The concert halls are closed but the music goes on, and many musicians are turning to video-casts and livestreamed concerts to share their music with others. Here are a couple you might like to subscribe:

Fenella Humphreys, violin

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_JlM05leyWyMXxUjiZBn6w


Carducci String Quartet

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCNe2mg8zBdHR6OPzIbKm1qg/feed


If you are livestreaming concerts and would like to be featured on this site, please contact The Cross-Eyed Pianist

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

I was always a musical child; I used to sing a lot in choirs before playing the violin; this has had a big influence on my playing.  I’m not sure what made me want to play the violin, but I remember that it was something I nagged my parents to do for about a year before I finally started aged eight. Once I had my hands on one, I knew that I would be able to play the thing!  Once it became clear that I had something special, the choice of career was made for me!

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

I had a wonderful friendship and working relationship with my one and only teacher Mateja Marinkovic. I was very lucky to find a teacher at that top-level from the first lesson, so violinistically he was my biggest influence. Since then it has been making wonderful collaborations with other like-minded musicians.  I have always had a very strong musical instinct; later on in my career though teaching at the Royal Academy of Music I have had to unpick why I feel things in this strong way in order to explain it to others!

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

Learning to play the violin to a world-class level is undoubtedly the most challenging thing I have ever experienced! We have to sacrifice so much as youngsters to get there, missing out on childish fun and shedding a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  Still, it was worth it in the long run.

It’s 25 years since I made my debut with the Hallé Orchestra, and another significant challenge is to continually evolve and develop yourself over time so as not to become stale. For me, that has meant pushing myself to try new things and taking risks with repertoire that other players shy away from.

I have always challenged myself to be the best I can and in order to evolve I have also had to be creative, from the founding of my Music, Science and Arts Festival in Oxford (www.OxfordMayMusic.co.uk) to recently being given the role as Artistic Director for the Australian Festival of Chamber Music (www.afcm.com.au). These roles take me out of being a just a player into a whole new creative world.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of the three recordings I made for Hyperion of the complete Bruch works for violin and orchestra with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Martyn Brabbins. In particular, the recording of Bruch Violin Concerto no. 2 is very close to my heart.  I’m also very excited by my latest recording of the Schoenberg and Brahms violin concertos (Orchid Classics). The Schoenberg was an incredible adventure to learn and get to grips with.  I have made some lovely movie soundtracks, and as I imagine music in terms of storytelling, the imagery and music make such a powerful combination; the soundtrack to Jane Eyre written by Dario Marianelli still makes me cry!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I have probably enjoyed performing Brahms Violin Sonatas with my regular collaborator Katya Apekisheva the most out of any of the smaller scale repertoire. In terms of concertos, I adore Mendelssohn Concerto, and I could play it over and over again without tiring of it. I love Brahms and Dvorak Concertos too. I have also had a great time performing more contemporary concertos like those by Magnus Lindberg (no 1) and Brett Dean.

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

This happens kind of organically. Some things are requests from promoters (for instance an unusual concerto), others more ideas that come together because of a particular theme.  I am happy to juggle lots of repertoire, so sometimes there is no rhyme or reason!

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

In London I would say the Wigmore Hall is the most special – you can hear a pin drop!  Out of London where the best halls in the UK are, I particularly love Symphony Hall in Birmingham and Usher Hall in Edinburgh. The hall becomes an extension of the instrument, so the best halls allow the violin to fully vibrate and give a warmth to the sound, and the hall gives feedback to the musicians.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I have always said that as a British soloist, you haven’t made it until you have played a Prom concert. This happened for me in 2015 when I played Paganini’s La Campanella with the BBC Concert Orchestra, and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Performing in Leipzig Gewandhaus with MDR Orchestra a few years ago was magical. My father’s side of the family came from Germany but fled the Nazis, and I could feel my (long dead) grandfather in the room; he would have been so proud!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

See above re the Prom!

But, also I think longevity is a sign of success in the musical world, continuing to evolve and perform into your middle age (I’m getting there!) and then later is a real sign of success and stamina…

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

For me, integrity as a musician is the most important asset.  We are the voice of the composer, the notes didn’t accidentally land up on the page, so we have to justify every sound we make. No notes left behind!

What is your most treasured possession?

I have two; one is my incredible Guadagnini violin, a life partner that I have played for over twenty years. The other is my dog Mollie – although sometimes I think I am her possession.

Jack Liebeck’s new recording of the Schoenberg and Brahms violin concertos is available now on the Orchid Classics label.


Violinist, director and festival director Jack Liebeck, possesses “flawless technical mastery” and a “beguiling silvery tone” (BBC Music Magazine). Jack has been named as the Royal Academy of Music’s first Émile Sauret Professor of Violin and as the new Artistic Director of the Australian Festival of Chamber Music from 2021. Jack’s playing embraces the worlds of elegant chamber-chic Mozart through to the impassioned mastery required to frame Brett Dean The Lost Art of Letter Writing. His fascination with all things scientific has included performing the world premiere of Dario Marianelli’s Voyager Violin Concerto and led to his most recent collaboration, A Brief History of Time, with Professor Brian Cox and Benjamin Northey. This new violin concerto was commissioned for Jack by Melbourne Symphony Orchestra from regular collaborator and composer Paul Dean, and is written in commemoration of Professor Stephen Hawking; A Brief History of Time received its world premiere in November 2019.

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Image credit: Kaupo Kikkas

I would like to offer what support I can via this blog and my social media networks to musician friends and colleagues, music teachers and others in the profession who are going to find the next months very challenging indeed.

Here is what I would like to do:

  1. Share details of forthcoming CD releases, and other material.
  2. Share videos and audio clips
  3. Share articles and other resources which others in our community may find helpful and supportive
  4. Stay connected with the musical community via my social networks

Separately, over on my piano teaching blog, I’m launching a forum called Coffee Shop Conversations. This was inspired by a friend of mine, an adult amateur pianist to whom I give occasional piano lessons and who always has plenty of queries for me surrounding repertoire, practising, piano exams and more.

Please feel free to contact me here or via Twitter to submit material for inclusion.

More support for musicians from my friend and fellow blogger Adrian ‘Specs’ here

Meanwhile, stay well everyone and let’s keep in touch.

img_2281Fran The Cross-Eyed Pianist

guest post by Michael Johnson

It has been a long journey I enjoy re-living as I take note this year of the great Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday. As a practicing music critic and journalist from American corn country, I call myself a hick hack but I experience meltdown at almost everything the great man wrote. How can one not love Beethoven?

Well, at first he might seem an unlikely idol for me, growing up in a small town in the flat, agricultural Midwest, too far from everything. My ears rang with Tennessee Ernie Ford’s recording of “Cry of the Wild Goose”, a mindless vehicle for the late crooner, but I ate it up. My five brothers and sisters and I played it over and over on our new 45-rpm console. It was one of the records that came free with the player.  There was also “Whoopie Ti-Yi-Yo” by the Sons of the Pioneers.

Only after I escaped from Indiana and moved to California for university education did I open myself to new worlds of music. I first discovered Baroque, an instantly accessible form that had me humming along and tapping both feet. Friends observed my head bobbing uncontrollably as Vivaldi, Scarlatti, Purcell, Corelli, Lully, Campra and others excited me.

Finally a colleague on the San Jose State University school newspaper took me aside and promised much better thrills – more satisfying than cannabis and completely legal. He had just come from a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth and was still marveling at the experience. “You gotta hear this,” he gushed. “It will knock your socks off.” He was almost right.

I never lost my socks but over the next year I built up a complete library of Beethoven symphonies on vinyl LPs, moving backward from Nine to One. The scope and variety left me spinning, and I have never stopped exploring the rich oeuvre of symphonic, choral, solo piano and chamber music Ludwig left us.

In my early piano studies at university I played what every schoolgirl plays –  the Bagatelle “Für Elise”, moving on to his “Moonlight Sonata”. And by shameless cherry-picking, I plunged into parts of the “Diabelli Variations” and a few of his 32 piano sonatas, guided by tempo markings such as “Largo”, “Andante” and, my favorite, “Grave e maestoso”. The slower the better.

I gave up piano lessons when I grew tired of wandering around on the famous plateau students hit after the easy stuff is done. I have spent the rest of my life picking out passages of Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and Liszt I catch on radio as I tell myself, “Hey, I could play that.” Sometimes I get the sheet music off the internet and start to work.

Now my CD collection is particularly rich in Beethoven. I am listening to the late string quartets as I write this, and his piano trios are among my favorites. Of course nothing beats the Ninth, or even the Fifth. I also relate to the emotional Seventh.

I gradually became a music writer and critic, keeping myself busy attending concerts and writing my reaction to the players’ efforts. The idea of a pianist alone on a spacious stage playing for an hour and a half from memory, no safety net, still strikes me as one of the great feats of human courage and accomplishment.

By chance, I have done interviews recently with two pianists who have performed the five Beethoven piano concertos from memory, conducted from the keyboard, in one day – François-Frédéric Guy and Rudolf Buchbinder. François also plays all the sonatas from memory over three weekends.

I liked Rudi’s dismissal of my praise for his “marathon” performances. “Ach,” he said, “it’s nothing special.” François said he is not running a marathon here, he is showing the audience how Beethoven’s creativity evolved.

Beethoven has a way of remaining ubiquitous. His work is eternal and musicians love performing it. New recordings appear like clockwork. In this crowded field, no one, in my opinion, has surpassed Wilhelm Kempf’s heart-stopping sonatas.

In many other ways Beethoven keeps entering my life. When I was based in Paris as an economic journalist I received news that my father was failing fast with lung cancer after a lifetime of smoking two packs a day of Lucky Strikes. We were never close, but I picked up the phone and asked my mother to put him on. Silence for a few minutes. She came back and said, “He is lying on the hardwood floor, the only place he can find comfort. He is listening to Beethoven’s Ninth.” He never made it to the phone. He died two days later.


Michael Johnson is a music critic with particular interest in piano. He worked as a reporter and editor in New York, Moscow, Paris and London over his writing career. He is the author of five books and divides his time between Boston and Bordeaux. He is a regular contributor to The Cross-Eyed Pianist.

Illustration by Michael Johnson

Wu Qian is an internationally acclaimed pianist and Co-Founder of Investec International Music Festival, which takes place from 26 March to 16 May 2020.

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

It was more like an accident; my parents took me to a friend’s house when I was 6 years old and they had a piano. As a child I have never seen anything like it before and immediately asked my parents if I could have one – they agreed thinking that it was proven how piano playing helps children developing both sides of the brain! After the first lesson, the teacher told my parents I was very talented so my mother had secretly hoped that I might make something out of piano and has pushed me ever since! There were times when I almost resented the amount of practise I had to do, but fortunately later on, I really started to appreciate music and it enlightened my life. That is what drove me to pursue a career in music.

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

I was very fortunate that I had wonderful teachers from different backgrounds. I feel it’s the combination of all these incredible musicians and mentors who influenced my musical path.

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

I think challenges are everywhere, but thankfully music makes me forget them!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am never that content with my own performances. I could perhaps pick out a few sections here and there to say “ah that was quite nice!”, but it is difficult for me to be completely satisfied.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

When I listen back my performances and recordings, I feel Schubert, Schumann suit me well.

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

I always like to add a few new works that I would like to learn or challenge myself, then there are always plenty of promoters requesting more of their wishes! So then it becomes a balancing act; trying t develop your repertoire while having a programme ready to perform.

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

We are lucky these days as there are many beautiful venues with good acoustics, so it is very difficult to pick one, but I do think it’s the combination of the space we perform in, the quality of the piano, the audience, the ambience and the performer’s mood and energy at the very moment of the performance which create a unique feeling.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I am lucky that I have been to quite a few concerts and even lectures that I was very moved by. I can’t always explain what it was but when a performance touches you, it is unforgettable.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, it’s knowledge of the entire music history, and I am sad to admit I feel there isn’t enough time in one’s lifetime to find out everything, but I try my best!

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

Love the music you are making, work hard but never forget to enjoy it! We are all so lucky to be able to work on incredible repertoire, created by these titans of history; I really can’t think of something as exciting and rewarding as working in the arts.

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

Too many possibilities that I honestly can’t choose, but I can’t imagine doing something in life that doesn’t involve music.


Wu Qian was born in Shanghai, where she received her early training before being invited to study at the Yehudi Menuhin School. At fifteen she performed Mozart’s E flat Major concerto (K449) in the Queen Elizabeth Hall and again at the Menuhin Festival in Switzerland. She also played the Saint-Saens Concerto No.2 with the Philharmonia Orchestra in St. John’s Smith Square. She made her debut recital at the South Bank Purcell Room in 2000 and has since played there again on several occasions, including a recital broadcast by BBC Radio 3.

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“….the quality and general culture of audiences has diminished in equal measure……The average listener of today has hardly the faintest idea about what he is hearing. He neither knows anything about new music, nor can he differentiate between outstanding, moderately good and poor performances.”

Sir András Schiff, The Telegraph, 8 March


It’s not the first time I’ve found myself bridling at criticism of “the audience”. There have been a few occasions, mostly in music reviews, where the audience and its behaviour have been commented upon in less-than-complimentary terms. I feel offended because as a regular concert-goer I am part of “the audience”, and I will nearly always rush to defend it.

And why? Because there’s a very simple equation here: without an audience, the musician/s does not have a concert, nor a fee. He/she/they may be performing to a handful of people or a full house at Carnegie Hall, but the audience is a crucial part of the concert experience. Without an audience, you are just playing into the void (sadly, some musicians are finding this is a necessity as concert halls close due to the coronavirus outbreak, but that’s another story).

András Schiff’s comments revive – yet again! – that tedious old chestnut that you need specialist knowledge or a certain level of education to enjoy, or better still appreciate classical music. The truth is, you don’t. All you need are your ears and a willingness and curiosity to submit to the sounds, to the experience, the flow of the music and the emotions it provokes. There’s no right or wrong way to enjoy the experience, and there’s no test at the end of the concert to see if you “understood it”, no exam in musical analysis to check you know what Sonata Form is or the meaning of Allegro Amabile (“smile as you quickly play”). The majority of audience members are there not to show off their specialist knowledge, but because they enjoy the experience of live music. And in fact, contrary to what Schiff says, many audience members are highly discerning and really can spot whether a performance is truly inspiring or mediocre: they may not be able to express this in high falutin language but they can certainly sense it.

Performers like Schiff would do well to remember who is paying for the tickets to their concerts, for without those ticket buyers, those valuable (but, it would appear, not always valued) “bums on seats”, The Audience, there wouldn’t be the same opportunities to perform. This is especially true for less well-known musicians who are trying to make a living playing for local music societies and regional arts organisations, where the ability to pay the artist a fee is predicated almost entirely on ticket sales.

Patronising, arrogant attitudes towards audiences, and potential audiences, don’t really help an artform which is constantly trying to attract as wide an audience demographic as possible, and serve to reinforce the notion that classical music is “elitist”. If I was a newbie concert-goer reading Schiff’s comments, I think I might be tempted to head straight out of the concert hall, never to return.

Let’s stop behaving as if classical music is for the few, not the many; that it’s some kind of precious crystal that only a select minority can see and engage with. Instead, let’s endeavour to make everyone feel welcome, regardless of their credentials or knowledge.

Read Jon Jacob’s thoughts on this issue here