Introducing Piano Bloggers

A new community group on Facebook for those who blog about the piano and those who enjoy reading blogs……

musicwriter_key_tops

A dedicated space for pianists and writers to share and encourage one another, as well as a focal point where bloggers can share all their latest posts.

This is important, because many online communities don’t like bloggers to link their sites. For example, on Reddit not all subreddit areas welcome blog posts at all, while forums such as Piano World can also react with hostility towards bloggers who share their posts. And even on Facebook, some groups prefer to limit or restrict the sharing of blog links.

And that’s why those who READ blogs will enjoy the Piano Bloggers group as much as those who write them! The aim of the group is to offer a unique space online where interaction between readers, writers and pianists can flourish.

The group is moderated by Andrew Eales, Mark Polishook and Frances Wilson (The Cross-Eyed Pianist)

Read more about Piano Bloggers

Meet the Artist……Melvyn Tan, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

No one. My sister 10 years my senior played the piano so I followed in her footsteps, and it sort of developed from there. I did already realise when I was quite young that music would play a huge part of my life.

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

I was fortunate enough to earn a place at the Yehudi Menuhin School and there teachers came and went, but were many of Yehudi’s friends and colleagues. Amongst them was the great Nadia Boulanger who gave classes when I was a student there, and Vlado Perlemuter who inspired my love for Ravel, as did the even more elderly Marcel Ciampi, my love of Debussy.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this?

This is my first appearance at the Festival and I am looking forward to it immensely. One of the highlights for me is the world premiere of Kevin Volans’s piece L’Africaine for Piano solo. I have known Kevin for years but this is the first piece I am performing by him. The programme will also comprise Ravel’s great set of 5 pieces Miroirs, as well as his Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, and Weber Invitation to the Dance.

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

There have been many, but a few are etched firmly in my memory. Spitalfields Festival invited me to perform Messiaen’s great piece the Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant Jesus a few years back, and after much deliberation I decided to go for it. Learning that piece changed my life, not just musically, but as a person. Its one of the strongest pieces of music I know.

Another occasion was my coming back recital in Singapore after an absence of nearly 34 years, and I simply did not know how the audience would respond and react. It proved to be a memorable occasion, not least for my parents who waited so long for that day to happen.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I have fond memories of everything I have done. But I would specially mention my latest CD ‘Master and Pupil’ which traces Liszt’s influences back to Beethoven and especially Czerny, who was devoted to his talented pupil and continued to be an inspiration all through Liszt’s life.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My performing range has widened significantly over the years. From Beethoven and Mozart through the French Impressionists and the 21st century. It would be very difficult to choose a period or type. I really do feel at home in everything I do.

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

Depending on the engagements that come up. Sometimes one does not have a choice. I tend to keep or try to keep a nice balance between concertos and solos, but there is always a new solo repertoire each season which I like to try out.

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

The concert halls in Asia are superb, and I am very proud to go back to Singapore to perform in the wonderful halls there, particularly the Esplanade and the Hall at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of music. Having said that the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam is wonderful as is the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place in London.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love the golden oldies – Schnabel, the Busch Quartet, Arrau, and many many more – too many to mention here.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The occasion when I first performed Weber’s wonderfully funny witty piece the Konzertstuck with Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players at St John’s Smith Square many many years ago. It was the one of the most exhilarating evenings I can remember and on the strength of that concert EMI eventually invited me to record with them and Sir Roger.

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

To believe in what you are doing. To take the rough with the smooth. We can’t always have success. Sometimes failure can teach us more about something than success ever can.

Humility. Nothing I detest more than diva-ish behaviour. We are all human.

 

What is your most treasured possession?

My 60th birthday present from my partner Paul by sculptor Geoffrey Clarke and his son, who designed the altarpiece at Coventry Cathedral. It’s of a phoenix about to take flight… Maybe quite appropriate at this stage in life!

 

Melvyn Tan performs music by Weber and Ravel and premieres a new work by Kevin Volans at King’s Place on Saturday 7 October as part of the 2017 London Piano Festival

www.melvyntan.com

Live lessons

Last weekend I performed at St John’s Smith Square, one of London’s premier music venues. This was part of their Music Marathon, 12 hours of continuous music making to coincide with the Open House London weekend. There was a great range of music and performers, a good-sized audience and a friendly atmosphere. I chose to perform, perhaps rather over-ambitiously, Schubert’s Sonata in A, D959, preceded by Britten’s Night Piece – a demanding programme of music lasting 45 minutes. I performed the Schubert Sonata 7 times last year (including the FTCL Diploma recital) but as any performer will tell you, each live performance reveals new or unexpected things about the music and you as a performer. I believe it is important to perform the music we study and play – not least because this wonderful music was written to be shared. Performing can take many forms – from informal playing at home with friends to a concert at a world-renowned concert hall – and each performance presents its own dificulties, stresses, pleasures and revelations.

I came late to performing, having had a long break from the piano after university, and completed two performance diplomas in my late 40s. In order to do this, and because I had not had a formal musical training in conservatoire, I had to “learn” how to be a performer (mostly by teaching myself and talking to and observing professional musicians at work). The most significant thing I have learned is that one must be extremely well-prepared – and prepared for anything and everything that can happen, both within the music itself and all the things one cannot control. Even the best laid plans in practise can come awry in performance, for a variety of reasons. For this reason most professional performers (and serious amateurs too) will do a number of practise performances in less important venues before the most important concert in their diary (at the Wigmore Hall for example, reputedly one of the hardest places to perform in because of its famously knowledgeable and discerning audience). Each performance is part of the learning process and whatever happens in a performance should be seen as a point of reference for future practising and preparation (and a timely reminder that we can never truly say that a piece of music is “finished”).  For example, during my SJSS performance certain passages which had seemed pretty secure in practise came unstuck (noticeably to me, but probably not to the audience as I managed to improvise). It can be quite a jolt to discover that one’s careful practising may not have been quite as scrupulous as one thought. For this reason, I try not to spend too much time negatively reflecting on a performance which may not have gone as well as I’d hoped, preferring to note the areas which require improvement and incorporate these into my practising regime. Thus, through these marginal gains one can take the music to another or different level each time it is performed.

Performing is physically and mentally demanding. and an unusual level of mental concentration is required combined with physical stamina for the duration of the performance (and playing for 45 minutes continuously is hard work!). Interruptions to one’s focus, such as noises in the hall, an error or memory lapse, or negative self-talk, can throw a performance off track and one sometimes has to muster huge forces to bring one back to the task in hand. This is why we must practise so meticulously, to make the music as secure as possible, so that we don’t break down or stop in performance (something I have only witnessed once in a professional performance, though I have encountered numerous but tiny errors or memory slips).

In addition, the stress and anxiety of performing does not pass the moment one leaves the stage. It can take some hours for the body’s stress hormones to return to their normal levels, which can leave one feeling jittery, restless, irritable and sleepless – despite one feeling physically and mentally drained. I have found isotonic drinks such as Gatorade help alleviate the physical and emotional effects of performing (these products have been proven to offer enhanced recovery to patients undergoing complex surgery).

Finally, one should try not to negatively post-mortem a performance too much. It has happened, in the moment, and now it is over and one should look forward to the next opportunity to present one’s music in concert. Compliments and generous feedback from audience members, colleagues and friends can make a huge difference to one’s attitude to a performance and help maintain a positive mindset.

So what did I learn from performing at St John’s Smith Square? First, that meticulous preparation is crucial and constantly reminding oneself of this truth is so important. Secondly, that one should never become complacent in the face of this great music; remain humble and do not allow one’s ego to get in the way of the music. Thirdly, accept compliments and comments with courtesy and humility – these are almost always genuine and given generously. Lastly, I have huge respect for professional musicians who perform regularly – because it ain’t easy!

Many of the aspects outlined in this article will come up in the course of my studies at the Royal College of Music as I embark on a two-year MSc in Performance Science. It’s a fascinating subject and I look forward to sharing my discoveries and further thoughts here.

Hiro Takenouchi: Sterndale Bennett & Schumann

bennett-schumann-coverLondon-based Japanese pianist Hiro Takenouchi has a fascination for lesser-known and even unknown repertoire, and this is very much reflected in his latest disc, pairing of piano music by William Sterndale Bennett with Schumann’s Symphonic Etudes.

The two composers met and became friends soon after Sterndale Bennett arrived in Leipzig, a friendship which lasted until Schumann’s death in 1856. Schumann championed Sterndale Bennett’s music and the young Englishman repaid this generosity by dedicating his Fantasia Op 16 to Robert Schumann.

The uninitiated could be forgiven for mistaking Sterndale Bennett for Schumann. His Piano Sonata in F minor, Op 13 is romantically expansive, virtuosic, lyrical and emotionally intense, with a narrative thread which Takenouchi carries confidently through the entire work with only occasional moments of repose. It recalls Schumann’s Piano Concerto in its thematic unity and symphonic scope, and Takenouchi handles this with bravura ease and a warm, refined sound.

The Symphonic Etudes (1834), which Schumann dedicated to Sterndale Bennett, are similarly muscular, the opening theme stated with clear intent and authority. The movements which follow are dramatically paced, richly coloured and constantly alert to Schumann’s quirks and emotional volte-faces, from the extrovert to the intimate, and Takenouchi succeeds in managing the piano sound perfectly to achieve this (the recording was made at St John the Evangelist in Oxford which I understand has a superb Steinway D).

The two works and their composers complement one another wonderfully,

Recommended

 

Meet the Artist……Hiro Takenouchi

A new direction – and a call for guest posts

Autumn 2017 brings a significant change of direction for me as I embark on a two-year MSc at the Royal College of Music, studying Performance Science.

The science and psychology of performance has become a growing area of interest for me, developing from when I learnt how to be a performer myself in my late 40s. Numerous conversations and interviews with professional musicians – and specifically concert pianists – and much time spent observing musicians at work in concerts and masterclasses – has fueled my interest in this relatively new area of musical study and I am excited at the opportunity to explore it in more depth. I hope to be able to share my discoveries via this blog, but my academic commitments may also mean that I might not have as much time to devote to the blog…..

So, this is a call for guest posts to help keep the content of this site vibrant and interesting and regularly updated. Suggested topics for guest posts include:

  • Concert, CD reviews
  • Opera reviews
  • Book and DVD reviews (musically-related)
  • Articles on piano technique, repertoire, performing and teaching
  • Musicians’ health and well-being
  • General musings on musical subjects

If you are a blogger yourself, contributing to other blogs is a great way of bringing your writing to a wider audience (and this blog has an average readership of c25,000 per month). I can’t offer any payment, but I can promise your writing will be shared across my social media networks – over 7500 followers in total.

If you would like to contribute a guest post, please use the Contact Page to get in touch initially

I look forward to hearing from you

Notes for guest writers

Suggested word limit – 1000-2000 words

I’m happy to include pictures, video and audio clips and links to other sites.

When you submit your article please include a brief biography and a link to your own website/blog, if relevant

Please note that articles which obviously advertise products or contain embedded marketing links will not be considered 

Meet the Artist……Jason Rebello, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

Seeing Herbie Hancock perform in 1983

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

Herbie Hancock, Julian Joseph, John Coltrane.

You are performing in the London Piano Festival this October – tell us more about this? 

I’ll be performing material from my latest solo piano album ‘Held’. Also I’ll be playing my versions of music by Paul Mcartney, Sting and Errol Garner

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

Playing ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ with the Hallé Orchestra and arranging for them too.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

‘Enter the Fire’ – Tim Garland, ‘Make it real’ – me, and ‘Anything but look’ -me.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Hard to say, I enjoy many styles of jazz.

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

I go with what feels right to me.

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

Anywhere with a nice piano and a nice sounding room is fine with me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I like Ivo Neame, Julian Joseph, Gwlym Simcock and Wayne Shorter at the moment…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing at the Albert Hall with Sting.

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

To never forget that music is for enjoyment and communication.

 

For the closing concert of the London Piano Festival, Jason will perform material from Held as well as music from Sting to Errol Garner and beyond. Full details here

 

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture