Guest post by Marie McKavanagh & Julian Davis

Thoughts on Lot Music 2019: participants’ perspectives

Amateur pianists come from a diverse range of backgrounds. We are frequently viewed as benign mavericks, eccentric and obsessive hobbyists who spend many lonely hours detached from family and friends with a shiny wooden box containing hammers and strings. Because it is a solitary activity, we duly seek out the company of others who understand the compulsive nature of our pastime. Always on the look out for opportunities and safe places to perform the music we have learnt, we find places of pianistic sanctuary where we celebrate and reveal our musical triumphs, sharing our mistakes and aspirations in an unfettered and experimental manner, supporting each other with kindness, encouragement, technical solutions, musical ideas and compassion.

It was with these hopes and aspirations we attended Lot Music, a piano course for advanced and committed adult amateur pianists held annually in July over two consecutive weeks in the South of France. We had heard about it for a few years from friends who had previously attended and they felt we would enjoy the experience. It is now in its 21st year, organised by Anne Brain, a retired plastic surgeon, and held at Le Vert, a large hostellerie in the tiny remote village of Mauroux, owned by Bernard and Eva Philippe.  Anne leaves her piano there through the year, a well-maintained Yamaha grand, easy to play with a consistently beautiful clarity of tone and full range of sounds. Some participants also stay at Le Canel, a gîte located a few miles away from Le Vert.  Practice pianos are scattered around both sites, including one rather dangerously positioned in the wine cellar next to some fine French claret! The tutors for this year were Martin Cousin and Leon McCawley.


One of the joys of being a pianist is the endless volume and multifarious range of repertoire written for the instrument. There is available literature for all levels of skill, representative of so many countries, spanning over four centuries, illustrating all musical genres and magnitudes of composition. We played music written between the 17th and 21st centuries. We were two happy gangs of none adult participants in week 1, and another 9 in week 2. A few had persuaded their spouses and partners to join us, perhaps lured by the promise of superb food and hospitality, the swimming pool, the beautiful French countryside and the many moments of wonderful piano music.

What can we say about those professional pianists who offer us their time? They are away from their homes and families, prepared to live with and work with a group of diverse adult personalities, musical dilettantes from other professions with all the usual baggage of grown-up life experiences. We remain in awe of their pianistic skill and are grateful for their generosity.


Our tutor on the first week was Martin Cousin. His teaching was insightful, detailed, tenacious and always encouraging. He was a respectful and supportive advocate of our often unrealistic personal ambitions. Fundamentally, he never suggested any of our music should only be played by those with a professional training. There were tear-jerking moments for all us when we made technical and musical changes suggested, facilitating our fingers and opening up worlds of harmonic and orchestral sound previously not considered.

He had taken time to examine the scores we brought before coming to Lot. Much of it he had played during his career, but we were always amused when he told us he didn’t know a particular piece of music well, and then proceeded to sight read it accurately and beautifully! Most importantly, we experienced tremendous joy, fun and laughter through the week, and we shared two piano and duet repertoire in some performances.

Martin played two evening recitals during the week, treating us to Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin Opus 22, Chopin’s Sonata Opus 58, Rachmaninoff’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli and Prokofiev’s Sonata No 7, Opus 83. There is no room for inertia when playing this repertoire, and he served the music with complete technical security and artistry throughout. The audience were captivated by his range of sound and the triumphant and exhilarating virtuosity displayed. However, it was in the quieter more contemplative moments of the Chopin sonata and the Corelli Variations that we were witness to real musicianship, suspended in a beautiful and reverent sound world of hope and contentment. It was as good as it gets, and both recitals demanded stamina and poise in the ambient intense heat.

One participant compiled a collection of ‘Martinisms’, amusing us all at the dinner table with quotations from our lessons that were entertaining and insightful. One comment that particularly resonated was the suggestion about how to deal with a repeated passage in a piece of music; “it’s the same picture, but the sun is in a different place”. Wonderful imagery. In music, as in life, we should continually keep looking for where the light is coming from.

During the second week, our tutor was Leon McCawley. Like Martin, he was thoughtful, energetic and kind, and tremendously helpful in his coaching to a disparate bunch of pianists, all with our different ambitions and challenges. He was a fount of advice and guidance on a wide repertoire of works, and we enjoyed his gentle good humour and wit. All of us took away lots of sound advice, such as “get to really know the piano keys, they are your friends”. He very indulgently played some duets and duos after dinner with some of us, including some very impressive sight-reading of the Lutoslawski Paganini variations!

Leon treated us with two recitals, including a deliciously sparkling Haydn sonata (G major, Hob XVI/40), and an enthralling performance of Schubert’s C minor sonata (D958); in the second recital we enjoyed some rarely heard lovely Sketches by Hans Gál, together with Brahms’ Op 119 Klavierstücke, Schumann’s Abegg variations, and Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie, Op 61. Every performance was musically inspiring, exciting, beautiful and thought-provoking, and we felt extremely privileged to be such closely involved listeners.

So why do many of us continue to play piano as adults? We could bore you with the robust scientific evidence about how playing the piano maintains cognitive reserve and is a safe and intellectually stimulating hobby to entertain mature adults. But we won’t do that. Music is indeed a source of intellectual and emotional nutrition, a universal language crossing continents and cultures.

We continue to play the piano in adult life because it opens up the heart and re-calibrates the soul, realigning our lives in a way that helps us function with renewed enthusiasm and with the resilience needed to handle the vicissitudes in our professional and personal lives. We meet interesting people and make many real and meaningful friendships when we share music with each other. But mostly we express all that it means to be human when we play.

So many thanks again are due to both tutors, but special thanks are due to Anne Brain, without whom Lot Music simply would not happen. She masterminded and has run this wonderful French musical house party for over two decades, liaising with our hosts Bernard and Eva, who allow us to invade their home and kept us regularly supplied with excellent French food, aperitifs and fine wines. We shall be returning.

Lot Music website

Piano courses in the UK and Europe

Dr Marie McKavanagh grew up in a musical family where playing an instrument, singing and dancing were viewed as essential social skills rather than accomplishments. These were troubled times in Northern Ireland and the Performing Arts was one of the few areas of 1970s life to freely cross the political divide. At 17 she won a scholarship to Queens University, Belfast where she read Medicine. She continued her piano lessons with Nancy Patton-Scott at the Belfast School of Music during her undergraduate years, and has continued to have lessons and play the piano as a compelling and uplifting hobby throughout her adult life. She holds an LTCL in Piano Performance. She moved to Cheshire in the late 1980s and worked as an NHS GP in Nantwich for 28 years. She completed her MSc in Performing Arts Medicine at UCL in 2018 with Distinction and won the BAPAM award and the Dean’s nomination for her research into the cognitive functions of adult amateur pianists. She now works as a BAPAM practitioner at Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool, a freelance locum GP and an NHS England GP Appraiser. She is married to Dr Richard Leigh who works in Bolton A/E and flies biplanes when she is practising. They have two grown up children who remain the centre of their universe.

Julian Davis has played piano since childhood and passed the LRAM Piano Performer’s examination in the 1980s. He worked until recently as Professor of Medicine at Manchester University and Manchester Royal Infirmary, while remaining active as an amateur musician. He has regularly given recitals as a soloist, in 2-piano duos, and in chamber music ensembles, and has enjoyed recent recitals with violinist Simon Evans, cellist Eva Schultze-Berndt, and his sister, soprano Nicola Stock. He has taken part in masterclasses and workshops at Dartington Summer School in recent years with Christian Blackshaw, Steven Osborne, and Florian Mitrea. He currently has piano lessons with William Howard (pianist and founder of the Schubert Ensemble) in London.

Who or what inspired you to take up composing?

When I started learning piano I quickly found that improvising around the pieces I was learning was far more fun than practising scales! Quite soon after that, I realised I could begin to write these inventions down (inspired at first by an ardent desire to acquire a Blue Peter badge…!).

Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?

Recently I’ve been especially inspired by composers who have an outward-facing, collaborative approach to their craft. Composers like Nico Muhly epitomise this for me: not only is the music totally brilliant, but it’s made for people, not just the instruments they play.

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

This past year I’ve been writing for the London Symphony Orchestra as one of their Panufnik Composers – this has certainly been a huge challenge, exciting and daunting in equal measure! Having the whole orchestra (under the baton of François-Xavier Roth) at my fingertips was an incredible feeling, but attempting to write not just a good overall piece but also great parts for all 80 phenomenal musicians certainly took a lot of careful balancing!

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

It’s the biggest thrill of the process, BUT sharing music that you’ve been living with potentially for months for the first time is a daunting thing! A player’s relationship with the thing you’ve made is so different to your own, which is why I obsess over how parts look. Most performers won’t be religiously studying your score for weeks on end; they’ll be getting under the skin of the notes you’ve written for them, so it’s critically important that what they see is presented perfectly.

How would you characterise your compositional language/musical style?

My music is built out of a core I would describe as essentially emotional. I will never shy away from that word (which is often lazily conflated with ‘sentimental’) – I can’t imagine wanting to spend my life writing music if I didn’t want to move, surprise, excite, provoke people, and I’m obsessed with finding harmonic, melodic and rhythmic ways of aspiring to do just that. The Requiem that I’ve just written for Laura van der Heijden, Nicky Spence and a fantastic choir that I’ve put together is, in part, a kind of manifesto for everything I love about music. It’s my biggest work to date, and I’ve designed it in such a way as to (hopefully) crystallise the main things which make up my musical voice.

How do you work?

I work in very intense periods where a lot seems to happen very quickly! But of course this is only part of the process… I don’t believe there’s any such thing as ‘pre-composition’ – once an idea is floating around in my head, I find it very difficult to ignore, and it’s constantly evolving, shifting, forming… When these ideas get onto paper, the process has already begun (and a long night at my desk usually follows…)

Of which works are you most proud?

The works of which I’m most proud are the ones where I haven’t felt any pressure to make them something they’re not, or self-consciously ‘new’. One of my favourite Stephen Sondheim quotes is ‘Anything you do, / Let it come from you, / Then it will be new’. I think there’s a lot of truth in that.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

My favourite venues and spaces make you feel like the music is happening to you, however big or small they are – but this has a lot to do with the performance too…

Who are your favourite musicians?

The musicians I’m most inspired by are those for whom the notes they play are only the tip of the iceberg – musicians who are obsessively curious, who understand why the music they’re playing exists, and who can make you hear familiar music as if it were completely new.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

In 2017 The Bach Choir performed my carol ‘Nowell’ at Cadogan Hall; there was some very specific choreography at the event which meant that I watched the premiere from onstage, facing sideways, so I was able to take in not only the choir but the full audience as well. This turned an already exciting moment into an electrifying one: it felt like a kind of arena, with 100 voices at the centre… what could be better?!

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?

My Spotify history at any given moment is a completely bizarre and eclectic mix of music – musical theatre has an extremely special place in my life, and I still can’t beat it for listening to on the go. At the moment I’m trying to discover as much new choral music as possible. I love finding music I’ve never even remotely heard of; those are the most exciting listening moments for me. In terms of playing, I love anything that gets me performing with other musicians – I love accompanying, and recently I’ve been able to delve deep into the french horn repertoire for an upcoming recital at Buxton Festival with Alexei Watkins.

As a musician, how do you define “success”?

If I’ve made something that nobody else could have made in exactly the same way, and which the performers really want to own, I’ve succeeded. The rest is largely beyond my control!

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

Be polite; be punctual; be proactive. The rest will follow!

The World Premiere of Alex Woolf’s Fairfield Fanfare will take place on Wednesday 18th September 7.30pm as part of the Fairfield Halls gala reopening concert with the London Mozart Players:

Interview with Nicki Williamson, ballet pianist and creator of The Dancing Pianist summer school for ballet pianists

A ballet pianist – isn’t that just playing for kids after school?

Well, that is definitely something all ballet pianists will likely have done at some point in their career. However, at the highest level it is a very demanding but very rewarding career path. I have the pleasure of working with The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Rambert, Richard Alston Dance Company, Matthew Bourne’s various companies and many visiting international companies. This year I have played with Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch, San Francisco Ballet, Dutch National Youth Company and Mark Morris Dance Group on their tours to the UK. I can find myself playing at the Royal Albert Hall, The London Coliseum, Sadlers Wells or travelling abroad to other wonderful theatres and venues all as a specialist ballet pianist.

How did you become a professional musician for dance?

When I was about 15, my music teacher recommended me to a local ballet teacher as her current pianist was busy preparing for A-levels and soon to leave the area for university. I went along on a Wednesday after school and something clicked. The teacher, Mrs Barnet, was old-school, but passionate about teaching and passionate about creative live music for dance. As she taught the children she also taught me. And although it would be many years before I began to really think about what it was I was doing, she really helped lay the foundations for the career I have now. I was always a musician or performer that found interaction with other artists the most inspiring thing. A solo life in competition on the concert platform wasn’t something that attracted me.

What attracted you to the profession of ballet pianist?

I have had an extremely varied career: musical director, session musician, West End musicals and national tours, conductor, composer, arranger, jazz and cabaret gigs, choir leader, singing teacher, accompanist, performer… and the list goes on! But I always seemed to have a surfeit of creativity that often wasn’t satisfied by these experiences. Playing for a professional ballet class it is possible to bring together all these musical experiences, be creative, improvise and develop themes, play extant rep, and bring myriad styles and techniques to the studio. Where else could you have the opportunity to make a living Improvising, playing Beethoven, boogie-woogie, folk, Sondheim, and Oriental or Middle Eastern music all within the space of twenty minutes?

So what does it mean, being a ballet pianist? And what do you need to know?

There are a lot of misconceptions about the role of ballet pianist. Even amongst musical colleagues it is a bit of a mystical art! At its simplest level, there are two main areas of work: the ballet class and the ballet rehearsal. So, every ballet dancer in the world will do ballet classes. Perhaps once a week as a child, or every day of the week as a professional. The structure of a class is always similar, but as a dancer progresses the technical, physical and artistic demands increase

There’s an understood structure to a ballet class, and a continuum to each exercise within that class. The pianist’s job is to understand the general musical demands of the exercise, and then interpret the teachers’ setting: tempo, style, quality, and provide suitable music. Whilst at first this can seem a daunting challenge, when you understand the rules you have the freedom to be creative and artistic. It is possible to play nearly anything in a free ballet class so long as it adheres to the dancers’ needs of rhythm, tempo, and style.

I like that it harks back to an older age of classical music making too: where improvisation, development, cadenzas and spontaneity were a vital part of any performer’s repertoire.

The other part of the trade is as a ballet rehearsal pianist. Of course if you are working in a ballet company you will be expected to play both rehearsals and class. At the highest level the musical demands are high. And an ability for very swift score reading and sight reading are an absolute must. There is just too much to learn too often to spends days and weeks preparing. And often the orchestral reductions bare little relation to what the dancers need to hear, and so adaptation on the fly is imperative. I once spent quite some time getting my fingers round this really tricky, fast semi-quaver violin and flute line in a ballet score. Then when I played it in rehearsal for the first time the dancers couldn’t work out what was going on. It turns out the most prominent line that the choreography hung upon was a simple tenor line made up mostly of minims and semibreves that I had entirely missed; I didn’t even need to play any of the fiddly stuff!

What is the most rewarding part of being a ballet pianist?

There are many rewards. I particularly enjoy the variety of being freelance and having an opportunity to play for so many wonderful people on a daily basis.

The opportunity to really be able to play the piano as you want to and have your own style and not be constrained by the rep or a setlist. I enjoy having a creative relationship with another artform, and making the visual aural. At the highest level you get to play for some of the world’s most amazing dancers alive today and have an impact on their working day and the nature of their dance. At the other end of the scale you might come up with something really brilliant as you accompany a room of 4 year olds running around the YMCA pretending to fly off to a mystical castle and everyone is having a great time.

If you are a quality pianist in a professional ballet class the dancers’ feedback will be instantaneous and honest. They know what they need, and when it is delivered with style, energy and panache the resulting team effort is a pleasure for all.

What are your plans for the future?

For some time now, as well as playing every day, I have been educating and training other musicians in the art of the dance musician, and the ballet pianist in particular. 2019 sees the third year of The Dancing Piano – the summer school for ballet pianists that I founded in 2017. I would like this to grow further and develop more. I want to share my knowledge and experience with a wider audience and reach more musicians around the world. Hopefully inspiring them into thinking about their music in a whole new way and perhaps even taking a step or two towards the ballet studio for themselves!

I will of course continue to play and take advantage of any interesting and fun projects that come my way. Always striving to learn something new and engage in new experiences.

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

That prodigious technique and spontaneous creativity need not be mutually exclusive; talent is not always a substitute for working hard; there are many more and many different musical career opportunities than might seem obvious; good communication will make your working life much, much simpler; good opportunities can be made, as well as offered; and don’t forget to keep practising, listening, and finding new music and ideas!

This year’s Dancing Piano course runs from 30 August to 6 September

The Dancing Piano

Nicki Williamson was 16 when she first played for a ballet class. A local dance school with girls in tunics, chairs to hold in place of a barre, and trips up to London for exams. It fed into an already growing passion for music and dance. The teacher Mrs Barnet was a tour de force of the old school but brilliant and with a passion for music. She passed on priceless knowledge and inspiration, and now 27 years later Nicki is one of the most in-demand dance musicians in the UK.
As a specialist class musician her credits over the years include The Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Mark Morris Dance Group, Akram Kahn, Rambert, Michael Clark Company,  Richard Alston Dance Company, all the various Matthew Bourne companies, Carlos Accosta and Friends (London Coliseum), Russian Ballet Icons Gala (Royal Opera House), American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Ballet Black, Northern Ballet, DV8, American In Paris (Dominion Theatre London), Royal Opera (dance auditions), Rambert Orchestra, The Royal Academy Of Dance and English National Opera. She has also worked with most of the major London ballet and dance schools. 

guest post by Elizabeth de Brito

Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, the three composers every truly cultured music student knows (as well as their scales and arpeggios of course). Together they are known as the First Viennese School.

Now classical music history books and the enormous performance bias (one-third of all classical performances are either of Mozart or Beethoven) make it seem that these were the only three composers who wrote anything worthwhile in the Classical era.

This is so far from the case. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven were part of a huge music scene in Vienna. Actually these three composers spent most of their lives hanging out with various highly regarded musicians and respected composers, most of whom were women.

So, in an expansion of the First Viennese School, I give you the ‘Vienna 10’.

1. Haydn (31 March 1732 – 31 May 1809) Austrian

In the 1740s Haydn was a struggling musician living in a leaky attic room in Vienna, the clichéd image of a composer found in romantic novels everywhere. Several floors below lived the Martines family and Haydn gave the daughter Marianna Martines piano lessons.

2. Marianna Martines/Marianna von Martinez (May 4, 1744 – December 13, 1812) Viennese

Marianna grew up to become a pianist and composer. Being of a certain class she was never allowed to work professionally as a musician but she was very well respected. Marianna was known for her regular musical salons, well attended by all the hobnobs and hotshots on the Vienna scene, including Mozart and Salieri. Marianna was good friends with them both and performed with them on several occasions. She was the first woman to be inducted into the Accademia Filharmonia in 1773, the prestigious academy that Mozart was admitted to three years earlier. Her works number nearly 200 and include the first known symphony to be written by a woman, the Dixit Dominus she wrote for her entrance to the Accademia, several cantatas and keyboard sonatas along with three harpsichord concertos.

In the 1780s Haydn was back in Vienna, hanging out with his old pupil Marianna and in 1784 he met:

3. Mozart (27 January 1756 – 5 December 1791). Austrian

Mozart was born in Salzburg and moved to Vienna in 1781. He met Haydn in 1784 and he was good friends with Marianna Martines. Mozart and Haydn were frequent guests at Marianna’s musical salons, Mozart and Marianna frequently played duets together, and it is thought that Mozart wrote his Piano Concerto in D for Marianna.

Mozart did also go on to teach music. One of his pupils was:

4. Josepha Barbara Auernhammar (25 September 1758 – 30 January 1820) – Viennese pianist and composer

Mozart taught her from 1781. Josepha and Mozart played together often, both in public and at private concerts. Mozart dedicated Violin Sonatas to her and she performed several of his piano sonatas. Sadly only one of her compositions has been recorded, this delightful 6 Variations on a Hungarian theme.

Josepha Barbara Auernhammar also went on to perform works by fellow Mozart pupil:

5. Anton Eberl (13 June 1765 – 11 March 1807). Eberl was born in Vienna and was taught by Mozart from around 1781. Many of his works were misattributed to Mozart. He wrote many piano concertos, including dedicating his Piano Concerto to Josepha Auernhammer. Josepha Auernhammer performed his Piano Concerto in E Flat.

A good friend and benefactor of Eberl was:

6. Anton Salieri (18 August 1750 – 7 May 1825), Italian by birth, and supposedly Mozart’s great rival, Salieri lived and worked in Vienna from the 1770s onwards as a court director at the Austrian court. Salieri was a well known composer of opera and a conductor, known to conduct Haydn’s The Creation with the composer in attendance. He was a frequent guest at Marianna Martines’ parties and he was also a sought after teacher. He wrote this organ concerto as a commission from one of his pupils. Maria Theresia von Paradis.

7. Maria Theresa von Paradis (May 15, 1759 – February 1, 1824) Viennese. Blind since chilodhood, Maria Theresa von Paradis became an extraordinary pianist and composer. She wrote a ton of music including operas, piano concertos and sonatas. Unfortunately most of it has been lost except her Sicilienne, a popular piece for cello.

Even this one short but gorgeous work is only spuriously connected with her. As well as her own compositions Maria Theresia also commissioned music by Haydn and commissioned Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.18 in Bb Major. Her father Joseph was court councillor to Empress Maria Theresa. Empress Marie Theresa oversaw much of the musical activity in Vienna and was a great patron of the arts. Marianna Martines performed for her while still a child. It’s very likely the two pianists knew each other, especially given Marianna’s role as hostess of popular parties.

Now we come to:

8. Beethoven (baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) German, moved to Vienna in 1792. Taught and mentored by Haydn, Beethoven also received some assistance from Salieri. Among the thousands of pieces he wrote in Vienna was his Appassionata Sonata.

The first person to perform the Appassionata sonata from autograph was:

9. Marie Bigot (3 March 1786– 16 September 1820) French teacher, composer and pianist. She moved in Vienna in 1804. Beethoven was so impressed with her performance he gave her his copy of the Apassionata. Marie Bigot was also friends with Salieri and Haydn. Again hardly any of her music has been recorded except this Suite D’Etudes which is wonderfully strident and full of power chords.

Marie Bigot returned to Paris in 1808 and introduced Beethoven’s music to Parisian society. She also went on to teach the Mendelssohn siblings.

The last member of the ‘Viennese 10’ was:

10. Marianne Auenbrugger/Marianne D’Auenbrugg (19 July 1759– 25 August 1782). Viennese.

A student of Haydn and Salieri, she was a highly regarded composer and sought after pianist and Haydn dedicated six sonatas to her including this one.

Only one recording of her work exists – her phenomenal Sonata in E Flat major, published by Salieri after her death.

There you have it, the Vienna 10. 10 awesome composers including 5 women who were completely wiped from the history books, until now.

Let’s rewrite the story.

Elizabeth de Brito is a gender equality champion, classical music radio producer, researcher, writer and obsessive Florence Price fan. She is the Producer of The Daffodil Perspective, a radio show which champions gender equality in classical music.






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

I took up piano as a hobby after my grandmother asked if I’d be interested in learning it. Growing up on a farm in southern Tasmania meant there wasn’t much else to do, so I said yes. I didn’t decide to pursue a career in music until the end of my school years, when the head of music suggested I apply for conservatoires in London.

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

Probably my dad and my teacher. The former because he is inadvertently responsible for much of my taste in music, and my teacher Joanna MacGregor because she allowed and helped me to take a path less travelled in my musical development (no repertoire is off-limits!), and instilled in me a passion for new music.

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

Moving to the other side of the world by myself at age 18.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I couldn’t say for certain, but in recent times I have been particularly pleased with a performance I gave of Michael Finnissy’s 2nd Piano Concerto with Ensemble x.y and An Assembly. Sometimes things do hold together when you need them to.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think I play modern/new music best, but I also like to think that I play Romantic-era works quite well too.

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


It depends on the concert and the context of the concert. One thing I hate vehemently is uninspired programming. A programme needs to be more than a series of pieces one after the other without connection other than ‘similarity’ or ‘contrast’. I like forming narratives, be it stylistic, historical, emotional etc. and I feel it is necessary to talk to an audience (either verbally or through your own programme notes) to offer this information, and offer an approach to listening. I strive to choose programmes that will be relevant to either the venue, the context of the concert or a featured piece. So this is primarily what drives my repertoire choices. It usually means I have to learn new pieces quite regularly, but that’s fine.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I couldn’t say, it would change from week to week or day to day even.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t know, mostly because I have a bad memory. Although I once did a certain concert with a certain friend of mine where between us we performed about two thirds of Boulez’s output for piano(s) and in retrospect it was a completely ridiculous idea and I have no idea how we pulled it off.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Owning a home.

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

Do things other than music at least as regularly as you do music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I don’t know. But I think if I owned at least three pianos, and a celesta, and maybe throw in a few harpsichords and/or a clavichord and a few other things with keyboards I reckon that would do for a start. You could ask me again then.

Joseph Havlat performs at this year’s Dartington International Summer Festival.

Further information

Joseph Havlat was born in Hobart, Australia, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London under Prof. Joanna MacGregor from 2012 – 18. Joseph has performed in major concert venues around the UK and in Europe, America, Japan and Australia as a soloist and as part of chamber groups and orchestras. He is a keen sock enthusiast and chamber musician, performing frequently with multiple groups – Tritium (clarinet) trio, Trio Derazey, Duo Ex Libris as well as the LSO percussion ensemble, with whom he toured Japan in 2018 giving the premiere of a work by John Adams. Passionate about contemporary music, he is a founding member and artistic director of contemporary music collective Ensemble x.y and is also an avid composer, having written for the aforementioned ensembles, among others. Having now graduated from the Academy, he is there serving as a Piano fellow for 2018-19, having also been a Chamber music fellow for the previous year.


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Guest post by Emma Knights

Isn’t it time all those piano boys stopped getting it all their own way? (Not that we don’t love ‘em!) From Bach to Ben Folds, from Beethoven to Billy Joel and from Mozart to Minchin, the list of famous piano players throughout history is dominated by men. I’m premiering my new show “The Piano Women” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to start redressing this imbalance… and have some piano fun as well.

I’m Emma Knights, from Adelaide, South Australia. At the keyboard since the age of four, I now work as a musician, pianist, producer, composer, creator and curator. The purpose of my lightning visit to the U.K. this time is to perform this new one-woman show, as well as bringing back “The Piano Men”, a show which I performed successfully at Edinburgh last year.

Both shows have been directed by Adrian Barnes. I’m on a mission to share the inspiring and entertaining stories of piano men and piano women across history. Researching and preparing these shows has taught me a lot about us pianists. Here’s a bit about my journey so far, and how these two shows came into existence.

My first piano hero was my dad. He was my piano teacher and he’s still the pianist I admire the most. As any pianist knows, achieving musical mastery as piano player is tough. Early on, I found that professional piano playing is a bit of a man’s world. I spent my early career in the background, very much the genteel piano girl. Those restaurant, cocktail bar and pub gigs – ‘Don’t play too loud, will you?” Then a guy with boogie woogie chops comes in, plays a few splashy numbers, and they fire me. What’s that all about? I can play boogie. Of course I can. Want to see my bunch of qualifications in classical and contemporary music at graduate level? But somehow all that sweaty, muscular jazz and rock wasn’t ladylike.

So I used to stay in the background… I was The Nice Accompanist Lady. I worked as a pit instrumental muso. Now don’t get me wrong; I have enjoyed every minute of professional piano playing, and I’m grateful for all opportunities that have come my way.

My creativity was being quietly stifled until a singer friend of mine asked me to accompany her original cabaret. As we rehearsed, she talked about

the opportunities I had provided her as a performer. She spoke about those internal struggles common to all artists: Will I get an audience? Am I ready to give an audience of my best? You know, those questions beautifully explored in the film “La La Land”. I started to think more about myself as a performer, not just a producer and promoter. I’m an artist too… and while I’d been busy enabling so many other artists to perform, I had allowed my little artistic spirit to fade a bit. So I started to take some baby steps.

I got a gig as accompanist for a two-woman comedy cabaret. Nothing new there. But their show was written so that the accompanist was one of the characters… and what a grumpy, unimpressed, purist musician I played! When the bell from a 1920’s gramophone fell onto my head during one performance, it was the comic hit of the night.

Next, a job as once-a-week rehearsal pianist for a 100-strong choir. On the day they put the choral arrangement for “Shake, rattle and roll” on the music stands, I thought… “If there’s ever going to be a safe space for me to bring my rock and roll licks, this is it!” The choir went off like a rocket, and this is still their favourite request whenever I am rostered on. I was starting to stick my quiet little piano-lady neck out.

Around this time, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s show “Nanette”, in which she memorably says “My story has value.” I realised that mine does, too, so I started writing “The Piano Men”, a one-woman show about my work as a female pianist. While delving into the history of a few other piano women, the show tells its story through the songs of my favourite piano men. I believe passionately in equality. Consequently, this show is all about where we can still improve the system (whatever that is!) for piano women without diminishing the works of the many piano men that have inspired us all.

I premiered that show in Edinburgh Fringe last year; it was still at an embryonic stage. Despite this, I received a 3-star review and excellent feedback. So I went back home to Oz and hired an award-winning director, Adrian Barnes, to help me bring the show to a whole new level. Next, I toured it to two states, and I’m extra-happy to be bringing this new, improved version of “The Piano Men” back to Edinburgh, where it all began.

An inevitable by-product of all the research I did for “The Piano Men” was a stack of fascinating information about some of history’s great female pianists. Discovering all those crazy coincidences, fun factoids and irresistibly silly stories meant that I simply had to create a partner show called… wait for it… “The Piano Women”. Both are stand-alone shows, but any piano nutter would want to see both.

Although “The Piano Women” has a little of my story within it, it’s mostly piano solos, songs and entertaining stories about women pianists throughout history, from the invention of the piano to today. Sadly, not all of them could be honoured in a one-hour show. (Watch for my podcast, coming soon!) I have had a truly mind-expanding time researching all these women who share with me an irrational passion for the piano. I was also surprised to find out how many of them there were. History has certainly not made much fuss about the world-wide Keyboard Sisterhood. I believe that “The Piano Women” carries messages of inspiration for any musician who sees it, as well as shining a light on the inner workings of the music industry over the last three centuries.

Pianodrome, Edinburgh

When I researched likely venues for the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I chose the beautiful Stockbridge Parish Church, complete with its grand piano. And my other venue was a no-brainer… the Pianodrome, a 100-seat amphitheatre constructed from over 50 discarded pianos. What wonderful upcycling! For my shows about pianos, I couldn’t imagine a more immersive setting anywhere in the world. Back home (Adelaide, South Australia) I devise and run immersive music-based events; to be able to do this with my shows in Edinburgh is amazing!

I hope you can get to see one of my shows in Edinburgh this year. If you do, stay back after and say “G’day!” to me. We pianists have to stick together.

The Piano Women

One World Premiere show only:

Thursday, 8th August, 2019 – at 5:00pm

Pianodrome at the Pitt, Pitt Street Market, Edinburgh

The Piano Men

Saturday, 10th August, 2019 – at 5:00pm

Pianodrome at the Pitt, Pitt Street Market, Edinburgh


Monday, 12th August, 2019 – at 12:30pm

Stockbridge Parish Church, 7b Saxe Coburg Street, Edinburgh

Click link to book for the Edinburgh Fringe shows

Read reviews of “The Piano Men” here:

me-laughingEmma Knights is a freelance musician, pianist, singer, producer, composer, creator and curator living in South Australia

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