The first guest post in a new series – The Cross-Eyed Pianist’s Mixtapes

Here Adrian Ainsworth, keen concert-goer and blogger as Specs, shares his mixtape

Art song is almost certainly my favourite area of classical music, which probably explains why Schubert – the master of the form – is also my favourite composer. Appropriately for this blog, he created inventive, unforgettable piano parts that ensure the accompanist is the singer’s equal partner. With over 600 songs to choose from, it was (*adopts Vincent Price voice*) exquisite agony to settle on a dozen or so – but these will do for today. Also, with so many classical performances in the archives, I’ve tried to focus on currently active singers and pianists, who we can still see performing these masterpieces today.

Investec Opera Holland Park (OHP) will mark one year since the tragic Grenfell fire with a special gala on Wednesday 13 June 2018, 8pm, raising money for the Rugby Portobello Trust (, which supports the North Kensington community. Based just a mile from the Grenfell Tower, OHP has a long association with its community and lost a much-loved member of its own staff, Debbie Lamprell, in the disaster.

The Hope for Grenfell Memorial Gala, in memory of Debbie Lamprell and all the victims, will feature popular arias, choruses, readings and more, with a cast to be announced soon. It is hoped that over £50k will be raised for the Rugby Portobello Trust (RPT), who worked closely with victims of the tragedy and with which OHP has a long association. In 2017, a performance of Verdi’s Requiem (read more here) just a few weeks after the Grenfell fire sold out in 36 hours and raised a total of £41k for the RPT to support victims.

Funds raised by this year’s memorial concert will enable over 100 children and young people from North Kensington to attend ‘residential’ trips, week-long trips, often to the coast and countryside, which allow them to try new activities and escape the pressures of everyday life. Often the residentials are the first time that these young people will have left their immediate concrete surroundings. The impact of these trips is proven to be especially long-lasting, boosting the confidence of young people by introducing them to new skills (raft-building, rock-climbing, team-building etc), as well as fostering a safe environment in which to address any emotional issues.

OHP is extremely grateful to Hamish and Sophie Forsyth for their generous support of this performance.

Tickets for the Grenfell memorial concert will be available from Monday 19 February via

Investec Opera Holland Park’s 2018 season will run from 29 May to 28 July. Full details of productions at

Verdi’s Requiem performed at Opera Holland Park in August 2017



(Source: Press release)

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

I don’t know if there was one person or event in particular that led me to pursue this career. I wanted to be a conductor and to have a new platform to communicate with musicians, music lovers and people who are not aware of classical music. I wanted to have an opportunity to inspire the future generation of young musicians. I also wanted to engage people who are not fans of classical music and get them excited for it. I know many colleagues who always dreamed about being a conductor but I came to that realization when I was 22.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

The most challenging part of being a conductor or a Music Director of a group is inspiring musicians to accept the challenges I present. New music is a challenge, unique collaborations are a challenge and these are paths that every orchestra (youth, community, professional) should take from time to time. As a leader one should find the determination to excite the orchestra to take on challenges with no fear. The fulfilling aspect is the final product, the inspired musicians, the excited audiences and most importantly the feeling of accomplishing something that presented a challenge.  

How exactly do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

Every orchestra I work with I learn from. Communication is a complex topic and there are no masters. I work hard in diversifying my approach and with each experience I realize that it’s not just about the music but about the people. In my communication with the orchestra I try to inspire them with my passion and love for the music, I engage them to be collaborators and of course teach them through this process. To maximize the potential of any group it requires the energy of each individual and this can be achieved through communication not only on the podium but off the podium as well.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

The role of a Music Director should be all encompassing. As a MD one should inspire the players through passion and enthusiasm for the music, engage audiences, and be in constant search of projects and collaborations. MD should also find ways to challenge to musicians and audiences because that is the only way we grow; that is the only way to the future. As an MD one should never assume that people know the music or the history and stories beyond the score. As conductors we have to educate not only the musicians but the audiences from the stage. Pre-concert talks do not provide a direct tool to teach and one never engages everyone in attendance. I believe that collaborations are vital for the growth of arts and classical music specifically. I think we live in a time where we absolutely have to collaborate with artists and other fields to maximize the reach of our art form.Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?I am always proud of the youth I work with and I am proud of them for accepting my challenges. I have commissioned new works, initiated unique collaborations with many organizations and invited artists from many genres to work with us. I want to thank the many young musicians I have had the privilege to work with and know that they will be leaders and inspiring individuals no matter what they do. Stepping on the podium to work with the future generation of rock stars is the greatest joy in my life, I feel honoured.

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

Picking repertoire for youth and community orchestras is tough. This is something I constantly think about. I try to include a piece that will challenge the orchestra, a piece that will be fun for the audiences, and a piece that the orchestra will not feel overwhelmed with.

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

There are many beautiful spaces I have conducted in and can’t pick one in particular. I like spaces with windows and no formal stage. I like the orchestra to be surrounded by the audience and to feel as close to the people as possible.What is one piece that you’ve always wanted to conduct? And have you had that chance yet?

There is a wonderful Armenian composer Avet Terterian and I would love to conduct any of his symphonies when I have an opportunity to do so.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I currently work with many youth and community orchestras in the U.S. state of Washington. My definition of success is the consistent growth of the musicians I work with, the development of their understanding of music and most importantly the continuous passion, love and care for classical music. I want to see the youth in my orchestras be passionate advocates for arts and culture regardless of what they pursue as a career. Decades later I want to see a world full of people from diverse professional and cultural backgrounds support the arts in large numbers. As an educator and conductor I want to instill in them the importance of music.

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

As conductors it is important to understand our role within the music organization and in our community. It does not matter if you conduct the greatest orchestras in the world, a community group or a youth organization you have to stay grounded and understand the importance of impacting the youth and community. I don’t mean just advocating for the arts but actually getting your hands dirty in the daily, weekly projects of inspiring the community. There are many great conductors in the world but one thing that is evident with many is the lack of consistent commitment to youth, community and outreach events. I want to see more conductors involved in outreach events, these concerts are not just for assistant and pops conductors. Music Directors are equally responsible for these performances and should do more than just a few in a year. I want to see the role of the Music Director taken more seriously. We live in a world that is fast paced and it is easier than ever to travel across the world. Holding more than one major symphony conducting role is not only disrespectful to the orchestra but most importantly it is disrespectful to the city and community the conductor is serving. A major symphony is one of the most important cultural organizations in a city and we need to have the Music Directors fully involved in the community which again is a rare fine these days. Classical music is suffering and this is definitely one of the factors. We need our leaders a lot more than just 12-15 weeks out of a year while the rest of the year they are holding other “full-time” jobs and guest conducting 30 other orchestras.Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I want to continue working with orchestras whether they are professional or not, I want to keep inspiring the youth and the community it serves.  

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know if that exists for me but I am content with the constant challenges despite the absence of perfect happiness.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t know about possessions but I have treasured people who are: my wife, my brother, my parents, family, friends and the many people who help and inspire me.

What is your present state of mind?

The moment.

Armenian-American conductor Tigran Arakelyan is the Music Director of Bainbridge Island Youth Orchestras, the Federal Way Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Artistic Director /Conductor of Port Townsend Community Orchestra. Arakelyan held conducting positions with California Philharmonic, Los Angeles Youth Orchestra, Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, Rainier Symphony and the Northridge Youth Philharmonic. His primary conducting studies were with renowned conductors Ludovic Morlot and David Alexander Rahbee.

His recent conducting engagements were with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Olympia Chamber Orchestra, Armenian Pops Orchestra, Centum Youth Orchestra (S. Korea) and the Northwest Mahler Festival Orchestra.  Arakelyan toured South Korea twice (2014, 2017) with the Federal Way Youth Symphony conducting over a dozen concerts from Seoul to Busan. He recently initiated the Inaugural Bainbridge Island String Orchestra Festival with award winning guest artist Andrew Joslyn. Arakelyan also commissioned/premiered a work by international award winning composer Yiğit Kolat. 

Previously, he was the Music Director of Whidbey Island Orchestra (WA), Lark Musical Society Youth Orchestra (CA) and the Founder Conductor and Artistic Director of Cadence Chamber Orchestra (WA). At the university level Arakelyan was the Music Director of the University of Washington Campus Philharmonia and UW Summer Orchestra. He has been instrumental in initiating innovative collaborations with composers, soloists, visual artists, dancers, and choirs. Arakelyan helped in creating youth scholarship programs, festivals, young composer competitions, and led orchestral performances at unconventional venues. 

Arakelyan conducted the Pacific Northwest premiere of Paul Hindemith Kammermuzik Nr. 1. He has also conducted the Yakima Symphony Chamber Orchestra, University of California Los Angeles Philharmonia, Redmond Academy of Theatre Arts, Korean Music Association Choir (WA), Inverted Space Modern Ensemble, U.W. Symphony, California State University Northridge Symphony, CSU Northridge Discovery Players, and the Nimbus Ensemble (CA). A strong advocate of new music, he premiered works by Iosif Andriasov, Stepan Rostomyan, Eleanor Aversa, Jeff Bowen, Jon Brenner, Arshak Andriasov, and Felipe Rossi. 

Arakelyan played alongside Sir James Galway during his induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He is a recipient of numerous awards including: Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) Performing Arts Fellowship (2013, 2014, 2015), Edward Hosharian Award, and the Armenian Allied Arts Competition (1st place), among others.  Arakelyan participated in the Conductors Guild Workshop, Pierre Monteux School for Conductors, Idyllwild Music Festival, Dilijan Chamber Music Series, Seasons Festival Academy, and Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. He conducted in masterclasses with notable conductors David Loebel, Frank Battisti, Donald Thulean, Ennio Nicotra, David Effron, Neal Stulberg, Michael Jinbo, and Lawrence Golan. 

Arakelyan received a Doctorate in Musical Arts degree in conducting from the University of Washington. His primary conducting studies are with Ludovic Morlot, David Alexander Rahbee, John Roscigno and flute studies with Paul Taub, John Barcellona, Laura Osborn, Stephen Preston, and Shigenori Kudo.​ Outside of conducting, he is the founder/director of the Armenian Orchestral Music Project and the Classical Program Coordinator at Music Works Northwest. Arakelyan is also the founder and host of Off The Podium-Music Podcast where his guests are renowned musicians and artists.

One of the secondary pleasures of going to live music in concert is “audience watching”. Different artists and repertoire attract different audiences (the music of Scriabin, for example, seems to attract a particularly ‘unusual’ audience…..). The ritual of concert going and the habits of audiences have fascinated and intrigued me since I was a young child when my parents took me to the Proms and concerts at Birmingham Town Hall (where the CBSO was based before Symphony Hall was built).

I love the very palpable sense of “collective listening”, that curious vibration in the concert hall when everyone is listening very intently, or when the musician/s creates a remarkably intense connection via his/her performance and the power of the music. At the end of a particularly concentrated performance, one senses the audience uncurling and flexing, like an animal, before exhaling a collective breath and applauding. At a recent lunchtime concert at my local music society, I was amused to observe the reactions of several members of the audience to some rather outré contemporary music which was being performed by a piano and percussion duo. The final piece in the programme, during which the performers alternated between throwing themselves onto the piano keyboard and clapping (including some quite intricate “Pat-a-Cake” clapping patterns), seemed particularly “challenging” for certain members of the audience. Some people shifted uncomfortably in their seats, presumably because they found the music unpleasant or difficult to understand. Another person rested his head on his left hand, feigning boredom or sleep; others lowered their heads or looked down at their laps in embarrassment. Luckily no one walked out, though I suspect a couple of people might have considered doing so. When the piece ended, some of the applause felt like relief, that this curious “musical” experience was over, though in general I felt the applause was given generously, as it always is at my local music society’s concerts.

Crowd-surfing is generally not acceptable at a classical music concert…..

I think it’s important to be challenged by music and that listening should not necessarily always be a passive activity – though of course a concert can, and should, be a relaxing and enjoyable activity as well. I have experienced sidelong glances from other audience members when I have laughed at the wit of Haydn or Beethoven, or a certain gesture by a performer to highlight a moment of humour in the music. These days I quite regularly cry at concerts, overwhelmed by the music and the emotional experience of hearing it (a friend of mine believes I suffer from Stendhal Syndrome with this regard). Yet the etiquette of the concert hall, a mode of behaviour which developed at the end of the nineteenth century when concert going became more formal, and largely remains so today, can make people feel constrained, obliged to sit in rigid reverential silence for the duration of the performance. It is this etiquette which can also put people off attending classical concerts, and the unwelcoming attitude of some fellow concert-goers, and the conventions of the concert hall – how to behave, in particular when to applaud – can make concert-going a behavioural minefield for the ingenue concert-goer. There is a small contingent of audience members who wish to maintain these conventions and they manifest their antagonism to the more relaxed concert-goer by curious (mostly) passive aggressive behaviour including glaring at the person who accidentally drops their programme or loudly shushing others. Sometimes these are the same people who bellow “Bravo!” at the end of the concert, or start applauding almost before the final note has sounded. All of this behaviour would probably seem very alien to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven, and even Brahms and Tchaikovsky, who were used to a much more rowdy and noisily engaged audience. Somehow we need to find a middle way between the very formal behaviour which still dominates classical concert going and a more relaxed attitude akin to an earlier age which allows people to react spontaneously to what they hear, feel and experience……

Hush! (The Concert) by James Tissot

Launch of a new series

The “mixtape” featured heavily in my teenage years and early 20s before the advent of CDs, and was an important part of my listening experience. The mixtape was a homemade compilation of music, recorded onto a cassette tape, usually from a vinyl LP, or the radio. My father had an expensive and rather complicated Bang & Olufsen “music center”, as it was called, on which I laboriously transferred favourite tracks from LPs to cassette tapes which I could listen to in my room when revising, or take with me to university when left home. Mixtapes were also made for and exchanged between friends, to share favourite music, or for boyfriends to send messages of love and other stories…… The mixtape could reveal a lot about one’s personality and taste through the choice of music.


Purists and lovers of vinyl and cassette tapes bemoan the fact that we can’t make “mix tapes” like we used to. Wrong – we can. With services like Spotify, you can create your own personal playlists and “mixes” and share them, so that others may enjoy them too. In this new series,  I’m inviting you to submit your personal “mixtape” and share your music on this site.

  • Compile a mixtape playlist using Spotify (or another streaming service which allows you to create a playlist). The choice of music is entirely up to you – classical, jazz, pop, World, country, folk
  • Duration: approx 45-60 mins
  • Optional: write a short introduction to your mixtape, explaining your choices. Perhaps some pieces are particularly significant or recall a certain person or time in your life. Share your mixtape stories!
  • Send a link to your mixtape  Click Here To Email Me


City Music Foundation (CMF) has announced the 5 musicians who are joining the CMF Artist programme as 2017 CMF Artists: Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo-soprano), Eblana String Trio, Alex Hitchcock (jazz saxophone), Gwenllian Llyr (harp) and Rokas Valuntonis (piano).

These sensational musicians started CMF’s innovative two-year Artist Programme in October 2017 and will continue to work with the CMF as their career progresses.

Lithuanian pianist Rokas Valuntonis won First Prize at both the Nordic Piano Competition in Malmö, Sweden (2010) and the International Music Competition “Societa Umanitaria” in Milan, Italy (2013).

The mission of CMF is to turn exceptional musical talent into professional success by equipping outstanding musicians with the tools, skills, experience and networks they need to build and sustain rewarding and profitable careers.

Over the two years, CMF provides one to one business mentoring as well as tailored professional development workshops covering a range of topics including tax and financial management, networking, presentation skills, agents, PR, networking and much more. The mentoring continues with day to day access to the CMF team as well as artistic guidance from established players with international careers. On top of these professional development workshops, CMF Artists receive essential promotional tools such as websites, images and CD and video recordings, as well as help with new commissions and other projects to ensure each musician develops a unique niche and selling point.

CMF’s key position in the City means that we can use our experience, knowledge and connections within the music industry, as well as the City’s cultural network and business institutions, to provide unique and unrivalled support and education for our musicians.

A high proportion even of the most talented musicians fail to convert their great talent and extensive training into a career in music. We believe that by investing in these talented musicians early in their professional careers we can not only secure their employment, but help to ensure the future of quality music in the UK and beyond.

Previous CMF Artists have included the Foyle-Stsura Duo, pianists Cordelia Williams, and Samson Tsoy, clarinet player Joe Shiner, jazz clarinet and founding member of Kansas Smitty’s Giacomo Smith, jazz bass player Misha Mullov Abbado (now a BBC New Generation Artist) and percussionist Pedro Segundo.

(source: CMF press release)