There was an expectant hubbub of chatter, and some rather nervous laughter, when we arrived at Steinway Hall on Saturday for the first EPTA Piano Day, hosted by Scottish pianist and UK EPTA Chairman, Murray McLachlan. I met my friend Lorraine ahead of the event for strong coffee, and, in Lorraine’s case, a big breakfast, at a nearby Carluccio’s. Thus fortified, we walked the short distance from St Christopher’s Place to the hallowed ground that is Steinway & Sons London showroom on Marylebone Lane.
Like many an aspiring pianist, I have pressed my nose to the windows of the Steinway showroom ever since I can remember, marvelling, as a kid, at the big black shiny beasts squatting in the spotlit window displays. I’ve never, until now, had the chutzpah to go in and actually play one. My friend Michael, a fine amateur pianist with a penchant for Rachmaninov and Debussy, bought his Model B there a few years ago: apparently, the level of service was beyond superb. Well, so it should be if you are spending a cool £67,000 on what is, for some people, a glorified piece of sitting room furniture.
Behind the grand showroom, and the Steinway Hall of Fame, there is a small recital space, complete with a big black shiny Model D, a full-size concert grand. The event, the first, (hopefully of many) organised by EPTA, was open to EPTA members and their adult students, and was run in the form of a workshop, with verbal and written feedback on each individual performance by Murray McLachlan.
Although I have attended several courses at my teacher’s house, and performed in her house concerts, I had never participated in an event like this before, which would involve playing in front of 30 people I’d never met before. However, I regarded it as useful preparation for my performance Diploma – plus an opportunity to play a really fine piano.
The repertoire offered was quite varied, with, perhaps unsurprisingly, a good helping of Liszt, some Chopin Nocturnes, two of Schubert’s Opus 90 Impromptus, the opening movement of Beethoven’s Opus 109 Sonata and his Rondo ‘Rage Over a Lost penny’ (energetically played by my friend), Messiaen’s Prelude La Colombe (‘the Dove’) and my own piece, his Regard de la Vierge, from the ‘Vingts Regards de l’enfant Jésus’. The standard was generally advanced; thus, we all had great admiration for a woman who played a piece from her Grade 4 repertoire. As she told me afterwards, “I was determined to come, no matter. I just wanted to play this piece in front of other people.”. The atmosphere was supportive and sympathetic, and, as Murray kept saying, there was a strong sense of a real love for the instrument and its literature amongst the participants: we were all there because we love it!
Formerly a very reluctant performer, I have learnt the benefits of playing for other people. Interesting things can emerge from a performance and can offer a wholly new perspective on one’s music. Also, it is very important to put it “out there” and to offer it up for scrutiny before an audience. Performing also endorses all those lonely hours we spend practising, and reminds us that music is for sharing. After a fairly rigorous morning the day before having my playing critiqued by a pianist friend, I was fairly clear about what I wanted to do with the Messiaen. It was therefore very cheering and encouraging to receive such positive feedback after my performance. Murray was extremely understanding, kind to those people whose nerves got the better of them, or those who stumbled. This was not a professional concert, after all, but rather a gathering of committed amateurs. It was a very enjoyable and encouraging day; my only criticism is that is was perhaps too long. The day finished with a performance of Liszt’s Italian Années de Pèlerinage by Angela Brownridge, but I did not stay for this as I had to get home – and Lorraine was playing in a competition.
Just before we left, we nipped into the Steinway Hall of Fame, and, like proper “piano tourists”, photographed each other at a Model D with a price tag of £115,000.
It was an excellent day of piano music, and I do hope EPTA will organise further events like this in the future.
Some of the repertoire played (links open in Spotify):
Bach/Busoni – Chaconne in D Minor
Beethoven – Rondo a capriccio in G, Op.129 ‘Rage over a lost penny’
Schubert – Impromptus, D. 899 (Op. 90): Impromptu No. 1 in C minor. Allegro molto moderato
Chopin – Nocturne No.13 in C minor Op.48 No.1
Liszt – Années de pèlerinage: 2ème année: Italie, S.161 – 6. Sonetto del Petrarca no. 123 (Più lento)
Messiaen – 8 Préludes : I La colombe
The author playing Messiaen’s Regard de la Vierge
You told the inter world that I am a greedy guts, heh heh!
Came here to find your PLA review but can’t see the link to it, will check on BachTrack.
Anne – I really liked your Liszt!
Have just stumbled on your excellent blog. I too was there on Saturday but unfortunately had to leave before your performance (which I’ve listened too and is very impressive). I played the second of the Liszt Sonetto 123 del Petrarca but had to dash off after the first group to play in a competition. I wish I could have stayed longer and would have to loved to have heard Angela Brownridge. It was very hot in there though!
Interesting to read that you study with Penny Roskell. I met and had her as my teacher at the Chethams Summer School this year and found her excellent and really encouraging. You’ve inspired me to contact her again as I’d be interested in the courses she runs as although I live in South Wales I’m down in London fairly often. Perhaps I’ll see you at another event.
Hello Anne, and thank you for your very kind comments. We did actually meet on Saturday, in the loo! (Yes, it was boiling hot in that room!) I really enjoyed your Liszt. It is the first piece of Liszt I’ve learnt seriously, having avoided him for years (believing him to be just too difficult!). I’ve started looking at the Sonetto 47.
I’ve been studying with Penny Roskell for 3 years now, and have learnt so much from her so quickly. She is a very supportive teacher. The next course is in March, and I hope to be on it as they are always so enjoyable and inspiring.
I remember you now! Yes it’s the first piece of Liszt I’ve tackled too – I bought it many years ago along with the 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody and they’ve just sat on my shelves after feeling they were just out of my league – maybe one day I might be brave enough to tackle the Rhapsody but I really love Sonetto 123. I’ll look at the other Sonettos too.
There was supposed to be a time limit of around 6 minutes per item but I only found out about this after I had submitted the form. Many people went over this I think (including myself) which probably accounts for the length.
Congratulations on your excellent Messiaen. I really must dig out my embarrassingly pristine score of Vingt Regards and and have a go at one or two …
You missed a great recital with an interesting introductory talk (which Angela Brownridge said she was having to shorten because they were running quite late).
I seem to recall being asked to say how long my piece was on the application form….. Originally, I was planning to play the Liszt Sonetto 123, but I performed it at my students’ concert in the summer and I felt the Messiaen would benefit from a proper airing. Thank you for your kind comments: I’ve been learning it for about 9 months. It was very hard to start with because it is the first properly atonal piece I’ve learnt, but once it was in the fingers, it felt more comfortable. You can see that Messiaen was a pianist because it fits nicely under the fingers (most of the time!). It will be the final piece in my Diploma recital.
I learnt your Schubert Impromptu when I was about 14 and have never returned to it, though I love the Opus 90. I am playing the E flat in my diploma exam – such a hard piece! But worth the effort.
I think these piano events are such a great way of sharing repertoire – it would have been even better had we had time to chat and compare notes (forgive the pun!).
A nice account of a memorable day – thanks. (I was there and played the Schubert C minor Impromptu.) It was a bit nerve-wracking but also a supportive and sympathetic atmosphere I think.
It was good that Murray McL had positive things to say about everyone but also coupled with constructive criticism.
I certainly hope they repeat the event. I think it would be good to arrange at least one substantial break next time, to give people a bit of a breather and a chance to chat.
Hello Kevin, and thank you for your comments. I enjoyed your Schubert very much. Yes it was quite nerve-wracking but I found it a very useful experience. But too long! And it would have been good to have time to chat & exchange thoughts.