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

I was born into a family of musicians, all quite normal. I do not remember any particular choice but of course many of my ideas and beliefs on how to live with music come from mutual and significant experiences like the traditional band, which is very important in the south of Italy, or watching the day-to-day activities of my brothers (both brass players) of practicing and much music making with other musicians, and so a great deal of chamber music.

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

In the first instance my parents. Later on, having understood the meaning of the word “influence”, it was my guide to many choices. My enthusiasm, my curiosity and my views are a combination of continual searching and outside influences from people, books, events or encounters. That is why I think a young person should be more worried about the things that surround them; a choice that needs great care. The objectives are continually changing and will come naturally. I can only name my teacher Maestro Franco Scala as a major influence; also  the composer Marco Di Bari and the singer Alda Caiello, amongst many other artists.

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

I do not see my career as a game or a challenge. That does not mean I do not have goals to dedicate myself to or do not set myself challenges. I have many challenges with myself but not with others. For now, I must say that, having understood what I am not and having had to accept it can be very tiring. Where it will take me to is something still to be seen….

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I cannot really say but to have played the two Ravel Concertos in one evening was certainly something to remember.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have a particular penchant for French music of the last century – e.g. Poulenc, Ravel, Debussy, Messiaen etc.

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

No precise rule; it just happens that a programme is born from an idea or taking a specific line, but on many occasions it is also the exact opposite. Playing a lot of chamber music, it is easy to discover something new and to include those composers in my solo repertoire.

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

Not really. I have played many times in La Fenice Theatre in Venice. I love the city and I feel at home in its theatre.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many and a lot are still performing today

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think my debut at 17 in the Konzerthaus in Berlin. I was very excited.

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

To feel your own dreams and your own music as an act of generosity. Not to feel yourself as a “son” or “daughter” of the music awaiting gifts and unconditional love, but on the contrary to be yourself the creator of that sincere love and insight of which music is in much need.

André Gallo performs in Manchester Camerata UpClose: The Next Generation at Stoller Hall, Manchester on 4th October 2018. More information

Mozart Sonata for Two Pianos in D major K. 448

Schumann Andante and Variations in B flat major WoO 10

Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals

Piano Galla Chistiakova

Piano André Gallo

Manchester Camerata Principal Musicians

 

Guest post by George Waddell

Mistakes are the bane of every pianist. We spend hours in the practice room trying to prevent them, in the teaching studio deconstructing them, and in post-concert receptions (and sleepless nights) obsessing over them.

At the same time, we pianists are often told that there is more to making music than getting the notes right. That an examiner or a concertgoer will look past a slipup, if they even notice it, and appreciate our musicality as a whole. So which is true? Are mistakes a big deal or not? Answering questions like this is why I became a Performance Scientist. Early in my undergraduate music studies I became fascinated by what psychology could tell us about how we think and behave, and how much it can inform the challenges we face as musicians, whether it be how we learn, teach, memorise, collaborate, execute incredibly complicated skills, or deal with the pressures of a performance or performing career. In particular, I was interested in what psychology could tell us about those who judged our performances, and how their perceptions and decisions may not be as consistent as we might hope. Two of the first studies I conducted with my colleagues in the Royal College of Music’s Centre for Performance Science used mistakes as a way of understanding how judges assess our performances. In the first, we wondered whether the idea that ‘first impressions count’ was true for pianists. Would a mistake in the opening seconds of a performance have the same effect on the overall rating than the exact same mistake part way through? To test this, I started with recordings of Chopin’s Minute Waltz and Black Key Etude performed on an electric keyboard. I edited the recordings to make them sound like live performances on a real instrument, but since they were recorded digitally (i.e. using MIDI) I was able to take a few notes from the opening seconds of each and move them down a semitone, so that they sounded unmistakeably wrong. Then, as the opening material of both the Waltz and the Etude returns part way through each piece, I made a second version of each where the exact same mistake is made later on in the performance. All we needed next was a group of musicians who rated the overall quality of each performance on a 7-point scale from Poor to Excellent. Some heard error-free versions, some heard mistakes at the start, and some heard mistakes at the end.* Crucially, the musicians didn’t just give overall ratings. While listening, they also used a computer to move a slider up and down as their moment-by-moment assessment of the performance changed. This way, we could see how the musicians reacted to each error as they happened. For those who want the detail, you can read the full paper in the journal of Music Perception, where you can also hear the audio recordings.

You can see the results in the image below, and they were dramatic. Before I tell you, and before you look at the legend in the top right corner of the image, try to guess which line represents the error-free performance, which one had the mistake at the start, and which one had the mistake part-way-through.

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How did you do? The blue line in each represents the version with no mistake, and in both the Etude (top) and Waltz (bottom) the average judgement was pretty consistent. The red line with squares shows ratings of the piece with the mistake in the opening seconds. It started much lower, and while things improved as the piece went on it never fully recovered, with the final rating still lower (for any statisticians in the audience: significantly lower) than the overall score. The green line with the triangles is the most interesting of all. It represents the mistake part way through each piece, which was quickly penalised, and almost as quickly ‘forgiven’ by the musicians with final scores not meaningfully (i.e. significantly) different from the final score. The final scores on the 7-point scales told the same story. So first impressions really did matter, a result that mirrors what we know from social psychology in that that we make judgements about new people we meet very quickly, and hang on to bad first impressions more strongly than good ones. I also measured how quickly those first impressions were formed. With no mistake at the start, musicians made their first judgements within an average of about fifteen seconds from the first note. With the mistake, that time was cut in half.

In this case, it seemed that musicians did not get over the poor first impression resulting from the initial mistake, or were at least much more willing to forgive the mistake when it occurred over half-way into the performance. So make sure you spend some extra time practising those first few bars, as they truly are important.

In a second study, we wanted to take this result even further. What would amateur and untrained musicians think versus a highly-trained group? What if you could see the performance, not just hear it? And, if we can see the performance, what if the pianist’s facial expression affected how we perceive the error? I was keen to examine this last question as this is something I explicitly thought about as a young pianist. When I made a mistake, I would pull a frustrated face as a way of signalling to the adjudicator or audience that “yeah, I heard it too. Sorry about that, I don’t usually mess up there”. Later on, I heard teachers emphasise the value of the ‘poker face’; after all, maybe the judges didn’t notice. Once again, an experiment was needed to test which approach was better.

Creating the recordings was more difficult in this case, as we wanted the videos to appear as though they came from genuine performances. To do this, we recorded a pianist in the Royal College of Music’s main concert hall playing Chopin’s Aeolian Harp Etude. We used two camera angles between which the recording alternated throughout the performance: one from the side where you can see the pianist’s hands on the keys so that a viewer would think they were watching a genuine, unmanipulated recording; and a shot looking down the length of the piano highlighting the pianist’s face and obscuring his hands, so that when we did splice in different audio or video, it could be done without anyone noticing. Once we had a good performance down, we asked the performer to play a middle section of the piece but make a mistake that caused him to stop playing, search a moment for his place, then start again, all while pulling a frustrated face. With this footage, the wizards in the Royal College of Music Studios helped us create four videos: one without any error, one where you hear the mistake but see the ‘poker face’ from the good recording, one where he makes the mistake and pulls the face, and one where he pulls the face but didn’t make the mistake. We also recorded some stage entrances that were added to the top and spliced in a bit of video and audio from a live audience to give the impression of a real concert.** You can read all of the details and download the videos in our article in Frontiers in Psychology, and you can see clips of the recordings in the video summarising the study below.

We recruited people ranging in musical experience and training to watch and rate the videos (each person saw one version), again asking them to give an overall score out of 7 and a continuous rating on a bit of software I created. Once again, the results were dramatic. You can see them in the chart below, where the blue line represents the highly trained musicians and the red line represents people ranging from little to no musical training.

Waddell2

As you can see, the normal (standard) video at the top showed the same pattern as the musicians rating the no-error version in the first study – fairly even without major reactions. Look now at the third graph (aural): here you see the trained musicians behaving the same as those in the first study, dropping their rating when the mistake happened but then returning to a point not meaningfully different from those rating the performance without any error at all. Interestingly, you can see that the non-musicians (the red line) didn’t react to the mistake in that case. Look a little higher now at the second graph (aural/facial). Here we see something striking: when you give people the same mistake but add the negative facial reaction, the rating drops suddenly regardless of musical experience, and never recovers. You might wonder, then, whether it was the face, not the mistake, that was penalised, but the fourth graph (facial) suggests otherwise. The face alone wasn’t enough to cause a reaction in either of the groups.

So why did pulling a face cause this reaction? A theory from social psychology called facial overgeneralisation may account for it. In short, when you meet a person for the first time, and their face looks sad, your brain doesn’t tend to go “this is a person who, right now, is sad”. Your brain goes “this is a sad person”. In other words, your brain assumes the facial expression represents a permanent trait that they have, rather than a temporary state they are in. So in the case of the musicians, perhaps they didn’t see a pianist who was frustrated because he had made a mistake. Instead, they saw a frustrated mistake-maker and judged him more harshly as a result.

It would seem the 12-year-old me was wrong – pulling faces was a bad idea. As is always the case, more research will be needed to see whether these findings appear in other contexts. What is clear, though, is that there is more to a mistake than a few wrong notes. The context in which they happen matters as, even with decades of musical training, our brains still shape what we see, hear, and think without us realising it. Keep that in mind the next time you’re asked to judge someone’s performance and things don’t go entirely to plan.

To err is human. To err in perceiving errors, doubly so.


*For those keeping score, each of the 42 musicians heard a different combination of mistake/no-mistake between the two pieces, and the order of the two was switched up among other pieces they were listening to for other pieces of the research. This was important as we tend to rate things differently depending on the order in which we hear them and what we heard before. Mixing the recordings up this way counteracts these effects. You can read all of the details in the Music Perception article.

**The stage entrances were part of a different experiment, and a topic for another day. You can read about them in the Frontiers in Psychology article.


Dr George Waddell is a Research Associate in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music and a Sessional Lecturer and honorary Research Associate at Imperial College London. His research focusses on the processes of performance evaluation and the development of technologies to enhance performance training in music, medicine, and beyond. He holds a PhD in Performance Science from the Royal College of Music and a BMus and MMus in piano performance from Brandon University, Canada.

PerformanceScience.ac.uk/team/waddell

Twitter: @geordiewaddell

20-year old American pianist, Eric Lu, has been awarded first place and the Dame Fanny Waterman Gold Medal at the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition 2018, a triennial event which is widely regarded as among the most coveted prizes in the musical world. He also won the Terence Judd Hallé Orchestra Prize.

International star pianist Lang Lang, Global Ambassador of the Competition, presented the prizes following the last Concerto Final with the Hallé, conducted by Edward Gardner in Leeds Town Hall.

In addition to the £25,000 cash prize, Lu receives a ground-breaking portfolio prize designed with long-term career development in mind. It includes worldwide management with Askonas Holt – one of the world’s leading arts management agencies; an international album release on Warner Classics – one of the foremost global classical music recording companies, and a range of performance and recording opportunities with BBC Radio 3. The prize also includes a host of performance engagements with high profile promoters, including with some of the world’s premier venues and orchestras, such as London’s Wigmore Hall and Southbank Centre, the Hallé and Oslo Philharmonic Orchestras.

Leeds International Piano Competition
Eric Lu playing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in the Final of Leeds Piano Competition

On Thursday [20 September], Lu opens Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s new season under the baton of Vasily Petrenko, performing Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58. On Friday [21 September], Warner Classics releases a digital single of a highlight from his Competition performances, and, on 2 November, a full album, including Lu’s live Concerto performance from the Final with the Hallé conducted by Edward Gardner, as well as a selection of recital repertoire from the earlier Rounds.

Second place, £15,000 and the Yaltah Menuhin Award for the greatest collaborative chamber performance, was awarded to 28-year old German pianist, Mario Häring.

Xinyuan Wang, 23 from China, was third and received £10,000. The Audience Award, which was, for the first time this year, opened up to a global audience through online streaming by medici.tv, also went to Wang, who will have a concert broadcast on medici.tv.

Both Häring and Wang will give major recitals in St George’s Hall, Liverpool, on 17 and 18 September 2018 as part of their prize, and will each – like Lu – have an opportunity to give a solo recital at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2019. A full list of concert engagements for the prize winners is available here.

All the prize winners will have long-term mentoring from Patron Murray Perahia, Co-Artistic Director Paul Lewis – who also chaired the jury, and other members of the performer-led jury which included Sa Chen, Imogen Cooper, Adam Gatehouse, Henning Kraggerud, Thomas Larcher, Gillian Moore, Lars Vogt and Shai Wosner.

The prize presentations followed the conferment of an honorary degree on Lang Lang from the University of Leeds, the Competition’s Principal Partner.

Lang Lang said:

“The Finals of The Leeds will stay in my memory for a long time. It has been a privilege to witness so much extraordinary talent on stage and an honour to receive a Doctorate from the University of Leeds. I’m extremely proud of my association with the city of Leeds, with the piano competition – which is doing so much to unite excellence and accessibility – and with the University. It is truly is the city of the piano and I look forward to returning.” 

Paul Lewis, Chair of the Jury and Co-Artistic Director of The Leeds, said:

“All the pianists  have shown extraordinary  talent, passion and  dedication throughout the Competition, and it goes without saying that the standard of playing has been remarkable. Many of the world’s greatest pianists have started out at The Leeds and I’m certain all the 2018 Finalists  have bright futures, and we look forward to supporting what we believe will be successful and fulfilling careers.“

The Leeds hugely expanded its programme for 2018, going beyond a single competition to become a city-wide celebration of the piano. With a new programme of talks, masterclasses, exhibitions, free family events, schools projects, and concerts – as well as The Leeds Piano Trail, which invited the public to play on 12 beautifully decorated public pianos in the city centre – The Leeds had the opportunity to share its passion for the piano with more people than ever before. The majority of the public pianos will remain in place for the foreseeable future, continuing the Competition’s legacy for new and wider audiences.

medici.tv’s extensive coverage, supported by the University of Leeds, which began in August and ran throughout the Competition, reached audiences in more than 3,700 cities in 140 countries. It was particularly popular in the UK, USA, China, Japan and Germany. Millions more enjoyed the Finals on BBC Radio 3, which broadcast live from Leeds Town Hall and also covered all the Semi-Finals.

All rounds of The Leeds remain available to watch at leedspiano2018.medici.tv for three years, and BBC Radio 3’s extensive coverage of the Semi-Finals and Finals is available via BBC i Player Radio. The Finals are broadcast on BBC FOUR television on Sunday 23 September.

The next Competition will take place in 2021.

For more information about the Competition visit www.leedspiano.com.

@leedspiano


[source: Victoria Bevan PR]

Of course we know the results now and warm congratulations go to all the finalists and  prizewinners.

My brief thoughts on tonight’s performances are again drawn from notes made during the live stream broadcast. It’s not the same, watching at home. How can it be? One loses the special, palpable excitement, the tremors of anticipation which vibrate through the concert hall and the social spaces around it, but the MediciTV live broadcasts have been excellent. I hope this splendid initiative will continue into the next Leeds Competition.

Xinyuan-Wang-Copy
Xinyuan Wang

Xinyuan Wang – Schumann Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.54

A pleasure to hear the Schumann Concerto – it is not performed nearly enough, and Xinyuan Wang brought a warmth and richness to his sound which really suited this heartfelt and deeply romantic music. I felt he really caught the scale and sweep of the work and neatly captured its fleeting, shifting moods and changes of pace. His sound palette was varied and contrasting and he brought a pleasing muscularity to the music, especially in the finale. The second movement had a lovely dialogue with the orchestra and a genial character. The transition had mystery and suspense, though I wanted a little more heorisim in the finale. A poised, assured performance with much communication and rapport with orchestr and conductor. The spontaneous thumbs up by Xinyuan Wang at the end of his performance was rather charming too.

Xinyuan Wang was awarded the MediciTV Audience Prize and Third Prize.

Eric Lu – Beethoven Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58

Eric-Lu-Copy
Eric Lu

Lu impressed in the earlier rounds – his Chopin B-flat minor Sonata and Fourth Ballade were particularly fine displaying a maturity beyond his 20 years. The Beethoven felt natural and spontaneous with a fantasy-like air to the opening movement. Great clarity and attention to detail, but never at the expense of the expression and character. Lu’s Beethoven was romantic, but never sentimental.

The slow movement had a wonderful contrast between the gruff, punchy interjections by the orchestra and the piano’s serene, calming responses. Again, Lu caught the fleeting moods with exquisite control and tone. The finale was joyful and robust, revealing how Beethoven uses structure and texture rather than pure melody to create drama and excitement. A really thrilling, satisfying, maure and deeply sincere performance.

Eric Lu won the Terence Judd prize, awarded by the Hallé Orchestra  and the Dame Fanny Waterman Gold Medal.

DEBUT Treehouse presents a special concert in support of Arts 4 Dementia in a unique intimate venue in Shoreditch, with a wonderful line up including the Chagall Piano Quartet, led by award-winning pianist Ian Tindale

Date & time: Sunday 30th September from 6pm

Tickets £25 (includes glass of Prosecco)

Further information and tickets

The Treehouse, a residential apartment in the heart of Shoreditch, is also a hidden bohemian gem of a concert venue. Surrounded by hundreds of fairy lights, beneath a vaulted wooden ceiling with plants draping from the rafters, guests gather casually around a magnificent full-size concert Steinway piano. The Treehouse provides an informal setting and a relaxed ambiance in which to enjoy high-quality classical music.

Arts 4 Dementia believes that people living with dementia and their carers have the right to enjoy life to the full. Participating in arts activity, rekindling and learning new artistic skills enables them to bypass dementia symptoms and enjoy new creative experiences together.

Arts 4 Dementia develops arts programmes to empower, re-energise and inspire people with early-stage dementia and carers through challenging artistic stimulation, to help them live better for longer in their own homes.

DEBUT Treehouse was co-created by Lizzie Holmes (soprano and founder of DEBUT) and Ross Elder (owner of the Shoreditch Treehouse). Since teaming up with Airbnb Experiences in 2017 Lizzie and Ross have hosted over 30 sold out DEBUT Treehouse Concerts to over 1,800 guests and showcased over 125 rising star musicians.

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