One of the secondary pleasures of going to live music in concert is “audience watching”. Different artists and repertoire attract different audiences (the music of Scriabin, for example, seems to attract a particularly ‘unusual’ audience…..). The ritual of concert going and the habits of audiences have fascinated and intrigued me since I was a young child when my parents took me to the Proms and concerts at Birmingham Town Hall (where the CBSO was based before Symphony Hall was built).
I love the very palpable sense of “collective listening”, that curious vibration in the concert hall when everyone is listening very intently, or when the musician/s creates a remarkably intense connection via his/her performance and the power of the music. At the end of a particularly concentrated performance, one senses the audience uncurling and flexing, like an animal, before exhaling a collective breath and applauding. At a recent lunchtime concert at my local music society, I was amused to observe the reactions of several members of the audience to some rather outré contemporary music which was being performed by a piano and percussion duo. The final piece in the programme, during which the performers alternated between throwing themselves onto the piano keyboard and clapping (including some quite intricate “Pat-a-Cake” clapping patterns), seemed particularly “challenging” for certain members of the audience. Some people shifted uncomfortably in their seats, presumably because they found the music unpleasant or difficult to understand. Another person rested his head on his left hand, feigning boredom or sleep; others lowered their heads or looked down at their laps in embarrassment. Luckily no one walked out, though I suspect a couple of people might have considered doing so. When the piece ended, some of the applause felt like relief, that this curious “musical” experience was over, though in general I felt the applause was given generously, as it always is at my local music society’s concerts.
I think it’s important to be challenged by music and that listening should not necessarily always be a passive activity – though of course a concert can, and should, be a relaxing and enjoyable activity as well. I have experienced sidelong glances from other audience members when I have laughed at the wit of Haydn or Beethoven, or a certain gesture by a performer to highlight a moment of humour in the music. These days I quite regularly cry at concerts, overwhelmed by the music and the emotional experience of hearing it (a friend of mine believes I suffer from Stendhal Syndrome with this regard). Yet the etiquette of the concert hall, a mode of behaviour which developed at the end of the nineteenth century when concert going became more formal, and largely remains so today, can make people feel constrained, obliged to sit in rigid reverential silence for the duration of the performance. It is this etiquette which can also put people off attending classical concerts, and the unwelcoming attitude of some fellow concert-goers, and the conventions of the concert hall – how to behave, in particular when to applaud – can make concert-going a behavioural minefield for the ingenue concert-goer. There is a small contingent of audience members who wish to maintain these conventions and they manifest their antagonism to the more relaxed concert-goer by curious (mostly) passive aggressive behaviour including glaring at the person who accidentally drops their programme or loudly shushing others. Sometimes these are the same people who bellow “Bravo!” at the end of the concert, or start applauding almost before the final note has sounded. All of this behaviour would probably seem very alien to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven, and even Brahms and Tchaikovsky, who were used to a much more rowdy and noisily engaged audience. Somehow we need to find a middle way between the very formal behaviour which still dominates classical concert going and a more relaxed attitude akin to an earlier age which allows people to react spontaneously to what they hear, feel and experience……
Launch of a new series
The “mixtape” featured heavily in my teenage years and early 20s before the advent of CDs, and was an important part of my listening experience. The mixtape was a homemade compilation of music, recorded onto a cassette tape, usually from a vinyl LP, or the radio. My father had an expensive and rather complicated Bang & Olufsen “music center”, as it was called, on which I laboriously transferred favourite tracks from LPs to cassette tapes which I could listen to in my room when revising, or take with me to university when left home. Mixtapes were also made for and exchanged between friends, to share favourite music, or for boyfriends to send messages of love and other stories…… The mixtape could reveal a lot about one’s personality and taste through the choice of music.
Purists and lovers of vinyl and cassette tapes bemoan the fact that we can’t make “mix tapes” like we used to. Wrong – we can. With services like Spotify, you can create your own personal playlists and “mixes” and share them, so that others may enjoy them too. In this new series, I’m inviting you to submit your personal “mixtape” and share your music on this site.
- Compile a mixtape playlist using Spotify (or another streaming service which allows you to create a playlist). The choice of music is entirely up to you – classical, jazz, pop, World, country, folk
- Duration: approx 45-60 mins
- Optional: write a short introduction to your mixtape, explaining your choices. Perhaps some pieces are particularly significant or recall a certain person or time in your life. Share your mixtape stories!
- Send a link to your mixtape Click Here To Email Me
City Music Foundation (CMF) has announced the 5 musicians who are joining the CMF Artist programme as 2017 CMF Artists: Lotte Betts-Dean (mezzo-soprano), Eblana String Trio, Alex Hitchcock (jazz saxophone), Gwenllian Llyr (harp) and Rokas Valuntonis (piano).
These sensational musicians started CMF’s innovative two-year Artist Programme in October 2017 and will continue to work with the CMF as their career progresses.
Lithuanian pianist Rokas Valuntonis won First Prize at both the Nordic Piano Competition in Malmö, Sweden (2010) and the International Music Competition “Societa Umanitaria” in Milan, Italy (2013).
The mission of CMF is to turn exceptional musical talent into professional success by equipping outstanding musicians with the tools, skills, experience and networks they need to build and sustain rewarding and profitable careers.
Over the two years, CMF provides one to one business mentoring as well as tailored professional development workshops covering a range of topics including tax and financial management, networking, presentation skills, agents, PR, networking and much more. The mentoring continues with day to day access to the CMF team as well as artistic guidance from established players with international careers. On top of these professional development workshops, CMF Artists receive essential promotional tools such as websites, images and CD and video recordings, as well as help with new commissions and other projects to ensure each musician develops a unique niche and selling point.
CMF’s key position in the City means that we can use our experience, knowledge and connections within the music industry, as well as the City’s cultural network and business institutions, to provide unique and unrivalled support and education for our musicians.
A high proportion even of the most talented musicians fail to convert their great talent and extensive training into a career in music. We believe that by investing in these talented musicians early in their professional careers we can not only secure their employment, but help to ensure the future of quality music in the UK and beyond.
Previous CMF Artists have included the Foyle-Stsura Duo, pianists Cordelia Williams, and Samson Tsoy, clarinet player Joe Shiner, jazz clarinet and founding member of Kansas Smitty’s Giacomo Smith, jazz bass player Misha Mullov Abbado (now a BBC New Generation Artist) and percussionist Pedro Segundo.
(source: CMF press release)
Stories, Images, and Magic from the Piano Literature – Neil Rutman
As musicians we can and should call upon our imaginations to enable us to create the myriad sounds we desire from our instrument, and to communicate the story or image of the music to the audience. The first teacher I worked with when I returned to the piano as an adult really encouraged the notion of “hearing the sound” in one’s “mind’s ear” (so to speak) before playing and I have found this technique incredibly helpful in my own playing and my teaching. She also encouraged forming a personal narrative or picture for the music – even if the work has an evocative title such as Chasse-Neige or Jeux d’Eau – to spark one’s musical imagination.
Alongside this, our musical imagination can be piqued and encouraged by other stimuli: listening to works by the same composer, or from the same period, looking at art, reading poetry and literature, watching films, traveling, life in general…… All these things feed into our cultural and creative landscape to nourish and inform our music-making and stimulate our musical imagination.
In addition, an appreciation of the social, historical and cultural context in which the music was written can also help us create a personal, authentic, convincing and vividly three-dimensional portrait of the music when we play it. Stimulating the imagination through extra-musical sources illuminates and enhances the meaning of the music for us as players. Often editions of piano music contain only the briefest contextual notes, the editor preferring to focus on technical issues, while learned volumes on, say, Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas tend towards dense musicological analysis which can seem totally divorced from the expressive and emotional content of the music (which is, after all, what makes music interesting!).
The American pianist and teacher Neil Rutman has compiled a wonderful resource for pianists, teachers and indeed general music lovers in his book Stories, Images, and Magic from the Piano Literature. It’s a rich seam of information drawn from classical literature, poetry (some of which inspired piano pieces), reviews and critical commentaries, anecdotes and personal reminiscences; in addition, highly informative musical, interpretative and technical insights by acclaimed pianists, including Marguerite Long, Sviatoslav Richter, Alfred Brendel and Edwin Fischer). Much of the material originates from the composers themselves, and as such it offers a unique and sometimes very personal way into the music.
For hours I have been playing over and over again a melody from the last movement of my Phantasie…..Are you not the secret tone that runs through the work?
– Robert to Clara Schumann about the last movement of the Fantasy in C, Op 17.
A few highlights which I particularly enjoyed:
- Czerny’s adjectives to describe the moods found in Beethoven’s piano works – e.g. unruly, determined, capriciously, teasing, bewitching, roaring, dreamy. That these are the result of Czerny’s inimate acquaintance with and appreciation of Beethoven’s own piano playing make them all the more significant.
- Alfred Brendel’s lively satirical titles of each movement of Beethoven Diabelli Variations, e.g. Var 2 – “Snowflake”, Var 7 – “Sniveling and stamping”, Var 15 – “Cheerful Spook”, Var 30 – “Gentle grief”. You may not agree with these titles, but there’s no doubt that they offer a fresh perspective and may make you consider the music in a different way, thus stimulating new ideas about how to approach and play it.
The great technical errors which deface my piano music, to the point of rending it unrecognizable, are: tempo rubato, stinginess in the use of pedal, and too much articulation in certain arpeggiated phrases which should, on the other hand, be rather smooth and blurred.
– Francis Poulenc on playing his own piano music
The book also succeeds in taking classical music out of its gilded cage by offering a more down-to-earth and human approach to the piano repertoire and its composers. It is informed and informative, eminently readable and the kind of book one can keep by the piano for reference, or simply dip in and out of for pleasure, such is its appeal.
To close, a quote from Ravel about Oiseaux Tristes from Miroirs, a work I am currently learning: “In it I evoke birds lost in the lethargy of a somber forest during the most scorching heat of summertime.”
I can almost feel that intense heat, and smell the resinous scent of pine trees…..
The composers featured in the book are organised alphabetically by chapter, together with a comprehensive bibliography of sources and an index of all works cited.
Further information about Neil Rutman’s book
Thursday 11 January 2018
Samson Tsoy, piano
Schubert – Four Impromptus, Op 90
Rachmaninoff – Five Preludes Op 23
Two composers writing 75 years apart, both 30 and both entering significant periods of intense creativity in their compositional lives. By 1827 Schubert knew his life was drawing to a close. Ill with syphilis and the side-effects of its treatment since 1823, the year before his death, when his composed his Impromptus for piano, signalled a period of remarkable output. 75 years later in 1902 Rachmaninoff marries his cousin Natalia Satina and embarks on his Second Piano Concerto, the Cello Sonata, and Second Suite for Two Pianos, in addition to the Preludes Op 23.
Both sets of works are infused with their composer’s distinct psychology. Schubert’s bittersweet nostalgia, his markedly shifting moods, his long-spun melodies and the lilting rhythms of the ländler and the waltz run through the Four Impromptus Op 90, creating a unifying thread, and Samson Tsoy revealed these special qualities of Schubert’s writing with sensitivity and poise, from the desolate opening of the Impromptu in C minor, to the warm poetry of the fourth in A flat. This was refined and mature playing.
Rachmaninoff’s Op 23 Preludes are confident and exuberant, never more so than in the famous G minor, and Samson responded to with equal confidence and spirit, offering a rich palette of musical colours presented with stylish panache and an evident relish for this music. A special warmth and elegance was reserved for the D major Prelude.
A most enjoyable and rewarding lunchtime concert.
The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, a riverside pub in Barnes, SW London, more usually vibrates to the tunes, rhythms and vibe of the genre from which it takes its name, but last night the intimate space was filled with altogether different sounds in a concert given by two highly acclaimed classical musicians – David Le Page (violin) with Viv McLean (piano).
In addition to his solo, ensemble and orchestral work, David Le Page is also a composer of beautifully-crafted, imaginative and highly evocative music. His latest album ‘The Book of Ebenezer’ (release date TBC) is inspired by The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G B Edwards. Set in Guernsey through the late nineteenth century up to the 1960s, the novel takes the form of a fictional autobiography narrated by Ebenezer Le Page, a typical “Guern’ man, deeply engrossed in his life on the island. David Le Page also hails from Guernsey, no relation to Ebenezer Le Page, though as David said in his introduction to his music, the name Le Page is as common in Guernsey as Smith is elsewhere in the UK. David has taken moments in Ebenezer’s life as recounted in the book as the inspiration for an album of 10 exquisite miniatures for violin and piano.
In the slower, more reflective pieces, the music is redolent of the spare grace and meditative stillness of expression of Arvo Pärt, while the more lively pieces have folksy intonation and foot-tapping rhythms. Several of the pieces use Guern folksongs, and one is based on Sarnia Cherie, the national anthem of Guernsey. All the music is highly evocative, infused with a tender poignancy which speaks not only of the eponymous hero’s reminiscences and reflections but also of David’s connection to the island of his birth, its landscape and its weather. There are haunting bird calls, as if heard from afar, the gentle wash of the sea rippled by the wind, the glint of light in water – elements which give the music a filmic quality and serve as a narrative thread which runs throughout the suite of pieces.
Purists may balk at hearing classical music in a venue normally reserved for jazz, but the small size of the jazz room lends itself to the right kind of concentrated listening and intimacy of expression which this music demands and offers. And David Le Page and Viv McLean create a very special intimacy of their own – these musicians work together regularly and their empathy and mutual understanding is palpable in every note they play.
David Le Page and Viv McLean return to the Jazz Room at the Bull’s Head for a special concert for Valentine’s Day on Wednesday 14 February – details here