‘Open Up’ is the debut album from the Charlie Foxtrot Piano Collective, released on 16th July 2021. Written and produced by Caroline Wright, the album includes 11 tracks of original multi-tracked piano music.


The idea behind the album was to create a coherent set of compositions that indulge my love of piano but also explore the orchestral potential of the instrument. The creative process involved a mixture of composing, improvising, and arranging. I wanted to avoid using samples or MIDI, to maintain both an acoustic and improvisatory feel to the music, so everything was recorded on – or inside – a real grand piano. This meant numerous recording sessions for every track, as well as detailed mixing to achieve the right balance between different parts.

The album moves from relatively upbeat, simple tracks to darker, more complex pieces, with lots of modal harmonies and rhythmic ostinatos looped throughout. The music has a diverse range of influences, from classical to contemporary, as well as film, folk, jazz, dance and electronica. Some of the pieces are re-workings of older compositions (the oldest dating back to 1995!), while others were written in early 2021. There were many different inspirations for pieces: an amazing poem (The Hill We Climb), a beautiful photo (Falling Light), a wildlife documentary (Whale Song), some awful weather (Storm), a strong emotion (Anticipation), or a musical concept (Lockdown Boogie – which is really a study for the left-hand, in disguise!). The album title refers not only to opening up the piano to explore the sounds under the lid, but also to society opening up after the lockdowns of 2020-21, as well as personally opening up as an artist and deciding to put my music out into the world.


Open Up is available now

To listen to tracks in full or buy album (via Bandcamp): www.charliefoxtrotpianocollective.com

Videos:

Just Keep Going

Storm:

Falling Light:

Audio clips and links to streaming services (available after 16th July): https://charliefoxtrotpianocollective.hearnow.com/

Meet the Artist interview with Caroline Wright

Mark Padmore 2018 Photo: Marco Borggreve

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

I am one of five siblings and their love of music in all different forms has probably been my biggest influence. My mother had a great love of music although she never learnt an instrument and my father drove me to music lessons and youth orchestra courses. 

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

The last year and a half has been devastating for many musicians and Brexit has been a disaster for the whole profession.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

Having the opportunity to be artist in residence with Berlin Philharmonic and Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestras – something that now seems a remote possibility for a young UK based musician.

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

Bach, Schubert and Britten have formed the core of my repertoire. They wrote music I feel I can understand.

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

Reading and going to the theatre. You need intellectual and spiritual nourishment to be a performer

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

I have always responded to challenges and most often repertoire chooses me rather than the other way round.

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

The church of St Endellion in North Cornwall (where I am Artistic Director of the Summer Music Festival) has been the scene of the most memorable music-making.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

We could start by persuading the Government not to cut further education in the arts by 50%!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Death in Venice at the Royal Opera House was a highlight as was Billy Budd at the BBC Proms.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When you get a sense that you have really captured the attention of the audience and that they love the music as much as you do.

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

It is all about quality of attention – notice everything. And be generous.

Mark Padmore performs songs by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann, with pianist Imogen Cooper, on 20 July as part of this year’s Petworth Festival. More information here


Mark Padmore is one of our greatest interpreters of Lieder and song. Born in London and an alumnus of King’s College Cambridge, he has established an international career in opera, concert and recital. His appearances in Bach Passions have gained particular notice, especially his renowned performances as the Evangelist in the St Matthew and St John Passions with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, staged by Peter Sellars. Mark was voted 2016 Vocalist of the Year by Musical America and was appointed CBE in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

markpadmore.com

(Photo Credit: Marco Borggreve)

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music and who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Coming from a moderately musical family as I do, there was no shortage of inspiration at home during my childhood. My father’s solo career was in full flight, and I loved attending his concerts and listening to the work process behind the scenes. It seemed to me that this was an elevated and endlessly interesting way to live one’s life. Later on, my lessons with William Pleeth were invaluable, as were my encounters with the extraordinary composer and pedagogue Gyorgy Kurtag. The cellist I listened to most was Pablo Casals, a great and pioneering artist whose unique way has always fascinated me. 

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

Without a doubt, bearing the surname of my father [Alfred Brendel], with whom I have always got on very well. It brought with it an expectation in others’ eyes that I wasn’t well equipped enough to deal with for quite some time. This has waned over the years, but not without leaving a clear psychological mark. Yet I wouldn’t change the past if I could! The flip side of this very private struggle was a rich immersion in culture in the widest sense. My father and I still meet regularly to discuss and listen to music, watch films and look at art together.

Of which performances/recordings are you most proud?

I was possibly a bit too young and green to record the Beethoven sonatas with my father in my late 20s. It was the one opportunity we had to do it, and I’m still pleased with it almost 20 years later. Many performances come to mind – perhaps the 20 years of directing the Plush festival in Dorset give me most satisfaction as a body of programmes that always tried to push boundaries and present music in a spirit of inspiration. 

Which particular works/composers do you think you perform best?

I’m not sure…perhaps the audience should decide that! I feel a particular bond with Beethoven, Schubert and Mozart, and with much contemporary repertoire. Combining old and new elements in a programme is so often mutually enhancing. 

What do you do off stage that provides inspiration on stage?

I listen to quite a lot of improvised music, something I like to do in private (and occasionally in public) as well. I teach a lot too and am becoming more and more aware of its importance in my own development. One can learn so much from one’s students. I play football, tennis and other sports with childish enthusiasm and this keeps me sane at times. Most of all, I spend time with my partner and two boys, who give everything so much more meaning.

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

There’s an element of chance here – you never know what you will encounter along the way. As a collaborative cellist, I have to be ready for anything! When planning my own recital programmes, I try to combine some new or unknown music with works from the canon. There is a huge amount of great repertoire to find that only increases the more you look..

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

As a member of the Nash ensemble, Wigmore Hall always feels like home as we are resident there every year. Other wonderful venues include Vienna Musikverein, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, and Berlin Philharmonie, amongst many.

What do you feel needs to be done to grow classical music’s audiences?

I think there is a case for completely rethinking the way we do our events, not to preclude the time-honoured format that we are all used to and enjoy, but to actively encourage new formats and ideas alongside the conventional model. These could include making our events more filmic in presentation or collaborative with other art forms such as dance (particularly with modern music); doing away with 2 x 40 minutes in most events; allowing other elements in such as improvisation and different genres, and using more unusual venues as concert spaces. All these things are starting to happen, but need to become more normal for young people to sit up and take notice. 

The awful situation performing artists find themselves in due to COVID-19 and, mainly, Brexit also provides an opportunity for young musicians to reinvent the wheel in the UK. With so little funding for the arts and such difficulties with touring in EU countries, we are just going to have to find new ways to connect with audiences here.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Too many to mention. Perhaps out of leftfield, being summoned on stage out of the blue while presenting a world music festival in Senegal for BBC Radio 4 to play with Baaba Maal in front of 10,000 people. That was an experience…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

To find fulfilment in what you do, and to approach your work with a fresh, unbiased mind. And to be generous to your colleagues.

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

Learning how to listen, and how to take distance to one’s own ideas to allow others in. 

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

I’d like to live in a UK that is less divided, and has more respect for its artists and artistic institutions. 

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Time spent in nature with my family, decoding a complex new score of exciting contemporary music, watching Fulham at Craven Cottage (although not recently), attending a riveting concert, play or film, seeing progress in my students, curating unusual musical events: to name a few!

What is your present state of mind?

Stupefaction at the direction this country is taking. Excitement at the gradual opening up of things and the creative optimism that follows. And the fervent hope that we might leave the world in some kind of fit state for our children despite our current freefall. 

Adrian Brendel performs with pianist Alisdair Beatson at this year’s Petworth Festival which runs from Wednesday 14 July – Saturday 31 July. Further information here


One of the most versatile and original cellists of his generation, Adrian Brendel has travelled the world as soloist, collaborator and teacher. His early immersion in the core classical repertoire inspired an enduring fascination that has led to encounters with many fine musicians at the world’s most prestigious festivals and concert halls. His discovery of contemporary music through the works of Kurtag, Kagel and Ligeti in his teenage years opened a new and vital avenue that he continues to explore with huge enthusiasm alongside his passion for jazz and world music. In 2014 he became a member of the Nash Ensemble of London.

Projects with contemporary composers and conductors such as Kurtag, Thomas Adès and Peter Eötvös among others inspired him to cultivate new music in his concert programmes wherever possible. A three-year project with Sir Harrison Birtwistle led to premieres of his song cycle Bogenstrich and a piano trio released on the ECM label. He also premiered York Hoeller’s cello concerto Mouvements with NDR Hamburg alongside Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Canto di Speranza.

It has been refreshing and inspiring to watch this young England football team in action in the UEFA European Championship under the tutelage of Gareth Southgate (who, as a friend of mine tweeted the other day, is the kind of person you would happily introduce to your mum). I say “refreshing” this young team seems largely devoid of artifice and ego. As many commentators have observed, this England team is lean, keen and focussed, with a clear appetite for success. This is evidently due in no small part to the calm, composed leadership of Gareth Southgate, who chooses to encourage rather than berate, praise rather than criticise, thus establishing a supportive environment for the team to train and compete. The positive effect of this “kinder” management style has been evident throughout the matches England have played, and especially after the final when Southgate hugged and comforted his players.

England may have lost to Italy in the final, but this should not be regarded as a “failure”. To get to final of the Euros, and to play against Italy, one of the best teams in the world, is a huge achievement. What a privilege!

The result of the final will give Gareth Southgate and the team much food for thought and reflection, which, if done right, will enable this young team to develop and grow and, hopefully, achieve greater success in the next World Cup in 2022.

In ‘The Rise’, her excellent book on the search for mastery, Sarah Lewis explores the notion of the “near win” (rather than the “near miss”) as instrumental to achieving success.

A near win shifts our view of the landscape. It can turn future goals, which we tend to envision at a distance, into more proximate events….The near win changes our focus to consider how we plan to reach what lies in our sights, but out of reach.

Success motivates us, but a near win can propel us in an ongoing quest.

Sarah Lewis

To have reached the final of the European Championship, and to have played so confidently and largely very successfully in the matches leading to it, the England team should enjoy the glow of their near win and use it to spur them to greater victories. The road to mastery is paved with setbacks, but if we are prepared to embrace them, they carve the way for further endeavour, achievement and fulfilment – and scoring! – of goals.

This growth-mindset attitude applies as much to sportspeople as to musicians.


Further reading

The Success in Failure

A Passionate Pursuit

How the psychology of the England team could change your life

The 2020/21 concert season has been difficult for all of us, from the largest venues and orchestras to small, local festivals, music clubs and concert series like the Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Series (WLCC), which I co-organise with pianist Duncan Honeybourne.

Because of the coronavirus restrictions, we managed only three concerts in 2020 – one in February, before the first lockdown, and just two further concerts in October and December. Our autumn concerts were presented in accordance with government Covid guidance, which meant we could only admit a limited number of audience members (it goes without saying that the financial implications of reduced audience numbers are stark). But, like so many other musicians, promoters, venues and cultural organisations, WLCC adapted to the “new normal”: we have initiated an online and telephone booking system, and present two shorter recitals to allow as many people as possible within the current restrictions to attend. Our audience have adapted too, returning to our live concerts with enthusiasm, albeit in smaller numbers.

After five months of silence in 2021, our series resumed in June with a lovely performance by Duncan Honeybourne of piano sonatas by Schubert and Beethoven. It was a double celebration – the resumption of live classical music in Weymouth and also WLCC’s 200th concert (watch the livestream here).

On 7th July, pianist James Lisney closed our 2020/21 season with a generous, poetic performance of Schubert’s D935 Impromptus and selected Liszt transcriptions of Schubert’s Schwanengesang.

***

Schubert composed two sets of Impromptus, written late in 1827, the year before he died, and he numbered the D935 set 5, 6, 7 and 8, suggesting he intended them as a continuation of the D899 set.

The entire D935 is a much more substantial suite of pieces than the first set, and this is especially true of the f minor Impromptu, the first of D935, whose tone moves between quasi Beethovenian drama and assertiveness in its opening section to a contrasting, almost dream-like fragmented duet in the central sections. It is these sections which really tear at the heartstrings, yet James Lisney was careful to avoid too much introspection or sentimentality through sparing use of the sustain pedal, lively rhythms and tasteful rubato.

By contrast, the second Impromptu is serene and good-natured, its opening section reminiscent of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 12, which is also scored in A-flat major. A middle section of burbling triplets moves from warmth to regret with the introduction of the minor key and thence to resignation before the opening theme returns. A more lively tempo and bass highlights emphasised the waltz rhythms of this Impromptu.

The third, in B-flat, is the most famous of the set. A set of variations, its theme resembling the incidental music Schubert wrote for the ballet Rosamunde, this Impromptu is graceful and mercurial, occasionally tongue-in-cheek, and James brought an appealing sense of warmth and wit to the music, especially in the later variations where the textures grow increasingly florid, though never dense.

The final Impromptu of the set is a wild, stomping Hungarian dance, with brilliant passagework, rapid scales and arpeggios, trills, off-beat accents, and cross modulations which take the music to unexpected places, thus creating vibrant shifts in mood and tone. The piece ends with a rapid plunge down the piano, in a scale “which tells you when to clap” (James Lisney). It was lively and boisterous, with supple tempi and improvisatory flourishes.

James Lisney has a long-standing affinity with the music of Franz Schubert, and it shows in his naturally flexible tempi, lyrical treatment of melody and songlines, an appreciation of the essential drama and introspection in Schubert’s music, and an acknowledgement that the interpretation of this music is not settled, that it is in a state of flux. He brings clarity to this music through a thorough appreciation of Schubert’s phrasing and architecture, but also finds the essential “soul” of this music through an eloquent sensitivity to the tiniest details of the score, often revealing inner voices or unexpectedly piquant harmonies.

Liszt’s great skill as an arranger, and his sensitivity to the originals, is very evident in his beautiful transcriptions of Schubert’s songs, but this is also very much his own work in the way he changes the piano texture to provide a personal commentary on the original song text and the music. Liszt sometimes takes Schubert very literally, at other times he adds flourishes and embellishments, but he always retains the essential melodic structure of the song. These three love songs were contrasting, tender and intimate – appropriately, given the small size of the audience – and we might have been in Liszt’s salon, such was the intensity of feeling, closeness and poetry portrayed in these miniatures.

This was an extremely special close to the WLCC 2020/21 season, and a fitting prelude to the new season, which will celebrate the piano – as both a solo and a chamber instrument. The season launches on 15th September with a recital by Penelope Roskell, which will include Schubert’s final piano sonata. All being well, there will be no restrictions on audience numbers and we will revert to our usual practice of a single recital of 60 minutes at 1pm.

Watch the livestream of James Lisney’s second recital here


Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts were founded in 2002 by pianist Duncan Honeybourne. Concerts take place once a month on a Wednesday at St Mary’s Church, Weymouth. Visit the WLCC website for full details and to join the mailing list.

cropped-unnamed-file

Musicians, especially young musicians, are bombarded with advice over the course of their career, especially in those early, fledgling years. Most advice will come from teachers, but also from peers, colleagues, friends, promoters, agents and critics. Knowing how to take and react to advice is an important part of the musician’s skillset, and the ability to sift through advice and take it on board or reject it is an art in itself. The way such advice is given also has an impact on how one values it.

Young and amateur musicians in particular may find it hard to strike a balance between taking advice which will be useful to them and rejecting that which is not. In part, this is due to confidence: if your teacher suggests playing a passage in a certain way, or taking a particular interpretative stance on a piece of music, you may feel obliged to bow to what you perceive to be their greater wisdom, and blindly accept what they are telling you. I encounter this attitude quite frequently amongst amateur pianists in particular. Some years ago at a piano course which attracts highly regarded professional pianists and teachers from around the world, not just the UK, I chatted to a student who had participated in masterclasses with a number of internationally-renowned pianist-teachers. “I’ve got five different ways to play the end of this Schubert sonata”, he said to me over tea, “and now I don’t know which version is the right one!”. Such confusion suggests, to me at least, a student who is either not very confident about their own interpretative choices or who believes that because such-and-such Famous Pianist told him to play the passage in a particular way, it must be the ‘right way’.

As we grow more confident as musicians – whether amateur, student or professional – we learn how to filter and question advice to suit our needs, and also to appreciate the importance of reflecting on that advice, because its usefulness may not be immediately apparent. It is not necessary to blindly accept everything that a teacher, or teachers, tell us. Instead, we need to be selective about the advice we are given and ensure that it is the right advice for us. A good teacher or mentor will understand this too and make suggestions, rather than didactically “telling” the student how to play the music. One of the most useful aspects of attending masterclasses and courses, where one will meet and play for other teachers, is that one is exposed to a broader range of expertise and viewpoints, which can fuel one’s ideas on how to approach the music, from a technical and artistic point of view.

The way advice is given also has an impact on how it is received. I have been lucky in my experiences with both my regular teachers and those I have encountered on courses and in masterclasses that their advice has always been given in a positive and supportive way. This makes one far more receptive to the advice, and suggests a degree of respect between teacher and student.

Sadly, now and then one will be given advice which may be well-meaning but is delivered in such a way that one feels discouraged or demoralised, or the advice is just given at the wrong time; many musicians are at their most sensitive in the moments immediately after a performance. Some years ago, I played a late work by Mozart at a concert at the end of a piano course, and during the post-concert reception, another of my teacher’s adult students told me in no uncertain terms that the ornaments were “all wrong”. This statement was made without any context nor suggestion as to how I might have played the ornaments “correctly”. I was so astonished, and hurt, that I couldn’t reply and despite receiving praise from my teacher, and very positive comments from other students on the course and audience members, this comment stung for some time afterwards and affected my attitude to the music I’d played. It proves that advice should be given discreetly and with care.

One of the rules of the piano club, which I co-founded in 2013, is that comments are kept positive and supportive. The club includes some players who are less advanced than others, and they can be particularly sensitive to negative feedback, which may affect their attitude to their practising and dent their confidence.

The teacher with whom I studied for six years, after returning to the piano seriously after a long absence, was adept at giving feedback and advice which was practical and supportive. Even when highlighting an error or weakness, she could frame her comments in such a way that one did not feel discouraged, and her skill in imparting advice clearly and articulately was a mark of her experience as a teacher and respected pedagogue.

“Best are those times when, as you listen to suggestions, you feel as if you’ve always known them to be true, somehow – but now you’re hearing them from another voice. There will always be degrees, shades; one can accept certain ideas from one musician, reject others. The only rule, perhaps, is that one should constantly remain alert, constantly ask oneself: ‘Is that true for me? For the music as I feel it inside?’”

– Steven Isserlis, cellist