All posts by The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Pianist, writer, music and arts reviewer, and blogger on classical music and pianism

Steps Volume 1 – the journey begins

I first encountered the piano music of British composer Peter Seabourne in 2016 when he kindly sent me the scores and recordings of his Steps Volumes 2, 3, 4 and 5. Conceived and organised as “a pianist’s Winterreise”, the music is remarkably varied yet highly accessible and recalls the piano music of Debussy, Janacek, Prokofiev and Messiaen in its piquant harmonies, lyricism, and rhythmic adventurousness. Seabourne describes the series as “a compositional travelling companion” and the collection works more like a cycle rather than a progressional series such as Bartok’s Mikrokosmos.

Although composed over ten years ago, the pieces which comprise Steps Volume 1 have now been released (on the Sheva label), performed by Korean pianist Minjeong Shin. The first volume is not intended as a cycle, but rather a set of pieces in the manner of Grieg’s ‘Lyric Pieces’ or Janacek’s ‘On An Overgrown Path’,  for example, and the works have evocative titles, many of which are drawn from poetry by Emily Dickenson, Sylvia Plath, Rilke and Swinburne. The range of expression, character and emotional power of these pieces is impressive, hinting at a lively, inquisitive and all-encompassing attitude to creating music (as the composer says himself, “I am with Mahler: music should contain all of life!“), and the broad scope of the music, together with its inherent expressivity, lyricism and romanticism, makes it immediately appealing. There are atmospheric etudes, aphoristic miniatures, expansive character pieces, and intimate, poetic preludes. Minjeong Shin’s sensitive response to the shifting moods and myriad soundscapes reveals the music’s astonishing variety and virtuosity.

The CD’s comprehensive booklet was written by the composer himself and contains detailed programme notes for each work, together with biographical information on performer and composer.

In Steps Volume 1, and indeed in the other volumes in the cycle, Peter Seabourne has created contemporary piano music which is accessible and appealing to professional and amateur pianists alike (he has also made the score readily available via his website), and it is most gratifying to have such a varied contribution to the ever-growing repertory of new music for piano.

Recommended.

 

Buy Steps Volume 1

Review of the other volumes in the Steps series

 

 

Meet the Artist……Nicola LeFanu, composer

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

My mother was the composer Elizabeth Maconchy, so clearly I had a role model. As a child I was more inclined towards writing plays but gradually composing music took over. No-one pushed me towards a career in music, it chose itself, really.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Four composers: My mother, my husband David Lumsdaine, my first composition teacher, Jeremy Dale Roberts, and my last, Earl Kim.

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

Composition is always a challenge, and one that I welcome. Fashion is a frustration! For example, throughout the seventies and eighties almost everything I wrote was broadcast on Radio 3. Then for the next twenty years very little was broadcast. Now things seem better, as I shall be BBC Radio 3 ‘Composer of the Week’ (April 24-28 2017).

And ‘location’ as well as fashion perhaps, since I moved from London to York in 1994, and UK musical life is very London-centric. (But I love living in York.)

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

It is a pleasure and a stimulus to know the context of a piece – what kind of programme it is part of, who the audience are likely to be and above all, who the performers are. Occasionally it can be a challenge to keep composerly independence while meeting very specific demands of the commission.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

A good working relationship with a performer is the greatest pleasure. And every medium offers its own pleasure – writing for orchestra is marvellous. Yet the challenge also lies in the medium. For example, composing an orchestral work might take a year, but there will only be two or three hours of rehearsal and maybe only one performance. An opera (also at least a year to write) will have two or three weeks of rehearsal and several performances or a run. A much more satisfactory ratio.

Of which works are you most proud?

‘The Old Woman of Beare’, a monodrama for soprano and large chamber ensemble, is perhaps my best piece. But I would also single out a couple of the chamber operas – ‘Light Passing’, a church opera set in Avignon in the 14th century, and ‘Dream Hunter’ which has a great libretto by John Fuller about the Corsican mazzeera.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Lyrical, dramatic. Harmony and voice-leading create and underpin the structure.

How do you work?

I work every morning (no email till after lunch!); I sketch with pencil and paper, then I use Finale to make the fair score. Sometimes I work at the piano and sometimes at a desk, it doesn’t seem to make much difference.

The best days are ones where I work right through but all too often life intervenes and I only get the morning.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I don’t deal with favourites really…Mozart, Janacek? Of my musical friendships, the New Zealand composer Gillian Whitehead is a close friend whose music I admire very much.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The first rehearsal of my first big orchestral piece, ‘The Hidden Landscape’ for the BBCSO at the 1973 Proms.

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

Cultivate your inner ear! Then for the outer ear, know how to value silence and be active in combatting noise pollution,

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

In an opera house watching one of my operas.

What is your most treasured possession?

As a child, my cat. Now that I have no cat, and since I am writing this on March 29th when the Prime Minister took UK out of Europe, I’d say my EU (Irish) passport is my most treasured possession.

To mark Nicola LeFanu’s 70th birthday (28 April 2017), Radio 3 will feature her as ‘Composer of the Week’ from 24-28 April.  Upcoming performances of LeFanu’s music include a birthday concert on 10 May in York with the Goldfield Ensemble, the world premiere of LeFanu’s May Rain in Oxford with the Orchestra of St John’s  on 16 May and the world premiere of The Swan with Jeremy Huw Williams at the Beaumaris Festival on 30 May.  

Nicola LeFanu has composed over a hundred works which have been widely played, broadcast and recorded; her music is published by Novello and by Edition Peters.

She has been commissioned by the BBC, by festivals in UK and beyond, and by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists.

Her catalogue includes a number of works for string ensemble, and chamber music for a wide variety of mediums, often including voice. She has a particular affinity for vocal music and has composed eight operas.

She is active in many aspects of the musical profession, as composer, teacher, director etc. From 1994-2008 she was Professor of Music at the University of York. Recent premieres include works for chamber ensemble, for solo instrumentalists, Tokaido Road – a Journey after Hiroshige (music theatre) and Threnody for orchestra.

She was born in England in 1947: her mother was the composer Elizabeth Maconchy. LeFanu studied at Oxford, RCM and, as a Harkness Fellow, at Harvard. She is married to the Australian composer David Lumsdaine and they have a son, Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine.

www.nicolalefanu.com

There’s just one problem: I don’t want to read the notes

Guest post by Dr Michael Low

I have a confession: I don’t like to engage in online debates. The thought of someone meticulously sharpening their proverbial pitch-fork in response to my opinion is almost as terrifying as anticipating the climax of Stanley Kubrick’s Shining, where the psychotic Jack broke through the bathroom to find the terrified Wendy, before shouting the ominous cinematic caption: ‘Here’s Johnny!’ I am also not the biggest fan of text messages and emails, as they can be open to misunderstanding due to the recipient’s frame of mind and emotional state. Or perhaps I am not a fan of all these because I am just a voyeur, which would possibly explain why I have always have an affinity for Schubert’s Winterreise and an undying love for the movie theatre. 

Having read the Charlotte Gill’s original article on music education and the responses that it generated, part of me was tempted not to say anything; what difference would my opinion make? I do, after all, live in a country which has recently been downgraded to ‘junk’ status (the result of the South African president’s catastrophic cabinet reshuffle). Sweeping statement perhaps, but there has always been a difference in the reception of the opinions of someone who works in a first-world country and those of someone who works in Africa; for all its breath-taking scenery, somehow being a music educator in Cape Town doesn’t carry as much gravitas as being one in Europe. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, I probably practise the piano inside a straw hut, while predators such as lions and leopards huff and puff outside my front door, regardless of my credentials.

I have no idea in what context Gill’s article was written. However, in my opinion it is important to keep in mind that she was (unconsciously) addressing two things: the first was music education being ‘elitist’ due to the technical hindrance caused by music notation:

 

This is a cryptic, tricky language – rather like Latin – that can only be read by a small number of people, most of whom have benefited from private education. Children who do not have the resources, or ability, to comprehend it, are written off. Even when they are capable performers.

 

The second was music as a hobby. (It must be said that Gill was not explicit in her description of music as a recreational activity, but it is implied in her statement):

 

‘I play the piano through reading letters alone (D/F#, for example), churning out chords as if it were a guitar. In the US I have seen children pick up songs through tablature alone. Sure, we may not be able to tell the difference between the bass and treble clef, but we can play our favourite songs. That is all I ever wanted from music.’

 

I will address the second point before the first.

Despite being a musical snob, I do believe that there is a place for playing your favourite music without the use of traditional music notation, YouTube features countless pop songs and soundtrack tutorials, some of which are excellent to assist those who are looking for a more straight-forward way of accessing their favourite piece of music. However, just as there are those who aspire only to play their favourite songs, there are also a handful of us who seek to study and perform music at a higher level (by this I mean a more formal music education such as obtaining a degree or studying towards a Conservatoire-type performance diploma). In our studies, we seek to understand the aesthetic value behind a Beethoven sonata or a Rachmaninov concerto. Music is no longer a mere ‘hobby,’ but a significant part of our life: we live it, breathe it, sleep with it and it haunts us in our dreams. The repertoire that interest us are not Adele songs or Richard Clayderman type piano ballades but Schubert sonatas, Brahms concerti, Chopin preludes, etc, and the most straightforward way of accessing these works is through music notation, as it is the primary source of the composer’s musical intention. Similarly, any academic in tertiary level will always look to reference a primary source during research, it is only when this is not possible that a secondary source is quoted. Here is another analogy: reciting and performing Shakespeare through imitation is not nearly the same as actually taking time to study and understand the poet’s original writing. I personally have no interest in studying or performing Shakespeare, I learn to read purely so that I can enjoy reading sports journalism, online articles and browsing the web. At the same time, I do not think I have the right (or audacity) to be critical of the language that the poet used just because I cannot relate to it.

As human beings, being a specialist or expert in one’s chosen field does not make us better than our amateur counterparts, but it does – in some cases – make us much more obsessive. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that there will always be a place for everyone, and just as an enthusiastic hacker of the golf ball will probably never reach the dizzy height of a touring golf professional, this has not stop me from enjoying the game, and in the process, attaining a sense of satisfaction every time I hit a good shot.

I do not think music notation is difficult to understand, yet at the same time I do not think it is easy either, and just like everything else in life that is worth doing, comprehension of music notation requires effort and, more importantly, time, but unfortunately this is where things begins to go awry with the current generation of music students. This is an issue I will address below.

I agree with Gill’s argument that auditory perception and other skills can be as important as notation. I, for one, see shapes and patterns on the piano when it comes to memorising a piece of music. I have had the experience of teaching a small handful of students who, despite their enormous desire to play the piano, find it very difficult to tell the difference between a note written on a line of the stave and a note written in a space. The situation literally got out of out of hand (no pun intended!) when we moved on to playing hands together. In these cases I agree that a methodology outside music notation may work very well in order to enhance the student’s enjoyment of music. However, it is also my experience that a number of students cannot read music notation not because they do not have the ability to do so but simply because they chose not to. This is in consistent with the age of social media that reward narcissistic selfies and instantaneous gratification; as soon as something gets remotely difficult, you either give up or try something else. I have been asked by one of my students, ‘Dr Low, why do I need to learn how to read the notes? You can just show me where everything goes, it would save both of us a lot of time.’ To which I answered, ‘In that case you don’t need me as your teacher, you need YouTube.’ Perhaps I am ‘too understanding’ (to borrow the words of a generous parent), but I can sympathise with the initial struggle of learning music notation. However, just like learning a new language or a new skill, the more you familiarise yourself with it, the easier it becomes. I also suspect that the unwillingness of certain students to read music notation has much to do with the physical make-up of the piano, as it is one of the few instruments that allow the student to be taught by rote. And although YouTube tutorial clips have their place in enhancing and assisting a music enthusiast, it can also have a converse effect. I have seen a number of my technically savvy (and at the same time immensely musical) students and friends doing themselves a huge disservice by underestimating the importance of music notation. Excuses include ‘It just takes too long’ or ‘I don’t have the time’, along with ‘I just want to play music for fun, not properly’.

In response to Gill’s statement about still not being able to sight-read, I too must confess that I was an exceptionally poor sight-reader throughout my University years – which was papered over by my obsessive practice routine. It was only later in life that I realised that one doesn’t study Beethoven’s Hammerklavier Sonata by just practising the Hammerklavier, but also by studying the rest of Beethoven’s piano output. However, this does mean that (despite my ability to perform repertoire such as the Brahms F-minor Sonata, Liszt transcriptions and Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto) I have never featured prominently in the music department’s performance calendar. I guess there are only so many times when you can say to your fellow colleagues, ‘Send me the music beforehand’. The situation reached its all-time low (again, no pun intended!) during the first year of my teaching when I was swamped with music to learn for school plays and assemblies – the actual difficulties of these music were only about Grade 4 level at most, but because I am not used to learning pieces quickly I ended up making an absolute hack of everything. It didn’t exactly help that my predecessor was an accompanist of note and could read (almost) anything under the sun. My musical ego took a further dent when a former colleague, who I was very friendly with at the time, told me that a senior member of staff had now stressed her reservations about my musicianship. Looking back, this was precisely the kick up the backside that I needed as it gave me every motivation to do something about my sight-reading. And if I can, at the age of twenty-nine, learn to sight read and make a success of it (I am by no means a voracious sight-reader, but I am a hell of a lot better than what I was ten years ago), then I truly believe that there is hope for everyone who is willing to give music notation a go.

Perhaps I am a hopeful Romantic (as opposed to a hopeless one), but teaching someone how to read music notation goes beyond just equipping them with the intellectual know-how of playing a piece of music. Just like any self-respecting teacher of literature, I strongly feel that it is a music teacher’s duty to introduce his/her students to the scores of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, etc. How would a teacher of German literature feel if his/her students went through their entire high-school career without having read a word of Die Leiden des jungen Werthers or Faust? I am not for a moment suggesting that all teachers do a Martin Krause (Krause was one of Liszt’s student and taught the likes of Claudio Arrau and Edwin Fisher) and set our students the whole of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes to learn for homework, which was what Arrau got when he started his studies with Krause. But perhaps an introduction to some of the more well-known works of the Classical music literature: I recall smiling widely when one of my student remarked that the transition between the slow movement and finale of Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto reminded him of ‘a sun gradually rising at dawn.’ Finally, through the importance of music notation, a teacher is able to teach a student skills such as ethics, discipline: how to practise more efficiently and intelligently; integrity: to respect the composer’s score; grit: to persist and keep going once you have the goal in sight; and communication. All of these, when applied to someone’s everyday live, will not only make them a better person, but help them to make a difference to society.

In anticipation of the Chinese (Lunar) New Year of 2017, my girlfriend send me a short video on the meaning of the annual celebration as well as the symbols that a pair of chopsticks hold. In this poignant film, there was a scene where a mum introduces her daughter to a pair of chopsticks for the very first time. At first the daughter was intrigued by this strange culinary invention, but as she tries to use them her efforts quickly spiral into frustration, and frustration soon turns to tears. While her daughter is upset and close to giving up, mum remain calm and continues to encourage the teary infant, who eventually succeeded in using the chopsticks to eat her dinner, with a beaming grin. As music teachers, the understanding of music notation is of paramount importance when it comes to the interpretation of the composer’s musical intentions. However, we must also bear in mind that every student is different and unique in his/her own way, hence our job is to merely locate and open the door, but (ultimately) it is the student’s decision to walk through it. I will not, even for one second, bat an eyelid if my girlfriend decides to ask for a spoon and a fork when we dine at our favourite Chinese restaurant. But she is adamant about using chopsticks as they are much more rewarding when sampling Oriental cuisine.

 

As a teenager, Michael studied piano under the guidance of Richard Frostick before enrolling in London’s prestigious Centre for Young Musicians, where he studied composition with the English composer Julian Grant, and piano with the internationally acclaimed pedagogue Graham Fitch. During his studies at Surrey University in England, Michael made his debut playing Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto in the 1999 Guildford International Music Festival, before graduating with Honours under the tutelage of Clive Williamson. In 2000, Michael obtained his Masters in Music (also from Surrey University), specialising in music criticism, studio production and solo performance under Nils Franke. An international scholarship brought Michael to the University of Cape Town, where he resumed his studies with Graham Fitch. During this time, Michael was invited to perform Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto for The Penang Governer’s Birthday Celebration Gala Concert. In 2009, Michael obtained his Doctorate in Music from the University of Cape Town under the supervision of Hendrik Hofmeyr. His thesis set out to explore the Influence of Romanticism on the Evolution of Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes. Michael has also worked with numerous eminent teachers and pianists, including Nina Svetlanova, Niel Immelman, Frank Heneghan, James Gibb, Phillip Fowke, Renna Kellaway, Carolina Oltsmann, Florian Uhlig, Gordon Fergus Thompson, Francois du Toit and Helena van Heerden.

Michael currently holds teaching positions in two of Cape Town’s exclusive education centres: Western Province Preparatory School and Herschel School for Girls. He is very much sought after as a passionate educator of young children

 

http://www.michaelow.co.za

How can I say I Love You?

I’m often asked in interviews why I love Schumann so much. I never answer properly – how can one explain WHY one loves anyone? Inexplicable

I ADORE the Geister variations. But yes, I love practically all Schumann – as one loves everything about a friend

– Steven Isserlis (via Twitter)

He’s right: it really is impossible to explain why one loves a particular composer….. I love Schubert, Beethoven, Debussy and Bach. I also love Mozart, Messiaen, Chopin, Rachmaninov and Joni Mitchell. They are all, for me, like friends.

If pushed, I could probably cobble together a paragraph of reasons why I love Schubert (intimacy, unexpected harmonies, lyricism, bittersweet emotions) or Beethoven, or Debussy or Chopin, but I’d prefer not to, if you don’t mind.

Somehow, having to explain or justify one’s love in this way devalues it. And why should we have to explain love – that most inexplicable, irrational, ineffable emotion – anyway?

 

 

 

Meditative stillness: ‘Stations of the Cross’ by Simon Vincent

simon_vincent__stations_of_the_cross‘Stations of the Cross’, a new work for solo piano by British composer and pianist Simon Vincent, was inspired by a visit to Jerusalem in 2015 and by William Fairbanks’ installation in Lincoln Cathedral. Entitled Forest Stations, the installation is a series of sculptures in wood and reflects Fairbanks’ love of timber and his concern about the preservation of forests and trees. The sculptures tell the story of Christ’s death, the ‘Stations of the Cross’ being the places on the route to the place of Crucifixion where Christ is said to have stopped. For the faithful, each station, or stopping point, provides a point of prayer and meditation on the Passion of Christ.

Simon Vincent’s ‘Stations of the Cross’ (2016) is a series of 17 short movements, depicting Christ’s spiritual, emotional and corporeal journey to his death on the cross.

It is intended that the work opens up reflection and discussion of the image of a sole human figure weighed down with burden, an image which for me raises issues of the relationship of the individual to both a society and state which are not only capable of looking away but also of allowing suffering: themes of truly vital relevance to us today

– Simon Vincent

The work is prefaced by an earlier piece, ‘Meditations on Christ in the Garden of Gethsamane’ (2013) whose sombre, reflective mood prepares the listener for the main work on the disc. Musically, ‘Stations of the Cross’ owes much to Morton Feldman, master of stillness and controlled, deliberate silences, while the concept of a cycle of devotional meditations connects this work to Messiaen’s epic ‘Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus’. 

Vincent’s carefully-placed chords are infused with jazz harmonies, while subtleties of tonal colour are achieved through long, sustained notes and the piano’s resonance. It’s the kind of music that demands to be heard live, preferably in an acoustic which allows the timbres and unexpected fleeting clusters of notes and rhythmic fragments to linger in the air like memories.

It was Claude Debussy who declared that “music is the space between the notes”, and the pauses and fermatas which colour ‘Stations of the Cross’ allow one to fully appreciate every single note and chord. Into this void, the sounds reverberate and resonate with a meditative stillness and restrained expressive gravity. The effect is powerfully cumulative, despite the brevity of each movement, with a sense of the music building inevitably towards its contemplative conclusion.

The work receives its world premiere on 18th April 2017 in a concert given by the composer in the Chapter House of Lincoln Cathedral. Further information

A Meet the Artist interview with Simon Vincent will be published shortly.

 

Meet the Artist…..Ivana Gavric, pianist

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

I have been surrounded by music since birth. My mother is a pianist and teacher and I spent my childhood listening to her practice and being taken to concerts, the opera and ballet. I was particularly fascinated to hear and see ‘magic’ on stage, and then meet the artists afterwards, with their ‘mask’ off. I started attending the Sarajevo Junior Music School before I started main school. I do remember wanting to be an opera singer initially, but the piano somehow won, and I am very happy that it did! Although I loved being immersed in music, later, if anything, I almost tried to avoid it as a career.

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

My long-term teachers, Niel Immelman and Peter Bithell. Working with singers while I was a student – they taught me how to breathe, phrase and tell a story. Dmitry Bashkirov who taught me to listen and colour every note in a way I didn’t think possible before. Steven Kovacevich for instilling discipline in me!

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

Learning to say no.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My debut disc ‘In the mists’, because it had humble beginnings as an intended demo CD: As a coincidence, shortly after I recorded a few pieces at Champs Hill, Champs Hill Records was set up. They took my disc on, it was launched at my first Wigmore recital in 2010 and suddenly it started to receive wonderful reviews worldwide culminating in the Newcomer of the Year award from the BBC Music Magazine.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Usually what I’m playing at the time, especially if I am revisiting a work after some time away from it.

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

Mostly, there is a thread to my programming, a story. I try to bind together works I am drawn to play, and sometimes ones I have been asked to play, into a well-structured and balanced programme.

I have realised, somewhat retrospectively, that I have been especially drawn to composers who have sought to develop a sense of a national voice through their music. It all begun with my intrigue of the Russian Mighty Five while I was still at Cambridge. I then immersed myself in Janacek’s oeuvre, and afterwards in Grieg’s. More recently, I have loved spending time with Chopin Mazurkas. Although they are very stylised and sophisticated works, some, especially the early ones, are rather rustic and jagged, and I find this quite charming.

I’m also excited and honoured that one of the most interesting living composers, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, will be writing a Piano Concerto for me next year, in homage to the Haydn D major Concerto. It’s been long-in-planning but we’re very happy to make it happen. I wish promoters were not so afraid of commissioning new works.

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

The Wigmore Hall, of course! It’s a beautiful and intimate venue.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Favourite pieces to perform: in short, piano concertos. There is no greater feeling to me, than the thrill of playing concerti, and especially when it feels like you and the orchestra are making chamber music together, on a large scale. With listening, I usually go back to the same pieces: Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, Rachmaninov Songs and anything written for the Ballets Russes. I’m also very fond of Ivor Cutler’ quirky recordings. Most of the time though, I just love putting the radio on.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Benno Moiseiwitsch, Annie Fischer, Ivan Fischer, Bernard Haitink, Teodor Currentzis.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Every concert experience is memorable in some way. Performing concerts is such an intense and intimate experience, and yet over in an instant, that nothing else I know comes close.

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

Grab every opportunity. Remember that we spend our days with beautiful things.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Dancing!

 

Ivana Gavric will be performing at the Wigmore Hall on Sunday 23rd April at 1130am, as part of the Coffee Concerts Series. Further information here

Her new album ‘Chopin’ will be released on Edition Classics on Friday 21st April and is available for pre-order now

 

British pianist Ivana Gavric created a sensation with her debut disc In the mists, winning BBC Music Magazine Newcomer of the Year for ‘playing of an altogether extraordinary calibre’. Her third disc of works by Grieg, also on Champs Hill Records, was selected as Editor’s Choice in Gramophone and noted for ‘an electrifying performance’ (BBC Music Magazine). The Grieg Society has voted the CD as its ‘Recording of the Year’. Ivana has performed with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Stockholm Philharmonic, the Trondheim Soloists, Aurora Orchestra and South Denmark Philharmonie. She has collaborated with conductors including Rafael Payare, Nicholas Collon, Christian Kluxen and Ben Gernon.

Following her US solo debut, the Washington Post described Ivana’s playing as ‘impressive, insightful… a ravishing performance’. Ivana has been heard on the major concert platforms including The Wigmore Hall, the Barbican, Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, KKL Lucerne, Gilmore Festival Rising Star Series, as well as across China, in Canada and Japan. Attracting considerable praise for her interpretations of Janacek’s music in particular, Ivana has curated festivals dedicated to the composer’s solo and chamber works. Also a dedicated chamber musician, Ivana performed with violinist Maxim Vengerov as part of Live Music Now, the outreach scheme established by the late Lord Menuhin.


She has partnered colleagues on the concert platform in festivals in the UK and Europe, taken part in the IMS Prussia Cove Open Chamber Music Sessions and is an alumna of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme. Outside the concert hall she is featured playing Chopin and Beethoven in BBC2’s adaptation of The Line of Beauty, and Bach in Anthony Minghella’s film Breaking and Entering.

Born into a musical family in Sarajevo, and raised in the UK, Ivana studied at the University of Cambridge and at the Royal College of Music. Her teachers include Niel Immelman, Peter Bithell and James Gibb. Additionally, Ivana has had the opportunity to study with esteemed musicians such as Menahem Pressler, Ferenc Rados, Dmitry Bashkirov, Boris Berman, Stephen Kovacevich and Leif Ove Andsnes. Ivana is indebted to the support of many trusts, including the Frankopan Fund (Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts), the MBF, The Solti Foundation, The Nicholas Boas Trust, The Richard Carne Trust and the RVW Trust. Ivana is proud to be an Ambassador for the charity ‘Music Action International’.

www.ivanagavric.com

Music at Paxton Festival 2017

Music at Paxton Festival

14 – 23 July 2017

www.musicatpaxton.co.uk

“Intimate festival presenting the finest international chamber music in a stunning backdrop of works from the National Galleries collection.”

  • Mahan Esfahani plays the Goldberg Variations
  • Promenade concert taking in main reception rooms
  • Carducci Quartet play Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro with young Scottish musicians
  • Cello Masterclass with Pieter Wispelwey
  • Sunday morning concerts
  • Continuing this year: two FREE ‘Music at Paxton…Plus’ concerts

Music at Paxton, a summer festival of top class international chamber music, takes place in Paxton House on the banks of the River Tweed in the Scottish Borders from 14 – 23 July 2017. The daily concerts offer an intimate, friendly and relaxed experience and take place in Paxton House’s splendid Picture Gallery. With its large, domed roof-light that lets in the summer sun, and walls hung high with paintings from the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection, it is an idyllic setting for chamber music.

The string quartet features prominently and the festival welcomes three this year: the Elias Quartet (Saturday 22 July, 7.30pm) who make their Paxton debut with two pillars of the chamber music repertoire Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’ and Schumann’s Piano Quintet; the Carducci Quartet (Saturday 15 July, 7.30pm) with a programme of Shostakovich, Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, and Ravel’s gloriously sunny Introduction and Allegro; and the Quatuor Zaïde from Paris, (Tuesday 18 July, 7.30pm) who open with the glittering sonorities of Debussy, followed by Schubert’s towering G major Quartet.

Harpsichord virtuoso Mahan Esfahani returns to Music at Paxton with two recitals this year. Renowned for his championing of the instrument, from the Baroque to the 20th century, Mahan Esfahani’s morning concert features music by Rameau, Martinů, and Swiss composer Pieter Mieg (Sunday 16 July, 11.30am). He returns that evening (Sunday 16 July, 6pm) to perform J S Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

No stranger to Music at Paxton, pianist Steven Osborne (Friday 14 July, 7.30pm) performs his critically acclaimed interpretations of Rachmaninov’s virtuosic tonal studies Études Tableaux Op 33 and Études Tableaux Op 39 alongside Debussy and Brahms.

Following his visit last year, the renowned cellist Pieter Wispelwey returns to complete the set of Suites for Solo Cello by J S Bach (Sunday 23 July, 6pm), with a public masterclass immediately beforehand (Sunday 23 July, 1.30pm).

On Thursday 20 July at 7.30pm, Baroque violinist Bojan Cicic brings his star-studded Illyria Consort (Bojan Cicic violin and viola d’amore, Susanne Heinrich viola da gamba, David Miller theorbo and baroque guitar, and Steven Devine harpsichord) for a feast of Baroque music in this celebration of Handel and his London contemporaries including Handel, Carbonelli, Ariosti and Corbetta. Former BBC New Generation artist, soprano Ruby Hughes makes her debut at the Festival, performing Schubert, Schumann and Mahler, with pianist Joseph Middleton (Friday 21 July, 7.30pm).

Presenting musicians earlier in their careers and integrating them into the programme remains of key importance to Music at Paxton. The Festival proudly continues its relationship with Live Music Now Scotland and this year sees the return of many of their alumni, some sharing the stage with leading international artists, in addition to those currently under their wing. Featured artists in this year’s Festival are Sirocco Winds, Emma Wilkins (alumni), and Calum Robertson, Marco Ramelli and Aonach Mòr (current).  New this year will be the Promenade Concert, taking in some of Paxton House’s reception rooms and featuring music from Emma Wilkins (flute), Esther Swift (harp) and Calum Robertson (clarinet) (Saturday 15 July, 4pm).

Aonach Mòr combines the talents of Claire Hastings, Grant McFarlane and Ron Jappy to create an exciting blend of songs and tunes (Sunday 16 July, 3.30 pm) featuring accordion, fiddle and guitar. Sirocco Winds, a brilliant young ensemble of current Masters students and graduates of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, perform Ligeti, Berio, Barber, Schifrin, Gershwin and Piazzolla (Wednesday 19 July, 7.30pm).

Young Milan born guitarist and composer Marco Ramelli performs works from Spain and South America (Saturday 22 July, 4pm) in the intimate surroundings of the Dining Room at Paxton House and Benjamin Frith brings a lyrical programme of Scarlatti, Mendelssohn, Chopin and Stanford, designed for a relaxing hour on a Sunday morning (Sunday 23 July, 11.30am).

Once again, in conjunction with Live Music Now Scotland and Paxton House, the extremely successful free one-hour taster concerts ‘Music at Paxton…Plus’ return to the festival. On Sunday 14 May at 2.30pm, guitarist Marco Ramelli performs works by Tarrega, Albéniz and Paganin and Calum Robertson (clarinet) and Juliette Philogene (piano) join forces on Sunday 4 June at 2.30pm for a programme of Jean Françaix, George Gershwin and Edward Gregson.

Helen Jamieson, Artistic Director for Music at Paxton, said: “This year’s festival is more ambitious than ever and we will be using every available space – from the marquee to the magnificent Dining Room – and every minute of these wonderful musicians’ time to provide the best and most varied event possible. There will be music from Bach to Beamish and from Scottish Traditional to Philip Glass. New this year is a cello masterclass by the renowned Pieter Wispelwey, a Promenade concert, for which Paxton House will open its main reception rooms to our musicians and audiences and two Sunday morning concerts for the early risers.”

Music at Paxton offers Sunday morning keyboard recitals, varied afternoon events including folk music in the marquee, two intimate recitals in the Dining Room, and a musical tour exploring some of the principal reception rooms of the 18th century neo-Palladian mansion.

(source: press release)

Cognitive Hypnotherapy for musicians with performance anxiety

Guest post by Christina Cooper

From the moment that I started playing, my heightened adrenaline had perceived ‘allegro con fuoco’ to mean ‘presto,’ almost without my permission. Almost immediately, the running thread of demi-semiquavers which underpin the melody throughout the entire piece threatened to unravel like a stitch that had been picked open. The panic inside my head was immense. I was picturing the whole thing falling apart and me running offstage in floods of tears, feeling like a complete failure. All this was happening whilst my fingers continued to hammer out those demi-semis like a runaway train. My subconscious was holding me hostage, and I had no conscious control of what I was doing. I just had to surrender to my unconscious mind whilst in a constant state of total panic, fearing the worst at any point. 

On of the reasons peformance anxiety hits so hard is because it threatens our identity. Are you more likely to say to somebody: ‘I play piano,’ or ‘I am a pianist?’ Certainly professionals will likely say the latter, and perhaps many amateurs too. Being a musician is something which becomes so bound up in your identity, especially if you choose to make a career out of it. We are all programmed to give ourselves an identity which often sums up our greatest purpose in life, whether as a lawyer, cleaner, tennis payer, housewife, banker, artist, musician, or other profession. So when we perform, we are not just playing our instrument, but being our instrument. When we perform we put our whole identity out there to be scrutinised. If we perform well, we might receive praise and money; if we do badly we may be criticised and may not be booked again. This can leave you feeling worthless, as though you have been rejected as a person, not just for your playing. Add to this, the social pressures of playing in orchestras and ensembles; whether you bought the teas for your section, whether you drank with your section, whether you asked too many questions in rehearsals, whether you showed too much personality, and the recipe for performance anxiety based on identity becomes magnified. Paradoxically, if you are an orchestral player, you have to lose your sense of identity in order to fit in, but in lots of ways it is your identity which you feel is being judged above everything else.

If you look hard, as I did, you might find some resources around which aim to help musicians to overcome their anxiety, and while these may work well for some, for others they merely take the edge off the nerves. For years none of these worked for me at all, until I stumbled across something called Cognitive Hypnotherapy. Within 6 months my performance anxiety was gone. I realised that this method is truly life-changing, and I decided to train in it. I now have my own therapy business in Performance Coaching for musicians, to help them to overcome their performance anxiety.

At the heart of Cognitive Hypnotherapy is the understanding that we are all different, and we each have our own model of the world which is completely unique to us. Another key element recognises that the functioning of our brain is far simpler than we think. What this means is that the reason for our performance anxiety could be linked back to one ‘small’ event which most likely happened early on in our childhood, such as having to stand up and sing in front of the class, and feeling humiliated when we couldn’t do it well. The key here is that as a child, it will have been a significant emotional event, as our thinking at this age is nominal: we only know whether something is good or bad. Our subconscious mind then documents this event, and looks for consequent events which may be similar, and tries to prevent us from making the same mistake again. So the more we perform, the more likely we are to have bad performances because the subconscious desperately tries to get us out of the situation by pumping adrenaline through our body. The more often we experience this the more our brain will then compute that ‘when I perform I will play badly’ and over time this leads to ‘I am a bad performer/pianist/violinist/musician, or ‘I cannot play without nerves,’ and consequently the anxiety often gets worse over time.

As a Cognitive Hypnotherapist I find that often at the core of a musician’s performance anxiety is a sense of low self-esteem. This is not surprising, due to the rigours of training from an early age, and always being told you can do better, being up against constant competition, being a perfectionist and always comparing yourself to others. Often it can develop from a demanding parent or teacher, making you believe that what you do is never good enough. Of course this then often becomes linked to your identity and not being good enough as a person.

In therapy, I connect with your model of the world and use this to speak directly to your subconscious in a special language it understands. This communication is incredibly powerful, and because the brain is plastic, it will respond by literally rewiring itself. In combination with specific techniques which incorporate neuroscience, CBT, traditional hypnotherapy, NLP, positive psychology and many other therapeutic/scientific fields, we work to reprogram your brain’s faulty wiring, create new positive pathways and reframe the negative to positive. The astounding thing about this is potentially how quickly this can happen. Sometimes in as little as 3 sessions, and certainly by 6, it is possible to make huge changes in relation to your performance anxiety, within the space of about 3-6 months. We aim to either overcome it completely, or reach a level which is manageable, and this entirely depends on the outcome you want. So to all my fellow musicians out there, I think I might know what you are going through, and if you need my help, please get in touch. You are far greater than your anxiety.


Christina Cooper is a cognitive hypnotherapist, and runs her own performance coaching practice based in Clerkenwell, Central London. Her therapy practice, Cognitive Harmony, specialises in helping musicians with performance anxiety. Alongside this she teaches piano and double bass privately in South-East London. She began her career as a professional orchestral double bass player, having studied at the Royal Academy of Music, and the Juilliard School in New York. During her freelance career she performed with many orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, English Chamber Orchestra, Opera North, English Touring Opera, English National Ballet and St.Petersburg Ballet. She recently hung up her bow to develop another burning passion in her life, the piano, and her second calling in life, to become a therapist. As a pianist, she has recently gained her LTCL in piano performance from Trinity College of Music, and performs regularly as a solo pianist in venues across London, including Southwark Cathedral, St.Paul’s Covent Garden, Citylit, and the 1901 Arts Club Waterloo.

 

 

 

 

If you listen to one thing this week……

Two things, in fact…..

The first is Renée Reznek‘s new disc From My Beloved Country: New South African Piano Music, which features works by Neo Muyanga, Kevin Volans, Michael Blake, Rob Fokkens, Hendrik Hofmeyr, Peter Klatzow, David Earl and David Kosviner. Some of the works were commissioned by Reznek, including ‘Hade Tata’ (Neo Muyanga, 2013), composed in honour of Nelson Mandela. It opens with a haunting 4- note dirge motif which provides the theme for this programmatic piece whose title translates as “sorry, father”. Written as a tribute to Mandela on the 20th anniversary of South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994, the music is suffused traditional Sesotho and Zulu music with Ethiopian melismatic style, jazz and western classical music idioms. It celebrates Mandela’s childhood, his release from prison, and the weight of expectations placed upon him following his release to create a new South Africa.

Kevin Volans’ ‘PMB Impromptu’ (2014) was written “as a little tribute to Renee Reznek’s amazing fingerwork”. It appears to reference the minimalism of composers such as Reich and Adams, but it also pays homage to Debussy in a reworked passage from l’Isle Joyeuse, and Sindling’s ‘Rustle of Spring’. Reznek’s clarity and tonal colour really brings this music to life.

Volans’ ‘A Garden of Forking Paths’ is taken from his Progressively Prickly Piano Pieces, part of a graded series for players of all ages. Here, tonal control and sensitive use of the piano’s resonance create a piece whose meditative mood contrasts perfectly with the previous work.

Two works by Michael Blake from his six-volume cycle Afrikosmos reference Eastern Cape uhadi music, and the connection between this and Bartok’s Mikrokosmos, much of which draws on the folk music of his homeland. Meanwhile, Rob Fokkens’ ‘Five Miniatures’ also explores South African music, but in a concentrated form. These pieces offer ‘micro-studies’ in melody, rhythm, tonal palette and texture.

Partita Africana (Hendrik Hofmeyer) is one of the longer works on the disc. Darker in character, it merges the Baroque prelude and fugue with elements found in African music, including the pentatonic scale, repetitive melodic elements and irregular pulse. It’s an imposing work which evokes the vastness of the African plains.

Peter Klatzow’s ‘Barcarolle (Arnold Schoneberg in Venice)’ is a moody, atmospheric work which commemorates Schoenberg’s visit to Venice in 1925, and the piece includes motifs from the second of his Three Piano Pieces op 11. Reznek highlights the music’s inherent lyricism with a warm sound and sensitive pacing.

‘Song Without Words’ (David Earl) has a personal association for Reznek – it was composed as a wedding present for her daughter and was played during her wedding ceremony. It has the charm and lyricism of a song without words by Mendelssohn, with hymn-like elements in keeping with the ceremony. Earl’s ‘Barcarolle’ was also written in celebration of a family event: commissioned by Reznek on the occasion of her daughter’s engagement, the piece owes something to late Liszt in its haunting, rolling motifs and dramatic climaxes before the music settles into more peaceful waters. These works are played with great warmth and affection by Reznek.

The final work on the disc is ‘Mbira Melody’ (David Kosvner) which celebrates the African “thumb piano”, a instrument consisting of a wooden board with staggered metal keys, which are plucked with the thumbs. Redolent of Volan’s ‘PMB Impromptu’, it is also minimalist in style with its repeating figures and perpetuum mobile character. It ends with a witty chord.

This varied and imaginative collection of piano music reflects the influence of Western European music on South African composers, while also paying homage to the folk music and vernacular of the country. Reznek’s very personal affinity with the highly varied musical idioms presented in this collection is clear from the warmth and ease which is evident throughout, yet she is alert to the myriad moods and characters of each piece, creating an album which is both refreshing and revelatory.

Recommended.

From My Beloved Country is available on the Prima Facie label

https://soundcloud.com/ascrecords/renee-reznek?in=ascrecords/sets/prima-facie-records

5060113443885Scottish pianist Christopher Guild‘s second volume of piano music by Ronald Stevenson could equally be subtitled “From My Beloved Country….”. Although born in Blackburn in Lancashire, Stevenson’s father was a Scot, and the composer settled in the Scottish Border village of West Linton, south of Edinburgh. Scotland proved to be one of the profoundest influences on his life, and this album attests to that: it contains music directly influenced by or drawn from Scottish landscape, heritage and culture, together with works inspired by his creative friendships with other musicians. The album also contains several premiere recordings, including ‘Three Scots Fairy Tales’ which reveal Stevenson’s concern to create attractive and enjoyable music for young piano students. Christopher Guild responds to this by playing the pieces not as simplistic children’s music but instead brings great charm to these miniatures, highlighting their musical sophistication – for example, ‘What the Fairy Harper Told Me’ has Debussyan idioms and offers practise in the use of the sustaining pedal over rolled chords, as well as developing a sweet tone.

The most substantial work on the disc is ‘A Carlyle Suite’ (1995), written to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Thomas Carlyle. It’s a hommage to Carlyle from different viewpoints, and not only those which look directly at Carlyle himself. The second movement, for example, portrays an imaginary recital between Chopin and Jane Carlyle in Chelsea in 1848. Motifs and fragments drawn from Chopin’s mazurkas and a Valse Triste, all presented in a Bel Canto style, mingle with allusions to distinctly Scottish idioms. The seven movements of ‘A Carlyle Suite’ which follow are a ‘Study in historical styles on Frederick the Great’s theme’ (used to J S Bach in the ‘Musical Offering’), a set of variations which explore different musical devices and styles, from a French Baroque Overture (Var. 1) to a variation which evokes Debussy’s tonally ambiguous soundworld (the uninformed listener could easily mistake this for Debussy’s own music) with its whole tone scales and piquant, colourful harmonies.

One of the premiere recordings on the disc is of ‘Rory Dall Morison’s Harp Book’ (1978), a group of eight pieces which Stevenson transcribed from the harp book of the blind harper, Rory Dall Morison (c.1676-c.1714), who was born on the isle of Skye. Stevenson brings striking harmonisations and textures, and a simple poignancy to these simple folk melodies, and Christopher Guild’s crisp articulation and attention to detail evoke the sound of a harp, while his warm cantabile sound reminds us that these pieces are undeniably piano works.

The disc opens with ‘Hebridean Seascape’, Stevenson’s skillful reworking of the slow movement of Frank Merrick’s second piano concerto. It’s an evocative work, Lisztian in its scale and virtuosity, with rich orchestral sonorities, swelling melodies and fleeting birdsong, but also imbued with Scottish musical vernacular (the middle section references a Skye fisherwoman’s chant).

Just as on his first disc of Stevenson’s music, Christopher Guild brings a keen sensitivity to the music’s varying idioms and moods – from sprightly dances to the spacious romance of the Hebridean Seascape, there is much to enjoy from Guild’s assured touch and colourful soundworld. Recorded at Turner Sims Hall in Southampton, the piano tone is bright with a warm, rounded bass which really suits this music. Comprehensive liners notes by Christopher Guild accompany the disc, which include touching reminiscences of his meetings with Stevenson. And if you choose to purchase the album as a download, Toccata Classics have helpfully included a download of the liner notes on their website.

Recommended

Ronald Stevenson Piano Music, volume two – Christopher Guild, piano

Toccata Classics, Catalogue No: TOCC0388
EAN/UPC: 5060113443885

 

 

 

 

Meet the Artist……Jonathan Dove, composer

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

Since my earliest years, I’ve had an impulse to make up pieces at the piano, and that hasn’t really changed – except that eventually I learned to write them down, and nowadays often play virtual instruments via a keyboard. When enough people started asking me to write them something, it turned into a career.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Musicians and theatre-makers who asked me to write music for them, including dancer/choreographer Clare Whistler and director Jonathan Kent; and who listened, encouraged and offered constructive criticism, notably composers Stephen Oliver and Julian Grant, conductors David Parry and Brad Cohen, opera-directors Graham Vick and Richard Jones. Probably the most significant of all were two people at Glyndebourne, Katie Tearle and Anthony Whitworth-Jones, who commissioned my first published piece (the wind serenade Figures in the Garden), three community operas, and my first main-stage (and most widely produced) opera – Flight.

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

Trying to get the current piece to be as good as I believe it can be.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

With a commission comes a deadline, without which I never finish a piece. More exciting, there is a date when you know certain musicians will be performing your piece in a particular place. The idea of these wonderful singers or instrumentalists is, in itself, inspiring.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Pandiatonic, rhythmically driven, singable.

How do you work?

Dreamily and fitfully at first, as vague initial ideas start to emerge; then more continuously, as they gradually turn into stronger, more potent ideas. Mostly I work out pieces at the keyboard, but walking and cycling are also an important part of the process.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Mozart, Stravinsky, John Adams

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

Write the music you want to hear.

 

Renowned vocal ensemble VOCES8 will perform Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year (with the composer at the piano) in a special Holy Week concert at St John’s Smith Square on 11th April that brings together themes of beauty, hope, prayer and celebration. Repertoire includes Bach’s cantata Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich BWV150 with French ensemble Les Inventions. Further details here

Born in 1959 to architect parents, Jonathan Dove’s early musical experience came from playing the piano, organ and viola. Later he studied composition with Robin Holloway at Cambridge and, after graduation, worked as a freelance accompanist, repetiteur, animateur and arranger. His early professional experience gave him a deep understanding of singers and the complex mechanics of the opera house. Opera and the voice have been the central priorities in Dove’s output throughout his subsequent career.

Read Jonathan Dove’s full biography here