What could be nicer than gliding along a quiet canal, drinking in beautiful music and scenery, accompanied by delicious refreshments?

The Piano Boat offers just this experience, aboard ‘MV Rachmaninov’, a bespoke wide beam canal barge, whose intimate, elegant music salon is host to a Steinway Model A grand piano and an exclusive audience of just 12 people. The boat has green credentials too; it’s fitted with solar panels on its roof and a hybrid engine which  allows for silent cruising with minimal disturbance to wildlife, and a truly relaxing and immersive experience on the waterways.

Classical music presented in small intimate venues such as this allows audiences to get “up close and personal” with the music, plus an opportunity to meet and talk to the musicians and other audience members. And for those who might hesitate to visit a large impersonal concert hall, venues like The Piano Boat offer a wonderfully exclusive experience.

This unique and intimate floating concert venue based in West London offers musical afternoon tea and brunch cruises complete with an exclusive piano recital with acclaimed concert pianist Masayuki Tayama, as well as workshops, private hire days and musical holidays on board.

The Piano Boat has its official launch on 1 August at the London Canal Museum, near Kings Cross. 

For full details of concert cruises, visit The Piano Boat’s website

Ravel’s choices for interior design and landscape in fact are analogous to his inventive musical textures, which reflect his response to diverse European and Asian Pacific and Japanese sources as well as North American blues, jazz, and ragtime.

Guest post by Walter Witt


As a pianist and admirer of Ravel, my visit to Ravel’s house and museum in Montfort L’Amaury several years ago could be considered a sort of pilgrimage.

Ravel purchased the house on the outskirts of Paris, called “Le Belvédère,” in 1921, as a respite from frenzied Parisian social life, a place to entertain his friends, to seal himself off from the world to meditate and to compose. He lived there until his death in 1937. Ravel carried out extensive design work on the house throughout the 1920s.

A deeper understanding of Ravel as a composer, as a master of colour counterpoint, an ornamentalist with miniaturist inclinations, the non-Impressionist and non-European allusions that he employed in his music, can be gleaned from Ravel’s own decorative practices at his home and garden at Le Belvédère. Ravel’s choices for interior design and landscape in fact are analogous to his inventive musical textures, which reflect his response to diverse European and Asian Pacific and Japanese sources as well as North American blues, jazz, and ragtime.

Le Belvédère is what you might call a confidential address, accessible only on certain days and in small groups. Once inside, you can see why. Though the house is picturesque, it’s no chateau. A panorama of hills and forest stretches out beyond the cobbled streets of Montfort-l’Amaury. For Ravel, it was the view from the balcony that first sold him on the house.

The composer was in his mid-40s and at a low ebb when he bought Le Belvédère. He had failed to win the coveted Prix de Rome three times, losing out each time to composers whose names are hardly known today. Determined to serve his country in the first World War, he had tried to sign up for the air force, but was refused on grounds of height. (Ravel’s brocade waistcoats are displayed near the entrance – at 5 foot 2, he was every inch the dandy).

Finally, he was allowed to drive trucks at the Front. He caught dysentery. His beloved mother died in his absence and he felt he had abandoned her. For months, he never touched a manuscript.

Instead, he threw himself into the design and decoration of this house – his first – re-shaping it to reflect his highly individual tastes and personality. He created his own Art Deco wallpaper. He arranged his collection of singular objects, arranging them for harmony or piquancy, creating patterns for the eye. He immersed himself in gardening books, tended to his orchard and turned the sloping garden behind the house into a Japanese style garden.

Ravel was an inveterate antique hunter. He’d invite friends to admire the latest treasures in his sitting room, before revealing how much – or rather, how little – he’d paid for them. The cabinet of Creil et Montereau picture plates, the antique Chinese cups, the drapes, the furniture …everything feels curated, elegant – and personal. Often, homes of famous people feel as if they have been reconstituted from the original. Not this one. It feels as if the owner has just stepped out to buy a baguette or a pack of Gauloises.

Upon entering the house, the first impression is that of a doll-like miniaturism. The stairway and hallways are tight. Throughout the house, the rooms are snug. There’s even a small, secret annex off the music room behind a cabinet (handy for Ravel to whisk manuscripts away from prying eyes).

In the music room, Ravel’s rosewood piano, an Érard which I played during my visit, is still in good condition and kept in tune. The piano fills most of the space. His mother’s portrait hangs above the piano. A portrait of Ravel as a young boy hangs across the room, facing the pianist. Surrounded by portraits of his family and silhouettes of composers, this is where Ravel composed Boléro, the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, the Concerto in G and L’enfant et les sortilèges. On the piano are more of his treasures – a collection of snuff boxes, butterfly wing art and a rare 19th-century scene made of spun glass, a speciality of Nevers.

While it was here that Ravel wrote his most famous work, Boléro, the work most embedded in the property to my mind is the opera L’Enfant et les Sortilèges. To walk around the house and garden is almost to step into the magical arc of the opera – its first act featuring teapots, armchairs and wallpaper that come to life, its second moving to a night-time garden brimming with cricket calls and croaking frogs – as well as to feel its unforced mix of playfulness and profound seriousness.

In fact, the longer one stays in the house the more one begins to sense the “small wonder” of Ravel: the connoisseur’s mind, the watchmaker’s heart, the eye for beauty and detail, the feeling for pathos. The suggestion of a hidden interior that is bigger than it appears from the outside.

There is a small room full of Asian objects. The collection seems like a mix of objects from China, Japan and Indonesia as well. The extent of his collection is quite impressive, and what was immediately obvious is the almost obsessive way he placed the objects symmetrically in the room. This symmetrical pattern is evident in almost every other part of Le Belvédère.

Ravel in fact gave us a small opening onto Le Belvédère’s aesthetic, as reported in the Dutch tabloid De Telegraaf in 1931. According to the journalist, Ravel asks, “Don’t you think that it slightly resembles the gardens of Versailles, as well as a Japanese garden?” Then the correspondent connects the composer’s question to the idea of miniaturism: “Doesn’t this remark reflect upon the entire man, on the one hand, filled with memories of the stately, joyous century of Couperin and Rameau, yet on the other coupled with a refined sensitivity and miniature workmanship which conjure up Japan?” (quoted in Orenstein, Arbie, ed. 1990. A Ravel Reader: Correspondence, Articles, Interviews, p 475). It is safe to say that Ravel’s decorations in Le Belvédère were themselves a latent allusion to the miniaturism connected with France’s eighteenth-century musical past and the twilight of the ancien régime subtly entwined with the art nouveau aesthetic recognized as “le Japon.” Or, as the Ravel scholar Roger Nichols, stated in his biography of Ravel: “In his life this manifested itself in the division between bouts of socializing, at home or in Paris, and periods of hermetically sealed composition; in his music, between tradition and innovation, between knowing the rules and knowing how to break them. The lifestyle division was no different from that of most composers, for whom long stretches of uninterrupted time are vital (and in the modern world, increasingly hard to achieve). The divisions within Ravel’s music itself are much more interesting, and go to the very heart of its beauty and power” (Nichols, Ravel – A life,  2011, p. 351).

After Ravel’s death in 1937, his faithful housekeeper kept everything precisely as it was. Downstairs, in his smart monochrome bathroom, his toothbrush is still waiting in its beaker.

La Maison musée de Maurice Ravel



Walter Witt is an American-born classical pianist and educator based in France. A lifelong student of the works of Chopin, Walter captivates audiences with his innate musicianship and dynamic presence at the piano. Together with his advocacy for classical music and its educational importance, these talents make him one of the most compelling figures in classical music today.

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‘Open Up’ is the debut album from the Charlie Foxtrot Piano Collective, released on 16th July 2021. Written and produced by Caroline Wright, the album includes 11 tracks of original multi-tracked piano music.


The idea behind the album was to create a coherent set of compositions that indulge my love of piano but also explore the orchestral potential of the instrument. The creative process involved a mixture of composing, improvising, and arranging. I wanted to avoid using samples or MIDI, to maintain both an acoustic and improvisatory feel to the music, so everything was recorded on – or inside – a real grand piano. This meant numerous recording sessions for every track, as well as detailed mixing to achieve the right balance between different parts.

The album moves from relatively upbeat, simple tracks to darker, more complex pieces, with lots of modal harmonies and rhythmic ostinatos looped throughout. The music has a diverse range of influences, from classical to contemporary, as well as film, folk, jazz, dance and electronica. Some of the pieces are re-workings of older compositions (the oldest dating back to 1995!), while others were written in early 2021. There were many different inspirations for pieces: an amazing poem (The Hill We Climb), a beautiful photo (Falling Light), a wildlife documentary (Whale Song), some awful weather (Storm), a strong emotion (Anticipation), or a musical concept (Lockdown Boogie – which is really a study for the left-hand, in disguise!). The album title refers not only to opening up the piano to explore the sounds under the lid, but also to society opening up after the lockdowns of 2020-21, as well as personally opening up as an artist and deciding to put my music out into the world.


Open Up is available now

To listen to tracks in full or buy album (via Bandcamp): www.charliefoxtrotpianocollective.com

Videos:

Just Keep Going

Storm:

Falling Light:

Audio clips and links to streaming services (available after 16th July): https://charliefoxtrotpianocollective.hearnow.com/

Meet the Artist interview with Caroline Wright

Mark Padmore 2018 Photo: Marco Borggreve

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I am one of five siblings and their love of music in all different forms has probably been my biggest influence. My mother had a great love of music although she never learnt an instrument and my father drove me to music lessons and youth orchestra courses. 

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

The last year and a half has been devastating for many musicians and Brexit has been a disaster for the whole profession.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

Having the opportunity to be artist in residence with Berlin Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestras – something that now seems a remote possibility for a young UK based musician.

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

Bach, Schubert and Britten have formed the core of my repertoire. They wrote music I feel I can understand.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Reading and going to the theatre. You need intellectual and spiritual nourishment to be a performer

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

I have always responded to challenges and most often repertoire chooses me rather than the other way round.

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

The church of St Endellion in North Cornwall (where I am Artistic Director of the Summer Music Festival) has been the scene of the most memorable music-making.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

We could start by persuading the Government not to cut further education in the arts by 50%!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House was a highlight as was Billy Budd at the BBC Proms.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you get a sense that you have really captured the attention of the audience and that they love the music as much as you do.

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

It is all about quality of attention – notice everything. And be generous.

Mark Padmore performs songs by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, with pianist Imogen Cooper, on 20 July as part of this year’s Petworth Festival. More information here


Mark Padmore is one of our greatest interpreters of Lieder and song. Born in London and an alumnus of King’s College Cambridge, he has established an international career in opera, concert and recital. His appearances in Bach Passions have gained particular notice, especially his renowned performances as the Evangelist in the St Matthew and St John Passions with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, staged by Peter Sellars. Mark was voted 2016 Vocalist of the Year by Musical America and was appointed CBE in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

markpadmore.com

(Photo Credit: Marco Borggreve)

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Coming from a moderately musical family as I do, there was no shortage of inspiration at home during my childhood. My father’s solo career was in full flight, and I loved attending his concerts and listening to the work process behind the scenes. It seemed to me that this was an elevated and endlessly interesting way to live one’s life. Later on, my lessons with William Pleeth were invaluable, as were my encounters with the extraordinary composer and pedagogue Gyorgy Kurtag. The cellist I listened to most was Pablo Casals, a great and pioneering artist whose unique way has always fascinated me. 

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

Without a doubt, bearing the surname of my father [Alfred Brendel], with whom I have always got on very well. It brought with it an expectation in others’ eyes that I wasn’t well equipped enough to deal with for quite some time. This has waned over the years, but not without leaving a clear psychological mark. Yet I wouldn’t change the past if I could! The flip side of this very private struggle was a rich immersion in culture in the widest sense. My father and I still meet regularly to discuss and listen to music, watch films and look at art together.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I was possibly a bit too young and green to record the Beethoven sonatas with my father in my late 20s. It was the one opportunity we had to do it, and I’m still pleased with it almost 20 years later. Many performances come to mind – perhaps the 20 years of directing the Plush festival in Dorset give me most satisfaction as a body of programmes that always tried to push boundaries and present music in a spirit of inspiration. 

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

I’m not sure…perhaps the audience should decide that! I feel a particular bond with Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, and with much contemporary repertoire. Combining old and new elements in a programme is so often mutually enhancing. 

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I listen to quite a lot of improvised music, something I like to do in private (and occasionally in public) as well. I teach a lot too and am becoming more and more aware of its importance in my own development. One can learn so much from one’s students. I play football, tennis and other sports with childish enthusiasm and this keeps me sane at times. Most of all, I spend time with my partner and two boys, who give everything so much more meaning.

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

There’s an element of chance here – you never know what you will encounter along the way. As a collaborative cellist, I have to be ready for anything! When planning my own recital programmes, I try to combine some new or unknown music with works from the canon. There is a huge amount of great repertoire to find that only increases the more you look..

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

As a member of the Nash ensemble, Wigmore Hall always feels like home as we are resident there every year. Other wonderful venues include Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and Berlin Philharmonie, amongst many.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think there is a case for completely rethinking the way we do our events, not to preclude the time-honoured format that we are all used to and enjoy, but to actively encourage new formats and ideas alongside the conventional model. These could include making our events more filmic in presentation or collaborative with other art forms such as dance (particularly with modern music); doing away with 2 x 40 minutes in most events; allowing other elements in such as improvisation and different genres, and using more unusual venues as concert spaces. All these things are starting to happen, but need to become more normal for young people to sit up and take notice. 

The awful situation performing artists find themselves in due to COVID-19 and, mainly, Brexit also provides an opportunity for young musicians to reinvent the wheel in the UK. With so little funding for the arts and such difficulties with touring in EU countries, we are just going to have to find new ways to connect with audiences here.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Too many to mention. Perhaps out of leftfield, being summoned on stage out of the blue while presenting a world music festival in Senegal for BBC Radio 4 to play with Baaba Maal in front of 10,000 people. That was an experience…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To find fulfilment in what you do, and to approach your work with a fresh, unbiased mind. And to be generous to your colleagues.

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

Learning how to listen, and how to take distance to one’s own ideas to allow others in. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I’d like to live in a UK that is less divided, and has more respect for its artists and artistic institutions. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Time spent in nature with my family, decoding a complex new score of exciting contemporary music, watching Fulham at Craven Cottage (although not recently), attending a riveting concert, play or film, seeing progress in my students, curating unusual musical events: to name a few!

What is your present state of mind?

Stupefaction at the direction this country is taking. Excitement at the gradual opening up of things and the creative optimism that follows. And the fervent hope that we might leave the world in some kind of fit state for our children despite our current freefall. 

Adrian Brendel performs with pianist Alisdair Beatson at this year’s Petworth Festival which runs from Wednesday 14 July – Saturday 31 July. Further information here


One of the most versatile and original cellists of his generation, Adrian Brendel has travelled the world as soloist, collaborator and teacher. His early immersion in the core classical repertoire inspired an enduring fascination that has led to encounters with many fine musicians at the world’s most prestigious festivals and concert halls. His discovery of contemporary music through the works of Kurtag, Kagel and Ligeti in his teenage years opened a new and vital avenue that he continues to explore with huge enthusiasm alongside his passion for jazz and world music. In 2014 he became a member of the Nash Ensemble of London.

Projects with contemporary composers and conductors such as Kurtag, Thomas Adès and Peter Eötvös among others inspired him to cultivate new music in his concert programmes wherever possible. A three-year project with Sir Harrison Birtwistle led to premieres of his song cycle Bogenstrich and a piano trio released on the ECM label. He also premiered York Hoeller’s cello concerto Mouvements with NDR Hamburg alongside Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Canto di Speranza.

It has been refreshing and inspiring to watch this young England football team in action in the UEFA European Championship under the tutelage of Gareth Southgate (who, as a friend of mine tweeted the other day, is the kind of person you would happily introduce to your mum). I say “refreshing” this young team seems largely devoid of artifice and ego. As many commentators have observed, this England team is lean, keen and focussed, with a clear appetite for success. This is evidently due in no small part to the calm, composed leadership of Gareth Southgate, who chooses to encourage rather than berate, praise rather than criticise, thus establishing a supportive environment for the team to train and compete. The positive effect of this “kinder” management style has been evident throughout the matches England have played, and especially after the final when Southgate hugged and comforted his players.

England may have lost to Italy in the final, but this should not be regarded as a “failure”. To get to final of the Euros, and to play against Italy, one of the best teams in the world, is a huge achievement. What a privilege!

The result of the final will give Gareth Southgate and the team much food for thought and reflection, which, if done right, will enable this young team to develop and grow and, hopefully, achieve greater success in the next World Cup in 2022.

In ‘The Rise’, her excellent book on the search for mastery, Sarah Lewis explores the notion of the “near win” (rather than the “near miss”) as instrumental to achieving success.

A near win shifts our view of the landscape. It can turn future goals, which we tend to envision at a distance, into more proximate events….The near win changes our focus to consider how we plan to reach what lies in our sights, but out of reach.

Success motivates us, but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest.

Sarah Lewis

To have reached the final of the European Championship, and to have played so confidently and largely very successfully in the matches leading to it, the England team should enjoy the glow of their near win and use it to spur them to greater victories. The road to mastery is paved with setbacks, but if we are prepared to embrace them, they carve the way for further endeavour, achievement and fulfilment – and scoring! – of goals.

This growth-mindset attitude applies as much to sportspeople as to musicians.


Further reading

The Success in Failure

A Passionate Pursuit

How the psychology of the England team could change your life