Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I had played the piano for some years, and was playing occasional concerts by my early-teens, but for me the epiphanic moment was watching Jorge Bolet giving masterclasses and performing on BBC television. I suppose it came at just the right point in my musical and personal development, but suddenly I was obsessed, and pretty much every waking moment became about playing, listening to and reading about music – rather to the detriment of my school work.

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

Here I have to mention my first teacher, June Luck (who died recently). She was my local piano teacher in Ipswich, and had certainly never had a performing career, but she instilled one truly great maxim that has shaped my life and career: you can be anything you want as long as you’re willing to work hard enough. Then there were two teachers at the Royal College where I studied for my undergraduate and master’s degrees – John Barstow, who was really responsible not only for teaching me how to really control the instrument but also how to make friends with it, and the composer Edwin Roxburgh, who really opened my ears to contemporary music for the first time. After college, of course, there were many other teachers and mentors including Lev Naumov in Moscow, David Dubal in New York and Martino Tirimo in London, but special mention must be made of Ronald Stevenson. By the time we met at the end of my 20s I had established a performing and academic/lecturing career and was fairly well-known for my passion for Busoni. Ronald, who was the preeminent authority on Busoni and his circle made me understand the much larger perspective around early Modernism and its relationship to the piano, and led me along so many ‘paths less travelled’ in our epically long days in his music room and library which he called his den of musiquity!

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

Of course, the early years, establishing a career are always difficult, but my particular career as a pianist-lecturer seemed to baffle friends, colleagues and promoters alike – I suppose, back then before the internet and the portfolio career as a norm, it seemed strange that I didn’t fit into an easy pigeon-hole. Fortunately, the Royal College of Music awarded me a fellowship for two years during which time I was able to show how such a career could and did work, and indeed it set me on my third, rather unexpected path as an academic professor.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m soon to be performing the Busoni piano concerto in London. I’ll never forget the day when I discovered John Ogdon’s recording of it in a second-hand record shop, and then a few weeks later, listened through to it with a score borrowed from Westminster Library. It was simply overwhelming, and as I started to pick my way through the score’s complexities, I couldn’t really begin to imagine how I could ever learn it. Eventually, about ten years ago, I gave a series of performances of it in the UK and New York with my amazing friend and colleague, Aleksander Szram playing the orchestral parts at a second piano (although we also had a live choir for the last movement). A couple of those performances are up on YouTube and although I certainly play it differently now, I am inordinately proud of the journey I made with that music.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m very influenced by the idea of ‘Sprezzatura’ which was a term used by 16th-century courtiers to refer to a noble disdain. The idea is that you have to study every detail of your task, and then throw away the rulebook. I think I probably perform best those compositions which respond to such an approach – certainly Liszt, Busoni and Enescu amongst them.

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

Of course, I’m still influenced by promoters and venues, so for instance I recently gave some Medtner recitals in Bengaluru to celebrate the life of the Maharajah of Mysore, and a little while back was asked to give the premiere of the Edwin Roxburgh Piano Concerto. However, for the last few years I have also ensured that each season I include a work or two from my ‘bucket list’ which I’ve kept since my teens. This year it was the Schulz-Evler transcription of the Blue Danube, whilst previous offerings have included the Godowsky Passacaglia and Sorabji’s Jardin Parfumée. I realise I’ll never complete the list, but it’s really important to still treat myself to works I’ve always wanted to learn.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For the last few years I have been living in India (my family home) for a few months each year, partly trying to offer educational opportunities to young musicians and teachers and partly giving concerts in my capacity as the first Indian Steinway artist. The concerts are sometimes quite traditional, but the really memorable ones have been where audiences have literally never seen a piano or knowingly heard Western music before. That’s a real privilege and responsibility, but it also sometimes reminds me of the memoirs I’ve read of the early years of the piano recital – the piano circus life as Liszt called it. So, I’ve headlined music festivals (even had a review in Rolling Stone magazine for performing Liszt!), given recitals to with brand tie-ins from wine to sports cars, and played for royalty (and was given the snuff-box to prove it!).

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Leading others (students and audiences) away from the increasing mundanity of our everyday lives to see the truly extraordinary in our world, ourselves and one another – whether just for a few minutes in a concert, or as an inspiration for future living.

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

To have an imagination, and then to work hard in order to turn into a reality both for themselves and their audiences, whilst at the same time trying to avoid the perils of narcissism (especially in the age of the selfie).

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

I’d like to have helped to create the first degree-awarding conservatoire in India, and have my own den of musicquity by the sea on the south coast of England, with a Great Dane by my side.

Karl Lutchmayer performs Busoni’s Piano Concerto in C at St John’s Smith Square on 30 November, with Seraphin Orchestra, conducted by Joy Lisney. This concert is the culmination of his 3-day concert series ‘Busoni – The Romantic Modernist’ which explores Busoni’s music beyond his well-known transcriptions of J S Bach.

Further details and booking


Karl Lutchmayer is equally renowned as a concert pianist and a lecturer. A Steinway Artist, Karl performs across the globe, and has worked with conductors including Lorin Maazel and Sir Andrew Davis, and performed at all the major London concert halls. He has broadcast on BBC Radio 3, All India Radio and Classic FM, and is a regular chamber performer. A passionate advocate of contemporary music, Karl has also given over 90 world premieres and had many works written especially for him.

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After their sell out performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge in March, Seraphin Orchestra make their London debut on 30 November at St John’s Smith Square with a generous programme of music by Rachmaninoff and Busoni, conducted by Joy Lisney.

In this concert, Busoni’s mighty, unapologetically immoderate Piano Concerto in C is the centrepiece of a programme which also includes Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Rarely-performed, in part because of the huge demands it places on both soloist and orchestra, the Busoni Concerto is one of the greatest pieces in the pianist’s repertoire and will be played by Karl Lutchmayer, a renowned Busoni expert.

Saturday 30 November, 7.30pm, St John’s Smith Square, London

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances

Ferruccio Busoni – Piano Concerto in C Op. 39

KARL LUTCHMAYER piano

JOY LISNEY conductor

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Founded in 2017 at King’s College Cambridge by Joy and Emma Lisney, Seraphin Project mainly comprises young musicians studying in Cambridge, augmented by guest artists, including former BBC Young Musician prize-winners and leading players from top UK and European professional orchestras, including the Halle, RPO and BBCSO, who offer mentorship to the young players.

A dedication to music education through artistic excellence is at the heart of Seraphin Project’s activities and it exists to foster collaborations between musicians across generations and cultivate these new connections in performances ranging from chamber recitals up to full scale orchestral concerts. Seraphin seeks to provide experience for top student players working in a condensed intensive fashion which fits in with their studies, in collaboration with young professionals. The orchestra also aims to support emerging composers, granting them performances of their work in an open-minded culture and by committed players.


In addition to the Busoni Piano Concerto, Seraphin Project presents its first chamber series:

Seraphin Project Chamber Series #1: Quartet for the End of Time

17th November 2019, 8pm – West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time
Busoni – Violin Sonata No. 2

Michael Whight – clarinet
Emma Lisney – violin
Joy Lisney – violoncello
James Lisney, Karl Lutchmayer – piano

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Meet the Artist interview with Joy Lisney

International Piano interview with Karl Lutchmayer

Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata, No. 20 in A, D959, is my sonata. Never mind that I’ve heard Imogen Cooper, Daniel Barenboim, Piers Lane, Andras Schiff and Richard Goode, amongst others, perform the sonata, and have listened to countless recordings (including Shera Cherkassy, Radu Lupu, Mitsuko Uchida, Elisabeth Leonskaja, Inon Barnatan and Krystian Zimerman), all of whom might claim that it is their sonata. Schubert’s D959 is my sonata.

Why is it ‘my’ sonata? Because I spent many hours, days and months studying, learning and eventually performing this work, and through that meticulous process I acquired a sense of “ownership” of the music.

Taking ownership of one’s music, literally making it one’s “own piece”, is something that musicians strive for. A strong sense of ownership connects one to one’s music, and also creates a special communication with the audience.

Ownership is hard won, however, and comes from close study and deep knowledge of the score to fully acquaint oneself with the composer’s message and intentions. All the explicit information contained within the score must be processed, understood and acted upon –  the notes, dynamic, rhythmic and articulation markings, tempo, expression and character directions, and all the technical aspects of the music; in addition, implicit directions need to be considered and factored in: a rising passage may suggest a slight crescendo or stringendo, rests and fermatas suggests breathing space, a doubling of octaves may indicate a more orchestral sound or texture. The ability to process and interpret implicit directions comes from the musician’s own musical knowledge, training, an understanding of historical contexts and performance practice (in, for example, Baroque music), experience, maturity and personality.

Such disciplined learning and study gives one the confidence to play the music convincingly and to create one’s own personal vision of the music. I have been to concerts where it is evident that the music is well learnt, all the details taken care of, but it doesn’t communicate, or touch one’s emotions. A non-committal performer may tread the middle road, providing an inoffensive range of dynamics, expression and so on, but without a real sense of conviction which robs the performance of that special edge of excitement. Audiences can certainly feel this and may leave the concert satisfied but unmoved.

So, ownership is about having done the detailed work on the score to give one the confidence to perform the music convincingly. But there’s more: ownership also creates spontaneity, freedom, originality and sprezzatura in performance – the impression that everything one does is effortless. As a performer, one does not want to show the audience what one cannot do; instead, the performer reveals, through their ownership of the music, not only mastery, but also freedom, ease and delight, playing ‘in the moment’…. Performers who have these qualities, and who have complete ownership of their music, are prepared to take risks in performance, secure in the knowledge that one never plays the same piece of music the same way twice. Such performances are thrilling and memorable.

 

Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus – Olivier Messiaen

Steven Osborne, piano

6 November 2019, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

Messiaen builds cathedrals in sound. From a single candle gently flickering in a quiet side chapel to the glorious fan traceries of the main transept, the private place for solitary prayer and contemplation to the awe-inspiring painted spaces where the many gather to celebrate the glory of God, his music is monumental in its scale and breadth, a hypnotic Sainte-Trinité in sound.

And if Messiaen is the architect, then the pianist who performs his music is the guide, sometimes tenderly, sometimes violently, always colourfully leading us through the aisles and passageways, the arches and niches, past gilded icons and kaleidoscopic stained glass.

Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jésus is arguably the greatest piano work of the 20th century, a work which more than holds its own against Bach’s Goldberg’s or Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas in its scale and breadth, its many challenges, technical, artistic and physical. It is a work of immense beauty, sensuous, powerful, sometimes brutal, thrilling, awestruck and awe-inspiring, ecstatic and intimate. It is also deeply personal and emotionally direct in its expression of the composer’s own profound Catholic faith; humble too in Messiaen’s ability to ground the music in a way that makes it accessible through his use of recurring themes and devices, in particular his beloved birdsong. These elements also give this tremendous work a cohesive, comprehensive architecture – and it is only by hearing the work in one sitting, as opposed to listening to individual movements from it, that one can fully appreciate Messiaen’s compositional skill and vision. Like a great symphony, the work moves inexorably through its movements towards a gripping finale.

I adore this music.

It begins with a whisper, barely a heatbeat, delicate chords, softly-spoken yet vividly hued (colour is so signficant to the synaesthesic Messiaen) and repeated octaves, occasionally interrupted by luminous bell sounds; a profound, introspective contemplation. And then, some 130 minutes later, it ends in a blaze of glory, bells clanging across in the keyboard in ecstasy, “all the passion of our arms around the Invisible One….”

The extraordinary narrative arc and cumulative power of the Vingt Regards is akin to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, though its message is closer to one of his Passions. The expressive sweep of the work is vast, from the intimate, aching tenderness of Regarde de la Vierge (IV) to primal brutality of Par Lui tout a éte fait (VI) and the concentrated stillness of Je dors, mais mon coeur veille (XIV). As a consequence the work is rarely performed without an interval, but pianist Steven Osborne, who has been playing this incredible music for almost 20 years, believes it should be played as a whole, without a break, to create “a deeper sense of engagement with the work as a whole, for both myself and the listener.”

Steven Osborne, London 30 May 2013
Steven Osborne

The journey is remarkable, immense, exhilarating and overwhelming. Osborne knows this music so well that one feels at once totally at ease with him guiding us on this epic voyage yet also acutely alert, as he is, to every shift in harmony and tonal colour, every nuance and emotion. Speaking to him in the bar after the concert, I remarked that he seems very settled in the music (I first heard him play this work in 2013) and he commented that one just has to “go with it”. Such a modest description of such monumentality!

His virtuosity is restrained, yet his every gesture is freighted with meaning; he creates an extraordinary range of colours and tone – translucent filigree arabesques, shimmering, flickering trills, brilliant chirruping birdsong, plangent bass chords, rumbling, rolling Lisztian arpeggios….. And all despatched with an almost effortlesss sprezzatura, the music freshly wrought, as new sonorities, new meanings are revealed.

The performance was perfectly paced, the silences as poised and significant as the notes themselves, Osborne’s clear sense of continuity allowing each movement to be heard as a single statement in its own right, while also contributing to the cumulative, architectural effect of the whole. Here the rapture and ecstasy of Messiaen’s faith was captured in a profoundly concentrated performance that reverberated with passion, spirituality, awe and joy.

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

I loved to sing as a child and wanted to imitate my voice through an instrument: the clarinet was an obvious choice.

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

Every note that I played and that brought me closer towards what I felt and heard inside.

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

Performing the Mozart Clarinet Concerto with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on a brand new bassett clarinet at the BBC Proms. The instrument was designed for me and ready only three weeks before the performance.

The ARD competition in Munich in 2012 was also quite a challenge!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

My latest recording: Belle époque with the Orchestre National de Lille under Alexandre Bloch (Pentatone).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

As I love Mozart (Quintet, Concerto, Trio) and French music (Debussy, Poulenc, Widor, ..) most; I guess those are the pieces people like to hear most from me.

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

Intuïtion and a sense of challenge and creativity.

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

My favourite halls are the Concertgebouw Amsterdam and the Tonhalle Zürich. Both halls have a magical acoustic.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I do not have a favourite musicians, but I love many: Martha Argerich, Liisa Batiashvili, Truls Mörk, Hagen Quartet, Belcea Quartet, Francesco Piemontesi, Tabea Zimmerman, François Leleux…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A performance of Brahms Clarinet Quintet in a small church in Belgium. There was a special atmosphere that evening. It felt almost like a healing experience, both for me and the audience. Many listeners started to cry during the slow movement.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Serving the music, reaching perfection and leaving ego at the doorstep.

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

Practice hard, stay yourself, ask yourself why you make music and embrace challenges with a smile.

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

Even closer to my clarinet

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having the impression that life flows by itself.

Belle Époque – music for clarinet from Brahms, Debussy, Pierné, Trojahn and Widor
(Pentatone SA-CD PTC 5186808) is available now.


Belgian clarinettist Annelien Van Wauwe, former BBC New Generation Artist and winner of the renowned Borletti-Buitoni Trust Award 2018, is known for her expressive, intensive, lyrical and honest performances. She is considered to be one of the most fascinating and original clarinettists of her generation.

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Purcell and Handel touch the parts other composers don’t reach

Guest post by Karine Hetherington.

I came to Baroque music late in life and I wonder why. One reason I believe is that for a long time concert houses or musicians, for one reason or another, didn’t feature it or play it. Music programmes drew on composers from the Classical and Romantic eras, Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert being the most often played. At the Wigmore Hall in London, it was all about virtuoso piano performances, emotional intensity and famous trios or quartets – or so it seemed.

Early music, on the other hand, was thought to be dry, simplistic and unsuited to modern audiences. Most worryingly, it came across as elitist, only to be enjoyed by the clergy, closed circles of academics and music students.

Nowadays, nothing could be further from the truth as early music is not only being played in churches up and down the country, but in every concert venue worth its salt as well. The early music movement is gathering momentum and newer, younger audiences are being drawn in by musicians of their own age and orchestras, who, like the City of London Sinfonia, have done much to make the genre more accessible. The ‘Come and listen to Couperin on a beanbag,’ strategy has worked wonders for audiences of all ages.

But it’s not all about gimmicks. Singers from the current generation of young performers are keen to sing Purcell and Handel.“He knew how to write for singers,” confirms alto, Laura Lamph, about Purcell. “There is the occasional coloratura, which obviously needs extra preparation”. Tenor Ed Woodhouse echoes this enthusiasm but also talks about the challenges for a tenor. “Many composers of early music have a penchant for writing stratospheric first tenor parts, and these can be extremely difficult to sing”.

The notion of the challenge is undoubtedly the draw for the young singer. But it is not only about flourishes and singing stratospheric high or low notes. A performance can fall flat if the singers don’t inhabit their role. Neither is it about one singer’s performance. Each singer is part of the ensemble of artists and each, whilst trying to deliver a personal best, has to make the other singer look good too. Ed Woodhouse sums it up: “Singers have to be musically sympathetic of each other”. It is easy to see how this coming together to benefit the whole can be attractive for artists. There is no room for a diva mentality singing Purcell’s odes.

As for the emotional side, soprano Cally Youdell points out that “Handel and Purcell are some of the most skilled at portraying intense darkness and despair, as well as effervescent joy”. It is true that Dido singing ‘When I am lain in earth’ in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas is probably one of the most beautiful, heart-breaking laments ever written. It is no accident the lament was taken up by top vocal artists in the rock and pop world too.

Ashley Stafford, who directs groups of talented young performers and sings himself, states that vocal artists are eager to perform Purcell for many different reasons. For one thing Purcell is multi-layered. The texts are “celebratory, sacred, devotional” on one level, but it is the music, its “inventive rhythms, ear-tingling harmonies, orchestral and vocal textures” which grab your attention and prise open the emotions. Purcell can be humorous and light-hearted too, and it is “his depth of awareness of the frailty of our existence in a universe of unknowns” which makes him resonate in our souls.

 

And this is the point, Purcell offers us in his gloriously inventive music a little extra space in these contrary times, to view the world as it really is, good or bad. In our despair his music is a balm, whereas his celebratory ecstatic passages are a reminder that there is great light at the end of the tunnel.

In Guilty Night by Purcell

Go and see the Kensington Olympia Baroque Ensemble perform ‘Celebration and Solemnity’ : The Music of Henry Purcell at Olympia, Hammersmith Road, W14 8UX on 9th November, 7.30pm. Further details and tickets


Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer of novels, who also blogs on art and music, and is a reviewer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist’s sister site ArtMuseLondon.com. Her two published novels, The Poet and the Hypotenuse, and Fort Girard, are set in France in the 1930s and 1940s. Karine promotes singers and musicians performing in the fast-growing Kensington and Olympia Music and Arts Festival.