FFGuy for F&AGuest interview by Michael Johnson

François-Frédéric Guy was just finishing his 20th performance at the piano festival of La Roque d’Anthéron in the south of France. The 2200-seat outdoor amphitheatre was almost full as Guy displayed his love of Beethoven – playing two of his greatest sonatas, No. 16 and No. 26 (“Les Adieux”). After the interval, Guy took his place at the Steinway grand again and shook up the audience with the stormy opening bars of the Hammerklavier sonata. It was like a thunderclap, as Beethoven intended. The audience sat up straight and listened in stunned silence. Monsieur Guy joined me and a colleague after his concert for a question-and-answer session about his playing, the role of the piano in his life, and his future as a conductor of Beethoven symphonies.

Question: Can you describe your technique for creating such a stormy opening for Hammerklavier? The audience was thrilled.

Answer: I try to achieve several things at once with those opening bars – signaling immediately the dimension of the complete work, its conquering majesty, and the vital energy that begins to build from those enormous, outsized chords. I try to give it weight and pace, as Beethoven wanted. It is as if Beethoven was saying, “Let’s go conquer the universe!”

Q. And your surprising low-key encore? What were you thinking?

A. I enjoy the idea behind this little piece which is probably the best-known and simplest work of Beethoven. I chose it to come immediately after the most dense and complex of Beethoven’s work, one that is relatively little known to the general public. But “Elise” is also Beethoven and can, as you say, touch people to the point of tears.

Q. What does music mean to you, as a career pianist. Since we have known each other – nearly 25 years – you have dedicated yourself entirely to music.

A. Music fills my life, my existence. Even when I am not at the instrument, even when I am speaking of other things…. Through music, one can express things that words cannot.

Q. I see you are busy – 50 concerts and recitals per year.

A. Yes, now it’s closer to 60, apportioned among concertos, chamber music and solo recitals. I try to maintain a balance of about one-third for each format.

Q. Your new career seems to be taking off – now you are an orchestral conductor …

A. Yes, I am doing some conducting. I started by conducting from the keyboard, the so-called “play and conduct” format. Seven or eight years ago I started doing the Beethoven piano concertos that way, and it’s becoming more a part of my life. Now I have booked about ten play-and-conduct engagements in which I add a performance on the podium, conducting the full orchestra.

Q. Alone on the podium? What drove you to undertake this new challenge?

A. Actually it’s an old dream dating back to adolescence. I started conducting from the keyboard, and gravitated to the podium. My conducting has been well-received so I am continuing. For the moment, I conduct only Beethoven.

Q. Only the symphonies?

A. Yes, I have already done the Fourth and Fifth at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées and will conduct the Seventh in October at the Opéra de Limoges, with its very good orchestra that I have worked with frequently. I enjoy it very much, and will conduct Beethoven’s “Fidélio” there in 2022.

Q. Will you do what Rudolf Buchbiner did in Aix recently, all five piano concertos in one day?

A. Yes, I am scheduled to do just that in January, again at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées. We will start at 7 p.m. with Nos. 1 and 3, then a break, returning for Nos. 2 and 4, and finally at 10 p.m. the Fifth.

Q. This sounds like a major exploit!

A. That’s not at all why I am doing it. I merely want to take the public on a journey with me to better understand the evolution of these concertos. I find this idea very exciting and I think the public will as well. In addition, these concertos are all works of genius and so individual – each one has its own character. They do not encroach on each other. It’s like a great crossing of seas on an ocean liner. I will be taking the public with me.

Q. I was also thinking of it as a physical marathon.

A. Yes, both musically and intellectually. It’s even more true in a play-and-conduct format because I have to control what’s going on around the piano. We must remember, though, that in Beethoven’s time all concertos were performed like this. There were no conductors. Same goes for Mozart.

Q. So you are putting yourself in Beethoven’s and Mozart’s shoes, so to speak?

A. Well yes, somewhat, a bit. It’s a return to the concertos as they were intended. The piano is not king – it’s there for a dialogue with the instrumentalists, like a big family.

Q. Do you like the feeling of disappearing into the orchestra when you play-and-conduct?

A. Yes indeed. The pianist turns his or her back on the audience and is encircled by the other players. So there is a sort of fraternity – no rivalry – but it’s not easy. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does, there is a kind of unity, and that’s what is so interesting.

Q. You have said that keyboard conducting gives you a new understanding of the music. What do you mean? Does it really change your perspective?

A. Absolutely. When you play traditionally with a conductor, one must be familiar with the orchestral parts while concentrating essentially on the piano part – that’s our role. But when the pianist and the conductor are the same person, it becomes clear how completely the piano is integrated into Beethoven’s concept, and Mozart too, and then later Brahms and Schumann.

Q. How did you go about studying for your role as a conductor?

A. Well I am largely self-taught, an autodidact. But I have been counseled by some eminent conductors, notably Philippe Jordan, conductor of the Bastille Opera and soon to direct the Vienna Staatsoper, when he leaves the Bastille next year. He is a fabulous conductor, an extraordinary talent. He has helped me tremendously. And another one is Pascal Rophé, conductor of the Orchestre des Pays de Loire – Nantes and Angers. He has been a big help with the Beethoven symphonies. But I am essentially self-taught and I have no ambitions to become a full-time conductor.

Q. Ah no? That was my question – isn’t there a temptation to leave the piano behind? Solti, Bernstein and many others abandoned the piano to conduct.

A. No, no, that’s not my plan. Conducting is an extension of my interests in music. For example, I have played practically all of Beethoven’s piano music, all his chamber music, all his important piano works. And it seemed natural to try conducting. I could not imagine NOT conducting one of the symphonies. So I had to learn how to do it.

Q. Contemporary music in one of your big interests. You have collaborated with the composer Tristan Murail, I believe, and others?

A. Yes, I am currently on a concerto Tristan Murail is composing for me. What matters for me is new ideas in composition that still retain traditional structures. I want innovation, ideas that change the piano and the orchestra. Sounds we have never heard before. That’s what interests me with Tristan Murail.

Q. Are you spending your life focused solely on the piano to the exclusion of all other activities? Some pianists wear blinkers.

A. I am not wrapped up in a bubble. Nothing stops me from following important events, such as Korea, or the relations between the two Koreas.

Q. You are in touch with people outside the world of music?

A. Yes, I am very involved in astronomy, for example. I study mushrooms!

Q. Mushrooms?

A. Yes. The other day I found ten kilos of cepes on my property in the Dordogne. I have always had a passion for mushrooms of all types.

Q. John Cage was also a mushroom enthusiast. He wrote books about them. He even created the New York Mycological Society for the study of mushrooms.

A. I am a specialist too. I know all the names of different species in Latin.

Q. Tell us about your tenth Beethoven cycle planned for Tokyo. What does it consist of?

A. What it means is that I will play all of the 32 Beethoven sonatas from memory over a ten-day period, about three weekends, for the tenth time. Almost twelve hours of music.

Q. Do you have a loyal fan base in Japan?

A. Yes, yes. I usually play in a very beautiful hall in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. Two years ago I played there with the Dresden orchestra conducted by Michael Sanderling. And last year I played all the Beethoven violin and piano sonatas there.

Q. If you give 60 recitals and concerts a year, as you said at the start of this interview, can you still find time to develop new repertoire?

A. Yes, I try to master one or two important works every year. I recently accepted to learn and play a concerto by Enescu. I always try to put aside time for new works.

Q. But at your age, don’t you find you learn more slowly?

A. Yes, I am 50 years old. But I have many things I want to do in music. I am not stopping.

 

Artist portrait by Michael Johnson


Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. He worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his writing career. He is the author of five books and divides his time between Boston and Bordeaux. He is a regular contributor to The Cross-Eyed Pianist

 

(This article first appeared on the Facts & Arts site. Illustrations by the author.)

 

 

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

I didn’t have any intention to do it early on. I was training as a ballet dancer, with the hopes of pursuing that professionally, but had also been studying the piano since I was very small, and composition at the local university since I was 14. So, when injuries and illness put an end to ballet, just after I started full-time training, I enrolled in a music degree, as I couldn’t face going back to complete high school. The wonderful professor who’d been teaching me composition was also head of conducting. He saw those two disciplines as complimentary threads, and knew I had a strong interest in harmony and analysis and had conducted a little at school, so encouraged me to add it to my degree. It just grew from there.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

I am enormously, and endlessly, inspired by my husband, Jon Hargreaves – a contemporary music specialist, and my co-Artistic Director at Nevis Ensemble. Every project he creates is rigorously and creatively thought-out, and his ability to open up complex music to players of every experience level is second to none.

My grandmother Louise Carroll was a very important formative influence. She was a superb pianist as a young woman, but had to turn down a scholarship to study in London due to a pregnancy. She married my grandfather and channelled her musical energies into teaching and motherhood instead. I started harmony, piano and composition with her when I was about 4 years old, and fell asleep on many nights to the sound of her playing Medtner, Poulenc, Rachmaninov, Nielsen. Any sense of musical style that I can claim to have comes from what I absorbed as I dropped off to sleep, I’m sure. The grounding she gave me in harmony is the foundation of everything that I do.

Lastly, when I first arrived in the UK, I worked for two years as the librarian at the Philharmonia. Happy, exhausting years. I learnt so much from watching and talking to Esa-Pekka, Maazel, Dohnanyi etc, but also through my discussions with the players, many of whom are now amongst my dearest friends. They were generous, insightful and caring teachers.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

At the moment, the greatest challenge is the anxiety. It can be crippling, and some orchestras really enjoy making the conductor suffer! I do better work when I’m with ensembles that are healthy and happy in spirit, and don’t project so much negativity onto the podium, because I can be very sensitive to it. But even with the friendliest band, the first rehearsal can be terrifying. Imposter syndrome is widespread in the music world, especially among conductors I think, and we all cope with it differently.

On the flip side, when you find that wonderful working rhythm with a group, to the point you can throw ideas at each other in the performance, and play together in quite an improvisatory way, it is pure gold. That interaction and level of communal creative responsibility is a beautiful thing. Also, actually meeting audience members, going to chat with people and have a cuppa after the concert is great – a powerful reminder of who we do it all for, but also how significant connectedness is to the arts. Doing perfect music “at” people and then leaving without any personal connection is far less satisfying to me than making whatever adjustments and measures are necessary to actually involve people, and find out why music is significant to them. Live music is a far more potent social lubricant than alcohol, and it is the doing of it, the sharing of it as an experience, wherein lies the magic.

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

This is a tricky one… Of course, there is an ideal scenario that we’re all taught to speak of in hushed tones, in which we have weeks or even months to prepare a major score, and craft an analysis; enough rehearsal time to forge a gripping realisation of it; and divinely-inspired technique with which to communicate it. Utter b*ll*cks, really. A 19th-century fantasy. In reality, for 99% of working conductors, especially those of us in the early stages of our careers, we are tearing through scores with barely enough time to process them on even a basic level; spending much of our time working (happily!) with young people and non-professionals who require a totally different, and far from ideal, physical gesture to help them through; and when we are with a good professional band playing repertoire with a capital R, a significant portion of the rehearsal period involves allowing the orchestra to play you THEIR version of the piece. Hear the knowledge and experience of the piece that they bring to the room, listen to the sound they enjoy making, work out who in the room is central to their playing style, assess the relationship between the string principals, and work out whether the principal bass and timpanist listen to each other (hot tip: if not, the best conducting technique in the world can’t save you or them.) You can then add your contribution to the pot, and hopefully it will be a valuable one, but at the end of the day, this is their performance, their hard work and their energy being channelled.

As I was writing this, I thought “maybe it’s different for the elite conductors at the top of the food chain”? After all, the higher a conductor rises in the industry, the more specialised and narrow their repertoire tends to become, and the more easily they can turn down extra gigs, so of course they will know it in far greater depth. But also, I’ve watched many a 5-star maestro sight-read one of the pieces in the first rehearsal. By the second play, the really brilliant ones will have something helpful to say at every point of the piece. They think on their feet and ascertain immediately how to be of use. That is true virtuosity, in a weird kind of way!

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

Well, perhaps this is answered already above. But for a more pithy soundbite, I’d say our role is to be useful, in whatever way is needed in that specific situation. That might be helping the orchestra understand the piece, if it’s unfamiliar repertoire; but often it’s a far more practical role of knowing how to put out the fires when needed, and keeping the orchestra’s nose pointing in the right direction. With a really good orchestra, the most helpful thing you can do is get the jet off the ground, then let the engine (the players!) fly. 99% of the time, they really don’t need you – or, at least, your contribution is no better than anything they can do themselves, so do your best to keep it minimal and worthwhile. I always feel sad when really young conductors get thrown straight into the A-list orchestras, because they never really learn the skills required for those earlier scenarios – nor do they get to experience the genuine satisfaction of performing when you really are needed. The big bands will play brilliantly regardless of your posturing on the podium; but you can do serious damage in other situations, if you’ve not really learnt how to roll your sleeves up, listen deeply and rehearse effectively.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

The operas by Schreker and Korngold are at the top of my dream-list. Highly impractical. Utterly lush.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

We regularly take Nevis Ensemble to the Nan MacKay Memorial Hall – a lovely little community centre in South Glasgow with a full-time programme of activities and resources for anyone in the community in need of company; the elderly, people with social issues, recent newcomers from the refugee community come together to grow veggies, play mah-jong and do craft and exercise classes. There’s barely enough room for the orchestra to set up, and I need to stand on a coffee table in order for the brass and winds to see me. The audience sit around us with bowls of crisps, and there’s always a spread of food afterwards that would make your gran proud. But the energy in the room is like a carnival, and we always meet some really interesting people there. It’s impossible to go there and not come out beaming and full of hope for humanity.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

My favourite musicians are the incredible amateur music-makers who are the backbone of musical life in this country. Composers…? Well, Schreker and Korngold are high on the list, obviously! I have pretty broad tastes, but some lurid late Romanticism, just on the brink of early Modernism, will always set me purring.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Not needing to do it – I don’t mean financially, but… spiritually. If my right arm fell off tomorrow and I had to change careers, I’d be quite excited about getting to choose something new and fresh. I take that as an indication that my relationship to my work is quite healthy. The day that balance shifts too far in the other direction is the day I should retire.

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

1. Perfection should not be the end we’re after; it’s far more satisfying to an audience to witness curious, brave musicians who are on a journey with a piece than virtuosity with no value beyond itself. You’ll also grow into a performer (and human) of greater depth and flexibility by challenging yourself in that way. So, don’t sweat the small stuff in a performance; your job is to invite the orchestra and audience into your process, not show them how clever you are.

2. Every single aspect of your life as a musician is a construct. Question it all!

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

Somewhere with mountains nearby, and a work-life balance that allows me to adopt a dog!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking up in a remote, wild part of the world, and peering out of the tent to find Jon brewing a cup of earl grey tea on the billy. Bliss, though I’m not sure he’d agree.

What is your most treasured possession?

I love my Xbox for evenings when I don’t need to study, and we have a beloved collection of tea mugs, all of which have a personal story behind them. So, basically, anything in the house, the function of which intersects with my slippers and the sofa…

What is your present state of mind?

Two things:

1. Exhausted. It’s been a long season and I only get 2 weeks off before it all starts again.

2. Content! I’m having a ball touring the Scottish Highlands and Islands with Scottish Chamber Orchestra this week. They’re lovely people and superb colleagues.


New Zealand-born Holly Mathieson is an award-winning conductor, regularly working with opera houses, ballet companies and orchestras in Europe, Australasia and North America. She frequently records for BBC Radio, and her first major commercial recording with Decca will be released in July 2019. Her work has seen her travel to nearly every continent on the planet, and perform for audiences spanning from the British Royal Family and Europe’s political elites, to Scotland’s homeless and refugee communities. She is the founder and artistic director of Rata Music Collective, and Co-Artistic Director of the Nevis Ensemble with Jon Hargreaves.

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Music composed by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is enjoying a resurgence of interest, in part due to the completion of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony by Chinese tech firm Huawei. The international harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has also performed music created by AI in a concert exploring the relationship between music and maths, and the notion that J S Bach was a musical “coder”.

Music created using AI is not new. Back in the 1980s, American composer David Cope experimented with music composed by AI using a computer programme he devised himself. This was actually in response to his own compositional writer’s block and he quickly found that his computer could compose far more – and far more quickly – than he ever could. One afternoon, he left his computer running the composing programme and when he returned, it had created 5000 original chorales in the style of J S Bach.

This music does not happen automatically – though it may appear to. In order for AI to create, it needs to be given a set of instructions, rules and parameters. David Cope fed into his computer a complex code (algorithm) based not only on the patterns and “rules” found in Bach’s music but also the tiny but myriad places where Bach breaks his own rules which makes his music distinctive. Cope also factored in fluctuations in tempo, dynamics, narrative tension and suspense, and indeed as many of the “storytelling” elements in music as he could identify (being a composer himself he would be alert to these details). The resulting music is surprisingly convincing, idiomatically Bach and in many instances indistinguishable from the original. Cope put his AI music to the test with a live performance of music created by Bach, AI and musicologist Dr Steve Larson in the style of Bach. The audience selected the AI piece as genuine Bach and Larson’s piece as composed by the computer. Reactions were mixed. Some people were angry, fearful that the role of composer would become superfluous if a computer could do the job as well – and better, in terms of its ability to create so much music so quickly.

This of course is the true “power” of the computer. Its processing capability is far in excess of anything even the most quick-thinking, mentally agile human being could ever achieve, and it has the ability to run the musical algorithm through seemingly endless permutations. Not only can a computer process many thousands of calculations per second, it can do this 24/7 without ever getting distracted or tired, hungry or bored. Compound this with the ability to network many processors together and their processing power and speed massively exceeds anything we mere humans can manage. The machine learning aspect of the programme enables the system to analyse and identify commonalities which signify the style and characteristics of a particular composer or musical genre, and then compose “new examples of music in the style of the music in its database without replicating any of those pieces exactly” (David Cope).

Other critics of David Cope’s music claimed it had no “humanity”, that it was without emotion or “soul” – unlike music written by human composers whose unique style (apparently) springs from a deep well of emotion and experience. Others denounced it as plagiarism, pure and simple. But this is not “copying” or plagiarism per se because the AI music contains the musical signature of Bach via the code created by Cope and makes new music based on that rather than simply replicating. And don’t all composers “borrow” from others, to a greater or lesser extent?

Music created by AI presents an interesting philosophical question: where does the “soul” or emotional content of music actually reside? In the notes on the score? In the musicians’ interpretation of those notes? Or in the individual emotional responses of the listener?

The score is just ink on paper, and the organisation of the notes a form of code. We can easily decode this if we know how to read it. One could argue that the notation encodes the “soul” through expression, articulation, dynamics, tempo, harmony and melody – directions which are given to us, the musician, through the score. And as David Cope acknowledged, it is all the subtleties and nuances, the tension and release, suspensions and resolutions which give music its character.

The musicians provide a bridge between the score and the audience and bring the musical code to life. They “interpret” the score, not only by reading and decoding what’s written on the page, but also through their personal experiences, musicianship and musical intelligence. Here we may come close to the soul of the music, and it is that personal interpretation which leads so many people to enjoy music. Consider for a moment how many recordings there are of Schubert’s final piano sonata – yet each is different and each contains the unique ‘fingerprints’ of the individual performer in their understanding and decoding of Schubert’s musical DNA as set out in his score. Equally, the sparsest lead sheet, that pared-down ‘code’ used by jazz musicians for example, can result in a ‘soulful’ or deeply emotional performance.

If there is any ‘soul’ in music, it is perhaps most potently found in the relationship between the music, the performers and the listener, and our personal emotional responses to the music.

The feelings that we get from listening to music are something we produce, it’s not there in the notes. It comes from emotional insight in each of us, the music is just the trigger.

David Cope

What music created by AI and reactions to it reveal is that we can get over-attached to the mystery of human agency necessary for the creation of music: the varied and finite lives of composers and the romanticisation of their lives and deaths adds to our emotional response to music. We want to believe we can hear in their music Schumann’s mental breakdown, or Schubert railing against the illness which killed him at 31, and we may attach all sorts of meanings to the music which aren’t actually in the sound itself. We describe the emotions unleashed by the music and speculate on what the composer was trying to say.

AI also poses questions about creativity, and given that human beings love making music, and art, and there is already plenty to fill an audience’s liftetime, does its further production need to be automated? David Cope certainly believes it can benefit from automation and regards his AI programme as an extension of his composing self which enables him to compose more quickly. Reassuringly, he also concedes that “real” music is better than the music created by AI, and that professional composers are unlikely to be seriously threatened by automation.

Creativity is simple; consciousness, intelligence, those are hard.

David Cope

https://open.spotify.com/track/5BkCBpJGkiOAHzwpg2WhLD


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Cabaret Beyond Borders at Café Yukari, Saturday 5 October, 7.30pm

Special offer for readers of this blog

International duo Elena Lorenzi and Stefano Marzanni take us on a journey into the fascinating world of cabaret from Parisian bistros to decadent 1930’s Berlin, and the underground clubs of Budapest, Vienna, Zurich and Moscow.

Accompanied by pianist Stefano Marzanni, Elena Lorenzi is not only a great singer and performer but also a passionate cabaret curator, dedicated to telling the real story – from lyrical romance and love, to dark, biting satire, politics and existentialist reflections on the meaning of life.

In Cabaret Beyond Borders Elena and Stefano bring to life songs made famous by Edith Piaf and Dalida, from the satire of Mischa Spoliansky to the revolutionary spirit of Kurt Weill and the dynamic French chansons of Léo Ferré.

Tickets £14 each (a saving of £4 on full price ticket)

BOOK TICKETS

Venue: Neighbourhood Café Yukari, 110 North Road, Kew, Richmond TW9 4HJ (nearest station: Kew Gardens)

**Please note this is a very small venue and early booking is recommended to secure your seat**

 

“Those smokey, stylish Parisian jazz clubs and edgy pre-war Berlin cabarets…..truly come to life again in Classic Cabaret” (audience member at Classic Cabaret)

“atmospheric, stirring and deeply moving” (audience member)

Calling female musicians, composers and conductors to take part in the Meet the Artist interview series

 

Established in 2012 by blogger Frances Wilson (“The Cross-Eyed Pianist”), Meet the Artist is a series of interviews in which musicians, conductors and composers discuss aspects of their creative lives, including inspirations, influences, repertoire, performance, recording, significant teachers and more. The interviews offer revealing insights into the musician’s working life and each one provides advice to young or aspiring musicians.

The interview takes the form of a short questionnaire. Originally hosted entirely on the The Cross-Eyed Pianist site, the series has grown in popularity to such an extent that it now has its own dedicated website.

If you would like to take part in the Meet the Artist series, please download an interview questionnaire and return it to Frances Wilson (contact details on questionnaire).

Meet the Artist questionnaire – musician/performer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Composer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Conductor

Nadine André is a classical pianist and teacher who performs both as a soloist and chamber musician and teaches piano and chamber music at three institutions, including the junior department at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Here Nadine explains why she has decided to embark on one of the most comprehensive and demanding Pilates teacher training programmes in the world.

I frequently meet musicians who suffer from injury or debilitating, ongoing physical issues that prevent them from playing their instruments freely. In some cases, people who have dedicated their whole lives to music have to stop playing altogether. I find this incredibly frustrating and, until recently, I have never come across a method of therapy or exercise that is truly rehabilitative and that can address and fix the cause of these issues.

Don’t get me wrong, physical therapy sessions are great! They can be restorative, alleviate pain and improve well-being, however, it is rare that these sessions get to the very root of a physical problem and deal with fixing the issue in the WHOLE body, not just the isolated area. If the therapy does treat the whole body, the effects often wear off and the issue returns. Medical intervention frequently involves temporary treatments such as steroid injections into a joint and, while surgery is occasionally necessary, it can often be avoided, and should only be a last resort.

I have amassed so many questions about this over the years…

  • Is playing the piano with ease really this difficult?
  • Is practising the particulars on your instrument for endless hours really the best way to achieve a perfect state in performance?… Apparently not.
  • Is there a form of exercise or therapy that can truly change the body, from the inside out?
  • Is there a form of deep and comprehensive training I can do that isn’t medical that will enable me to help my fellow musicians?
  • Is there a way of learning to be more integrated, where the mind can become much more closely connected to the body, but that also strengthens it? (I’m a huge fan of Alexander Technique and have had years of private lessons but, for all its virtues, it doesn’t address muscle weakness.)

After mulling over different possibilities and trying different forms of therapy and exercise to improve my own body, I have finally found what I believe is the perfect solution. I make this sound like I’ve given it the occasional thought… far from it. I’ve agonised over this, had sleepless nights on occasion, questioned my identity as a teacher and struggled with dealing with my own physical pain for years. This is a decision that I arrived at when several aspects of my life converged into one moment. Corny though it may sound, it was indeed an epiphany (and happened at about 2am last summer).

I discovered Pilates almost 6 years ago and I loved it. I received expert tuition from Sonja Fitzpatrick in Epsom, and once I’d had my light-bulb moment and decided to train as a Pilates teacher, Sonja encouraged me to do my research and try different methods. I knew that I wanted to train as true to Joseph Pilates’ method as possible and researching this lead me to Classical Pilates.

kp_image_3
(image from Kinetic Pilates)

It was in February this year (2019) that I came across Kinetic Pilates in north London, and discovered that Rebecca Convey is THE UK teacher-trainer for Romana’s Pilates. I did some digging and found out that Romana was a devoted student of Joseph Pilates’, working closely with him and his wife Clara for years. After his death, Romana set up a teacher training programme with Clara that would ensure future teachers of his method stayed as true to his system and approach as possible. It seemed that this was as close as I would get to learning Pilates (or ‘Contrology’ as Joseph called it), as it was meant to be learnt.

After several weeks of lessons with Rebecca and James Palmer, another fantastic teacher at Kinetic Pilates, I noticed my piano playing start to change. My hands felt much lighter, my pelvis more stable and my whole body was more powerful. The technical issues I’d been dealing with for decades were melting away and I was playing with much greater ease. I knew that this was my path and felt certain that this teacher training method would enable me to fulfil my desire to help others.

Read the full article on Nadine’s website

nadine_andre_about