Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM) rejoices in the resurgence of live music in Hertfordshire with an exciting programme of glorious music, both old and new.
This year’s principal artist is the wonderful horn player BenGoldscheider. Ben has gone from strength to strength since being the BBC Young Musician finalist in 2016, giving recitals in major concert halls around the world. Ben is from Hertfordshire and is delighted to be involved in several Festival events: his Goldscheider Quintet with narrated pieces by Ruth Gipps and Ravel; a recital with pianist Richard Uttley; and a masterclass given to selected aspiring horn performers.
Musicians Guy Johnston, Melvyn Tan, Mathilde Milwidsky and Huw Watkins also join the roster of acclaimed artists visiting HFoM for the first time and there be a visit from the celebrated Maggini String Quartet in performances of music by both David Matthews and Malcolm Arnold.
Hertford will enjoy a return visit by two local artists with an outstanding national and international following. The flautist Emma Halnan and organist William Whitehead perform concertos by Malcolm Arnold with the HFoM Festival Orchestra conducted by Matthew Taylor in what will surely be one of the Festival highlights – and a fitting tribute to the late and much-loved Co-Founder of HFoM, Tom Hammond.
HFoM marks the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with two special events in Hertford. Our Festival Concert Band will bring local community musicians together to perform arrangements of music associated with royalty in a fun, relaxed performance in the grounds of Hertford Castle. And with a thriving choral tradition in Hertford, we relish the opportunity to hear three local choirs from St Andrews, All Saints’ and the Hertford Chamber Choir as they join forces in honour of the Queen’s Jubilee, together with organist William Whitehead.
The Featured Living Composer is David Matthews – one of the UK’s foremost composers who will be visiting many events and engaging in conversation about in his remarkable life in music. There’s a fascinating retrospective of the music of Sir Malcolm Arnold too as his music runs a thread through the festival.
Festival favourites ZRI make a return appearance in an evening of musical fun. ZRI’s “Adventures with Charlie Chaplin” is part concert, and part film screening with live score. ZRI will bring their musical interpretation to the classic ‘The Adventurer’, including tunes by Django Reinhardt, Georges Boulanger, and much more.
Full details of all the events are on the Festival website. Events take place in Hertford, Ware, St Albans, Harpenden, Hitchin, and Hatfield.
The second edition of the Birmingham International Piano Chamber Music Competition will take place as part of the Conservatoire’s November Festival celebrating the role of the piano in chamber music. Six young ensembles, chosen at preliminary audition, will be invited to join the festival, give a recital, take part in masterclasses and compete for prizes that include a Wigmore Hall debut, commercial recording with Resonus Classics, mentorship and further concert engagements.
But why another competition? The arguments against are often-repeated: music is an art, not a sport; competitions encourage perfect technical performances of lowest-common-denominator artistic merit; it’s all a fix anyway, and the jury merely choose their own students. There has been some truth in all of these arguments, but none of them are essential to the idea of a music competition. The arguments in favour are made less often, and perhaps less clearly; it is down to the competitions themselves to take a lead.
In Birmingham I have created a competition that, I believe, does all within its power to make the experience positive for everyone involved. Of course there will be a winning ensemble, and those who are not chosen will be disappointed, but there is something on offer for everyone in a collegiate atmosphere of musical celebration. The competition takes place within a festival, where leading professional artists will perform alongside Royal Birmingham Conservatoire students and the six competing ensembles. These six young chamber groups will all be given the opportunity to take part in masterclasses, and their performances will be publicised as part of the Festival and livestreamed. The grand final livestream will be shared by Classic FM. All of the jury members will also play in concerts, dismantling some of the barriers between them and us. They will take their seats in the audience to listen to the young artists, rather than behind a desk with bottles of mineral water.
A competition gives anyone a chance. We have undertaken to hear all applicants at preliminary audition, either in person or by unedited video. Jury members will not be given references or biographies of the musicians that they hear. In a way, this is a fairer process than one in which an agent takes on an artist who is recommended to them by a friend, or who is already successful. To me, the argument that personal networking is a fairer process than a structured competition doesn’t make sense, and it can be guaranteed that all of our competitors will have plenty of chance to hone their networking skills in life before and after the event. Our competition also endeavours to make sure that there are no barriers to application, and that the open and accessible nature of video and livestream performance, which blossomed during the pandemic, are not lost in the rush to return to ‘normal’.
I have created a mark scheme for the competition that encourages artistic understanding and flair. So, although a performance that is a mess technically is unlikely to succeed, there are far more scoring categories that address artistic considerations than technical perfection. Of course ‘technique’ and ‘artistry’ are intertwined, the former being the means of producing the latter, but we have all been deeply moved by performances that couldn’t necessarily have been put out into the sanitised world of CD recording. Our mark scheme recognises this; music will inevitably be beautifully subjective, but this will be the case when our young artists gain reviews and are received by audiences in concert. And this is the nub: I would far rather that we rewarded artistry, communication, beauty, feeling and all of the attributes of music that elevate it above so much else in life, than focussed on the rather more mundane and measurable, even if highly-skilled, qualities. This is, I think, another important idea for our competition to own: we are looking for the ensemble who win on the night. The music that touches us and somehow steals the show. We are not trying to conjecture as to who are the ‘best’.
Oh, and the jury aren’t allowed to score or advocate for any ensembles with which they have a prior connection.
So, I hope that many young ensembles will throw their hat into the ring, and I look forward to welcoming six of them to Birmingham in November, when we will celebrate piano chamber music in all of its many guises.
Birmingham International Piano Chamber Music Competition takes place between 14th and 16th November 2022. Applications are welcomed from duos, trios and quartets with an average age of 28 or under, as long as the ensemble includes a single piano.
British pianist James Lisney is looking forward to his spring and early summer concerts with excitement.
The Cross-Eyed Pianist caught up with James to talk about how he and the music industry in general has fared during the past two years of the pandemic, the challenges and unexpected benefits of the enforced isolation, and the expectation of returning to live concert-giving once again.
The last two years have been extremely challenging for our industry. Have you seen any benefit from the enforced isolation of lockdowns and lack of live music?
The life of a self employed pianist has, in many cases, not been too adversely affected by the pandemic. Study, recordings, writing and online teaching have filled the gaps – but I am aware that there are many musicians who have had their careers decimated by the collapse of orchestral choral concerts in particular. Their phones and emails went ‘dead’ almost as soon as Covid was flagged up and, even when concerts started again, the full forces have not been employed on a regular basis. This economic hardship has not been specific to the young musicians, but there are scary statistics about how many musicians of all ages have either decided to retire or change profession. Apart from the lack of income, the expenses of their vocation continue: large insurance payments, membership of industry bodies, diary service subscription, instrument maintenance etc.
The matter of concert cancellations has been frustrating but it has also allowed unexpected time to rest and to study. For me this has enabled me to learn two monumental piano challenges by Beethoven: the Sonata in B flat (‘Hammerklavier’); and the ‘Diabelli’ Variations’ which I’m programming throughout the group of concerts that I am giving this spring and early summer. The lack of time pressure has allowed for deep and relaxed study – processes that have refreshed my love of music and the piano.
With time suddenly becoming a plentiful commodity, I have had time to explore Scriabin (for the first time), work at the music of Jan Vriend (always a slow process for me!), Chopin’s Études and Liszt’s Feux Follets – and I’ve even studied technical exercises that I’ve been intending to ‘get around to’ for about forty years!
The concerts I’m giving this spring and early summer are a gift to myself (programmed around my sixtieth birthday) and feature works that are the fruits of the pandemic (including Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations and Scriabin Vers la flamme, for example); and music that I have performed for over four decades (such as Chopin’s Sonate funèbre and Ronald Stevenson’s ‘Peter Grimes Fantasy’).
During the pandemic you gave a concert at St George’s Bristol to an empty hall. How do you feel venues have adapted to the “new normal” and supported musicians during the past two years?
St George’s Bristol have been a fantastic support for me and many other musicians during Covid. They have adapted finances and concert formats, organised industry-leading livestream events, and kept in touch with their community, both local and nationwide. I performed the final sonatas Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert in autumn 2020 to an empty hall, but arrived home to email messages from audience members in the USA, the Czech Republic and New Zealand!
I am very much looking forward to returning to St George’s with Chopin on 21 May.
Talking of Chopin, he is a composer who remains very close to your heart. What is the attraction of this repertoire, for both player and audiences?
Chopin has been central to my programmes since I was eighteen. Audiences love this music and it is a constant fascination to attempt to play it – but it is also a constant inspiration in my work as a teacher. Chopin gets to the heart of our physical relationship with the instrument – and to the beauty and meaning of the score. He exemplifies exactitude and classical values with the skills of poetic recreation and improvisation. When one considers, in addition, the premises of his teaching philosophy, it is difficult to find an area of his influence that is not essential to the study of music from almost all of the eras of keyboard music.
The Sonatas and Fantaisie [Opus 49] have been in my repertoire since my teenage years and continue to fascinate and evolve for me – each return to study revealing a more essential layer of understanding. The pandemic has been a chance to work on the Mazurkas – music as dense in implication and as demanding intellectually as late Beethoven. The trio of Mazurkas, opus 56, for example, cover a huge intellectual range and can hardly be considered as “miniatures”.
Pre-pandemic you launched your …petits concerts series at the 1901 Arts Club. Tell us more about this series.
I am looking forward to returning to the large recital halls such as St Georges, the Bradshaw Hall in Birmingham and the beautiful Stoller Hall in Manchester – but I have a special place for the resumption of the …petits concerts series held at the bijoux concert venue and salon that is the 1901 Arts Club in Waterloo, London. This project was thriving in the seasons before Covid and enabled a spontaneous and simple organisation for concerts, contact with a relaxed and intimate audience (both during and after the performances) and the chance to raise money for a variety of purposes. The latest instalments in this series will be fundraisers for The Amber Trust (which supports the musical expression of partially sighted and blind children), of which I am proud to be a patron, and Help Musicians, a charity which has done so much to help musicians during the pandemic.
James Lisney will give concerts in Norwich, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells between April and June. For full details and booking, please visit his website
Readers can enjoy generously discounted tickets for the first …petite concerts recital on 25 April at the 1901 Arts Club. Use code LUDWIG when booking.
Pianist friends Alison Bestow and Claire Vane set up Pianissimi, an adult piano course, five years ago. I caught up with them to find out how their venture is progressing….
Pianissimi has been running for five years now; what is the secret of its success?
Claire: We have both been to many other piano courses, both in the UK and abroad. We are therefore very clear about what we want from a piano course; maximum face-to-face tuition, both in masterclasses and in individual lessons, and opportunities to perform every day. We also want to create a supportive, friendly environment and excellent organisation to keep the whole thing running smoothly. Many people have been with us for several iterations of the course, so we think we’re on the right track.
What do people most enjoy about Pianissimi?
Alison: Our tutors are first-rate. Warren Mailley-Smith and Penelope Roskell have been with us from the start, and this year we have achieved our ‘dream team’ which includes Graham Fitch and Nicholas Moloney. The tuition is intensive and so we make sure to keep participants fuelled with home-made cakes during the day and wine and snacks in the evenings, which people always appreciate, especially after performing following dinner.
Claire: Participants always say how friendly everyone is. The location is really beautiful, on the side of the river Orwell with spectacular views, so the environment is inspiring.
Alison: For me one of the highlights is playing the Fazioli grand in the recital hall with its tiered seating. Although I know you prefer the Bechstein, Claire….
What are the challenges of both running and attending the course?
Alison: We split up the organisation between us, and we have very different skills, so it works very well.
Claire: I do publicity, networking and the loot. Alison does the tedious timetabling which would drive me mad.
What have been the best moments of the course?
Alison: I love all the evening concerts; there is always such a variety of performances and I always come away with something new that I am inspired to learn. I have made many new piano friends.
Claire: We did a scratch eight hands two piano duet last year which was hilarious. I loved the visit from Chris Norman of 1066 pianos who told us more about how pianos work, Steinways in particular, and how he goes about voicing them.
Alison: And the talk from Colin Hazel about women composers was fascinating.
Any sticky moments?
Claire: The accommodation is in school boarding houses, and one year we were given high bunks beds with a desk underneath – not ideal for one participant who was pregnant and another with a dodgy knee. The school sorted it out for us; never again!
Alison: The staff at RHS are brilliant.
Who is this course aimed at?
Alison: We want the course to be very inclusive for anyone who loves the piano as much as we do, so we suggest that attendees are grade 7 onwards and including diploma level and post-diploma. The levels of experience and performance are varied, but we try to ensure that everybody feels comfortable and confident playing in a group. The course is also ideal for those with a specific aim, such as preparing for a graded or diploma exam, or getting ready for a particular performance. There will be lots of performance opportunities for those who want them. But there won’t be any pressure on people to perform if they don’t want to.
ames Lisney’s acclaimed …petits concerts series returns to London’s 1901 Arts Club, a bijoux salon-style venue close to Waterloo Station.
In keeping with the ethos and ambiance of the venue, and inspired by the annual series of concerts given by Charles Valentin Alkan at the Erard showroom in Paris in the 1870s, James Lisney’s …petits concerts present classical music in an intimate and convivial setting.
The series feature piano music by Debussy, Stevenson, Chopin, Haydn, Liszt and Beethoven. Concert goers can enjoy a glass of champagne at a pre-concert reception and an opportunity to meet the performer and mingle with other music lovers. These concerts are in support of two charities, Help Musicians (formerly the Musicians Benevolent Fund), which has done so much to support musicians during the pandemic, and The Amber Trust, a charity which provides opportunities for blind and partially sighted children, and children with more complex needs, of which Lisney is patron.
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Pianists and co-Artistic Directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen reveal another exquisite line-up for the seventh London Piano Festival (LPF) which returns to Kings Place from 6-9 October 2022. Four days of classical and jazz piano performances will see Festival debuts from starsoloist Tamara Stefanovich, jazz sensation Vijay Iyer and rising star Dominic Degavino, in addition to Dame Imogen Cooper who has been a Patron of the London Piano Festival since its launch in 2016. Returning artists include Noriko Ogawa and Paul Roberts, as well as the Festival’s Artistic Directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen. Under 30s tickets are available for all concerts at a reduced price of £8.50. The Festival is delighted to be working with International Piano magazine as media partner for the seventh year running.
Co-Artistic Directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen commented, “We are delighted to present the seventh edition of exciting piano-themed concerts featuring an exceptional line-up of pianists in the welcoming setting of Kings Place. The recent return to unrestricted live music-making, complete with extra appreciative audiences has been energising for performers around the world. This year there will be a particular focus on the joys of musical collaboration between pianist friends, a sharing and exchange of ideas. Nothing can ever quite reproduce the visceral impact of a live event, the sheer thrill of experiencing music in real time.”
Visionary pianist TamaraStefanovich opens this year’s Festival with a programme exploring form and freedom, beginning with Bach’s Aria variata (BWV 989) interweaving the birdsong-inspired pieces of Messiaen and Rameau, and ending with Messaien’s mesmerising Cantéyodjayâ [6 Oct].
Piano duets have been performed at the London Piano Festival every year since it launched in 2016, helping to introduce audiences to new works whilst also celebrating rarely-performed masterpieces. This year Dame Imogen Cooper is joined by Katya Apekisheva, Charles Owen and DominicDegavino, pianists who have all benefitted from her skill and unique insights through masterclasses and teaching sessions over the years, for an evening of piano duets. The four pianists will take to the stage in different pairings to perform Schubert’s piano duets whilst recreating the atmosphere of an intimate social gathering [7 Oct].
Katya Apekisheva and Noriko Ogawa explore contrasting 20th-century preludes in their afternoon recital [8 Oct]. Apekisheva will perform Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, a collection of short pieces in all twenty-four keys, taking the audience through a diverse assortment of moods across the complete set. By contrast, Ogawa will play Debussy’s 12 Préludes, Book I, an imaginative collection which doesn’t follow any strict harmonic template.
Later that evening award-winning jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer willperform a solo improvised set [8 Oct]. Known for performing internationally with ensembles and his own trio, this special evening of solo jazz improvisation will be a rare treat for London audiences.
To celebrate the launch of his new book, concert pianist and lecturer Paul Roberts returns to the Festival to present a lecture-recital with Charles Owen celebrating Liszt’s passionate response to the poetry of Francesco Petrarca [9 Oct]. Roberts’ new book – Reading Franz Liszt – explores the inspiration Liszt drew from the poetry of Francisco Petrarca (1304-74), revealing the link between two major artists born 500 years apart.
The London Piano Festival was founded by pianists Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen in 2016 and takes place every October at Kings Place, London. Previous visiting artists have included Alfred Brendel, Alexandra Dariescu, Julian Joseph, Gabriela Montero, Stephen Kovacevich, Jason Rebello and Kathryn Stott, amongst many others. The Festival has also commissioned a number of new works for two piano, working with composers including Sally Beamish, Jonathan Dove, Elena Langer and Nico Muhly.
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