Category Archives: General

The pianist’s loneliness

“The loneliness doesn’t worry me……I spend most of my life alone, even backstage…….I’m there completely alone. I like the time alone….”

Stephen Hough, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs

The pianist’s life is, by necessity, lonely. One of the main reasons pianists spend so much time alone is that we must practise more than other musicians because we have many more notes and symbols to decode, learn and upkeep. This prolonged solitary process may eventually result in a public performance, at which we exchange the loneliness of the practise room for the solitude of the concert platform.

Most of us do not choose the piano because we are loners – such decisions are usually based on our emotions, motor skills or the aural appeal of the instrument. For me, as a child – and an only child – the piano was a companion and a portal to a world of exploration, fantasy and storytelling. It remains a place to retreat to and time spent with the instrument and its literature can be therapeutic, rebalancing and uplifting. For many of us, being alone is the time when the sense of being at one with the instrument is strongest.

In addition, there is time alone spent listening to recordings – one’s own (for self-evaluation) and by others (for inspiration and ideas on interpretative possibilities, or purely for relaxation) – and time simply recovering from practising and refocusing in readiness for the next session. Many pianists tend to be loners – the career almost demands it and self-reliance is something one learns early on, as a musician – but that does not necessarily make pianists lonely or unsociable.

To me it’s always about connection – connecting with parts of myself, with the thoughts and feelings of the composer, and ultimately sharing with an audience. It’s travelling through time and space to experience other eras and cultures…..I can’t think of anything that makes me feel less lonely!

Stephen Marquiss, pianist & composer


The life of the concert soloist is a strange calling, yet many concert pianists accept the loneliness as part of the package, together with the other accessories of the trade. The concert pianist experiences a particular kind of solitude (as noted by Stephen Hough in the quote at the beginning of this article). The solitude of travelling alone – the monotony of airport lounges, the Sisyphean accumulation of airmiles, nights spent alone in faceless hotels. Dining alone, sleeping alone, breakfast alone, rising early to practise alone. And there is the concert itself: waiting backstage, alone, in the green room, and then the moment when you cross the stage, entirely alone….. The pianist Martha Argerich has described the “immense” space around the piano that has always made her feel alone on stage. But it is this aloneness, this separation, which the solo pianist exploits for the purpose of captivating and seducing the audience, drawing them into his or her own private world for the duration of the performance.

I suppose being an introvert in a ‘public performance’ profession has been my greatest challenge. It isn’t straightforward, of course – I seem to have a deep need to communicate music to an audience and get their reaction, and I love to be appreciated, but there are many other aspects of being ‘on show’ that don’t come naturally. I’m very interested in people, but I’m quite a private person and need lots of time to myself.

Susan Tomes, pianist and writer

The traditional positioning of the piano on stage, so that the pianist sits side on to the audience, heightens this sense of separation and aloneness. In a concert, the pianist must navigate a path between private, subjective feelings and public expression in a curious display of both isolation and exhibitionism. The power of performer, and performance, is this separateness from the mass of audience. Some performers may exploit this to create a sense of “us and them”, while others are adept at creating an intensity or intimacy of sound and gesture during which the audience may feel as if they have a private window onto the pianist’s unique world, in that moment.


Up there on the stage, one can feel more alone than anyone would ever care to be, yet it can make one better than one thinks possible because one’s ego is constantly being tested when one plays. To meet a Beethoven sonata head on, for example, it stops being about you – how fast you can play, how technically accomplished you are. Instead it is about getting beyond oneself, becoming ego-less, humble in the face of this great music, developing a sense of one-ness with the composer…..

After the performance, when the greeting of the audience and CD signing is over, the pianist may happily retreat to his or her solitary practise room or studio. Many of us long for this special solitude and actively relish the time spent practising alone.

The internet and social media has, for many of us, been a huge support in relieving feelings of loneliness and separation. Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms enable us to connect with pianists and other musicians around the world, allowing us to preserve our solitude, while also engaging meaningfully with others when required.

An earlier version of this article appeared on the Pianodao blog


(Picture: Emmanuel Ax in recital at Carnegie Hall, photo by The New York Times)










The Meaning of Music: an interpretation

Guest post by Doug Thomas

“Music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” 

This is what the German poet Berthold Auerbach might have answered had he been asked what the role of music was for him. To me, it seems plausible that music carries a significant meaning in most people’s life. Whether it is for a simple amateur, a true mélomane or a professional musician, it seems to always have a particular role, guiding people in their own existence.

In my experience, music has taken several aspects but three important ones prevail. Music has been part of my daily life for many years and wherever I go, whatever I do, it embellishes my world. It is also a great catharsis, and it is what allows me to compose and create on a regular basis. Most importantly, music is a source of intense pleasure which very few other forms of art have been able to provide me with.

Whenever I get tired of listening to silence, music comes to the rescue. I often see music in a similar way to the French composer Erik Satie – as furniture music. Music that is meant to decorate the environment or have a functional purpose. It is not necessarily music I pay much attention to. There are many situations were music sits in the background; at home on a lazy afternoon, during a dinner with friends or on a simple train journey.

I compose music for a living. In addition to fulfilling my need to create things, composing music acts as a sort of catharsis. It is a way to externalise my deepest feelings and emotions. Although I consider my music as somehow intellectual, the creative process often starts with a feeling. Whether it is the expression of happiness or deep sadness, or the simple appreciation of beauty. There is a splendid satisfaction once a piece of music is composed, a feeling of lightening, a burden which seems to go away.

Above all, I believe that music represents a fantastic source of pleasure. There are not many feelings comparable to the one I get when I hear a new piece of music that suits my tastes. Or the sensation I have when I hear one of my favourite piece performed live. Besides, there has been many scientific studies that have shown how music triggers emotional sensations in the brain.

On a daily basis, music decorates the important moments of my life as well as the most meaningless ones. When I create, music acts as a deliverer of pulses and inspirations. More significantly, when music is at its best, it is a source of intense pleasure which makes the hair on the arms stand up, and gives the sensation that time has stopped for just a few moments.

The British composer Max Richter once said that making art was a way to deal with the problem of being alive. If we perceive the arts as being a toolbox to dealing with life, then in my opinion music is perhaps the ultimate Swiss Army Knife.

Doug Thomas is a French composer and artist based in London.
Since founding NOOX in 2014, Doug has released numerous solo projects, including Short Stories, Vol. 1&2, Angles and Cassiopeia. His interest in multi-media collaboration has also led to engagements with choreographers, photographers and visual artists from around the world, including London, New York and Reykjavík.

Doug has studied at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance in London, as well as with Berklee Online College of Music. Some of his mentors include Jérôme Bechet, Dylan Kay, Audrey Riley, Maurizio Malagnini, Enrica Sciandrone and Stefania Passamonte.

“Music allows me to express ideas and feelings in a unique way. Each piece I compose is an attempt in finding balance between interest and beauty, within the limits of my own language and experience. I like the idea that music can provide us with an alternative to our daily life, whether it completes it, or helps us take some distance from it.”

Doug Thomas appears in a future Meet the Artist interview at

Farewell to a dear old friend

I don’t usually write about very personal things on this blog – except when they directly relate to my piano playing or music – but this morning we had to take the very difficult decision to have our beautiful Burmese cat Freddy put to sleep. Saying goodbye to a much-loved animal companion is never easy. Freddy had enjoyed a very long and happy life, but in the last few weeks he had become increasingly frail, could hardly stand and eventually stopped eating, and it was clear he was nearing the end of his life. As pet owners, we usually know when it is the right time to do the most humane thing (what a pity we are not at liberty to do the same to our human loved ones in similar circumstances…..). In his youth Freddy was a great wanderer, a fearless fighter and a slayer of squirrels, but he was also very companionable and he loved the company of humans.

My piano students, especially when they were young kids, loved Freddy and my other cat Poppy (who died in 2009), and Freddy would frequently “join in” with piano lessons, either by yowling loudly (he had a very distinctive miaow, a feature of his breed) while a child was playing or by jumping up on the piano, or sitting on the piano stool next to a student. Sometimes he would leap onto the keyboard and parade up and down – “Ooh look, he’s playing his scales!” the surprised and delighted student would exclaim. Once, when a pianist friend came to lunch, Freddy leapt onto the keyboard interrupting our conversation with what I claimed was “Stockhausen”. “That’s amazing!” my friend declared, rushing into my piano room to witness my cat playing “plinky plonky music”.

I’ve always lived with cats, and I’ve owned five cats (including three Burmese) during the course of my nearly 30 year-marriage. Cats strike me as good companions for pianists –  I know many pianist friends and colleagues who have cats. We both crave and often actively seek solitude and quiet, and a cat is an undemanding companion, unlike a dog who seeks attention and, rather like a toddler, cannot be left to its own devices for long. Cats are independent (something which non-cat people regard as a negative trait) and come and go as they please. Freddy would often wander into my piano room and sit under the piano, or join me on the piano bench, leaning gently against me as I played.

He will be much missed, as are all our cats, but I have a feeling we will not be without a cat for too long…..

New classical club night at IKLECTIK combines baroque DJs and live historic instrumentalists

Guest post by Benjamin Tassie

On June 3rd IKLECTIK’s performance space, bar and garden will exist between two worlds: that of the baroque dance parties of the 17th and 18th centuries, and the musical world of 21st-century London. The sound of the baroque flute and bass viol, the music of Byrd or Bach, will mix with music from across the centuries for Baroque Remix, the first full-scale incarnation of this new classical club night. Baroque DJs will ‘live remix’ baroque music, sampling Lauryn Hill or 2Pac alongside Pergolesi or Purcell. Combining the best of baroque, hip hop, R&B, and contemporary classical music, Baroque remix will reimagine baroque music with drum loops or through the synth-bach arrangements of Wendy Carlos (‘A Clockwork Orange’ soundtrack).

The evening will feature live sets from period instrumentalists Carla Rees (baroque flute) and Liam Byrne (viola da gamba) playing a mixture of old music and new, showcasing the diversity of these historic instruments. World class performances will present baroque music alongside pop arrangements and works by contemporary classical composers, in a series of small sets throughout the night that reframe these instruments for today’s new-music scene.

Previously performed at nights for the V&A (part of a museum late, opening the new Europe 1600-1815 galleries) and Royal Palaces (for ‘Queen James’, part of #PalacePride at Banqueting House), Baroque Remix on June 3rd will be the first full-scale club night, with IKLECTIK’s bar and garden the perfect informal setting for a night of unique and innovative music making.

Venue Details


Old Paradise Yard, SE1 7LG

Nearest Tube: Lambeth North / Westminster

Date and Time

03.06.2017 – 8-11pm

Tickets £10

Book tickets


Kingston Chamber Concerts

John Irving, fortepianist

A new chamber music series launches in Kingston-upon-Thames on Thursday 18 May at All Saints Church, Kingston Marketplace.

The opening concert features keyboard music by Haydn, Bach and Mozart performed on a replica fortepiano very like the type of instrument Haydn and Mozart would have known and played. The concert is given by John Irving, Professor of Historical Performance at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire in Greenwich.

Future concerts in the series include the Piatti String Quartet in music by Debussy, Britten and Beethoven, and the Armorel Piano Trio, who will perform Beethoven’s ‘Ghost’ Trio together with works by Schumann and Dvorak.

The concerts will have a relaxed format, with audience seated salon style around small tables to create a convivial atmosphere and as a reminder that chamber music was written to be enjoyed in this way.

Tickets cost £15 (students £5) for a single concert or £40 for the whole series.

Further information and booking via / tel. 020 8649 1960

Venue: All Saints Church, Kingston Marketplace, Kingston-upon-Thames KT1 1JP

Diploma Day with Graham Fitch

The London Piano Meetup Group is holding its second Diploma Day on Sunday 9th July 2017. This full day event is aimed at adult amateur pianists who are considering, or planning to take, a post-grade-8 performance qualification, or piano teachers who want to observe several hours of inspirational teaching.

The event takes place in the Holst Room at Morley College, near Waterloo Station, which has a beautiful Steinway D concert grand to perform on. The day will run from 9am to 5pm and is intended not only to provide resources and information for participants, but also to network with other like-minded (and diploma-aiming!) pianists.


The day will include:

  • Performances of diploma repertoire from participants preparing for their exams
  • Feedback in a masterclass-style format from acclaimed teacher and pianist Graham Fitch
  • Workshops, discussions and Q&A sessions with Frances Wilson (a.k.a. The Cross-Eyed Pianist), covering the planning, preparation, practice and execution of a performance diploma, plus supporting components including understanding and managing performance anxiety and stagecraft

Feedback from participants at last year’s Diploma Day:

“The introduction was helpful as I’m at the planning stage of my diploma”

“I got the feeling that a diploma is an achievable goal for me”

“A hugely valuable day”

“I appreciated the positive, supportive atmosphere”

“I enjoyed hearing lots of different repertoire, some well-known and some new”

“Graham was fantastic at getting to the nub of things quickly and was hugely inspiring to performers and observers alike”

The organisers are looking forward to seeing familiar and new faces at this event, and hope that it will be a valuable and useful day for all attendees. For any questions in the meantime please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Claire Hansell at

Tickets for participants (to observe) are £17 each


Please book by midday on Wednesday 5th July, as there is unfortunately no facility to pay on the door on the day.

Link to Facebook event

graham-fitch-750x750Graham Fitch has earned a global reputation as an outstanding teacher of piano for all ages and levels. He is a popular adjudicator, a tutor for the EPTA Piano Teachers’ Course, and a regular writer for Pianist Magazine with several video demonstrations on YouTube. His blog features hundreds of articles on piano playing and together with his multimedia eBook series is read by thousands of musicians all over the world.

avatars-000208691703-0he3lq-t500x500Frances Wilson is a pianist, piano teacher, concert reviewer and blogger on classical music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist. A passionate advocate of adult amateur pianism, Frances co-founded the London Piano Meetup Group in 2013 and is co-administrator of Piano Network UK on Facebook. She has hosted and participated in workshops, masterclasses, courses and meetups for adult pianists, and completed Licentiate and Associate Performance Diplomas (both with Distinction) in her late 40s, having returned to the piano after a long break. Frances writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for Pianist Magazine’s online content and is a guest blogger for classical music website InterludeHK.

ENIGMAS with Elspeth Wyllie, piano


in a new album with


ENIGMAS: Solo piano and chamber works

by Elgar, Leighton, Rubbra, Bowen and Sackman

Performed by acclaimed young artists:


solo and chamber recitalist, appearances at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, and for BBC Radio Scotland


guest player with Britten Sinfonia, the RPO, and the Hallé Orchestra


appearances at the Southbank Centre and on BBC Radio 3 In Tune


guest player with Munich Chamber Orchestra, ensemble appearances with Lisa Batiashvili and Kim Kashkashian


Britten Pears Young Artist 2015, solo appearances with Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Garsington Opera

To coincide with Elgar’s 160th birthday on 2nd of June 2017, Divine Art is releasing a recital recording of solo piano and chamber works, featuring Elgar’s own solo piano transcription of his much-loved Enigma Variations.  Elgar originally extemporised and sketched out the music at the piano, and his transcription highlights the intimate nature of a work inspired by friends and acquaintances.

This is complemented by a varied collection of masterful repertoire by British composers. Edwin York Bowen’s Sonata for flute and piano is well-known to flautists and Kenneth Leighton’s Elegy is familiar to many cellists – both works deserve to be more widely-known as staples of post-romantic concert repertoire. Edmund Rubbra’s Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for trio are exquisite, essential listening, and this is the first modern-day recording with a mezzo – as Rubbra intended. Finally, a premiere recording of Nicholas Sackman’s Folio I for solo piano, a lively suite originally written for his family.

Recording release date: 19 May 2017



EDWARD ELGAR – Enigma Variations, Op.36 (composer’s own piano transcription)

KENNETH LEIGHTON – Elegy for cello and piano

EDWIN YORK BOWEN – Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120

NICHOLAS SACKMAN – Folio I for solo piano  *premiere recording*

EDMUND RUBBRA – Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for medium voice, viola and piano Op.87

ENIGMAS Solo piano and chamber works (Divine Art catalogue no. DDA 25145)

CDs available to pre-order:

Digital format available 19 May:

For further information please contact:

Kathryn Marshall (Divine Art) –

Elspeth Wyllie (performer) – 07878 411300

Gottschalk and Cuba – A Project by pianist Antonio Iturrioz

Gottschalk and Cuba is a journey through 150 years of music which started with a 19th-century American pianist-composer visiting Havana in Cuba and a 21st-century Cuban pianist who came to America telling the story……

548f7ab6a0c07_louis_moreau_gottschalkNew Orleans born Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was one of the most astonishing keyboard virtuosos in 19th-century America. But he was much more than that. He was America’s first important pianist-composer. He was an extraordinary traveler, bringing his virtuosity to Europe, to Central and South America and to the Caribbean, where he lived in Cuba for extended periods. As a composer, his unique style combined his Creole musical heritage with the American, Latin American and Afro-Caribbean influences he absorbed during his travels – all expressed within the boundaries of classical piano writing prevalent in the 19th century. Gottschalk made friends wherever he traveled and these far-reaching connections are the subject of Cuban pianist Antonio Itturioz‘s new project Gottschalk and Cuba, a CD containing aantonio world premiere recording of the entire Nuit des Tropiques, Symphony Romantique, both movements, on one piano. The programme also features Antonio’s transcription for solo piano of the second movement (Fiesta Criolla) of Gottschalk’s monumental Nuit des Tropiques, (Night in the Tropics), a symphony Gottschalk wrote on the island of Martinique after living several years in Cuba. It is a historic work because it is the first symphony written by an American composer. After Gottschalk’s death, his friend Nicolas Ruiz Espadero published a two-piano version of this symphony which is the basis for Antonio’s transcription. In addition, the CD features piano music by well-known Cuban composers whose works all have connections to Gottschalk in one way or another.

More information about Antonio Itturioz’s ‘Gottschalk and Cuba’ kickstarter project here

Interview with Antonio Itturioz

A timely reminder that the piano is for ‘playing’

Lately, I have lost the will to play the piano seriously. This waning of interest in the instrument and its literature which I adore, and would normally consider to be the centre of my life (apart from my family), happened gradually over several weeks and coincided with the recurrence of a shoulder injury, which had plagued me most of last year, in addition to learning that my husband urgently needed a fairly major medical procedure. Normally when stressed I turn to music to provide a distraction, and pleasure, but my attention was too closely focused on my husband’s health and I couldn’t concentrate on practising seriously, nor gain any kind of enjoyment from it (and usually I love practising). It pains me to admit I have hardly touched the piano for the past two months.

Returning to playing seriously after an absence can be tough. Lack of regular practise means fingers and limbs may be less than responsive, sluggish or uncomfortable, and prone to injury. In this case, one should not do too much nor too quickly, and should always be alert to physical signals from the body. Never play through pain and take frequent breaks when practising. Stimulating the mind to focus on playing can be harder still. If the mind is weary from stress or anxiety, it is not necessarily receptive to the concentration, and imagination, required to practise or study music, and telling oneself “I really should be practising!” can set up unhelpful feelings of guilt which can create further lack of motivation or discouragement.

I’ve tried to practise, truly I have. I dug out some Haydn from my bookshelf because I find his music, even in a minor key, to be endlessly uplifting, witty and refreshing. I lost myself in some Philip Glass, but only for about 15 minutes, and managed to play Schumann’s love letter to Clara, the Romance in F sharp, several times without errors, while trying to concentrate on creating a beautiful cantabile sound. But none of it was very satisfying or enjoyable…..

Then my piano teaching colleague, friend and fellow blogger Andrew Eales published this post and provided me with the impulse I needed to get me playing regularly again. In the article Andrew advocates developing an ‘Active Repertoire’ of, say, three pieces which we can play well, ideally from memory (for those moments when we encounter a street piano begging to be played), and reminds us of the importance of “play” and “pleasure” in our music making.

Play these three pieces for pleasure, and daily if possible. Allow them to become embedded in your memory and in your heart.

It’s very easy to regard practising as “work” – often “hard work” – and to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we choose to play our instrument – for enjoyment, for “play” (and even professional musicians will cite this as the reason why they took up their chosen instrument). When I read Andrew’s article, I realised I had been berating myself not only for not “working” (practising seriously) but also for not “playing” for pleasure. So while I am still finding a way back into serious practising of advanced repertoire, I will work on my Active Repertoire and ensure I gain pleasure from doing so.

Coming out a day after my husband was discharged from hospital, Andrew’s post seemed particularly supportive and inspiring. The last few weeks have passed in a fog of daily hospital visits, anxiety and not enough sleep. Music and the piano took a back seat during this time, but now I can feel the will to play, the tug of the instrument, returning afresh – thanks to a friend’s inspiring words.

Sometimes, often, the will to play is stirred by an external force – a concert or recording, a stimulating   article, conversations with friends or colleagues – but ultimately the inspiration must come from within oneself.

BathSongs: ‘Brahms to Broadway’

Bath Festival launches the BathSongs series in 2017 with ‘Brahms to Broadway’, a sumptuous mingling of words, music and song. Informal in style and performed in a small and intimate setting, the series will provide a chance to listen to international artists at the top of their career, appearing alongside rising stars of the future. The series of six one-hour early evening events covers a wide range of music from folk to classical to Broadway.

Building on the heritage of the Bath Literature and Bath International Music Festivals, and with more than 130 events over 10 days, Bath Festival takes place from 19th to 28th May 2017 and brings some of the world’s leading writers, musicians and cultural figures into the iconic buildings and onto the streets of Bath. Full programme at

Saturday 20th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: A Top 20 Collection

Tenor Joshua Ellicott is joined by emerging star Verity Wingate and pianist Alisdair Hogarth of The Prince Consort, taking us on a journey of a top 20 of all-time great classical songs by Schubert, Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Schumann, Debussy and Wolf.

Monday 22nd May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Emotions of Spain

Two young singers, soprano Carolina Ullrich and tenor Luis Gomes, join world-leading accompanist Malcolm Martineau to explore Spanish song with work by Falla, Granados, Toldra and Espla – encapsulating love, jealousy, pride, joy and sadness with poetry of unmistakable flavour and piquancy.

Tuesday 23rd May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Brahms from First to Last

The life of Brahms is traced through his songs from first to last. Malcolm Martineau is joined by one of the truly great singers of recent years, Ann Murray, and young baritone Samuel Hasselhorn.

Thursday 25th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Timeless Stories through Folksong

Internationally-renowned soprano Claire Booth, accompanied by Christopher Glynn on piano, perform songs by Brahms, Grainger and Grieg – all composers whose work draws on aspects of traditional folksong.

Friday 26th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: American Songbooks

Rising stars baritone Gareth Brynmor John and soprano Rowan Pierce will delight and touch your heart with songs that range from spiritual to Broadway. Accompanied by Christopher Glynn.

Saturday 27th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Whatever Love Is…

Alisdair Hogarth and tenor Andrew Staples of The Prince Consort join forces with award-winning poet Laura Mucha to explore the subject of love, juxtaposing songs with poetry, philosophy and psychology, drawing on Mucha’s research on who and why we love. Plus the world premiere of a new song written by Cheryl-Frances Hoad.

BathSongs series pass: buy a ticket to three concerts in the BathSongs series and receive 50% off a fourth concert in the series.

Under 18s £1 tickets for BathSongs series *Limited tickets available JUMP IN

How to book

* In person at Bath Box Office from 10.30am to 5pm on the release dates

* By telephone on 01225 463362.

* Online at

* Gift vouchers for The Bath Festival can also be purchased at Bath Box Office, by telephone and online.

[source: press release]