic!
Re. hummers, I remember childhood carol services at church where every year, without fail, one old man who couldn’t sing in tune to save his life would persist in joining in with the solo first verse of Once in Royal. Pity whichever poor child had been given that dubious privilege…
I was at a Chopin recital where the man next to me hummed tunelessly throughout Chopin’s last Piano Sonata (indeed, throughout the entire concert!). It reminded me of a sketch from ‘Alas Smith & Jones’ in which a certain concert-goer (Smith) hums throughout the performance. Another (Jones) becomes very irritated by this and starts shushing the hummer, only to be told by others around him: “Would you please be quiet? We have come here tonight specifically to hear Mr Smith humming!”
Because of the average age of its audience (very elderly), the Wigmore auditorium is often a cacophony of whistling hearing aids, snuffling, stentorian snoring, and – particularly at lunchtime recitals – satisfied, fruity farting (the sign of a good lunch in the Wigmore restaurant!)
My father’s first visit to Carnegie Hall was marred by a man in front of him who conducted, from his seat, with full score, throughout a Beethoven Symphony.
Please feel free to share your own particular “audience irritations” via the comments box!
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
My parents didn’t come from a musical background but bought an upright for my two older sisters to learn so I am eternally grateful for that decision. For some mysterious reason I was drawn to the sound of the piano as an infant. I finally got my way and started piano lessons at the age of 5. It was my own choice and by the time I was 12, I had decided that I wanted to be a concert pianist.
Who or what are the most important influences on your playing?
My amazing teachers: Heather Slade-Lipkin, Eleanor Sokoloff and Nina Milkina. I feel very fortunate to have studied with the right teacher at the right time in my development. My playing is also very inspired by my wife, the artist Anna Paik. As she works hard on achieving a subtlety of different colours and nuances in her studio upstairs, I’m not that far away from these creative concepts in my own studio downstairs.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
An artistic career will inevitably have its ups and downs and often many aspects of it are out of one’s control. The greatest challenge is remaining true to oneself, to forge an individual path without any compromises and not to be shattered by any frustrations that one may experience along the way. I feel so fortunate that I am pursuing my childhood passion and making my living out of something that I thoroughly enjoy. When I face any challenge, I always remind myself of this.
Which recordings are you most proud of?
With every recording I feel I am growing and learning more as a musician, as in every concert season. Recording the complete Mozart Piano Sonatas for Avie Records in 2006 was a huge undertaking and I am very glad to have accomplished this early in my career. I am happy to have a wide variety of repertoire in my discography: Barber, Beethoven, Chopin and Schumann to the less familiar Hans Gál and British composer Ronald Corp. I have two more discs out this year of Brahms solo piano works (Somm) and Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (Naxos).
Do you have a favourite concert venue?
We have so many good ones in the UK so it’s hard to single out one. I love Wigmore Hall, The Sage Gateshead, King’s Place and Symphony Hall Birmingham to name but a few. I have happy memories of playing in the Rudolfinum in Prague and also the fine acoustics at the Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas.
Who are your favourite musicians?
From the past, I aspire to the pianism of Sergei Rachmaninov and Artur Rubenstein. I’m a great fan of Murray Perahia and always try and attend his concerts in London whenever I can.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Performing at the Musikverein when I won the Beethoven Competition in Vienna back in 1993 is high up there. Also the sheer thrill of walking out on stage at the vast Royal Albert Hall at the BBC Proms is special.
What is your favourite music to play?
I love the music of Schumann and am currently wrapped up in his glorious Carnaval. As a pianist there is endless scope and I am constantly updating my repertoire from season to season.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
Concentrate on your own goals and try not to be affected by all the pressures around you or make unhealthy comparisons with other musicians.
What are you working on at the moment?
As well as Schumann’s Carnaval, I am currently preparing Bach’s Italian Concerto, two Chopin Nocturnes, Debussy Pour le Piano and trio of bell-inspired works by Liszt, Debussy and Rachmaninov.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Lounging on the sofa with my cat on my lap!
What is your most treasured possession?
My wedding ring: a gold band with a blue sapphire, designed by my wife.
English pianist Leon McCawley leapt into prominence when he won both First Prize in the International Beethoven Piano Competition in Vienna and Second Prize in the Leeds International Piano Competition at the age of nineteen in 1993.
Since then, McCawley has given highly acclaimed recitals that include London’s Wigmore Hall and Queen Elizabeth Hall, Berlin Konzerthaus, Lincoln Center New York, Prague Rudolfinum and Vienna Musikverein. McCawley performs frequently with many of the top British orchestras and has performed several times at the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. He broadcasts regularly on BBC Radio 3 in recital and with many of the BBC orchestras. Further afield he has performed with Cincinnati Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Minnesota Orchestra, Netherlands Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra and Vienna Symphony among many others. Conductors he has worked with include Daniele Gatti, Paavo Järvi, Kurt Masur and Simon Rattle.
McCawley’s wide-ranging discography has received many accolades including two “Editor’s Choice” awards in Gramophone and a Diapason d’Or for his boxed set of The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas.
McCawley studied at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester with Heather Slade-Lipkin and at the Curtis Institute of Music with Eleanor Sokoloff. He also worked with Nina Milkina in London.
Leon McCawley is a professor of piano at London’s Royal College of Music and is married to the painter, Anna Hyunsook Paik.
Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili and Norwegian ‘cellist Truls Mørk gave a lunchtime concert at London’s Wigmore Hall, featuring mercurial Beethoven and passionate Rachmaninov. Read my review for Bachtrack here
Anthony Hewitt is the Olympianist. Combining his twin passions cycling and the piano, he’s pedalling the Olympian distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats over 20 days in May, starting on 9th May. And the “pianist” element? He’ll be giving recitals along the way on his piano which will follow him in the ‘BeethoVAN’.
Repertoire for the tour includes music by Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Liszt, Janacek, Rachmaninov and Franck (with Manchester Camerata), works chosen to express energy, movement, dynamism and a sense of journey. Concerts will be given at established venues, but Anthony will also give spontaneous recitals along the way. Requests for concerts can be made via Anthony’s website: as he says “no place is too remote, no venue too small”.
Anthony aims to raise £20k for a number of charities, including CLIC Sargent children’s cancer charity, and the National Autistic Society and Sistema Scotland.
For more information, sound clips, the route, and to donate, visit Anthony’s website at www.olympianist.com
Ahead of his Olympian tour, Anthony will be giving a coffee concert at London’s Wigmore Hall on Sunday 5th February. Programme and tickets here.
A brief review of the great, the good and the fair-to-middling concerts I have attended this year. As regular readers of this blog will know, since April of this year, I have been reviewing for online listings site Bachtrack. This has given me the opportunity to enjoy even more live music, and combines two of my great passions: music and writing. I have included links to my reviews, where appropriate, in this post.
Ian Bostridge at Wigmore Hall. I have been a fan of tenor Ian Bostridge for some years now, after hearing him as the Evangelist in Bach’s St John Passion. A striking concert of songs of love, loss and longing by Purcell, Bach, Haydn, Britten and Weill.
Two young performers greatly impressed me this season: the harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani (who I discovered via Norman Lebrecht’s blog), and cellist Joy Lisney. Esfahani, a fiercely intellectual musician, brought the Goldberg Variations to life in new and wonderful ways in his Prom at Cadogan Hall, while Joy, in her London debut at St John’s Smith Square, demonstrated a musical maturity far beyond her years, as well as a commanding yet modest stage presence, and beautiful playing.
Leon McCawley at King’s Place. The final concert in McCawley’s four-recital survey of Mozart’s Piano Sonatas, my first review for Bachtrack, and my first visit to King’s Place.
Charles Rosen all-Chopin concert. How wonderful to see the 85 year old Rosen still performing, touring and enjoying it. A concert which divided critics – there was some uneven playing and several scary memory lapses – I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Di Xiao at Wigmore Hall. Despite her glamorous photographs, Miss Xiao failed to impress me in her debut at the Wigmore Hall. I think part of the problem for me was the appallingly badly written programme notes and the rather saccharine title of the concert ‘Moonlight Reflections’. However, she gave convincing performances of Ravel and Messiaen, and I would hear her again when she has matured a little.
No review of my concert year would be complete without a mention of my students’ summer concert, a very enjoyable occasion featuring a wide range of repertoire, selected by the children.
Looking ahead to 2012, I have tickets for Peter Donohoe and Mitsuko Uchida (in Schubert’s last three sonatas) at the Southbank, and hope to review Jonathan Biss and Peter Jablonski in January. I am also embarking on a new ‘career’ as an arts reviewer for Bachtrack’s new sister site, OneStopArts, thus adding yet another string to my already rather busy bow!