Picture this

Using visualisation techniques in playing, performing and teaching

Visualisation techniques have been used by sports people and sports psychologists for some time now to enable the tennis player or athlete, the golfer or cyclist to prepare for a match-winning shot or prize-winning sprint. The technique involves imagining an ideal scenario and positive outcome to achieve one’s goal. Musicians are now using similar techniques to create better results and more vivid, expressive music than physical practising alone can achieve. Visualisation techniques also have a role in coping with anxiety and can help create a sense of inner calm before a concert or important performance.

Shaping phrases

Use one’s mind’s eye, and ear, to imagine the shape and sound of a particular phrase, its arc and its conclusion. Picture the movement of fingers, hand and arm flowing through the phrase, hear the phrase internally, play the phrase in your head and only when you are completely comfortable with the “inner aural picture”, play the phrase on the piano. Listen closely, and note the physical sensations of playing the phrase (the pads of the fingers touching the keys, the flexibility of hand and wrist, the movement of the forearm, breathing). This information provides expert, personal feedback to enable one to play the phrase in the same way each time. Gradually, just as in repetitive physical practice, brain and body learn the sequence of movements and expected sounds to recreate the phrase, and the habit of visualising the music before one plays becomes almost intuitive. This kind of visualisation can also be done away from the piano: imagine hearing the music in your mind’s ear, while in your mind’s eye imagine the fingers playing each note, tackling that tricky fioritura or complex passage, and shaping the music. You don’t even need the score to practise like this.

Colouring sound

A passage may call for a certain instrumentation – the brightness of brass, the warm sonority of woodwind, plucked ‘pizzicato’ strings, the lucid cantabile of the human voice. Take a moment to hear the sound internally, play it through in your mind – “imagine the sound” – and then play the passage. I use this technique very frequently in my own playing and teaching, and it never fails to amaze me how easily the sounds heard in one’s head can translate to the desired sounds on the keyboard. It reminds one that the imagination is a very powerful tool: the only limit to visualisation is the constraint of one’s imagination.

I use the above techniques widely in my teaching as I find that children of all ages, and adults too, respond to and enjoy calling the imagination into play. For young children, asking them to describe what they think a piece is about, what pictures or stories the music suggests to them (while reminding them that there is “no right answer” to whatever they suggest) can help them create a vivid or expressive sound in their playing. Many pieces for children have titles which go some way to stimulating the imagination, but within a piece there might be a certain chord or chord progression, a particular crunchy harmony or phrase for which one might create a personal aural picture.

Adult students often struggle to achieve the sound they desire, perhaps inspired by the sound of a favourite recording or pianist, and the frustration of not achieiving that sound can lead to physical tension. I observed at first hand the power of visualisation techniques at work when on a piano course with a friend of mine. The friend wanted to create a very smooth singing legato in a Mendelssohn Song Without Words. She could articulate, in words, exactly the kind of sound and expressive line she wanted but was frustrated by her inability to achieve this when playing. The tutor asked her to take a few moments to “hear the sound” and see the shape of the phrases in her mind before she played. The effect was immediate and quite incredible – that such a simple visualisation exercise could transform the sound so much and so effectively.

Relieving and mental physical tension

One of my teachers has a very simple but immediately useful exercise – to imagine the arms are supported on a hot air balloon. They are floating slowly upwards on a lovely warm cushion of air. When the arms are about forehead height, the balloon is replaced by a parachute which gently floats the arms and hands down into the keyboard. This creates a wonderful lightness and softness in the hands, wrists and forearms and provides the perfect position from which to play and create a good sound.

Another useful image is to picture the arms made of thick rubber bands, without bones, which can move freely. Children find this image quite funny and quirky.

If you are prone to physical tension when you play, first centre yourself at the keyboard, mentally and physically. Close your eyes and imagine yourself playing the first phrase of your piece – inhale and exhale slowly and as you do, float your hands to the keyboard, hear the first phrase in your head, imagine the movements you will make to play the first phrase, and only when you are ready, play the phrase. Continue to play while visualising effortless playing with a calm and focused state of mind.

In performance

Earlier this year I gave a concert to a music society in the home of a noted British pianist based in the north of England. The pianist and his partner were very welcoming when I arrived and immediately made me comfortable with cups of my favourite tea and a room where I could change and sit quietly to prepare myself ahead of the concert. The piano itself was a very beautiful Steinway D which had previously belonged to the Halle Orchestra under Sir John Barbirolli and which had been played by some of my pianistic heroes, including Ashkenazy and Richter. I was pleased with my performance and received warm congratulations from audience and hosts afterwards. The entire experience was very positive and enjoyable. When I went to give a concert of the same programme some weeks later, I tried to recall the sensations, physical and emotional, I had felt while playing Andrew’s beautiful Steinway. I used these sensations to help me focus on the task ahead and to settle my anxiety. Recalling a successful previous performance can be very helpful in creating a calm and focused state of mind ahead of another performance. This may include recalling features such as the decor of the room, the light shining through a window, as well as our own physical and emotional sensations, moods or stories triggered by the music. Such stories or moods are personal to us and may have nothing whatsoever to do with the music, but they are our stories which enable us to bring our music to life with colour and expression.

Managing anxiety

Athletes are masters of “relaxed concentration” and the ability to imagine graceful movement and successful outcomes. We too can use visualisation techniques to launch a successful and convincing performance from the opening phrase to the closing cadence. In the (roughly) 24 hours leading up to a performance, make sure body and mind are rested, free of extraneous thought or activity. In the hour or so before the concert begins, when you are waiting in the green room, run a scenario something like this through your mind: picture yourself calmly walking across the stage. You pause by the piano to take a bow and acknowledge the audience. You sit at the piano and lift your hands to the piano to begin the first piece. All your movements are calm and relaxed, your mindset is positive and focused. You play the music through in your mind, always aware of your physical sensations. All the time, imagine you are calm and relaxed, free of tension in body and mind. Most musicians have their own personal strategies for managing anxiety, but calling on the imagination can be a surprisingly powerful tool. Whether you imagine you are walking barefoot through a cooling stream or dew-soaked grass or you are watching yourself play with movements that are effortless and graceful, using visualisation can be a very powerful tool when it comes to achieving your goals. It is said that the brain cannot differentiate between “intense visualisation” and reality. So if you close your eyes and play out the role or scenario in your mind of how you want to project yourself, imagining confidence, a vivid and expressive sound, deep communication with your audience, when you actually perform the brain will be relaxed and ready. However, it must not be forgotten that visualisation cannot replace the confidence that comes from hours and hours of intelligent, focused practising.

Inspiration from left-handed pianist NicholasMcCarthy 

Further reading

Proprioception and Visualization

Igor Levit launches his Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall

Igor Levit is, along with Daniil Trifonov, the pianist du jour. Lauded for his disc of the Goldberg Variations and Diabelli Variations and Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated, and with a slew of critical superlatives for his debut disc of late Beethoven piano sonatas, Levit is a pianist who concerns himself with the most serious edifices of piano literature, while Trifonov tends towards the more romantic virtuoso repertoire.

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas represent the loftiest Himalayan peaks of the repertoire, both in terms of the arc of their composition (three distinct periods which mirror significant stages in the composer’s life, artistically and emotionally), and the demands these works place on the pianist. The complete Beethoven cycle, a performance of all the piano sonatas, usually over eight concerts, is a Herculean task, not to be undertaken lightly. It fully tests the mettle of any performer, but the perennial appeal of presenting these works in a cycle is a mark of their significance and the special reverence they have accrued.

On Wednesday night, Igor Levit embarked on his Beethoven sonatas cycle at the Wigmore Hall, bringing his intelligent and distinctive approach to these great works. 

Read my full review here 




(Photo © Igor Levit)

‘How to Play the Piano’ by James Rhodes

6129wygd2byl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Can you learn to play J S Bach’s wondrous Prelude in C BWV 846 in just 6 weeks? The pianist James Rhodes thinks you can – and to prove his point, he has written a book to help you achieve this, the first ‘Little Book of Life Skills’ in a new series by Quercus Editions.

I come across many people who, on discovering I am a pianist and piano teacher, tell me they wished they had continued with the piano into adulthood. Many were put off by bossy, overbearing, unpleasant or just plain useless teachers; or by the daily grind of practising; or being put an exam treadmill, one a year until they could bear it no longer. Happily, I also meet many people who have either returned to the piano in adulthood or who have taken it up from scratch, and who find playing the piano a rewarding and therapeutic activity.

James Rhodes can fully attest to the therapeutic powers of music in general and the piano in particular. In his memoir ‘Instrumental’ he explains how hearing Glenn Gould’s recording of the Aria from the Goldberg Variations marked the first stage in his gradual recovery from a devastating mental breakdown. Not just a career, playing the piano for Rhodes provides significant emotional nourishment.

But ‘How to Play the Piano’ is not some new-age self-help book, extolling the “power of now” – though the author does discuss the benefits of pursuing a creative activity, describing it as “a kind of stillness meditation for the soul”, and reminds us that we need such stillness in today’s fast-moving, instant gratification-led world. As both a musician and writer, it’s a view I definitely concur with. Rhodes’ book promises to equip the reader with “all the tools necessary to have you playing a piano masterpiece…..within six weeks”, and it’s written in a chatty, conversational style – almost as if Mr Rhodes is seated by your side at the piano offering cheery words of encouragement. The format of the book, in keeping with the recent penchant for updated Ladybird Books for adults, is quite small with a retro typeface suggesting an old-fashioned manual or piano tutor book, and hand-drawn illustrations, including some rather gnarly pianist’s hands. The score of the Prelude comes in two pull-out sections, smaller than A4, which most people, cross-eyed or otherwise, might find a little small to work with. But no matter, you can download a copy of the score from James Rhodes’ website, where you can also view instructional videos on the music.

After the introduction, there is a whole chapter on “the basics” – the layout of the keyboard, how music is written, numbered fingering for each hand. As a piano teacher, I was a little troubled by Mr Rhodes’ exhortation to the newbie pianist to start in the Middle C position, as this immediately encourages elbows to be jammed in against the body, not a good tension-free position from which to begin, but he does later suggest one explores the full range of the keyboard. Chapter 3 introduces the Prelude with some background about Bach and the music itself, before it’s time to start playing. The directions are generally clear and simple and the chatty, encouraging tone continues throughout, but I immediately spotted a discrepancy in the text and the diagram for the first bar of the music: the player is told to put their right-hand “thumb, third and fourth” fingers in position for the first bar of the piece, but in the diagram the thumb, second and fourth fingers are shown in the same position on the keys. There is also no mention of how we all have different sized hands and that one cannot rely on a one-size-fits-all fingering scheme. Further on, brief mention is made of “rhythm”, but up until this point nothing much has been said about the note groupings in this music.

The book continues in the same vein with a bar-by-bar walk-through of the music, with similar diagrams and fingering schemes. The fourth chapter, The Performance, discusses aspects such as pedalling, an area of piano technique which is regularly mis-used and abused. I would be very wary of suggesting a novice pianist try pedalling a piece as sophisticated as this Prelude, and I know Bach purists would be appalled at the idea of the feet going anywhere near it. I would also have liked to have seen some discussion about how this piece is constructed from a series of chords which have been broken up: encouraging the student to play each bar as a chord and then to separate the notes is helpful in establishing both a good fingering scheme and understanding the harmonic structure of the piece which, as one of my students is discovering, has a significant bearing on how one shapes this piece in terms of dynamics and phrasing. I was, however, pleased to see a section on interpretation and the reader is encouraged to seek out recordings of the piece which can be a useful way of discovering how individual musicians shape and interpret the music and make it their own. Often beginner piano students are nervous about doing this in case they “get it wrong”.

The final chapter encourages the reader to keep going with the music and maybe try performing it for friends, with some rather simplistic commentary about performance anxiety. Finally, Mr Rhodes suggests the reader try some other repertoire or seeks out a piano teacher – which is possibly the best advice I’ve read in the whole book.

James Rhodes is a passionate advocate of the piano and music education, and one can only admire his enthusiasm and commitment. If his book encourages someone, anyone, who has always longed to play the piano to have a go then that is surely a good thing. But I would caution against using this book as the only “how to” guide for learning this piece or indeed a good basic introduction to the piano and reading music. Playing the piano is so much more than simply placing your fingers on the keys in the right place at the right time, and in this respect the title of the book is misleading. The book lacks detail about simple technique, such as lateral arm movement (which can be explained easily for the beginner as a “polishing movement” on the keyboard and which would help the player get round those right-hand semiquavers with ease and without tension), and I did not find the small format particularly practical for use at the piano.

How to Play the Piano is published by Quercus on 6th October 2016. RRP £9.99

 

 

Meet the Artist……Katya Apekisheva, pianist

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

I grew up in a family of musicians. Both my parents are pianists and repetiteurs in different Moscow opera houses and so I was always surrounded by music.  Many of my earliest memories are of the excitement of seeing my parents practicing and performing.  Music came to me very naturally. I was very lucky to have Ada Traub as my first piano teacher.  She was an extraordinary teacher and human being with a special ability to communicate with children and give them crucial skills and a love for music.  I then went on to Gnessin Music School and from there to the Jerusalem Academy and the Royal College of Music. It never really occurred to me to do anything else with my life – I am delighted to say that I still don’t regret it!

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

Each of my four teachers have been hugely significant, each in a different way.  I have already mentioned Ada Traub. My second teacher was Anna Kantor, much more formidable – in fact slightly terrifying to her students.  She had an amazing ear for detail, was very hard-working and a perfectionist.

Through her I met my fellow student Evgeny Kissin, one of the world’s most accomplished pianists. I was present at many of his lessons and went on a couple of tours with him.  His extraordinary talent made a massive impression on me. He inspired me to be a performer

In Jerusalem I was taught by Irina Berkovich. From her I learned much about analysis and structure. Irina Zaritskaya’s approach (at the Royal College in London) focussed on sound and colour. I had a very special bond with her; she was an amazingly caring teacher and herself a wonderful pianist with a sound from the golden age of piano greats.

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

These days musicians lives are crazy.  in order to be “on the scene” and in demand as a performer we often have to take up almost any invitations that come our way which often means learning a huge amount of solo and chamber music repertoire at very short notice.  I find that the most challenging: not only to learn new repertoire but to fill it with meaning and understanding in a very short time.  It can be thrilling but also daunting.  You have to live off adrenaline.  It must be very difficult for musicians who don’t learn fast to survive in today’s world.

What are you most looking forward to in the London Piano Festival?

Having spent a lot of time with Charles carefully deciding on the artists and repertoire for the festival, I really am looking forward to every event!  But for me the Two Piano Gala is probably the most exciting.  It has an unusual format – it is in three parts and the repertoire is really fantastic and diverse (from Busoni to Debussy, Rachmaninov, a new commissioned work by Nico Muhly and “party pieces” by Milhaud, Piazzolla and Grainger/Gershwin). Having seven fantastic pianists taking part in this event is really exciting.

Which performance/recordings you are most proud of?

There were many memorable performances in my life… ( for different reasons!)

One of my most memorable performances was playing complete Brahms piano quartets in Moscow with Boris Brovtsyn, Maxim Rysanov and Boris Andrianov. It was the combination of learning the three Brahms quartets, which I think are some of the very best chamber music works there are, and then performing these pieces with fantastic musicians whom I admire.

As for recordings, I guess my first solo recording of Grieg piano music is something that is very important for me. I visited Grieg’s house outside Bergen in Norway, and played there too. It was such a magical place and it made me want to record Grieg. But I don’t find listening to my own recordings easy: its so difficult to accept the finished product, I always want to change something ..

Which particular works do you think you play best?

So difficult to say… Hard to judge yourself. I guess romantic music suits me most but I think I can play a Haydn sonata decently too… !

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

There are many factors involved… It depends on how busy i am in that particular season and also often there are concerts/festivals for which I am asked to play certain pieces or concertos.

But I do try always to learn something new.  And I try to vary styles in my programs. I think its an art in itself to create a really interesting and exciting program. It can be crucial to the success of a concert.

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

I love the beautiful and very special atmosphere of Wigmore Hall and the unique sense of history pervading the Holywell Room in Oxford.  I generally prefer more intimate venues although I did recently play in the Unam University Hall in Mexico City, which is a very big hall indeed, but i loved the acoustics and felt really good playing there.There are quite a lot of lovely venues around the world, it is impossible to name them all.

Favourite pieces to perform/listen to?

I really can’t name favourite pieces to perform or listen to… I just love too many different things. If I name a couple of pieces, then immediately others will come to mind and so on…   Often I don’t feel like listening to classical music and I switch a nice jazz record on… Or even pop, dare I say.

Who are your favourite musicians?

From past generation – Rachmaninov, Kreisler, Rubinstein, Carlos Kleiber to name a few

Now – Grigory Sokolov, Martha Argerich, Maria Joao Pires, Radu Lupu, but there are quite a few others and not necessarily pianists.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I will never forget playing in the finals of Leeds Piano Competition. I played Rachmaninov 2nd Piano Concerto and Sir Simon Rattle was the conductor. I never dreamt I would get into the final so I didn’t even bring the score with me… So when I found out I had got through to the final, I had to find the music urgently!  Also I didn’t know it so well… I had two days to revise it. It was a live broadcast on TV and radio and it was definitely the most terrifying experience on stage for me. Working with Sir Simon was really amazing though; he was so kind and encouraging.

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

We live in a very competitive world. Being proactive and ambitious is good but most important is to be true to music; music requires dedication and commitment – years of learning, studying, exploring, thinking – not just playing your instrument.  If you want to be a performer, you need to have something to say in music, and you need to develop as an individual, as a human being, in order to have something to say.

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

Hopefully still here with my friends and loved ones near me!  And still enjoying playing the piano as much as I do now.

The inaugural London Piano Festival runs from 7-9 October 2016 at King’s Place. Full details here

Katya Apekisheva is one of Europe’s most renowned pianists, in demand internationally as both a soloist and as a chamber musician. Since becoming a prize-winner in the Leeds International and Scottish Piano Competitions and collating awards such as the London Philharmonic ‘Soloist of the Year’ and the Terence Judd Award she has been marked out as a pianist of exceptional gifts, performing with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the London Philharmonic, The Philharmonia, the Halle Orchestra, the Moscow Philharmonic, the Jerusalem Symphony, the English Chamber Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, working with conductors such as Sir Simon Rattle, David Shallon, Jan Latham-Koenig and Alexander Lazarev.

Read Katya’s full biography here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thresholds

Guest post by Cheyney Kent (originally published in a shortened form on medium.com)

Twelve years ago I stood opposite a sculpture by the American abstract artist Donald Judd at Tate Modern. The sculpture was a box. A lime green perspex box, the size of a large domestic water tank, but simply a box nonetheless.

It seemed rather disappointing — until I began to feel myself falling into it.

Nothing violent had happened. I’d not slipped, or been pushed. Instead, I’d tried putting my cynicism aside. The result wasn’t revelation or enlightenment. Instead I discovered a different relationship to the piece (and the exhibition – and sculpture in general).

Last week I hovered on all sorts of thresholds. I had been attending the Southwell Music Festival, a classical music festival in the East Midlands. I was there as both a performer and also social media liaison.

Having two roles means that I occupy different spaces. I can be in the centre of the room as a performer. I can be in the centre of the room as the audience. I can be inside the room but with a liaison’s – a functionary’s – purpose; taking notes, turning pages, operating a camera. I can be outside the room, looking in; and occasionally in a different room listening to a relay or watching on a screen.

There are so many proximities or grades of engagement. The threshold – the often arbitrary or imaginary demarcation between them – is a nice idea to scratch at.

You get thresholds inside the music you’re listening to as well. There is an evanescent but substantial one in Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (performed as the central event of this year’s Southwell Music Festival). Approaching the denouement, a narrating Angel tells the eponymous Soul

And now the threshold, as we traverse it utters aloud its glad responsive chant

and the music changes, with dynamic and harmonic doors opened (not unlike the theatrically labelled ‘Transformation Music’ in the parallel passage of Wagner’s theosophical drama Parsifal). The music introduces a different space, with a concomitant change of view, and perhaps even of energy or temperature. It is a physical change. Of course, we’re all still sitting in our seats or standing to sing. We’ve not gone anywhere.

Being in the same space as the musician to whom you are listening is a remarkable, elastic experience. It’s typical to breathe at the same time as a good performer and to feel their rolling with the camber of the music, as they perform it.

Volume is neither here nor there: you can have the same experience of being oppressed or beckoned by a musical gesture from row Z.

But this experience isn’t available behind a certain threshold. Perhaps that’s a smartphone screen. Maybe you’re standing outside the room, where performer and audience alike are like goldfish at a fair, commodified in a venue-bag where the acquisition of the memory negates the experience that won it.

I have my own experience from the same week to share.

Early during the Festival I’d walked close up to a performance of Strauss’ Metamorphosen to take a couple of photographs for social sharing. I was concentrating on my job. As I turned to leave however, I began to hear – to engage with – the music. The physical connection to this acoustically unmediated sound, this fine playing of fine music actually stopped me from walking away, as if I were tethered. I hadn’t followed the drama or narrative of the music (as I would with Elgar the following evening) as I wandered inside the notional and actual extremities of the performance space. In a moment I was reminded that I had passed these topographical thresholds to get my pictures: my intent – and relationship to the performance – had changed as I put down the camera.

All of this is representative of my experience of being in different places, and different roles, in a performance space.

I really like and value the potential of socially-shared media to create a platform and context for performance. I like that there’s a way to create an opportunity to discuss an experience. There’s value in capturing images or sounds that trigger the stored physical experience of being in the audience.

They’re slippery though. They can also offend – that’s not too strong a term – other people who occupy the same physical space but don’t share your intent. The complex physical manifestation between physicality and acoustic sound in an aesthetic context, which is the spaghetti of thought I’m trying to hold in the inadequate ‘threshold’ idea, means that not everyone has the same sensation at the same time. As performers are listen to one another in ensemble, so we have to be kind to one another in audiences!

The point about thresholds is that they are real but they are not obvious. Distance is no threshold in itself. It’s the authenticity and intent of our apprehension that dictates whether we’re really present for the performance or not. It’s OK to stand in a room opposite a perspex box asking what the point is, if that is the only authentic thought you can grab hold of. If you snap it on a phone to try and work it out later, you may have missed the point.

(Photo credit: Nick Rutter)

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Cheyney Kent works in singing and social media for arts: cheyneykent.co.uk

You can read Cheyney’s blog at songstageandstory.blogspot.co.uk 

Meet the Artist……Jane Booth, clarinettist

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Who or what inspired you to take up the clarinet and make it your career? 

My father used to take me to hear concerts at Middlesbrough Town Hall given by what was then called the Northern Sinfonia Orchestra. I loved the sound of the the clarinet in that orchestra and declared it my chosen instrument – apparently!

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

During my teenage years I loved making music in a variety of settings. The combined energies, harmonies, rhythms and colours from orchestras, wind bands, dance bands and pit bands gave me a  hunger for performing that has never left!  Chamber music, solo playing, orchestral playing now fill many of my days (and evenings), and the sense of fulfilment just gets stronger.

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

As a performer on historical instruments I find that I need to have many different instruments in good working order and ready for performance at any one time. Sometimes lining up 10 or 12 different clarinets, basset horns or chalumeaux in the run up to a range of concert programmes can be quite challenging – not to mention ensuring that I have good working reeds for all of them too! But each instrument has its own tonal colour, depth and dynamic range to explore and this also informs my music making so the down sides all have a really positive flip side to accompany them.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I’m really excited about the new CD with one of my chamber groups ‘Ensemble DeNOTE’, an ensemble formed by my husband and fortepianist, John Irving. We often play historical arrangements of eighteenth and nineteenth century favourites, so this CD celebrates that repertoire with two Beethoven ‘selfies’ – his trio arrangement of the Septet (clarinet, cello, fortepiano) and a piano quartet version of the Op. 16 quintet for piano and wind. With the beautiful added decorations in the Op. 16 I’m enjoying the piano quartet version rather more than I ought to! With ensembleF2 I’ve recorded a second album of chamber music by Franz Danzi. Returning to his two wonderfully operatic sonatas (one for clarinet with fortepiano and the other for basset horn and fortepiano) with Steven Devine has been great fun, especially using the Fritz fortepiano at the Finchcocks museum and its very special percussion pedals!

Some years ago I was thrilled to take part in the first ‘historical instrument’ performances of Wagner Operas with two different orchestras and under two conductors.  Daniel Harding and Sir Simon Rattle each brought their own insights to this repertoire, the results were thrilling for players and audiences – such a privilege to be a part of this particular journey of rediscovery.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Mozart ‘s Gran Partita, Requiem and of course Concerto really are enjoyable to perform and I’ve had plenty of opportunities to indulge myself in these works in recent times. Again, the instruments we use are so very special for these pieces and I’m lucky to have very well made (hand made) copies that are as close to the instruments that Anton Stadler played as I think it is possible to have. My basset clarinet was made by Peter van der Poel, it plays really well and is modelled on the picture of Stadler’s instrument from a Riga concert announcement.  My basset horn was a recent purchase from Guy Cowley whose instruments just get better and better – it sings so sweetly and is a joy to play.

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

A new bass chalumeau by Guy Cowley and a basson de chalumeau by Andreas Schöni have promoted me to explore a number of baroque composers recently leading to a new programme of music for chalumeaux, voice and continuo with works by Vivaldi, Bononcini, Graupner, Zelenka,  Telemann and others. The soprano chalumeau in particular blends so sweetly with a voice – and fits very conveniently into a coat pocket!

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

My favourite hall of the moment is The Anvil at Basingstoke. With the OAE (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) we have played large symphonic programmes such as Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique as well as chamber performances of classical wind serenades. The sound in the hall is exceptional and it is so rewarding to perform in such a wonderfully warm and vibrant atmosphere. The people of Basingstoke and the surrounding region may not realise just how lucky they are!!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I love playing great choral works such as Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, Bach/Mendelssohn St. Matthew Passion and others. Performing the texts and sentiments of these great works is always inspiring and there are several great choral ensembles around these days that lift the music to incredible heights – I’m lucky to have the opportunity to work with some of them. Brahms Symphonies, Tippett’s A Child of our Time and Schubert’s Lieder would also be on my desert island disc list.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Playing in TWO chamber groups on a regular basis affords me many wonderful opportunities to play with musicians whose playing I adore, who inspire and challenge me and with whom I can explore ideas and repertoire to my heart’s content.  Beyond the lives of those ensembles, I feel most inspired when I’m on stage with people who put the music and their enthusiasm first, leaving their egos outside the room…… A number of them work alongside me at the Guildhall School!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I’ve enjoyed many different performing settings but many concerts with Toronto’s Tafelmusik stand out for me as having incredible energy, consensus and excitement. Under Bruno Weil, Tafelmusik’s exploration of Beethoven Symphonies brought me immense pleasure and fulfilment – even through the recording sessions which so often in other settings can sap the joy out of the music.

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

Technique only has value if you can use it to convey something from your heart.

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

In 10 years’ time I’d like to be working one-to-one with more students and directing even more of my own musical projects.

 Jane peforms Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet K.581 on a period basset clarinet and Crusell Quartet Op.2 No. 1 in a concert on October 5th with Consone Quartet, St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, London E1 6JN. Free entry with retiring collection

Jane is a specialist in the early clarinet and chalumeau. In addition to her work as Head of Historical Performance at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, regular masterclasses and international adjudicating, she has pursued a busy international career, playing all over the world with many renowned ensembles including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Tafelmusik and The Academy of Ancient Music. Her repertoire is vast and extends from the works of Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi through to Wagner, Mahler and Debussy – all on historically appropriate instruments.

After some fifteen thrilling years as principal clarinet of the Orchestre des Champs-Elysees Jane turned her focus towards chamber music. She has performed in the UK, North America, Japan, Australia and Europe with Robert Levin, Ronald Brautigam, Eybler Quartet and Les Jacobins, and currently performs regularly with her Ensemble DeNOTE and Ensemble F2. Concerto performances include baroque concertos by Fasch, Telemann, Graupner, and Molter, Mozart’s Concerto for basset clarinet and Weber’s Concertos performed Europe-wide.

Jane has recorded for Analekta (Canada), ATMA (Canada) and sfz music (UK) performing Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, solo repertoire for the Basset Horn, wind music by Gossec and Méhul, and a programme of Lieder by Schubert. A DVD documentary on Mozart’s Kegelstatt Trio with Ensemble DeNOTE (Optic Nerve) is complemented by a new recording of Beethoven’s Trio Op. 38 (Omnibus Classics). A second CD of the chamber music of Franz Danzi is in preparation with ensembleF2 on the Devine Music label.

janebooth.net

denote.org.uk

ensemblef2.com

 

 

Oh those international piano competitions….!

Competitions are for horses, not artists

Bela Bartok

Whether or not you agree with Bartok’s statement, or indeed approve of music competitions, they are an integral part of the culture and landscape for today’s up and coming musicians. Major competitions such as the International Tchaikovsky Competition (held every 4 years), the Leeds International Piano Competition (every three years) or the Chopin Competition (every five years) reveal new talent and have launched the international careers of some of the finest pianists active today. The competition format is by no means perfect – for some it is a highly subjective and artificial way of judging musical talent – and it comes as no surprise that some feel moved to comment on the system, including these recent observations on a blog by Pavel Kolesnikov, the young Russian pianist who himself was Prize Laureate of the Honens Competition in 2012.

British pianist Peter Donohoe, recipient of the Silver Medal in the 1982 International Tchaikovsky Competition, serves on the juries and adjudicating panels of many piano competitions worldwide and has years of experience in this particular sphere of the international piano world. Here he responds to Pavel Kolesnikov’s comments:

I think the anti-competition lobby needs to be very careful not to tar us all with the same brush. Competition prizes have sometimes been won by people who have gone on to make great contributions to the world of music, and in most cases they would not have been in a position to do so without those prizes. On the other hand, some juries have obviously been better than others, and results speak for themselves.

The degree to which the organisers of competitions have been clueless, thoughtless, arrogant, self-important, financially motivated, and interested in neither young musicians nor indeed music is variable, and needs to be balanced against the number of genuinely concerned people who want their competition to contribute to the music world, to make a good future for those who enter, to help those who do not win, and to work tirelessly to improve year after year the way their events are organised.

I have to say that the majority of those who have invited me on their juries have been members of the latter group, and I may have many faults, but naïveté is not one of them.

I have had issues with certain of the results to which have contributed a single vote, but that is either because I was wrong – or at least in a minority – or it is a flaw in the democratic voting system, which is, I promise, virtually impossible to make work totally fairly. After all, my own country has just had a referendum, so many people have had a taste of what happens when you consult a group of people with varying degrees of knowledge about a specific result.

We are trying, I promise, to make the system better and better. There is after all now no effective alternative for young musicians – other than comprising yourself of a good business opportunity for large companies, connections, financial backing, networking and good luck. There are too many, for sure, there are some very strange results sometimes, and jury members vary in their ability to spot potential long term talent – the choice of jury members is of course a testament to the quality of those running the competition.

But by and large they are good things, they are occasionally great things, they create goals for young people, stimulate media and public interest, and are a representation of life in the real world once you leave the protection of family and teachers.

That some people let the system down is almost inevitable, but please don’t give the impression that all prize winners have won because of their teacher being a jury member, or that we are all as stupid and manipulative as that unfortunate minority who apparently spoil it for everyone else. I could point out that I had never met any of the 1982 Moscow jury – in fact I had never even heard of most of them, and there was no jury member from the UK at all – so I have a personal reason for railing against the widely-held view that competition prize winners are by definition well connected.

Two more points:

It is obvious that no jury member should try to excuse some poor decision on the basis that someone either included the posthumous variations of the Etude Symphoniques or didn’t, or any similar ludicrously irrelevant observation. That is a truly pathetic and self-important issue when you are there to try to discover and support a young talent. That sort of person should never ever be on a jury.

The second is to mention that if someone is a genuinely great teacher, they are quite likely to be invited onto several juries, their students are likely to enter multiple competitions, and those students are likely to be very good ones. That a student of one of the jury members is in the competition must not place that competitor at a disadvantage; that would like a boss refusing to give a job to a woman because she is attractive. If you exclude teachers from competition juries where their pupils are entering, there will be virtually no one left worth asking; that I have no one-on-one students myself – because I am not really confident to be a good private teacher – makes me an exception; the vast majority of good jury members are experienced teachers. How could it be any different?

(source: Peter Donohoe, via Facebook. Reproduced with Peter’s kind permission.)

Here is a very considered response to both Pavel Kolesnikov’s article and Peter Donohoe’s comments by my friend and colleague Andrew Eales via his Piano Dao blogPiano Dao blogPiano Dao blog

Practising the Piano Online Academy

Those fortunate enough to have studied with acclaimed pianist, teacher and writer Graham Fitch will be very familiar with his intelligent, insightful, inspiring and highly accessible approach to piano playing. The internet allowed Graham to share his expertise and knowledge initially via his very popular and readable blog ‘Practising the Piano‘. This was followed by the hugely successful eBook series. Now Graham’s tried and tested methodologies are taken to the next level with the Practising the Piano Online Academy, a comprehensive library of lessons, video masterclasses, articles, and other material combined with insights from other leading experts. Aimed at piano teachers and pianists, these materials are presented in an intuitive, interactive and accessible manner, and provide a comprehensive range of resources to support pianists of all levels, and piano teachers too. The result of many years of experience teaching at the highest level in specialist music schools, conservatoires and universities around the world, and privately, Graham draws on his own practice tools, strategies and techniques, which he has tested and refined in his work with students of varying ages and levels of ability, to offer a significant new online learning resource.

For those unable to see Graham personally for one-to-one lessons, the Practising the Piano Online Academy offers an extensive and regularly updated library of lessons, articles and resources which:

  • Illustrate Graham’s methodologies and approach in more depth with multimedia contentinteractive features and resources such as musical examplesworksheets and annotated scores which can be downloaded and printed.
  • Expand on practice tools and strategies with masterclasses and tutorials applying them to popular pieces in the repertoire, exam syllabuses and specific technical challenges.
  • Share the expertise of guest experts on subjects including applied theoryimprovisation and healthy piano playing.
  • Be regularly updatedeasily searchable and allow for personalisation with bookmarking and notes.
  • Be shaped by your input, responding to your questions and suggestions for new content to meet your needs.

Here are a couple of features which I feel are really valuable, especially to those pianists who are studying alone without the support of a regular teacher:

Learning Pieces section – collections of popular or favourite piano repertoire (for example, Grieg’s Lyric Pieces, Schubert’s Opus 90 Impromptus, Ravel’s Sonatine and Bach’s WTC, Book 1). Each work is presented as a mini-masterclass or lesson (called a “walk through”) with detailed guidance on specific technical issues, productive practising and some contextual and historical background. There are excerpts from scores and video clips to demonstrate and clarify the instructions. An additional feature for this section will eventually be links to annotated study editions, which will offer comprehensive information on how to approach the music, technically and artistically.

Technique – exercises – jail-breaking Hanon. For devotees of piano exercises, and those who are unsure about using them, this section explains and adapts Hanon’s exercises contained in The Virtuoso Pianist to make them relevant for today’s pianist and teacher. As with the “walk throughs” of pieces, these exercises are accompanied by explanatory video clips and score excerpts.

Practising. Here specific aspects of practising – slow practise, mastering polyrhythms, skeleton practise – are explained and demonstrated, with accompanying video clips and worksheets which can be downloaded to print out or saved to a tablet for use at the piano. In the Mastering Polyrhythms section, for example, the reader is not overloaded with information: instead, the subject is introduced and then explored through separate articles, allowing one to build one’s expertise gradually through intelligent, incremental practise.

Overall, the information is presented in an attractive and easy-to-read format, both on desktop computer and tablet, and the site is easy to navigate with clear menus, search functions and links, plus the ability to bookmark and save material to your personal library. The Practising the Piano Online Academy is an impressive addition to online piano study and piano teaching materials. The site is intended as a growing resource and also integrates with Graham’s blog, ebook series and forthcoming Annotated Study Editions. For more information and to sign up, visit https://informance.biz/products/practising-piano-online-academy/

Highly recommended.

At the Piano with Graham Fitch (interview with The Cross-Eyed Pianist)

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Meet the Artist……Martin Roscoe

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

I started piano aged 6 and didn’t show much interest in the first few months but a family trip to London when I was just 7 included a night at the Proms, with Malcolm Sargent conducting the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique which just blew me away. When I got back home they couldn’t get me off the piano ! As far as a career was concerned I really had no idea what was entailed … I just drifted into it…one thing led to another. 

Who or what have been the most important influences on your career as a musician?

My teachers to start with: Marjorie Clementi, who sorted out my technique when I went to her aged 13 and who taught me to listen to myself for the first time. Gordon Green, who taught me how to practise in so many imaginative ways, and whose infectious love and enthusiasm for music overall was very inspiring. He really was a great human being. When I was a student Alfred Brendel’s early recordings were a great inspiration, and also the playing of so many pianists… Richter, Rubinstein , Kempff and Curzon to name a few of the most important.


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

Recording all the major Schubert works for Radio3 in the 1980’s and more recently recording all the Beethoven Sonatas for Deux-Elles. Playing at the Proms was a great experience , but very challenging!

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival – tell us about your programmes

With Ronan O ‘Hora I’m playing the immense Busoni Fantasia Contrapunctistica, and with Kathryn Stott the Percy Grainger Fantasy on themes from Porgy and Bess. A tremendous contrast between the towering intellect and gravity of the Busoni and the great fun and panache of the Grainger.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto at the Proms in 1989, and my recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas

Which particular works/composers do you think you play best?

Beethoven and Schubert for sure. Mozart’s Concertos, Brahms, Dohnanyi, and Debussy.

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

I’ve started to play themed programmes in the last few seasons….The piano and nature for example this year including Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata and shorter works by Liszt, Schumann, Dohnanyi Ireland and Debussy all inspired by nature. Next year The piano and Art …works by Liszt, Debussy and Granados culminating in Mussorgsky’s Pictures. Also a lot of all Beethoven programmes when recording the sonatas. Now all Schubert programmes in preparation for recording his works.

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

S0 many – but Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall for concertos…. The clarity and immediacy make it so exciting. For solo it’s difficult to beat Kings Place. For chamber the warmth of sound in the Wigmore is very special

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Too many to list….but for listening I’m still as obsessed by Wagner now as I was when I discovered his music as a teenager. Haydn Quartets are an endless treasure trove…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, where to start ? Just recently I heard two stunning performances from very contrasting pianists whose work I love and admire…….Richard Goode and Martha Argerich

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Taking part in the final concert of Kathy Stott’s Piano 2000 festival at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester…all the Rachmaninov Concertos in one evening. I played No.2

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

Fidelity to the score and the communication of the music without personal interference. Meaning is more important than style, yet a sound knowledge of style is also necessary. An interest in all the works of the major composers, not just the piano music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from playing Schubert and Beethoven, walking on the hills of Scotland and the Lake District, cooking, watching films, and listening to Wagner

With an extraordinary career spanning over 4 decades, Martin Roscoe is unarguably one of the UK’s best loved pianists. Renowned for his versatility at the keyboard, Martin is equally at home in concerto, recital and chamber performances. In an ever more distinguished career, his enduring popularity and the respect in which he is universally held are built on a deeply thoughtful musicianship allied to an easy rapport with audiences and fellow musicians alike.

Read more about Martin Roscoe here

‘Composed’ – a film by John Beder. World premiere screening in New York

Documentary ‘Composed’ announces world premiere with special guests on October 19th 2016 in New York City

A feature film exploring performance anxiety, ‘Composed’ will premiere at the SVA Theater, New York, with special guests Dr. Noa Kageyama, Gerald Klickstein, and Jennifer Montone

‘Composed’ is a documentary film which features musicians and mental health experts from the US and UK, including members of major US orchestras like the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic and many more. The film utilizes these musicians and experts to discuss the issue of performance anxiety; what it is, why it happens, and what we can do to address it. Musicians in the film share candid stories and perspective on what causes these fears and doubts, as well as what’s worked for them to address such issues.

“Like no film before it, Composed illuminates the attractions and challenges of music making. Its portrayal of musicians overcoming performance anxiety opens doors for all performers to surmount obstacles and rise to their potential.”

Gerald Kilckstein, author of The Musician’s Way

Following the screening, Beder will be joined by three of the film’s cast for an audience Q&A. Dr. Noa Kageyama is a performance psychologist, a violinist, and a staff member at The Juilliard School. Gerald Klickstein is the author of The Musician’s Way and founder of the Music Entrepreneurship and Career Center at Peabody Conservatory. Jennifer Montone is the principal horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra and faculty member of the Curtis Institute and The Juilliard School.

Tickets are available now for the premiere and can be purchased through the Composed website or through SVA Theater’s events page.

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John Beder is a percussionist, classical musician, and filmmaker based out of his hometown of Boston, MA. ‘Composed’ is a documentary about understanding and addressing performance anxiety through the lens of classical musicians. Learn more at www.composeddocumentary.com.

Contact

John Beder, Bed Productions LLC
617 383 4407; info@bedrocklab.com facebook.com/composedkickstarter; twitter @composedfilm

(Source: Composed press release)

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture