21 January 2020 – Stratford Playhouse, Stratford-upon-Avon
Tom Hammond – conductor
Tamsin Waley-Cohen – violin
Orchestra of the Swan
It was the music of Jean Sibelius that first sparked conductor Tom Hammond’s interest in classical music: he found the mystical world of The Swan of Tuonela entrancing on first hearing it. This haunting tone poem opens Intimate Voices, a concert curated and conducted by Tom Hammond with Stratford-upon-Avon-based Orchestra of the Swan.
In Intimate Voices, Hammond combines his great love of Sibelius’ music with his skill in creating imaginative programmes to explore the musical and personal landscape of Jean Sibelius through his own words and compositions. From the magical sonorities of The Tempest and the stark simplicity of Scene with Cranes to the bold, distilled complexity of the seventh symphony, Sibelius the man is revealed through the intimate thoughts in his letters and the dark, awe-inspiring qualities of his musical imagination.
Tamsin Waley-Cohen joins Hammond and the orchestra as soloist in the rarely-played Humoresques for violin and orchestra – highly virtuosic yet introspective miniatures which reveal the composer’s great love of the violin, and which Hammond believes are musically superior even to the Violin Concerto.
For Tom Hammond, Intimate Voices is “a dream of a programme”, containing some of his favourite music, and an opportunity for audiences to experience Sibelius’ lesser-known works: deeply imaginative and utterly absorbing music that evokes Finnish myths and Shakespeare’s magical isle, pine forests, lakes and snow.
The Swan of Tuonela (from Lemminkäinen Suite)
The Tempest, Suite No.1 [excerpts: The Oak Tree, Humoreske, Berceuse, Ariel’s Lied (The Rainbow)]
Humoresques for Violin and Orchestra, Op.89
Kuolema (Valse Triste & Scene with Cranes)
Isn’t it time all those piano boys stopped getting it all their own way? (Not that we don’t love ‘em!) From Bach to Ben Folds, from Beethoven to Billy Joel and from Mozart to Minchin, the list of famous piano players throughout history is dominated by men. I’m premiering my new show “The Piano Women” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to start redressing this imbalance… and have some piano fun as well.
I’m Emma Knights, from Adelaide, South Australia. At the keyboard since the age of four, I now work as a musician, pianist, producer, composer, creator and curator. The purpose of my lightning visit to the U.K. this time is to perform this new one-woman show, as well as bringing back “The Piano Men”, a show which I performed successfully at Edinburgh last year.
Both shows have been directed by Adrian Barnes. I’m on a mission to share the inspiring and entertaining stories of piano men and piano women across history. Researching and preparing these shows has taught me a lot about us pianists. Here’s a bit about my journey so far, and how these two shows came into existence.
My first piano hero was my dad. He was my piano teacher and he’s still the pianist I admire the most. As any pianist knows, achieving musical mastery as piano player is tough. Early on, I found that professional piano playing is a bit of a man’s world. I spent my early career in the background, very much the genteel piano girl. Those restaurant, cocktail bar and pub gigs – ‘Don’t play too loud, will you?” Then a guy with boogie woogie chops comes in, plays a few splashy numbers, and they fire me. What’s that all about? I can play boogie. Of course I can. Want to see my bunch of qualifications in classical and contemporary music at graduate level? But somehow all that sweaty, muscular jazz and rock wasn’t ladylike.
So I used to stay in the background… I was The Nice Accompanist Lady. I worked as a pit instrumental muso. Now don’t get me wrong; I have enjoyed every minute of professional piano playing, and I’m grateful for all opportunities that have come my way.
My creativity was being quietly stifled until a singer friend of mine asked me to accompany her original cabaret. As we rehearsed, she talked about
the opportunities I had provided her as a performer. She spoke about those internal struggles common to all artists: Will I get an audience? Am I ready to give an audience of my best? You know, those questions beautifully explored in the film “La La Land”. I started to think more about myself as a performer, not just a producer and promoter. I’m an artist too… and while I’d been busy enabling so many other artists to perform, I had allowed my little artistic spirit to fade a bit. So I started to take some baby steps.
I got a gig as accompanist for a two-woman comedy cabaret. Nothing new there. But their show was written so that the accompanist was one of the characters… and what a grumpy, unimpressed, purist musician I played! When the bell from a 1920’s gramophone fell onto my head during one performance, it was the comic hit of the night.
Next, a job as once-a-week rehearsal pianist for a 100-strong choir. On the day they put the choral arrangement for “Shake, rattle and roll” on the music stands, I thought… “If there’s ever going to be a safe space for me to bring my rock and roll licks, this is it!” The choir went off like a rocket, and this is still their favourite request whenever I am rostered on. I was starting to stick my quiet little piano-lady neck out.
Around this time, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s show “Nanette”, in which she memorably says “My story has value.” I realised that mine does, too, so I started writing “The Piano Men”, a one-woman show about my work as a female pianist. While delving into the history of a few other piano women, the show tells its story through the songs of my favourite piano men. I believe passionately in equality. Consequently, this show is all about where we can still improve the system (whatever that is!) for piano women without diminishing the works of the many piano men that have inspired us all.
I premiered that show in Edinburgh Fringe last year; it was still at an embryonic stage. Despite this, I received a 3-star review and excellent feedback. So I went back home to Oz and hired an award-winning director, Adrian Barnes, to help me bring the show to a whole new level. Next, I toured it to two states, and I’m extra-happy to be bringing this new, improved version of “The Piano Men” back to Edinburgh, where it all began.
An inevitable by-product of all the research I did for “The Piano Men” was a stack of fascinating information about some of history’s great female pianists. Discovering all those crazy coincidences, fun factoids and irresistibly silly stories meant that I simply had to create a partner show called… wait for it… “The Piano Women”. Both are stand-alone shows, but any piano nutter would want to see both.
Although “The Piano Women” has a little of my story within it, it’s mostly piano solos, songs and entertaining stories about women pianists throughout history, from the invention of the piano to today. Sadly, not all of them could be honoured in a one-hour show. (Watch for my podcast, coming soon!) I have had a truly mind-expanding time researching all these women who share with me an irrational passion for the piano. I was also surprised to find out how many of them there were. History has certainly not made much fuss about the world-wide Keyboard Sisterhood. I believe that “The Piano Women” carries messages of inspiration for any musician who sees it, as well as shining a light on the inner workings of the music industry over the last three centuries.
When I researched likely venues for the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I chose the beautiful Stockbridge Parish Church, complete with its grand piano. And my other venue was a no-brainer… the Pianodrome, a 100-seat amphitheatre constructed from over 50 discarded pianos. What wonderful upcycling! For my shows about pianos, I couldn’t imagine a more immersive setting anywhere in the world. Back home (Adelaide, South Australia) I devise and run immersive music-based events; to be able to do this with my shows in Edinburgh is amazing!
I hope you can get to see one of my shows in Edinburgh this year. If you do, stay back after and say “G’day!” to me. We pianists have to stick together.
The Piano Women
One World Premiere show only:
Thursday, 8th August, 2019 – at 5:00pm
Pianodrome at the Pitt, Pitt Street Market, Edinburgh
The Piano Men
Saturday, 10th August, 2019 – at 5:00pm
Pianodrome at the Pitt, Pitt Street Market, Edinburgh
Friday 21st September, Church of St John the Divine, London SW9
Christina McMaster, piano
Lie down and Listen is a unique multi-sensory classical music experience created by pianist Christina McMaster and designed to bring the positive effects of classical music on body and mind to a wide audience in unusually relaxed settings. A pioneering combination of music, meditation, Virtual Reality technology and restorative yoga led by Will Wheeler create a deep sense of relaxation.
Neil Franks writes….
The event took place at the lovely St John the Divine Church in Kennington. It was the perfect venue as it has plenty of floor space to “lie down and listen”, with a magnificent Steinway Model D in the middle so that we could surround the piano on our yoga mats. The evening started with a gentle but very well-presented yoga session that even the novice could follow and with no pressure to manoeuvre feet behind ears or anything extreme. In fact the moves presented allowed the inexperienced to participate within their comfort levels. Of course there were plenty of very flexible friends there both to encourage and impress us, and create the atmosphere Christina was aiming for – the first success of the evening.
To the standard classical concert-goer, this appeared to be an ambitious programme and I might be as bold as to suggest that if this concert was planned in the standard format, the choice might limit its audience unless it were specifically targeted. On the other hand, this was a great success as it drew in a lot of young people (and other ages too!), largely because of the experimental interest, and there is no doubt everyone was pleasantly surprised as Christina’s programme was beautiful and absorbing – nowhere near as intimidating as many might fear, by the likes of Philip Glass, John Cage, Arvo Part etc. Taking my daughter Charlotte along was in itself an experiment for me, and we both enjoyed the evening. (She has grown up with me thumping away at the piano and having to sit through numerous piano recitals that she would rather not go to, but it was successful and enjoyable for her as it was with many other audience members who I’m sure will now seriously consider going to, and enjoying, a standard concert presentation of this sort of music.
In addition to the piano music, the programme featured two beautiful choral works, including The Fruits of Silence by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, a magnificent and absorbing finale from the choir with subtle accompaniment from Christina.
Of course I and any other old traditionalists went to hear Christina’s performance of Debussy’s La cathédrale engloutie, and, as expected, we were immensely satisfied, considering Christina’s talent and empathy with this music. But to add to the expected was the unexpected bonus of the special environment: Beethoven’s ‘Pathétique’ Sonata wouldn’t work in this format, but Debussy flourishes.
It may be that, as mentioned in the programme, this concept was conceived in and amongst the thinking rooms at New York’s National Addiction Centre and studies related to their subject and efforts to improve the well-being of people under their care, study and attention. I gather that early experiments used the minimalist music of Terry Riley, but I don’t think I could categorise Christina’s programme as “minimalist”. I suppose it might been drier had we all been wearing shirts and ties at the South Bank, and if some of these pieces were in presented in a more traditional programme/concert setting, but I have to believe this audience were instantly converted and I know they will go to more. They will go to the South Bank and listen to a Debussy recital now, something they wouldn’t have dreamt of doing before.
The only traditional thing I had to do was to take the initiative of leading the applause as the audience didn’t quite know what to do at the end (the programme was presented so that there was no applause between pieces as that would have interfered with the atmosphere).
I wish Christina every success in this venture and in spreading the word in this way as it will draw much attention, and I very much hope that the good work in the thinking rooms I referred to will be hugely successful too.
The next Lie Down and Listen concert is on 16 November at St John the Divine church. Full details and tickets here
We go to concerts for a variety of reasons: to be moved emotionally, to be entertained, and as a social event. There was a time, prior to the nineteenth century, when engaging with what is generally called “classical music” was a very convivial and highly social affair. Food and drink was consumed and people talked during performances – and even clapped between movements. In the formalisation of classical concerts, which occurred towards the latter part of the nineteenth century and still haunts some classical music venues today, we have rather lost sight of the more convivial aspects of concert-going, so concerned are we to conform to an unspoken concert etiquette.
I’ve been going to classical music concerts since I was a young child and I quickly learnt all about the etiquette of such occasions: for example, my mother would tell me not to yawn “in case the musicians see you and think you are bored!“, and I loved all the little rituals of concert-going – purchasing a programme beforehand, interval ice-cream eaten from a tub with a tiny wooden shovel, the plush decor of the concert hall, the special clothes the musicians wore, and many other details large and small of “the concert” as a special event and a memorable experience. Because concert-going was such a big part of my musical development as a child, I never questioned the etiquette or formality of the occasion, merely accepted it as part of the whole experience of classical music. As I’ve got older, I have become far less concerned about silly customs such as not applauding between movements, believing that if we want to encourage people to come and experience classical music, we need to make them feel comfortable in the concert hall, immune from the hard stares or loud “shushing” of people who want to sit in rigid silence throughout the performance.
Concert-going has always been a social affair, but until fairly recently the areas of the concert venue where socialising could take place were rather limited or not particularly attractive: a small overcrowded bar area and nowhere to sit is hardly welcoming. Fortunately, venues now recognise that socialising before, during and even after a concert is important for concert-goers and have responded by providing pleasant social areas where people can gather to chat and enjoy a pre-concert or interval drink and food. (London’s Royal Festival Hall, for example, has spacious social areas and large airy balconies over look the river.) And from a practical point of view, venues make money from F&Bs (“food and beverages): a single glass of house white at a leading London venue can cost as much as a decent bottle of Sauvignon in Tesco!
The social aspect of concert-going begins before one even arrives at the venue. There is the booking of tickets, organising dates with friends and perhaps getting a party of people together. The anticipation of the event can be very potent, especially if one is going to hear an artist or ensemble one particularly admires – and at a more basic level, going to a concert is a night out!
Before the concert, one might meet friends for supper or drinks. This can be an issue given the start times of concerts in the UK (usually 7.30pm), which means one has to eat around 6pm (rather too early for most adults). The British pianist Stephen Hough has written on the subject of concert start times and length and has suggested shorter, earlier concerts to give people a chance to eat afterwards, or concerts without intervals.
Meeting friends for pre-concert drinks gives one the chance to discuss and anticipate the programme, express one’s curiosity about the artist/s or excitement about hearing him/her/them again. Then the audience bell sounds and we are summoned to the auditorium to take our seats. The house lights dim, our signal to fall silent in anticipation of the performer’s arrival, and the adventure of the live performance begins.
I agree with Stephen Hough that intervals can be rather frustrating: one can spend most of the interval queuing for a drink at the bar (savvy concert-goers pre-order their interval drinks and some venues even have automatic ordering via a smartphone app) or for the ladies’ loo. Sometimes an interval can feel like an interruption to the flow of the performance, but we accept it as part of the concert format – and of course performers need to have a break too.
The social aspect of concerts is very important and should be encouraged and supported by the venues: classical music is something really wonderful to share! Concert-going is also about sharing passion with others: taking a friend who has not sampled a classical concert before can be a wonderfully enriching experience, but I am mindful of the fact that while I may feel very much at home at a classical music venue, my companion may not because of the real or imagined formality and special etiquette of the event, and so I feel it is important to make my companion feel as comfortable and welcome as possible. Fundamentally, it reminds us that the music was written to be shared with others.
Every year, around the time of the start of the BBC Proms, that wonderful 2-month long festival of music, the thorny issue of when to applaud rears its head. In fact, the debate over the appropriateness of applause is ongoing, but it seems to become more vociferous during the Proms season. And why? Because at Proms concerts clapping may be audible between movements! This year there seems to be more applause between movements than ever before – and more entrenched and noisy views expressing an extreme dislike of this practice……
In a way, the Prom concerts are not like other classical music concerts in the UK. Originally conceived by Robert Newman and Henry Wood to introduce classical music to a wider audience, the atmosphere at Prom concerts tends to be rather more relaxed, though often no less reverent, and the audience demographic far broader than at, say, London’s pre-eminent chamber music venue, the Wigmore Hall. The Proms attracts the classical music newbie and the committed classical music geek, who goes to every single concert in the season, and in between a whole host of other people who enjoy the Proms experience. The etiquette of the classical concert is less rigid at the Proms – it’s much more “come as you are and enjoy yourself”, but in spite of this, the issue of applause remains a tricky one.
“I’ve never experienced anything more embarrassing. After the first movement the hall was silent.”
– Herman Levi, on conducting Brahms’ second symphony, 1878
The custom of not applauding between movements of a symphony or concerto or other multi-movement work developed during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Both Mendelssohn and Schumann made attempts to prevent audiences from applauding between movements. Mendelssohn asked that his ‘Scottish’ Symphony, premiered in 1842, should be played without a break to avoid “the usual lengthy interruptions” and Schumann took charge of the matter in a similar way in his piano and cello concerti as well as his Fourth Symphony, but it was Richard Wagner who really instigated the custom as we know it today during the premiere of his opera ‘Parsifal’. By the turn of the twentieth century the concert hall had become the hallowed place it is today, and the conductor Leopold Stokowski even went so far as to suggest clapping be banned altogether lest it interrupt the “divinity” of a performance. Now if one dares to applaud between movements one may be met with angry hisses of opprobrium, shushing, tutting or very stern looks.
Music evokes emotions and people should be able to express them freely – with respect to the performers of course
– Kirill Karabits, conductor
Some concert-goers regard applauding between movements as ignorant or boorish behaviour, an indication that you do not know the music properly (while the aforementioned concert-goers clearly do!). For some it is downright sacrilegious. Others regard it as disrespectful to the performers or disruptive because it can interrupt the flow of the performance. The curious thing is that this attitude would have been totally alien to Mozart or Beethoven, Brahms or Grieg. In an earlier age, concerts were noisy affairs, the music played to the accompaniment of people talking and laughing, eating and drinking, and wandering in and out of the venue. Applause was given freely and spontaneously, indicating appreciation and enthusiasm for the performers and the music. There was numerous applause during the premiere of Grieg’s piano concerto, while Brahms concluded his first piano concerto was a flop because there was so little audience response (except for the hissing, that is). Today the pauses between movements are often filled with the sound of people coughing or unwrapping cough sweets, and applause is reserved for the end of the work being performed.
For the ingenue concert goer, knowing when to applaud can be stressful. I attended an all-Brahms Prom a couple of years ago, conducted by Marin Alsop, and shared a box with a family who were attending the Proms for the very first time. We got chatting and after some pleasantries about the programme and the performers (the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment), one of the party said “We’re really worried about clapping in the wrong place!”. I assured him that it didn’t matter at the Proms, and that he could clap when I did if that helped. I thought it was rather sad that these people, who really enjoyed the concert, felt so anxious about something so trivial, and it is this anxiety about how to behave, and specifically when to applaud, which inhibits some people from attending classical music concerts.
The current director of the Proms, David Pickard, declares that he “loves” hearing spontaneous applause at concerts, while some die-hard concert goers are horrified by his attitude, regarding such behaviour as “barbarous” on the part of other audience members. The curious thing is that at opera no one gets upset if you applaud after a particularly beautiful aria or chorus set piece, and it is almost de rigeur to do so. Ditto in jazz concerts, after some sparkling improvisation or a fine solo by one of the musicians. And conductors and musicians can of course control when applause occurs through their body language: a conductor may keep the baton raised aloft for a period of time after the last notes have faded away, or a pianist may keep his or her hands “in play” over the keyboard, defying anyone to break the spell with premature applause.
In addition to the issue of when to applaud, there is also the how of applauding. Some people seem desperate to applaud almost before the final notes have sounded (this is common at Prom concerts) and it does lead one to wonder whether this is in fact a form of attention-seeking, a “look at me! I know this piece so well I know exactly when to applaud!”. For some this can be really intrusive, especially at the end of the very intense or profound work. Sometimes, as if collectively impelled by an unseen force (in fact, the power of the music), there is a period of silence after the music has ended, and a sense of the audience holding its collective breath, savouring what has gone before. And occasionally (especially in contemporary repertoire in my experience), no one is really sure when to applaud and the impulse to clap is led by a discreet member of venue staff.
I am more bothered by those rare times when people feel the need to rush in to applaud at the final note of a piece without regard for the mood if it is a quiet ending
– Marin Alsop, conductor
At the Proms this year, it seems that the “applaud between movements” faction is gaining more currency. I attended a Prom performance of Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Mahler’s tenth symphony and there was applause – spontaneous and appreciative (to my mind) – between every single movement of both works (though as some wag suggested since both works were unfinished, perhaps members of the audience applauded because they didn’t know when the work had ended!), and other Prommers have mentioned there is noticeably more applause between movements this year. For some this is not an issue, but for others it clearly is a problem. Whatever your view, the most important thing is to show appropriate appreciation for the musical performance and those who created it, rather than worrying what the person sitting next to you might be thinking about your concert etiquette! The music, after all, belongs to us, the audience, the listeners – not to the snobs and critics.
Why not go the whole hog and bring back smoking, talking, eating and all the other disruptions that progress has excised – MR via Twitter
I think it will become noteworthy when there isn’t applause between movements at the Proms – HJ via Facebook
If given a choice between people coughing like bastards, the rustling of sweet papers, mobile phones beeping, and talking (!) during quiet movements (when did that become a thing?) or a rapturous applause in appreciation of the music I choose applause… every time – DO via Facebook
“The only disappointment of the evening was that, on leaving the hall, the sounds of Elgar were immediately assailed by other events elsewhere in the building. The Southbank management should show more aesthetic sensitivity to its classical audience”
This is a quote from a review in The Guardian of a performance of Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’ at London’s Royal Festival Hall last weekend. It’s true that the foyer and “ballroom” area of the RFH were busy and noisy as we left the building after a deeply arresting two hours of very moving and profound music. Outside the venue, it was even noisier: this was a Saturday night in the Big Smoke after all. Pavement cafes spilled people, drinking, chatting, laughing; there were kids busking in the railway arches on the way to Waterloo station; and all around us were the sounds of a vibrant city enjoying itself. Yes, it did feel a little jarring to be plunged into a city having a night on the town after such an absorbing musical experience, but for me this is one of the great pleasures of concert-going in London – and it’s also a good reminder that London is an eclectic and culturally diverse city.
Back to the Royal Festival Hall for a moment and it’s important to consider what this building is actually for. True, it is largely associated with classical music, but that is only a part of what it does, and currently the Summertime festival is in full flow offering a range of activities from song and dance to workshops and talks. The foyer area and café are open all day for people to drop in, socialise or join in one of the many activities within the venue. There are spaces for meetings, lectures and exhibitions, a fine dining restaurant, a library and a gift shop. There’s a very pragmatic reason for this: the venue draws important revenue from food and beverage services and other add-ons (ticket sales alone cannot and do not cover the huge running costs of such a building).
To suggest that the RFH should “show more aesthetic sensitivity to its classical audience” does several things, in my opinion. First, it reiterates the already very entrenched view that classical music is exclusive and special, the preserve of the few not the many, its gilded cage polished with regular doses of reverence. Why should the place in which this “special” music takes place be kept so sacred…..? Let’s not forget that people leaving church in the “olden days” would have been assailed by the noises and smells of life outside its hallowed walls – beggars, peddlers, whores and more.
Better if all concert halls/opera houses were built in parks, away from city throng. Wagner had the right idea
– MR via Facebook
Secondly, it ignores the fact that arts venues like the RFH, the Barbican et al have to function on several levels, offering a diverse range of concerts, events, lectures and other activities, and that they do not exist simply to serve classical music audiences. What we experienced on leaving the RFH after the ‘Dream of Gerontius’ was the reality of concert-going in an arts complex in a big city. If you want to savour the experience of the music a little longer, remain in your seat in the auditorium.
For me, the experience of live music – and if you read this blog regularly you will know that I absolutely love live music – is not just the music itself but the “complete experience”: traveling to the venue, meeting friends, having drinks and socialising beforehand, and, once inside the auditorium, the accompanying sounds of a living, breathing audience listening, engaging and responding to what they are hearing. Afterwards, the walk back to the station with friends, stepping out into that vast, noisy ecosystem of the living city, is also part of the live concert experience for me. Admittedly the late train home, replete with its swaying drunks, leering blokes, snogging couples and people eating smelly food can take the shine off the evening, but on balance the whole package is an experience which I cherish and enjoy. When I’ve heard something as profound as the ‘Dream of Gerontius’ or Messiaen’s ‘Quatuor pour la fin du temps’, or indeed any other performance which has moved me, I carry the memory of the music away with me. Yes, the noise of the street can jar, but it can’t really touch the music which continues to resonate in the memory for a long time afterwards.
The Cross-Eyed Pianist is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours every month to research, write, and maintain.
If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider making a donation to support the continuance of the site