Interviewed in those first breathless moments after coming off Centre Court, when asked what he remembered of the last set, Andy Murray replied “I don’t remember a thing about it” (or words to that effect). This is less a sign of Murray’s euphoria at having secured the Men’s Singles Championship, more an indication that when he was playing he was so focused, so concentrated on the job in hand, that it was impossible to recall individual shots or points after the event.

Sports people describe this sensation as being “in the zone”. It is related to “flow”, a psychological concept proposed by Hungarian psychologist and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in which the person performing the activity is fully immersed in a feeling of focus, deep involvement, and enjoyment in the process. In short, flow is a total absorption in what you are doing.

According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is a single-minded immersion and represents the ultimate in harnessing the emotions to perform and serve. The emotions are contained and channeled, energised and aligned to the task at hand. Flow can create a sense of joy, enjoyment or even rapture, but fundamentally it is about absolute focus.

The sensation of “being in the zone” fits with Csikszentmihalyi’s description of flow, and also includes physical attributes, such as a feeling of synergy between mind and body, and the sense of everything working smoothly: the joints feel well-oiled, the muscles are warm and super-responsive, movement feels effortless. Alongside these physical aspects, the sportsperson may also experiences a sense of disengagement, as if everything is happening unconsciously. In these circumstances, the sportsperson may achieve their finest results and personal bests.

Musicians also experience these feelings, and the best performance is often the one you don’t remember much about afterwards. I find more and more that the performance “happens”, the music emerging with a sense of effortlessness, the mind fully engaged but not minutely focussing on every note, every phrase. I recall very little of my LTCL Diploma recital, apart from the tiny section of the Rachmaninoff where I had a memory lapse; the rest of the performance passed by in a pleasant haze whereas formerly (and I recall this sensation very clearly from my ATCL recital) I would hear a voice in my head telling me which passages to be wary of, where a known error might occur, or ticking myself off if I played an incorrect note or smeared a passage.

One does not enter “the zone” easily, and a number of techniques need to be employed to achieve a state of absolute concentration combined with active detachment to reach the zone and a sense of “flow”. Some of the greatest tennis players of the last 30 years have employed a technique called “the inner game”. This method of coaching was originally developed by Timothy Gallwey in the 1970s. As Gallwey himself says: “Every game is composed of two parts, an outer game and an inner game.” The former is played against opponents, and is full of lots of contradictory advice; the latter is within the mind of the player/performer, and its principal obstacles are self-doubt and anxiety. Gallwey’s theories focus on concentration, breaking bad habits (such as negative thinking), learning to trust yourself, and awareness. Gallwey’s method borrows from Neuro-Linguistic Programming in which a connection between the neurological processes (“neuro”), language (“linguistic”), and behavioural patterns learned through experience (“programming”) can be altered or harnessed to achieve specific goals in life.  According to Gallwey, performance equals potential minus interference (external and internal). The “inner opponent” is that part of you that is judgmental, thinks too much, overanalyses and tries too hard. It’s the small voice inside telling you you’re going to f**k up the next serve, or that cadenza towards the end of the first movement, and it’s the one that can highlight anxiety and damaging performance nerves. The mind is the biggest obstacle to success, and some of the most common inner obstacles include:

  • fear (of losing, not improving, looking bad in the eyes of others)
  • lack of self-confidence
  • self-condemnation
  • poor concentration
  • trying too hard
  • perfectionism
  • self-consciousness
  • frustration
  • anger
  • boredom
  • expectations
  • a busy mind

To enter the zone we need to banish these negative thoughts and feelings. The core principle of success at the inner game is to remain confident, relaxed and focused.

So how does the musician use the inner game to achieve “flow” and produce great results, to play with confidence and grace, with beautiful quality of sound, and a sense of ease in every physical gesture and movement?

Learning to concentrate: easier said than done, of course, but the ability to focus entirely on the task in hand is a fundamental of achieving flow. It is hard to teach concentration: the student must learn how to blank out distractions (both external and internal) themself.

Learn to visualise: be alert to the sights and imagery in the music

Learn to let go of mistakes: practise carefully so that you play only what you want to repeat in a performance (i.e. don’t “learn in” mistakes!). Deep, careful and thoughtful practising will produce far more accurate results in performance.

Understand and transmit the meaning in the music: Don’t be afraid to engage fully with the meaning and emotion of the music. Revel in that dancing phrase in that Schubert Sonata.

Let to go of preconceptions: One of the best lessons from my teacher ahead of my first Diploma recital was “don’t expect the set up in the recital room to be perfect”. Embrace the situation as you find it and don’t let things such as the layout of the room or its acoustic throw you. Learn to adapt to these changes and respond to them positively. The great Russian pianist Richter gave many concerts during the war in schools in Russia where he was regularly presented with very ropey instruments on which to perform. Instead of being thrown by this, Richter was determined to make the best of the situation, and to try and play with a beautiful sound no matter what.

Banish negative thoughts and critical comments: if you are well-prepared you should have nothing to fear when it comes to the performance situation (exam, recital, competition, festival etc). Replace “I can’t do it” with “I can”, and learn how to use feelings of anxiety and the heightened state of awareness that comes through the release of adrenaline positively.

An interesting piece of research revealed a significant relationship between the flow state of the pianist and the pianist’s heart rate, blood pressure, and major facial muscles. As the pianist entered the flow state, heart rate and blood pressure decreased and the major facial muscles relaxed. This study emphasizes that flow is a state of effortless attention: in spite of the effortless attention and overall relaxation of the body, the performance of the pianist during the flow state improved.

It is very difficult to recreate those sensations of “being in the zone” during a particular performance, often because one simply has no detailed recollection of the event. But if one can put oneself in a similar mental state of preparedness ahead of each performance, one can expect to play in the zone more often than not, resulting in a heightened quality of performance.

More on the inner game and neuro-linguistic programming here

Who or what inspired you to become a guitarist and composer? 

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to compose my own music. As soon as I learned to read music, I started writing it down. I haven’t stopped since. As a guitarist, I was inspired by John Williams and Julian Bream. They made playing the guitar seem like the most relevant and exciting thing to do.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A Triple Concerto, for saxophone, cello, piano and orchestra. It’s for the Orpheus Sinfonia, a wonderful orchestra of young professionals. The solo parts are part-composed, part-devised and part-improvised. The piece transforms pre-existing music in unexpected ways. The pianist, Graham Caskie, has been sending me short recordings of musical ideas for possible inclusion. The work has been very collaborative and musically rewarding. I’m now putting the finishing touches to the orchestration. The first performance is at Cadogan Hall on 11th July.

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

Firstly, the musicians I work with. I have learned so much from them. Secondly, the various external impetuses that give my music its narrative content, character and shape. Recently these influences have come from the work of James Joyce, Thomas Heatherwick, Charles Jencks, Gerhard Richter, Norman Foster, Antoni Gaudi and Terry Gilliam. As for musicians, I have very catholic tastes. At the centre, though, it’s Beethoven, Mahler and Stravinsky – and my recent work has been flavoured by Max Richter, Uri Caine, Mark Anthony Turnage, John Adams, and Frank Zappa among others.

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

Writing music for my heroes has proved particularly challenging – I’ve done that a couple of times. There is a sense that you must somehow raise your game for the ‘big occasion’. Of course, as soon as you put pressure on yourself, it becomes impossible to make creative decisions.

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

When you write for orchestra, you can’t afford to take too many risks. The music needs to play off the page, as rehearsal time is always limited. So keeping the balance between invention and pragmatism is the biggest challenge. Working with Orpheus has been great, as I’ve got to know the players and have been able to write to their strengths and be more experimental.

Which recordings are you most proud of?  

I am very happy with many of the recordings of my music. However, once a project is over, I rarely reflect on it too much. All I can say I that I’m really enjoying two recording projects that I’m working on at the moment – the Piano Concerto with Emmanuel Despax and the Orpheus Sinfonia and the Guitar Concerto with John Williams and the RPO.

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

The Brangwyn Hall, Swansea in my youth. I went to many orchestral concerts there between the ages of 11 and 18. It’s where my musical DNA was formed.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Here’s a list for today, but it would be different every time you asked me – Alina Ibragimova, Krystian Zimmerman, Joni Mitchell, Claudio Arrau, Martha Argerich, Paul Watkins, Branford Marsalis, David Russell. These are all musicians who’ve moved me in recent weeks.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I went to see WNO’s production The Turn of the Screw when I was 14. It changed the way I thought about music. Suddenly a door on a new world opened up in front of me. The range of emotional expression, instrumental and vocal colour, and depth of musical characterisation was breathtaking.

What is your favourite music to listen to? 

I love listening to things for the first time (especially at a live concert). Nothing beats the excitement of discovering something new. You listen not knowing where the music is going to end up or what’s going to happen next. Recently, I was really taken with Ginastera’s Piano Concerto and Janáček’s Violin Sonata. In terms of familiar favourites, Bach, Mahler, Debussy, Ravel, Miles Davis and Beethoven again.

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

  • To listen without prejudice
  • To question everything
  • That asking for guidance is not a sign of weakness
  • That everyone has creative and inventive ideas all the time. The difficulty comes in taking those ideas and realising them in a satisfying way.
  • That the notion of an individual compositional voice is a dangerous one. W.H. Auden once said that as an artist, you spend the first half of your life imitating others and the second half imitating yourself. I would argue that self-repetition is a bigger problem than any notion of a composer having to nurture or seek an individual voice.

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

Exactly where I am now, but with a more manageable schedule.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Spending time with friends and family, and watching live football in N5.

Stephen Goss is currently composer-in-residence for Orpheus Sinfonia who will give the world premiere of his Triple Concerto for Saxophone, Cello and Piano at the Cadogan Hall in London on Thursday 11 July.  The soloists are saxophonist Pete Whyman, cellist Thomas Carroll (also Artistic Director of Orpheus Sinfonia) and pianist Graham Caskie, with Toby Purser conducting. 

Stephen Goss’ Piano Concerto was premiered by Emmanuel Despax and the Orpheus Sinfonia in London in April and will be released on the Signum Classics label in October. 

“Composer Stephen Goss draws on a variety of sources for his eminently listenable music. Despite the eclectic nature of his influences, which range from Beethoven’s late piano music to the films of former Python Terry Gilliam, Goss’s musical language comes across as brilliantly integrated….”  International Record Review

Stephen Goss is much in demand as a composer.  His works have been recorded on over 50 CDs by more than a dozen record labels, including EMI, Decca, Naxos and Deutsche Grammophon.  His collaborative project with Professor Charles Jencks, The Garden of Cosmic Speculation (2005) for violin, cello, bass clarinet and piano, was profiled on The South Bank Show on ITV1. 

His latest projects include a new guitar concerto for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which will be recorded and toured by guitarist John Williams in 2014.  He has also received commissions from guitarists David Russell, Milos Karadaglic and Xuefei Yang, cellist Natalie Clein, violinist Nicola Benedetti, flautist William Bennett and the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra. 

Goss has also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber, arranging melodies from his new musical, Stephen Ward, for solo guitar.  The piece was premièred by Milos Karadaglic on ITV on Easter Sunday (31 March) as part of a 90-minute celebration of the life and work of Andrew Lloyd Webber, marking 40 years in London’s West End.  It is the first time any material from Lloyd Webber’s new show, which is based on the Profumo scandal which rocked the British government in the early 1960s, has been heard.  The track is being released by Deutsche Grammophon to coincide with the TV broadcast. 

After several years on the staff at the Yehudi Menuhin School, Steve Goss is now Professor of Music and Head of Composition at the University of Surrey, and a Professor of Guitar at the Royal Academy of Music in London. 

One of the nicest aspects of my blogging and reviewing is that it has put me in touch with a network of interesting musical people – musicians, journalists and writers, promoters, and classical music enthusiasts – and has enabled me to enjoy music in a variety of different venues and settings.

My latest musical outing was an invitation to a run through of Promenade à Gaspard, a new “mixed genre” production featuring piano music by Liszt, Ravel & Mussorgsky, accompanied by readings and illustrated with pictures. The pianist was Anthony Hewitt, the reader actress Susan Porrett, who is involved in a similar concert concept, Divine Fire, which examines the relationship between Chopin and Sand through music and readings. The concert took place in an elegant town house with views across the river at Barnes, a setting which provided an enjoyable intimacy and informality to the evening’s entertainment, and was particularly appropriate for the Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs.

Anthony Hewitt, pianist

After champagne, general introductions and socialising, we were ushered upstairs to the host’s spacious piano room. Despite the fact that the event was billed as an “informal first try out”, there was nothing unrehearsed about Tony’s playing which was colourful, committed and convincing throughout (he later admitted that this was the first time he had played Pictures At An Exhibition through as a complete work, though one would never have guessed from his expert reading of this monumental work).

Susan Porrett, actress

The first half opened with a handful of Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs (Ständchen von Shakespeare, Die Forelle, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Auf dem Wasser zu singen and Der Erlkönig), each preceded by a reading of Goethe’s text which inspired the song. It was really interesting to be given additional visual cues from the poetry, as well as the pictures created in the music itself (in Tony’s hands, Schubert’s eponymous trout was lively and playful), and one could carry an image from the readings throughout the musical performance. Words and music complemented one another extremely well in these short pieces, bringing the music to life in new ways.

Ravel’s famously difficult Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. Once again, each movement was preceded by a reading from the poem by Susan Porrett. This combined with Tony’s dramatic and virtuosic playing brought Ravel’s music to life to great effect, the words shining a new angle on the music while we listened.

After a short interval, Mussorgsky’s Pictures At an Exhibition took centre stage, and Susan’s introductory reading described the pictures which Mussorgsky sought to portray in his score. The music is extremely “visual” in its own right, Mussorgsky painting contrasting images with the use of recurring motifs, textures, and tempo, and he took inspiration directly from pictures by his friend Viktor Hartmann. In this production, the pictures will be projected behind the pianist, changing as the movements of the music progress. My only worry about this is that the pictures should not distract the listener from the music, and therefore need to segue slowly from one to another. This was a fine performance, even more impressive for being only a few feet away from the pianist, allowing a special insight into just how technically demanding this work is to play.

I enjoyed the evening very much and look forward to seeing Promenade à Gaspard again when the format has been tweaked and refined for public performance.

For information about this, and other similar concert concepts, please go to

www.sevenstarconcerts.com

Divine Fire, performed by Viv Maclean and Susan Porrett, is at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday 3rd August. Further details and tickets here

www.anthonyhewitt.co.uk

The curious tale of the musician, Dr Frankenstein, and apocalyptic Tesco on Christmas Eve…..

A guest post by pianist Emmanuel Vass

Definition of art 

noun 

1 [mass noun] the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

 

Definition of chemistry 

noun 

1 [mass noun] the branch of science concerned with the substances of which matter is composed, the investigation of their properties and reactions, and the use of such reactions to form new substances.


As I sat by the piano in the recording studio waiting for the next red light, I couldn’t help but think about my abrupt transformation from artist to chemist, as defined above. I was sixteen and, having just played a Chopin Nocturne from start to finish, there were one or two small fluffs and errors, which I considered re-recording and editing. Why? The track was for my own personal use and was never going to go beyond the four walls of my Yorkshire bedroom. Until that point, my teachers encouraged me to discount any mistakes in live performance and continue regardless of the odd inaccuracy: bigger picture and the overall artistic communication what I was always told to aim for. We’re only human, after all. Unexpectedly, the option of appearing ‘super human’ and re-recording sections of pieces until they were perfect had a certain appeal, and it was from that moment on that my potential status as an artist-cum-chemist, a Dr Frankenstein, first began.

It is no secret that musicians strive for perfection, a perfection that may involve securing a technical inconsistency, or developing a better form of communication within a piece – we are all a work in progress. Whether you are a beginner or professional, there will always be something further to strive for and now, as a 24-year-old pianist, I discover new possibilities and developments within my playing on a regular basis; I also hear it whilst teaching my pupils. It is wonderful how much can change within as little as five days, especially with regards to a live performance of the same piece, say, twice in one week. After all the blood, sweat and practice tears striving for perfection, a live performance may go fantastically well one day and less so on another. Comfort and enjoyment onstage knowing the piece has gone well a number of times in the past can, for instance, suddenly yield to confusion as to where that random wrong note came from. It is something we all experience to varying degrees, and is part of the exhilarating, impulsive and unmistakably human-world of live performance, which I fell in love with aged seven. To dedicate yourself with total abandon to a live performance, both as a listener and performer, is to accept that occasionally, just sometimes, the unexpected may occur.

Now consider the world that surrounds us and the ensuing paradox: we live in an age of convenient, digital, airbrushed perfection where a vast amount of items presented to us are expertly designed and manipulated. The lines between reality and illusion, and how we perceive and identify them, have been blurred to the point where entire body parts of celebrities can be digitally sewn on and removed, ‘Frankenstein-ed’, as to morph our opinions and perceptions. We have the luxury of driving around in cars that can protect us from ever making a wrong turn; international news can break on social media via eyewitness films long before newspapers or twenty-four hour news can give a detailed description, and the entire country seems to go into apocalyptic meltdown when the instant convenience of supermarket shopping is lost for just twenty four hours on Christmas Day. I rarely buy bread, but come Christmas Eve there I am elbowing past panic-stricken mothers who also appear to have the entire contents of the cheese aisle stuffed into their pushchairs. In many ways I believe the entire world as we know it is just an all too convenient, disposable and HD-streamed click away: I won’t read the book and will just wait for Hollywood to feed me their version, or, I could probably learn a language but online translator machines can do it for me. Who needs to write a letter when you can talk instantly via webcam? Why bother travelling to Paris, you’ve seen all the stock, generic photos on Facebook and Google Streetviews, right?!

I’m here neither to argue that we should do away with these modern conveniences, nor rant about how the world has changed for the worst and we’re most definitely, direly doomed for all eternity. Rather, my fear is that certain audience members may have been conditioned to believe that a live performance that is anything other than note-perfect is not a worthy one, that the lines between the supposed illusion within the world of recording and reality of the concert hall are far too blurred. There is, of course, a difference between the odd wrong note and a distinct, noticeable problem with fluency and continuity; here I accept that in this situation a performance may start to be deemed ‘less successful’. That said, as humans, we are bound to make mistakes and we should never aspire to be machines; nothing should ever anaesthetise us from the raw reality of life. Does this not contradict the whole point of art in the first place? Perhaps some would be more satisfied listening to pre-programmed robots over real musicians?

 As mentioned in my opening paragraph, recording can be a very complex process for musicians. Of course, not every musician heavily edits or relies on sophisticated recording software – indeed, I didn’t have the time or the money to do so for my first album, ‘From Bach to Bond’. Similarly, it would be absurd to comment that a 100% accurate performance is impossible to achieve or less artistically valuable. I hope the discerning audience member of a live performance would value their experience based on the authenticity, emotion and artistic powers of the performer, and not just their ability to mechanically replicate the exact formula. Judging an artist on their capacity to be an onstage chemist is not an equation for success.

For those of you who prefer the anaesthetised comfort of CDs/recordings and hate wrong notes, I tell you what, you can go ahead and look at pictures and videos of Paris on the Internet, and I’ll go and travel to Paris myself. We are all a work in progress.

Emmanuel Vass will be giving a lunchtime concert at St Sepulchre, the musicians’ church in London on Wednesday 10th July. Full details here

Emmanuel Vass

Named as ‘one to watch’ by The Independent newspaper in April 2013, twenty-four year old Emmanuel Vass is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most charismatic pianists on the contemporary scene. 2013 has already seen the launch of his first CD – From Bach to Bond – and his first UK recital tour under the same heading. The tour, which took in seven venues across the North of England and culminated in his London debut at Steinway Hall and St James’s Piccadilly, attracted considerable media interest, including a live broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune.

Emmanuel Vass was born in Manila, Philippines and grew up in East Yorkshire. Having passed Grade 8 piano with distinction at the age of 15, he subsequently studied with Robert Markham at Yorkshire Young Musicians, the centre for the advanced training for gifted young musicians based at Leeds College of Music. This was followed by four years at the Royal Northern College of Music, where Manny studied with John Gough and was supported by scholarships from the Leverhulme Scholarship Trust and the Sir John Manduell Scholarship Trust. He graduated in 2011.

www.emmanuelvass.co.uk

GetInline 09.22.59

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in composing and conducting? 

I think it was probably a combination of discovering that I could make my own sounds on the piano as a very young child and also hearing Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) on a tape recorder, which I can still remember vividly. Later I became obsessed with the Beethoven Piano Sonatas as I tried to learn how to play them, but soon became more interested in mimicking their sound in my own modest piano compositions. Beethoven has remained a great influence on my work. I was also very lucky to have the encouragement of my piano teacher and parents, who never questioned my interest in composition, but did provide very useful constructive criticism when required! As a result of this, I can’t recall ever making the decision to be a composer. This path was simply inevitable. Like many of my colleagues, I think that composing is not so much a choice or career, but really a very intense compulsion and almost a way of life.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I have just finished creating a Live Music Sculpture for St Paul’s Cathedral, which will be premiered on 12th July 2013 as part of the City of London Festival. The site-specific work will involve singers and French horns which are placed spatially throughout the cathedral in various horizontal and vertical locations, including the Whispering Gallery. It has been designed to explore the unique acoustic of Wren’s architectural masterpiece. I am also working on an original story and libretto for a new chamber opera commissioned by Size Zero Opera.

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

Usually I turn to literature for inspiration. In prose and poetry, the construction of phrases, form, ambiguity, the importance of context and semantics have a great deal in common with music. I have been directly influenced by the prose of James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Vladimir Nabokov and Thomas Mann very much, and also the poetry of T.S. Elliot, Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson and Gerard Manley Hopkins. These influences are always changing. I am not so aware of musical influences and try to avoid thinking about these too much!

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

The greatest challenge so far was probably composing a Live Music Sculpture for the very long and narrow space above the River Thames inside the walkways of Tower Bridge. The space was so long that the sound behaved in a very unusual way. There was a significant audible delay while the sound travelled from one end of the bridge to the other, which had to be built into the composition.

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

The most exciting thing about working with an ensemble of musicians is hearing how a collection of entirely different personalities can unite for a period of time to bring to life the vision of a composer through performance. An imagined or written down piece of music exists in a different kind of intangible reality until it is actually performed. And even then, the way that music works is still wonderfully elusive. I think many composers are delighted when they can finally get out from behind the desk and hear their work materialise in rehearsal and performance. One hopes that there will always be unimagined revelations and pleasant surprises brought out by the performers, but also a confirmation that the imagined sounds of a composition are actually achievable. It is thrilling when an ensemble performs a new composition with the same expressive commitment as they would Brahms or Mozart and are able to channel all their knowledge and experience through new music.

It can sometimes be a challenge to convince an orchestra or ensemble that the virtuosic difficulties or conceptual ideas are worth all the effort, but also just as challenging as a composer to learn that the vision isn’t working, and that it needs refining in the next composition after speaking to the players or simply listening to the performance!

Do you have a favourite concert venue? 

I have been privileged to write for a great variety of venues, so it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite. I’m enjoying working with St Paul’s Cathedral very much at the moment and attempting to discover some of its architectural secrets.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again, there are some many it is hard to pin them down! I am a great admirer of Pierre Boulez, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies and the pianist Krystian Zimerman. As well as enjoying their extraordinary compositions and performances, for me, these three different musicians epitomise what it means to have artistic conviction, as well as complete dedication and a rigorous approach to their work. I am also a big fan of Leonard Bernstein who seemed to be the most remarkably gifted all-round musician. He was very much ahead of his time as a thinker and a great educator.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The first time I heard Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with the CBSO as a student was a huge moment. Despite having got to know it well on record, the sheer scale of the thing was overwhelming in performance. It is extraordinary to consider how Mahler was able to control and organise form over such expansive amounts of time. I will never forget the devastating emotional gravity of the Urlicht in the fourth movement after all the preceding orchestral bombast! This must be one of the most poignant and beautiful moments in Mahler’s entire output.

What is your favourite music to listen to? 

Bach, Beethoven, Purcell, Szymanowski, Maxwell Davies, Britten, Puccini, Boulez, Mozart, Sibelius, Mahler, Schubert, early Stravinsky, Vaughan Williams and Berg.

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

I think it is very important to have conviction when composing or performing music. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, nobody else will. And more importantly, if you find that you can’t believe in your work wholeheartedly, turn that doubt into something constructive until you can believe in it. It is also important to have a very strong connection to the past, as well as a clear vision for the future when composing or performing music. However, it is easy to be seduced by both, and actually the most important place to be is in the present. We should ask ourselves: What matters now? And what can my music say about the present? And the connection between the past and future will hopefully be there instinctively, for the same themes returned to by humanity over and over again are always eternal.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I have a very beautiful 1920’s horned gramophone which plays old 78s. I often listen to fantastic 1920s/30s and 1940s popular music and jazz on it, as well as wonderful recordings of classical music. It’s fascinating to notice how the tempi were often altered to fit each movement onto one side of the record. The sheer effort involved with winding the thing up and changing the needle just to hear about 4 minutes of music, as well as the crackly sound quality, provides a wonderfully different listening experience. It turns a very short listening session into a major event as everybody gathers around the horn to listen. It’s definitely not the same as casually flicking through an ipod!

Samuel Bordoli’s new work, Live Music Sculpture 3: St Paul’s Cathedral, will be premiered as part of the City of London Festival, with five performances Friday 12 July, taking place at 11.30, 13.20, 14.20, 15.20 and 16.20 in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. 

For more information on Samuel: www.bordoli.co.uk

For more information on Live Music Sculpture: www.livemusicsculpture.com

We didn’t have to travel as far as Caracas last night to experience the distinctive, atmospheric sounds, rhythms and textures of Latin American music. Bolivar Hall is attached to Venezuelan Embassy’s cultural complex in London’s Fitzrovia, a short walk from Goodge Street or Warren Street Tube stations.

London-based Venezuelan-born pianist Clara Rodriguez has curated a short series of concerts at Bolivar Hall over the course of the last month, showcasing the talents of established artists as well as up-and-coming young musicians in concerts featuring the best of South American classical music and jazz. In the final concert of the series, she was joined by Efrain Oscher (flute), Cristóbal Soto (mandolin, cuatro, guitar), Gabriel León (double bass) and Wilmerr Sifontes (percussion) to present a musical journey from Argentina to Puerto Rico with a selection of Tangos, Joropos, Merengues, Waltzes, Salsas and Sambas. From the foot-tapping sambas and merengues of Brazil and Venezuela to the passion and pathos of the tango (most notably in Astor Piazzolla’s heartfelt ‘Adios Nonino’, a hommage to his grandfather), the musicians played with commitment and conviction, and a very palpable and infectious sense of pleasure and musical friendship.

As a classically-trained pianist (she was a pupil of the late Phyllis Sellick at the Royal College of Music), Clara brings a deep understanding of musical shape and expression, phrasing, dynamic shading, texture and beauty of sound to her playing, even in the more raucous and rousing pieces. But her Venezuelan heritage shines through in her ability to handle with apparent ease the differing and complex rhythms of the music (although as she admitted at one point during the performance, it isn’t easy music to play, with the emphasis “off the main beat”, and on syncopation and cross-rhythms.

The other musicians were equally skilled: I was particularly struck by flautist Efrain Oscher’s performance. Haunting melodies, sometimes almost whispered, contrasted with bright motifs and some impressive technical/textural effects (triple tonguing). Meanwhile, double bass player Gabriel León showed the richness of the instrument’s voice in some soulful accompaniments and solos. My husband was fascinated by the percussionist, and the myriad sounds and patterns he was able to achieve with simple taps of his fingers or hands. The guitarist, Christobal Soto, brought perhaps the most distinctive Latin flavour to the music: flamenco strumming or the shimmering sounds of the mandolin.

Two encores confirmed just how much both musicians and audience were enjoying the concert. And on the homebound train, our feet were still tapping to the irresistible rhythms of the evening’s music.

Clara Rodriguez

A keen champion Latin American piano music, Clara Rodriguez has recorded the piano works of Teresa Careno, Moises Moleiro, Ernest Lecuona, and Federico Ruiz (a contemporary Venezuelan composer with whom she has enjoyed a close collaboration), as well as an impeccably presented album of the late piano music of Chopin, including the Piano Sonata No. 3 and the Polonaise-Fantasie Op 61. Clara’s recordings are available digitally on via iTunes and Spotify, and from good CD retailers. Further information here

 

Clara talks about music from Latin America in this short film, featuring clips from the concert