Music composed by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) is enjoying a resurgence of interest, in part due to the completion of Schubert’s ‘Unfinished’ Symphony by Chinese tech firm Huawei. The international harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has also performed music created by AI in a concert exploring the relationship between music and maths, and the notion that J S Bach was a musical “coder”.

Music created using AI is not new. Back in the 1980s, American composer David Cope experimented with music composed by AI using a computer programme he devised himself. This was actually in response to his own compositional writer’s block and he quickly found that his computer could compose far more – and far more quickly – than he ever could. One afternoon, he left his computer running the composing programme and when he returned, it had created 5000 original chorales in the style of J S Bach.

This music does not happen automatically – though it may appear to. In order for AI to create, it needs to be given a set of instructions, rules and parameters. David Cope fed into his computer a complex code (algorithm) based not only on the patterns and “rules” found in Bach’s music but also the tiny but myriad places where Bach breaks his own rules which makes his music distinctive. Cope also factored in fluctuations in tempo, dynamics, narrative tension and suspense, and indeed as many of the “storytelling” elements in music as he could identify (being a composer himself he would be alert to these details). The resulting music is surprisingly convincing, idiomatically Bach and in many instances indistinguishable from the original. Cope put his AI music to the test with a live performance of music created by Bach, AI and musicologist Dr Steve Larson in the style of Bach. The audience selected the AI piece as genuine Bach and Larson’s piece as composed by the computer. Reactions were mixed. Some people were angry, fearful that the role of composer would become superfluous if a computer could do the job as well – and better, in terms of its ability to create so much music so quickly.

This of course is the true “power” of the computer. Its processing capability is far in excess of anything even the most quick-thinking, mentally agile human being could ever achieve, and it has the ability to run the musical algorithm through seemingly endless permutations. Not only can a computer process many thousands of calculations per second, it can do this 24/7 without ever getting distracted or tired, hungry or bored. Compound this with the ability to network many processors together and their processing power and speed massively exceeds anything we mere humans can manage. The machine learning aspect of the programme enables the system to analyse and identify commonalities which signify the style and characteristics of a particular composer or musical genre, and then compose “new examples of music in the style of the music in its database without replicating any of those pieces exactly” (David Cope).

Other critics of David Cope’s music claimed it had no “humanity”, that it was without emotion or “soul” – unlike music written by human composers whose unique style (apparently) springs from a deep well of emotion and experience. Others denounced it as plagiarism, pure and simple. But this is not “copying” or plagiarism per se because the AI music contains the musical signature of Bach via the code created by Cope and makes new music based on that rather than simply replicating. And don’t all composers “borrow” from others, to a greater or lesser extent?

Music created by AI presents an interesting philosophical question: where does the “soul” or emotional content of music actually reside? In the notes on the score? In the musicians’ interpretation of those notes? Or in the individual emotional responses of the listener?

The score is just ink on paper, and the organisation of the notes a form of code. We can easily decode this if we know how to read it. One could argue that the notation encodes the “soul” through expression, articulation, dynamics, tempo, harmony and melody – directions which are given to us, the musician, through the score. And as David Cope acknowledged, it is all the subtleties and nuances, the tension and release, suspensions and resolutions which give music its character.

The musicians provide a bridge between the score and the audience and bring the musical code to life. They “interpret” the score, not only by reading and decoding what’s written on the page, but also through their personal experiences, musicianship and musical intelligence. Here we may come close to the soul of the music, and it is that personal interpretation which leads so many people to enjoy music. Consider for a moment how many recordings there are of Schubert’s final piano sonata – yet each is different and each contains the unique ‘fingerprints’ of the individual performer in their understanding and decoding of Schubert’s musical DNA as set out in his score. Equally, the sparsest lead sheet, that pared-down ‘code’ used by jazz musicians for example, can result in a ‘soulful’ or deeply emotional performance.

If there is any ‘soul’ in music, it is perhaps most potently found in the relationship between the music, the performers and the listener, and our personal emotional responses to the music.

The feelings that we get from listening to music are something we produce, it’s not there in the notes. It comes from emotional insight in each of us, the music is just the trigger.

David Cope

What music created by AI and reactions to it reveal is that we can get over-attached to the mystery of human agency necessary for the creation of music: the varied and finite lives of composers and the romanticisation of their lives and deaths adds to our emotional response to music. We want to believe we can hear in their music Schumann’s mental breakdown, or Schubert railing against the illness which killed him at 31, and we may attach all sorts of meanings to the music which aren’t actually in the sound itself. We describe the emotions unleashed by the music and speculate on what the composer was trying to say.

AI also poses questions about creativity, and given that human beings love making music, and art, and there is already plenty to fill an audience’s liftetime, does its further production need to be automated? David Cope certainly believes it can benefit from automation and regards his AI programme as an extension of his composing self which enables him to compose more quickly. Reassuringly, he also concedes that “real” music is better than the music created by AI, and that professional composers are unlikely to be seriously threatened by automation.

Creativity is simple; consciousness, intelligence, those are hard.

David Cope

https://open.spotify.com/track/5BkCBpJGkiOAHzwpg2WhLD


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Cabaret Beyond Borders at Café Yukari, Saturday 5 October, 7.30pm

Special offer for readers of this blog

International duo Elena Lorenzi and Stefano Marzanni take us on a journey into the fascinating world of cabaret from Parisian bistros to decadent 1930’s Berlin, and the underground clubs of Budapest, Vienna, Zurich and Moscow.

Accompanied by pianist Stefano Marzanni, Elena Lorenzi is not only a great singer and performer but also a passionate cabaret curator, dedicated to telling the real story – from lyrical romance and love, to dark, biting satire, politics and existentialist reflections on the meaning of life.

In Cabaret Beyond Borders Elena and Stefano bring to life songs made famous by Edith Piaf and Dalida, from the satire of Mischa Spoliansky to the revolutionary spirit of Kurt Weill and the dynamic French chansons of Léo Ferré.

Tickets £14 each (a saving of £4 on full price ticket)

BOOK TICKETS

Venue: Neighbourhood Café Yukari, 110 North Road, Kew, Richmond TW9 4HJ (nearest station: Kew Gardens)

**Please note this is a very small venue and early booking is recommended to secure your seat**

 

“Those smokey, stylish Parisian jazz clubs and edgy pre-war Berlin cabarets…..truly come to life again in Classic Cabaret” (audience member at Classic Cabaret)

“atmospheric, stirring and deeply moving” (audience member)

Calling female musicians, composers and conductors to take part in the Meet the Artist interview series

 

Established in 2012 by blogger Frances Wilson (“The Cross-Eyed Pianist”), Meet the Artist is a series of interviews in which musicians, conductors and composers discuss aspects of their creative lives, including inspirations, influences, repertoire, performance, recording, significant teachers and more. The interviews offer revealing insights into the musician’s working life and each one provides advice to young or aspiring musicians.

The interview takes the form of a short questionnaire. Originally hosted entirely on the The Cross-Eyed Pianist site, the series has grown in popularity to such an extent that it now has its own dedicated website.

If you would like to take part in the Meet the Artist series, please download an interview questionnaire and return it to Frances Wilson (contact details on questionnaire).

Meet the Artist questionnaire – musician/performer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Composer

Meet the Artist questionnaire – Conductor

Nadine André is a classical pianist and teacher who performs both as a soloist and chamber musician and teaches piano and chamber music at three institutions, including the junior department at the Royal Academy of Music in London. Here Nadine explains why she has decided to embark on one of the most comprehensive and demanding Pilates teacher training programmes in the world.

I frequently meet musicians who suffer from injury or debilitating, ongoing physical issues that prevent them from playing their instruments freely. In some cases, people who have dedicated their whole lives to music have to stop playing altogether. I find this incredibly frustrating and, until recently, I have never come across a method of therapy or exercise that is truly rehabilitative and that can address and fix the cause of these issues.

Don’t get me wrong, physical therapy sessions are great! They can be restorative, alleviate pain and improve well-being, however, it is rare that these sessions get to the very root of a physical problem and deal with fixing the issue in the WHOLE body, not just the isolated area. If the therapy does treat the whole body, the effects often wear off and the issue returns. Medical intervention frequently involves temporary treatments such as steroid injections into a joint and, while surgery is occasionally necessary, it can often be avoided, and should only be a last resort.

I have amassed so many questions about this over the years…

  • Is playing the piano with ease really this difficult?
  • Is practising the particulars on your instrument for endless hours really the best way to achieve a perfect state in performance?… Apparently not.
  • Is there a form of exercise or therapy that can truly change the body, from the inside out?
  • Is there a form of deep and comprehensive training I can do that isn’t medical that will enable me to help my fellow musicians?
  • Is there a way of learning to be more integrated, where the mind can become much more closely connected to the body, but that also strengthens it? (I’m a huge fan of Alexander Technique and have had years of private lessons but, for all its virtues, it doesn’t address muscle weakness.)

After mulling over different possibilities and trying different forms of therapy and exercise to improve my own body, I have finally found what I believe is the perfect solution. I make this sound like I’ve given it the occasional thought… far from it. I’ve agonised over this, had sleepless nights on occasion, questioned my identity as a teacher and struggled with dealing with my own physical pain for years. This is a decision that I arrived at when several aspects of my life converged into one moment. Corny though it may sound, it was indeed an epiphany (and happened at about 2am last summer).

I discovered Pilates almost 6 years ago and I loved it. I received expert tuition from Sonja Fitzpatrick in Epsom, and once I’d had my light-bulb moment and decided to train as a Pilates teacher, Sonja encouraged me to do my research and try different methods. I knew that I wanted to train as true to Joseph Pilates’ method as possible and researching this lead me to Classical Pilates.

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(image from Kinetic Pilates)

It was in February this year (2019) that I came across Kinetic Pilates in north London, and discovered that Rebecca Convey is THE UK teacher-trainer for Romana’s Pilates. I did some digging and found out that Romana was a devoted student of Joseph Pilates’, working closely with him and his wife Clara for years. After his death, Romana set up a teacher training programme with Clara that would ensure future teachers of his method stayed as true to his system and approach as possible. It seemed that this was as close as I would get to learning Pilates (or ‘Contrology’ as Joseph called it), as it was meant to be learnt.

After several weeks of lessons with Rebecca and James Palmer, another fantastic teacher at Kinetic Pilates, I noticed my piano playing start to change. My hands felt much lighter, my pelvis more stable and my whole body was more powerful. The technical issues I’d been dealing with for decades were melting away and I was playing with much greater ease. I knew that this was my path and felt certain that this teacher training method would enable me to fulfil my desire to help others.

Read the full article on Nadine’s website

nadine_andre_about

 

 

 

AKMI Duo are Valentine Michaud (saxophone) and Akvilé Sileikaité (piano)

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

VM: I chose the saxophone in the first place for a very simple reason: with such a golden instrument, it was love at first sight! I was 7 at the time and I knew 3 or 4 years later that music would be a huge part of my life. I had a fantastic first teacher who really transmitted his strong passion for his art and provided me with incredible opportunities for my first concert tours and groups. He really made me want to be a musician. I received the first instrument of my own at the age of 11 and I am still playing on the very same saxophone today.

AS: As I remember, we always had piano at home and I was quite curious as a child to try it. I received my first lessons from my mother, as she is piano teacher. I guess this is quite a typical beginning for the majority of musicians, but it was also so for me. I do not know how I started to build my musical career;  maybe I had brilliant teachers, and my parents supporting me. Maybe it is my passion for what I am doing, but it is definitely making me thrilled and excited.

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

VM: My first teacher, Slava Kazykin, was a very big influence in the beginning, as he taught me the basics of the saxophone, but also the joy that music making can give. Then I met other teachers who all had an important impact on my artistic vision, such as my two last teachers in Switzerland, Pierre-Stéphane Meugé, who initiated me into the strange world of contemporary music, and Lars Mlekusch, who helped me flourish as an artist with a real identity, and encouraged my interests in trans-disciplinary performances. But also of course the friends that I meet, the ones that I hear perform, and the ones with whom I’ve played, such as my duo partner Akvile Sileikaite, and also the travels have had a strong influence on my musical path.

AS: My family’s support, teachers, people I’m playing with, people I’m meeting, music itself.

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

VM: I think one of the biggest challenges of a musician’s career is the organizational side of it. Nowadays probably even more than fifty years ago, a musician has to be multi-faceted, and has to manage very different things at the same time: communication, planning, traveling, programming, teaching, and of course practicing, without mentioning obviously performing! All this requires a lot of energy and you can never take real ‘holidays’ from it. Also, as a classical saxophone player, I face the challenge of convincing people that this instrument has its place in the classical music world, even if it is not so well-known yet. And as the repertoire for the instrument is very contemporary, I also need to present to as broad an audience as possible pieces that are not especially ‘friendly’ to listen to, and make them love it!

AS: I have to force myself sometimes to not be lazy and just practice. This can be challenging! On a more serious note, the greatest challenge I find is the music itself because it is something that you need to express, literally, getting your feelings, thoughts, expressions, yourself naked in front of the other people, the audience, in a way that they would feel it and believe in it, believe in music, in their own feelings. To do this in every concert is challenging. I also find it the greatest experience because it’s unique every time you go on stage.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

VM: Performances can always be perfected of course… but one performance I remember was our AKMI Duo debut concert in the Lucerne Festival in 2017. It was not perfect, but we really enjoyed our time on stage as the connection between us and the audience was very strong and the atmosphere there was very special.

AS: The ones when I feel the audience is almost not breathing. And the ones which people remember and are excited to share their feelings about afterwards.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

VM: I am definitely more at ease with modern repertoire, virtuosic and highly rhythmical pieces that demand a lot of energy. Romantic pieces are not really my cup of tea…

AS: Denisov and Albright sonatas for saxophone and piano with Valentine.

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

VM: I always try to find a balance between modern pieces, new music, new commissions, and transcriptions, so that our programmes in recital are varied and can demonstrate the incredibly wide range of possibilities of my instrument. I often have ideas when going to concerts to hear colleagues, not necessarily saxophone players. Also, if I have a more trans-disciplinary performance in the season, then the programme is determined by the content of the show.

AS: It varies, from trying to choose the best pieces from the repertoire of the particular instrument I’m playing with, to pieces less-frequently played. Both so that people can enjoy and find something new for them. It is also sometimes very much dependent on a concert organiser’s wishes.

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

VM: I don’t have a particular one, but I do prefer the smaller halls: they have a human dimension that I like, and I find it easier to connect with the audience and really share something stronger. When the audience is really far away or sitting really high in balconies, it is much more difficult for me (at least until at the moment!).

Who are your favourite musicians?

VM: I have a lot! There are many musicians that I admire, not necessarily classical ones. I also love artists who are multi-faceted or really committed to contemporary music, as I think this is very important. And of course the people I play with are among my favourite musicians! But for the big names, it could range from Barbara Hannigan or Patricia Kopatchinskaja to Michael Jackson, Queen or Charlie Parker…

AS: Valentine obviously, then Mirga Gražinyte, Parvo Järvi, Martin Grubinger, Fabian Ziegler, Asmik Grigorian, Hilary Hahn, Kian Soltani and many others. These are the names that come into my head first, there are so many I admire. I still have a secret wish to play with some of them.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

VM: There were many funny or epic experiences through the years… maybe a funny one was in Moscow. Akvile and I were playing a duo recital and programmed a humorous Swiss contemporary piece. We had to speak a text before each movement, and an old woman in the audience started to stand up and complain that we shouldn’t be talking during the concert, and that she didn’t need explanations. I don’t speak Russian, so I didn’t understand what was the matter. Akvile was trying to answer the woman from the stage and they were debating about it while I was just standing on stage wondering what was happening. Then other people in the audience started to take part to this animated discussion. The scene was really absurd. In the end we started playing again but the woman stood up and left with great noise and slamming the door of the hall. So far this is the one and only time I had such a scandalous performance!

AS: My debut at Lucerne Festival. Or if an interesting story, a little scandal Valentine and I had in Moscow when playing contemporary music. We performed a piece by R.Gubler, called “Very Important Things”, a piece that needed us to ‘describe’ the subject we are going to perform, preferably in the language of the country we were playing in. So in the middle of the composition, one lady stood up and said in Russian that we don’t need to explain every subject, people knew what we were doing. Then someone shouted her back that she was disturbing the performance. I tried gently to explain that this was part of the piece and the composers required us to do it. Quite an interesting discussion started then we just continued to play. Then in the middle of our playing, the first lady stood up, said something like “I cannot stand it anymore” and left the hall closing the doors as loudly as possible. I guess she didn’t like the piece so much…

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

VM: I think to succeed is when you make people feel better when you play. Smiles on the faces of my audience are the best rewards, and to see wide open eyes of children as I play is probably one of the best feelings ever.

AS: Working hard, meeting people, not forgetting to invest to “yourself” by reading, attending galleries and concerts, and having hobbies.

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

VM: As a teacher, I try to give to my students a taste of the joy of playing music can be. Curiosity is also a very important concept to me, to keep an open-minded spirit and to be interested in all kind of arts, not just in your instrument, not just in classical music, and not just in music in general. Of course, working hard and always trying to be better than your yesterday-self is also a very important idea. And sharing is also one of the most important things to me. I don’t think a selfish person can be a truly good musician…

AS: Believe in what you are doing, have goals and enjoy the process of reaching them. And practice.

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

VM: On a stage, surrounded by friends that I like to play with. It doesn’t really matter where!

What is your present state of mind?

VM: At the moment I am extremely enthusiastic and full of energy for what is coming up in the next months! I have many very exciting projects to come and I can’t wait for it!

AS: Trying to enjoy everything I am doing.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

AS: Family, enjoying the process of learning, playing and being on stage and having time for myself and holidays.

What is your most treasured possession?

AS: People around me, ideas and arts.

 

AKMI Duo won this year’s Swiss Ambassador’s Award and embark on a UK concert tour from 15 October at Wigmore Hall, 16 October at Carol Nash Hall, Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester and 17 October at Dora Stoutzker Hall, Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, Cardiff


Valentine Michaud and Akvilé Sileikaité first crossed paths in Zurich in 2015; and with that, the AKMI duo was born.

Read more

 

 

0000614_honeybourne-duncanThe Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts, the brainchild of pianist Duncan Honeybourne, were launched at the Weymouth Arts Centre in the summer of 2002. Familiar with the concept of regular lunchtime concerts from his own professional touring, Honeybourne had returned to his home town earlier that year and longed to bring regular high quality lunchtime concerts to his own corner of Dorset. He was also keen to establish a platform for chamber music partnerships with friends, to invite friends and colleagues to explore the area, to promote young artists and to try out his own solo programmes. He wanted to build up a loyal audience willing to trust his artistic judgement and give unusual repertoire a hearing as part of a regular series.

The Weymouth Arts Centre had earlier been a setting for some of Duncan’s own teenage successes. He had played concertos there, with Angela Nankivell conducting the Arts Centre Orchestra, and it was with Angela – a much-loved and much-missed driving force in Dorset music – that he now drew up a plan for action. Angela, a musician and teacher of rare quality, was by this time – in retirement from the Dorset Music Service – immersing herself in helping the Weymouth Arts Centre evolve and grow, and Duncan tells the story of the chance conversation in which the idea of the Lunchtime Chamber Concerts was born. One day he drove into the car park opposite the Arts Centre and, whilst searching for a parking space, he spotted Angela walking across the car park -with a question for him. “I’m glad I’ve seen you”, she exclaimed. “I’m trying to help the Arts Centre find ways to increase their profile and get people in. Have you got any ideas?” “Yes!” replied Duncan without hesitation. “Why don’t you start a lunchtime concert series?” “Good idea”, said Angela. “Would you like to run it? I’ll do the admin and you can do the artistic side.” By the time he had parked his car, a new strand of Duncan’s future work was sealed. “I had been thinking how much fun it would be to start something like that”, he remembers. “It was something that had to be done, and it was just the right moment in my life for it.”

“We decided to try a summer series on all the Thursdays in August that year,” Duncan recalls. “I gave the first one myself, on the 1st August, and a wonderful team of ladies prepared refreshments. We were gratified by the good turnout, and we decided to make it a regular thing. I was young then, and bursting with ideas. Almost too many ideas! But I’d never have imagined then that we’d still be going now, 17 years later. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge, but the central ideas and priorities have remained unchanged.

Duncan says that several of his own philosophies have been hard-wired into the raison d’etre of the concert series. “Firstly, I abhor the snobbery, elitism and exclusivity which so often attaches itself to classical music. I wanted to create a cosy, welcoming and all-embracing atmosphere, and always to present the music in such a way as everyone felt comfortable, involved and valued. The artists almost always talk to the audience, telling them their own feelings about the works. I’ve always been passionate that you don’t have to have any kind of background in music to get something out of it. It’s all about how you deliver and contextualise it. This sense of dialogue, of our sharing the works we love, aims to foster that very ethos”.

“We’ve also tried to keep admission costs low,” says Duncan, “because we don’t want money to be a bar to anyone coming to enjoy first class professional music. South Dorset isn’t the wealthiest of areas these days, and I don’t want my concerts to be the preserve of a privileged few, just because they’re the only people who can afford to come. Music provides spiritual and emotional nourishment – just look at what they do in that amazing world of music therapy – and I want that to be on offer to all who would like to be part of the experience.”

Duncan’s second objective has been to support young musicians at the beginning of their careers – “I was one myself, in fact, when I started the whole thing”, he observes with a laugh – and to present a wide and challenging range of music, stepping far beyond the established and well-loved masterpieces of the baroque, classical and romantic repertoire. “The old favourite pieces are there, of course”, he is quick to reassure, “but we are able to take far bigger risks in our regular series than the average music club or concert society would be able to do.” Duncan points out that the concerts receive no outside funding, being entirely dependent on the current modest £5 admission charge.

After less than two years in their original home, the concerts had to move to a new venue. The Weymouth Arts Centre closed in 2004 and, after a few concerts at Weymouth College, the series moved permanently to St Mary’s Church in September that year. “The church is a beautiful setting for music and is ideally located in the town centre. We have had a wonderfully fruitful and happy relationship with our hosts there for some 15 years now”, Duncan tells us. “Initially we took the old Arts Centre piano to St Mary’s but, in 2007, the Weymouth and Portland Piano Association purchased a new instrument, a Yamaha, which is now housed at St Mary’s Church. And we are lucky enough to be able to use the piano for our concerts. People are constantly remarking on the wonderful setting and piano, and how fortunate we are to have such an ideal set-up. It’s warm and welcoming, and I try to make the concerts like that, too.”

As well as championing young artists and encouraging unfamiliar repertoire, Duncan has always sought to feature living composers and new music in the series. He has frequently played, recorded and broadcast contemporary piano music at home and abroad, and he has brought a taste of this activity to South Dorset – “in small doses, carefully chosen! I’m mindful that many people can be suspicious of contemporary music per se but, by choosing it with care, programming it with sensitivity and having it eloquently introduced by living, breathing composers at the top of their game, I try to demystify it and engage new enthusiasts. And we’ve had some very distinguished composers visiting us over the years.” At one of the first concerts at St Mary’s 15 years ago John Joubert, the late South African-born composer best known for his choral music and with whose piano music Duncan is closely associated, introduced several of his own works. “That was a unique opportunity for us all to hear a titan of his age talking about what fired his creative passions, what he wanted audiences to listen out for and what he hoped they’d get out of his music.” Other visitors have included Grammy-nominated Dobrinka Tabakova, now the BBC Concert Orchestra’s Composer in Residence. “At the very first concert, Andrew Downes was in the audience to listen to his First Piano Sonata, and Andrew – for many years Head of Composition at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire – has been with us on many occasions since, so that’s a very special association too.” But it wasn’t a composer who contributed what, for Duncan, was one of the most memorable and moving verbal additions to the series: “In 2006 we invited Christopher Finzi, son of the composer Gerald Finzi and a distinguished musician himself, to a concert on the very day marking the 50 th anniversary of Finzi’s death. I asked him if he would be willing to say a few words to the audience, and he responded with the most wonderful, touching reflection on his father’s personality, musing on what Finzi senior would have thought of the modern world had he come back to see how life had changed. That was a special moment, and a little bit of history was made here in Weymouth.”

Among many other highlights of the first ten years was a special celebrity concert in January 2006, when oboist George Caird and cellist Jane Salmon joined Duncan for a recital of which the Dorset Echo wrote: “The three played as well as I have heard anywhere, and to a packed house.”

Tragedy struck in 2011 when Angela Nankivell died after a long illness. “She shouldered the weight of the administrative burden, which was considerable, and was a wonderful musician and a good friend. I miss her very much, and when she was ill I wondered whether we’d be able to continue”, admits Duncan. Fortunately, his colleague and friend Jean Shannon, formerly General Administrator of the Scottish Baroque Ensemble and other premier professional organisations, came to the rescue and has been Concerts Manager for the past nine seasons. “Jean really saved the series,” Duncan tells me, “and I owe her a huge debt. Jean has organised concerts for decades at the South Bank and other London venues, and she knows her job inside out and at the highest level. I could never have coped with the organisation, but Jean put an immense amount of work in and helped us to build on the structure that Angela had already set in place. We streamlined the planning process to 10 concerts per year – previously we’d had more – and we managed to build up our audiences further. Jean created a website, an electronic mailing list and regular reminder bulletins, and our audiences shot up. They usually number between 50 and 80 people these days.”

Most of the concerts since the early days were recorded by Ridgeway Radio for broadcast in Dorset County Hospital. “They have a tremendous archive”, remarks Duncan, “and I’m thrilled that we have a new association with Ridgeway Radio’s upgraded successor, Dorchester’s community FM radio station KeeP 106. It’s tremendously energising to be ever-evolving, constantly refreshing ideas – and that’s how we have to be to survive and grow.”

Duncan has continued to play in most of the concerts and especially relishes the opportunity to take part in rewarding chamber music projects. In 2014-15 Duncan was joined by Catrin Win Morgan, violinist in the renowned Brodowski Quartet, to play the complete violin and piano sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms in a series of concerts spanning the whole season. And in 2013-14, Duncan and three colleagues formed the Wessex Piano Quartet for a year-long residency, exploring works for this well-loved combination of piano and strings by Faure, Howells and Dvorak and returning in later seasons to play Mozart, Brahms and Taneyev. And, in a collaboration with the Royal Academy of Music, a memorable concert saw Duncan joining forces with four senior students to play Schubert’s Trout Quintet. Every Christmas is marked by a special seasonal concert, often featuring Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, and one year the actor Freddie Fox – once a pupil of Duncan’s at Bryanston School -contributed Christmas readings and reflections to a specially – devised programme entitled “A West Country Christmas.”

Duncan now teaches piano at Southampton University and Sherborne School, and maintains an active profile as a performer. His solo performances are broadcast regularly on radio networks worldwide, and his recording career, which sees his 14 th disc released later this year, reflects the long association with British piano music for which he is best known. But the Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts remain a focus of special pride to him, and his deep roots in Dorset central to his life and work. “I was born here, and my father’s family have lived here for centuries. My great-great-great grandfather was the Weymouth town bailiff in the 1850s, and I can trace my ancestors back to the 16th century and beyond in the surrounding towns and villages. I love giving something back to Dorset, and it’s a privilege to be able to live in this beautiful place still. There’s work still to be done in building new audiences, and it’s no easy task getting new generations in. But I’m determined to keep this particular cultural flame burning here.”

The 2019-20 season of Weymouth Lunchtime Concerts opens on Wednesday 25th September, and is brimming with delights. Duncan’s own piano trio gives two recitals (on 25th March and 17th June) following its launch in the series two years ago, and the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 2020 is commemorated in a year-long feature, Beethoven 250. “We’ll be featuring violin sonatas, cello sonatas, the “Archduke” trio, and I’ll be playing Beethoven’s last three piano sonatas in May 2020. It’s a very exciting project,” remarks Duncan.

“In 2022 we’ll have been going for 20 years,” muses Duncan, “and we’re getting to the stage now where performers who are now established tell me that they gave one of their first concerts for us, and what a pivotal experience it was for them. I believe we still have a role to fulfil, and it’s invigorating and challenging to look forward.”

All concerts start at 1pm at St Mary’s Church, St Mary Street, Weymouth, Dorset DT4 8PU

2019/20 concerts and further information

Meet the Artist interview with pianist Duncan Honeybourne