Conductor and festival director Tom Hammond thinks we should all bother with music. In this guest post, he explains why and previews this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music.

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I’m writing this less than two weeks before the opening of the 2019 Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM), with the sweaty brow of the accidental concert promoter desperately hoping to see more tickets flying off the shelves.

We’ve programmed some fabulous music and musicians in this our fourth year: Fauré, Haydn, Schumann, Ravel, Mozart….with Steven Isserlis, Orchestra of the Swan, Anthony Marwood, Clare Hammond, the Carducci Quartet, to name only a few.

It’s not just classical music traditionally presented (although there’s some of that, and no apologies for it!) with two performances from the effervescent ZRI mashing Brahms with klezmer and gypsy styles plus their need live-to-film performance Adventures with Charlie Chaplin, an amazing jazz trio in a magical venue, and even a guided visit to Haydn’s summer holiday home when he was here in 1791. Plus three Featured Living Composers (Peter Fribbins, Alan Mills, James Francis Brown) and three major outreach projects involving more than 200 young people. Basically shed-loads of stuff, and really good stuff!

Since the Festival began – the initial germ of the idea coming to me back in 2015 – we’ve welcomed around 2,500 people to concerts in Hertford and Hertfordshire, given education and performance opportunities to around 500 younger people (schoolchildren as well as conservatoire level students) and raised something like £150,000 in external funds and Box Office revenue. Raising that sort of money for music is incredibly hard work as anyone who’s ever tried will know, taking hours of your life that could be spent doing vastly more enjoyable things….

The money that we’ve raised has gone directly into the music economy via paying our artists – about £75,000 on musician’s fees alone, and we pay at a decent rate –  plus all the other elements of the musical food chain, including commissions, hire of copyright materials, piano tuners, keyboard hire, sound and lighting equipment, etc., etc. Where that money certainly isn’t going is into my back pocket, nor that of my co-Artistic Director. We’ve also got a very hard-working board of trustees, because we’re now properly formalised as a charity, plus our FOH team who also do it for the love of music.

And why on earth would anyone do this?!

I have asked myself that question many times, not least as so many areas of running a Festival are things for which I’ve had absolutely no training, experience or aptitude and I’m already pretty busy with my main work as a conductor and producer. But, when I read my social media newsfeeds, or see classical music mentioned in the national media, it’s too often report after report about cuts in music education and how music is being marginalised. Or how to make it ‘relevant’. Or how it’s seen as for only posh people…. You don’t need me to go on because it’s jaw-clenchingly boring to do so, and moaning is too easy and the time could be better spent doing something about it.

What I and my colleagues at HFoM are trying to do, albeit in a nascent way which needs constant refinement, is simply put amazing music on in appropriate spaces that heighten the audience experience, plus open out opportunities for young people, and try to buck the above trend. As a colleague of mine once said to me, we are attempting to act as incubators of this amazing art form and when the day finally comes and politicians actually read the gazillions of studies that show how music helps people in so many ways and fund it again, someone can buy us all a pint.

Until then, if anyone fancies coming along and helping us continue beyond this year we have plenty of tickets left to sell. With only two exceptions, you can walk to all our performances in less than twenty minutes from train stations, all of which are well-served in and out of London. It will be light well into the evening, hopefully sunny and warm too. Tickets are not expensive, indeed some events are totally free, many offer £5 seats for anyone in full-time education, and they are in nice places with good pubs, restaurants and countryside nearby.

Hertfordshire Festival of Music runs from Thursday 13 to Sunday 23 June 2019. This year’s principal artist is cellist Steven Isserlis who will be giving masterclasses and performances during the festival. Full programme of events

Tom Hammond is co-Artistic Director of Hertfordshire Festival of Music, and a conductor and record producer.

www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk

Meet the Artist interview with Tom Hammond

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It could have been any night at the Wigmore Hall, London’s ‘sacred shoebox’: the grand piano stretched across the stage like a gleaming limousine, the anticipatory hum of conversation in the foyer, people chatting in the bar…

Except it wasn’t any other night.

For me, it was my first experience of jazz at the Wigmore. It felt right, because for a jazz ingénue like me, it was easy to walk into a venue I know well for music which I didn’t know. It felt comfortable. The atmosphere was different, however, and the audience younger.

It all began in a familiar way – the lights dimmed, the pianist crossed the stage to the piano, his body language quiet and composed. Then that first piece, hushed, tender, elegantly voiced. Not “jazz” as I understood the term, but something which transcended the boundaries of genre. I heard Debussy, Scriabin, Ravel, a dash of Messiaen, a hint of Radiohead in the colourful, piquant harmonies. The piano sound was gorgeous, restrained, perfectly nuanced.

After the second piece, jazz pianist Jason Moran turned to the audience.

“People like me don’t play in halls like this” he said.

There was a burst of laughter from the audience, but this was no joke. Go into the green room at the Wigmore, where performers, Moran included, wait before going on stage, and you’re surrounded by photographs of others who have performed in this hallowed hall: there’s not a single person of colour amongst them.

The enormity, the responsibility, the flow of history and heritage weighs heavily on every performer playing at the Wigmore. And Moran clearly felt it too – only more so. Added to this, the night before he’d played at the Beethovenhaus in Bonn, with a portrait of the Old Radical staring right back at him as he sat at the piano. Imagine how that felt? He dedicated his Wigmore concert to “everyone who has walked across this stage”.

History was felt too in the stride number Carolina Shout, a hommage to Moran’s jazz forebears James P Johnson and Teddy Wilson. It was the only piece in the programme which felt like “real” jazz to me. Contrast it with Magnet, an earthy, dark, rumbling piece largely confined to the lowest registers of the piano which revealed sonorities and resonances rarely-heard – the echo of a voice shouting into a cave, drums and strings, bassoons, even the thrum of helicopter rotorblades….it reminded me of Somei Satoh’s Incarnation II, another piece which capitalises on the piano’s resonance.

Another work had the pulsing, looping hypnotic repetitions of Steve Reich. In all the playing, and his introductions to the pieces, Moran revealed himself to be a compelling communicator, creating connections through words and sound which drew us in, made us listen attentively – and made us think.

But it was in the more soulful, expressive and introspective numbers that I found most to admire – never before have I heard so many colours, nuances, subtleties of timbres from the Wigmore Steinway as in Moran’s hands. His first encore was achingly tender, so poignant, so intimate; the second more upbeat, a piece with the rhythmic drive to rouse us from our seats to offer a standing ovation.

“It’s all just music!” said my jazz pianist friend Rick Simpson when we were having a drink after the concert. And he’s right – it is all just music, regardless of genre or period. And on Friday night it was just music – and music making – of the highest order.

 

The concerto is one of the greatest corners of the pianist’s repertoire. A showcase for performer and instrument, it’s an opportunity for the composer to capitalise on the combined forces of soloist and orchestra, often with thrilling and highly expressive results. The concerto format inspires great music and is a spectacle for the audience, and the genre continues to tempt composers today. The romantic image is of the soloist doing battle with the orchestra, but in most instances piano and orchestra are collaborators, creating wondrous musical conversations and exciting contrasts of sound, texture and mood. Instruments may have changed since Mozart’s day, but the genre itself is perennially popular with musicians, composers and music lovers alike. For performers, the biggest challenge in playing these very popular concertos is breathing new life into very well-known and much-loved music.

Careers are made with concertos, and for the professional pianist, playing concertos represents a significant part of one’s working life. Most pianists will aim to have several concertos “in the fingers” from an early point in their career, with some retaining over 50 by the time they are established. Competitions require concerto playing too, and certain works have become staples in the competition and international concert repertoire, a sign of their enduring appeal and ongoing challenges to pianists – and their popularity with audiences.

Here are 6 great piano concertos which are regarded as the “must learns” for soloists, and “must haves” for concert programmes.

Beethoven – Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat – the ‘Emperor’

A heroic nickname for a heroic concerto. Composed from 1809 to 1811, the work is poised on the cusp of romanticism in its scale, virtuosity and richness of expression while also harking back to its classical antecedents in Beethoven’s skilled handling of the piano concerto form. Two dynamic outer movements bookend a slow movement of infinite beauty and ethereal serenity, which inspired Schumann in the last movement of his Fantasie, Op 17.

Grieg – Piano Concerto in A minor

This is Grieg’s only piano concerto but it has justly joined the rank of “great” and “must learn”. Composed when he was only 25 and inspired by a performance by Clara Schumann of her husband’s concerto, the influence of Schumann is clear from the outset in its sweeping gestures, emotional contrasts and lyricism. But while Schumann’s writing is sophisticated and romantically introspective, this is the work of a young man making his mark with a grand musical statement, weighty and serious. There are high virtuosic elements and adventurous piano writing, inspired by Liszt and Tchaikovsky (big octave passages, for example), but the work has a naturalness too (the finale is a Norwegian folk dance!). Assured and commanding, its anthemic outer movements combine vitality and poignancy while the middle movement is a graceful, soaring Adagio which overflows with heart-warming loveliness.

Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat, K595

Mozart’s final piano concerto inhabits quite a different world from the powerful and bold concertos of the 1780s when Mozart enjoyed a golden time as a concert pianist. Compared to its predecessors, the K595 is pared down, but with a harmonic language that is sophisticated and daring. Full of muted colours and supple textural interweaving of solo instrument and orchestra, its beauty and melancholy looks forward to the romantic lyricism of Beethoven’s fourth Concerto and beyond. With fewer virtuosic frills and extrovert gestures than Mozart’s earlier concertos, the challenges the pianists lie in its restrained character and elegant simplicity of expression.

Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op 30

Composed in 1909, Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto is considered one of the greatest and most challenging in the standard repertoire and is respected, and feared, by many pianists. Monumental and treacherous in scale, gorgeously romantic and highly expressive, the pianist to whom it was dedicated – Josef Hofmann – never performed it in public. Instead, it was premiered by Rachmaninov himself in New York, and its fearsome technical difficulties reflect the composer’s own transcendent prowess at the keyboard. With forty-five minutes of almost continuous playing for the soloist, the renowned English pianist and teacher Cyril Smith likened the sheer physical effort of playing it to shoveling several tonnes of coal! For many pianists, this concerto represents the ultimate “trophy” performance.

Ravel – Piano Concerto in G major

The piano was Ravel’s favourite instrument, and while the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is profound and significant, his G major concerto was intended to satisfy the box office, the frivolous showpiece could he take on tour. Opening with the famous single “whipcrack”, it contains all the elements fashionable and clichéd at the time of writing – jazz idioms and harmonies, dissonance, neo-classicism and mechanical moments – but it’s brilliantly done and finely-crafted. Written “in the spirit’, Ravel said, ‘of Mozart and Saint-Saëns”, the exuberant, jazz-infused outer movements are offset by a slow movement of serene beauty and transparency.

Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No.1

The triumphant opening chords of this concerto followed by the first theme are amongst the most famous bars in all of classical music, heralding a work of sublime romanticism, dramatic expansiveness, invention and emotion, full of memorable themes and glorious textures. Composed in 1874 during a very productive period in the composer’s life, the concerto was premiered in Boston in 1875 by Hans von Bulow (Nikolay Rubenstein, Tchaikovsky’s favoured pianist, rejected the work as badly written and refused to play it). Tchaikovsky later revised the work in 1888 and it is this version which is most commonly performed today. In 1958 it became the first piece of classical music to sell a million records when the pianist Van Cliburn made an impassioned recording of the concerto. After the grandiose opening movement, the middle movement serves as a lyrical slow movement and a scherzo, while the finale is a breathless rondo based on a Ukrainian song. The works succeeds on every level: the virtuosity of the piano part is matched by vivid orchestration while the intricacies of the work are balanced by Tchaikovsky’s beautiful melodies.


This article first appeared on the Interlude HK website

Guest post by 1781 Collective

Classical music is elitist.

Classical music puts up barriers to new audiences.

Classical music is inaccessible and unwelcoming.

A fair chunk of us in classical music performance have heard, acknowledged, and pondered the above statements which are uttered often enough to help us understand why a large majority of the population generally doesn’t want anything to do with us.

Our answer? Make it more elitist, build bigger barriers, and make it even more unwelcoming.

That is, on the surface. Whilst it may seem paradoxical to the extreme, our goal is the do the exact opposite: to release classical music from the perceived elitism that admittedly has a monopoly on a product that we as performers feel too passionately about to let go.

 

UNDERSTANDING OUR CURRENT SITUATION:

First, we need to understand where the accusation of elitism stems from. As it cannot be the complex arrangement of sine waves and overtones that organise themselves into the actual music, it has to be something outside the actual making of it. We point the finger directly at the institutions and organisations that charge themselves with ‘protecting’ classical music, i.e., the gatekeepers surrounding classical music who have spent the past 100 years building a wall around it (or as Daniel Barenboim termed, those in the ‘Ivory Tower’[1]) to make sure it is as hard as possible for an outsider to walk in.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in existing concert formats. For those of us who have attended more than a few concerts, the existing ritual is a wonderful experience. Arriving early to the Philharmonie, Staatsoper, Southbank Centre, Wigmore Hall (or wherever you prefer to get your kicks); having a crémant before the performance; settling down in your seats and waiting for the lights to dim; knowing exactly when applause is due and frowned upon; relishing in the silent nature that allows one to listen intently; having a pretzel during the interval (sorry U.K., the ‘Interval Ice Cream’ is good, the German ‘Pause Pretzel’ is GREAT) – all of these things we happily agree to upon entry because it is familiar, and a great way to listen to music that more often than not, we are acquainted with or have expectations of.

As an industry, we’re always bleating and bashing our heads against the walls to how to convince the white whale of marketing‘new, young audiences’ – that what we’re doing is a tonne-of-fun and they should come and shut up and realise what they’ve been missing. What we don’t realise is that telling anyone (not just the new and young) to come into an unfamiliar space filled with people all too willing to let them know when they’ve strayed from an unwritten set of rules, whilst sitting still for two hours to listen to something they’ve not necessarily any connection with… well, it hardly comes off as inviting.

So how does building bigger barriers, expectations, exclusivity, and coating it with a fairly thick pretentious layer of paint go against any of this?

RE-DESIGNING THE CONCERT FORMAT:

One of our first attempts at an answer has been to try and completely decontextualise classical music performance by looking at all the existing rituals inherent in the traditional format, and turn them around to observe how it affects audience enjoyment. These rituals can include (and are not limited to):

  • The choosing of concert based on repertoire, performers, instrumentation (generally online or in brochure form);
  • Purchasing tickets or reserving seats (generally online or through a ticket office);
  • Knowing dress codes and what is generally deemed ‘appropriate’ (seemingly obvious perhaps, though there is without doubt an expectation – bondage gear being generally frowned upon);
  • Arrival time at the venue and atmosphere (classical audiences know arriving at least fifteen minutes before is safe, and that there isn’t entry during performance. Non-classical audiences don’t necessarily know this);
  • When to applaud (the most contentious issue – no matter how much proof you give to fanatics, we’ll never go back to applauding between movements);
  • Communication of additional information through programme notes (is anyone else still worried that something as simple as performer speaking to audience is still referred to as a ‘new’ and ‘big’ change?);
  • Sitting silently during performance with as little movement as possible.

Our modifications to these existing rituals include:

  • Not communicating at any point who is performing and what repertoire will be presented – allowing us then to programme according to artistic desires rather than hiding a contemporary work between a Beethoven and a Brahms.
  • Sending formal invitations to selected guests, chosen to represent a wide variety of networks. Note: at least 80% of audience members are not those who currently engage with classical music on any constant level.
  • A strict dress-code policy of all white clothing. Originally this was to change with every performance (for instance, each member would need to wear flowers, or bring a gift), however the success of the white clothing in atmosphere curation has led us to instigate this as a constant across the series.
  • Knowledge of the arrival time (between 20:00-20:25), with no exception allowed.
  • A blanket ban on all applause – taking out the insecurity that non-classical listeners all experience, which can overwhelm their listening attention by creating a sense of anxiety. Note: repertoire selection needs to support thislarge fortissimo perfect cadences tend to leave the audience with the musical equivalent of ‘blue-balls’ if they’re not allowed to express afterwards.
  • Subtle communication of repertoire during the performance, and using a candelabra with five candles to let the audience know how many pieces have been played and how many remain.
  • Selecting different physical situations for each piece, including standing, kneeling, sitting cross-legged, lying down, eye-gazing with a neighbour, and free positions. The audience is informed that every position is wholly optional, with no insistence.

Finally, we want to address the existing performer-audience dynamic, traditionally based on a top-down model. Referred to by Prof. Julia Haferkorn in The Classical Music Industry as the ‘sit-and-stare’ model, audiences attend a performance as passive consumers: having chosen the particular concert they wish to attend, it is then up to the performer to bear the responsibility for the performance (outside of the audience not moving and clapping in the wrong places). We want to realign this relationship to a horizontal dynamic, with both audience and performer responsible for the outcome of the performance – a further justification for the dress code, arrival time, honouring their RSVP commitment, and non-applause. Primarily, we are looking to create a more direct and honest point of contact for the listener to challenge core communication issue that underlies the current barrier between audience and performer.

THE CASE FOR NEW RITUAL DESIGN:

All of this is geared towards delivering a strong element of value for the audience. By respecting certain requests and requirements, we imbue them with a responsibility which gives them more satisfaction at having contributed to that value. For non-classical audiences, simply begging them to attend because we promise the music will be great is not enough: adding additional layers to it welcomes them to see the event as a whole, separate to their existing notions of what a classical music performance is.

Most importantly, whilst designing these additional layers we are conscious of not letting anything get in the way of experience of the actual music – as our goal is to communicate high-quality classical music, nothing can be gimmicky or without justification. Each layer then is designed to highlight or enhance the listening experience, and we’re fully aware of the fine line that separates ‘effective’ and ‘interruptive’, meaning this process includes an element of trial and experiment. The challenge is to create a natural environment where the audience feels comfortable, whilst simultaneously maintaining the necessary elements of silence and reflection to allow them to delve fully into the music.

Our goal through this concert series is to develop a highly-engaged audience community, who we can then utilise as a base for further performance concepts going forward. By and large, this growing community is completely separate to the existing classical audience: as we have no desire to undermine or attack the traditional concert formats in our long-term mission, we aren’t seeking to convert traditional concertgoers to our methods – hence the focus on developing a new audience base. By ‘engaged’, we hope the attention to experience design, and increased audience responsibility and resulting value improvement, means they won’t attend purely for the Instagram-able nature of the events, or just so they can say ‘we went to this weird space to listen to classical music’. Our goal is not to trick people into liking classical music, but to demonstrate its real value.

Following on from this, we want to create a sense of trust in our product from the community, so they introduce the concept to their immediate networks – i.e., marketing. As mentioned above, the initial invitees have been selected because of the diversity of their networks. Each attendee then is encouraged through ‘Invite Cards’ to select friends they believe would appreciate the performance. Inspired by the members’ club model, we hope this method builds a large and motivated core group of attendees.

RESULTS, GOALS, PROJECTIONS:

Which brings us back to the concept of exclusivity, elitism, and unwelcoming barriers. Yes, on the surface, this is extremely exclusive. However this exclusivity is limited to these early stages of audience-community development – allowing us in the future to curate the larger, open-for-all performances that form our mid-term goals, with the knowledge there is a strong audience base to support. Whilst the images above scream ‘elitist’, we believe it is far removed from the perceived existing elitism that stains classical music in the form of traditional format expectations (which can seem like a private party where the initiated understand, and the ‘plebs’ don’t). And, as explained in detail above, the unwelcoming barriers have a two-fold effect: 1) building value and delegating responsibility to audience members; and 2) taking out uncertainty and anxiety from audiences by communicating exactly what is expected, giving them freedom to operate how they prefer within the clearly defined boundaries.

Is the concept perfect? Of course not, it is still very much a work in progress. Does it hold the answers on how to ‘save’ classical music? Again no, we don’t presume any claims of greatness in this realm. However, our audience retention and engagement has been pleasantly high with a vast majority of guests requesting to come to the next events, and reporting that they previously hadn’t experience such a close connection to classical music. Are we claiming our ideas to be unique? Not at all, they’ve been inspired by the constant historical change within the industry. And is it the only way to break out of the traditional model? Not by a long shot, there are many excellent groups doing some really excellent explorations – and one of our goals is to connect with them all.

Finally, to those who have gotten this far and are still not convinced – that’s great! We have no need to be in competition with you. As it is inconceivable that there is anyone who is actively trying to ruin classical music, it stands to reason that we’re all passionate about developing and communicating classical music to as many people as possible. To those who think everything above is trite and unreasonable, well if this is the case, trust the audience to make that decision – if true, then you probably won’t be hearing much more about it. All we can say is that we are looking forward to the future, and you’re more than welcome along for the ride.


The 1781 Collective.

www.1781collective.com
info@1781collective.com

About the 1781 Collective:

Why play along with their system, when we can just create our own?

1781 is an international collective of musicians and interdisciplinary artists. Launched in Autumn 2018, their mission is to explore new listening and performance methods with music, and offer an alternative to the traditional music industry for both audience and creators.


[1] Quote in Alan Rusbridger’s ‘Play it Again’

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

I actually started university with plans to do a double degree in maths and music. At a certain point though I realized that to not do music would be a much bigger decision than to continue on in the field – I’d been playing violin for basically my whole life and couldn’t remember a time when it wasn’t something I did!

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

I’d been very lucky to work with some great musicians, both as mentors and colleagues. I had the privilege of working with Yehudi Menuhin as a teenager, and more recently have had the chance to learn from and work with some of the world’s greatest conductors. I started my career quite young, as I won a position in the Montreal Symphony when I was 19. The first conductor I worked with there was Zubin Mehta, and continuously had great artists performing on stage five feet away from me. I quickly realized that there was a lot I could learn from getting to perform with the world’s best!

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

Like many fields, work-life balance in the classical music world is not easy and takes a lot of care. I travel a lot for performances, and finding the mix between touring life and family can be difficult. I’m lucky in my career to have had the chance to do many different things, including teaching, orchestra, chamber music and solo touring. Keeping on top of everything can be tough- I’m lucky to live in the days of cell phones and emails though!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Too many to mention! I really love recording, and I’m really happy to have had the chance to record Scheherazade with Peter Oundjian and the TSO when I first joined the orchestra. I’m also really proud of a recent New Orford String Quartet disc of Brahms Quartets, for which we won a JUNO!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Ha – whatever I haven’t played recently and I’m excited to revisit? I think this changes throughout one’s life – I feel great about coming back to certain pieces a learned as a kid – many of the standard concerti. I think living with a piece for a long time is a great way to feel comfortable with it.

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

Generally, this is a bit of a joint decision; with concerti it depends what the orchestra that I’m playing with has or hasn’t done recently, and with chamber music it’s a discussion with my colleagues. I find it interesting to tie in programs that might have a connection that people don’t realize, and I really love variety in programming within a single concert. It’s fascinating to hear how certain pieces are influenced by what came before them or what might have been going on around them in the world at the time of their creation.

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

I love touring and getting to experience different halls around the world. I always love to play in Carnegie Hall because of the history there, and I think that Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is just about the most beautiful looking and sounding building that I’ve ever seen!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I’d have to say performing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with Sir Yehudi Menuhin as conductor while I was still in university. The audience wouldn’t stop clapping after the first movement (it perhaps wasn’t a standard symphony-going public, but a lot of the general public wanted the chance to see such a legend live in concert…) and he thought the whole thing was hilarious. He was on stage laughing while I had no idea what to do!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think this varies from person to person. It’s so hard to make a living in classical music, and I think anyone who can actually perform great music for a living should be thrilled!

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

That’s a hard question to answer—so much of what we learn is through the process of doing, and needs to be experienced rather than taught. I personally find it hard to find a balance between striving for perfection, but accepting human frailty; I think to be successful in music one has to be a real perfectionist, but also to understand that perfection isn’t necessarily attainable and that audiences aren’t actually looking for a “perfect’ performance, but rather for something special to be communicated between performer and listener.

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

Specifically, where? Perhaps on a beach somewhere—it’s cold in Toronto right now! Seriously, I’d be happy to be exactly where I am right now…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Finding the perfect balance between life, family, career and everything else! Of course this balance is almost impossible to find, but I think the search is important.

What is your most treasured possession?

I guess everyone would expect me to say my violin? I’m not really sure honestly—things don’t last forever. I really like the recent studies that show that experiences make people much happier than things. Memories don’t wear out.

What is your present state of mind?

Somewhere between extremely relaxed and very stressed about all the things I need to do in the next two hours. Ask me again tomorrow and it will probably be exactly the same.

Jonathan Crow will be featured as a soloist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on 28, 29 and 30 June, performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto, under the direction of TSO incoming Music Director Gustavo Gimeno. Further information


Jonathan Crow has been Concertmaster of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra since 2011. A native of Prince George, British Columbia, Jonathan earned his Bachelor of Music in Honours Performance from McGill University in 1998, at which time he joined the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal (OSM) as Associate Principal Second Violin. Between 2002 and 2006, Jonathan was the Concertmaster of the OSM; during this time, he was the youngest concertmaster of any major North American orchestra. Jonathan continues to perform as guest concertmaster with orchestras around the world. He has also performed as a soloist with most major Canadian orchestras, under the baton of such conductors as Charles Dutoit, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Sir Andrew Davis, Peter Oundjian, Kent Nagano, Mario Bernardi, and João Carlos Martins.

Jonathan joined the Schulich School of Music at McGill University as an Assistant Professor of Violin and was appointed Associate Professor of Violin in 2010. Current and former students of Mr. Crow have received prizes at competitions around the world, and work regularly with major orchestras in North America and Europe. Jonathan is currently Associate Professor of Violin at the University of Toronto.

In 2016, Jonathan was named Artistic Director of Toronto Summer Music, which recently announced record attendance in his first full season. An avid chamber musician, he has performed at chamber music festivals throughout North America, South America, and Europe. He is a founding member of the JUNO Award–winning New Orford String Quartet, a project-based ensemble dedicated to the promotion of standard and Canadian string quartet repertoire throughout North America. As an advocate of contemporary music, he has premièred works by Canadian composers Michael Conway Baker, Eldon Rathburn, Barrie Cabena, Gary Kulesha, Tim Brady, Francois Dompierre, Ana Sokolovic, Marjan Mozetich, Christos Hatzis, Ernest MacMillan, and Healey Willan. He also includes in his repertoire major concerti by such modern composers as Ligeti, Schnittke, Bernstein, Brian Cherney, Rodney Sharman, Vivian Fung, and Cameron Wilson.

Jonathan has recorded for ATMA, Bridge, CBC, Oxingale, Skylark, and XXI-21 labels and is heard frequently on Chaîne Culturelle of Radio-Canada, CBC Radio Two, and National Public Radio, along with Radio France, Deutsche Welle, Hessischer Rundfunk, and the RAI in Europe.

Over on my sister blog A Piano Teacher Writes…. I recently cited two new anthologies of piano music, which on face value seemed a useful addition to the student pianist’s repertoire. On closer inspection, however, I found that one anthology contained not a single piece by a female composer, and the other contained a piece composed by the author, who happens to be a woman. This lack of diversity troubles me – and it’s not some kind of gender identity/feminist virtue signalling on my part, but rather a wish to offer students and piano enthusiasts as broad a range of music as possible. We are so lucky as pianists to have access to a vast repertoire, yet too many anthologies focus on the core canon, which is mostly music written by long dead white guys.

Read my article here

In an ideal scenario, we wouldn’t need to differentiate between male and female composers, but unfortunately while inequality of representation exists in anthologies and concert programmes, I believe it is important to highlight this. And so, as a positive step, I’d like to compile an online resource via this blog of graded piano music written by female composers. I hope this will be of use to teachers and piano students in seeking new repertoire.

Please feel free to submit music for inclusion, ideally with an estimate grade/ability level and a link to the score or publisher information.  Use the comment box below or Email Me with your nominations. I have also created a collaborative playlist on Spotify to which you are welcome to add tracks

Here are a few of my own suggestions to get us started:

Sadie Harrison

  • Lunae – Four Nocturnes for Solo Piano (Advanced/Grade 8/Diploma/University of York Music Press)
  • Northern Lights (Intermediate/Grade 5-6/UYMP)
  • Four Jazz Portraits (Advanced/Grade 8/Diploma/UYMP)

Jenni Pinnock

  • Rains (Intermediate/Grade 5/available via Jenni’s website)
  • Captive (Advanced/Grade 8/available via Jenni’s website)
  • Frost (Intermediate/available via Jenni’s website)

Cheryl Frances-Hoad

  • Homages Book 2 (Advanced/available via Cheryl’s website)
  • Love Song for Dusty (as above)

Meredith Monk

  • Railroad (Travel Song) (Intermediate/Grade 6/Boosey & Hawkes)

Karen Tanaka

  • Northern Lights (early intermediate/Grade 4/ABRSM Spectrum series)

June Armstrong

from Strangford Sketchbook

  • Still Light on the Lough  (Grades 6-7/available via June Armstrong’s website)
  • Temple Dancer in Blue (Grade 6/available as above)

Jennifer Linn

  • ‘Un phare dans la brouillard’ from Les Petites Impressions (Intermediate/Grade 6/available as digital download or in anthology)

Germaine Tailleferre

  • Impromptu (Advanced/Grade 7-8/Editions Jobert)

Alison Wrenn (Berry)