Does a mentor necessarily have to be a teacher? Of course not. A mentor is someone who offers guidance, support and inspiration, someone we might turn to for advice. Last night, I learnt that someone I regarded as a mentor, and also a friend, had died peacefully at home, surrounded by her family.

I first met Linda Kelly, and her husband Laurence (for whom I worked as a PA for 15 years until I moved out of London) in 2003. At that time, I was rather in awe of her – a published and highly-regarded author, she was doing something I aspired to. During the time I worked for Laurence, Linda completed three books – not slim volumes but carefully-researched tomes whose text sparkled with knowledge, intelligence and good humour.

My office was on the top floor of Laurence and Linda’s house in Notting Hill and her study was across the landing from where I worked. I learnt a lot about being a writer from observing Linda. She clearly had a routine and was at her desk every morning. In addition, it was quite evident that writing was an incredibly significant part of her life (along with her family and friends), and also a place to escape to. She felt that writing also provided an important contrast to family life and running a house, but I don’t think she ever regarded it as something exceptional or special – it was just something that she “did”.

When I started writing this blog and reviewing concerts, she would regularly read my articles and reviews, offering positive commentary on my writing. On my weekly visits to the house, she would always find time to come and chat to me, asking after my family, my son’s progress as a fledgling chef, and my own musical and writerly endeavours. Her view was that it was important to have an outlet, a place to go to, to escape – not necessarily to escape from the exigencies of everyday life, but rather a place where one could exercise and pursue one’s creativity. (In fact, she had experienced a number of complicated family health issues before and during the time I worked for her and Laurence, and I wonder if writing was also a form of therapy for her.) She was very generous and supportive of my writing, and also my musical activities and accomplishments, and to have that endorsement from someone whom I respected as a celebrated professional writer and also a friend was incredibly important to me. In addition, when my husband had to go into hospital in April 2017 for complex cardiac surgery, she simply hugged me and said nothing else – she knew that platitudes like “he’s in good hands” or “he’s in the right place” were not that helpful. Her senstivity combined with a pragmatism and philosophical attitude to life (particularly in her last year when she was ill) was something to admire, and emulate.

As we resonate with a mentor, we make them our role model, tune into their special qualities, and draw these into ourselves so that we can utilise and be inspired or motivated by them. Linda’s support and kindness will continue to inspire and resonate with me as I remember her with great fondness and gratitude.

Linda Kelly – writer and biographer

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

I have a musical family and so my brother and I would hear music every day. I guess the music got into my soul and I started writing when I was at school from the age of about 12.

That said, I only started composing professionally in my mid-thirties. At that time I found that I really started to get satisfaction from creating music and particularly music that other people enjoy playing.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My parents warned me that the musician’s life is not easy! However, I’ve always enjoyed performing whether on piano, singing or on trumpet. It was a natural step for me to form, run and conduct a swing band at my school, and then two more bands when I went to Cambridge University.

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

I think, probably like many people, I find the marketing aspect of writing (i.e. blowing one’s own trumpet!) to be a challenge. I guess it is constantly having to judge the best use of time and money in how to reach the right people with my music.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It’s always a pleasure to write a new piece of music – and especially so as a special request. Coming up with an original, catchy and visual title can take time though.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I perform regularly with very talented UK jazz musicians in a variety of ensembles. It’s highly satisfying to try and play up to their standard and I always get ideas for new pieces after my gigs.

Of which works are you most proud?

Gosh – that’s a tricky question! I’m particularly proud of my JukeBox book series which has taken a great deal of work and seems to be popular so far. If it comes down to a particular piece, then at the moment the duet ‘Little Green Men’ makes me smile.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that it is a blend of jazz and other popular styles. As long as there is a melody and nice chord progressions, then I’m happy.

How do you work?

Ideally, I start with a title, perhaps from my growing list of potential candidates. Then I consult my spreadsheet of current compositions so that I try and avoid repeating the same combination of style, grade, key etc. I guess that’s my engineering background coming into play!

In reality, what tends to happen is that I get a melodic idea or rhythmic groove (often in the shower) and then try to find a title that works with it.

Either way, I’ll then sit down at the piano and experiment. Sometimes it works… sometimes it doesn’t!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Al Jarreau, Oscar Peterson, Prince, Jamie Cullum, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Paul Simon, James Taylor…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

If I can write and record a piece of music, then listen to it weeks or months later and think, “that sounds good!”, then that to me is a success. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s nice when it does.

Also, if I write a piece and someone, somewhere in the world plays that piece and enjoys it – then that is a success.

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

I think it is essential to love the music you’re writing or performing right now at this moment. We all have hopes and dreams of what might be in the future, but it’s probably best not to cling to those too tightly.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Still gigging and writing most likely in the UK.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being aware of the present moment – for example, during a gig and being in ‘the flow’.

What is your most treasured possession?

Materially, my piano.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Reading, watching and learning.

What is your present state of mind?

It varies, but mostly happy!


Olly Wedgwood has been playing the piano, singing, composing and performing in public since he was knee-high to a grasshopper. It all kicked off at school, many years ago in 1986 when he won a music scholarship to Hampton School and started to write for his favourite instrument – the piano

After four years of formal music training, Olly discovered Jazz and formed, conducted and managed the Hampton School 15-piece ‘Big Jazz and Blues Band’, also recruiting from the girls’ school next door ;). Hooked on jazz, he began to study jazz piano under top UK jazz pianist Roger Munns.

At Cambridge University, Olly performed in and directed ensembles ranging from pop and rock ‘n’ roll outfits, to jazz trios and big bands. He formed ‘Selwyn Jazz’ big band with his partner-in-crime, Jon Hooper, in 1993 and the band is still gigging to this day.

(Editors note: actually Olly studied an Engineering Degree, but he and his partner in crime, Jon Hooper, probably spent more time on the gig circuit than they did in the engineering lab…).

After University, Olly worked as an engineer and physics teacher by day, also conducting the Magdalen College School big band. By night, he gigged with various jazz and soul ensembles, both as a wedding pianist-vocalist and as a ‘front man’ wedding entertainer.

In 2004, he handed in his notice for his day job and went pro, playing frequently with the Oxford Jazz Quintet (one of Jamie Cullum’s previous ensembles). Olly now runs his Jazz Soul Boogie Band – an awesome wedding entertainment band on the professional gig circuit in the UK, performing a variety of music styles from jazz swing, Latin to funky 70s soul. Wherever Olly is playing, you’re guaranteed a great night’s music and dancing!

Also in 2004, Olly co-wrote ‘Wedgwood Blue’, a landmark piano collection which brings together the extraordinary talents of the Wedgwood family. Olly’s younger brother Sam Wedgwood is a talented singer/songwriter and their mother Pam Wedgwood is recognised around the world as one the UK’s most prolific and successful composers of popular repertoire for young instrumentalists.

Guest post by Nick Hely-Hutchinson

Did any composer, I wonder, understand – really understand – the true scope, range and possibilities of the soprano voice as well as Strauss?

That is quite a bold assertion when you consider the huge competition; but my guess is that it would find a high level of support among sopranos anyway, of which his wife, Pauline, was one. She was about as fine a personification of the ‘prima donna’ as you could expect to meet, and their marriage was volatile; but their mutual love of music probably accounts for Strauss’s exquisite compositions for the human voice.

I will not deter you now on his operatic output, of which there were fifteen, except to allude to a comment I once heard made by Kate Royal, a fine English soprano, to underline Strauss’s mastery. The last twenty minutes of his opera ‘Der Rosenkavalier‘ would never lose its slot in my Desert Island Discs, being filled with the most sublime mingling of female voices: Royal said something along the lines of, “It’s one of those moments when you just stand and sing” – nothing else required.

Today’s piece will detain you for less than two minutes, but its three brief verses are all very slightly different, and a couple of hearings will reveal its subtle musical development. Strauss wrote over 200 songs, and many of those originally written for voice and piano were later orchestrated. ‘Zueignung‘ (‘Devotion‘) is one such, but the version I have chosen is with the piano, here played so sensitively by the renowned Strauss interpreter, Wolfgang Sawallisch.

It is a little gem, composed in 1885, set to the words by the poet Hermann von Gilm. I remember seeing the American singer, Renee Fleming, perform Strauss’s ‘Four Last Songs‘ at the proms a few years ago and mentally begging her to sing ‘Zueignung‘ as an encore. Never underestimate the power of wishful thinking! I have scrolled through a number of recordings, but it is the purity of Lucia Popp I cannot resist. The touching, pining, lyrics end with the lines ‘Heilig, heilig an’s Herz dir sank, Habe Dank.’ (Joy and bliss shall thy love impart.Thanks, sweet heart!)

There are some who argue that German is an unmusical language. It was Lady Bracknell, of all people, who, when commenting on a programme of songs in Oscar Wilde’s ‘Importance of Being Ernest said ‘French songs I cannot possibly allow…but German sounds a thoroughly respectable language‘. A slightly tenuous link on the face of it, but the two men had more in common than you might expect: Strauss’s controversial opera ‘Salome‘ was based on a play by Wilde.

I hope you enjoy this, it is gorgeous.

 

 


 

Nick 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.

or Why I Don’t Like Karl Jenkins

Guest post by David Lake

A few weeks before Christmas, I sang Karl Jenkin’s “The Peacemakers” for our choir’s Remembrance Day concert. Whilst I applaud the pacifism, multi-culturalism and the secularism which Jenkins demonstrates and it passed BoS (that’s Bums-on-Seats – we sold out for the first time many-a-concert), the more I sang, the more I actively disliked the music.

Here’s my first problem. I find that the work is repetitive, simplistic and lacking a personal, “Jenkins” voice. Many times, he simply seems to appropriate an idiom – Celtic prayer? Let’s have a Bodhran and a lilting Irish melody. Words of the Dalai Lama? Ha! Tibetan bells and a couple of “eastern” sounding modes! Plus it is just turgid and dull to sing at times.

Now I’m no classical-music-or-bust person – I’ve been bopping along at WOMAD for decades and appreciate most musical styles and genres. And the best-of-the-best have been taking folk music and crafting it into other works for centuries (Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Ralph Vaughan Williams just-about-everything for example).

But here, there is very little in terms of development at all – most climaxes seem to be driven dynamically rather tonally and to be honest, very little happens beyond loud-soft-loud. Or vice-versa. And the repetition – again and again and again. Did I mention the repetition? “Adiemus” takes the prize there.

If I took a section of, say, Bruckner aside, I’m pretty sure most people would be able to correctly identify it in a few bars. Take a piece of Jenkins and you’re all at sea. Classical, new-age, cross-over, pop? Mozart, Vivaldi, Enya, the Gyuto Monks? It’s everywhere and nowhere baby…

I came out of the concert happy that we’d remembered the tragedy of war but musically bereft. The orchestra and choir performed to the very best of their abilities – we had put in the effort but personally, I got nothing out of it other than the joy of singing in a choir with my mates.

And now my second problem – the concert was deemed a success and much of the audience appeared to lap it up! This fact is made worse by every one of my much more learned musical friends agreeing with my point of view that this is essentially “un-music.”

We’ve a dichotomy here – when we next go begging for funding, the chief controllers-of-the-purse-strings are likely to point to this concert and say “You don’t need funding – you’ve reached your BoS nirvana and therefore the magic-money-tree does not need to produce for you. Simply go and do that again and your money worries are behind you.”

As a choir, what do we say? “Thank you – but we’d rather have some small, even brown leaves from the magic-money-tree to sing something we find more musically fulfilling and that challenges our audience more, even if there are fewer of them to be challenged.”

Who is the arbiter of artistic merit here? The musicians? The audience? The funding bodies?

What criteria defines “success” in music?


David is a research scientist, engineer, pianist, concert-goer and choral singer and sees the barriers between art and science as purely artificial and unhelpful.  He is currently studying for his DipABRSM (piano) and a BA(Mus) whilst carrying on with the science-stuff in 5G mobile networks for the “day-job.”

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

I always knew I would have a career in music. I can’t remember otherwise. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, but I knew I would pursue music. Music in life and life in music has always been in me regardless of outside hurdles.

I started on electric guitar. In high school my curiosity was piqued watching the Eagles on MTV Unplugged play ‘Hotel California’ on nylon strung guitars and learning that Randy Rhodes of Ozzy Ozbourne played classical guitar. Around the same time I saw a video of Andrés Segovia performing Albéniz during my high school Spanish class, so with all of that I pretty much dropped my pick and started studying classical music. It took a bit of time for me to save up enough money to buy a nylon string guitar, but I found a teacher and started practicing. Nobody outside of my teacher played the classical/Spanish guitar and most didn’t know what it was.

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

During and after conservatory I read a lot about the musicians I looked up to: Julian Bream, Andrés Segovia, Sabicas (flamenco), Glenn Gould, Leonard Bernstein and numerous composers: Erik Satie, Heitor Villa-Lobos, George Gershwin, Manuel De Falla, John Cage, Toru Takemitsu, Serge Prokofiev, Astor Piazzolla and so many more.

I also found books on music learning and being an artist like Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner, With Your Own Two Hands by Seymour Bernstein, Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch, and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke to be extremely helpful during the many challenging times.

I was very inspired by musicians who created their own repertoire that reflected their personal artistic vision and the times in which they lived. It helped that they had such strong personalities and technical facilities that the repertoire became theirs. I am not a composer, but like them I too felt the urge to assist in creation, so I set out to collaborate with composers and hopefully inspire new works. The collection of New Dances by David Starobin (Bridge Records) opened my eyes and inspired me to do my own commissioning project: the New Lullaby Project.

If a composer had already passed, then I looked at how I could explore their music through arrangements. I have done this most recently with the music of John Cage.

Lastly, I think the fact that I have lived without much of a safety net since college has made me commit to my endeavours fully. They can’t be just novelties or something to impress others, but successful endeavours on both the artistic and business front.

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

I had a lot of health issues during my time at conservatory. Some due to sports injuries growing up, and others due to growing up. I deal with them each day and they have less of a hold on me.

Regarding my professional career as a performer and teacher, I think my naïveté about the classical music world/business was hard to swallow. I don’t come from a musical or artistic family, so I had no idea that connections mattered or that established artists could try to sabotage another’s career. It was really eye-opening and also disappointing in many ways to see behind the curtain. Thankfully, I have an amazing team of support with my wife, so I continue to make my way regardless.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Oh that is so hard; I’m proud of them all. The four solo discs are quite diverse with each representing an artistic place in my life of goals, beliefs and abilities. I take great pride in that each contains a premiere.

‘Tracing a wheel on water’ (2006, Music Life Program) – my first solo endeavour and most conservative, made when I thought competitions and pleasing critics was the goal. Four premieres by Daniel Pinkham, Lior Navok and Kevin Siegfried.

‘New Lullaby’ (2010 Six String Sound) – the first recording where I really pushed the envelope with an album of all contemporary commissions by “non-famous composers” as one critic wrote. The classical guitar is known for putting people to sleep, and contemporary music is completely disconnected from normal life, so I see this album as a double-dog dare to listeners. I’m right.

‘The Legend of Hagoromo’ (2015 Stone Records) – the most technically virtuosic album. It was the first guitar album on the UK label Stone Records and I was the first American artist on the label. Atypically, it has a unifying theme of Japan – yes the guitar can do more than play Spanish repertoire(!) – and includes three commissions by Ken Ueno, Martin Schreiner and Kota Nakamura, along with only the second commercial recording of the insane title track by Keigo Fujii.

‘John. Cage. Guitar.’ (2018 Stone Records) – my latest recording released on November 2nd, 2018 by Stone Records, but more importantly it is truly home-grown and a departure for me on many levels. 1) It does not include a commission, but I made all of the arrangements myself, which are published by Edition Peters (a first for the John Cage estate & classical guitar!); 2) The music surveys a single composer, and 3) includes two collaborations with other artists: violinist Sharan Leventhal (Keplar Qt) and guitarist Adam Levin.

Regarding performances, my multiple solo and chamber concerts in St. Petersburg and Moscow were life-changing. My main teacher, Dmitry Goryachev is from St Petersburg, and I heard so much about Russian audiences that I was quite intimidated by them, but I performed in the country five times in five years (2011-2016) and each time it was huge for my confidence as a player and creator. My first concert in Moscow was a 2.5-hour concert with multiple encores, following a night of trying to sleep a floor above a nightclub!

An all New Lullaby concert for 10-14 year olds at a Moscow area arts school was very special with the director telling me how in shock he was that students loved the works including 12-tone, microtonal and minimalist works. Only in Russia and Germany have I had the audience to clap together as one. These experiences stay close to my heart.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

“Best” is a big word! I think my performance of Keigo Fujii’s ‘Legend of Hagoromo’ and John Cage’s ‘In a Landscape’ are unique and unmatched, at least for now, but what does that mean? I’d love to hear others perform them, and hopefully they inspire me to revisit my own interpretations.

I perform a lot of contemporary music and people are surprised that I am able to keep audiences engaged and awake with such difficult music. I’ve brought tears to eyes performing Romantic and Spanish works, as well as Bach, so if eliciting such emotion is the measure then there we go.

I have a very hard time playing the same music or style of music for a long period of time, so I think I’m quite good at varying my repertoire and presenting it to audiences in a way that makes them part of the creation.

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

Much of it depends what gets booked. Of course a Bach series will feature Bach with music related to him, a performance of my Spanish music and dance ensemble ¡Con Fuego! will feature Spanish music, and a contemporary series will feature contemporary music. On tour I will often have a chamber concert or song recital mixed into a series of solo shows. I try to work with each venue to find the right theme for them.

When I have free choice of the program I try to balance a few standards into my programs, as guitar audiences are fairly conservative, alongside more challenging works for a new listening experience. Now that I have the new Cage release and publications I will include one or two pieces from it whenever possible.

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

Jordan Hall in Boston is very special to me because I sat in it repeatedly as a student and heard my idols dance their music through the space. The sound is luscious!

Salon dei Giganti in Palazzo Te, Mantova, Italy – Such inspiration all around me through the mosaics made for easy music making, and the audience gathered at my feet made for an overwhelming experience.

El Palacio de Linares in Madrid, Spain holds a special place in my heart as my first professional performance in Spain.

Yelegin Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia is amazing!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have so many! Most of the people I find inspiration from now are composers: I love experiencing their creations and hearing how they manipulate these black dots on paper to be so amazing and full of life.

I love players and ensembles that are not afraid of exploring new sounds, but are also able to make standards sound fresh and exciting. I love virtuosity, but only if it is multi-dimensional in personality, technique, artistry, and presentation.

There are musicians who have wonderful presentation and repertoire ideas, but not amazing technique, whom I adore, and there are players I only listen to for their technique, usually in very short bursts.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Easy: Ali Akabar Kahn in Jordan Hall in the late 90s. Blew my mind that such a musician could exist. Fist half was just under 90min, and it felt like 25! A true magician.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a daily scale: Having music in my life each day with good health, family, friends, and great food.

On a yearly scale:

A project completed. A new arrangement published. New works commissioned and premiered. Higher pay scale.

On a life scale:

Recordings devoted to Bach, Mussorgsky, contemporary composers, regular national and international tours.

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

Copy to learn about others and yourself, but in the end you must be yourself. A career as a musician is possible if you are consistent, patient and creative.

Take care of your health all of the time. We cannot be messengers of sound if our bodies are injured and worn out.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Performing full-time. In a castle with the time and money to maintain and enjoy it.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Breaking bread, sharing music, solitude with my studies, and recognition for my creations.

What is your most treasured possession?

My guitar

My relationship with my wife, though I do not posses her anymore than she possesses me.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious and positive in my goals and ambitions, which is a first.

Aaron Larget-Caplan’s latest album John. Cage. Guitar. is the first classical guitar recording dedicated to the music of John Cage, and features seven early and mid-career compositions, dating from 1933 through 1950 for solo guitar, violin and guitar, and prepared guitar duo. Now available on the Stone Records Ltd label


alcguitar.com

Interesting things come from online connections – and this is one of the nicest projects I’ve been involved in recently, thanks to a Twitter/Facebook connection with composer Doug Thomas.

The Seasons is Doug’s hommage to Tchaikovsky’s suite of 12 piano miniatures which bears the same name, a year-long collaborative project with 12 pianists from around the world. Doug composed 12 short pieces, 1 for each pianist participating in the project. Each pianist recorded his/her piece and these recordings were released month by month via Doug’s SoundCloud and social media. Now all 12 pieces have been collated into an album, available via SoundCloud and Spotify (in a fully mixed/engineered version).

The music is generally minimalist in style, and each piece is different – like Tchaikovsky’s Season’s, Doug captures the character of each month, from the solemn frozen majesty of January to the reawakening of nature after winter (March – which Doug composed for me), the sunny playfulness of July and the melancholy nostalgia of December at the close of the year.

Other pianists participating in the project include Christina McMaster, Clio Monterey and Simeon Walker – all of whom have, coincidentally, appeared in my Meet the Artist series. This for me is a mark of the wonderful connectivity that social media affords us, and that those of us in the piano world have many overlapping networks and circles within circles.

It is very special to have a work composed especially for one and I felt a huge responsibility towards the composer and his music to interpret the work in a way which I hoped would fit with his original vision for the work, which conveys the excitement of nature bursting into life again after the winter chill.

In addition to the album, the sheet music for the complete project is also available here.