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

As a child, I wanted to play the piano, but when my best friend started to play the recorder, I decided to join her. Best decision ever!

When I had to start playing the piano later in preparation for musical studies (in Germany, playing the piano is mandatory if you want to study music), I realised how limited the piano is and how much I was missing sound-wise.

I was regarded a great talent from early age on, so it felt natural to pursue a career as a freelance musician. Freedom and self-management are very important parts of my being a musician – I love to explore, create, experiment, and also to say “no!”, if needed.

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

Mostly non-musical people first, like my grandmother, who told me to listen to my heart rather than to other people; later fellow musicians, teachers, etc..

I was puzzled when I looked around and mostly found men in charge and visible everywhere in the music business. At that point, my focus on fostering the multi-disciplinary artistic work of woman developed, and I started looking for like-minded people, like, for example, composer and fellow activist Dr. Dorone Paris. Together, we founded the organisation ArtEquality, and are on our way to turn the world into a better place through #ArtAsActivism.

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

To end the belittlement regarding my instrument and the difficulties of being a woman in the music business. Since I am active in the acoustic as well as the electronic sector, there is always a bunch of guys supporting their fellow guys to deal with. It is such a pity that so much creative energy by women has to be wasted on fighting repression and harassment…

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My solo recording “Windserie” with my own works from basically the last 20 years, and my solo recitals from the series “the sadly unknown”, also the inter-disciplinary work with artist Carola Czempik, …

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The “fun fact” about the recorder is everybody thinks they know the instrument, but when they start to compose for it, it turns out to be a quite interesting and difficult challenge.

The works I play best are the works written for me, by composers who do the necessary research on the instrument, interact with and involve me, etc., like Nicoleta Chatzopoulou, Marc Yeats, Jeanne Strieder, Catherine Robson, Mathias Spahlinger, to name a few beacons in the luckily steady growing group of risk-taking composers.

With Jeanne Strieder, I also perform in an industrial-doom-electronic project called Catenation (as well as in two death metal bands, Coma Cluster Void and Infinite Nomad).

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

I am in the very lucky position of having a pool of incredible and diverse works, and also being presented with stunning new works regularly. Since I also travel a lot, many aspects have to be taken into account while creating a new programme: Where is the concert, festival, concert series? How many instruments do I need? (bear in mind that I need a different instrument for every single piece of music on the programme – recorders are very sensitive, and can only be played a certain amount of time on a daily basis, due to air pressure and condensation). Is it possible to use electronics and / or visuals / projection? Is there any composer I know and / or who has written for me residing at the place, or a person I would like to collaborate with? Which part of the world is the concert going to happen, what’s the temperature / air pressure / humidity, plane or train or car, and so on. So my programmes are always exclusively built and adapted for every occasion, place, and audience.

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

No, not really – I like many places for different reasons, like acoustics or atmosphere.

Who are your favourite musicians?

The ones I work with on a regular basis: violin player Alexa Renger (for over 20 years now), the Reanimation Orchestra, oboe player Freddi Börnchen, tenor saxophone player Dr. Dorone Paris, and partner-in-crime Jeanne Strieder.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing in Mexico in a contrasting concert programme of Bach fugues and contemporary music. The (mostly young) people greeted the performance with such a heartfelt enthusiasm, like a rock concert – an incredible experience!

The audience in general seems to be very mixed in age; you have the whole range from newborns to seniors. Unlike in germany, people want to express their feelings and gratitude, and love to talk to artists about their experiences: in the concert hall, in the parking garage, at the rest room… Everybody is so open and highly interested, it is just lovely to be and perform there.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To be creative, to be content with my artistic output, to be able to bring my music and my artistic creations to the global public, to be able to interact with other arts and disciplines, to be fostering a network and work towards equality.

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

Find your own way, and take your time! Don’t simply repeat, create!

What is your most treasured possession?

My collection of recorders from sopranino to sub-doublebass in different woods, models, and tunings.

What is your present state of mind?

Forward-looking, but impatient regarding the uprise of the right-winged. nevertheless, without art, there is no hope nor solace.


 

Praised for her equally fierce and bold dramatic performance style, Sylvia Hinz is one of the leading recorder players worldwide, specialised in contemporary music and improvisation.

sylviahinz.com

One of the world’s best pianists, Sir András Schiff, joins the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to perform some of world’s best piano music.

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Written 22 years apart, Brahms’ only piano concertos are snapshots of his life. The first is youthful, raw and expressive; the second is mature, structured and wiser. Both embody radical ideas of the 19th century, when revolution was in the air and artists joined political movements to overturn the old order.

The OAE performs these blockbuster piano concertos over two nights with Sir András Schiff, an extraordinary pianist and one of the world’s finest musicians. To complement the piano concertos, they also delve into music by Brahm’s mentor and inspiration, Robert Schumann exploring the complex interplay between political turmoil and personal anguish in composer’s life.

Pre-concert talks, Level 5 Function Room, Royal Festival Hall 6pm

New to Brahms? Enjoy an introduction to Brahms’ Piano Concertos at a free pre-concert talk by presenter Katy Hamilton.

On the second night, Dr Robert Samuels of the Open University will explore Brahms’ relationship with Schumann in a pre-concert talk

Brahms Piano Concertos with Sir András Schiff

Monday 18 and Tuesday 19 March 2019, Royal Festival Hall, 7pm

Further information and tickets


source: OAE press

(Photo: Yutaka Suzuki/Askonas Holt)

Guest post by Simon Danell

Memorizing has, for years, been very fascinating to me. I think that’s partly due to the fact that it was such a struggle for me in the beginning, whereas now it seems like a very natural thing to do. It’s something most of us haven’t really been taught, but expected to figure out by ourselves – if we don’t learn the piece by heart, we’re usually just told to practice more.

I find it interesting how such a crucial part is just left for fate do decide.

When starting to play piano, memorizing is usually not such a big problem. The songs or pieces are short enough to learn just by playing them through a couple of times per day. But once we enter even slightly more advanced repertoire, that way of learning is suddenly of no use, and we tend to find ourselves fiddling around on the keys with an increased heart rate, and with the words “Oh, sh*t” repeating in our heads.

I was no different. I easily came through the harmonically simple and motorically repetitive pieces without any difficulty, and putting my head on auto pilot was my idea of a perfect concert – I’d get up on stage, bow, sit down and start to play. Things would then turn black, and I would come out of the darkness a few minutes later once the last note is played. “How did it go? Oh, just amazing, I didn’t even have to think!” Then it came….. I went up on stage, bowed, sat down and things turned black. “But what was that note again?“, and it all changed. I came out of the darkness, but I wasn’t even half -way through the piece. Desperately I tried to find the right notes to play, my heart rate increased and “Oh, sh*t!” was on repeat in my mind.

Luckily, it was on a sort of bad piano, and the audience was a bunch of classmates who just wanted to go home. They were probably coughing and yawning a lot, so it was surely because of that, and nothing I had done wrong. All I had to do was to practice some more and just focus a bit more next time.

The next concert came – I went up, bowed, sat down.. all just routine by now. The only difference was that this time, I’d be Focused! “Focus, focus focus focus… fo.. f…. oh, sh*t!

These slips went on. I could play the music perfectly at home, and almost as good in the lesson room, but once on stage, it all just fell apart. I went on to practice 8-10 hours per day, but still with the same result in concert.

I got some tricks from my teacher, like “Think of the harmonies” or “Practice more slowly, and with separate hands!“, but that rarely made any actual difference.

The real difference came when I started studying at actual music school, when I was about 18, where other students also had to practice. The rooms quite quickly became full, and there was a lot of time spent just waiting. As the pieces had to be learned anyway, I started by just reading the score, and tried to imagine what it looked like. I read a line, or a phrase, closed my eyes, and tried to play it in my head. Not only was I unable to remember the notes, I barely remembered what it sounded like! It was such an epiphany that I knew it would change my musical life. I finally started thinking about practicing. How would I ever be able to play anything if I had no idea what I was actually playing? From then on I started practicing away from the instruments at least an hour every day. I tried to not allow myself to practice at a piano before I had a very clear idea in my mind of how it was going to sound once I started playing.

It became clear to me that the motoric memory (or muscle memory, as some call it), the thing I had used for so long, was actually very unsafe and unstable. I found that the other senses have an impact on our memory too – the aural and visual, and the intellectual part – and how they, unlike the motoric memory, really needed to be worked on properly and won’t just come by themselves.

I started analyzing my performances, and what I was thinking during my playing. As it turned out, I was thinking almost exactly the same things when I was performing as when I was practicing, and once the muscle memory turned off, I had no safety-net since I didn’t make one when I was practicing. In some aspects, practicing shouldn’t really be that different from performing.

Once I started practicing everything I had to know on the stage, all the memory slips disappeared almost over night. I finally realized not only to focus, but on what I should focus. If I noticed that my mind was drifting on a certain spot, I practiced to know what to think on that spot (the notes, the character, to sing the melody…) to train myself to think about the same thing during the performance. Or if I noticed that I worried about remembering the notes in a certain phrase, I practiced every voice carefully in my mind, both the notes and the music, before I played them, and followed each of them very attentively when I played. Then I would have created a safety net, in case I would need it in public.

I practiced very attentively like this for some time, to make sure I would cover the full piece – I remember once when I was performing the Symphonic Etudes by Schumann and, with full focus, was able to follow everything, down to pretty much every single note – but then got into the next problem….

You. Can’t. Make. Music. If. It. Never. Ever. Flows. … Which is what happens if you think on a note-to-note basis.

It was an obvious improvement from being neither detailed nor attentive, but it was a few steps too far. I tried to alternate between being in constant control, with often playing through to put everything in a certain perspective.

Now I feel that I can be both while performing. If I feel I am under control, I can let go and let the music flow by itself, and can just as easily go back to regain my focus if it’s starting to fall apart.

This article first appeared on the website of pianist Simon Danell.

Diehard classical music fans look away now – this futuristic bluetooth speaker is not for you. Designed to appeal to teens, SciFi fans and lovers of films like Star Wars and War of the Worlds, the Zoeao ‘Gravastar’ bluetooth speaker prides itself on its unusual design and a deep punchy bass sound.

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It may look as if it’s about to scurry across the room like a metallic robot spider, but the Gravastar is perfectly benign and very easy to use. Once I’d paired it with my iPhone (no need to presss the bluetooth button for very long to achieve this), a message from the device confirmed pairing had taken place and I was away with a selection of music ranging from late Brahms piano music to Chick Corea, a pianist friend’s own Indian-inspired compositions, and the debut album by experimental electronic 1990s group Enigma, which is where the speaker really came into its own, filling the room with sound, clean and resonant. And yes, the bass is impressive.

Unaccompanied Bach Cello Suites (Yo Yo Ma’s recent recording) also fared pretty well – the device’s rich bass sound suits the warm voice of the cello, but you need the volume turned down to avoid hiss. The volume control on the device is a simple swipe of the finger across its domed head – or adjust it via your smartphone.  My Reggae mix came across particularly well via the Gravastar, and I also relived my 50th birthday party with this playlist. This device is definitely best suited to jazz, pop and rock music; the serious classical music afficionado is not necessarily going to find the breadth or detail of sound from the Gravastar.

Technical info:

  • shock-absorbent zinc alloy shell houses a 20W speaker
  • tripod design gives stability so that bluetooth connection and playback quality is not compromised, even at maximum power/sound output
  • two Gravastar devices can be paired for an even bigger surround sound
  • Touch-sensitive volume control
  • Futuristic ambient lighting effects
  • TWS Bluetooth V5.0 technology
  • 30-hour battery life
  • Comes with charging cable and connector cable for non-wireless playback
  • RRP $129 (launch price)

More information

 

 

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Listening to a concert of the 5th Brandenburg Concerto at the Menton Festival in the ‘70s. It really was a shock and it provided the turning point. Pursuing a career in music came about due to a number of circumstances.  As I finished secondary school in 1989, the Russians decided to enter Afghanistan, which strangely affected me deeply.  Dreading a looming third world war, I decided to choose what I loved the most in life: music!

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

I would love to say Gustav Leonhardt or John Eliot Gardiner… but actually I am not someone to hero worship or adore gods. The influences on me are multiple: add to the two names above –  Harnoncourt, Mitropoulos, Christie and Gruberova.

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

Winning the international harpsichord competition in Bruges in 1983… this was very unlikely, considering the programme and how severe the jury was. My other greatest challenge as a conductor came last year conducting Gounod’s Faust with forces I have never had before in répertoire totally new to me and my ensemble Les Talens Lyriques… but I loved it.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

In terms of pure prestige and distinction –  definitely Mitridate by Mozart with a flashy label and a flashy cast: Bartoli, Florez, Dessay, Piau etc.  In terms of my own personal conviction, Les Nations by Couperin, because he is the composer who speaks most directly to my heart and because the recording just released a few months ago is 99% what I dreamt it would be – refined in spirit and execution.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Hmmm! Difficult question… let’s be general and answer opera. I love giving life to human drama. Music, especially sung, can bring an extraordinary intensity to a text. That’s what I love most.

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

I try to balance my career between solo harpsichord, chamber music (because I love to play with my own ensemble), opera for the reasosn above and possibly some sacred music for my soul

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

Not really. I am of course very sensitive to acoustics. Wigmore hall in London, Victoria Hall in Geneva, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam or even the brand new Paris Philharmonie are quite inspiring.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Krystian Zimerman, Isabelle Faust, Christian Gerhaher. Wonderful artists. Very inspiring and very honest (I hate the new tendency of showing off!)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Bach D minor harpsichord concerto in 1985 during the Bach anniversary with La Petite Bande, the baroque orchestra I loved most at that point. I was 24 and this was a dream!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Approach your ideal of sound as close as possible and coax the music you perform with all your soul and body. When it happens, say 80-85%, it’s a big success – people like it, or not!

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

Be honest, serve music with devotion, ignore your ego and remain curious, remain the child you were once. This pure attitude is perhaps what creates a true emotion for oneself and for other people through music

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

In front of my orchestra still performing and making people as happy as I can.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Harmony and serenity

What is your most treasured possession?

Love

What is your present state of mind?

Resigned and hoping for better!

Christophe Rousset is the renowned harpsichordist, conductor and founder of the baroque ensemble Les Talens Lyriques, who return to the Wigmore Hall on 21st February in a Venetian programme of music by Monteverdi, during a break from performances of La Divisione del Mondo by the little-known Venetian composer Legrenzi  in Strasbourg.   His latest recordings are Couperin’s Les Nations and Couperin & Moi, both on Aparte.  His next disc of keyboard music by Frescobaldi will be released at the end of March.


Christophe Rousset is a musician and conductor inspired by a passion for opera and the rediscovery of the European musical heritage.

His studies (harpsichord) with Huguette Dreyfus at the Schola Cantorum in Paris, then with Bob van Asperen at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (winning the coveted First Prize in the Seventh Bruges International Harpsichord Competition at the age of twenty-two), followed by the creation of his own ensemble, Les Talens Lyriques, in 1991, have enabled Christophe Rousset to obtain a perfect grasp of the richness and diversity of the Baroque, Classical and pre-Romantic repertoires.

Read more

 

(Picture: Ignacio Barrios Martinez)

 

Guest post by Jennifer Mackerras

Even as news broke of Andy Murray’s imminent departure from men’s tennis, another article in the Guardian caught my eye: a piece on Roger Federer[1]. Though not a massive tennis fan, I’ve come to admire Federer and frequently use him as an example of stunningly graceful movement in my Alexander Technique classes. But what can we as musicians learn from Federer? What can we take from his approach to tennis and apply to our own endeavours?

Balance and efficiency of movement

Journalists have been remarking on the beauty of Federer’s play since early in his career – David Foster Wallace’s seminal article on Federer ‘as Religious Experience’ was written in 2006 and still feels current. Here is Wallace on Federer:

Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice — the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height. His serve has world-class pace and a degree of placement and variety no one else comes close to… His anticipation and court sense are otherworldly, and his footwork is the best in the game … All this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play. Of witnessing, firsthand, the beauty and genius of his game.”[2]

What do I as an Alexander Technique teacher like about watching Federer? If you look at photos of him, or watch him play on TV, he never seems off balance. There is an efficiency of movement – he doesn’t use more energy than necessary, and he rarely seems to place muscular effort into anything that would detract from his shot. Even at extreme levels of exertion one never feels that his energies are being misdirected or overdone. This is Federer himself on his style of play:

maybe it’s also the way I play tennis, smoother than the other guys. It maybe looks that way [but] I work extremely hard in the matches as well. It just doesn’t come across so much.”[3]

I think this is directly transferrable to music. As we play, we could make it a guiding principle to make our physical movements suitable to the task at hand – neither too much, nor poorly directed. I’m not suggesting that we try to limit our movement or our energies; rather that, like Federer, if the situation demands exertion and exuberance, that we fulfil those demands in the service of our musical goals. I would love to feel at the end of a recital that I had carried out what was necessary to make the music speak, and no extra!

Rhythm, routine, and fun

Federer has an unchanging routine to determine when he changes his racquets during the match, and a little ritual set up with the ball boys and girls when the new one is unwrapped. He is known to be meticulous about taking off his jacket before the match and putting it over the back of his chair, smoothing away any creases. These things may give us aesthetic pleasure as spectators, but why might he do them? One answer might be, ‘control of environment’. By having a set plan over when he changes racquet (and how it is done) he doesn’t need to think about it, leaving him more mental space (working memory) to devote to thinking about the game.

But he also likes to allow himself moments of creativity and fun. Journalist Tim Lewis:

it was Mats Wilander, the seven-time grand slam winner from Sweden, who noted that to really understand Roger Federer you have to watch him between the points. Wilander especially enjoys how Federer returns a ball to the ball boys after a missed first serve or the end of the rally. It’s never a simple, utilitarian interaction: instead, he’ll curate a viciously kinking drop shot that bounces into their hands or a razored slice that makes a satisfying thwock into the canvas behind the court.” [4]

The idea of creating routines and patterns of behaviour is a sensible one, as it can help free up the mind before performing and may also have a beneficial effect against stage fright. It does this by removing the necessity of the performer having to use vital mental energy deciding how to prepare themselves, their instrument and music for the performance; it also reduces the risk of forgetting something, thereby lowering the general ‘irritability’ of the performer’s systems.

I also like, though, the inclusion of creativity and fun within Federer’s routine structure. Perhaps some playfulness over warming up, or while tuning between movements/pieces may help to keep a sense of freshness and presence? I’ll leave it up to you to work out how adding some creativity might work for you!

Follow-through

A friend on Twitter remarked that one of the noticeable elements of Federer’s play is his follow-through – it is graceful and flowing, and very much part of his shot. This is possibly where Federer most neatly exemplifies a key Alexander Technique principle, which I and some of my colleagues label ‘additive thinking’.[5]

FM Alexander wanted us to reason out strategies (routes of travel, or protocols) for each activity we undertake. But so often it becomes easy to look at the elements of the protocol one has designed and view them as a kind of checklist. The tennis checklist, simplified hugely, might read:

  • pull racquet back
  • hit ball
  • follow through

But if one were to use these three steps in practice as a checklist, one would end up with a very jerky and unconnected set of movements – quite the opposite of the easy and ‘holistic’ quality we are trying to attain. What FM Alexander wanted instead, and what Federer does brilliantly, is for the player to think of each thing additively at all moments of the shot. In other words, even as one is preparing for the shot, one is also thinking of the follow-through, and vice versa. This ensures that every element of the protocol is retained in mind as the protocol is followed. And what Federer also does brilliantly is to use the follow-through from one shot as the preparatory conditions for the next shot.

How would this function in music? A pianist, for example, would not think of single notes individually, but rather think about each note and each finger movement as encompassing each note in the phrase. The way each note ends is the preparatory state for the next note (or rest, or silence).

Self-belief

Federer exhibits a solid belief in his own abilities; he believes that he can win. And this belief isn’t only visible while he’s winning. Journalist Tim Lewis notes that this belief stuck with him even in the period where he was losing matches and falling down the rankings:

When he spoke about the brick walls he was coming up against, Federer’s response was stoic, hubristic: he was playing well, he’d tell us, he could beat any player on his day. There was something deluded about his obstinacy, and it made me both desperately want him to change, but also wish that he would stay the same.” [6]

Federer, like other great sportspeople, is prepared to investigate change: he did change his preferred racquet size. But his belief in his training and ability is paramount:

The core difference between Federer and his rivals is his unshakeable belief in his talent, to trust his genius.

“I’ve always believed I can play tennis when I don’t train so much,” he said. “That’s been maybe one thing, the confidence I have in my game, even if I don’t play so much, where I still feel I can come up to a good level. Maybe that takes away some pressure.” “[7]

Because he knows that he has trained intelligently and consistently over decades, Federer is able to rest confidently on the knowledge that he has attained a level of proficiency in the game that will carry him to success. Equally, he knows that if he continues to train intelligently, he will be able to do fewer hours of physical work than many of his competitors, protecting him from injury while still preparing him for tournaments.

I think there’s a lot we can learn from this as musicians. As Noa Kageyama pointed out in his seminal blog post [8], the number of hours one spends in a practice room aren’t the key to success – intelligent practice is a far greater predictive of success. So we all need to do the things we’ve been told are sensible: mental practice, interleaving, slow practice, and so on. If we ‘work smart’, we design our success. We pay attention to the process, and then have faith that it will carry us through, because we have designed it with success in mind. Or as FM Alexander put it:

I must be prepared to carry on with any procedure I had reasoned out as best for my purpose, even though that procedure might feel wrong. In other words, my trust in my reasoning processes to bring me safely to my ends must be a genuine trust…”[8]

Balance, routine, follow-through, belief. Which one will you start working on today?


Jennifer McKerras is a performance coach, musician and fully qualified and registered Alexander Technique teacher

activateyou.com


[1] Kevin Mitchell, ‘Roger Federer: Methuselah of sport still has unshakeable belief in his talent’, https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/jan/13/roger-federer-methusalah-of-sport-still-has-unshakeable-belief-in-his-talent, accessed 14 January 2019.

[2] David Foster Wallace, ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience’, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/sports/playmagazine/20federer.html, accessed 15 January 2019.

[3] Roger Federer quoted in Mitchell, op.cit.

[4] Tim Lewis, ‘The Pleasure (And Pain) Of Watching Roger Federer, The Greatest Tennis Player Ever’, https://www.esquire.com/uk/culture/a22019668/the-pleasure-and-pain-of-watching-roger-federer-the-greatest-tennis-player-ever/, accessed 15 January 2019.

[5] FM Alexander, The Use of the Self, Orion, London, 2001, pp.41-2.

[6] Lewis, op.cit.

[7] Mitchell, op.cit.

[8] Now Kageyama, ‘How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?’, https://bulletproofmusician.com/how-many-hours-a-day-should-you-practice/, accessed 16 January 2019.

[9] Alexander, op.cit., p.45.