Guest post by Adrian Ainsworth

“10 x 10”: 10 tracks, each around 10 minutes, for the Cross Eyed Pianist’s 10th anniversary.

(I look forward to tackling “20 x 20” in 10 years’ time…!)



1. Berlin Philharmoniker / Kubelik – Wagner: ‘Lohengrin’ Prelude to Act 1.
2. Ravi Shankar, Philip Glass – ‘Offering’.
3. Ruby Hughes, Allan Clayton, Benedict Nelson, Joseph Middleton – Britten / Purcell: ‘Saul and the Witch at Endor’.
4. North Sea Radio Orchestra – ‘Shelley’s Skylark’.
5. John Williams – Sculthorpe: ‘From Kakadu’.
6. The Stone Roses – ‘Fools Gold’.
7. Dead Can Dance – ‘Indus’.
8. Third Ear Band – ‘Ghetto Raga’.
9. Paul Lewis – Schubert: Impromptus, D.899, no.1.
10. Berliner Philharmoniker / Karajan – Debussy: ‘Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faune’.


Adrian Ainsworth is, by day, a copywriter specialising in plain language communications about finance and benefits. However, he spends the rest of the time consuming as much music, live or recorded, as possible – then writing about it, often on Specs, his slightly erratic ‘cultural diary’ containing thought pieces, performance and exhibition write-ups, playlists, and even a spot of light photography. He has a particular interest in art song and opera… and a general interest in everything else. He is a regular contributor to this site and is also a reviewer for its sister site ArtMuseLondon.com.

 

Guest post by Doug Thomas

To understand classical music, it is quite obvious where to start. It is a genre that has always been scholar-friendly, well-structured and documented, with the purpose of passing the knowledge to the next generation. When it comes to popular music, however, it is a little different; it is a genre that has, above all, always been centered around the entertainment, the moment.  One could try to understand it historically, but the road backwards is endless and it would be difficult to decide where it really began: some would argue Rock’n’Roll, or Blues, or Jazz, or Folk…..

Or one could study The Beatles. There is no debate; they are the most important and influential figures in popular music. And therefore understanding them, their influences and the influence they had on others, allows us to better understand “pop” music.

The Beatles are a testimony to everything that existed in the popular world before them. They learned their craft by imitating the musicians that they admired. “I’ve Just Seen a Face” is an example of how skiffle formed their early personalities. “Lady Madonna” is a tribute to the Boogie-Woogie of Fats Domino, while “Revolution” reveals the influence of early Chicago rock of Chuck Berry. “Hold Me Tight” is of course influenced by Country music and Rhythm’n’Blues, and “All I’ve Got to Do” displays early influences of female Doo-Wop and Soul — the latter being one of the most important factors in the development of The Beatles’ approach to lead and backing vocals. Finally, “No Reply” shows the influence of Latin music rhythms, prominent in much of 1960s popular music.

The Beatles have influenced so much, it is undeniable. Whether in their music, their songwriting, their production or their image, countless artists have taken from them in order to build themselves. They are in every other musician’s music, and conversely, one can hear in their music what has followed them. “Hey Jude” opened the way to every single stadium anthem, such as “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis; “Good Day Sunshine” is everywhere in Britpop (e.g. Blur’s “Charmless Man) and “Eleanor Rigby” allowed Coldplay’s “Viva la vida“ to exist. “Get Back” is a slower version of much of heavy metal music (e.g. Judas Priest “Breaking the Law”) and “Come Together” is a blueprint for Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”. Finally, most of the psychedelic rock of the late 1960s and early 1970s owes much to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, “I Am the Walrus” or “Strawberry Fields for Ever”. In 1966, The Beatles released “Taxman”; a year after Jimi Hendrix was using the same chord voicing — now nicknamed the “Hendrix Chord” — on “Purple Haze”.

The Beatles are also a mirror of their times. They took inspiration from the musicians that surrounded them, and, as they evolved, these influences became wider. “Norwegian Wood” is one of the earliest examples of the influence of Bob Dylan on Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting. “Yer Blues” reflects the approach the Rolling Stones took with Blues music. “Helter Skelter” was a direct response to “I Can See for Miles” by The Who — which they had presented as the loudest song ever made. “Two of Us” is of course directly influenced by acoustic Country Rock, in the style of Crosby, Stills & Nash or the Grateful Dead, and “Something” reflects the influence of Eric Clapton and The Band on George Harrison. These influences would extend to Jamaican Ska (with “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”), Greek traditional music, à la Zorba (with “My Girl”) and of course Indian traditional music (with “Within You, Without You”, and many, many others).

John Lennon once claimed that The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. Whether that is true is still arguable; however their influence on every single popular musician and band since the mid-1960s is indisputable. Everyone has at some point, in various genres, covered The Beatles: Johnny Cash, Elton John, Joe Cocker, Aerosmith, Mötley Crüe, Soundgarden, Oasis, Yes, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Otis Redding, Bobby McFerrin, Frank Sinatra, Brad Mehldau, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell. The list is endless…


GetAttachmentThumbnailSince founding NOOX — or North of Oxford St., a record label, production company and recording studio — in 2014, Doug Thomas has released numerous solo projects, including Short Stories, Vol. 1&2, and the triptych Angles, Cassiopeia and Shapes. For Ballades, he has collaborated with Piano & Coffee Co. as well as pianists Marta Cascales Alimbau, Manos Milonakis, Marek Votruba and Muriël Bostdorp. The Seasons is a collaborative homage to the music of Tchaikovsky; it features twelve pianists from around the world — including Simeon Walker, Garreth Broke and Dominique Charpentier. For Grace, he has collaborated with Sonder House and pianist/cellist Jesse Brown. Portraits, is another homage to his inspirations — and has been released in collaboration with Lonely Swallow and Affan. Studia is the first volume of a collection of contemporary piano études — released with the Italian label Blue Spiral Records (BSR) and featuring Angelo Villari. His latest release with the same label, Anxiety/Serenity (featuring the harp of Mary Dunsford), is a response to the situation that the world experienced in this first quarter of 2020, through the spread of the COVID-19. 

As a writer Doug publishes articles, interviews and reviews, and is a contributor to Interlude as well as a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist and ArtMuseLondon

“Music allows me to express ideas and feelings in a unique way. Each piece I compose is an attempt in finding balance between interest and beauty, within the limits of my own language and experience. I like the idea that music can provide us with an alternative to our daily life, whether it completes it or helps us take some distance from it.”

dougthomas.co.uk

This month, this site reaches its 10th birthday and I’d love it if you would join the celebrations. There are a number of ways in which you can join in and be featured on this site:

  • Send a recording of you playing some music – it can be anything – and if possible include a few lines about the music and why it’s special to you (perhaps you spent the long weeks of lockdown learning it?)
  • Compile a playlist on YouTube or Spotify
  • Write a guest article on any music-related subject

The celebrations will continue all month, so please feel free to submit your contribtions over the  coming days and weeks and I’ll upload them as they come in.

There are also celebrations taking place over on The Cross-Eyed Pianist’s Facebook page and of course I’ll be tweeting all the wonderful contributions you send in.

One of the most significant aspects of this blog for me, as its creator, is the sense of community that surrounds it, and the important connections and conversations it sparks. I’ve made so many new friends as a result of the blog, in the virtual world and in real life – all connected by a shared love of music, and for many, like me, a passion for the piano.

Use the Contact page to get in touch

I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Frances

The Cross-Eyed Pianist

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

Hearing the Scherzo from Bruckner 7th Symphony on radio. I was 16 or so, heading for veterinary college; it was very much an “I can’t live without doing this’ rather than a “I must do this” moment.

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

Seeing as musicians need a proper grounding and a healthy ambition, it has to be my teachers – Lilly Phillips and David Strange – for their grounding, and the conductor of my local youth orchestra – Mark Gooding – for encouraging ambition. More recently the pianist Oliver Davies has been a huge influence, revealing that musicianship, not just technique, is teachable as well as inherent.

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

Performing in front of colleagues – always has been and always will be!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the work I programme myself – those projects are like children, you nurture them and feel responsibility for their outcome. And like children they can be very hard work and take off in unexpected directions – but are always worth it and so instil real pride. My recent discs of Piatti operatic fantasies are examples of that.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I hope it’s the repertoire I love the most; but to be honest it’s also probably the repertoire I don’t take that seriously, because the pressure’s off and then it’s easier to ‘play’. I enjoy technical challenges but I hope cantabile is my stronger suit.

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

Usually by answering the phone and saying yes! But when I’m lucky enough to be programming myself then it’s still often pragmatic choices, based on the venue, the audience and any other concerts around that time. I try to mix novel with staple, and always work with the assumption that you can’t second guess an audience’s taste, so go with sincerely chosen works.

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

The Barber Institute in Birmingham for its acoustic and Bargemusic in New York for its quirkiness (especially when a police boat speeds past)

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A London Sinfonietta concert in the Carnegie Hall where Oliver Knussen, conducting, turned to the audience after a world premiere and said “new works should never be heard just once – you’re now going to hear that again” and we repeated the whole piece. It was electrifying – he had us and the audience in the palm of his hand.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Easy – when the composer is happy.

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

Learn to teach yourself. Assimiliate don’t imitate. And always beware not seeing the wood for the trees.

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

Anywhere that’s covid-free, pollution-free and culture-rich

What is your present state of mind?

Simultaneously elated (so much family time) and terrified (no concerts)

Adrian Bradbury’s latest CD ‘Alfredo Piatti: The Operatic Fantasies, Volume Two’ is out on the Meridian label, available from Presto Classical


Adrian Bradbury is a British cellist, recognized especially for his contribution to contemporary music (Royal Philharmonic Society chamber award, Composers Ensemble), teaching (Cello Tutor, National Youth Orchestra of GB) and musician science (research published by the Royal Society)

 

 

Schubert…..makes tears catch at the edge of my eyes; such fragile hope, such powerful emotions.

Ian McMillan, poet (via Twitter)

I was reminded of Ian McMillan’s quote while listening to the final lunchtime lockdown concert from London’s Wigmore Hall, a devastatingly beautiful, austerely unsentimental yet profoundly poignant rendering of Schubert’s late great song cycle Winterreise, performed by tenor Mark Padmore with pianist Mitsuko Uchida. Music so fitting for these strange days, with its narrative of loss, longing and separation.

Schubert is the composer for our corona times. Listening in isolation to performers playing to an empty hall, this acccount of isolation, its chill frequently tinged with the tenderest poignancy, seemed particularly appropriate. We are at home, but we are separate, living in our “bubbles”, unable to hug our family and friends, yet finding a sense of closeness, warmth and solace through music.

That same sense of isolation is evident in the Andantino from Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata, or the bare “horn call” first subject of the F minor Fantasie, D940, the fearful tread of the second movement of the Trio, D929, or the haunting opening measures of the unfinished sonata D 571. There are numerous other examples, of course….

In both the Andantino of D959 and the D929, it is those unexpected modulations into the major key, when the sun comes out to warm one’s skin and the chill of winter momentarily recedes, that make this music so magical, so breathtakingly extraordinary in its harmonic and emotional volte-faces. And then, only a few bars later, the melancholy and the sorrow flood back…. Often even more tragic in the major key, it is as if Schubert recognises the darkness visible, acknowledges and accepts it.

No one does chiaroscuro quite like Schubert: he mixes light and dark more subtly than any other composer and colours his musical palette with an elusive hue of mystery. Light and dark, levity and depth all reside in close proximity in Schubert’s music, perhaps even more so than in Mozart’s (and Mozart too is a master of light and shade).

I’ve loved Schubert’s music, and, more specifically, his later piano music since I was a child. I grew up listening to my parents’ recordings on LP of the ‘Trout’ Quintet, the Unfinished and ‘Great’ Symphonies, the string quartets, and The Shepherd on the Rock, which my father would play on the clarinet – and, when I became a more competent pianist, I would accompany him. When I was about 12, still a fairly novice pianist, my mother gave me an Edition Peters score of the Moments Musicaux and both sets of Impromptus – works which portray in perfect microcosm the breadth and variety of Schubert’s artistic vision and emotional landscape. I stumbled my way through these works, mostly too advanced for me at the time, though there were fragments of each which I could actually play. I took the A-flat Impromptu to my then teacher and instead of ticking me off for trying to learn music which was far in advance of my capabilities, she helped me find my way through the score. At this time, in the late 1970s, Schubert was regarded as the poor relation to Beethoven, his melodies sweet as sachertorte, his structures incoherent, and his emotions too introverted. Then I had little knowledge about Franz Schubert beyond the notes on the page, but there was definitely something that drew me to his unique soundworld….

Much as I love Beethoven, his gruffness and uncompromising spirit, as I’ve grown older I turn more and more to Schubert’s introspection, his tenderness and his intimacy. He speaks more softly, more personally than Beethoven for me. His unmatched gift for melody enables him to spin the agony of desire, melancholy and sorrow, and the joy of living  – and a whole gamut of emotions in between. He has a remarkable ability to switch rapidly between terror and lyricism, from the darkly tragic and melancholic to golden transcendence or joyous other-worldliness, all rendered in music of incredible, almost revolutionary inventiveness. Often this is achieved through the most miraculous modulations, an unexpected sonic shift and, for me, as a synaesthete who sees the musical keys in colour, a completely new luminosity.

His other great skill is in managing rests and pauses. Silences abound, freighted with poetic imagination and who knows what, suspending time and offering pause for reflection, while also clarifying the structural expansiveness of the music, his “heavenly length”. In addition, Schubert’s use of dynamics is often ‘psychological’ rather than purely physical, suggesting an intensity of feeling rather than volume of sound. As pianists, we shouldn’t play Schubert as if you would Beethoven (though some do!). Even in his grandest gestures, for example the fff passages in the first movement of the Sonata in G, D894, there’s a restraint. His generous use of pianissimo in particular creates an ethereality in his music as if hovering between different states of mind.

In those moments, his music makes you feel as if you are the last person in the universe…..

How does one explain Schubert? The simple answer is – one can’t.

Steven Isserlis, cellist

 

 

 

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

I grew up in a strict religious household, so when an upright piano – a gift from a church member – arrived at our house it was just a large and welcome new toy to play with. My parents had somewhat draconian views on children’s entertainment; consequently we had no television and only really listened to classical music. There are of course pros as well as cons in this approach but…

Thus, at the age of four years old, I (apparently) began to pick out tunes with one finger and it was quickly decided I should have lessons. These were kindly donated at no charge by the church organist, one Marion Mills. Although I had many kind and patient teachers over the years, Peter Crozier at Pimlico Saturday school, Peter Jacobs at Latymer Upper School and lastly John Irving and Danielle Salomon at Sheffield University, what truly inspired me to take up a career in music was being allowed to arrange for and direct the band in school shows.

Our school Christmas spectaculars, essentially lavish pantomimes, really were worthy of the ‘spectacular’ tag, played out to a paying audience of several hundred in our large school hall, brilliantly converted into a theatre. To allow a 16-year-old to run a 20 piece band for the shows while he sat in the audience was quite a display of faith from our brilliant head of music – Shane Fletcher; so if I had to nominate one person as an inspiration it would be that light touch teaching that secured my fate!

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

I’ve already mentioned many of the teachers who mostly looked kindly on my endless desire to improvise and managed in spite of that to instil the rudiments of a proper musical education into me! Being raised with the perpetual backdrop of classical music gave me a sound knowledge of most of the repertoire but a seminal moment was when my parents finally yielded to my sister’s and my cajolings and bought a small portable black-and-white TV when I was thirteen. One of the first things I watched entranced, after my parents had gone to bed, was a late night BBC2 show with Canadian jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. I was literally open mouthed (and eared). I had never known a piano could make sounds like this, much less that somebody could forge a career playing music other than Chopin! I obsessively hunted down all the jazz I could find and along the way discovered the cabaret genius of musical comedians such as Dudley Moore and Victor Borge (who also showed me that it was possible to make people howl with laughter using classical references). I can’t miss out other names such as Richard Rodgers, Bill Evans, Art Tatum and Fats Waller and the wit of French impressionists such as Satie and Milhaud.

Lastly, although not directly musical influences, I must also mention two performers that I worked with for over a decade. A large part of being a cabaret artist is one’s ability to recount stories and give context to the music on stage, an area in which I was resoundingly absent of talent. A brilliant performer I accompanied for fifteen years was a singer called James Biddlecombe (Biddie). Described as the uncrowned king of the cabaret scene in London, he championed obscure old songs that nobody had heard of and to this day I have never witnessed an audience in such paroxysms of tearful mirth as he managed to regularly engender. Watching him and another act, larger than life magician Fay Presto, beloved of royals and celebrities, whom I also accompanied for many many years, I slowly and painfully learnt how to communicate on stage.

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

Being an improviser with a classical sensibility, I often find myself on the same programme as truly jaw-dropping international concert talent. Keeping one’s self together in such exalted company is a trick in itself. They are without exception always kind and express admiration for what I do but knowing just enough to know quite how brilliant they are really can be enough to freeze the blood in one’s veins. The first time I went on Radio 3 taking live requests to play anything in any composer’s style, I was literally shaking. Recounting this to a friend afterwards he asked innocently “Why were you so worried? There’s only one man and his dog listening to Radio 3 at any given time.” Patiently I had to explain to him “Yes, but even the dog has a doctorate in ethno-musicology”.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I have recorded two albums – ‘In the wrong key’ and ‘All the way through’ – both of which I regard reasonably proudly, but my output will never be judged by recordings. My proudest moments are getting on a really good roll in an improvised Bach invention or during something very silly like Postman Pat in the style of Rachmaninov, hearing the audience reaction change from laughter to engagement as you fuse low and high art and for a few glorious seconds it comes off and becomes an entity of its own. Audiences always know those rare and special moments when you channel something perfectly in a composer’s style for a brief moment. You don’t have to explain it.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

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

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

What is your most memorable concert experience?

If I may take the liberty of combining these four questions… To explain: these questions fall into a different category for myself compared to a classical performer. Performances with Alexander Armstrong where I was musical director and arranger linger fondly in the memory, particularly one at the Palladium. Also an end of year review playing solo cabaret to a packed Birmingham Symphony Hall for Raymond Gubbay was a wonderful experience. My favourite performance and venue are probably one and the same – a charity gala at the Royal Albert Hall for SOS villages, an organisation working against the spread of AIDS in Africa. That venue is a seminal one for me – redolent with so many memories from my introductions to the Proms with my parents. The fact that they were sat in the front row whilst I took the host’s Aled Jones request to play Kylie Minogue ‘I should be so lucky’ in the style of Wagner (only request I can remember) and the consequent laughter echoing around the Albert Hall is something I shall never forget.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Ultimately, music is all about communicating emotion. There are many different ways of doing this – interpreting the works of geniuses who have gone before in a respectful yet original way and profoundly moving all those that hear it is of course the most prevalent. However, I feel there is a space to play with all those references that audiences know so well and juxtapose them in a comical fashion. Although this is light entertainment, most of the time people sense when the fun is borne of a true love of the music and in amongst the laughter and silliness there is beauty too. So my definition of success is simply to bring joy to as many people as possible.

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

To show young students that improvisation is not a modern phenomenon or something to be scared of. It should absolutely be taught alongside all other musical knowledge – the principles therein are as old as the hills; Bach, Mozart and Beethoven were all serial improvisers. It is my life’s mission to get some aspect of improvising onto the national curriculum as I passionately believe it improves listening skills, time, arranging and composing and the relation with one’s instrument!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

It’s a toss up between one of these three (if you can have a three sided coin…!)

1. Walking around the Borghese gallery in Rome.

2. Watching James Anderson destroy an Australian batting lineup at Lord’s.

3. Tucking into a particularly juicy Times cryptic crossword with Eugenie Onegin on in the background.


Harry’s extraordinary talent and breathtaking creativity have earned him a reputation as one of the most gifted improvising pianists in the world. Celebrities and critics alike have lined up to shower him with praise often smacking of astonishment. No other musician can spontaneously reinvent Michael Jackson in the style of Mozart, recreate a night at the Groucho club through the TV themes of its actor members, and improvise a seamless medley of audience requests ranging from James Bond to Shostakovich via West Side Story.

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