All posts by The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Pianist, piano teacher, music and arts reviewer, and blogger

Music Notes: Rachmaninoff Dreaming

Guest post by Georgina Imberger

My German teacher at school came from Prague. Frau, we called her. I shrink a little now, on first instinct, when I think that we did that. On second instinct, I think that she probably liked it.  It was a simplistic, naïve affectation and we were predictably naughty little people whose views were yet to expand. I like to think that she had a rueful smile for our cheek. Frau was different from anyone else I had met, and I thought that she and her world were fascinating. I can’t remember any of the words she used to talk about Prague, but I do remember, and still have, the picture of Frau’s Europe that ended up in my teenage head.

In a scene that well dates me to a pre-millennial high school education, we spent much of German class listening to audiotapes. The content on those things was appalling, boring and irrelevant to us, and we had no grace in tolerating it. But the tapes had a piano soundtrack, and while we were raucous, Frau would lose herself a little and sail away in the musical bridges. In those moments, I fancied I saw something that was more real than our suburban lives and more interesting than I yet understood. These memories are where I place the birth of my own love of a sideways turn and where I learnt that a true human story often plays slightly below the script.

Many years later, I finally went to Prague. I was well into my thirties by then, my life was still messy at every turn and my questions spilling out in disruptive mayhem. I went to Frau’s city hoping to meet the Europe that she had packaged for me. I walked the rambling outer suburbs for days, loving every minute. I scoffed at the tourism-gone-mad. I found gigs in dodgy venues, jumping train tracks and drinking booze too cheap to be decent. And on the word of a Czech friend made on one such night, I found myself with a ticket to a local piano recital.

As with most experiences in that chapter of my life, I was slightly hungover and a little wrought when I went. As the audience started coming in, however, my mind sharpened. We were in a community building, in a northern suburb of Prague, beautiful in its scale and simple in its set-up.  There was a chunky great grand in the front and mis-matched chairs. Here it was, Frau’s Prague. And it was filling with warm, searching faces. In an instant, it all felt like an over-due pause in my busy, busy conversation and I sensed a million noisy questions being quietly answered. The young man who came out to play that piano had a smile that knew thirteen-year-old-me. His hair was out of control and his hands were everywhere, even before they hit the keys. It was Rachmaninoff that he started with, the Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2. And it was unspeakably beautiful.  I had never before, and never since, been in the presence of hands and space that could shift the landscape like they did that night.

So here is my Rachmaninoff Dreaming. A tribute to the stories told with 88 keys that drift us away and tell truths like no words can. And a toast to Frau, who had the wisdom to let us see her dream.


Georgina Imberger runs Piano Project, a Melbourne-based venture that sponsors piano lessons for children who are new immigrants to Australia. There is a fundraising concert at the Meat Market in North Melbourne on May 29 at 5.30pm, presenting the New Palm Court Orchestra, lead by pianist/composer Gemma Turvey and featuring flugelhornist Gianni Marinucci. Tickets are $20 and proceeds go to lessons for the kids. Details and tickets are on the website –


Tomplay – an app for an immersive learning and playing experience

Tomplay interactive sheet music offers all musicians an immersive, fun and effective learning and playing experience.

Developed by the Swiss start-up Tombooks, Tomplay interactive sheet music for PC, Mac and iPad offers all musicians and music students the possibility to practise and play along with high-quality musical accompaniments. A cursor moves automatically across the score and the musician plays along with the music (live-recorded musicians, not MIDI like in other similar apps). The musician may also choose to play without the accompaniment. Furthermore, numerous parallel functionalities make learning the piece more dynamic and efficient, such as the possibility to slow down or speed up the tempo of the music, the personalised annotations system, the loop function and the recording function. The musician can also print his or her score, with annotations or without. Download the free iPad app here or try the PC/Mac version here.

The app has its own music store of over 1,000 interactive scores for many instruments including piano, flute, violin, cello and clarinet. The library is quickly expanding by more than 50 interactive scores per week and contains concertos, chamber music, piano four hands, pop, rock, jazz and film soundtracks. A pianist can, for example, play Mozart’s Concerto No. 23 at home, accompanied by an orchestra. In this case, the app plays the live-recorded orchestra track and the musician plays the piano part on top, following the automatic cursor on the interactive score. With the four hands piano pieces, the musician plays either the Primo or the Secondo part, while Tomplay accompanies with the other part. Tomplay’s catalogue also offers a large selection of solo piano pieces. The musician can listen to the music while deciphering the score, making the learning process more efficient and preventing potential mistakes.

Tomplay can be used by music teachers, students and amateur musicians to explore and study repertoire and to experience playing with other musicians without leaving the comfort of your home or practise room. It makes learning music simpler, more enjoyable and more effective.

Tomplay interactive sheet music is available on PC, Mac and iPad. Each score costs between £1.49 and £4.99. A free trial version allows potential users to try the app before committing to a purchase.

Try Tomplay interactive sheet music on PC/Mac for free

Download the free iPad App


(This is a featured post – for more information about featured and sponsored posts click here)



Meet the Artist……Peter Seabourne, composer

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

Chance circumstance! I grew up in a tiny cottage with parents and three siblings, but close to my tenth birthday my grandfather died suddenly and it was suggested that I should go to live with my grandmother in her large farmhouse. From there being no space suddenly there was a great deal! There were few luxuries, but there was a piano, and my grandmother also had a general interest in music. Somehow I think that these two influences got me started. Before I had ever seen an orchestral score I had “invented” it, and by the age of 14 I had written three schoolboy symphonies etc…

Until the age of 16 I attended a very ordinary ex-Secondary Modern school (metalwork, technical drawing, milking the cows and horticulture). I recall taking my Midnight Symphony (80 pages of full score) to the music master one day who practically fell off his chair. He was very supportive and the piece was even performed by local music teachers. But my second stroke of fortune happened when I was awarded a scholarship place to the adjacent independent school. There they fostered my (probably quite thin) talent and enthusiasm for composing, and I was encouraged to apply to read Music at Cambridge.

How does a simple country boy end up there?.. Or three years later taking a doctorate?… I still wonder….

Important though all those were, I really had little idea of what I was doing, even less a voice or much technique. The Professor at Cambridge (I will not cause embarrassment by naming him) honestly told me as much; though I resented it at the time, he was quite correct. A few years ago I helped to commission a work from him, and gently reminded him… – we were both able to laugh!

In fact not long after my doctorate, and despite a fair degree of apparent success, I decided to abandon writing altogether. I looked through the microscope to see nothing; I also increasingly came to despise the whole new music world. So I hibernated for twelve silent years…

In 2001 I was suddenly fired up to write again. My good friend Michael Bell, pianist, directly challenged me to write again – it was a necessary, if rude, awakening! One of his students showed precocious musical gift and somehow these two catalysts, both playing in front of me daily, conspired to open my eyes to what had lain dormant. The result was a sudden flowering – it was as if a voice arrived ready-formed – the pen moved itself. I had never felt such confident ease in writing. This flood has remained undiminished now for fourteen years.

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

I am sure we can all think of specific “moments” – little glimpses of another plane. From my humble background of course everything was eye-opening, but as a teenager I was especially struck by encountering Schubert’s Die Winterreise, the delicate transparency that opens Peter Grimes, Strauss’s 4 Last Songs, Boris Godunov and so forth.

But the greatest sculptors of my musical psyche are the works of Leoš Janáček and Gustav Mahler, both of whom, like the painter Edvard Munch, dared to “compose their lives”, “to live in their compositions”. They taught me that music is not about playing games with notes, or some kind of “progressive scientific research”, but about conveying that life force that drives us, warts and all. We are each individual pebbles on the seashore, and each make our own splash in the ocean.

There have also been personal encounters: Robin Holloway, my first teacher, showed that one could fly in the face of orthodoxy (and God knows there is far too much of that “Emperor’s New Clothes-ishness” in the contemporary music world – …and recently, too!). His 2nd Concerto for Orchestra and Scenes from Schumann are personal favourites.

I learnt most perhaps though from Michael Bell. I truly think, through working with him daily in a music department and on recordings, that I finally understood how to listen, especially to articulation. There is a huge debt…

Recently I have become close friends Ondrej Vrabec, solo horn of the Czech Phil, and their Assistant Conductor. He has taken my music to his heart and become my greatest champion, commissioning and playing my horn concerto, and conducting other works.

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

I could mention having had to juggle my composing with a full time teaching post for many years. But far more significant is “the glass ceiling”, and sad to say, especially the glass ceiling in this country. The greatest challenge for any composer is a lack of interest. We need to hear our work performed in order to grow, and we are also fragile things on whom constant rejection takes its toll.

My real sadness is that so many of the people with power have no genuine interest in music, no inquisitiveness, and often no ears! I have lost count of the “jobsworths” who cannot get rid of one fast enough because the preconceived box cannot be ticked – it would not even occur to them to listen simply out of curiosity. Had I Beethoven’s talent it would be just the same. That is the greatest frustration, not anything more intrinsically related to inner struggle or personal compositional development.

Who are your favourite composers?

First and foremost, Leoš Janáček! I have held his walking stick, his conducting baton and the autograph scores of the Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass – incredible! One always hears his music as if it were for the first time. I admire hugely his coherent, cohesive sound world, his passionate drive, clear ideas, cunning textures and sparkling colours – how can one not smile every time!? I always do! Most of all, however, his was an utterly personal language but one which never lost its roots, or its connections with the listener. Compare this to what one now sees so often: a manufactured (and all-too-familiarly) empty desire simply to break the mould, or merely to relay the baton of progressive Modernism “logically” from one’s teacher to one’s pupil. No, Janáček had real genius.

….And then.. all the “wrong” people for a 21st Century composer…. Mahler, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Prokofiev, Nielsen, Sibelius…

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Mahler 10, both as a young man and a few years ago at Symphony Hall, Birmingham with CBSO; and Jenufa at Opera North in 2015 – legs of jelly on both occasions!

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

As mentioned above, I am still at heart a simple country boy. The sheer magic of hearing one’s music played at all whether by an orchestra, ensemble, or musician, has never left me; particularly working with an orchestra, a beast so varied and “improbable” – a mysterious coalescence of so many musical minds! And one never, never stops learning!

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

Challenges?… Well – in short, a deadline! How many composers have missed those!? But also not having total freedom in the parameters of a piece. I will say, perversely, that I have been fortunate enough not to have been commissioned that frequently and thus have had the freedom to decide my own agenda and timescales. However, contrarily, sometimes an awkward restriction, or unforeseen stipulation can force a creatively productive exploration – perhaps my Storyteller is an example – a mini-concerto for double bass and ensemble..

Pleasures?…. The opportunity to work with specific performers who “share the investment”. That combined journey is truly special. Of course a guaranteed performance is always welcome, and the time spent with like minds, often in a nice location!

Of which works are you most proud?

This is hard. For me I only succeed when there is a feeling of communion with the listener; of conveying some powerful idea successfully – and if I am shaken up by hearing it, myself! If I may slightly sidestep this question, I feel that perhaps my most significant work is the ongoing Steps piano series, which is an unusual and wide reaching project. This format, five large cycles comprised of smaller pieces, has great potential for colour, variety, and feeling of “journey” over a long time span without exhausting the listener. Like a song cycle, these short pieces can say a great deal.

But I hope also that in time my symphonies and concerti will stake a claim to scheduling. Perhaps my 2nd Symphony is the most epic of them – like Mahler’s 2nd it is my own “Resurrection”!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

This is often asked and so difficult to describe. My sensibility is Romantic rather than Classical. For me both emotional drive and a sense of free, organic growth are vital. I am with Mahler: music should contain all of life! My work is quite traditional in terms of genre, motif, development and perhaps also formal structures. One commentator said that I wilfully ignored recent stylistic trends, yet sounded distinctively modern. I hope so….

How do you work?

I grew up with pen and paper, but predominantly now I work on a computer with Sibelius software. I rarely use a piano. This might be surprising, given my general stance, but I have gradually made the process quite spontaneous. I work interactively with “realised instrumental sounds”, which again I have learnt to “hear past”.

Another composer once said that he had changed from a traditional “successive accumulation” technique to become more like a potter with a wheel – throwing on a slab of clay and subconsciously moulding “on the fly”. This is my method, too. It all starts very crudely, and hopelessly wrong, but gradually refines.

However, I never cease mentally doodling – all day, every day!

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

For composers, maybe also for others, too, it is important not to try “to manufacture” a voice. So much of the 20th century is riddled with shallow people like that. One trick ponies who have grabbed a little nameable “-ism niche” for themselves. My “honest professor” above always used to say that a student should simply try to compose the best piece he can, and that if a voice is there it will emerge when it is ready.

Unfortunately the whole current arts system glorifies all the wrong things. Thus young composers and performers are thrust into the limelight (as I was) long before they should be, and are often discarded just as fast. What does one know at the age of 25!?…. To resist the “industry” and not simply to fill the expected template is very hard when one’s shelf life is ten years. For composers finding a true voice can take a lifetime. I wish this were better realised by promoters and broadcasters.

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

In truth, on a small island with perfect peace! Conversely, to avoid the tinnitus and deafness that may slowly now be robbing me of my art.

But more practically, I would like simply just to be writing, with others finding performances and recordings for me. So much time is wasted in being one’s own manager.

Artistically, I suspect that my voice is now quite settled and may not actually change that much… I am not a Stravinsky! But who knows… I would love to reach the obligatory nine symphonies (and Steps volumes)…

What is your present state of mind?

The “full half” of the glass is content to explore further my sound world, with plenty of projects in mind; the empty half is endlessly frustrated by being ignored and banging my square head on the institutional round hole.

More information on Peter Seabourne can be found on or Wikipedia.

VIDEO:  A COMPOSER’S LIFE – Portrait of Peter Seabourne

World Premiere of Peter Seabourne Piano Concerto no.2 given by Kristina Stepasjukova with the Academy Orchestra of the Czech Philharmonic. The performance took place at the Martinu Hall in the Lichtenstein Palace, Prague on 12th March 2016 and was received with tumultuous, sustained applause and much comment. It has already been partly broadcast by Czech Radio:

News: Peter Donohoe – Prokofiev Piano Sonatas Vol. 3


Release date: 29 April 2016

PROKOFIEV PIANO SONATAS VOL. 3, The “War Sonatas”, Nos, 6, 7 & 8

Peter Donohoe – piano

“Donohoe’s authoritative playing shines through in every work — he has lived with these pieces for a long time… In his hands every sonata makes a memorable impression, and the Fifth receives one of the finest performances I have encountered on disc. A wonderful anthology. Next instalment, please!”   Classical Ear (of Vol. I).

The recording is exemplary, fully projecting Donohoe’s massive dynamic range. The finale of the Second Sonata epitomises all that is Prokofiev, and, in Donohoe, all that is great Prokofiev playing… The helter-skelter character of No. 3 is perfectly conveyed through Donohoe’s impressive technique. There are performances of both No. 2 and No. 3 by Gilels in existence, and Donohoe loses little in that exalted company. It is No. 4 that is the highlight, though, a performance of magisterial intensity. No. 5 receives a performance of the utmost integrity. Magnificent” . International Piano (of Vol. I).

This intelligently planned programme is played by musicians fully attuned to Prokofiev’s expressive lyricism and humour… Raphael Wallfisch and Peter Donohoe give the music’s opening narrative a compelling sense of direction, making the gentle, inward quality of the exposition’s end all the more captivating.” *****  BBC Music Magazine (of Vol. II).


This is the third and final volume in Peter Donohoe’s highly-praised recordings of the complete Piano Sonatas of Sergei Prokofiev and SOMM are proud to have been able to capture his mature interpretative thoughts on the composer’s War Trilogy. Prokofiev was a magnificent pianist and, like so many of his predecessors and contemporaries, he would often reserve his most personal and intimate thoughts to the music he wrote for his own instrument. Sonatas Nos. 6, 7 and 8, written consecutively during World War II, reflecting on and reacting to the horrors of what was referred to in Soviet Russia during their titanic struggle against Hitler as the ‘Great Patriotic War’, drew from Prokofiev some of his greatest music, expressed through his own instrument, the piano, producing in the central sonata of the trilogy, No. 7, his most famous and brilliant piano music, with the exciting finale marked Precipitato (impetuous, headlong) depicting the ferocity and grit of the Russian attacks on the Nazi army. The beautiful Sixth Sonata is more personal and inward-looking, contemplative and moving, and the Eighth looks forward to a post-war world in which all conflict on Russian soil will have ceased.

Peter Donohoe has always been closely attuned to Russian music and particularly that of Prokofiev and his recordings of the War Trilogy go back more than 30 years. He first recorded the 7th Sonata in 1982 for HMV then again in 1991 together with the two other “War Sonatas”, 6 and 8 for EMI. He believes that Prokofiev’s Sonatas form one of the greatest piano solo cycles in the repertoire. ‘Prokofiev was creating these major works throughout his career — all of them are major and some are still underrated and I am delighted to have had the chance of recording, on SOMM, the complete cycle at last.’


Piano Sonata No. 6 in A, Op. 82 (1940)

[1[ 1. Allegro moderato

[2] 2. Allegretto

[3] 3. Tempo di valzer , lentissimo

[4] 4. Vivace

Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83 (1942)

[5] 1. Allegro inquieto — Poco meno — Andantino

[6] 2. Andante caloroso – Poco più animato – Più largamente – Un poco agitato

[7] 3. Precipitato

Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat, Op. 84 (1944)

[8]  1. Andante dolce – Allegro moderato – Andante dolce come prima – Allegro

[9]  2. Andante sognando

[10]3. Vivace – Allegro ben marcato – Andantino – Vivace come prima


Peter Donohoe  – biography

Peter Donohoe was born in Manchester in 1953. He studied at Chetham’s School of Music, gratuated in music at Leeds University and went on to study at the Royal Northern College of Music with Derek Wyndham and then in Paris with Olivier Messiaen and Yvonne Loriod. He is acclaimed as one of the foremost pianists of our time, for his musicianship, stylistic versatility and commanding technique.

Recent and forthcoming engagements include appearances with the Dresden Philharmonic, the BBC Concert Orchestra, RTE National Orchestra and CBSO (under Sir Simon Rattle), a UK tour with the Russian State Philharmonic Orchestra as well as concerts in South America, Europe, Hong Kong, South Korea, Russia and the USA. Other engagements include performances of all three MacMillan piano concertos with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, a series of concerts for the Ravel and Rachmaninov Festival at Bridgewater Hall alongside Noriko Ogawa, and performances with The Orchestra of the Swan. Donohoe is also in high demand as an adjudicator at piano competitions around the world, including the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, Moscow, the Queen Elisabeth Competition, Belgium, and the Hong Kong International Piano Competition. Recent recordings include two discs of Prokofiev pianos sonatas for SOMM, the first of which Gramophone described as “devastatingly effective”, declaring Donohoe to be ” in his element”.  Other recordings include Cyril Scott’s Piano Concerto with the BBC Concert Orchestra under Martin Yates for Dutton and Malcolm Arnold’s Fantasy on a Theme of John Field with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Martin Yates, also for Dutton.

Donohoe has worked with many of the world’s greatest conductors including Christoph Eschenbach, Neeme Järvi, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Andrew Davis and Yevgeny Svetlanov. More recently he has appeared as soloist with the next generation of excellent conductors such as Gustavo Dudamel, Robin Ticciati and Daniel Harding.

Peter Donohoe is an honorary doctor of music at seven UK universities and was awarded a CBE for services to classical music in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List.

[Source: press release]

Meet the Artist……Peter Donohoe

If Orchestra Marketing Were A Guy On A Date


Here’s a quiz to help you determine if your marketing content is doing its job:

Imagine that your latest season brochure is a guy on a date who’s trying to get laid, and you’re the person he’s dating. Dinner is over and you have to decide if the evening’s going to continue. To help you decide, complete the following statements by selecting one of the four numbered options:

He talked mostly about…

  1. Himself
  2. Himself and how much other people liked him
  3. Things he thought I should like
  4. Me and the things he knew I would find interesting

He asked questions about…

  • He never asked me a question
  • How impressed I was with him
  • Which radio stations I listened to
  • What sorts of things made me happy

The manner in which he spoke was…

  1. Artificial and formulaic
  2. Florid, dense and pretentious
  3. Commercial-sounding and educational but upbeat
  4. Down-to-earth, natural and conversational

wine-snobHis bearing was…

  • Imperious
  • Aloof
  • Eccentric
  • Easy-going

He described himself with…

  1. Overblown self-flattery
  2. An abundance of exaggerated adjectives
  3. Thoughtful but self-indulgent prose

View original post 497 more words

Meet the Artist……Natasha Hardy, soprano


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

The thought of singing and acting appealed to me from a very early age. I was always the performer in my family and as the middle child, it was the best way to get attention! Singing was a part of normal family life. I enjoyed singing at home, (although most of the time my brothers wanted to shut me up!) My parents always had music playing and were always singing. We sang regularly at our church, so it always felt quite normal to sing. I started to write songs from the age of 13 and had piano lessons from around age 9.

Singing always made me feel good, although I hadn’t ever considered it a career choice.  When I started to pursue my acting career, I took up singing seriously. Singing was originally to add a feather to my bow as an actress. However, unexpectedly, I completely fell in love with the classical technique; I had found a medium that would let me fully express myself. I was able to use my body in a way that allowed me to channel my energy and emotions. I could pour my heart and soul into it. It felt inevitable that this was going to be my career.

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

The most important influences on my career have to be my voice teacher Maryliese Happel, Mark Crayton and my mum.  Maryliese introduced me to classical repertoire and opera.  I had no idea about singing in this genre before I met her and to her I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude.  She taught me solid technique, taught me about my own voice and has always been an inspirational teacher.  She helped me ‘free the beauty of my voice’.

Mark Crayton (Roosevelt University, Chicago) who over the years helped me find my inner confidence through technique and performance master-classes. He has helped me find freedom of expression in my voice.

My wonderful mother, who calls me her little songbird, always wants to hear me sing. From the moment she wakes up, she is always singing around the house. My mother always made it feel really normal to just sing.

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

Self-belief and self-doubt. I have done lots of work to help myself through these challenges.  My top tips that have helped me include; meditation, positive affirmations, healthy diet & keeping fit.  I am a great believer in healthy body, healthy mind.

I always come back to a couple of sayings, allowing yourself to be both a work in progress and a masterpiece simultaneously, and my favourite quote from Martha Graham:

 “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”  
― Martha Graham 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably my recital ‘Dans L’air du Temps’ at the Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair and the recording that I wrote and sang for a performance at Ferrari World, Abu Dhabi

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Puccini; I love his songs, his operas, and his characters.  On the surface they can seem simple, but underneath there is a complexity and strength to them.  The way he writes is inspiring. There is always a leading melody, and long beautiful lines.  As a songwriter, I know how hard it is to make something sound ‘simple’ and that is what I love about his compositions.  I also think I perform my own compositions pretty well, because I have written them. I know every feeling and every memory that has gone into the writing of every line, lyric and melody.  I do hope one day that other singers will want to perform them.

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

I try to choose pieces that are well known with the audience, combining them with unknown or rarely-performed works

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

Not really, I just love performing wherever I have an audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel, Prince, George Michael, Faithless, Massive Attack, Andre Previn, Richard Rodney Bennet, Michael Nyman, Gabriel Yared, Hans Zimmer, Eric Serra, Puccini, Bellini, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Renee Fleming, Angela Gheorghiu and Maria Callas.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

My first ever concert.

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

Practice smart, know your words/notes, know yourself.  Get trained in the business side of things. This can take up a lot of your time!  Be determined. Don’t give up. Try to get a little bit better every day. Make time for family & friends, and most importantly, have fun!

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

In my beach house in Bermuda.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Any of the following: Summer barbecues, listening to old LPs on a Sunday afternoon with family and friends, roast dinners, long beach walks, my poodle every time I look at her, getting to sleep in a bed with my favourite pillow and a duvet, waking up to another sunny day, the sound of rain, the smell of a forest, the touch of my grandmother’s hand, skiing, ice-skating.

What is your most treasured possession? 

An 18th-century French dressing table which has been ‘dipped and stripped’ about three times, it was my mum’s dressing table from when my parents first got married, and it has finally been restored and I use it everyday.

What is your present state of mind? 

Excited – relaxed – grateful.

Natasha’s new production ‘Lost in Love’ is premiered on Saturday 30th April at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead, London. Further details and tickets here

Natasha Hardy is a soprano whose eclectic repertoire seeks to demystify the traditional operatic world. Trained in both Classical and Contemporary traditions, her maverick approach has seen her work on several classically inspired projects, most recently an intriguing concert series of her favourite operatic works as well as those she has penned herself.


News: London Oriana Choir announces the launch of ‘five15’

A major new pioneering initiative to promote women composers
  • 15 choral works commissioned from five women composers over the next five years
  • Educational outreach, recordings, publishing, competition, festival all part of the plan
  • Cheryl Frances-Hoad appointed as launch composer-in-residence
  • Leading names in the industry voice their support
  • Launch concert in the Dry Berth at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, Wednesday 6th July, 2016
  • Independent IPSOS survey highlights gender gap in the public’s musical knowledge – only 4% of adults could name a woman composer


The London Oriana Choir has announced the launch of a ground-breaking new musical venture championing the musical talent of women composers.

The heart of the project, known as five15, is the commissioning of 15 brand new choral works from five women over the next five years, but the plan is to include a programme of new performances, educational projects, recordings and other initiatives to raise the profile of classical music written by women across the UK, as well as helping to encourage and develop the talents of new young writers.

The first composer-in-residence is the award-winning Cheryl Frances-Hoad and the project will kick off in style this summer with a special concert at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich featuring new music from the first five15 commission, as part of a programme of events marking the re-opening of The Queen’s House this year.

This is also the start of a new, longer term collaboration between the choir and the Royal Museums Greenwich, involving its appointment as choir-in-residence for a three-year period, annual performances at the Cutty Sark amongst other events at the Royal Museums and involvement in its education and outreach programmes.

Dominic Peckham, musical director of the London Oriana Choir, said:

“The lack of exposure of the work of women composers is still sadly evident – the results of the independent survey we conducted show that very clearly. The London Oriana Choir has long been associated with commissioning and performing their music but felt that fresh impetus, new thinking and organisation is now needed to bring about greater change. I am very proud and excited to be involved with this project, which already has the support of several high profile individuals and organisations, and we hope that others will join us in developing five15 even further.”

Speaking of her appointment, Cheryl Frances-Hoad said:

“I am thrilled to be the launch composer of the five15 project and am looking forward to hearing the premières of all the new works by female composers that will be created in the next five years. I am sure the project will bring to the fore many positive role models for young composers.” 

The project has the backing of some major names in the classical music industry, including composer Cecilia McDowall who said: “The London Oriana Choir’s inspired project – five15 – brings a new and exciting perspective in highlighting the work of women composers. Conceived as a multi-faceted initiative it offers a broad spectrum of creative possibilities and will give many wonderful opportunities for showcasing new work in superb historic locations.

Composer and arranger Rachel Fuller observed:  “I’m really excited to hear that London Oriana Choir is launching this pioneering project to support and highlight the work of women composers. Composing and the development of young composers is frequently perceived as ‘a man’s’ profession. That’s changing!!”

BASCA welcomes the London Oriana Choir’s plans for commissioning 15 works by five female composers in the next five years,” Vick Bain, CEO of BASCA (British Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors), commented. “This is just the sort of initiative that is urgently needed to address the obvious inequality in composition. Over 80% of all composers are male and thus win most commissions in an ever perpetuating cycle. So by creating demand and profile for new works by female composers this will give heart to existing female professionals and inspiration to those young women coming through the ranks just entering the profession.  We very much look forward to hearing the finished pieces!”  

British composer and performer Kerry Andrew commented: “I’m a strong believer in positive prejudice, and I’m loving the London Oriana Choir’s tiered approach to promoting great music by women, from turning the spotlight on existing work to creating opportunities for emerging composers. Go, Oriana!”

Anyone interested in learning more about all aspects of the project should visit the five15 website where full details and contact information are available.

(Source: press release)


Rewriting artist biographies…..

du2bpre2bwigmore2bhall Another concert programme, another artist biography comprising a dry list of eminent teachers and mentors, concert halls performed in, orchestras and conductors worked with, recordings made and “forthcoming engagements include”. All standard information: exchange the names and the impersonal text could be used for any international virtuoso.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing, once in a while, to read an artist’s biography which was less a list of achievements and name-dropping, and more about the personality behind the dry words and the professional photograph? To discover more about that person’s musical influences, their likes and dislikes, what music excites them and why, and what makes them tick as a musician? Details that may not be found on the artist’s website and which might bring the musicians closer to their audiences. In reality, most artist biographies tell us very little about the musician or musicians we are about to hear in concert and seem only to serve the requirements of their agents and managers.

Some artists and the writers of their biographies have attempted to go beyond the dull list of activities, resulting in some interesting vocabulary and very purple or simply incomprehensible prose, especially when taken out of context:

“a re-balancing of the artistic equation”

“she breathes the oxygen of imagination and finds balance in musing”

The second quote is from a young female pianist’s biography, penned for her by a French journalist. The complete biography is an interesting read: breathless, adoring, gushing, almost embarrassing in its attempt to sound poetic, and very far removed from the standard artist biography. On one level, it is quite wonderful.

But the more cynical or ungenerous reader or fellow musician might read such hyperbole and suspect that the artist in question is trying to cover up for mediocrity (in fact not an issue for the above-mentioned artist). And then there are those people who describe playing at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall or the Leipzig Gewandhaus without mentioning that both venues have smaller recital rooms, or that you have “participated” in a masterclass with this or that renowned international artist when in fact you were sitting in the back row at the Royal College of Music. Unfortunately, in the uber-competitive sphere of classical music, mentioning that you played a coffee concert in the Weill Recital Room to a handful of pensioners is not going to have promoters rushing to your door and therefore such economy of truth is essential in our image-driven world: most of us are guilty of these little white lies in our biographies.

The popularity of the Meet the Artist interview series, which has been running on this blog for 4 years now, confirms that concert goers and readers have a great curiosity about what goes on behind the public persona of a musician or composer. There is, I find, a continual interest in the working lives of creative people – by which I mean what motivates and inspires them to do what they do – and I’m sure that most concert goers would enjoy reading something more like a Meet the Artist interview than a tedious list of international concert venues and renowned conductors.

Of course, it is important to have a comprehensive biography or CV on one’s own or one’s agent’s website for the benefit of prospective promoters and concert managers, but surely it is possible to deliver this information in a style and manner which is both engaging and informative? And at a time when “audience engagement” is at the forefront of the minds of concert organisers, venue managers and musicians themselves, it seems sensible to offer a biography that audiences might actually want to read (and don’t forget that in major venues one can expect to pay upwards of £4 for a programme which often seems more about advertising than the music we are about to hear).

9 classical musician bios that aren’t terrible

Artist Biography Generator

Meet the Artist…….Anna Tsybuleva, pianist


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

I spent my childhood in a small scientific town in the south of Russia. I grew up in a creative family. My father is a radio physicist, my mother was a musician. She opened this fantastic world of music and art for me. She graduated from the College of Music as a pianist and also studied in Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg as an art historian. We had a lot of books about music and art at home. While I was a child my mother often played for me, or showed gramophone records of great musicians. When I was 6, my mother became my first piano teacher. Aside from that, I studied violin, but after two years I made the decision to play only the piano.

I remember one important moment in my life. I was 10 and I prepared for my first serious competition for young pianist in Moscow. At that time I already lived without parents, studied with another teacher in a town of Volgodonsk (approx. 700 km from my home). My mother also came to Moscow to support me. But everything was so difficult… I missed home, my parents missed me. My new teacher was very strict with me, forced me to practise more and more. When my mom saw how difficult the life of her 10-years-old daughter already was, she told me: “Let’s give up music and go back home?” To which I answered: “No, mommy, it is too late to go back”.

From that moment I never doubted that I was on the right way, and my mom always supported me.

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

For me there is no difference between musical and real life. Everything that happens to me affects my outlook. In other words, I learn from everything. My parents taught me to be always honest and analyze what is happening. I learn from my dear teachers, who are also teaching me to be honest and to listen to the sounds. They are the same important people for me as parents. By the way, my mountain skiing and swimming instructors taught me to be strong and always keep working, no matter what.

When I take the music scores, read them and play, I learn from composers. Some of them have greatly influenced me and my views. When I listen to great musicians, I get inspiration from their way of expression, but never try to copy them.

Life influences me every day and gives the most important lessons. And the music helps me to understand and express them.

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

There are a lot of creative challenges in the life of a musician: for example, to play something, what you wanted to play before, but weren’t ready for; how to analyze and understand, how to unite the form of the piece in your mind. Sometimes this kind of problem interrupt my sleep. But for me, the more harder the challenge is, the more interesting it is. I will never stop searching for new musical challenges.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It is very difficult for me to be satisfied with my playing. Every time after my performance I know how to make the piece better.

It is too early for me to be proud of something, which I played. The big and interesting endless searching is ahead. I hope I will be able to reach something genuine in the future. But I will start thinking about it no earlier than in 60 years.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The works which I love with all my heart I play well. If I open the score and don’t like the piece, it means that I didn’t looked at the score attentively. Then I try to find more interesting details (there are always a lot). I discover something new for me in the piece and attempt to better understand the intent of the composer. Step by step, I fall in love with the work and then I play the piece, which I love!

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

The choice of repertoire is a very serious thing. Sometimes I spend weeks choosing the programme for a concert. I often seek advice from my teachers who have more experience than me. We discuss each programme and decide together.

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

When I go to the stage, I get into a special private space, where I can imagine around me whatever  I want (big or small hall, empty or full audience and etc). There is no favourite concert venue for me. My feelings don’t depend on the external situation. I try not think about it while I’m on the stage.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I happy to play any kind of solo, chamber and orchestral music.

And I love to listen any musical genre in general.

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

The main thing in music for me is to listen and hear.

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

At home with my family, in front of a keyboard with scores and a pencil.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Fortunately, I don’t know yet. When the time comes and if I have a chance, I ask one man, who definitely knows about that.

What is your most treasured possession? 

Health and happiness of my family.

Anna Tsybuleva was born in 1990 and started piano studies at the age of six. Anna is currently a post-graduate student at the Moscow Conservatory, while also studying at the Basel Music Academy with professor Claudio Martinez Mehner.

In 2012, Anna took part in the International Gilels Piano competition in Odessa (Ukraine), where she has won the 1st prize. The same year Anna was one of the winners of the prestigious Hamamatsu Piano competition (Hamamatsu, Japan).

Anna has performed at a number of international music festivals in Russia, the United States, Europe and Japan.

In June 2015, Anna Tsybuleva won 1st Prize at the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition in the United-Kingdom, leading to many important invitations to perform in the UK and internationally.



Peaks and Plateaus


Sometimes – often! – learning a new piece of music can feel like ascending a steep mountain.

The first few weeks, when the piece is still very new, can be an uphill slog as you cope with note-reading and learning, understanding the structure and harmony, and trying to get a handle on the character and expressive elements of the piece. Then one day you go to practise it and suddenly it seems a whole lot easier: you’ve scaled that initial steep ascent and have arrived on a pleasant plateau where playing becomes enjoyable again. At this point your progress may suddenly become quite rapid as you feel more at ease with the music.

But then – and I’m sure you know the feeling – you reach a certain point where you feel stuck on a ledge, the summit in sight, but seemingly unattainable. You need a push, a burst of energy to get you up there.

When I am reach this point in my learning, it is usually a sign that I need to see my teacher to assess my progress and to give me a shot of inspiration and encouragement to push me to the next level.

Sometimes reaching a seemingly inescapable plateau indicates that we are over-thinking our practising, or fretting over small or imaginary issues which we have turned into bigger problems. In this instance, try shifting the focus of your practising: if you have been practising the same piece in the same way for the past few weeks, try a different approach.

Maybe it’s a sign that it’s the time to put the music away for a few weeks and look at something else. “Oh but I might forget everything I’ve learnt!” I hear you cry. Not true – if you’ve done the careful learning in the first place, revisiting the music after a break should be fairly straightforward and it will take a matter of days to reacquaint yourself with the score. Taking a break also revives our interest in our music and gives us pause for reflection. Returning to the music after a break often throws up interesting new insights and ideas about the music, enabling us to work with renewed energy and excitement.

Conversations with friends, colleagues, teachers can often shine a light on a seemingly intractable issues with a piece. Asking a trusted friend or colleague to hear you play and give feedback can be helpful too. Meanwhile listening to recordings or going to concerts can lead to moments of revelation and inspiration.

Playing the piano is hard – as my teacher regularly says, “If it was easy, everyone would do it!” – and some pieces remain difficult, despite the many hours of work and thought we put into them. Thus, it is important to celebrate the Eureka! moments, while also allowing ourselves time to evaluate and reflect on what we are doing.

If you’ve reached a plateau in your learning, don’t despair. See your teacher, if you have one, or learn something new, something easier, or return to a piece you know you play well (this can be a tremendous confidence booster). Go to a concert with friends and enjoy talking about the music afterwards, join a piano group where you can meet other pianists and discover that we all share the same afflictions, hopes and fears. We don’t have to be chained to the piano every day to gain useful support for our practising and musical thinking.

Above all – don’t give up! And enjoy your music.

Further reading

The Bulletproof Musician

Practising the Piano