The expression “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” does a great disservice to teachers everywhere. In the sphere of music, teaching is often regarded as a “second best” option for those who have trained as performers, yet for anyone who has encountered a great music teacher, it is evident that this is a highly-skilled profession, requiring many hours of training and commitment.
The sad thing is that so many young musicians go through the conservatoire or music college training, being taught how to be performers, yet very few of them will be able to make a living solely by performing and concertising. Concert fees hardly take into account the many hours of preparation, and only those at the very top of the profession can command the highest fees. Nor do positions in orchestras pay particularly well. Thus, many musicians turn to teaching as a way of securing a regular income.
A common misconception is that if you are a great performing artist, you must, by default, also be a great teacher, but the two things do not necessarily go hand in hand. While both activities are about communication, teaching is about communicating the techniques and artistry of playing music largely through the medium of the spoken word and physical demonstration. The best teachers can articulate the complexities of playing an instrument in simple terms, demystifying aspects of technique, for example, through the use of metaphor or imagery. Good teachers are also highly adaptable for they appreciate that there is no “one size fits all” approach and that each student must be treated as an individual.
Those fortunate enough to study with some of the great teacher-pianists, who have themselves studied with great teacher-pianists of another era, enjoy a special connection to these earlier teachers and mentors. These generational connections create a tremendous sense of continuity, and this musical ‘provenance’ is invaluable and inspiring when one is learning. Several of my colleagues (both international concert pianists) studied with the acclaimed British pianist and teacher Phyllis Sellick, whose “musical ancestry” included Isidor Philipp, who himself was taught by Georges Mathias, a pupil of Chopin and Kalkbrenner. Such teachers can act as a link to the past, passing on the wisdom handed down from these earlier, great teachers, and enriching one’s experience of previous performers and performances.
Sadly, private music teaching is too often regarded by those outside the profession as “not a proper job”, or a “hobby job” by people who do not appreciate the many hours of preparation and dedication required to teach music. In addition to time spent with students, teachers must plan lessons and take care of the admin of running a teaching practice, including setting and collecting fees, and engaging in ongoing professional development to ensure one remains in touch with current practices and theories.
Teaching is an ongoing learning process in itself: the best teachers are often the most receptive too, and their relationships with their students is less didactic tutor, more mentor and guide. The best teachers are respectful and unselfish, appreciating that students do move on, perhaps to further study at music college or into a professional career, or simply to another teacher to gain a different perspective on their musical studies. Above all, the best teachers care deeply about music and want to encourage and share this love with their students.
Who or what inspired you to take up conducting and pursue a career in music?
I was born into a family of a conductors, so it was my father.
Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?
There have been many influential musicians along the way who have been important influences for me – my father, my teacher Max Rudolf at the Curtis Institute of Music and Leonard Bernstein as far as conductors go. But there have been also influential instrumentalists and composers who have been important in my life, for example Radu Lupu and Arvo Pärt.
What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?
Every part of conductor’s life is challenging. From the enormity of the repertoire to the geography and travel.
The most fulfilling aspect is that a conductor can spend his or her life with talented human beings and explore music of geniuses like Mahler and Beethoven, for example
As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?
One communicates ideas through various methods – with the eyes, verbally, with gestures and body language.
How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?
I see my role as a medium between the composer and the musicians. The role is to formulate a point of view about the piece through study of the score and to convey this to the musicians.
Is there one work which you would love to conduct?
There are many works I would love to conduct but one lifetime is not enough to get close to all the masterpieces in the repertoire.
Do you have a favourite concert venue in which to perform?
The Zürich Tonhalle, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Musikverein in Vienna, just to name a few.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Hard to name a favourite composer but I do have a soft spot for music of Sibelius and Bruckner.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
Success is when you can make music on the highest possible level with like-minded musicians.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Make sure you love music enough to make it your profession and then be prepared to work very hard.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
On the planet Earth.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I think it would be the balance between personal and professional life.
What is your present state of mind?
I’m looking forward to the upcoming tour to Europe with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo
Paavo Järvi conducts the NHK Symphony Orchestra in music by Takemitsu, Rachmaninov and Schumann at London’s Royal Festive val Hall on 24 February. Full details
(Artist photo: Julia Baier)
THE LISNEY TRIO
Emma Lisney – violin
Joy Lisney – cello
James Lisney – piano
Michael Whight – clarinet
Beethoven – Trio in B flat, Op 97, ‘Archduke’
Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time
9 March 2020 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
Two chamber works, composed almost 150 years apart and which both carry a momentous emotional weight, comprise this programme performed The Lisney Trio with clarinettist Michael Whight.
The premiere of Beethoven’s Trio in B flat, opus 97, ‘Archduke’, in 1814 was one of the composer’s final public performances as pianist. Completed in 1811 and dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph of Austria – a fine amateur pianist, patron, friend and composition student of Beethoven – this trio is one of fourteen of Beethoven’s works dedicated to the youngest son of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor. It is a fine example of Beethoven’s heroic style and its perfect combination of brilliance, grandeur and profundity have ensured its central place in the trio repertoire.
Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time premiered in January 1941 at Stalag VIIIA, a prisoner of war camp in Görlitz, Germany. The composer dedicated the work ‘in homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who raises his hand towards Heaven saying “There shall be no more time.”’ From an evocation of morning birdsong, through fiercely concentrated and rhythmically complex dance music, the music intensifies to depictions of the coming cataclysm. Two songs of praise (‘Louanges’) are offered up, oases of extraordinary calm marked ‘infinitely slow’ and ‘tender, ecstatic’.
The Lisney Trio, comprising the members of a family that sustain distinguished international careers as soloists, are joined by renowned clarinettist Michael Whight for this recital of two of the most significant chamber works of the past two centuries.
Monday 9 March 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre
James Lisney returns to the Purcell Room on 19 May for a concert as part of his international tour exploring the notion of ‘Late Style’ and creative maturity through the late masterworks of three composers who are particularly close to his heart – Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert – uplifting, communicative music of enduring appeal.
“a breathtaking interpretation of some of the last works of the great composers”
Seen and Heard International
Hot on the heels of the opening of Picasso On Paper, a major new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, came pianist Roman Rabinovich’s personal hommage to this artist, the place of his birth and his creative life, in a refreshingly original, colourful and very personal programme of music by Zipoli, Debussy, Satie, Granados, Gershwin and Stravinsky, together with a work by the pianist himself.
Debussy said that he “loved pictures almost as much as music” and the same may be said of Roman Rabinovich, who is also an artist. Unsurprisingly, many of the pieces in this programme had strong visual narratives (Debussy’s atmospheric Estampes and Granados’ dramatic and engrossing Goyescas, for example). Connections to Picasso’s native country came through Spanish composers (Zipoli and Granados) and also music (‘La soirée dans Grenade’ from Estampes), but there were other, more tangible connections too: Picasso and Granados were contemporaries and both frequented Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats), a bar in Barcelona; and Picasso encountered both Satie and Stravinsky through Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Picasso’s 1920 portrait of the composer hangs in the RA’s current show, and he designed the costumes and setting for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, and also for Satie’s ballet Parade).
Rabinovich was clearly very at home in all of this repertoire, from the sombre elegance of Zipoli’s g minor suite to the folksy vibrancy of Petrushka, an exuberant finale to the programme, and it’s encouraging to find a pianist who is willing to tackle such wide range of styles and moods with just the right balance of technical facility and bravura. The works by Debussy and Granados were particularly arresting, sensitively sculpted and shaded: Pagodes had the subtle washes and softened hues of watercolour while Granados’ El amor y la muerte (Love and Death) was darkly-hued, passionate and dramatic. Rabinovich’s own piece, its twirling perpetuum mobile outer sections bookending two less frenetic episodes, had the quirky wit of Satie and the rhythmic bite of Gershwin. And what a pleasure it was to hear one of Satie’s curious, haunting Gnossiennes. played with nonchalant grace.
Who or what inspired you to take up piano, and pursue a career in music?
The natural long-term choice for me would have been the violin, or at least a string instrument, as my father was a violinist with the Orchestre de Paris and my grandfather was the Principal Violist of the same and of the Paris Opera Orchestra before that. And naturally, violin was my first instrument, but one I abandoned within just months of starting it. I am not entirely certain why – perhaps I should ask my father about it actually – but a new, shiny black lacquered piano appeared in our house one day and I immediately felt pulled to it. I found a world richer than any other I had known until then, one which gave my imagination free rein and which completely absorbed my attention. Piano just felt natural to me, an extension of my own physical and spiritual being, and still does, although I am far from chained to it or obsessive about it. Of course, learning to play the piano while growing up was not always a smooth road, and I was not always disciplined or desirous of playing, especially as the pressure mounted (I did play many hours each day, usually). But I never questioned my choice of instrument, and I feel like it was always the right one for me. And when adults inevitably asked me what I wanted to do later in life, I always said that I wanted to be a pianist. It seemed like a perfectly natural answer and one which was easy for me to imagine, as I already had experience regularly attending concerts and seeing professional pianists solo with the orchestra. With that said, as a teenager and young adult I did question my choice of career, and tried a number of different things before finally making music my life…
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
My parents, of course, who supported and guided me all along. And some of my teachers, some of whose influence was particularly important, of which I can cite Aïda Barenboïm, my first real teacher (Daniel Baremboïm’s mother) who gave me my musical foundations; Elena Varvarova, with whom I massively improved my technique and discipline; Brigitte Engerer, who guided me in a period of uncertainty; Rena Shereshevskaya and Vladimir Krainev, who gave me confidence and brought me to a truly professional level; and Earl Wild, who encouraged me to go where the music took me. I also have to acknowledge Ursula Oppens and James Giles who exposed me to America’s rich musical world which I did not know much about. I was also lucky to learn bits and pieces from, and be supported by, Carlo-Maria Giulini, Maria Curcio, Charles Rosen, and Kurt Masur, all of whom added something important to my musical journey. But then, my life has also been filled by books, films, museums, travel, and people near and far. It is one thing to learn how to play and how to be a good musician, and it is another to experience life and learn about oneself and one’s humanity, which then should come through in the expression of music.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
My career has been unusual, and I have always been out of the system. I have never liked the idea of competition in music, whether in formal or informal terms. Either music is an art or it is a sport, and I don’t believe a sport-like competition is how you hone and find the best artists, even if on occasion you do in a sort of coincidence (although without a doubt, true artists will be true artists no matter how they build their career). The reality is that there is a selection process that occurs anywhere you are, whether formally through a competition or a conservatory entrance audition, or through the acclamation or lack thereof of a public and the press. I don’t personally like to participate in something that to me seems antithetical to the development of the artist and the meaning of music. I say this only because my refusal to play that game has probably penalized me in some ways, and made it harder for me to find my place in the so-called music business.
I have also allowed myself to live life and take the time to learn life from a wide-array of experiences, to find where my truth lies and why I even bother being a musician. And then I also have been active as a teacher, as a concert and festival organizer, and as a recording and film producer of sorts, learning along the way many skills that help me express my personal artistic vision more fully and effectively. I am also quite certain of the joy I feel when sharing something I love with an audience: indeed, music is both uniquely personal and also uniquely communal. For this reason, I hope I will have the chance to share my love of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with as many people as possible, both through the album as well as through performances down the road.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
While I began my musical life at the very tender age of three, four years old, and began my performance career at ten, I never rushed into making recordings until I felt sure enough of what I had to say, knowing that there was no absolute need to engrave music permanently that had already been recorded by others before, unless there was another compelling reason to do so. Perhaps surprisingly at this stage of life, my recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier is my first solo release, but I am not shy of saying that I am exceedingly proud of it and happy to have made it just that way. And while my playing of Bach has already changed since I made the recording, I feel that it is a very accurate representation of who I am as a musician.
I am also still proud and honoured to have given the World Premiere performances and recording of Beethoven’s Piano Trio Hess 47 with my Beethoven Project Trio back in 2009 in Chicago and New York, an adventure forever engraved in my memory.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
I like to get under the skin of the composers whose music I play. When I begin to explore a sound world, I want to go deep and feel the sensitivities and emotions of the composer who wrote that music, which is one of the reasons I like to isolate a composer and focus very intensely on that one artist, usually making pilgrimages to the places where that composer lived and worked and reading a lot, along with exploring as much of his or her music as possible. For big composers, I do think it’s a very valuable experience to really go deep, which is what I did with Bach and his Well-Tempered Clavier, and is what I am doing now with Beethoven as I prepare to record his complete sonatas. Those two composers will always be very close to my musical heart, as well as Rameau, Mozart, Chopin, Debussy and Ravel. I also love Brahms, but am taking my time to take a full dive into his world. More importantly, life is usually circular, and I approach these composers many times, over time and in due time, and until the time I feel ready to go straight to the heart of what they mean to me. As far as specific works that I play best, I don’t think that is as relevant as just feeling close to a composer’s musical language and being free to express my own sensitivity through that adopted language.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I don’t play the seasons game. Music and a musical life have to remain organic, natural, flowing. I cannot force myself to think in terms of seasons. I simply go where my passion takes me and let things fall into place as they will. I am human, and more importantly a musician, not a bureaucrat. As long as I have joy to play a program, I will do so. If for any reason I lose that joy, the program will change. What I do guarantee is that I will show up, barring any impossible situation, where I said I would, and I am always game for a challenge. But I will never do anything that will threaten the joy of music making, and the desire to share something that rings true to me at a specific moment. The idea that I can program something more than one, two or three years in advance rings hollow to me, with the probable exception of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier, which I have never grown tired of and don’t expect to. But clearly I also love to take my time to explore one work or one composer, and that usually lasts two or three seasons at least…
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
No. As long as there is a minimal amount of climate comfort, and a decent piano, and more importantly a curious audience, I am happy. But I will say that I never had as much pleasure as I did when recording the Well-Tempered Clavier in Weimar’s historic Jakobskirche and on a very unique Hamburg Steinway D that I had found in Paris, through Régie Pianos. Everything about the acoustic and physical experience there was satisfying, and I suppose that’s a good thing when it comes to making a permanent record!
Who are your favourite musicians?
I don’t know. There are lots of musicians whom I admire, and who have made some great recordings, who have performed some memorable concerts, who have moved me, dead or alive, at one time or another of my life. Some musicians have done it more regularly than others, but it’s so subjective, even to me! And truly, for the most part, there is no debate to be had on most of the great musicians. In no particular order, Artur Rubinstein, Josef Hofmann, Dinu Lipatti, Vladimir Horowitz, Claudio Arrau, Marcelle Meyer, Pau Casals, Jascha Heifetz, Henryk Szeryng, Georg Solti, Leonard Bernstein… to stay only with the dead, and to remain terribly incomplete. But I love going down rabbit holes and listening, either to radio, one of the streaming services, or just randomly picking through my record collection, and acquainting or reacquainting myself with a musician. But I am not a guru seeker, so while I enjoy listening, going to concerts, and so on, I am also happy with silence sometimes, which is a great teacher of music.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
I’ve been to many. A performance of Eugène Onégin with Valery Gergiev conducting his Mariinsky orchestra and singers in Paris some twenty years ago has stayed with me emotionally. Deeply memorable also was a masterclass given by Kurt Masur in New York where he showed the arm-waving student conductors how to conduct without even moving his arms (and of course do it better)! It taught me the power of intention and focus.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
There are several sides to success and different ways of understanding the meaning of success as a musician. For me, first, it is being able to express myself from the fount of my inner truth, in other words, it has to ring true to me first, and remains entirely personal, involving no one else, and which is only possible following a long inner journey of discovery and experience. Second, it is succeeding in the practical sense, having the ability to make albums, to perform, and to transmit what one has learned, in such a way as to be free from need and free to be creative. But that sometimes comes and goes with life’s many ups and downs! So then I hold on to my first precept.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Stop practicing! Begin living! Seriously, if you know how to play scales and arpeggios, know how to read music, and have covered some basic repertoire from different periods, your basic instrumental education is over. I think way too many musicians try the athletic approach to music, and think they have to be as good if not better technically than the current stars. Perhaps so, in a sense, okay, fine. But a big part of learning to be a good performer, even a good technician, comes from loosening up and taking a step back. Live! Love! Make mistakes! Learn! What else is true music, true art about, if it is not about life? The practice room is too small to let life in. Don’t let life slip by, and find your truth through experience, through the highs and the lows of it all. Confront yourself to reality, not theory. The conservatory is not the place to learn to be a musician, but only a technician. That’s fine for a bit but don’t expect too much from it, if you really have it in you to be a musician. Stop studying as soon as you can, and you’ll have a greater chance of becoming a musician someday.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
A good place, on a cooler and calmer planet, in harmony with my environment and humanity both physically, emotionally and spiritually.
What is your present state of mind?
Bach and Beethoven. Also, where have our winters gone?
George Lepauw’s first major solo album, the complete Well-Tempered Clavier by J S Bach, is released worldwide on 14 February on the Orchid Classics label.
A concert pianist since his formal debut at age ten in Paris, George Lepauw has performed ever since as a recitalist, chamber musician, vocal collaborator, and soloist with orchestra. He also occasionally collaborates with musicians from other musical genres, including cabaret, musical theater, traditional Chinese and Persian music, flamenco, blues, and pop.
Guest post by Nick Hely-Hutchinson
The first in a series of guest articles exploring people’s personal responses to or relationship with Beethoven and his music.
Beethoven and me go back a long time. I recall precisely the first occasion I heard his music.
I was taken as a young child to one of the early Charlie Brown films. Along with Linus and Snoopy the dog, Schroeder is Charlie Brown’s closest friend. But the other passion in Schroeder’s life is Beethoven. He is, you might say, nuts about him.
During the film, Schroeder plays the slow movement from the Pathétique sonata, and I went home resolved to learn the piece. (Battling the two outer movements came some years later. This became something of a pattern for me – “Oh, I could play that!”, only to discover that Beethoven rarely composed simple stand-alone works.)
You are going to read a great deal about this complex man during 2020, this being the 250th anniversary of his birth. I am no expert, no musicologist, just an amateur enthusiast, but Ludwig van Beethoven gets my vote as being one of the most influential people ever to grace the planet. The simple truth is that he threw away all the rules, and nothing in music, perhaps even the wider arts, was the same after him.
Readers of my blog, manuscriptnotes.com, will know that Schubert is my favourite composer. But if I had to single out the one composer who had, has, the greatest impact on me in so many ways, it would have to be Beethoven. In the context of classical music, I am minded to replace the word ‘music’ in John Miles’s famous lyric to read ‘”Beethoven was my first love and he will be my last.”
It may sound hokey, but in Beethoven’s music you have everything of what it means to be human. Schulz’s cartoon above says it all. His irascibility, temper, scruffiness, woeful love-life, manifold dwellings, poor personal hygiene are all well known; as is his near thirty-year struggle with deafness, a particularly cruel infliction for a composer. All of these traits and frustrations are writ large in his music: never before has the personality, the humanity, of a composer been so glaringly revealed in his output, whether symphony, concerto, sonata, choral work, or chamber. All his music speaks to us of life itself.
Lest you charge me with spewing out sentimental nonsense, let me try and demonstrate it with a piece of music with which you may not be familiar.
Beethoven wrote sixteen string quartets, a form first used by Haydn, then developed by Mozart. Conveniently, these fall into three periods in his life, early, middle, and late, and it is the slow movement of one of the late ones, no.13, which sums up this humanity more than any other piece I know.
Writing about music is notoriously difficult, and nothing demonstrates that better than this. The 5th movement, the Cavatina, does not have a tune per se that will leave you humming it later. Marked molto espressivo, you may not ‘get’ it at first. I didn’t. But after a few listens you will want to submit to its profound and indescribable beauty, yearning for it to go on when it comes to a sudden halt. At its heart is a searing violin, the music soon enfolds you in this heart-wrenching blanket of tenderness. Half way through, there is a brief ‘choke’, a change of tempo, and it is widely believed that a blotch on the original score is a tear from the eyes of its composer.
Beethoven could only hear these notes in his head – he couldn’t test anything out on a keyboard. Composed less than two years before his death, you can feel the aching sorrow at his condition, but also a sense that after all the bang, crash, wallop we associate with Beethoven, this, more than anything else, (and he wrote some truly gorgeous slow movements) is the purest summation of the man, his music, his life – and, by extension, humanity itself.
If that consigns me to Pseud’s Corner, I go willingly.
Nick Hely-Hutchinson worked in the City of London for nearly 40 years, but his great love has always been classical music. The purpose of his blog, Manuscript Notes, is to introduce classical music in an unintimidating way to people who might not obviously be disposed towards it, following a surprise reaction to an opera by his son, “Hey, dad, this is really good!“. He is married with three adult children and is a regular contributor to The Cross-Eyed Pianist.