Category Archives: Meet the Artist

Meet the Artist……Ivo Pogorelich, pianist

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

It was my parents’ choice. One day they took me to the school of music and I had no say in it. I was even made to play violin for a while. Soon, however, it was established that violin and I were not made for each other.

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

Rather than influence there was a fateful moment in my life when I met a musician who taught me and trained me to play the piano and by doing that determined my future life. Later on I became her husband. Her name is Aliza Kezderadze.

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

Art is my profession, career is my occupation. There are two types of challenges and threats. The external ones should sometimes be ignored, at other times confronted. What comes from oneself however is different. The general principle I followed was not to chew more than I can swallow. In other words “less is more”!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

These are two separate disciplines. Performance is, among other things, an act of a moment. On the recordings, all are my favourites and none is my favourite. All because of a tremendous effort that documenting music requires, none because I never listen to any of my recordings. Recently, I recorded two Beethoven Sonatas (available on IDAGIO idag.io/pogorelich). It seems I was able to express what was not expressed in that music before.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

My loyalty goes to the composer I am occupied with. I do not have favourites.

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

I learn new pieces and I also play pieces I have played in the past.

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

There are various. Some of them are also blessed with spectacular acoustics like Teatro Cólon, Buenos Aires or Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Generally I am fascinated by musicians of traditional folk music, particularly singers. My favourite pianist is Art Tatum, a taste shared by Rachmaninoff who reportedly never missed an opportunity to attend his performances. I also like Oscar Peterson.

I have never heard them in concert but people of African origin have rhythmical pulse unique to them. Music sounds so spontaneous when they play.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It actually took place after one of the very noisy successes. There was a reception and it turned out that the host, a very prominent and powerful person, had celebrated his birthday by participating in the organization of the event. The entire society of the city was in the concert hall and a good many very well known faces at the reception. There was also a piano in the room and all of a sudden someone pointed to the piano with an inviting gesture, where it became clear that I was expected to accompany the “Happy Birthday to you” tune. I was mortified as I realized that I had never played the tune. So I bravely stood up and said “I am sorry but I do not have this piece in my repertoire”. The host was elated as no one in the room could imagine that I actually did not know the music. Everyone thought that it was cute and witty and they all applauded again.

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

Unfortunately there are not as many oranges in the world as there are glasses of orange juice we drink. Equally no advice of general character is good unless it is tested in practice. With all the best intentions of all of us and each of us, life is a lottery; however general principles are the same as I believe are implied in any professional activity. Self respect, modesty, determination being led in life by a clear heart and mind, could advance a person anyway. One must never forget that life is a struggle and one has to be ready.

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

Happy to be where I am, god willing; otherwise I would love to be in Somerset on a sunny day. Although I have lived in the UK for almost 20 years, I have never been there. The name to me as a foreigner evokes fairy tales, as it is acoustically reminiscent of summer and sunset. The name sounds so musical to me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The idea of perfect happiness is not seeking it on purpose.

What is your most treasured possession?

 I believe it is my imagination.

What is your present state of mind?

Right now I am sitting and observing half packed bags, being packed for a month long stay with concerts in China and Japan. As I can see the clothes, prepared for three distinct types of weather, very cold, moderate and hot and humid, I am trying to comprehend it.

Such is the life of an artist…..

Ivo Pogorelich’s new recording of Beethoven Piano Sonatas, No. 22 in F major op. 54 and No. 24 in F sharp major op. 78 are available exclusively on IDAGIO

Ivo Pogorelich was born in Belgrade in 1958, the son of a musician. He received his first piano lessons at the age of seven and went to Moscow at the age of twelve to study at the Central Special Music School and then at the Tchaikowsky Conservatory. In 1976 he began intensive studies with the renowned pianist and teacher Aliza Kezeradze, with whom he was married from 1980 until her untimely death in 1996. Mme. Kezeradze was able to transmit the spirit and matter of the school of Beethoven and Liszt, originated in Vienna and than carried through to the Conservatory of St. Petersburg, flourishing towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th. Century. Ivo Pogorelich won the first prize at the Alessandro Casagrande Competition at Terni (Italy) in 1978 and the first price at the Montreal International Music Competition in 1980. In October of the same year he entered the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw where, when prevented from participating in the final contest as a soloist with the orchestra, a fierce controversy resulted in the renowned Argentinian pianist Martha Argerich, a member of the jury, protesting and leaving the competition, joined by other members of the jury panel, with the words “He is a genius”. This event drew the attention of the whole musical world to the young pianist.

Ever since his debut recital in New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1981, Ivo Pogorelich has created a sensation with his performances in all the great concert halls throughout the world; starting in the U.S. and followed by performances on all four continents. He has received invitations to play with numerous major orchestras such as the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, all the London Orchestras, the Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles, New York Philharmonic Orchestras of the U.S. and major orchestras elsewhere. Wherever and whenever he plays, his stunning interpretations of the music confirm the originality of his talent and intellect. The New York Times once wrote “He played each note exactly, with such a feeling, such expression, he was an entire orchestra– it was as if he played 200 years ahead of our time”. In this spirit Ivo Pogorelich is known today as a poet of the instrument.

More about Ivo Pogorelich

 

Meet the Artist……Shiva Fesharecki, composer

shiva-feshareki-8-e1466601768353

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?

I’ve always been obsessed with making music. I was improvising with pots and pans when I was a toddler and a small child. I had set-up a station in the corner of the kitchen that I would use to experiment with sounds. Since then, it’s simply been the same idea but in different contexts.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

My everyday surroundings, the spaces I occupy, and my friends and family are my biggest influences. My idols are Eliane Radigue and James Tenney.

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

I constantly re-shape and re-think the way I compose and the contexts and people I work with. All in all it is hugely rewarding, but it also feels like I am starting from scratch all the time.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Challenges on working on commissions are making sure that the organisers and funders trust and respect your vision and don’t try to compromise it (although I do pick commissions carefully). The pleasure is having the space and time to be able to be truly creative on a daily basis and make a living out of it.

You’ve recently been announced as a London Music Masters Award Holder – tell us more about this?

It’s really amazing receiving this award, and it’s brilliant that it has been sculpted to suit each individual recipient in terms of the resources we receive from it. I have spent the last few years working in experimentation and as a collaborative composer; meeting loads of different people, experimenting in a whole host of settings, in different disciplines and different worlds, and constantly re-shaping and re-defining what I do. Thanks to London Music Masters, I now have the resources to refine my practise, and come back to my classical routes to compose a purely orchestral piece for the London Contemporary Orchestra, with a fresh new perspective due to all my explorations in other contexts.

I am also incredibly inspired by the creativity of children. Having worked in a variety of creative and educational settings with young people, and been massively influenced by the way they think, I am looking forward to applying my own ways of working with young people on the LMM Learning programme: I hope I can offer some interesting approaches.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

I have this new rule now that I only work with people who are down to earth and easy to get on with, so that the creative process feels free and not rigid. I don’t really mind if they’re musicians or not, or what their background is, as long as they’re nice and we can form a bond. Only then can creativity flow and can we utilise each other’s strengths.

Of which works are you most proud?

I don’t really have a singular work that I am most proud of, but I am proud of the way I have grown immensely as a person and composer in the past year especially. I feel like I understand things more clearly and what things are truly important in life and art.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

Physical.

How do you work?

I try to change-up the way I compose constantly, so that nothing is ever on autopilot. Sometimes it’s with a manuscript, or at my turntables, or maybe I’m in a club dancing and composing at the same time. But my music is experiential, so I try to really mix-up my processes.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

I think my favourite artists are the people I have recently collaborated with such as Haroon Mirza. I am forever grateful for how he has transformed my attitude on art and experience.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably performing my composition for turntables and orchestra at the Roundhouse in front of the LCO way back in 2010. We were all so young and relatively inexperienced then, yet so much drive, commitment and a unanimous want between us all to take risks. It was incredible. I didn’t know it was going to be such a big gig. People were queuing up literally round the roundhouse to try and get returns when I was arriving.

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

To stick to your ideas, have faith in them, and commit. Don’t waste your time getting frustrated. Go with the flow. Enjoy.

 

Shiva Feshareki (b. 1987) is a composer and turntablist working closely with the physicality of sound. With electronics, she focuses on sampling, as well as analogue and bespoke electrics that generate ‘real’ and pure sounds of electricity, over computer products. With acoustic instruments, she is concerned with the interaction of tone, orchestration, texture, movement and space. Since 2013, Shiva works mainly as a collaborative composer, and uses deep improvisation, explorations into different worlds, or chance events, to create her collaborative teams. She also works with children and young people in a variety of creative environments, and does seminars and projects at universities and music/art colleges.

A scholar and graduate of the Royal College of Music under Mark-Anthony Turnage, Shiva has awards ranging from the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Prize, to British Composer Award shortlisted works. She has had performances at major UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall, Royal Albert Hall, Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbican, Roundhouse, and has had working relationships with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Philharmonia, London Sinfonietta and London Contemporary Orchestra. She also works in and around a variety of contexts and bespoke environments to create spatialised site-specific works. Additionally, Shiva has worked and toured with musicians ranging from cellists Natalie Clein, Oliver Coates and Colin Alexander, to video-gamer/youtuber Freddie Wong, jazz organist Kit Downes and artists Simon Fisher-Turner and Haroon Mirza. She sometimes DJs, and presents experimental classical music on NTS Radio in Dalston.

Future projects include a realisation of Daphne Oram’s groundbreaking work ‘Still Point’ for Double Orchestra, 78 rpm vinyl discs and microphones in collaboration with composer and Oram-specialist James Bulley. ‘Still Point’ predates the work of an entire generation of composers and artists in its radical use of live electronics (including turntable manipulation and sampling with live orchestra) and is one of the earliest known examples of a work for turntables and orchestra.

London Music Masters

 

 

Meet the Artist……Robert Levin

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

My parents were great music lovers and the gramophone and radio were central to my early exposure to music.  My musical guardian angel was my maternal uncle, Benjamin Spieler, who studied clarinet at Juilliard with Prokofiev’s friend and colleague Simeon Bellison (principal clarinettist in the NY Phil) and pursued studies in flute, oboe, and clarinet and saxophone at the Paris Conservatory and bassoon at Columbia in New York.  He discovered that I had absolute pitch and arranged my musical education forthwith, chaperoning me to Fontainebleau to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  It is impossible for me to express adequately my debt to him.

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

Nadia Boulanger and Sir Clifford Curzon when I was young; Felix Galimir and Rudolf Kolisch later on..

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Let the listeners decide!  I have particular commitment to Viennese classical repertory, French music, and contemporary music, though the works I perform span the Elizabethan masters to the present.

What, for you, makes Mozart’s piano concerti special/significant in the canon of classical music?

They are operatic scenes, incorporating a breathtaking span of emotions that unfold under the guide of a masterful dramatist who perhaps is equalled only by Shakespeare.

What are the particular pleasures and challenges of Concertos 3 & 4 which you performed with Aurora orchestra as part of their Mozart’s Piano series at Kings Place?

The solo keyboard parts are written not by Mozart, but by expatriate composers living in Paris in the middle of the 18th century, together with C. P. E. Bach; Mozart supplied orchestral accompaniments, thereby transforming these movements into concertos.  It is fascinating to see how in doing this Mozart prepared himself for the task of composing instrumental concertos from scratch.  These are therefore works of apprenticeship.  From here Mozart develops the techniques of solo and tutti within aria form, transforming its structure to the domain of the instrumental concerto at the moment that he chafes against the static nature of opera seria and wants to have dramatic development WITHIN arias, not just BETWEEN them (in the recitatives, where the action typically happens in opera seria).

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are many.  Hearing Gilels’ and Richter’s first recitals in New York.  Hearing Horowitz’s after his return to the concert platform.  Hearing Rudolf Serkin’s Hammerklavier sonata and Emperor concerto.  Hearing Curzon in solo and concerto repertoire.  Hearing Haitink conduct Bruckner 8 and Mahler 9.  And there then are my own experiences on stage—constant excitement, an endless learning curve, reveling in the exalted danger of risk-laden performances.

What advice would you give to anyone learning Mozart’s piano music?

Learn the grammar and the aesthetic, learn to discern the myriad character changes inherent in the fluid discourse, learn what is to learn, and then walk onstage and do what you must do to communicate this dizzying sensual world to an audience that will be forever changed by the message you bring to them.

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

Engagement with the musical narrative, character, drama, colour.  Be an actor—do for music what Meryl Streep does for the screen and the stage.

Mozart’s Piano, Aurora Orchestra’s monumental new five-year project offers audiences the rarest of opportunities: a complete cycle of the concertos, staged live in concert in the beautifully intimate surroundings of Hall One at Kings Place. Further information here

Pianist and Conductor Robert Levin has been heard throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and Asia. His solo engagements include the orchestras of Atlanta, Berlin, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Montreal, Utah and Vienna on the Steinway with such conductors as Semyon Bychkov, James Conlon, Bernard Haitink, Sir Neville Marriner, Seiji Ozawa, Sir Simon Rattle and Esa-Pekka Salonen. On period pianos he has appeared with the Academy of Ancient Music, English Baroque Soloists, Handel & Haydn Society, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, with Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Christopher Hogwood, Sir Charles Mackerras, Nicholas McGegan, and Sir Roger Norrington.

Renowned for his improvised embellishments and cadenzas in Classical period repertoire, Robert Levin has made recordings for DG Archiv, CRI, Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, ECM, New York Philomusica, Nonesuch, Philips and SONY Classical. These include a Mozart concerto cycle for Decca; a Beethoven concerto cycle for DG Archiv (including the world premiere recording of Beethoven’s arrangement of the Fourth Concerto for piano and string quintet); and the complete Bach harpsichord concertos with Helmuth Rilling, as well as the six English Suites (on piano) and both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier (on five keyboard instruments) as part of Hänssler’s 172-CD Edition Bachakademie. The first recording in a Mozart piano sonata cycle has also been released by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.

A passionate advocate of new music, Robert Levin has commissioned and premiered a large number of works.  He is a renowned chamber musician and a noted theorist and musicologist. His completions of Mozart fragments are published by Bärenreiter, Breitkopf & Härtel, Carus, Peters, and Wiener Urtext Edition, and recorded and performed throughout the world. (source Rayfield Allied)

 
 

Meet the Artist……Peter Byrom-Smith, composer

qbk-joyqWho or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

As a child there was no real music in our house, or reading materials as such, mainly due to my mum’s mental illness. As a result of this, and of course other problems in the family, I didn’t actually speak or really communicate until about 6 or 7 years of age. However, I had obviously listened to much music, both radio broadcasts and recordings, mainly at schoolfriends’ houses, or at school itself, which I totally soaked up at each opportunity – everything from the Beatles and the Monkeys to Beethoven and Mancini. When I got my first musical instrument, a guitar which was purchased through a shopping catalogue operated by a friend’s mum, and for which I paid by doing potato picking on farms, and  as a newspaper delivery boy, I sort of just started playing back what I’d heard, improvising along the way of course, trying to pin down correct pitch, melody, rhythm, etc. of each song/piece until I’d got it as close as the original. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time of course.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

From above, you can obviously see I didn’t have the possibility of music lessons, so I am completely self-taught in music. However, I studied very hard, seeking the knowledge of this strange craft known as music notation, and how to turn ideas in my head into something I and others might play one day – daydreams, maybe, but a very determined Yorkshire boy/man I became, constantly trying to hear/read more music all the time. Many musicians have been an influence, and still are, on my life really: Elgar, his struggle for recognition as an artist, plus his wonderful musical structures enchanted me early on; Neil Young, his stories of life in both his lyrics and musical arrangements, appealed to a young teenager in the 70’s; Gershwin, with his amazing cohesion of jazz and classical genres were to lead me to  carry on this ‘cross genre/culture’ idea in all my later work! Of course, as a fifteen year old boy I truly had no idea where I was going with this magical thing called music, with its strange terms, dots, lines all over the place, but I read everything from ABRSM theory books to  Antony Hopkins books on music and listening/analysis,etc and from Ferdinando Carulli’s great little book ‘Guitar Method’ to the symphonies of Mozart, etc. too – all an education. After school, I was determined to write music one way or another and now I had found a way of communicating my thoughts and feelings I was on a roll!!

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

When I left school at 15/16 years of age, I wasn’t sure how I would do it, but boy was I gonna try and write music as I thought it should sound, and whatever meant something to me,`i was really hoping that somehow people would understand my thoughts and what I was trying to say. Of course, easier said than done, but I learnt very quickly how to be flexible, playing in theatre pits, busking, pop bands, teaching, as well as giving recitals with my own music, I managed to build a small, very small, reputation on the large music scene in UK. Persevering however, I accepted my first true commission for a soundtrack to a lecture series at a local art school, which I both arranged and and multi tracked on two cassette players – a truly awful result I’m sure, but people liked and used it, so a win win situation, as people say now, eh. Of course, frustrations come as an artist, as you try to get to where you think your journey should take you, but as always in life, you carry on, taking rough with smooth and never regret artistic choices, or directions, as you always learn something from the experience – well I certainly did, and after over 40 years of being a composer I’m still getting a thrill and learn something new every work I produce.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

I work in all genres of music: film, theatre, pop/rock music, animation, concert works,etc, and, or so, because of this cross genre working, I have worked and continue to work and learn from such a variety of musicians and their different backgrounds and approaches to music, its really a truly pleasurable experience and exciting, each time am opportunity occurs for me to share ideas and develop my thoughts into musical sounds form the performers. I am not very computer literate at all, I have no music software, and no idea how it works. When younger, I actually wrote all the parts out by hand, even the large orchestral works, brass band pieces and songs. Luckily, for me, I now have an assistant who I get to turn my stuff into files, which then can be emailed around the world the same day, which I find pretty amazing, although slightly confusing how it does so, at the same time! I am very lucky that I have found a career in something, i.e.; which is truly all I know about, and that people approach regularly for new works – now an animation, then a concerto, now a theatre piece, then an album for a rock band to arrange/produce,etc – all of both equal importance in the musical world and in my life.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

I always approach my work in the same way now, as when I was a young boy. First of all, I try to arrange a meeting, face to face, as I don’t like the impersonal, remote meetings; phone, emails; Skype, etc, however, this can be impossible sometimes; for example, I have a long term project in Japan, and another project coming up in Poland, so will have to talk on Skype, etc, until each visit, but otherwise I’ll jump on a train – my favourite form of transport – and meet to discuss/talk through everything over either a lunchtime meal, or a few pints in the pub, as either way is very constructive to me! Meeting musicians, either in concert hall, or in the studio is always a pleasure and, to be honest, an honour too to me. I am very happy to enjoy what I do and also appreciate that I’m fortunate that I found how to both express my life, thoughts, emotions, etc, through music, whilst at the same time making a living at it too. This is important part of my philosophy, as coming from a working class background and growing up on a large council house estate in the north of England, I’m very proud of my roots, therefore wish to share with others! I’m also very lucky that all the musicians I work with from any of the genres, seem to respect my thoughts and expertise in composition, although of course, when it comes down to specific technical things like fingering, bowing, phrasing etc ,etc I am always totally in their hands – a genuine collaboration I like to think.

Of which works are you most proud? 

I have composed so much stuff over the years, and have been so lucky that nearly everything I’ve written has been either performed, recorded or broadcast at some point. So trying to pick a particular work out is very difficult, as you could imagine, but maybe I can quickly suggest a few that stick in mind. ‘Suffolk Serenade’ (mezzo,horn+strings) was a joint commission with my wife (writer Gillian) to write a ‘complimentary’ piece to Benjamin Britten’s ‘Serenade’ for the Britten centenary. At the interval, the concert was actually down in Suffolk of course, I was approached with a dilemma – the audience would like to hear it again! Yikes, I thought, as did the conductor too, as it lasted over 30mins in total – although, I may add the orchestra and conductor were very keen and seemed to like it thoroughly too. Anyway, that was amazing that an audience and musicians enjoyed my scribblings so much that they were willing to suffer more tonal distress….hee, hee, from me and was great for a premiere of a contemporary piece of music was accepted on first hearing. Another important piece was a work I wrote for the theatre entitled ‘The In Between Space’. I was composer in residence for Converge at the time, which helps provide student lessons in music, drama, dance, creative writing,etc,for people with mental health issues. I wrote the incidental music soundtrack and was invited to attend the two days of performances – truly wonderful they were too.The last one I choose is the most recent too. I am at present working on a joint project with Japanese composer Nobuya Monta; we are having joint concerts and recordings of our music,both in UK and Japan.On Sunday 17th July this year he visited the UK and we launched our first event: Concert and CD launch of ‘Heading for the Hills’ at Blueprint Studios ( where we recorded it) an album of Japanese and British music for string quartet. First the Strata String Quartet played a selection of the tracks from the CD, then, whilst the studio played back the whole album, we toasted a new adventure in Japanese/British musical culture which we hope to develop over the next few years. It took a lot organising, as you can imagine, bringing performers, studio and record label all together and on board for a journey which was developing as we went along – a truly musical adventure,but if you want it to happen, it will.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I suppose my musical language is really a combination of many styles, it crosses many musical boundaries really. To be honest, I’ve never actually paid any attention to trying to write in any style at all, whatever comes out of my head I scribble down, then wait to hear the performance – either live or recorded. As I have worked with so many musicians and on so many projects over the years on numerous variety of commissions, I’ve no doubt been subconsciously influenced on what I’ve heard and learnt from each experience and each project – which is exactly what I did when I started at this composing malarkey I suppose. One thing I’m very certain of of though a lot of my individual voice emanates from Elgarian melody, jazz harmony and rock/folk rhythms – all styles of music I liked when I was a youngster and still enjoy listening/playing now too!

How do you work? 

When I receive a commission, for film, concert hall or studio work, I tend to think a lot about the project and meet with the performers to discuss my ideas. Collaboration is very important to me as a composer,sharing thoughts with the players is pretty inspiring to me,as we bounce around ideas off each other and I get to know them and likewise – this so important,I feel anyway. Then I think a little bit more, often walking around, or on my many train travels, until the piece is completed in my head and I have a clear vision of the finished work. I then sit down to use pen and paper to write the score; it doesn’t matter if it’s for full orchestra or a soundtrack for animation etc, I still like the intimacy and immediacy of ink and stave – transferring thought directly to paper. If I need to get score/parts to the other side of the world, I’ll get someone to turn my manuscript into computer ‘stuff’ and email it to players,otherwise I’ll pop in post, or better still, I’ll revisit them and hand over in person.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love concerts and enjoy the ‘buzz’ even the tuning up at the beginning has always made the hairs on the back of neck stand up – although,alas, a few less hairs these days! I enjoy a wide variety of musical genres, but I suppose Elgar, Rodrigo, Michael Nyman, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead are all composers and musicians I enjoy listening to regularly and still get great inspiration from. I enjoy listening either live performances – which I much prefer – although I enjoy broadcasts and recordings too of course.I used to do a lot of teaching, which I really enjoyed and which taught me a lot, I actually think we learnt off one another, they from my knowledge and experience,me from their open minds,new exciting ideas, my students would bring along a selection of stuff they were enjoying,o ften from musicians I’d never heard of, which have become favourites, like Arcade Fire, and Einaudi too. Whilst I do a little teaching now, mainly as a guest lecturer at different universities/colleges, etc, I still find it invigorating to listen, explore and find new sources of musical sounds and ideas – I think this is very important for a composer.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Other than the excitement at my first rock concert aged 12, by prog-rock band Hawkwind, which was scary and amazing, in equal measure, I seem to remember one of the most memorable and truly overwhelming was a performance Elgar’s cello concerto – many years ago, at York University Central Hall. In the final, agitated fast movement, there occurs a refrain from the slow movement, of that delicious, hauntingly beautiful melody, which builds then dies away bit by bit. Well, in this performance as the slow theme dissipates to Elgar’s dynamic instruction, probably a ‘ppp’ the melody did just this and also something else, which I still can’t quite figure out how, but however the cello sings totally solo then ..gets, quieter ….quieter, quieter, slower……….then almost inaudible. At this moment I and I believe everyone else in the audience held their breath………then after what seems like ages the baton beats and were off for the final orchestral flourish and crashing last few bars. But,the few seconds took me to a really musical and totally magical place that I still recall, not all the concert, but that moment, and I wish I had experienced more of these moments in time – although I’ve been at a few others,close but not so sublime!

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

I think, just my personal thoughts these of course, that a musician should always strive to be themselves. Yes, learn from others, study the works of others, but please develop your own style. As composers, we feel we have something individual to say, so it’s very important that we develop our own voice to say and express this. Also, to enable this to happen I feel it’s very important to listen to as wide as possible, and practical, as much music from as varied sources and genres as possible. It’s very important to not become stagnant, or complacent in your music, audiences and musicians deserve better than this and more importantly so do you as a composer. I enjoy writing, listening and learning, still, absorbing from anywhere and everywhere; art, theatre, concerts, broadcasts, socialising, travel, all are very important to me to help keep my feet on the ground, except on a plane of course, but also keep my mind, eyes and especially my ears open and help me continue to work in the 21st Century.

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

I hope I’ll continue to learn more of the art of composing music from around this small world of ours. It’s a small, but beautiful planet with a wide variety of peoples and cultures and as the technology develops it brings both closer together and hopefully understand one another through art, and particularly in my case music.Sharing our musical ideas across the globe helps composers across the globe develop a new ‘palette’ from which to draw their individual colours to express. I for one, will strive for another ten years to do this. Continuing to have the opportunity to explore new new musical horizons, writing more compositions which cross the boundaries of musical genres.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting in a pub beer garden drinking a nice glass of cold cider and eating a cheese ploughman’s with my wife; I believe the nicest things in life are often the simplest.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Parker fountain pen, with which I sign all my finished scores.

‘Heading for the Hills’, Peter Byrom-Smith’s new album for string quartet is available now

Peter Byrom-Smith is an internationally renowned composer. Writing for and performing with many musicians from across a wide spectrum of genres, Peter’s musical journey has taken him on many trips around the world. His music has been performed, broadcast and recorded in U.K, Europe, Singapore,  Japan and U.S.A. by numerous musicians. He is as happy to have his music performed in small country churches as he is at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. 

His music crosses boundaries: a melange of sounds, bringing together elgarian melody, jazz harmonies and rock rhythms. 

In an ever growing portfolio of work, which includes pieces written for full orchestra and chamber musicians. He also regularly works with pop/rock musicians, both in the studio and in live performance, as well as writing sound tracks for film and theatre.  Peter’s work is performed regularly and he receives frequent commissions for new music.  

www.peterbyromsmith.com

 

Meet the Artist…..Noriko Ogawa

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

My mother is a piano teacher. I used to crawl under the piano when my mother was teaching – I am talking about when I was not even a year old.  So, it was totally natural for me to take up piano lessons.  As for pursuing a career, I am still looking for the secret to succeed.  Quite honestly, I still feel like a music college student because the basics of my life have been the same (whether piano practise is done or not is a major issue of the day).

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

My mother Michiko for a start.  As for teachers, I am really grateful to two teachers, Mr. Hironaka who taught me in Japan and Benjamin Kaplan who coped with me in London.  Ben was the one who told me how to look at the music, how to analyse, and how to perform.

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

I cannot think of anything much off the top of my head. Coming from a family with a piano teacher with absolutely no connection to any ‘important’ people in Japan, let alone outside Japan, I feel I have done pretty OK.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recordings…. Takemitsu piano music because it was the first CD of the journey with Robert von Bahr and BIS (now, I have recorded 33 CDs with them!!!!).  I am proud of the most recent recording, SATIE with an 1890 Erard Piano.  I was asked to perform a recital on an Erard piano once.  I was reluctant because I am not a period instrument specialist, but the piano was so wonderful that I fell in love immediately.  As soon as I played the concert, I grabbed the arm of the owner of the instrument.  I asked him if I could use the piano for a CD recording. I am totally fascinated by Erik Satie at the moment. His music is raw, but the ideas he came up with are 20-30 years ahead of his time. I feel privileged to have this opportunity to re-discover his ability, to look into his musicality with more respect. Satie has been underestimated for a long time. Having the Erard for the recording has helped me to realise his genius approach, just because I love this particular instrument so very much!!

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Debussy, Takemitsu for sure because I like working on ‘beauty of sound’ at the piano.  And some Rachmaninov.  I say this because every time I work with Russian orchestra, they tell me I have a ‘quasi-Russian’ heart.  Personally, I like performing Schumann and Liszt very much and I have been including their pieces in my solo recitals this year because 2016 is marks anniversaries of their deaths [Schumann 1856, Liszt 1886]. They show me the depth of piano music. Very often, I am totally emotional and shaken by their music when I walk off the stage after a performance.

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

Nowadays, it is important to know ‘anniversaries’ of composers or any musical events.  When I find my favourite composers’ anniversaries, I feel as though I won a lottery.  It doesn’t mean I am worked up with it.  In reality, I speak to the promoters of concerts and build programmes.  So, each concert is unique.

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

I am one of the advisors of Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall in Japan.  It is a magnificent concert hall.  Of course, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Wigmore, Cadogan, Kings Place in London are all very special to me.   Personally, I am happy wherever I am taken.  A school classroom can be a wonderful venue if I establish rapport with the audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I like my close colleagues rather than superstars in the world. I get excited when I get to see what is so amazing about them close up – Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe, Kathryn Stott, Ronan O’Hora, Charles Owen, Katya Apekisheva to name a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

When a huge black hairy spider came out from ‘between keys’ on the piano after I finished playing the first item.  The spider looked massive and dramatic against very white keys!

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

One has to go through very tough practising.  It is important to have that level of work to get out there.  On top of it, there are many things one has to have in order to make career. Noticing a moment of ‘chance’ is important. I am talking about all yjr practical bits. Of course, talent and enthusiasm have to be there too.

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

The same… if I can still manage the same things in 10 years from now, I would be delighted.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Happiness is something every individual decides. I am happy when I am pottering around the house. Equally, I am very happy when I receive some good feedback from the audience. I nearly forgot to say this… I am very happy when a performance has gone well. But even happier when I have done my piano practice according to my plan (most of the time, everything gets delayed, I don’t complete my plan)

What is your most treasured possession?

I have been keeping my diary for the last 30 some years, nothing detailed, it is more like a log, just a record what I have done that day. I often think what would be my luxury on a desert island. Nail clippers!

www.norikoogawa.co.uk

Noriko Ogawa has achieved considerable renown throughout the world since her success at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Noriko’s “ravishingly poetic playing” (Telegraph) sets her apart from her contemporaries and acclaim for her complete Debussy series with BIS Records, confirms her as a fine Debussy specialist. Her Images Book I and II were chosen as the top recommendation ‘exquisite delicacy’, BBC Radio 3’s CD Review, January 2014. Noriko’s latest recording for BIS records is of solo piano music by Eric Satie.

Noriko appears with all the major European, Japanese and US orchestras including the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech National Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere of Richard Dubugnon’s Piano Concerto. Noriko made her BBC Proms debut in August 2013 and appeared again in 2014 with the Endymion Ensemble. She was the Artistic Director for the Reflections on Debussy Festival 2012 at Bridgewater Hall. In 2015 she continued as Associate Artist for Ravel and Rachmaninov Festival.

As a recitalist and chamber musician, with her piano duet partner Kathryn Stott, Noriko has performed Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Two Pianos at the 2013 BBC Proms.

Noriko regularly judges the BBC Young Musician, Munich International Piano Competition, Honens International Piano Competition and the Scottish International Piano Competition. Noriko has been appointed as Chairperson of the Jury for Japan’s prestigious 10th Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in 2018.

Noriko’s Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook has been reprinted due to popular demand.

Noriko is passionate about charity work, after the tsunami in Japan in 2011, she has raised over £40,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund. Noriko founded Jamie’s Concerts a series for autistic children and parents and is a Cultural Ambassador for the National Autistic Society.

Noriko is a professor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Meet the Artist……Marianna Prjevalskaya, pianist

marianna-photoWho or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music? 

I was born into a musical family and was surrounded by music all the time when I was growing up. Both of my parents are musicians, therefore it was assumed I would follow the same path. They only asked me if I wanted to play piano or violin, and I picked piano. Honestly, I never regretted my choice. I started my piano lessons under my mother´s guidance, and continued until I was 17 years old, when I began my education at the Royal College of Music in London, studying with wonderful Irina Zaritskaya.

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

When I moved to Spain with my family, I met the pianist Krystian Zimerman, and was inspired by his interpretations of Chopin’s Ballades and Concertos, and Liszt Sonata. I also had a chance to hear him live several times in my hometown in Spain performing with orchestra. He introduced me to music I had never heard before, and I was so stunned by its beauty that I was desperate to get those scores out and start learning. I think I sight-read everything we had at home, and it got to the point that my mother had to hide music from me, as I did not want to practice works she assigned. That was probably the time when I realized I wanted to devote my life to music. I always felt that knowing that pianist at that age was crucial for my development. Later, as I grew up, my attention shifted to other musicians. I admire Grigory Sokolov. I should not dare to say he is my influence, but he is the type of musician whose artistry resonates with me most. He fills each note with meaning when he plays, each silence has a meaning, and each note has its beginning and its end! Every single phrase is preciously delineated, well thought and deeply felt. His musicianship is so powerful that he takes control over you and is capable of hypnotizing you. He neither tries to impress, but remains authentic. I think his performances are transcendental experiences, at least for me, and he is an artist who speaks from his truest self.

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

I think everybody has to go through some challenges, but personally I tend to be quite private about difficulties I go through. What I can share, perhaps, is that I learned how to remain true to myself no matter what others think of me and expect from me. I found it quite challenging because I am a vulnerable person. When you are surrounded by many musicians and participating in competitions, the pressure grows even greater. Very often your thoughts can be scattered around in your mind about other contestants, and whether the impression you left on the jury was positive or negative. With a bit of experience I realized that all these thoughts are very distracting, they separate you from who you are, and don’t let you express yourself authentically. Eventually, during my competition performances, I was able to attain the freedom I feel when I perform any public recital.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

I am not sure the word “proud” is the most appropriate; I am a perfectionist and always feel I can do better. However, I would probably say that I am happy with my most recent album dedicated to Rachmaninoff.

Tell us more about your new recording…

The album features Variations on themes by Chopin and Corelli. I was dreaming about this project because Rachmaninoff is a composer whose music I find very close to my heart and my soul. I have to say that I had an absolutely awesome team: I was lucky to work with an amazing producer Elaine Martone, who was extremely supportive, encouraging and inspiring during the recording sessions. Chelsea VandeDrink is a fantastic recording engineer who did her work fabulously, and Anilda Carrasquillo created a booklet I could only dream about. I felt that it was a very strong team, and it was an excellent experience to work with these people, with whom I created a strong bond and most importantly, a lasting friendship. This CD was possible thanks to the Cincinnati World Piano Competition, which I won in 2013.

What is the particular appeal of these works by Rachmaninoff for you? 

I have always felt a close relationship with this composer, and considered recording some of his compositions a long time ago, but then in my twenties discovered his Variations on a Theme of Chopin Op.22, a work that unfortunately is not often performed. I was fascinated by the incredible variety of moods and emotions Rachmaninoff reveals in this music, as well as by the way he transforms the theme throughout the composition, making it barely recognizable. It is a work with endless possibilities for a pianist to display his or her mastery.

I often think that composition’s fate grows from the roots. What I mean in this case is that the work had a very moderate reception when Rachmaninoff premiered it in 1903 in Moscow. The preludes Op.23, written during the same summer, enjoyed a bigger success, and his other major hits, like his second sonata, or the second concerto, for example, completely overshadowed this composition. Even though nowadays you may find a few recordings, I feel pianists are afraid of its length and that it might not be an easy piece for the audience. This set of variations lasts about half an hour, but isn’t the Liszt Sonata thirty minutes long? Any late Schubert sonata would be even longer! When I performed this work in the semifinals of Seoul International Piano Competition in 2008, one jury member asked me at the end of the competition why I chose this piece and told me that it is inappropriate for a competition, and that instead I should have played the second sonata. I made to the finals anyway, but am still puzzled why this composition is not appreciated. It is an actual gem in the piano repertoire!

Regarding the Variations on a Theme of Corelli I have to say that at the time I was making my decision what else would go together with Chopin variations, it happened I was working on Corelli variations, and thought both sets would work greatly together. Thirty years separate both pieces and they are incredibly different. The Corelli Variations exhibit a stylistic growth and some kind of a structural compactness: he expresses his ideas in a more concise way, somewhat similar to a mature person who prefers to speak less, but whose choice of vocabulary is very accurate. I do love this composition, but in a different way.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Works that speak to me emotionally. But not necessarily has to be from the same period. I played Scarlatti sonatas that were very precious to me. I felt a particular affinity with Haydn Andante and Variations in F minor that I recorded for NAXOS a few years ago, for example. My attention usually shifts to different composers at different periods of my life. There were years when I felt too attached to Chopin, but thought I would never understand Schumann for his crazy and hectic romanticism. A few years later I felt I only wanted to play Schumann, and it was never enough of him. To name a few that deeply belong to my heart: Schubert Sonatas D.845 and D.959, Schumann F sharp minor Sonata Op.11, Brahms Intermezzi Op.117, Liszt Sonata, Debussy Preludes Book II, obviously Rachmaninoff, including the second Sonata, Prokofiev Sonata No.8 Op.84, among many others.

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

I feel that every time I go through a difficult internal process before I make my repertoire choices. I always play what I want, what I like most and what I feel is right for me at this moment. What it means is that for some reason, on some kind of subconscious level, a particular piece rings my doorbell. It happens when I constantly hear this music in my head, and it does not cease until I take the score and start learning it. It is as though the piece was being chosen by itself, asking to be played. I find it very interesting. And what is even more surprising is that I usually never misunderstand the signal. If I feel the need to play a particular composition, it means I feel something very special for it, a very strong emotional connection. I should probably say I am lucky, because I usually build my own recital programs, however I wish I had the same freedom to choose concerti I want to play with orchestras.

I have also had other experiences. I forced myself to play something that did not seem the right choice, and all of a sudden, when the work began, I realized that I made a huge discovery, a work that I never thought I would enjoy became one of my favourites.

My former teacher Boris Berman told me one day: “Try to learn to love a piece you do not like.” At that time I did not understand how that was possible, I neither wanted to try. I guess now I know what he meant.

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

I can name several venues where I felt particularly good. A concert hall in Malaga, Sala Maria Cristina was a very special venue where I played all Schumann recital. I loved their Steinway, and the decoration of the hall and its acoustic were very inspiring. I enjoyed immensely performing at Weill Hall in New York, as well as remember wonderful experiences performing at the Mozarteum in Salzburg and Minato Mirai Hall in Yokohama.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This questions is partially related to my choice of repertoire. I prefer to perform works that are emotionally intense and that speak to me most. Compositions I choose to play become my favourite pieces to perform. I do like listening to music, in fact I only listen to classical music, and I should probably feel ashamed that I do not listen to anything else. It all depends on my mood. One day I might want to hear a Baroque ensemble, another evening I want to listen to Schubert’s Lieder or Brahms, or may be Haydn’s symphonies.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

If we talk about living pianists, I would name Grigory Sokolov, Murray Perahia, Mitsuko Uchida, Radu Lupu, Evgeny Kissin, András Schiff.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I have several. I will never forget my experience performing Brahms d minor piano concerto with Kazufumi Yamashita and Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra in the final round of Sendai International Piano Competition in 2010. It is an exceptionally rare experience when you feel that the orchestra, conductor and yourself blend into one organic whole, and music drives you with its force somewhere beyond reality. And I give thanks to this conductor for making me feel that way. A similar experience occurred performing Chopin e minor concerto with Stamatia Karampini, she made me to forget that I was not playing alone, and with Chopin that is really dangerous, because the conductor and the orchestra have to be constantly alert, Chopin´s rubato is unpredictable and too fragile to foresee. I have also enjoyed tremendously performing with Roberto Trevino and Cincinnati Symphony, and with Carlos Prieto and David Danzmayr and Louisiana Philharmonic. My solo memorable experience was probably my Weill Hall debut and a recital I performed in Baltimore with Schubert A major Sonata D.959, a work I have a very intimate connection with; in fact all Schubert occupies a very special place in my heart. I am not sure what happened that evening, but I was watching my hands and thought I am witnessing my own playing. My intensions were shaping phrases with no effort, and music was being created in the moment. That state of mind is not something you can experience every time you go to play on stage.

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

I think the most important advice I would give is to stay true to yourself, avoid being influenced by others and do not give up.

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

I am not sure I can answer this question. I like the idea of not knowing what is ahead in my life. I have learned not to rush things, and that everything comes at its right time. I try to enjoy living in the present moment.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

To feel internal harmony and see my family healthy and happy. 

What is your most treasured possession? 

The ability to feel and understand music.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Playing the piano.

What is your present state of mind? 

I feel pretty balanced and in peace with myself.

cincinnati_disk_230Marianna Prjevalskaya’s all-Rachmaninoff CD is available now. The recording features two works for solo piano: Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op.22, and Variations on a Theme of Corelli, Op.42. (Fanfare Cincinnati FC-008) Marianna Prjevalskaya plays Rachmaninoff

Born to a musical family, Marianna benefited from early lessons with her mother from age six, her principal mentor for more than eleven years. She continued her studies at the Royal College of Music in London with Irina Zaritskaya and Kevin Kenner. In 2003 Marianna moved to the United States where she joined the Toradze Piano Studio at Indiana University. She also holds an Artist Diploma and Master of Music from Yale School of Music, where she studied with Boris Berman. Currently Marianna is a doctoral candidate at Peabody Conservatory of Music where she studied with Boris Slutsky. At diverse festivals, she has studied with renowned pianists such as Liliya Zilbernstein, Emmanuel Ax, John O’Conor, Leon Fleisher, Choong-Mo Kang, Richard Goode, Peter Frankl and Piotr Paleczny, among others.

www.prjevalskaya.com

‘One Before Zero’ – an oratorio for the Battle of the Somme

Benjamin Ellin, the award-winning and critically acclaimed British conductor and composer, has been commissioned to create a classical composition focusing on the concept of peace and this year’s centenary of the Battle of the Somme.  The resulting Oratorio One Before Zero is one movement for orchestra, solo baritone, solo mezzo soprano and boys’ choir.

somme-hero-image
(picture source: 1914.org)

This large-scale musical narrative work is inspired by the moment before battle, before zero, zero hour, the time at which hostilities commence.  Benjamin Ellin explains: “It’s the time when all that is known can be turned upside down and where a world of emotions dominates the mind and soul of any soldier”.

The work is in English, French and German and aims to illustrate musically and linguistically how the race to war, the loss of life and the destruction of humanity affected all sides in this devastating war.

Benjamin explains the inspiration behind the new work: “The Imperial War Museum provided a great deal of the research materials that helped inform my understanding of the period and I used the archives of Royds Hall School in Huddersfield which was a military hospital during WW1.  I enlisted the talented writer Ben Maier to help me ensure the work flows as a  continuous and complete line. The work has a personal connection too. My great relative, Private Samuel Vincent Boot (No. 19463) was killed in WW1.  I used his army number to develop a lot of musical material and develop the narrative.”

The performance will take place on 11th November 2016 at the renowned Maison de la Culture in Amiens in Northern France which is located just behind where the front line was established in WW1.  A second performance is scheduled on 12th November 2016 in Beauvais, Maladrerie Saint-Lazare.

benjamin_ellin

In this Meet the Artist interview, Benjamin discusses his musical influences, the challenges of his career as a composer, and the creation of ‘One Before Zero’.

Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music? 

I heard a performance of the Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet as a young boy – my mother took each of us (myself and my two older sisters) to see a ballet when we were young by way of a musical intro – and I was hooked. I persuaded her to buy me the tape recording in the shop and listened to it constantly. Whenever I hear a great piece of music, in whatever genre, I just want to write music or do something creative.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer? 

There isn’t one single thing. My initial musical impulse often comes from the environment I am in or the world events of our time. I also love the sounds that are around us generally and how they often turn in to little musical ideas all by themselves. For instance, one of the tracks from the TAFAHUM album ‘Osmosis’ is inspired by the sound of the Victoria Line tube at Highbury and Islington; the piece is called Three Fishes Laughing.

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

Being pigeonholed really – or people trying to. For me, music is genuinely indivisible and once you try to put people in to boxes you are missing the point. Sadly it seems, at times, this obsession is a by-product of lazy elements of the ‘business’, but I have always believed that the most inspiring characters around do more than one thing and I genuinely just happen to love and feed off different musical arenas.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

The shape of a piece is very important. Once the overall structure is set in your mind, even if it changes slightly in the process of being realised, you can really start to write it out. For ‘One Before Zero’ that really was the main issue; deciding on the form and arch because after that a lot of decisions have been made for you. The challenge is knowing what to not use or not do and structure helps that process of illumination a lot. Pleasures? I love harmony and the juxtaposition of chords and the resonances they have; that and treating the audience to the theatrical elements of music so they are – hopefully – truly gripped and engaged.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras? 

If you have a relationship with a performer or a group then you can try and build the musical material around them in subtle ways; this is a joy. A challenge is to always respect the skill and talent of the musicians. They have to play your music and you hope that they actually want to. I don’t believe music is all about the composer in an egotistical way but always about the collective.

Of which works are you most proud? 

I am proud of my Violin Concerto which was premiered last year with the Philharmonia Orchestra, my Trombone Concerto for Joseph Alessi, my tracks on the TAFAHUM album ‘Osmosis’ and the works I have written in conjunction with Violist Rivka Golani and the people of the Siksika nation in Canada – amongst others…

How would you characterise your compositional language?

That is a difficult question – in fact, all these questions are! In short a mix of Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Britten, Vaughan Williams and the jazz world of Miles Davis and Count Basie amongst others. Jazz and blues were major influences growing up in that they were the main style of music that I heard and I still love them. In general, as a composer, I don’t seek to reinvent the wheel but I’ll always express myself as honestly and boldly as I can.

How do you work? 

It largely depends on the piece or the commission. Sometimes a solid idea for a gesture within a piece starts the process and other times I have to work relatively slowly. Waiting for inspiration is all well and good, but sometimes it doesn’t always flow and you have to then rely on your technique – however good it is – when a deadline is there! I also like to sow ideas in my mind and let my subconscious chew them over for a bit; they nearly always find a way of becoming a key part of the process.

Please tell us more about your new work ‘One Before Zero’, to be premiered on Remembrance Day. 

In short it is a large oratorio for orchestra, solo baritone, solo mezzo and SATB male choir to commemorate the Battle of the Somme.

Not so short, well, subconscious played a major part here too. I first worked in Amiens several seasons ago when I wrote two smaller pieces for a new festival there. As soon as I went on a research trip I was hooked on the area, the cathedral and the history of World War 1. I knew I wanted to write something about it and that was a good start for mental gestation! Then I had the chance to work with the orchestra in Picardie as both a composer (I wrote a new work for them) and also as a conductor in several performances. Therefore I got to know the players a little and I also got to work with their Music Director Arie. By the time the commission came I had soaked a lot up about the people, the area and so I could start from a decent place. The desired use of an all male SATB choir provided another set of options for the work as it was clear to me that the choir should be the soldiers and the baritone soloist is one of them whilst the mezzo represents the home front, picking up the pieces and trying to make sense of everything that was going on through the mirage of propaganda and misinformation through media…how things change!

Then, after lots of reading and textual research I decided on the structure of the piece. The soldier (baritone solo), drained, exhausted and battle-hardened from war stands at the front of the stage. Gazing out at the audience he begins to question who are the people across the stretch of no man’s land in front of him who he will shortly be ordered to attack, to kill, or indeed be killed by. Who are they? Are they anything like him? How did he get to this point where a mere order from a higher rank can result in him, a hitherto ordinary man, attacking with such aggression and ferociousness.

This awakening marks the start of the work. The title itself (ONE BEFORE ZERO)  underlines the importance of this moment before battle, before zero, zero hour  – the time at which hostilities commence – when all that is known can be turned upside down and where a world of emotions can surely fly through the mind and soul of any soldier.

The text is also a mixture of source letters, propaganda and diary entries from the time and also a number of commissioned texts by Ben Maier – a writer who I work with regularly. The new texts help knit everything together and I wanted to move away from using war poetry as it had already been done several times. The piece is in three languages, English, French and German as the aim of the piece is to underline the human cost on all sides of this conflict.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Again, there have been many for all sorts of reasons. I think my first concert as a conductor at the Philharmonic in St Petersburg was very special. I studied in St Petersburg and saw a concert there during my studies with the St Petersburg Philharmonic. Amazing. Then, years later when I used to do stage managing I stage managed a concert with the EUYO and Ashkenazy there. A few years after that I made my debut as  conductor and with one of my own pieces, WHITE CRUCIFIXION, so it was a powerful feeling of full cycle!

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

Be really honest with yourself about what you are trying to do, what you love and what you are doing. Lots of people will try and knock you down, directly or just through ignorance. If you genuinely love what you do, no matter what, then just keep going – however hard it gets. Take what you do seriously, but never take yourself seriously so that it becomes destructive – ego is the ugliest trait in people and especially in music.

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

Music Director of a Professional Orchestra, writing a small handful of film scores a year, touring and collaborating with Tafahum, guest conducting with a handful of organisations and carving out commissions that I am interested in.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?  

Now, as a father, a good afternoon picnic with my wife and children followed by prating around with them, and possibly some creative work in the garden with my daughter helping.

What is your most treasured possession?  

I would say my family, but they are not a possession, so, therefore, I don’t have one.

What do you enjoy doing most?  

Lots of things and as much as I can. I learn about other things from doing something seemingly different so I love variety in work and in life.

What is your present state of mind? 

A mixture of love, contentment, frustration at the world and hope in the many beautiful things that still manage to exist.

‘One Before Zero’, a new oratorio in one movement commissioned by l’Orchestre de Picardie for the Network ONE® – an Orchestra Network for Europe – to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme will be premiered in France on Remembrance Day, 11th November 2016. Further information and tickets

Award-winning and critically acclaimed British conductor and composer Benjamin Ellin is currently Music Director of Thursford Productions, Founder of the Contemporary Fusion ensemble Tafahum, Principal Conductor of the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra, Music Director of Focus Opera and President of Pembroke Academy of Music, London.

His belief in the positive power of music within society is reflected in the wide-ranging projects of which he is currently a major figurehead. From his own ensemble Tafahum, major projects and collaborations at London’s Southbank Centre, his own commissioned works with the First Nation communities of Alberta, Canada to his commitment to outreach and development work as well as appearing on stage with leading ensembles across the globe, Ellin’s belief in a musical world without boundaries is equalled by a tireless commitment as a guest artist and as a Music Director.

www.benjaminellin.com

A new home for Meet the Artist

Established in 2012, the weekly Meet the Artist interview slot, in which musicians and composers reflect on various aspects of their creative lives, has gone from strength to strength and is now an integral and very popular part of The Cross-Eyed Pianist’s content. To celebrate this, Meet the Artist now has its own dedicated website.

Meet the Artist interviews will continue to appear on this site every Thursday, while the new site will act as a supplement with a growing catalogue of interviews with both well-known classical musicians and composers and young and up-and-coming artists. Do consider following the site in order to receive updates every time a new interview is released. In addition to interviews there will also be news, reviews and other articles relating to the artists featured on the site.

I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to share so many fascinating and often unexpected insights from such a wonderful range of musicians and composers, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has taken part in the Meet the Artist project so far for their contributions to the series.

header

 

 

Meet the Artist……Helen Grime, composer

news-3412Who or what inspired you to take up composing and pursue a career in music?

I was surrounded by music from a young age and went to a music school (city of Edinburgh Music school, then St Mary’s Music School) where everyone was encouraged to compose. It’s difficult to put my finger on what exactly inspired me to pursue composing but I think it was this ethos combined with individuals such as the pianist, Peter Evans and ecat (Edinburgh Contemporary Arts Trust at the time)taking an interest and performing as well as commissioning me.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

Coming to London and studying with Julian Anderson and Edwin Roxburgh made a real shift. They introduced me to so many composers as well as ideas and techniques, and this really instilled me with a desire to always be ambitious with he music I write. Studying in Tanglewood (2008) and working closely with composers Oliver Knussen, Augusta Read Thomas and others was also a very important time for me, not least because I was immersed in the music of Elliott Carter during their celebration of his centenary.

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

Having my son, in 2013, has been a real challenge, although not a frustration. I was used to devoting any or all my time to composing and this had to change, I’m much happier for it though!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece? 

Each commission has its own challenges, this may be linked to a brief. It often feels like you have to learn composing anew for each piece and that’s tough. Another challenge can be the pressure you feel to produce your best work and not to let the commissioner/organiser/individual/performers down, this can be very daunting at the beginning of the composing process.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

Working with musicians for the first time, whether soloists, singers or orchestras can be very exciting but also completely nerve racking. I want so much for them to respond well to what I’m doing and also enjoy learning and performing my music. My music (everyone tell me) is pretty difficult and detailed, even when I fell I’m doing something very simple. I know it takes a huge amount of energy and time to embrace a new sound world and am always incredibly grateful when musicians seem to get what I’m doing and really believe in it.

Which works are you most proud of?

It takes me a long time to feel really comfortable with a piece and it might take several years and different performances for me to let go and enjoy it. For this reason it’s a difficult question, also, how I feel about a piece can be linked to other people’s reactions at the time or the performance. I think I’m most proud of some chamber pieces such as Aviary Sketches for string trio and my Three Whistler Miniatures for Piano trio. I am proud of my Violin Concerto just now, but it’s not receiving its premiere until December so I will have to wait and see! Often I’ve had particular compositional challenges in these works but don’t feel I’ve had to compromise on my language or original vision for the piece.

How would you describe your compositional language?

My language is detailed and intricate. I am drawn to rich harmonies, initially influenced by Messiaen, Takemitsu and Boulez, and long expressive musical lines. I love to create different layers in my music and often slow music exists at the same time as fast music. Clarity and focus, as well as a dedication to always get exactly the right notes, are always paramount for me.

How do you work?

I work in a spare bedroom and spend a lot of time sketching on manuscript and using piano. Once I have developed and discarded a lot of material as well as discovered what I want to try to achieve in a piece, I start using Sibelius software alongside, always moving back and forth manuscript to rework and draft passage. This is usually pretty extensive.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Difficult to say, but Ravel, Stravinsky, Janacek, Byrd, Bach,Ligeti, Knussen feature pretty highly- obviously there are many others, living and dead, but these are composers whose music I love in its entirety.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Berg violin concerto with Christian Tetzlaff when I was an usher at the Usher Hall during the the Edinburgh International Festival.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians and composers?

To always keep a core of self belief and never ever give up, even in really tough times. Keep an open mind but always be true to your musical identity and don’t compromise on that.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Snuggled by an open fire with a good glass of red and a good book on a winter day.

Helen Grime is Wigmore Hall’s first female Composer in Residence. Helen will compose three new pieces as part of the residency, beginning with a piano concerto for Huw Watkins and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, and will also contribute to the hall’s Community and Education programme. The first event of the residency will take place on October 15 with a day of concerts devoted to the composer’s music and figures that have influenced her work. Further information here

Born in 1981, Helen studied oboe with John Anderson and composition with Julian Anderson and Edwin Roxburgh at the Royal College of Music. In 2003 she won a British Composer Award for her Oboe Concerto, and was awarded the intercollegiate Theodore Holland Composition Prize in 2003 as well as all the major composition prizes in the RCM. In 2008 she was awarded a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship to study at the Tanglewood Music Center where she studied with John Harbison, Michael Gandolfi, Shulamit Ran and Augusta Read Thomas. Grime was a Legal and General Junior Fellow at the Royal College of Music from 2007 to 2009. She became a lecturer in composition at the Department of Music at Royal Holloway, University of London, in January 2010.
 
Helen has had works commissioned by some of the most established performers including London Symphony Orchestra, BCMG, Britten Sinfonia, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Music Center. Conductors who have performed her work include Daniel Harding, Pierre Boulez, Yan Pascal Tortelier and Sir Mark Elder. Her work Night Songs was commissioned by the BBC Proms in 2012 and premiered by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Oliver Knussen. In 2011 she was appointed Associate Composer to the Hallé Orchestra for an initial tenure of three years. Her first commission for them, Near Midnight, was premiered on May 23, 2013 and a recording of her orchestral works performed by the Hallé was released as part of the NMC Debut Disc Series in 2014, which was awarded ‘Editors Choice’ by Gramophone Magazine. 
 

Meet the artist……Rick Simpson, jazz pianist & composer

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

Hmm…that’s hard to say. I think by the time I knew I wanted to music I hadn’t really met anyone or seen any concerts – I just knew that I loved playing the piano and making up little tunes. It wasn’t really until I found Jazz that I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to be doing. Before that I was quite unfocused and split my time between doing the grades and playing music from musicals and coming up with my own arrangements of them. My old piano teacher used to give me hell for not playing what was on the page, but I think that I’d always enjoyed playing around with music made the transition into Jazz piano at the age of fifteen more comfortable.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life and career?

My classical piano teacher at Guildhall, Laura Roberts, has probably had the biggest influence on my musical life. She’s been a close friend and ally over the years and even though we rarely see each other now she still has a big influence over me. She pulled me out of so many bad habits at the piano – before I met her I really had very little idea of how to play the piano properly so she really turned my life around. I’m still trying to work on the simple ideas she presented me ten years ago.

For Jazz if I had to name one figure it would be Keith Jarrett. He was my first real love in music and the first pianist I ever heard. I’d never listened to any famous classical pianists before, or really even any piano music in general and when I first heard Jarrett it was mind-blowing and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. What can I say about Jarrett that hasn’t already been said! To me he’s the biggest musical genius of all time. 

Other than Jarrett there came a time in my life around the age of 21 where I felt like the African-American lineage of Jazz Piano had a greater pull for me. Before then I was quite into the Bill Evans – Brad Mehldau – ECM sound, and I still love that, but the Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock lineage really took over at some point. Its all beautiful and it ultimately all comes from the same place but I always want to keep on working on what is a Black American art form. Even though my own music comes from a lot of influences outside of Jazz I won’t ever stop trying to get together what Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were doing in the 1940s.

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

I think anxiety has held me back massively. Its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt happy on stage. I used to be a nervous wreck and it showed. That’s really held me back and I feel like I need to make up for lost time but I’m generally a lot happier and settled than I was in my early and mid-twenties.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that the music I’ve written over the last four or five years has come from not thinking of tonality or chords. None of the music from my new record has any chord symbols in it. I wanted to get away from the sound that I felt that I’d heard too much of in the London Jazz scene – music which has been clearly written with a single melody line over a set of sometimes quite bleak chords. Kenny Wheeler has been a huge influence on a lot of people in London but I had to get as far away from that sound as I could. When I write music these days the composition is first and the improvising is second. At some point I’ll go back to writing very small compositions that serve as vehicles for improvising but right now with my band Klammer the music is about the compositions.

How do you work?

I work very slowly, which is of great annoyance to me. I know some people who can write several tunes in one sitting, but I don’t think that works for me. I’ll write a couple of bars and then I’ll forget about it for days on end, and then come back to it and add a few more. I’d like to get things out faster but sometimes I think leaving things can cause you to come back afresh and take the music somewhere else. 

Often I think its helpful to know what you want to write before you start. That’s worked well for me in the past where I’ve wanted to write the fast tune/the ballad/the straight 8’s odd time tune, but these days I just sit and see what comes out.

Who are your favourite musicians/bands/composers?

Modern musicians/bands that pose a huge influence on me these days are Jason Moran, Django Bates, Matt Mitchell, Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Radiohead, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, John Hollenbeck, Wayne Shorter, Steve Reich, Liam Noble, people like that. I love hip hop, techno, ambient, singer-songwriter music too and it all runs together.
And from the past – Thelonious Monk, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bach, Schubert, Billie Holiday, Mahler, Messiaen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet playing music from outer space in 2006 at the Barbican Centre. It was without doubt the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. People in the audience were screaming during the encore, it was so super-charged. There’s a recording of it out there somewhere…That band is on the farthest outer edge of what’s possible. No one is doing what they can.

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

Ronnie Scott’s. It took me a long time to make peace with the piano – that piano kicked my ass! I had to really learn how to play grand pianos and its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt comfortable playing one – but now I love playing there. The atmosphere and sound are perfect and I would play there every week if I could. I’ve had some great gigs there recently with Leo Richardson’s Quartet and it just feels like the perfect place for that music.

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

Be friendly. Get your social skills together. Never, ever rely on what you perceive to be as your talent, its not enough. When I was younger I didn’t feel confident in some social situations and used to hope that I could just get by on my playing. You can’t – you have to go out there and meet people and make friends.

For Jazz musicians I’d say get as much together as you can. Don’t just do one thing, get it ALL together. It’s all as equally important and the more you have in your tool box the more exciting your improvising will be. It’s not fun when you know how someone is always going to sound. Jazz should be the sound of surprise. Tape yourself. Play classical music too, its all in there.

Other than that just practice as much as you can, see as much of life as you can and don’t worry if things don’t happen straight away. Never get lazy or complacent. When I was younger I noticed that some older musicians who I used to worship had done so and I vowed I would never slack off. The only person who can help you get better is yourself.

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

Still practicing and trying to get better. I still feel like a beginner and I still don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything and I don’t really want that feeling to go away. It keeps you moving. That said, if I’m still doing what I’ve done over the last few years in ten years time I’ll be very happy. I’d just like to do more of it and eventually move into teaching at one of the music colleges. I love this life and I just want it to last a long, long time!

Rick Simpson’s new album with his band Klammer is available now on the Two Rivers Records label

Rick Simpson is based in London playing a wide variety of music, and leads his own group playing original jazz music. Rick is a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s, the 606 Jazz Club, Pizza Express Dean Street, The Vortex, The Bull’s Head, and he has appeared at larger UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Purcell Room. In 2008 Rick won a Yamaha Scholarship Prize for Outstanding Jazz Musicians. A recording of Rick’s band was put on the front cover of Jazzwise Magazine.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2008 he has performed with musicians such as Christian Scott, Eric Harland, Joe Sanders, Michael Janisch, Ernesto Simpson, Martin Speake, Earl Burness Travis, Stan Sulzmann, Jeff Williams and Brandon Allen as well as younger musicians in London. Rick plays in the ensembles of Jay Phelps, Tim Thornton, Tommy Andrews, Leo Richardson, Paul Riley, and US Jazz Singer Hailey Tuck amongst others

Rick also teaches on the prestigious MEhr Clef courses alongside Stan Sulzmann, Steve Waterman, Alan Barnes, Malcolm Edmonstone Mark Hodgson, Lee Gibson, Ursula Malewski and Martin France.

www.ricksimpsonjazz.com