Next to the Leeds International Piano Competition, Dudley International Piano Competition (DIPC) is this country’s oldest and most respected piano competition. Established in 1967, the DIPC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. Previous winners and competitors include Benjamin Frith, Joanna Macgregor, Andrew Wilde, Alicja Fiderkiewicz, Peter Donohoe, Graham Scott and Paul Lewis, all of whom have gone of to enjoy successful international careers, and the competition offers young pianists an important career-enhancing opportunity. The competition finals take place in Symphony Hall Birmingham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
The next competition is scheduled for 2020 but DIPC needs a significant injection of funds (£12,000) in order to continue. Please consider supporting the DIPC fundraising campaign:
The beautiful packaging and handwritten note from the artist, embellished with pressed flowers, hinted at what was contained inside. For several days I didn’t want to open the package, it was so pretty, but when I did, I found something equally lovely, and intriguing too: an album of music, songs and poetry which reminded me of childhood holidays in Suffolk – by the sea at Aldeburgh or walking through the marshes and reed beds around Snape and Iken – and my parents listening to music by Benjamin Britten on their record player. And it is the music of Benjamin Britten which forms the basis of ‘The Wild Song’ – a musical and literary collaboration between soprano Marci Meth, pianist Anna Tilbrook, actor Simon Russell Beale and composer Mychael Danna.
Britten was greatly influenced by the natural world, and specifically the coastal landscape of Aldeburgh and the windy, open marshes around the village of Snape where he lived and where he established the Aldeburgh Festival. One only has to listen to the Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’ to hear how much the sounds of the shoreline and the turbulent North Sea, the wind in the reed beds and birdsong infuse his music. His folksong arrangements are also rooted in the Suffolk landscape which he knew and loved so much, and 31 of them feature on ‘The Wild Song’, sung by Marci Meth with pianist Anna Tilbrook.
The songs alternate with poems by W B Yeats, read by actor Simon Russell Beale and selected by Marci, chosen because they complement the folksongs on a similar theme and their language resonates naturally with the lyrics of the songs. In addition, musical interludes by Oscar-winning film composer Mychael Danna are interspersed between the songs and poems. Each of Danna’s interludes contains a quote from the piano part of Britten’s folksongs – but slowed down, stretched and/or looped, so these become Danna’s own transcriptions of Britten’s.
Marci’s voice is elegant and sweet, perfect for Britten’s naïve song arrangements, and sensitively accompanied by Anna Tilbrook, whose piano sound is equally elegant, and both singer and pianist are alert to the shifting moods and charaters of these songs; there is plenty of wit, humour and robustness in the more lively songs. The poetry provides moments to pause and reflect – there is something very comforting about being read to and Simon Russell Beale surely has one of the most pleasing speaking voices – while Mychael Danna’s interludes act almost as a soundtrack, evoking Britten’s Suffolk. The entire album is very atmospheric. It is also beautifully produced with great care and attention to detail, including a generous booklet with all the song texts and poems. Appropriately, the album was recorded at the Britten Studio in Snape Maltings, Suffolk, where Britten lived and worked.
Music seems to be everywhere, from cafés, pubs and restaurants to shops, hotels and stations, leaking out of other people’s headphones and earbuds, and more recently in banks and even the waiting room of my doctors’ surgery. We joke about muzak, “lift music”, “hotel lobby music” and “musical wallpaper” – that particular genre of genre-less “easy listening” which quickly grates and irritates – but in recent years music in places where people congregate, often to socialise, seems to have become more and more intrusive.
I admit I am particularly noise-sensitive. This may be because I’m a musician, who in recent years has started to suffer from tinnitus, but I think it is more to do with the fact that when I go out to eat or to a pub or winebar I am nearly always with other people with whom I wish to socialise: “background music”, too often in the foreground these days, can be intrusive and distracting and is often so loud that it is almost impossible to have a normal conversation without shouting at one another.
The purveyors of such music (and there is a whole sector of the music industry associated with providing playlists for restaurants, bars and shops etc) and those who play it, claim that such music provides “atmosphere”. In the retail environment, music can and has been used to influence shoppers’ buying decisions, while classical music played in places where “yoofs” like to loiter is used to deter such people from hanging around.
I’m with Nigella Lawson on the subject of music in restaurants. In a recent article in The Telegraph she says that music “is utterly draining. And it drowns out the taste of the food”. It also prevents people from talking to one another during the course of a meal – and surely restaurateurs should be celebrating the convivial, social aspects of dining out? I prefer to hear the sounds of other diners, chatting, enjoying their meals and I have on occasion asked the waiting staff to turn down the music. Usually this is done swiftly and easily, without comment, but on one occasion I was rudely told by the waitress that the other diners “like the music”. I was tempted to ask the other diners whether this was the case….
Oh and don’t get me started on the subject of TV soundtracks…. There seems to be another whole arm of the music industry devoted to producing dramatic/atmospheric music to help “explain” the narrative, particularly in nature programmes featuring David Attenborough: shimmering darting motifs for shoals of shiny fish, a ponderous melody suggesting the power and weight of the elephant, chattering bird songs…. In programmes like The Great British Bake Off in the moments before the results of each round are announced the music moves from cheery to portentous, reminding us that Something Important Is About To Happen. As if we didn’t know…..! It strikes me that some programme makers think viewers cannot follow the action/content without some very obvious music to “tell the story” or “explain” what is happening.
Of course soundtracks can be original, imaginative and appropriate. It’s unusual to watch a film these days where there is no music at all – Joanna Hogg’s ‘Exhibition’ is one such example, where the lack of a soundtrack make the drama (which is itself very understated) all the more intense – and a carefully-crafted soundtrack can do a great deal to enhance the narrative and action. For me, the most recent notable example of this is the music for the film ‘The Favourite’, which was criticised by some purists for the “totally inappropriate” inclusion of music by Schumann and Schubert, which was used, very successfully in my humble opinion, to create a sense of foreboding (presumably these are the kinds of people who want music that is appropriate to the period – in fact, the soundtrack features music by Bach (J S and CPE), Handel and Vivaldi).
Go see the film and make your own judgement on this….
Guest review by Adrian Ainsworth
What an exhilarating record this is. ‘Future Relics’ is the debut album from guitarist Kevin Daniel Cahill, and I think one of the reasons I love it so much is that it feels like it was made not only by a superb musician, but a great listener. As a result, it’s a great listen.
Reading a description of ‘Future Relics’ might initially make you think it’s more like two mini-albums or EPs gathered into one, as Cahill has assembled two very different ‘groups’ of pieces. One set is a series of classical commissions from composers he asked to write for the album, while theremaining tracks, written by Cahill himself, are rock instrumentals.
There’s certainly an intriguing legacy of ‘split personality’ albums in the rock world, where side one might have had the hits but side two was a playground. You might think of the ‘Abbey Road’ medley, or Berlin-era Bowie’s instrumentals on ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ – or even Kate Bush’s piece of audio-theatre, ‘The Ninth Wave’, taking up half of ‘Hounds of Love’. Others among you might come at this entirely differently, perhaps after a listen to fellow classical guitarist Sean Shibe’s recent ‘soft / LOUD’ album, half acoustic/ancient, half electric/modern.
But having identified these two separate sides of himself and his art, Cahill goes one step further and mixes them all up. Dovetailing the different styles of track in this way might seem, to coin a phrase, like a small step. But for the listener, it really is a series of giant leaps, with huge dynamic shifts from speaker-busting riffs and percussion to sparse, delicate picking. (The album is of course available digitally – so you can play any individual tracks you like, in any order you want. But as a measure of how important the sequencing is, I was interested to find that the only physical release of ‘Future Relics’ will be on cassette: the hardest format to ‘shuffle’…)So how and why does it work?
The album perhaps gestures most strongly towards the avant-garde with the commissioned tracks. Featuring Cahill solo, they are often steady and measured, almost at times with an improvisational, ‘working-things-out’ feel. The pieces are not in the least predictable, drawing all kinds of different timbres and harmonics from the guitarist. The combination of careful beauty and occasional savagery make you feel that whatever your accustomed style of player – from Xuefei Yang to Derek Bailey – something will resonate with you here. My personalfavourite of these is Ninfea Crutwell-Reade’s ‘Wallflower’ – slightly more fleet-footed, it starts with what sounds like a chiming lead line, only to use it to create cyclic rhythm, while a ‘true’ lead comes in simultaneously, keening, adding a ‘sheet’ of sound almost to ‘”Heroes”’ effect. Haunting yet joyful – a wonderful work.
Despite their immense heaviness at times, the rock numbers also deploy resources with real care and precision. Cahill provides most of the tracks’ heft, with hooks, riffs or drones as required, and gives generous periods in the spotlight to acrack team of fellow musicians. For example, violinist Abigail Young provides the exotic, hypnotic swirl central to ‘We’ve Taken Aqaba!’. On both this track and the fearsome ‘For Deckard’, Graham Costello plays the drums more or less as a lead instrument, driving the piece forward while constantly shifting patterns and rhythms and increasing the intensity. Cahill again finds melody in the metallic, fashioning distorted chords into tunes.
But it isn’t all strum und drang, with quieter electric pieces punctuating the album. The gorgeous, but propulsive shimmer of ‘They speak in never ending light / Resting place, God’s Acre (For Andra)’ manages to look both ways – towards the cyclic sound of ‘Wallflower’ and the more driven, agitated thrust of ‘For Deckard’. The expansive sound occasionally made me think of the peculiarly Scottish feel of ‘Big Music’ (as coined by the Waterboys’ Mike Scott) in whatever form that may take for you: whether it’s split-second echoes of Local Heroics, or sudden bursts of barely-controlled Mogwai-style power.
Of course, it’s Cahill himself who is the unifying force across the whole record. He has shaped it – clearly he absorbs and goes on to write and play all the different styles of guitar music he loves. At the start of the album, we hear muffled voices and noise, as if the overall experience is going to represent a kind of ‘KDC FM’, with us moving between the various stations.
There’s also a strong sense that Cahill is channelling all these sources of inspiration into one style: his own. For all the reference points I’ve mentioned, throughout the album, he sounds like no-one other than himself – graceful, yet rhythmically robust on both the self-penned and commissioned material. I think the production is also a key element: ‘Future Relics’ is very concerned with the physicality and action of playing. We can hear the movement of hand and fingers against strings; the breathing; ambient hum and static – whatever’s going on, you feel like you’re in the room. This analogue touch will only be enhanced when played on a not-quite-silent cassette.
By representing his wide variety of musical passions, Cahill has made a bold record which will certainly introduce some listeners to styles of music they might not have been expecting. In doing so, however, he has in fact made an admirably coherent statement, demonstrating how one’s own work can successfully reflect many sides to the same person.
Future Relics is released on 27 June. More information
The Stabat Mater, a Medieval hymn which portrays Mary’s suffering as Christ’s mother during his Crucifixion, has been set to music by numerous composers, most notably Pergolesi, Schubert, Dvořák, Pärt and Macmillan. In this new setting, Pietà, a co-commission from the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and St. Albans Choral Society, British composer Richard Blackford interweaves the text of the Stabat Mater with poems from the ‘Requiem’ cycle by Anna Akhmatova, whose husband was taken away and ‘disappeared’ by Stalin’s KGB; her son was also arrested and she feared she would never see him again. In our troubled, turbulent times, contemporary Pietàs are tragically all too familiar – refugee parents desperately cradling babies and children, mourning mothers in war-ravaged communities, the anger and grief of victims of tragedies like the Manchester Arena terrorist attack or the Grenfell Tower fire…. Through the settings of Akhmatova’s poetry, Blackford makes the Stabat Mater a universal reflection on grief and loss – and the attendant rage, pain and incomprehension.
Blackford chose the title after seeing Michelangelo’s marble Pietà in Rome, and, like the sculpture, his new work encompasses grief, rage and sorrow with tenderness, poignancy and, ultimately, beauty and hope. The work is scored for string orchestra, chorus, children’s choir, mezzo-soprano, baritone and solo saxophone. While the chorus and soloists present the main narrative – the pain and grief of Mary and Anna Ahkmatova – the saxophone provides a third, abstract voice, the voice of every grieving mother. Blackford chose the soprano saxophone to create “a modern inistrumental dimension, very close to the sound of the human voice”.
In its world premiere performance at Poole Lighthouse, Pietà was preceded in the first half by Fauré’s Requiem, which was given a meditative, other-worldly performance by the excellent BSO Chorus under Gavin Carr, with soloists Issie Curchin and Stephen Gadd. This provided a wonderful foil to Blackford’s music, which is intellectual and sophisticated, yet accessible in its use of carefully-crafted melody and counterpoint. Rooted in tonality and modality, Pietà is characterised by rhythmic dynamism, breadth of expression and lush textures, redolent of Janácek and Syzmanowski. The use of a children’s choir (in the fifth movement of the work) is a nod to another of Blackford’s influences – Benjamin Britten – and provides an episode of innocence and sweetness in this grief-scorched narrative.
With powerful, operatic singing by mezzo Jennifer Johnston and baritone Stephen Gadd, a fine, emotionally engaging performance by the BSO and BSO Chorus (whose intonation, timing and precision was impressive), the entire work has a filmic, visual quality with its gripping narrative and vividly descriptive scoring – tumultuous strings, passionate dramatic climaxes, ‘snapping’ pizzicato in the cellos (to represent Christ’s flagellation), jagged syncopated rhythms, an acapella movement of intense concentration and beauty. Organised in three parts, Pietà moves from grief and rage to redemption and hope via nine distinct movements. The obligato saxophone, eloquently played by Amy Dickson, provides a unifying link between the movements, initially haunting, mournful and timeless, evocative of an ancient shawm, and later calm and tender as the music moves towards its hopeful, redemptive close.
An absorbing and committed performance by all, supplemented by detailed programme notes by the composer with translations of the text.
This arresting, emotionally intense and accessible work for choir and orchestra receives its London premiere at Cadogan Hall on 19th October. A recording on the Nimbus Label is expected very soon.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
It was quite by chance – I feel ill with chicken pox and was bored so I began to teach myself the recorder. I really loved playing an instrument and when I was better, I started the piano and the violin
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
Yehudi Menuhin was a huge influence of course…..but I think that all the teachers at school had their own influence and we learned from all of them. Since leaving school and performing professionally, many conductors have influenced me, especially Richard Hickox and Sir Andrew Davis
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Performing the Ligeti violin concerto – it’s hugely difficult and really challenges the player in every way!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I am very proud of my Elgar concerto with Andrew Davis and Royal Scottish National Orchestra. It won a Classic BRIT Award and I felt very happy as I waited a long time to record it, so I felt I gave my very best.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I’d like to think that I am able to bring some insight into every composer that I choose to perform. If I don’t feel an empathy with a composer or piece, I prefer not to play it! I’d rather leave it to people who like it, and play the things that I like most. That said, I have a huge repertoire so I haven’t exactly limited myself!
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
There are various factors to consider – who I’m playing with and the repertoire that they like. Orchestras often have their own ideas regarding repertoire and then I like to learn new pieces every year so I am always programming new things.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
I adored playing in Carnegie Hall – the floorboards are alive with history, it’s so inspiring! I was playing with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra so I was in amazing company!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
It’s hard to choose because I have had so many fantastic experiences but probably my concert in the Royal Albert Hall at the Last Night of the Proms – the atmosphere was so amazing and so friendly! I also enjoyed playing for 40,000 people in Hyde Park – very exciting indeed to see all those faces!
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
My definition of success is simply to be playing to the very best of my ability.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
The most important thing is to be yourself. Anything less than that will come across as un-natural and superficial so it’s important to be authentic
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to be enjoying a career in broadcasting, as well as some motivational speaking, plus finding some time for hobbies and seeing plenty of my friends and family!
Tasmin Little performs at Music at Paxton with pianist Piers Lane on 23 July in a programme including music by Schubert, Brahms, Ireland, Vaughan Williams and Franck.
Tasmin Little has firmly established herself as one of today’s leading international violinists. She has performed on every continent in some of the most prestigious venues of the world, including Carnegie Hall, Musikverein, Concertgebouw, Philharmonie Berlin, Vienna Konzerthaus, South Bank Centre, Barbican Centre and Royal Albert Hall, Lincoln Center and Suntory Hall.