Julian Davis, a retired professor of endocrinology, shares his passion for the piano…..

How long have you been playing the piano?

I started playing when I was about 6 years old, so quite a few decades now!

What attracted you to the piano?

My father was a self-taught pianist and enjoyed playing Chopin Mazurkas, so I heard piano music from a young age. He bought an upright piano, and I think I was just fascinated with trying to make a nice sound with all those tempting black and white keys.

What kind of repertoire do you enjoy playing, and listening to?

My favourite composer since my teenage years was Bartók, and ever since then I have enjoyed exploring 20th century repertoire – initially I enjoyed Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Messiaen, and then discovered some of the music written since the 1950s, by composers such as Stockhausen, Boulez and Ligeti. But as I have got older, I have discovered the huge riches of all the great classical composers, and favourites now have to include Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. Over the past few months my big challenge pieces have been the Brahms Handel variations, Prokofiev’s 7th sonata, Schubert’s D784 sonata, and Bartók’s 1926 sonata. I really enjoy music for two pianos, and with some indulgent pianist friends I’ve had the pleasure of ranging widely over the 2-piano repertoire, from Mozart to John Adams. (Although no-one has been tempted to look at ‘Mantra’ yet!)

Apart from piano music, I have had some of the greatest pleasure playing chamber music. I think my favourite chamber music is that of Brahms, but I’ve been lucky to play a huge range of works, mainly 19th and 20th century music.

How do you make the time to practise? Do you enjoy practising?

Somehow practising – at least as an adult – has always been a pleasure in itself, and I have had real enjoyment from carefully working on something that’s quite hard but eventually starts to become possible. When I was working full time it was hard to do as much as I wanted, but somehow I always found a way to get to a piano. I did the LRAM performance diploma while working as a junior doctor. It was the hardest thing I’ve done: I managed to get 2 hours’ practice from 6am until starting work, and then had more time during the evenings when I wasn’t on call in the hospital. I’m surprised that the neighbours tolerated it!

If you are taking piano lessons what do you find a) most enjoyable and b) most challenging about your lessons?

I have had lessons on and off all my life, and still gain a huge amount from occasional lessons. I find a lesson quite a goal in itself, and always find that I’m just as nervous playing in front of a single critic, however friendly, as I am playing in front of an audience. Having a lesson coming up makes me focus properly on practice, and review my goals. The most enjoyable aspect I think is the chance to focus for a couple of hours on music that I love, and that I’ve worked hard to master, combining advice on technical challenges with ideas about how to convey it more effectively, often in ways that I hadn’t thought of. The challenge: well, that is trying to master the technical aspects as well as possible beforehand in order to allow the lesson to move on beyond that – and the real challenge of course is always that I never play as well as I think I should!

Have you attended any piano courses? What have you gained from the experience?

I haven’t really had the time to attend courses until recently, when I have started to go to the Dartington International Summer School. I first went to Dartington in 1983, and returned 30 years later. The escape from work to a week of intensive music-making in the summer school has felt somehow magical every time I’ve been, and I haven’t been able to resist returning for the past few years. A week at Dartington has all sorts of opportunities for music, but for me the piano master-classes and workshops have proved particularly inspiring.

Do you play with other musicians? If so, what are the particular pleasures and challenges of ensemble work?

I love playing solo music, and the feeling of self-sufficiency and responsibility makes it important for me. However ensemble playing has always been one of life’s biggest pleasures. Each ensemble feels very different, and working together as a duo, or as a trio or a larger group provides something very special in terms of musical and inter-personal dynamic. At its best, the sense of musical give and take, intense listening, and working together to create something wonderful that you can’t do alone, can be one of the most magical experiences that I have had in music.

Do you perform? What do you enjoy/dislike about performing?

I don’t think I’m naturally very extrovert, but I do enjoy performing. It’s a pleasure when I feel well prepared, and when I feel I can convey something about music I love to an audience. I find concerts where the performers talk about the music much more rewarding, and I like to talk about the music I’m playing, not at length, but enough to tell people about the context of when and why the music was written, how its structure works, and why I like it.

Recently I’ve found that house-concerts have been really satisfying. We can only fit 10-12 people into the room with the pianos, with a few sitting on the floor, but others can overspill into the hallway or in another room. The informality of a short programme, with tea and cake and friends and children milling around, seems to work well, and our very loyal friends and neighbours seem happy to come back for more.

What advice would you give to other adults who are considering taking up or returning to the piano?

Do it! I think that learning the piano is a peculiarly rich activity: there is the fulfilment of gradually achieving a technical challenge, and the tactile pleasure of interacting with the instrument, together with the magic of making a piece of great music come alive in front of you.

If you could play one piece, what would it be?

This sounds like the challenge put to me by my teacher, William Howard: ‘What work have you always wanted to play, but thought you couldn’t?’ The answer of course, is that there’s a long list of such pieces! But limiting myself to one work sounds rather tough… but for something unattainable, how about Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.


 

Renowned pianist, Paul Roberts, will entertain guests with an evening recitals of piano works by Debussy and Beethoven in Finchcocks’ newly renovated vaulted cellar

Finchcocks, the newly transformed piano school in Goudhurst, Kent, today announced its charity piano concert event to support the work of Help Musicians UK. The intimate evening of music will celebrate the two-hundredth anniversary of the delivery of one of Thomas Broadwood’s best pianos to Beethoven.

The concert is in collaboration with John Broadwood and Sons, and will take place at historic Finchcocks on the 27th May 2018, beginning at 7.30pm.

All proceeds from ticket sales will go to Britain’s leading independent music charity Help Musicians UK

BOOK TICKETS

Finchcocks have three Broadwood pianos that they use for weekend piano courses, and one of them bears a remarkable resemblance to the one that Thomas Broadwood sent to Beethoven in 1817. It is said that Broadwood invited five of the best musicians in London to help design the instrument for Beethoven, which took nearly a year to make before it was transported over land, sea and the Alps to reach the famous composer.

Pianist, Paul Roberts, will give an inspiring solo conert, performing pieces by both Debussy and Beethoven in Finchcocks’ newly transformed, atmospheric vaulted cellar. Paul will be playing on one of Finchcocks’ barless Broadwood grand pianos.

All proceeds of ticket sales will be going to Help Musicians UK, which since 1921, has provided help, support and opportunities to empower musicians at all stages of their lives. The charity helps emerging professionals to develop their talent and get started in a professional career, existing professionals who have hit a crisis in their lives, and they also help with musicians with long-term or terminal illnesses and those needing special help as they grow older. In addition to donating the profits from the ticket sales to Help Musicians UK, Finchcocks says that the partnership signifies a wider commitment to raise awareness of the charity.

Neil Nichols, the new owner of Finchcocks, said:

“The Broadwood concert at Finchcocks should be a fantastic evening of classical music – where guests will have the opportunity to enjoy Debussy and Beethoven rendered beautifully in our newly transformed space. We hope the concert will raise much-needed funds for Help Musicians UK, as well as providing opportunities to inspire people to support the charity in the long-term.”

Susie at Help Musicians UK, commented on the partnership:

“We are really grateful to Finchcocks for choosing Help Musicians UK as their charity partner. We are looking forward to working alongside the team and are excited for this special concert in a wonderful setting, which we hope some of our supporters will be able to attend. Through partnerships with organisations like Finchcocks, we are able to offer vital support to musicians in need and ensure musicians can continue to work and thrive in their careers. We very much look forward to developing our relationship further in the future.”

Tickets are £12 and available online. Alternatively, call 01580 428080 to buy a ticket over the phone.


About Help Musicians UK

Help Musicians UK is Britain’s leading independent music charity. Since 1921, HMUK has provided help, support and opportunities to empower musicians at all stages of their lives.

HMUK’s mission is to create a sustainable future for all musicians and the industry. The charity works in partnership to transform the music industry through advocacy, campaigning, programmes and targeted investment for all those within it.

In 2017, HMUK spent a total of £3.5 million assisting 3,426 musicians. HMUK is for all musicians, regardless of their genre, background or problem. They are passionate about making sure musicians and those working in the industry get a fair deal and that their voices are heard.

www.helpmusicians.org.uk​​

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No. 6 in F major Op. 10 No. 2

7 Bagatelles Op. 33

Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major Op. 81a ‘Les Adieux’

Llŷr Williams, piano

Wigmore Hall, 4th April, 1pm

Fans of Beethoven’s piano music are in for a rich treat with Llŷr Williams’ new 12-disc box set Beethoven Unbound, released on the Signum label to mark the completion of Williams’ Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD). All the works were recorded live at Wigmore Hall over three years and nine recitals. What is especially rewarding about this set is that it contains not only the 32 Piano Sonatas but also the Diabelli, Eroica and c minor Variations (WoO 80), two sets of Bagatelles Opp 33 and 126, and shorter works such as the Andante Favori and Für Elise.

Llyr Williams must credit Benjamin Ealovega handout ...

I had the pleasure of hearing Llŷr Williams live for the first time (rather cross with myself for missing his earlier Beethoven concerts at Wigmore Hall!) at a special lunchtime concert to launch the recording. The three works in the programme offered a striking snapshot of Beethoven’s creative life over the course of nearly 20 years, demonstrating the revolutionary forward pull of his artistic vision – a slow movement in an early sonata (Op 10/2) which foreshadowed the spaciousness and lyricism of Schubert – and his debt to the classical tradition (traces of Haydn in finales and the Bagatelles). Williams’ has a rather unique stage presence which some may find off-putting: he makes little witty gestural “asides” to the audience, often at the end of a section or movement, as if to say “well, there you have it!”. I found this rather agreeable: at times it felt as if Williams was communicating directly with me alone and it created a rather charming and sometimes cheeky intimacy: one felt as if one was very much party to the humour. And there was wit and humour aplenty in the F major Sonata Op 10, No. 2 – a first movement of bright contrasts was followed by a slow movement of almost Schubertian intensity, rounded off by a galloping finale. In the rarely-heard Op 33 Bagatelles, Williams revealed Beethoven’s symphonic and ensemble writing in these piano miniatures, with clear voicings (wonderfully bright brass fanfares in the first Bagatelle and deep, resonant ‘cellos in a later one) and orchestral textures, while always alert to the pianistic nature of Beethoven’s writing: Williams’ clarity and attention to detail was impressive, especially his articulation and use of the pedal. The Sonata in E flat, Op 81a, ‘Les Adieux’, had just the right amount of emotion and heartfelt expression without becoming sentimental, and the “reunion” of the finale was memorably joyful.

As Williams’ said at the reception after his concert, while others choose to focus solely on the 32 Piano Sonatas (in itself a monumental undertaking), this recording steps outside of that traditional presentation, and the works on the individual discs in his Beethoven Unbound set are arranged not chronologically but like mini recital programmes, reflecting the way Williams presented the music in concert.

Recommended – and at £45 (that’s just £3.75 per disc) it’s very good value.

Beethoven Unbound (Signum Classics)

Meet the Artist – Llyr Williams


(photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

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

My mother wanted me to start studying piano. There was no professional musician in my family, and nobody was thinking about a professional career for me. But things went well, I was admitted to the Gnesins Special Musical School in Moscow and music as a profession started looking up as my future.

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

Of course, my teachers, first Zoia Grigorieva, and then the great Lev Oborin. However, many people with whom I was in contact during my professional life, most of them my chamber music partners, left a mark.

Among early influences, I can mention 3 artists whose recordings were revelations for me during my young years in Moscow: Walter Gieseking, Dieter Fischer-Dieskau, and Elisabeth Schwartzkopf. Their music making was so different from what I heard in Russia, different approach to the piano sound, to singing. I learned so much listening to these recordings.

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

All my life I was resisting being pigeon-holed as a “specialist”. I always enjoyed doing different things in spite of all difficulties. On different stages of my life, the challenges were to balance my interest in piano and harpsichord; in early music, modern music, and mainstream repertoire; in performing and teaching.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I very seldom listen to my own recordings, and when I do I am usually not satisfied. My most recent recording of Debussy Preludes, Estampes and other pieces is, perhaps, the closest to what I tried to achieve.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

At different stages of my life, I felt close to music of different styles and periods. Now I feel to be most attuned to 2 very different composers, Debussy and Brahms.

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

It is the combination between what I feel like playing and what the promoters request.

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

I have played in many great halls, some of them have a special aura, in addition to great acoustics. Among them, Carnegie Hall in New York, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Great Hall of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory in Moscow.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are many great musicians, but I am particularly drawn to music making of Radu Lupu and Murray Perahia. Alexei Lubimov, my friend of many years, is another musician whom I am always interested to hear.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I consider a successful performance to be one in which I feel that I touched people’s hearts. It may sound cheesy but at the end of the day this is the most important thing.

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

The performer must strive to understand the composer’s intentions and to bring them to the audience in the most engaging way.

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

This year I am reaching my 70th birthday. In 10 years I hope to continue doing what I enjoy the most: playing the music I like and teaching as good students as those I have now at Yale School of Music.


The artistry of Boris Berman is well known to the audiences of nearly fifty countries on six continents. His highly acclaimed performances have included appearances with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Gewandhaus Orchestra, The Philharmonia (London), the Toronto Symphony, Israel Philharmonic, Minnesota Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Houston Symphony, Atlanta Symphony, St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and the Royal Scottish Orchestra. A frequent performer on major recital series, he has also appeared in important festivals, such as Marlboro, Bergen, Ravinia, Nohant, and Israel Festival, to name a few.

Born in Moscow in 1948, Boris Berman studied at Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory with the distinguished pianist Lev Oborin and graduated with distinction as both pianist and harpsichordist. He performed extensively throughout the Soviet Union as a recitalist and appeared as guest soloist with numerous orchestras, including the Moscow Philharmonic and the Moscow Chamber orchestras.

In 1973, Boris Berman left a flourishing career in the Soviet Union to immigrate to Israel. He quickly established himself as one of the most sought-after keyboard performers, as well as one of this country’s more influential musical personalities. Presently, he resides in USA.

Read Boris Berman’s full biography here

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British pianist Stephen Hough in concert

The psychological and emotional reasons why musicians perform and why we feel a need to connect and communicate with audiences is a broad and complex subject. For many musicians, performing is their raison d’être – the need, the will to play, to perform for others, in public, sometimes so overwhelming that it engages them entirely, body and soul.

Perhaps the primary motivation is the desire to share one’s music with others: in discussing the question “Why Perform?” with musician friends and colleagues, the majority of respondents cited “sharing the music” as a significant motivator. Sharing music in concert celebrates common cultural values (identity, history) and performing can be regarded as a “cultural gift”, a gift to oneself and a gift to those who love to listen to music. It brings pleasure to performer and to audience – both in terms of pure “entertainment” and also the pleasures of intellectual stimulation and challenge, or being emotionally moved. Alongside this, performing gives voice to the human condition and the meaning of life, and examines and confronts shared values in ways which transcend spoken language. Through sharing in a musical performance, we can celebrate togetherness and common purpose.

By performing the great works we share in something which is so much greater than ourselves, celebrating and appreciating brilliant human beings, like Mozart or Beethoven, Wagner or Mahler. Performing is a form of conservation or “curation”, by keeping these great works alive; it also looks after and inspires the next generation – musicians and concert goers.

On a more personal level performing satisfies an inner, more selfish need – the need to be valued and appreciated, the need to impress, to be loved even. It gives us something to live for and to work towards. Performing is a very special form of self-expression and fulfillment, creating experiences that only exist “in the moment” of the performance and then resonate in our individual and collective memories. A performance offers audience, and performer, a single, one-off interpretation of or “variation” on the piece, remembered and/or preserved only as that interpretation.

From a practical point of view, performing endorses and validates what we do in the practice room, and confirms that we have done our practising and preparation correctly. It holds the music up for scrutiny and offers insights about the music and the music-making process which simply cannot be obtained in the practice room, and keeps us in touch with that process from beginning to end. A successful performance demonstrates that we have practised deeply and thoughtfully, instead of simply note-bashing. Preparing music for performance teaches us how to complete a real task and to understand fully what is meant by “music making”. You never really demonstrate your technique properly until you can demonstrate it in a performance. Performing also teaches us how to communicate a sense of the music, to “tell the story”, and to understand what the composer is trying to say. It adds to our credibility and artistic integrity as musicians. And if you haven’t performed a piece, how can you say it is truly “finished”? 

Performances are unique occasions where we live in, and for, the moment. They should never be like rehearsals and for a succession of fleeting moments, the music lives beyond the written score. For those of us who perform, at whatever level, it is probably the most challenging, and satisfying, thing we will ever do.

making an audience feel something profound, moving or incredible never gets any less wonderful and it’s the best job in the worldHeather Bird, double bassist

 

evgenykissin_wide-9aa53798ae987906571102878d8a12936652197c-s900-c85You know you’re at a special concert when the social areas around the concert hall, the bars and cafés, are abuzz with a very tangible sense of excitement? “When did you last hear him?”  “I hear he is magnificent….. ” Add to that an audience populated by “important people” of the music world, including pianist Menahem Pressler (now in his 90’s and still playing) – it promised to be an exceptional evening.

It’s over 20 years since I last saw Evgeny Kissin live. That concert, the first solo piano recital in the history of the Proms, was legendary for all sorts of reasons – coruscating performances of works by Haydn, Liszt and Chopin and no less than seven encores to a record-breaking audience (over 6000). In the course of his career, he has been criticized by some for his rather cool manner, smooth perfectionism, and style over substance, but there’s never been any doubt about his consistent dedication to his art and artistry. Listen to his recording of Chopin’s Berceuse and you hear refinement in every opalescent note and multi-hued filigree passage: Kissin has musical intellect and, more importantly, he has soul.

No longer the shock-haired wunderkind, he is now a mature artist in his mid-40s; he has written a slim volume of thoughtful memoirs and has married his childhood sweetheart. He’s still got the phenomenal technique, but his stage presence is noticeably more relaxed (much smiling during his curtain calls). Yet his style and demeanour hark back to an earlier era, including the way he dresses (evening suit, black tie, even a cummerbund – a rarity at concerts these days): I think audiences really love this – despite attempts by other artists to break down the “us and them” barriers of the concert stage – because it reminds us of the huge sense of occasion a concert by a pianist of this calibre creates and preserves the mystique of the virtuoso performer.

In the programme notes, Kissin was described as a “titan among pianists”, suggesting both physical and metaphoric presence. In an article last year, The Economist billed him as “one of the world’s greatest living musicians”. Both statements are of course subjective – while also being true. He is “great”, in the sense of possessing an ineffable multi-faceted talent which makes the reviewer’s job so hard – for how can one truly describe what he does?

In keeping with his “old school” stage demeanor, he does not indulge in showy piano pyrotechnics nor flashy gesture for the sake of gesture. His mannerisms may be restrained but his playing is full of commitment and a passion which transcends romanticism: it burns with a hypnotic intensity.

Beethoven’s mightly Hammerklavier is one of the high Himalayan peaks of the repertoire, never undertaken lightly. In interviews Kissin has stated that he felt a certain maturity – which he now has – was necessary to tackle this monumental work (other, younger pianists are not so modest…..). It certainly gave full rein to Kissin’s magisterial powers, not just his technique but his musical intelligence too. He made the infamously difficult opening of the Hammerklavier – a rapid leap of an octave and a half taken in the left hand alone – look easy (and indeed the entire programme!) and launched into the first movement with a heroic commitment wrought in myriad sound. This work is so pianistic, its nickname a constant reminder that it must be played on a piano (and Beethoven was alert to rapid developments in piano design at the start of the nineteenth century: he knew a new instrument could produce the effects he demands in his score), yet also rich in orchestral textures and voicings, all revealed so clearly, so musically by Kissin. His pianistic attack may be direct, but his fortissimos never compromise on quality of sound, and his edges are smoothly honed. But above all of this, it was his pacing and natural rubato which captivated: a clear through-narrative combined with interpretative spontaneity gave this large-scale sonata a fantasy-like character, yet with a rigorous sense of the work’s overall architecture – even in the Adagio Sostentuto, where time was suspended for a movement played with an intense almost Schubertian harmonic trajectory and introspection, yet managed with all the improvisatory qualities of a Chopin Nocturne. Out of this other-worldly space came a finale of restless physicality and strikingly dramatic contrasts.

The second half was all Rachmaninov Preludes, a selection from Opp 23 and Op 32, works with which Kissin is fully at ease. As in the Beethoven structures were fully understood, while sound was sculpted, grand gestures deftly chiseled, delicate motifs etched in filigree touch and a gentle haze of sound. We felt the composer’s emotional depth, his yearning and nostalgia, without a hint of false sentiment or surface artifice.

Four encores afforded more pianistic marvels – a crepuscular, haunting étude by Scriabin (Op 2, No. 1), Kissin’s own vertiginously virtuosic Toccata (proof that he could have been an excellent boogie woogie pianist as well!), another favourite Rachmaninov Prelude (in C minor), played with as much energy as if he was beginning the concert, and Tchaikovsky’s Méditation. He probably would have played more, such was his eagerness to return to the piano at each curtain call, but regretfully many of us had last trains to catch.


(photo: FBroede/IMG Artists)