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

I was born into a musical environment: my father, Bernard Rose, was a huge inspiration. He was a conductor, composer, scholar, organist, horn player, singer, inspirational teacher. I studied with him at Oxford and sang in his daily choir at Magdalen College, but before that I was a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, as was my father, his brother and both my brothers. At Salisbury we had about 8 services a week, with about 12 rehearsals, from the age of 8-13. I remember thinking at the age of 12 or so that I wanted to be in music, and thought conducting would be good. My father sent me to have lunch with his old teacher at the Royal College of Music, Sir Adrian Boult, and Boult gently grilled me for over an hour over lunch, insisting that I should only pursue conducting if I really wanted it. This helped focus my mind. Leopold Stokowski used to stay frequently at our house from when I was very young, and I think this must have had an influence on me also. As soon as I went to Oxford I began serious conducting, having already taken on a small Oxfordshire choral society.

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

In the early days Christopher Dearnley, Organist at Salisbury Cathedral, and my first piano teacher, was a strong influence. Then at my senior school my teacher for A-level played me Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Juenglinge”. I was 15 years-old, and it blew my head off. I knew from that moment that I would dedicate much of my life to ‘living’ music.

When I left school I studied ’12-note music’ in Vienna with a former pupil of Arnold Schoenberg, and this has been a strong influence all my life. Whilst at Oxford I became fascinated by the conducting of Pierre Boulez, and used to go to watch him conduct. This was my main conducting influence.

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

The most challenging aspect is inspiring musicians, professional, students or amateur, to create exciting musical sounds, and, hopefully, display their enjoyment of this to the audience. Certainly, it is very fulfilling teasing the written notes into audible sounds, whether it be medieval music, Classical or music of today.

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

Through gesture as much as possible. When teaching conducting I stress the importance of “less talking is more music”. The fact that in the concert or recording venue at the moment of impact there is no speaking is a vital aspect of communication from conductor to musicians.

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

My first role as conductor is my being the representative of the composer in the room, from whatever period. I always do masses of research into the composer’s background at the time of composition, etc, before studying a work. I have had the pleasure of working directly with many hundreds of living composers, and I am a composer myself, so feel I am “on their side”! If the piece is not written out logically I do all I can to persuade the composer to make the scores as logical as possible.

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

Stravinsky “Sacre de Printemps”

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

The Philharmonic Hall in St Petersburg, Russia, is unbelievable!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are too many to list. It goes from Perotin in the 1150s through to Machaut, Byrd, Tallis, Sheppard, Monteverdi, Bach, Mozart, Hummel, Beethoven, Mahler, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Stockhausen, Ligeti, Xenakis, Arvo Paert, Steve Reich…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Achieving a fine/masterful performance.

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

The joy of performing at the highest possible standard; rehearsal, rehearsal, rehearsal!

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

Still conducting and composing internationally

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The morning after a great concert!

What is your most treasured possession?

The autograph score of Bach’s B Minor Mass

What is your present state of mind?

Good! I’ve just finished editing a new CD in Latvia and am preparing for my 70th birthday concert in April. I am a lucky person!

 

Gregory Rose’s 70th birthday concert is on 18 April 2018 at St John’s Smith Square. The programme includes several premieres, including a piece for solo voice with Loré Lixenberg and a new Violin Concerto, specially composed for the acclaimed violinist, Peter Sheppard Skærved.

Full details here


Gregory Rose is particularly noted for his performances of the romantic and contemporary repertoires, having conducted over 300 premieres of orchestral, choral and ensemble music throughout Europe and the Far East. He studied violin, piano and singing as a young child and was a pupil of Hans Jelinek (Vienna Academy) and Egon Wellesz (Oxford University), both former students of Arnold Schoenberg, and of his father, the late Bernard Rose.

Gregory is Music Director of the Jupiter Orchestra, Jupiter Singers, Singcircle and CoMA London Ensemble. He has conducted many concerts and operas for Trinity College of Music, including concerts with the Contemporary Music Group, and operas by Poulenc, Stravinsky, Virgil Thomson, Scott Joplin, Berthold Goldschmidt, Samuel Barber, Nino Rota and Malcolm Williamson. He is a professor of conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire.

Full biography

St John’s Smith Square announces OCCUPY THE PIANOS Festival 2018 
Friday 20 -Sunday 22 April 2018
Celebrating two themes: Protest and The Journey Within 

Including more than a dozen world premieres, a led meditation, a queer concert and Radulescu’s Icons in SJSS’s crypt (pianos laid on their sides with their action removed) 

St John’s Smith Square is delighted to announce its third full Occupy the Pianos festival curated by pianist and composer Rolf Hind. The numerous concerts from 20-22 April are studded with many freshly-written works and radical takes on music and concert-giving, with new and radical piano music at its core.

The two themes this year are Protest (from the feminist angle in Maxwell Davies to the words of prisoners in Rzewski, from a plea for compassion to animals to radical rethinking of music making from a queer angle) and The Journey Within. These themes don’t merely relate to the music chosen but the manner of presentation: so the second main day – The Journey Within – will gradually dissolve into audience participation with everyone ending up downstairs in the cafe together, by way of a concert conducted as a led meditation with Eliza McCarthy.

Rolf Hind says of this year’s festival:

St Johns’s Smith Square is only a stone’s throw from Parliament Square, site of protest and agitation for hundreds of years. In keeping with our name, this year’s programming considers politics and protest. At the same time – reflecting the beautiful, serene space in which we find ourselves in this church, the festival’s 2nd day will move towards spirituality and the journey within, offering new ways for the audience to encounter music and their experience of it.

There will be more than a dozen new works over the weekend, placing the focus on future directions for the piano, a focus also highlighted by the appearance of the extraordinary Magnetic Resonator piano in Rolf Hind’s Friday night recital. There has been a Call for Scores (Occupy the Pianos received over 100 new pieces in the past) and the weekend begins with a workshop on writing for the piano, with further pieces dropped into the weekend as surprises.

Increasing the sense of fluidity between events there will be two of Radulescu’s Icons housed in the crypt. These Icons are grand pianos laid on their sides which have had the action removed and are then played in unique ways.   At the end of the festival there will be a chance for members of the public to improvise on these instruments themselves.

Don’t miss the concert “On a Queer Day” on 21st April at 4pm, where several pieces will be introduced by an investigation of what it means to play Bach queerly and later that evening at 7.30pm there is Kagel’s Staatstheater, a surreal theatre piece, funny, disturbing, and politically engaged, which takes apart the whole concert hall experience, and doesn’t really put it back together again!

Also on the 20th there is a must-see performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’ extraordinary glimpse into the mind of a mad, wronged woman – uniquely in this case the role of Miss Donnithorne is shared by two of our most exciting vocalists, Elaine Mitchener and Loré Lixenberg.

The musicians involved in Occupy the Pianos are hand-picked by Rolf Hind: creative, multi-faceted and collaborative.

As well as being wonderful players they are thoughtful and curious about repertoire, and willing to take part in different elements of the weekend which gives it a joyful, collegiate feel. In each festival new players are added to the mix, fascinating young players often at the beginning of their careers. Not necessarily the “prize-winners” but brilliant musicians with a distinctive edge and profile.

At the festival’s heart is an ever-growing team of brilliant musicians whose approach is outwardlooking, unconventional and curious. The collegiate communal spirit of that group has made Occupy the Pianos such an adventure. An adventure that continues…

– Rolf Hind

 

For more information & tickets please visit

www.sjss.org.uk/otp2018


Source: press release/ Jo Carpenter Music PR Consultancy

I’ve been watching some of the Winter Olympics coverage with interest, in particular the snowboarding and skiing. It’s easy to spot the winners – people like Chloe Kim and Redmond Gerard (both from the US team): they display effortless grace and flow in their gestures, and those who totally “own” the course seem to create a through-narrative of seamless movement from start to finish, which reminds me of watching someone like the British pianist Stephen Hough in concert. In short, they make it look easy.

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As is often the way when I watch sport, I am struck by the similarities between sportspeople and musicians: that same effortless grace of the snowboarders and skiers is something we admire in highly-skilled musicians, and these are attributes, along with expression and communication, which make their performances thrilling and memorable.

Often when watching top sportspeople or musicians in action, we marvel at their “natural talent”. that ineffable, indescribable je ne sais quoi which places these people apart from the rest of us.

Top athletes are compelling because they embody the comparison-based achievement we….revere – fastest, strongest – and because they do so in a totally unambiguous way…..

Plus they’re beautiful: Jordan hanging in midair like a Chagall bride, Sampras laying down a touch volley at an angle that defies Euclid. And they’re inspiring…. Great athletes are profundity in motion

– David Foster Wallace

Like the rest of us, the BBC commentators for the Winter Olympics are clearly fascinated and impressed by these extraordinary human beings, and there is much talk of “natural talent” and a sense of hero-worship and awe in the language used to describe them and their exploits. As a society, we are obsessed with the “myth” of talent and we have a long-held a fascination with people we perceive to be “naturally talented”. From child prodigies to highly gifted performers and sports superstars, we view them as wonders of nature, imbued with enviable, raw natural talent.

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Stephen Hough in concert

What is the secret of these people’s talent? What is it that makes them so special, so different from the rest of us?

Unfortunately, for those obsessed with the myth of talent, the reality is altogether less exciting: notice how the BBC commentators rarely discuss these athletes’ training regimes. Why? Because talking about training is boring. To discuss something as pedestrian as training and practising removes the mystique surrounding these extraordinary individuals, and we would never want our sporting or musical heroes and heroines to appear “ordinary”. Would you rather watch Stephen Hough practising 70 repetitions of the same passage of Liszt at home in his studio or appearing in concert at Carnegie Hall?

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Most of us are familiar with the “10,000 hours rule”, and while this theory has largely been debunked by more recent research, it serves to remind us that “putting the hours in” is a key factor in becoming extraordinarily proficient in a specific skill or field of study, be it playing chess, sport or musical performance. But it is not just about quantity of training; quality plays a more crucial role, for focused, intelligent and deliberate training or practise is what breeds results.

But what sparks the will to train in the first place?

Interest and the “rage to master”

If you haven’t got the interest, you won’t stick to the training regime. Sounds obvious, yet those who achieve what we call “expert status”, snowboarders and concert pianists alike, have an almost obsessive will to focus intensely on a specific subject, and will voraciously consume new information and acquire skills. Psychologists call this the “rage to master” and many top athletes and musicians can cite a specific moment, often in childhood, when the rage to master took hold, driving them to focus intently and intensely on their chosen activity.

Practice and training

To achieve a very high level of technical and artistic ability and success, regular, conscientious, and deliberate practice/training is crucial. This is not simply playing through your chosen repertoire or doing a few runs on the piste: doodling at the piano or pottering around at the snowdome does not bring success. Deliberate practice involves a hefty degree of  goal-setting (daily, weekly, monthly and yearly, plus regular reviewing and adjustment of those goals), self-evaluation, criticial feedback, reflection, analysis of minute details (such as body position, gesture, fingering schemes etc, often using video or audio recordings), in addition to support and feedback from mentors, teachers, peers, colleagues and others. We know that repetitive practice is important to train the “muscle memory” or procedural memory, which allows Redmond Garard or Stephen Hough to perfectly execute the slopestyle trick or complex passage of music, not just once but over and over again. These are not mindless repetitions, however, but repetition with reflection, evaluation and adjustment, so that each subsequent repetition improves on the previous one. In addition to all of the above, the ability to see the “bigger picture” of the slope or piece of music and the attendant ability to make decisions, large and small, about technique, gesture, expression etc

Motivation

Deliberate practice/training leads to noticeable progress and improvement which motivates one to keep practising, with enhanced satisfaction, reward and fulfilment. This creates a virtuous circle of positive feelings towards training and practising, which further motivates one to keep at the task.

Grit and determination

Grit is the disposition to pursue very long-term goals with passion and perseverance. And I want to emphasize the stamina quality of grit. Grit is sticking with things over the long term and then working very hard at it.

– Angela Duckworth

Some of us may start a training or practising regime with the very best of intentions, but soon fall by the wayside due to lack of focus, motivation, procrastination, and a whole host of other reasons (excuses!). Those at the top of their field have the determination to stick to the task, day in day out.

Mastery and the constant pursuit

Mastery is about embracing the role of the life-long student and dedicating oneself to the pursuit of excellence. Read more about mastery here

Other factors

Nurture – the encouragement and support of family, teachers and mentors, coaches, colleagues and friends are important in fostering focus and determination in training.

***

When we consider all these factors, we truly appreciate how and why Olympic athletes and top-flight musicians are where they are professionally. We too can train and practise in the same way, using the same tools and focused mindset. We may not touch these exceptional individuals nor come close to their greatness, but we can still strive for excellence in what we do.

Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work

Chuck Close


Further reading

‘How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart’ from Consider the Lobster And Other Essays – David Foster Wallace. Little, Brown & Company, 2008

Grit and the Secret of Success

The routine of creativity

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

I come from a family of musicians; my mother was even playing concerts with me in her belly so I guess I’ve been drinking it all in since I was a bean. I began with the violin so the viola is a natural sibling instrument and I’m happily bilingual as both violinist and violist. I rarely think of my life as a musician in terms of a career, I just knew that music would hold the greatest challenges and rewards, and so there was no other path… here I am on it!

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

There many musicians to whom I’m thankful for inspiration, but if I think back to being drawn to improvisation as a child it is learning this skill that has had a powerful influence on my music-making and has opened many musical doors, sparking my curiosity at every stage.

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

Learning to say no. And overcoming fear.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m proud of the discs I’ve made with my group ZRI—we’re recorded both the Brahms Clarinet and Schubert C major quintets, re-scored to include santouri (dulcimer) and accordion to reconnect with the Hungarian, folk, and cafehaus traditions that inspired Johannes and Franz when they each went drinking in the Zum Roten Igel pub in Vienna and heard the gypsies play. We’re playing at Kings Place on April 8th with our brand new Charlie Chaplin live score and concert program!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’ll leave that for the audience to decide…

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

Often I’m invited to play particular repertoire but if I’m in charge then I’ll choose a program according to the context in which it’ll be performed. The particular venue and kind of audience you expect is crucial for a choice of what to play and how to present a program. That’s not to say I’ll choose something that may be in an audience’s comfort zone—sometimes the most exciting concerts push those boundaries—but it’s always a consideration in planning. And the bottom line is it’s got to be something that I’m really into myself or else how can I expect anyone else to be?

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

I like to give concerts in weird and wild settings, and not necessarily traditional halls. But as far as more regular stage settings go, I love Wilton’s Music Hall in Shadwell—it’s a stunning Victorian music hall with a gorgeous natural acoustic. The Wanamaker Playhouse is also awesome: all wood, candle-lit, and perfect for a chamber group or solo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

How long have we got?! I like people who make music with risk and real-time flow, who have an individual voice and personality, who explore sound and colour, who like to groove…people who can captivate you with their imaginations. Magicians of sorts. Vladimir Horowitz, for example, or Bobby McFerrin.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s impossible to choose! Playing with Malian rappers at a festival in Timbuktu? Leading Bjork’s string orchestra in the Albert Hall? String trios with my father and sister in an old Berlin Ballroom? Solo Bach in an underground cave in the south of France?…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you are physically and imaginatively in the zone at a concert, when the flow of the music is bigger than you yet you are also standing at its helm… where your intuition is your guide, where you’re experiencing the music for the first time whether it’s from an old score or improvised… and when the audience are right there with you from start to finish.

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

Play with your mind and heart not your fingers. Learn to talk as well as sing on your instrument. And, to quote Charlie Parker: ‘If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn’!

What is your present state of mind?

I’m excited because I’m on a plane to the north of Norway where I’m spending 3 days working with some amazing folk musicians on a new Folk-meets-Baroque project.

 

Max Baillie performs in Time Line with Oliver Coates, Thomas Gould and Rakhi Singh on 28th February, part of the Time Unwrapped season at King’s Place.

Further information


A graduate of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Cambridge University, and Berlin’s UdK, violinist and violist Max Baillie leads a uniquely versatile career. He performs across a diverse spectrum of music spanning new commissions, improvisation, and collaborations with artists from all over the world. As a soloist and chamber musician he has performed on stages from the Royal Albert Hall to Glastonbury, from Mali to Moscow, and plays regularly for television and radio broadcast.

Max is a founding member of ZRI, Zum Roten Igel. The ensemble has toured to major festivals with its re-scored versions of the Brahms clarinet quintet and the Schubert C major quintet, including accordion and santouri (dulcimer). He also has a duo with his ‘cellist father Alexander Baillie with whom he recorded a disc of folk-influenced violin and cello duos earlier this year. Max also features regularly with Notes Inegales, an improvisation group which ventures into adventurous cross-cultural and cross-genre collaborations at its regular club night Club Inegales.

For over ten years Max held the Principal Viola position in the London-based group Aurora Orchestra, playing a major role in its creative path. He conceived and directed the first of Aurora’s Brazilian dance collaborations, featured as soloist in Julian Philips’ dedicated commission Maxamorphosis drawing on his background as a trained dancer, and in 2016 curated the first season of late night ‘Lock-in’ concerts at London’s Kings Place.

Max is partnered with the National Youth Orchestra of Britain to build an online educational resource for young string players, and is currently working with an animator to create a short film about how to approach solo Bach as part of his Bach Voyager project.

www.maxbaillie.com

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

Juicy low notes, an absent cello-playing father, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo & Juliet/Star Wars (for my 6-year old purveyor, a concert without these items on the programme just didn’t cut it), Verdi’s Falstaff (aged 6, I played the Page Boy in a stellar cast of AMAZING British singers conducted by Roger Norrington and directed by Jonathan Miller – the horn call that heralded Nanetta and Fenton’s night-time tryst and the magic of the ‘nymphs, elves’ music completely spell-bound me – music IS magic, after all).

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

Robert Le Page – two of his one-man shows ‘back in the day’: The Far Side of the Moon and The Andersen Project. Intimate, epic, harnessing cutting edge technology but all about the human touch. I thought, ‘I’m going to do this for classical music, in my own way.

Kneehigh Theatre – especially ‘The Bacchae’ and ‘Tristan and Iseult’. I went to see ‘The Bacchae’ with a legendary hangover and found its descent into a murderous rave world completely intoxicating – classic text meets visceral imagination (meets my legendary hangover) = THAT’S how to communicate something ‘from the canon’. And then I was lucky enough to work with them briefly, during which time Emma Rice sorted me out a couple of tickets for their sold out run of ‘Tristan and Iseult’ at the Cottesloe [at the National Theatre, London]. I went with the woman who became my wife. I couldn’t talk about the show for weeks afterwards without weeping.

Shakespeare – I really like nights out with fabulous art that somehow tend towards the condition of a Shakespeare play – where Hamlet needs his Gravediggers, Macbeth his Drunken Porter and King Lear his Fool. I’m being simplistic/dualistic (child of the binary/digital age)…but I hope you know what I mean. Clearly, the earthy and ethereal, bawdy and transcendent, unhinged and rational, ‘tragical-comical-historical-pastoral’ exist ‘cheek by jowl’ in works from the classical music canon…I find they rarely get a chance to breathe like that, though. Something to do, I think, with an overweening concern for propriety in the performance of classical music. Obviously, the really great music itself from the canon isn’t concerned with propriety (even if it is concerned with poise/balance/proportion etc) – it’s too busy being about important things like people, the world, meaning, expression.

So, Shakespeare is a kind of touchstone and guru/shaman in my own adventures.

My extraordinary teachers (Kate Beare, Alexander Baillie, Boris Pergamenschikow, Ulla Blom, Sam Kenyon).

Those cello-playing ‘animals’, where the cello-playing disappears – Shafran, Rostropovich, Harrell.

George London (Canadian bass-baritone), Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Russian baritone – my cello teacher, Boris Pergamenschikow, would give me tapes of Hvorostovsky singing Russian romances…I wore it out).

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

Negotiating the feudal system inherent in the classical music industry in the UK – I’m still not especially adept at it! I have an aesthetic that’s deeply rooted in connection, communication, the transformative potential of music being performed RIGHT NOW. That can make me seem like a Wild Man sometimes! When that meets an aesthetic that’s rooted in the academic, amateur, choral tradition, impartial and dispassionate (profile the BBC and its various ‘voices’, for instance) – excellent qualities though they are! – it can take some neuro-linguistic adjustment to chime. For me, music is mainly about the visceral and the spiritual. The intellect is a useful tool along the way but, personally, in performance, I’m not that interested in beholding the intellect on stage. There are more vital things at stake and bigger risks to take.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Ooooofff. Today…John Tavener’s The Fool at the QEH. It’s a mighty kind of dramatic cantata that he wrote for me to sing and play.

Recordings-wise, the one that’s out on February 16 (and then the solo disc coming out in April…obvs!). The Feb 16 recording is the world premiere recording of Hans Gál’s glorious Cello Concertino, along with his epic solo sonata and solo suite. Simon Fox-Gál produced it and he has captured the cello sound AMAZINGLY!

(And I also have to mention my recording of Errollyn Wallen’s fabulous/fiendish cello concerto – she’s a wonderful composer, extraordinary person and dear friend, and her cello concerto has deeply touched SO MANY listeners).

Which particular works do you think you play best?

For better or for worse, I think my nature and talents – such as they are – are good at connecting with and communicating works with big hearts, innate drama and an invitation to some kind of extremity in them. I like to go the ledge beyond the edge and report back. Don Quixote, Penderecki 2nd Cello Concerto, Rachmaninov Sonata – that’s today’s Top Three.

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

Generally by saying ‘yes’ and going to where the excitement is.

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

Victoria Hall in Geneva is exquisite, grand yet intimate. But actually, I find I’m less and less fussy – about acoustics, stage orientation etc. My job is to lay it on the line and ‘only connect’ and as long as I can see/hear, be seen/heard, then I’m really happy to get on with that.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many of my inspiring colleagues. I’m lucky to work with some of the greatest musicians I know – brimming with generosity, creativity, virtuosity. They make me better.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

When I was 19, I gave the first ‘from memory’ performance of Tavener’s ‘The Protecting Veil’ in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. The intensity of the silence that followed that sublime piece was unforgettable.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Keeping going – adventurously, hungrily, positively – like the Great White Shark on the first page of Peter Benchley’s JAWS…carving out time and space to manifest my creative dreams…paying the bills.

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

Well, I did some ‘improvisation’ workshops and a performance with my band ZRI at the Yehudi Menuhin School last week. It was UNFORGETTABLE. The essence of what we offered was: accept and build, grow your own artist, honour your curiosity by continuing to take creative risks. The reaction we received was mind-blowing. These particular students were craving these kinds of ideas, concepts, approaches and tools. I think it’s time to bring our music education up to date. It’s possible to balance vision and provenance and train young musicians for a career right now.

Matthew Sharp performs with the Northern Chamber Orchestra on 9 March 2018 at Stockport Town Hall, and at the Glossop Music Festival during June 2018. 

Matthew’s new recording of Hans Gál’s Cello Concertino (world premiere recording), Solo Sonata, Solo Suite with the English Symphony Orchestra and Kenneth Woods (conductor) is released on February 16, 2018 on the Avie Records label. Further information and preview tracks here

Matthew’s solo album ‘Rough Magic’ is released by Edition Peters Sounds, April 2018. Devotional Music by Wagner, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Messiaen, Piazzolla, Golijov, Sollima, Wallen, Jeff Buckley and works written for Matthew by John Tavener, Emily Hall and James Francis Brown

Sneak preview – Sollima’s Lamentatio (mp3)


Matthew Sharp is internationally recognised as both a compelling classical artist and a fearless pioneer. His adventures in and through music and across disciplines are ‘unrivalled’ and ‘unprecedented’, balancing provenance and vision in a unique and potent way.

He studied cello with Boris Pergamenschikow in Cologne, voice with Ulla Blom in Stockholm and English at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was taken to Jacqueline du Pré when he was 12, Galina Vishnewskaya when he was 18 and studied chamber music with the Amadeus Quartet. He performs at major venues and festivals worldwide as solo cellist, baritone, actor and director.

Matthew has appeared as solo performer with the RPO, LPO, RLPO, CBSO, Orchestra of Opera North, SCO, EUCO, ESO, NCO, Manchester Camerata, Orchestra of the Swan, Orchestra X, Arensky Chamber Orchestra, and Ural Philharmonic.

In opera, he has performed principal roles for Opera North, ROH, Almeida Opera and Mahogany Opera Group, amongst many others.

In theatre, he has performed principal roles at the Young Vic and National Theatre Studio, collaborated with Kneehigh, Complicité and, most recently, with legendary illustrator and film-maker, Dave McKean.

He has recorded for Sony, EMI, Decca, Naxos, Somm, NMC, Avie and Whirlwind and appeared in recital as both cellist and singer at Wigmore Hall, SBC and Salle Gaveau.

 

www.matthewsharp.net

It’s one of the great romantic images, isn’t it? The solo performer, alone on an empty stage, faced with that huge black beast of a full-size concert grand piano, armed with nothing but his or her memory and willing, well-trained fingers.

There’s a lot of snobbery surrounding memorisation, and yet it’s one of the most absurd things pianists put themselves through. We have Clara Schumann and Franz Liszt to thank (or blame!) for the tradition of the pianist playing from memory, and both were significant in turning the piano recital into the formal spectacle it is today. Before the mid-nineteenth century, pianists were not expected to play from memory and playing without the score was often considered a sign of casualness, or even arrogance: Beethoven disapproved of the practice, feeling it would make the performer lazy about the detailed markings on the score; and Chopin is reported to have been angry when he learnt that one of his pupils was intending to play him a Nocturne from memory.

Few pianists today would dispute the legacy of Liszt and Clara Schumann, and now playing from memory is de rigeur, so much so that if you go to a concert where the pianist plays from the score, you may hear mutterings amongst the audience, suggesting the performer isn’t up to the job or has not prepared the music properly. Which is of course rubbish: sometimes, especially in contemporary or very complex repertoire, it is simply not possible to memorise all of it. Interestingly, memorisation has actually limited the range of repertoire performed in concert: many soloists won’t commit themselves to more than a handful of works each season because of the burden memorization places upon them (as pianists, we have to learn more than double the number of notes of any other musician!).

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Martha Argerich

There are sound reasons for playing from memory and it should not be regarded simply as a virtuoso affectation (the ability to memorise demonstrates a very high degree of skill and application). It can allow the performer greater physical freedom and peripheral vision, more varied expression and deeper communication with listeners. But the pressure to memorise (a pressure which is imposed upon pianists from a young age and reinforced in music college or conservatoire) can also lead to increased performance anxiety: I have come across a number of professional pianists who have given up solo work because of the unpleasant pressure to memorise and the attendant anxiety. The late great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter gave up playing without the score when he reached his 60s as he felt he could no longer rely on his memory, and Clifford Curzon and Arthur Rubenstein both struggled with memorisation.

While each individual will have his or her own particular method of memorisation, pianists in fact utilise four types of memory, all of which must be employed when learning music:

Visual Memory: human beings use this part of their memory function to record large amounts of information, such as faces and colours and everyday objects. Music is made up of patterns and shapes, and the pianist uses visual memory to “picture” the score, as well as to recall the physical gestures involved in playing.

Aural/Auditory Memory: this is what enables us to sing in the shower! Music is an assortment of sounds, arranged in a certain order. The pianist uses aural memory to know he/she is playing the correct notes and to anticipate what he/she will play in the next few seconds.

Muscular/Procedural/Kinaesthesic Memory: the ability to recall all the movements, gestures and physical sensations required to play music. Muscular or “procedural” memory is trained by repetitive practice: just as the tennis player practices his over-arm serve in exactly the same way each time to ensure a perfect delivery, so the pianist must employ repetitive practice to ensure the fingers land on the right notes every time.

Analytical/Conceptual Memory: the pianist’s ability to fully comprehend, absorb and retain the score through his/her intimate study and knowledge of it. This involves understanding structure, harmony, dynamics and nuances, phrasing, reference points, modulations, repetitions etc, as well as the context in which the music was composed, whether it is Baroque, Classical or Romantic, for example. This “total immersion” in the score should result in a rich, multi-layered awareness of it.

Many young students rely, often unconsciously, on auditory and visual memory, or on auditory and muscular memory, and many can play very competently from memory. However, to play expertly from memory, and to ensure that one’s ability to download and deliver music very accurately is completely secure, all four aspects of memory must be trained and maintained.

I go to many live piano concerts every year and I have noticed a growing trend: more solo pianists (Alexandre Tharaud is a notable example) are now using the score (accompanists and collaborative pianists tend to use the score, with the assistance of a page-turner, or the more modern alternative of an iPad or tablet with a score-reading app). It is possible to perform from the score and to deliver a quality performance which is rich in expression, gesture, and musicality. Well-managed page-turns, with the assistance of a discreet page-turner, should not detract from the performance, and after all, isn’t a concert fundamentally about communication, between performer, composer and audience? If you get that right, nothing else should matter.

 

Richter playing Schubert G major Sonata, D894, 1st movt, with score

 

Alexandre Tharaud playing Mahler/Adagietto with score