Category Archives: General

The Idle Pianist

While I took a few weeks off teaching and playing the piano in general over the Christmas break, I reflected on the very modern phenomenon of “busyness”

We are all so busy these days. Musicians, by necessity, tend to be busy people – busy practising, performing, creating performing opportunities, meeting and working with colleagues, applying for funding, teaching, preparing lesson plans, doing admin….. The peripatetic nature of our working lives means that we are often trying to keep a variety of balls in the air at the same time, and many of us feel that being busy validates what we do. As a fellow musician tweeted on Christmas Eve,  “does anyone else find Christmas slightly angst-inducing? Feels odd not working.” Because for most musicians work shapes every hour of the day.

But that’s not all….

In today’s modern society many of us seem caught in a “busy trap” – and one which is almost entirely of our own making. Idleness, or doing little or nothing, is considered A Bad Thing because it is perceived as unproductive, while being busy reassures us that we are doing something useful or purposeful with our time. Many of us are busy because of our own ambition or anxiety, or because we’ve become almost addicted to being busy and dread what we might have to face without it. Telling others that we are busy also helps to endorse our activities: I have a concert pianist colleague who emails me on a fairly regular basis to tell me how busy he is with concerts, reeling off lists of works and venues. At first glance, this seems terribly exciting and wonderful that he is keeping so well-occupied doing the thing he loves. On another level, I wonder if it is a perverse form of attention-seeking, a complaint disguised as a boast. In an ideal scenario, I suspect he’d prefer to do less, to have more time to listen to and enjoy music, go to concerts rather than always be the one giving the concert, read, spend time with family and friends, and maybe even embrace idleness now and then as an antidote to the relentless, and self-imposed, treadmill of his profession.

Of course as musicians we need to practise: this article is absolutely not a suggestion that we stop practising and simply loll around in our practise rooms eating chocolate truffles. Music students can often get very quickly caught up in the “busyness” of practising, where things are “done” – scales and exercises rattled off, pieces played through relentlessly –  and these habits of practising are carried forward into their professional lives, with little consideration whether such a regime is truly productive. In our working lives, where so many of us are freelance and peripatetic, it is often necessary to accept work because you don’t know when the next lean patch will come. This can result in us becoming suffocatingly over-scheduled, which in turn can lead to ill-health and anxiety.

being_busy

Social media doesn’t help either: seeing what others are posting, sharing details of their exciting concerts, events and activities, and broadcasting their seemingly vibrant and busy lives across Facebook and Twitter et al may make the rest of us wonder if we are really doing enough. In addition, there’s an avalanche of email that needs to be read and replied to right now, because turning on an auto-reply message may look as if we’re not busy nor sufficiently engaged…….And smart phones, tablets and laptops mean we remain connected 24/7 with no division between our working day and time off. Filling our lives with activity can be exhilarating and invigorating – until that activity, that busyness, becomes overwhelming.

So maybe some of us need to reappraise how we use our time. Sometimes a life event forces such a reappraisal: a friend of mine had a gardening accident at the beginning of 2016 and had to have surgery on her back. While recuperating at home, unable to do much more than potter around her house, she made several important decisions about her working life. The result of this enforced period of reflection led her to leave a job she disliked and set up her own consultancy business. She now works from home – and she works less and achieves more, with a much better work-life balance, with time for her family, herself, and extra-curricular activities such as music and sport which she enjoys.

Much is made of “me time”, but too often this feels hard won, desperately shoe-horned into our over-scheduled days as a rare indulgence rather than something that might actually be beneficial, enabling us to work and function better. Taking time off, a “me time” day, can feel like a guilty pleasure, when all around us others are keeping busy. But idleness is good for us: not just an indulgence nor a vice, it is in fact indispensable to the brain, and the space and quietness of idleness can create unexpected connections, resolution of seemingly intractable problems, and those Eureka! moments of inspiration which are crucial to the creative person’s day-to-day life. In addition, our brains require down time to process the information with which we are deluged every day, consolidate memory, reinforce learning, and to recharge the batteries. Even Seneca, writing in the first century, recognised busyness as both a distraction and a preoccupation:

“No activity can be successfully pursued by an individual who is preoccupied … since the mind when distracted absorbs nothing deeply, but rejects everything which is, so to speak, crammed into it”

From the outside, creative people – musicians, writers, artists – quite often seem to be “doing nothing” when they are not actively and, more importantly, obviously engaged in making music, attending book launches, or exhibiting their paintings. But it is that very idleness which triggers new ideas, sparks creativity, and helps develop more focused attention – all important considerations for the musician.

For the idle pianist, may I suggest the following ‘unbusy’ activities which may actually be beneficial:

  • Practise intelligently. We’re constantly being reminded of the benefits of intelligent practise, but all to often we engage in mindless, repetitive note-bashing, which may feel like practising, but is rarely truly productive
  • Exercise more self-compassion and be kind to yourself. So what if you didn’t complete the full three hours of practising this morning because you’re tired from last night’s concert? Allow yourself time to recuperate and recharge: your practising will almost certainly be more productive as a result.
  • Take time away from the practise room to enjoy music. A number of professional pianists whom I’ve interviewed as part of my Meet the Artist series have expressed frustration at the demands of a profession which can rob them of their love of music. Re-connect with the music you love through listening or going to concerts.
  • Time away from the instrument reading scores, listening and simply thinking about the music (playing through sections in one’s head, for example) is always useful and allows one to stand back from the music and consider it more objectively
  • Take regular exercise. This seems obvious too, and yet many of us are too busy to include exercise in our daily routine. Walking or swimming can be particularly beneficial to the musician: it is enforced time away from the instrument while the rhythm of repetitive physical activity can free the mind to process issues encountered during practise, allowing us to work through them in a more considered way.
  • Schedule “doing nothing” time, or even a day off, into your working week, in the way you schedule a task like practising, and don’t feel guilty about it.

My New Year resolution for 2017 is to do less, to be more selective about which events and concerts I attend, to make time for regular exercise, to not feel guilty if I don’t always get in as much practise time as I would like, and to enjoy periods (if only 10 minutes in a day) of idleness. Already this new regime seems to be working: my head is full of new ideas for blog posts and I’ve been inspired to learn some new music from simply spending time listening rather than playing.

idleness
(Lolcat by Sylvia Segal)

Meet the Artist……Harriet Stubbs


Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I honestly don’t remember the moment that I decided to start playing because I was about two and a half years old, but I do remember my mother teaching the piano for long hours and music always playing in the car. Even now, I hear pieces of music that I didn’t realise that I knew and know them back to front from childhood without knowing what it was!

The decision to pursue music as a career was really made when I was about four; my life already at that point was entirely scheduled around the piano. During my teenage years I made that decision again as a young adult. I rediscovered music on my own terms and realised that there was no way that I could live without music.

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

Well this one is easy! In terms of my technique, personal standards, and foundation to becoming a musician my first serious teacher, Jimmy Gibb was invaluable. Douglas Finch has had and continues to have an enormous impact on my musical wellbeing and continues to inspire me. My humanities teacher in New York; John Pagano who teaches at Columbia and Manhattan School of Music in his “Genius and Madness” elective as well as “The Fantastic Imagination” shaped and reinvigorated my belief in the arts. Finally Russ Titelman, the producer of my album about to be released by Sony. His vision, deep understanding, knowledge and love of art is extremely special and I am honoured to have and be continuing to work with him.

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

The greatest challenges have by their very nature been my times of growth and from which I have learnt the most. Rediscovering why I wanted to do music in my teenage years of my own accord and the bridge from child to adult artist was challenging certainly. Believing and rebelieving in one’s own ability and voice is something that I think we all go through. The classical music world is full of exciting and vibrant people at the moment and I think that there is huge potential and hope for a revolution of the whole industry! Being a female has also presented its own challenges throughout my career; I am proud to identify as a feminist.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I personally am very fond of the live recording in the finals of the Trinity Soloists’s Competition because it is Prokofiev 3rd piano concerto, probably my favourite piece of music, played with nothing other than pure conviction. Sure, there are flaws, it’s not the world’s best piano, and it’s unedited, but it’s real. Other than that, the album that I have just completed for Sony which is my first commercial album and representative of where I want to go as an artist and where I want to take my audience: Through the doors of perception.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m very comfortable and happy in the 20th Century. That’s a huge spectrum but I love playing Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Lutoslawski etc.

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

I’d say a combination of instinct, demand, and what opportunities present themselves to me. It’s generally a balance of things booked long in advance because someone has heard you play a particular piece and would like to hear it again in two year’s time, or sometimes there’s a composer’s anniversary which ties into a theme. Other times I’ve been waiting for a really long to time to have the right programme to fit a piece that I really want to play and then that programme happens naturally and that’s wonderful!

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

I have had many wonderful venue experiences but really it’s down to the audience as to what a place feels like at any given time. A generous audience anywhere makes that the best venue!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love so many I could go on forever but Martha Argerich for her organic relationship with the piano, Jack White for his innovation and talent, David Bowie for being the master of many faces and never frightened to push a boundary. Jim Morrison for his poetry and reawakening of William Blake, my favourite poet.

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

To listen to and read as much as humanly possible across the genres, and to be truthful to the reasons that you pursued it in the first place. I am a founding member of the HoneyB Corps, an international civil society comprising skilled practitioners who volunteer their time to rehabilitate communities’ developmental needs like food, water, shelter, and health, and skilled artists who volunteer their time to rehabilitate communities’ formative needs: socially/relationally/artistically/therapeutically/spiritually. The HoneyB Corps is an exceptionally multifaceted and multi-dimensional community that supports and nurtures civil artists, but also deploys them across the world to touch lives, “cross-pollinate” ideas and creativity, and influence genuine conviviality through the cosmic force of art.

What is your present state of mind?

At the moment I am the happiest that i have ever been in my life. People spoke about 27 being a wonderful age and it really has been. Musically I am developing and growing and, most importantly, I am challenged and inspired by those around me.

Harriet’s debut album is due to be released in Spring 2017

Harriet Stubbs began piano studies at the age of three, performing in public a year later. At the age of five she was awarded a full scholarship to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama given by the Elsie and Leonard Cross Memorial Foundation.  She studied with James Gibb, Guildhall’s Emeritus Professor and Ronan O’Hora, Head of Keyboard and Advanced Performance Studies. At the age of seven she had passed all eight piano exams with distinction. 

Read more about Harriet here

 

Music Into Words – writing about classical music event

SPECIAL GUEST – PETER DONOHOE

International concert pianist

Sunday 12 February 2017

Morley College, London SE1

Is writing about music really “like dancing about architecture”?

Come and find out at a special half-day mini conference exploring the wide variety of writing about classical music today – from programme notes to academic writing, concert reviews, music criticism and musicians writing about music, and much more…. The event will be of interest to concert reviewers, writers, journalists, bloggers, musicians, students, concert goers and music lovers

I am delighted and honoured to welcome internationally-acclaimed concert pianist and competition juror Peter Donohoe as the special guest at the event. Peter has been a generous supporter of my blog, and has spoken and written very positively about the contribution which bloggers and online reviews bring to the world of classical music in addition to the work of music journalists and other specialist writers and commentators. As Peter himself says “we are all on the same side – that of the music”.

CLICK HERE TO BOOK TICKETS

The other panellists are:

Katy Hamilton – freelance researcher, writer and presenter on music

Leah Broad – journalist and research student at the University of Oxford, specialising in music and theatre at the turn of the century. BBC/AHRC New Generation Thinker 2016

Tom Hammond – conductor and artistic director

Kate Romano – clarinetist, performer, writer, producer, director, composer & fundraiser

Adrian Ainsworth – writer, blogger on music and culture

Ian Pace – pianist, academic and writer

Neil Fisher – Deputy Arts Editor of The Times

Audience Q&A and discussion sessions
Networking opportunity and a chance to ‘Meet the Speakers’

Presented by Frances Wilson (The Cross-Eyed Pianist) and chaired by Simon Brackenborough (founder and editor of Corymbus)

CLICK HERE TO BOOK TICKETS

Do join us for what promises to be a very interesting and lively event, plus an opportunity to connect with like-minded people

Venue: The Holst Room, Morley College, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HT

Time: 1.15pm – registration and welcome, event starts at 1.30pm

Piano Raags

How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano

A guest post by composer John Pitts

howtoplayindiansitarraagsonapiano20front20john20pittsJohn Pitts’ somewhat unusual book How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano is designed for adventurous pianists. Indian raags have an extraordinary musical heritage dating back several centuries (from the area that is now India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) – a truly unique musical genre of fascinating melodic beauty and rhythmic intricacy – freely combining elaborate composed melodies with carefully rehearsed improvisation. But now the amazing world of Indian raags has been opened up in a sympathetic but thorough reinvention for piano solo (or duet or two pianos) by an award-winning British composer.

In this guest post, John explains how his fascination with Indian raags began, leading eventually to his new book…..

My fascination in Indian raags (also spelled raga/rag) was sparked back in 1994-95 during a gap year in Pakistan before going on to study Music at Bristol and Manchester Universities. I had the great pleasure of several late night music sessions in a rural farming village in the Punjab, with local amateur musicians and a visiting classically-trained and highly accomplished ‘radio singer’, known to me only as ‘Ustaad’ – an Urdu term of respect. He accompanied himself on a harmonium – a little equal-temperament reed organ with the bellows pumped by his left hand. Drone notes were held down in the mechanism and his right hand loosely doubled some of his sung melody. Our generous host, a keen music enthusiast, provided the percussion layer on a pair of tabla. It was enthralling music, exotic to my youthful ears, gradually developing from a slow and atmospheric exploration of a tiny handful of notes to fast and frantic, highly rhythmic, full of passion and energy and intoxicating vocal virtuosity. The following year I had a few sitar lessons with Baluji Shrivastav in London – on an instrument I’d bought in Lahore’s music bazaar.

Both as pianist and composer I found an affinity with this music. There’s a peacefulness (and a certain self-indulgence) which I love – a focussed and absorbing stillness – in slowly improvising, with an evocative scale only gradually emerging, initially without the restrictions of a regular pulse. There are beautiful, richly ornamented melodies, and the organic sense of journey and destination. Then comes the thrashing rhythmic drive and the rapturous metric games, the fast and the furious. For the performer the pleasures bear many of the hallmarks of intelligent free jazz, along with a rich eastern mystique.

As composer I explored various aspects of Indian musical thinking in a number of my own pieces, in 2011 culminating in a virtuosic piano duet Raag Gezellig. This sounds partly improvised but is actually through-composed within a fairly typical raag structure. While composing that duet, extensive googling of ‘piano’ plus ‘raag‘ or ‘raga‘ resulted in very little. Harmoniums have been used by Indian classical musicians for the past 150 years; pianos on the other hand have generally only gained a small foothold in Indian pop and in Bollywood film references to western classical music – but not in raags – the highest classical musical art-form of India.

The raag is a genre of highly ornate, partly-improvised music with a typical set of conventions and a typical structure.  The nearest equivalent western musical term might be a cross between ‘air’ (a composition dominated by melody) and ‘sonata’ (a musical form with established conventions).  The word raag literally means ‘colour’ and from that also ‘passion’ or ‘emotion’.  Each individual, named raag is defined by a set of musical ingredients which determine its distinct ‘colour’.  Raags are typically played by a melody instrument (or voice) accompanied by a drone instrument and rhythmic percussion, with performances lasting anywhere between a few minutes and a few hours.

Englishman William Bird published from Calcutta his “Airs of Hindustan” way back in 1789 – a collection of short keyboard pieces in a European classical style using Indian melodies (albeit largely major scale) that he’d collected.  The result was European music with a slight Indian twist. Subsequently there have been plenty of other musicians – classical composers through to jazz and rock guitarists – who have found a fascination with music from the east and who have created European music inspired by features of Indian music.

But in the past very few years there has been a newly emerging development, on Youtube at least, which has quite suddenly featured a number of musicians, both Indian/Pakistani and European/American, playing classical raags on a piano – ie: using the piano as an Indian instrument playing truly Indian music – not some kind of crossover or simply one genre of music influenced by another. I’d recommend looking up videos of Utsav Lal, a brilliant young raga pianist from Scotland.

As a secondary school music teacher I wrote a simple piano version of Rag Desh in 2013 to help our GCSE students develop an understanding of how raags work. From there came the idea of a bigger piano book containing a number of raags plus instruction on typical ways to improvise on the different sections of musical material. That summer, the book’s scope and size quickly grew because there are countless different and interesting raags to choose from – so many exotic scales, so many characterful motivic permutations and interesting time signatures and rhythmic cycles (talas). Now in December 2016 the finished 258-page book is a collection of 24 raags – reflecting the idea that individual raags are associated with a particular time of day. As well as the sheet music, there are loads of musical examples and a section of ‘Pick and Mix Ingredients’.

The purpose of “How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano” is first and foremost to open up the astonishing world of Indian classical music to pianists from western classical or jazz traditions who otherwise have no easy way to engage with Indian raags.  The aim is to help enable you to perform a (pretty much) authentic, improvised raag, having understood the structure and having practised using, playing around with, and generally enjoying the key raag ingredients, and immersing yourself in a whole new emotional experience.  I also hope that some more adventurous pianists will be encouraged to develop the raag tradition further in interesting new directions. The book is for good amateur pianists through to virtuosic professionals.  It is suitable for any pianist who enjoys discovering new music, or who has an interest in music from other cultures, or who knows the pleasure of jazz noodling and wants to explore a rewarding and fresh (but centuries-old) form of improvisation.

What exactly is a raag?

At the age of 18 it was difficult for me to get my head around what a raag is, because as a concept it is really rather different to any western music. Western music is written by a composer, who chooses the notes – the pitches, the rhythms and the order they go in etc etc, it is all written down, and the completed piece of music has a title by which it is identified and copyrighted. Performers then play (more-or-less) what the composer has written. But traditional raags just don’t work like that. If ‘Raag Desh’ is listed in a concert programme, for example, all an informed audience can tell from that is that the performance is likely to contain a set of conventions and musical ideas that are historically associated with that raag – ie: improvisation using a particular scale, particular rising and falling versions of that scale, a particular set of little musical motifs etc etc. It does not specify the key, time signatures, rhythms, tempi, character, mood etc. And it probably doesn’t tell us anything that is affected by copyright laws – for instance it doesn’t tell us the name of the tune(s) being used, or who composed it.  It is about as specific as saying that the performer is going to play ‘a boogiewoogie blues’

The term ‘Raag Desh’ conveys only this approximate set of historical musical ideas and conventions. This approximate set of ideas is then used by different performers as the starting point for creating a whole range of very different pieces, ie: live performances. Each of these pieces/performances is named ‘Raag Desh’ (despite frequently using completely different melodies), and on paper is distinguishable from the numerous other ‘Raags Desh’ only by the name of the performer and date of performance.  To make matters worse, the pre-composed melody (the gat) rarely even has a name (unless it is taken from a song) and is not usually identified anyway, so you don’t know whether it is a variant of an old traditional melody or a newly composed one (by the performer or anyone else). Countless melodies may be associated with a particular raag. To help avoid this issue in “How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano”, as well as the Indian name I have given appropriate English titles to each of the 24 raags, which I hope my readers will find attractive and evocative.  These titles have two functions – first to help you quickly capture the right atmosphere when learning the music, and second, as usual in western classical music, to give a formal identity to these particular melodies and raag adaptations – not least for the benefit of the Performing Right Society – I’ve got kids to feed!

Raag Kalyani “Bliss”

Raag Hemvati “Golden Mountain Stream”

Raag Latangi “Little Girl”

Raag Desh “Sweeping Landscape”

Raag Vachaspati “Wise Old Man”

Raag Gezellish “Gazelle”

Raag Kalavati “Moonlight”

Raag Bageshri “The Waiting Bride”

Raag Neenda “Sleep”

Raag Paraj “Pollen on the Breeze”

Raag Lalit “Elegant Mischief”

Raag Jogiya Kalingra “Aroma of Saffron”

Raag Chakravaak “Ruddy Goose”

Raag Kofi “Intense Coffee”

Raag Suraja “Morning Sun”

Raag Bilaskhani Todi “Mourning”

Raag Asawari “Full of Hope”

Raag Todi “Lady in the Forest”

Raag Gaud-Sarang “Lunchtime Bell”

Raag Madhuvanti “Flowing with honey”

Raag Patdeep “Stealing my heart”

Raag Charukesh “Beautiful Hair”

Raag Poorvi “From the East”

Raag Puriya “Satisfaction”

Order the book

www.pianoraag.com

john_pittsJohn Pitts is a British composer who lives in Bristol, England, with his wife and four children.  He composes mostly chamber music, especially for piano solo and duet, in styles perhaps best summarised as melodic, motoric, motif-driven, jazz-tinged, post-minimal impressionism.  His pieces for two pianists have been performed at concerts and festivals in several European countries, Armenia, Australia, Russia, Ukraine and the USA, including in March 2015 a concert dedicated to his music in Perpignan’s “Festival Prospective 22ème siècle” by French duo Émilie Carcy and Matthieu Millischer.

His 2009 album Intensely Pleasant Music: 7 Airs & Fantasias and other piano music by John Pitts, performed by Steven Kings, was released to critical acclaim – receiving a 5 star review in Musical Opinion Magazine, several 4 star reviews including the Independent newspaper, with descriptions such as “beautiful, moving and relaxing”, “delicious”, “lovely”, “colossal… stunning and seriously impressive”, “great character and emotional integrity”, “exciting stuff all round… toes – prepare to tap.”

John studied at Bristol and Manchester Universities, under composers Wyndham Thomas, Adrian Beaumont, Raymond Warren, Geoffrey Poole, John Casken, John Pickard and Robert Saxton, and briefly with Diana Burrell in a COMA Composer Mentor scheme.   He won the 2003 Philharmonia Orchestra Martin Musical Scholarship Fund Composition Prize at the Royal Festival Hall in London, and two of his chamber pieces were shortlisted by the Society for the Promotion of New Music.  He has also written music for four plays and two short operatic works – “Crossed Wires” (Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival 1997), and “3 Sliced Mice” (commissioned by Five Brothers Pasta Sauces).  He writes music for Christian worship, with two hymns on Naxos CDs recorded by his eldest brother composer Antony Pitts and Tonus Peregrinus, including one in Faber’s The Naxos Book of Carols.  In 2006 Choir & Organ magazine commissioned “I will raise him up at the last day” for their new music series.

John was the secretary of the Severnside Composers Alliance from its inception in 2003 until 2015, with a special interest in music for piano triet by living composers.  His own first triet “Are You Going?” (“a toccata boogie of unstoppable, unquenchable verve” Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International) was premiered at the 2010 Kiev Chamber Music Session Festival by the Kiev Piano Duo (with Antoniy Baryshevkiy), for whom he wrote “Gaelic Faram Jig” for 2 pianos and 2 percussionists for the 2012 festival.  John has conducted four Bristol Savoy Operatic Society productions, arranging Pirates of Penzance, Gondoliers and Iolanthe for small band.  In January 2010 he became the Associate Conductor of the Bristol Millennium Orchestra.

In 1994 he spent a gap year in Pakistan, which led to a number of chamber pieces heavily influenced by Indian classical music, including “Raag Gezellig”, a piano duet composed as the compulsory work for the Valberg International Piano 4 Hands Competition 2011, subsequently recorded by French duo Bohêmes (Aurélie Samani and Gabriela Ungureanu) and released by 1EqualMusic/Hyperion.  Hearing that virtuosic Indian piano duet performed by a number of superb duos led to the idea of writing this book – and to the desire to make Indian raags accessible to many more pianists.  The sheet music for “Raag Gezellig” is available in the book “7 Piano Duets & Triets”.     

www.johnpitts.co.uk

 

 

 

Anthony Goldstone 1944-2017

A tribute from Divine Art Recordings

Described by The New York Times as “a man whose nature was designed with pianos in mind”, Anthony Goldstone was recognised as one of Britain’s most respected pianists. This exceptional musician passed away 2 January at the age of 72. As a major figure in the Divine Art Records catalogue (as well as recording for Toccata and previously Olympia and Gamut) both as a soloist and duo partner with his wife Caroline Clemmow, he will be very sadly missed. Held in the highest esteem by critics worldwide, for some reason he never quite achieved the international media recognition he deserved. Divine Art is currently working on Goldstone’s last solo recording which is likely to be released in the summer (“Piano at the Ballet, Vol. 2”) and also the re-release of the stunning 7-CD set of the complete works for piano duet by Franz Schubert, which when first issued by Olympia in 1999, established Goldstone and Clemmow as Britain’s leading piano duo.

Born in Liverpool, Anthony Goldstone studied at the Royal Manchester College of Music, now the RNCM, which later honoured him with a Fellowship, where his piano professor was Derrick Wyndham, and later in London with Maria Curcio, one of Schnabel’s greatest pupils – which incidentally makes him a sixth-generation pupil of Beethoven. Inspired by this wonderful heritage, Goldstone always regarded the classics and Romantics as being at the heart of his repertoire; this is illustrated by two specific CD projects: a series of rare Russian Romantics – Rebikov, Lyapunov, Arensky and Glière – and a series of six CDs devoted to the major solo works of Schubert which were very highly praised: “Goldstone is a native speaker of Schubert in the highest degree. This is perhaps the greatest version of the work [Sonata, D. 959] I have ever encountered, either live or on disc.” – Fanfare, USA. His series of solo CDs for Divine Art have ranged from Beethoven and Mozart to 20th century British composers (all with new completions and including many rarities and premiere recordings) to transcriptions from ballet and opera, all of which have received the highest accolades.

International prizes in Munich and Vienna and a Gulbenkian Fellowship launched him on a busy schedule of recitals and concertos. His travels took him to concert appearances in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australasia, prestigious festival invitations and many broadcasts. Numerous London appearances included important solo recitals and Promenade Concerts, notably the 1976 Last Night, after which Benjamin Britten wrote to him, “Thank you most sincerely for that brilliant performance of my Diversions. I wish I could have been at the Royal Albert Hall to join in the cheers.” This was one of four Proms appearances.

Complementary to the mainstream repertoire was his avid interest in exploring intriguing musical byways – not only unknown works by acknowledged masters, leading to première recordings and performances of works by Parry, Sibelius, Bruch, Franck, Mendelssohn, Dvořák, Holst and many more but also unjustly neglected nineteenth-century composers such as Goetz, Herzogenberg, Alkan and Moscheles.

A personal reflection from Divine Art founder and CEO Stephen Sutton:

“Tony first told me of his illness back in the summer of 2016; it had developed rather quickly and long term treatments were scheduled, but sadly liver failure brought his life and creativity to an early end. Until the very last week, he was writing to me about his projects, retaining an amazing level of wit and even frivolity in what must have been extremely difficult circumstances, referring to the ongoing Schubert Duets project as ‘Sherbert Dips’.

I first met Tony and his wife Caroline, who I am also honoured to call a friend, in late 2000 (if I recall correctly without digging up files!) when he approached me about the release of his recordings of Schubert solo piano works; I believe he had been introduced by one of our other artists. Long story short – we issued three double CD sets of the Schubert Masterworks which received the most wonderful reviews, and led to my encouraging Tony and Caroline to submit more projects. This they did in spades: both solo and duo recordings appeared at the rate of two or three a year, forming the backbone of our piano repertoire. And while Tony was not enamoured of the avant-garde, his delight in finding unpublished manuscripts and unfinished pieces, which soon became new performing editions, matched our own ethos of expanding the recorded repertoire, not only in new music but from all ages. His completions of unfinished works by Schubert, Mozart and others also garnered much praise for the seamless ‘invisible joins’ – testament to Tony’s high skill as a composer. Through the years Tony and Caroline (though we met but infrequently) became very special to me; for the quality of musicianship and performance, but also efficiency and speed in providing detailed program notes – models of their type – that avoided the delays and foot-thick files that some projects seem to engender! Always a perfectionist, our main quibbles usually centered around whether an apostrophe in a certain typeface should be curly or straight. What most customers (and critics) have not realized, because we did not promote the fact, is that practically all of the Goldstone recordings were made by Tony himself at his local church of St John the Baptist, Alkborough, which has housed the couples’ twin Grotrian-Steinweg instruments for many years. To do this and be given so much praise for sound quality is another facet of Tony’s skill and dedication.

In the early spring of 2016 Tony presented his last solo recording; this will be released later this year as ‘Piano at the Ballet, volume 2’. (In fact, the contract for this project, which he signed last week, arrived in my office today – 4 January). Whilst still a fantastic performance by any standard, I could tell that it was not Tony at 100%. I said nothing but was less surprised to hear, some months later, of the illness that was afflicting him. As well, the 7-CD box set of Schubert’s Complete works for piano duet is in progress for release in early summer. Both recordings will be suitable memorials to a wonderful musician, and a lasting gift for Caroline.”

 

Meet the Artist……Miriam Kitchener, percussionist

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

I was introduced to music at a very early age and so it was instilled in me right from the start. I began with piano lessons, however at the age of 9 I decided that the drum kit was my true calling, and the rest is history!

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

I have had many inspirational teachers throughout my education who have nurtured my musical learning in many different ways and have all influenced me in my musical life and career.

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

The greatest challenge for me is becoming accomplished on as many different percussion instruments as I can – there are so many to choose from!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

As part of a percussion quartet, we spent a day recording three pieces in November 2016 in preparation for a competition in May. We encountered many unusual setbacks in the lead up to the recording and on the recording day itself including a power cut, despite this I feel that we did a really great job and I’m really looking forward to hearing the results.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really enjoy the performance aspect of being a soloist and find that the more unusual the piece of the music, the more I enjoy it and therefore the better I play it! At the moment, I’m working on a piece for body percussion and mime called Ceci n’est pas une Balle. It’s a really energetic piece that requires a lot of audience interaction and is really exciting to perform.

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

I choose repertoire based on what I appreciate listening to and what I feel will work best with my musical personality. Above all, I choose pieces that I know I will enjoy playing and performing to an audience.

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

For orchestral playing, I really enjoy the atmosphere of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, the vast space is thrilling to perform in. Small solo venues can also have the same thrilling effect, with much more intimacy between performer and audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I’ve recently been introduced to an array of traditional Irish folk music and am enjoying both listening to and playing along to (with the aid of my bodhran) some awesome tunes. There are lots of great bands/artists on the Irish scene who mix traditional tunes with contemporary beats, some great ones to listen to are: Donal Lunny, Flook, Kila, and Planxty.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are the percussionists and educators who I have had the chance to meet and work with during my education. These are the people who I can consolidate about my career and who will give honest and accountable opinions. They are the musicians who work tirelessly day in day out to make a success of their own careers, they are exceptional players and can give some of the best advice a fellow musician could ask for.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This would probably have to be my very first visit to the proms when I was a younger. The vastness of The Royal Albert Hall was mesmerising and I can remember being particularly in awe when the orchestra played The Storm from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes.

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

Make yourself as versatile a musician as you possibly can. There are so many opportunities out there for musicians to take, not just as a performer. Immerse yourself in all aspects of music, from community work to concert organising, from being a session musician to creating your own folk band. Do as much as you can and experience as much as you can, while you can. Above all, make sure that you continue to enjoy all that you do!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Aside from all things musical, I enjoy going rock climbing and bouldering as often as I can. It’s great fun and important to occasionally take myself away from the musical world.
Miriam graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in June 2016 with a First Class Honours degree in Music Performance; she is now studying for her Master’s degree at the same establishment. Miriam has worked with many percussion teachers and educators from around the world including Adrian Spillett, Alexej Gerassimez, Ney Rosauro and Colin Currie to name but a few. Miriam is a versatile percussionist with interests stretching from the Irish Bodhrán to the music of Latin America; from orchestral playing to solo repertoire. Miriam also has keen interests in learning and participation projects within the wider community and the arts management that surrounds them.

 

Dudley International Piano Competition 2017

Applications are now open for the Dudley International Piano Competition 2017

2017 marks 50 years since the Dudley International Piano Competition (DIPC) was first suggested. It then evolved in 1968 from piano classes at the Dudley Festival of Music and Drama, with a concerto final, and was held annually until 1989 when it became a biennial event and from 1991 to 1995 it was opened to competitors from overseas. The Dudley International Piano Competition then took a break and re-emerged in 2000 as a competition with a recital final open to pianists of all nationalities studying or resident in the British Isles.

Many past winners, including Benjamin Frith, Andrew Wilde, Graham Scott, Paul Lewis and Mishka Rushdie Momen have gone on to establish successful careers and past competitors have included internationally acclaimed pianists Ian Hobson, Peter Donohoe, Joanna MacGregor and Timothy Horton.

The 2017 competition once again features a concerto final at the world famous Symphony Hall, Birmingham, accompanied by the internationally renowned City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Seal.

The jury, chaired by Gordon Fergus-Thompson, consists of distinguished pianists and teachers, including John Humphreys, Andrew Wilde, Siva Oke and Lucy Parham.

The deadline for entries for the 2017 competition is 9th June 2017. Please visit the DIPC enter page for more information.

PRIZES 2017

Concerto performance opportunity for the three finalists at Symphony Hall, Birmingham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

£4,000 1st Prize
£3,000 2nd Prize
£2,000 3rd Prize

£750 4th Prize

£250 Audience Prize

£250 each semi final prizes

Somm Debut CD Recording
(to be offered at the discretion of Siva Oke)

Full details of the competition can be found on the DIPC website

Happy New Year from The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Wishing all my readers around the globe a very happy and musical 2017.

Forthcoming articles and features on The Cross-Eyed Pianist include:

  • Meet the Artist interviews with BBC Young Musician 2016 finalist, the vibrant saxophonist Jess Gillam, composer Bernard Hughes, and pianist Danny Driver
  • Following The Accidental Pianist, further articles on the myriad aspects of being a pianist, including The Patient Pianist, The Sensitive Pianist and The Doubting Pianist (feel free to suggest other topics for inclusion in this series)
  • ‘Approaching the Concerto’ – reflections from a variety of soloists, including Stephen Hough, Dinara Klinton and Alissa Firsova, and conductor Tom Hammond ahead of a series of concerts featuring piano concerti by Beethoven, Grieg and Brahms, conducted by Tom Hammond.
  • The continuing journey through Schubert’s Sonata in A, D959 (read more about this project here)
  • Music into Words mini conference – following the successful launch of the Music into Words project in February 2016, Frances Wilson (The Cross-Eyed Pianist) and Simon Brackenborough (founder and editor of the Corymbus blog) host a half-day mini conference exploring the great variety of writing about classical music today. Guest speakers, audience discussion and Q&A, and plenty of opportunities for networking and socialising. Further information and tickets here
  • An opportunity to hear acclaimed pianist, writer and teacher Graham Fitch perform the complete Goldberg Variations, plus a special post-concert talk and audience Q&A, hosted by The Cross-Eyed Pianist

And much more besides…..

Readers are welcome to suggest topics to be covered and guest posts are invited – feel free to contact me

Introducing……7 Star Arts

7 Star Arts promotes exciting and eclectic performances by a vibrant collective of musicians, actors, writers and artists, including acclaimed pianists Anthony Hewitt and Viv McLean, violinist David le Page, actress and writer Susan Porrett, jazz ensembles Partikel and the Liam Stevens Trio, and artist Klara Smith.

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Performances often take place in smaller, more intimate venues and feature mixed-genre programmes combining music and words, and music, words and pictures to create unique and accessible concerts which offer unexpected insights into the music being performed.

I have been involved with 7 Star Arts for everal years now on an ad hoc basis, as an occasional publicist and performer, but I recently took over managing the 7 Star Arts website and am now responsible for producing publicity material and promoting events via social media.

Christmas 2016 saw the launch 7 Star Arts has a residency at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head in SW-London with a sell-out performance of ‘Classic Gershwin’, a wonderful celebration of the life of George Gershwin in music and words. Known as the “suburban Ronnie Scott’s”, the Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head is now an established part of the London jazz scene and host to many acclaimed jazz musicians and singers.

In addition, we are also hosting events at the hidden gem that is Dorich House, the splendid and wonderfully eclectic Art Deco former home of Russian artist Dora Gordine.

Forthcoming events

5th January 2017 – Aydenne Simone & Liam Stevens Trio Join the incredible vocalist Aydenne Simone plus amazing pianist Liam Stevens and his trio at the Jazz Room at the Bull’s Head, Barnes.

10th January 2017 – Rowan Hudson Trio with JJ Stillwell on bass

28th January 2017An Evening with Trader Faulkner at Dorich House. Anecdotes, reminiscences and conversation with actor and flamenco specialist Trader Faulkner, who was painted by Dora Gordine. This is a rare opportunity to view Dorich House, the Art Deco home of artist Dora Gordine, just outside Kingston.

11th February 2017 – Classic Gershwin, St Michael’s Chiswick. Back by popular request, the hugely successful life of George Gershwin told in music and words, with pianist Viv McLean and actress Susan Porrett.

14th February 2017 – Valentine’s Extravaganza with Liam Stevens and Friends

10th March 2017 – Chekhov’s Grand Piano. The premiere of a new multi-genre production celebrating the artistic life of the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov, with piano music by Tchaikovsky, Medtner, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich performed by pianist Viv McLean and violinist David Le Page, with readings by Susan Porrett and Nesley Joy.

Further information and tickets

7 Star Arts on Facebook

Twitter: @7StarArts

The great strength of this format is the subtle interweaving of words and music. Susan’s text brings to life the personalities of Chopin and Sand through letters between them and their friends, and contemporary accounts. The readings set the tone, and the music reflects it, each piece sensitively rendered by Viv with expression and commitment, from the tenderest, most intimate Nocturnes (Op 9, No. 2, Op post. In C sharp minor) to an intensely poignant Mazurka (Op 17 No 4). …..Viv’s understated, modest delivery always allows the music to speak for itself, while Susan’s words lend greater focus, encouraging us to listen to the music even more attentively.

(from my review of ‘Divine Fire’)

The Accidental Pianist

I never really intended to become a pianist and piano teacher – nor a blogger on classical music and pianism, and a concert reviewer. Sure, I was mad keen on the piano as a child and teenager, completing all my grade exams and enjoying consistent rather than startling success in them. I harboured some desire to go to music college rather than university, but an offhand comment by my music teacher at school, suggesting I was not “good enough” to audition for conservatoire (a comment which still has the power to sting, some 35 years on), set me on a different course at 18: I studied Anglo-Saxon at university and had a career in art and academic publishing for 10 years post-university, until I stopped full-time work to have my son.

But the piano had always been there, in the background, a rather frustrating itch which could not be scratched because my father sold my piano when I left home and I had no instrument on which to practise. I occasionally played a friend’s grand piano but lack of practise led to frustration, and it was not until my mother bought me a half-decent digital piano that my passion for the instrument was rekindled. It was gratifying to discover that music I’d learnt in my teens was still “in the fingers”, if rather rusty, and I began to enjoy the routine of practising once again. Around the same time, I started going to concerts regularly again, something I had enjoyed as a child with my parents, and into my teens, reacquainting myself with repertoire I knew and loved and making new discoveries. A chance conversation with a friend in the school playground while waiting to collect our children led me into piano teaching – that was 10 years ago…..

Alongside this, I felt it was important to improve my own playing, and in 2008 I returned to regular lessons with a concert pianist and professor of piano at one of London’s leading conservatoires. It was daunting initially: I had not been taught for nearly a quarter of a century, and lots of bad habits from my teens and lack of technique were quickly exposed, but the teacher was sympathetic and supportive, and it was satisfying to see my playing improve rapidly under her guidance. Because I had not had a formal musical training at 18, I always (and still do) felt I was trying to catch up with those who’d had that education, and this was a major motivation for taking an external performance diploma, in addition to the desire to continually improve my playing by setting myself the personal challenge of preparing for the diploma. And so in December 2011, some 28 years after I last stepped into a piano exam room, I took my Associate diploma in piano performance. The Licentiate diploma followed in 2013. Both experiences were entirely positive (in complete contrast to some rather uncomfortable exam experiences as a child): I enjoyed the challenge of learning and finessing the repertoire, researching and writing programme notes, and learning how to be a performer (for one is assessed not just on one’s playing but also on stagecraft and presentation, just as in a formal professional concert), and above all, I enjoyed studying with a teacher again and the self-imposed routine of regular practising. Since 2013, I perform quite regularly, in solo concerts and in joint recitals with friends and colleagues. Learning to manage and understand performance anxiety has been a big part of my development as a pianist, and an aspect I know many others struggle with, which is why I organise workshops for adult amateur pianists on coping with anxiety and developing good stage craft.

I think the rather “accidental” path into my current role, in addition to the long period of absence from the piano, has given me the freedom and confidence to fully indulge my passion for the piano and its literature. Had I gone to music college and had to make a career from music as a young woman, I may have lost that spark, that passion. I’ve met a number of professional musicians who have expressed resentment at the heavy demands of their career, which can rob them of their love of the piano and its literature. (Admittedly, I am fortunate in that I do not have to make my main living from music: I have what is fashionably called a “portfolio career” and do several other admin and writing jobs in addition to my teaching.) Returning to the piano in my late 30s, and completing my diplomas in my mid-40s, has brought a maturity to my approach – and in the years when I wasn’t playing I was still listening to music and going to concerts, soaking up all those notes and forming my own opinions about the music I was hearing (which in turn was given a further outlet when I started reviewing concerts for Bachtrack.com).

As an adult pianist, one has the freedom to explore whatever repertoire one pleases, without a teacher bossily insisting on Czerny exercises (been there, done that) or having to play repertoire which one hates (and I suspect many of us can remember, with a shudder, the terrible/dull music we were made to learn as children). We take responsibility for our practising without recourse to others. As we mature we get to know what repertoire suits us (I was very touched at a recent London Piano Meetup Group event when a friend commented on how much a certain piece “suited” me), what we are physically, and mentally, capable of tackling, and as pianists we are incredibly spoilt by the vastness of the piano’s repertoire: there really is something for everyone! While some of us dream of playing Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto to a full house at Carnegie Hall, we gain a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction from working on pieces and presenting them to others at piano clubs, meetup groups, and on courses (where one can meet other piano fanatics and where lasting friendships are forged). We enjoy the challenge of learning a Beethoven sonata, a handful of Bach’s Preludes and Fugues, or a brace of Chopin Etudes, and the sense of achievement when we gain “ownership” of our music, making it our own.

“It’s an overriding passion, not just for the music [but] for the challenge……And the challenge is constant: there’s always a harder piece, you can always take it to the next level, you’re never finished. But there’s also the fact that the piano is your friend; it’s always there. That gathers more significance as you get older: what you can express through it, in a personal language, becomes incredibly important.”

Lucy Parham, concert pianist

Those of us who play at a semi-professional level, advanced pianists, intermediate players, beginners, returners, “Sunday pianists” all share this consuming passion. Eavesdrop on any conversation between members of a piano group and this love is more than evident as members discuss the myriad aspects of the craft of piano: practising, repertoire, exams, concerts, performance anxiety, favourite professional performers and recordings. Because of this, professionals are often quite envious of the freedom amateur pianists have to indulge their passion, to play whatever repertoire they choose and to play purely for pleasure.

Music has known therapeutic benefits and the piano is no exception. Time spent with the instrument can be relaxing, invigorating, inspiring and comforting. A good practise session can feel as beneficial as a run – and we release the same “happy hormones”, endorphins, when we practise, as we do when we exercise. If I haven’t touched the piano for several days, I get tetchy and frustrated, and it’s the first thing I go to when I return home from a holiday. In fact, I don’t know what I’d do without it now, and I am lucky enough to possess a rather fine antique Bechstein grand piano, known affectionately as “Bechy”, who has pride of place in my living room and is treated by the rest of my family like a rather large pet.

If you are something of an “accidental pianist”, or someone who has returned to, or taken up the piano later in life, I would love to hear from you to explore this fascinating subject in more detail. Please feel free to contact me to tell me your story, or complete my Piano Notes – adult pianist interview (word document)