Category Archives: Meet the Artist

Meet the Artist……Marios Papadopoulos

oxford2bphil2b202b25c225a92bchris2bgloag
(photo Chris Gloag)

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

A keen ear and an aptitude for music I showed as a boy of five

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

I have always been inspired by great performances, particularly those of artists of the old school such as Cortot, and have sought to make strong, informed musical statements

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

To be able to keep my playing to a high standard. I am much more demanding now than I was ten years ago and the musical challenges are greater. Also, I have to ensure that the Orchestra has the resources to maintain its status and continue to expand.

You founded the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra in 1998, why did you decide to establish a new orchestra?

To establish an instrument of the highest quality in a town which is revered the world over for excellence. My colleagues and I have worked hard to create an orchestra worthy of the attention of some of the world’s greatest artist who now collaborate with us on a regular basis. I am totally against having to create a niche in order to attract attention. The OPO makes strong musical statements playing all kinds of repertoire, including your all time favourites.

Your piano festival begins on 30th July: what are you most looking forward to in the festival?

To acquaint myself with emerging talent and share my musical experiences with them.

The Oxford Piano Festival and Summer Academy is now widely acknowledged as one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world. A residential course at St Hilda’s College, it welcomes to Oxford some of the most talented young pianists from all continents to study with some of the world’s greatest artists and teachers. This year’s artists include Marc-André Hamelin, Peter Serkin, Dame Fanny Waterman, Paul Badura Scoda, Menahem Pressler, Peter Donohoe, Tong-Il Han, Alexandre Tharaud and Nikolai Lugansky.

The students attending are of the highest standard and many are on the verge of international careers. This year, we will be welcoming as students both the winner and runner-up of the 2015 Leeds International Piano Competition. In the younger category, we are delighted to be welcoming again three scholars from the Lang Lang Foundation, chosen by Lang Lang himself. It is a privilege to be amongst such outstanding talent: I learn a lot. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I rarely listen to my recordings once they have been edited

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I identify strongly with the German/Austrian classical repertoire of Mozart and Beethoven but also enjoy performing the romantic and 20th century repertoire.

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

We are here to serve the Oxfordshire community. As the only professional orchestra in Oxford, we are free to perform works we think our audiences would enjoy, including much of the core repertoire. The Oxford Philharmonic does not have to adhere to any gimmicks or acquire a niche to attract attention: it has a territorial claim and is in the service of the community.

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

I love playing in the Sheldonian Theatre. Other than its revered history, it has wonderful acoustics and provides an intimate setting for our audience and musicians alike

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The works I work on at any given time. We have just performed Walton’s Façade which I loved, and I am now preparing to conduct Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphony: what a great master he was!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who move me

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The few concerts I have given in my life which were less discomforting than others 

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

Do not be afraid to be an individual and always aim at making strong musical statements

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

I hope to be still alive and on stage tackling repertoire I have still not been able to perform: would love to conduct more Wagner, for instance. Also, I would like to devote myself to recording a lot of the piano repertoire.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be with my family

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Anything that makes me feel alive

What is your present state of mind?

One of huge responsibility for something my colleagues and I have created and which I would like to see continue its legacy when I am gone

Marios Papadopoulos MBE is the founder, music director and driving force behind the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly Oxford Philomusica), Orchestra in Residence at the University of Oxford.

www.oxfordphil.com

Oxford Piano Festival 2016

Meet the Artist…..Bartosz Glowacki, accordionist

6ebf9f_6cd64976f4878aec1230604fb9fddc09

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

I started playing the accordion quite late, when I was 11 and I began attending one of the national schools in Poland where I am from. I soon realised that this is what I wanted to do in my life. I was very lucky to have amazing teachers who were also great human beings so that helped me a lot in my decisions.

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

I cannot name a single person in my musical career who has been the most important to me. I tend to take inspiration from everyone I have come across or worked with. My teacher Owen Murray from the Royal Academy of Music is one of them, for example, as someone who showed me the importance of sound quality.

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

I think that maintaining the artistic vision in every concert is the biggest challenge but I think this problem touches most artists.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

It is very hard to name them as every performance is special for me and I try to give my best in each of them. If I have to choose one it would have to be my performance of Concerto Classico by Mikolaj Majkusiak for accordion and symphony orchestra in Vienna or my first album “Encuentro” with my group, the Deco Ensemble.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love to play classical contemporary works for accordion and I think that is the most natural repertoire in classical music for accordion nowadays. But, I enjoy playing all different styles of music as it helps to develop your musical taste.

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

My choices are based on my new discoveries. I love to go for the pieces or transcriptions which are not very popular or completely new.

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

I think the Wigmore Hall is one of my favourite venues because of the acoustics. Also Studio S1 of Polish Radio is outstanding. I am also really looking forward to playing at the Wallace Collection for the first time as part of City Music Foundation’s Summer Residency on 28th July.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Works by Gubaidulina are my favourite to perform and Chopin to listen to.

Playing Chopin on the accordion would be one of the biggest mistakes possible.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are the ones who I work with as I am often very lucky to meet people who are very talented but, more importantly, are nice people to work with. I think is really important. From the musical legends my favourites are Vladimir Horowitz, the great jazz pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda, and Paco de Lucia.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I remember playing for one of the political institutions in Brussels during an exhibition of pictures on the martology of Eastern Europe. I did not want to spoil the institution but the organisers asked me to play one of pieces in my repertoire called The Gulag Archipelago based on Solzhenitsyn’s book. Unfortunately, straight after the performance, the audience were supposed to move to the area where the post event reception was meant to take place. However, most of the audience went there after I started playing. I thought that it was a very bad concert experience until one lady came to my dressing room crying and explaining that her family went through the Gulag prisons and how touched she was.
We went for coffee together and she told me a lot of incredible stories from her life which were absolutely inspiring. Those kind of moments compensate for all the bad experiences in a musician’s life.

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

I would have to say it is the concept of musical journey in the concert which the musician can reflect on.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The word “perfect” should be completely erased from any language as there is no such thing in real life. For me happiness should be balanced between what you do, who you do it with and how you do it. Having a lovely family, doing a lot of concerts with my artistic vision and being able to enjoy life is as close to perfect as it can get in my opinion. Finding this balance in real life situation is the hardest bit.

Accordionist Bartosz Glowacki performs works by Scarlatti, Arvo Pärt, Trojan, Makkonen, Semionov and Piazzolla on Thursday 28th July as part of City Music Foundation’s Summer Residency at the Wallace Collection 25-29th July. More details here

City Music Foundation’s mission is to turn exceptional musical talent into professional success by equipping outstanding musicians at the outset of their careers with the tools, skills, experience and networks they need to pursue music as a viable and rewarding livelihood. 

www.glowackiaccordion.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Kenneth Hesketh, composer

avatars-000150970872-1m18d2-t500x500

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

My musical life began as a chorister at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool in 1977 when I was nine, but singing had already been a part of my life (winning local music festivals for solo singing), which is the reason I went to audition at the Cathedral. After joining I was given piano lessons and other basic theoretical training. From about the age of ten, I was composing a number of things which further supported my initial forays into composition; primarily the unwavering support of my mother and grandmother who purchased a piano and reams of manuscript paper. Various BBC programmes on music at the time engaged me; my parents mentioned a James Blades programme on percussion that I was enthralled by before I want to the Cathedral and I subsequently took up percussion alongside piano. I also fondly remember the Stravinsky centenary programmes on BBC 2 in 1982. The support of the organist at Liverpool Cathedral, Ian Tracey, a lovely piano teacher, Dorothy Hill, who was also an opera fanatic who would invite me to accompany her to Opera North seasons in Liverpool for a number of years. Singing high quality choral music of the Italian renaissance, English Tudor and even 20th century periods, all of these cemented my need to live in music.

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

It dawned on me about 10 years ago that one reason much of my work is saturated by activity against sustained resonances comes from my childhood memories of the acoustical properties of the Cathedral building.  The sort of aural glow that is present in that building (and sometimes, musical confusion!) seeped into my head at an impressionable age and has remained ever since. The reverberation of a large acoustic space also suggests ambiguity, doubt and distance to me. Also, the nature of ritual and text, the rich, reflective nature of space and echo, all left their mark on me.

Music of the Franco-Russian period – orchestral music mostly – was important when I was a very young composer and remains a pleasure for me to this day. I was lucky from the age of 13 to have my orchestral work performed by the Merseyside Youth orchestra and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. From 2007-2009 I was the RPS Composer in the House with the RLPO which felt like a full turn of the wheel and a wonderful homecoming. About the age of 12 I had composition lessons from composer Steven Pratt (I remember that mine would often follow Steve Martland’s lessons) and he challenged my rather safe musical horizons with works by Berg, Messiaen, Boulez, Hugh Wood (his teacher) and other repertoire I would not have come across myself at this time. Three composers followed who have had a profound influence on how I believe a composer should be, Edwin Roxburgh, Oliver Knussen and Henri Dutilleux – fastidious in work, with acute musical ears and generous in spirit and nature.

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

Maintaining space – both physical and mental – to work, to stay on top of commissions, to teach and be an active and present father to my young son. The musical challenges have been to remain true to the real inner voice and how to express it as clearly as possible, which also has a direct impact on technical issues of notation and performer psychology.

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

The challenges may come from the terms of the commission,  the constraints of the instrumental forces, the duration, the context which the new piece will find itself in (I’m not a fan of ‘themed’ or anniversary commissions but take them anyhow) and so on. The solving of these problems is also the pleasure of working on a commissioned piece. Solving a self-imposed technical issue (formal, harmonic etc.) and conveying something of the deeper intended affect or mood – without simply priming people in a programme note! –  is also a challenge/pleasure coupling.

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

As scores are only the best possible ‘model’ to aspire to in realising a work, one hopes that it can be executed as conceived in the rehearsal time allowed. One also hopes that a collective situation can be arrived at where I feel the piece is well represented and speaks as intended (expresses its nature) and that there has been a transformative journey, for all involved – audience, performers, myself.  Working with technically brilliant and artistically informed musicians is one of the great pleasures of this musical life, as is the celebratory drink after a premiere!

Which works are you most proud of?

The ones which seem the most authentic to my ‘inner voice’ (perhaps even musical conscience) and also the ones where I’ve taken technical and emotional steps beyond my own initial expectations. This, in the happiest of circumstances, can lead to a synthesis of things I was only dimly aware of but which then become a foundation to build on in the following work.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are a great deal of established musicians and composers from the past and present who I find exciting, and even close to, that cover different musical genres (art music, medieval music, Moorish music, folk music). But I suppose it is the people that I have established a long-term working relationship with (and usually personal friendship) that are the most interesting and that I favour.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

To be honest I find performances nerve-wracking (perhaps a reason I gave up giving them myself) so I try to put them behind me or at least view them in hindsight.  However, my Prom concerts – be they as a performer (I was in the National Youth Orchestra of GB as a percussionist) or composer – are very special memories. Going onto the stage with an audience at the RAH is a hard experience to beat. But then, when I was 17, accepting the applause of a Liverpool Philharmonic Hall audience after the premiere of my early symphony, and more than two decades later accepting the applause on the same stage for a large work for orchestra, choir and tenor and being greeted with a warm and extended applause once more, these will also remain in memory.

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

Strive for technical mastery; be honest to your inner creative impulse; be curious and listen, read and experience art in all its forms; challenge yourself regularly if not daily (ask hard questions); make connections and get your name and work out there, however distasteful or difficult you may feel it is. If you wanted an easy profession you took the wrong turn.

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

Still here.

Pianist Clare Hammond has released a disc of solo piano music by Kenneth Hesketh. Featuring Kenneth’s masterpiece, Horae (pro clara), a series of twelve miniatures written for Clare in 2011/12, this disc features a further three works which illustrate his kaleidoscopic approach to colour and the incisiveness of his imagination: Notte Oscura, Three Japanese Miniatures and Through Magic Casements. The disc is available now on the BIS label.

Described by Tempo magazine as “a composer who both has something to say and the means to say it”, Kenneth Hesketh’s work has met with widespread critical acclaim. He is a composer fluent in multiple genres and has worked with leading ensembles and orchestras in Europe, the USA, and the Far East.

He has received commissions from organisations including the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group amongst others. Hesketh’s work has featured at the Prague Premieres (Czech Philharmonic orchestra), Tanglewood, Munich Biennial, Beijing Modern Music, ISCM (Korea) and Gaudeamus Festivals. Appointed Royal Philharmonic Society/ PRS Foundation Composer in the House with the RLPO, his works were performed and broadcast as part of European City of Culture events. His music has been recorded on the London Sinfonietta label and has been the subject of a number of portrait discs on the NMC, BIS, Psappha and Prima Facie labels.

Hesketh’s early interest in other artforms, be they classical architecture, medieval iconography, poetry or Bauhaus constructivism, have more recently included a fascination with entropy, mutation and existentialism. His work has been described as “pure music, in possessing – because the notes seem to be creating their own harmonic and rhythmic forces and processes – a great freshness.” (Paul Griffiths).

Hesketh has worked with an array of important conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Vasilly Sinaisky, Vasily Petrenko, Susanna Malkki, Ludovic Morlot, Pascal Rophé and Oliver Knussen who was an early champion of his work. Christoph-Mathias Mueller and Clark Rundell have also championed Hesketh’s music in Britain and Europe with orchestras including the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, SWR Sinfonie Orchester Baden-Baden and Ensemble 10/10.

His works for chamber and solo forces have been performed by Nicholas Daniel, Hansjorg Schellenberger, Sarah Leonard, Rodney Clarke, Sarah Nichols, Christopher Redgate, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Clare Hammond. Commissions in this genre include the Endymion Ensemble (in honour of Hans Werner Henze’s 75th birthday), the Festival Présences (Paris), the Munich Biennale, Kissinger Sommer Internationales Musikfestival, ensemble Psappha, the Continuum ensemble, the Michael Vyner Trust for the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal and the ASKO ensemble.

Hesketh’s music for the stage covers subjects as disparate as the Brothers Grimm and DNA. Commissioned by The Opera Group and Phoenix Dance Theatre, his work has toured nationally (including performances at the Royal Opera House in London). He has also composed music for three art films, all sharing an interest in the bizarre and eerie on celluloid.

Kenneth Hesketh is professor of composition and orchestration at the Royal College of Music, honorary professor at Liverpool University and active as a guest lecturer and visiting professor.

“Hesketh’s music is beautiful, complex and restless … His response to musical form is particularly remarkable … The colorful orchestration and palpable verve in the individual gestures and large-scale construction make me want to return to them again and again.” American Record Guide

Meet the Artist……Javier Perianes, pianist

(Photograph: Josep Molina/PR)

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

I actually took my first musical steps playing the clarinet in the marching band of Nerva, the village where I grew up.  This was the first instrument I ever learned, and I could see myself taking it further.  But then an aunt introduced me to the incredible sound world of the piano and from the beginning. I was absolutely fascinated .  As for the second part of the question, I feel that things have always progressed very naturally: I never had to make any decision as to whether or not to pursue a career in music.

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

I’m really lucky in that I’ve always had extraordinary teachers: Julia Hierro (my first teacher), María Ramblado, Ana Guijarro, and Josep Colom have been a source of wisdom and inspiration throughout my student years. I’ve also had the chance to get great advice from Daniel Barenboim, Richard Goode, or Alicia de Larrocha, all of whom I deeply admire.

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

Every new piece I learn – I like to think of that as the greatest challenge!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

It is quite hard to pick a particular concert or recording, but perhaps for its special significance maybe I’d pick having taken part in one of the last concerts of the Tokyo Quartet during their farewell season, doing the Brahms and Schumann Quintets. It was a highly emotional experience and unforgettable for me as I was a long-time admirer of the Quartet.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I prefer to leave that to audiences, but I also like to think that what I should play best is what I’m performing or working on at the moment.

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

One consideration is to link recording plans with the launching of recordings with Harmonia Mundi and, on the other, to consider particular requests from promoters as well as any lines of programming that orchestras and conductors might have. In any case, when I work on devising a recital program I like to find some unifying principle and/or connections amongst the works being presented.

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

It’s difficult to choose just one among so many extraordinary concert halls where I’ve had the great pleasure to perform. Suntory Hall in Tokyo presents a very special combination between its admirable acoustics and great audience capacity; another wonderful hall that is a favourite for its forward-looking conception is the New World Center in Miami. And how to forget the magic and tradition one can feel in temples of music like London’s Wigmore Hall, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw or New York’s Carnegie Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I hesitate to even begin answering the first question: the repertoire is so vast, rich and varied! Like I said before, perhaps whatever piece I’m working on or performing at the moment becomes my favourite. As to my listening habits, let me just give you a small glimpse through my iPod playlist: Granados’ Goyescas with Alicia de Larrocha, Tchaikovsky Symphonies with St. Petersburg Philharmonic and E. Mravinsky, Brahms Symphonies with N. Harnoncourt, Chopin Nocturnes with MJ Pires, the last Schubert Sonatas with Radu Lupu, Beethoven Sonatas with Daniel Barenboim, Mozart piano concertos with Mitusko Uchida, Schubert Trios by the Beaux Arts, Debussy by Michelangeli and a very long etcetera.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

As a pianist I’m such an admirer of many of today’s musicians such as Barenboim, Pires, Lupu or Sokolov. At the same time, I must also say that I’m fascinated by past musicians like Schnabel, Lipatti, Michelangeli, Rubinstein, Myra Hess, Hoffman, Cortot, etc. If we add to the list other instrumentalists, singers, and conductors the list would prove to be endless!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

In addition to my collaboration with the Tokyo Quartet during their farewell season I should single out my debut in Lucerne with Zubin Mehta, my recent collaborations with Tabea Zimmermann, Beethoven’s Emperor with Daniel Barenboim, Ravel’s G Major with Daniel Harding and the London Syphony, the Schumann with Michael Tilson Thomas, and my debuts with Yuri Temirkanov and Maazel, among many others. I greatly cherish those memories.

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

Honesty, dedication, personality, work and passion.

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

I’d like to be exactly the same but of course with the maturity, experience and depth ten years will bring!

What is your present state of mind? 

Searching, exploring, discovering and delving deeper!

Javier Perianes performs at London’s Royal Festival Hall on 20th April 2016 under Vladimir Jurowski in Saint-Saens’ Piano Concerto No. 5 (‘Egyptian’). Further information here

www.javierperianes.com

Meet the Artist……Andreas Haefliger

haefliger-andreas-065bmarco_borggreve5d
(Photo: Marco Borggreve)

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

I was born into a musical family. My father Ernst (a tenor) was the preeminent Evangelist (in the Bach Passions) of his time and also a wonderful Liedersinger.

Under these circumstances it is difficult to describe when the passion for music arose. It was simply always there and, maybe as the smell of leather permeates the childhood of the son of a shoemaker, the smell of music permeated mine.

My mother talked about me always being drawn to the piano – at three years of age I would walk over and start playing, my arms reaching up to the keyboard.

The conscious decision to pursue the career was thus more like an acceptance of the inevitable.

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

Again I must start with the earliest and biggest influence – my father.

From the earliest age I was immersed into going to operas, oratorios and lieder recitals. Wonderful musicians like Karl Richter, Erich Werba, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau came to our house to make music and as soon as I was able to I had to accompany for pupils who came to the house for lessons. What better training could a child wish for.

In early adulthood my dreamy childhood fantasies were quickly adjusted to the reality of music-making through my studies at the Mozarteum in Salzburg with Hans Leygraf and then through my Juilliard studies with Herbert Stessin and the iconic William Masselos.

At age 17 the towering presence of Alfred Brendel came into my life and studies and dialogue continued for many years for which I am thankful to this day.

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

The pianist’s life is one of constant growth.

As an interpreter you have to find just the right mix of ego and humility and this requires tremendous investment not just in the art of music, but also in the growth as a human being. Therefore challenges are omnipresent in your daily life as you walk through this growth.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am still very pleased with my early recordings of Mozart, Schumann and Gubaidulina for Sony. Later I challenged myself with the Perspectives Recordings of which the Beethoven op 106 was a milestone of sorts. The human growth I talked about in the last question is audible however in the last recording of Schumann Fantasy and op 109- so may be I could say this one is the one that has reached an intermediate goal. My public perfomances have always been mirrored by the CDs so therefore I am also at a new level of expression in this medium.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I do believe that my talent lies mostly in the interpretation of the central european repertoire. I also very much however enjoy commissioning new music from all over the world.

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

I am a strong believer in the importance of programming. The piano recital offers to the pianist an opportunity to combine pieces  and lead the audience from work to work much as a curator would in a museum. In the past six seasons I have made the Beethoven Piano Sonatas the central part of this exhibition and I combine them with works that intuitively or intellectually  share or juxtapose ideas, keys or moods.

Do you have a favorite concert venue to perform in?

I love the famous halls in this world- each one has something particular and stunning to offer. All share the component of facilitating densely concentrated moments in time, thus making the creation of great art possible.

I also sense however that there will be evermore a branching away from these platforms of high culture  and that music in less formal settings will become more and more popular. In the best circumstances this can aid the art form tremendously as it will create an atmosphere of accessibility without watering down the content.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I always enjoy the pieces that I am working on at the moment. In listening  I like to be surprised by repertoire I don’t know.

Who are your favorite musicians?

Edwin Fischer,  Wilhelm Kempf, Bruno Walter

Edwin Fischer once said that the perfect interpretation is to enliven a work without violating it. These three performers all shared this ability.

What is your most memorable concert experience

May be in an odd turnaround from my previous answer this still remains Leonard Bernstein with New York Philharmonic performing Mahler 2nd symphony. A wildly involved performance that was stirring to attend- oddly I am much less fond of the recording of this very concert.

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

Where does work begin and inspiration end?

We find ourselves in a very strange profession. Ultimately we are the flag bearers of a great achievement of human civilization. Ideally we go on stage in front of thousands of other human beings and transport them to never before experienced emotional heights. Years of study in matters both musical and philosophical have brought us to the point where we find ourselves capable of presenting phrases with such intensity and knowledge that they reach the listeners ear without distraction. Great art is made.

At the same time we live in an age of crippling competition and ability. Worldwide travel and immediate availability are a matter of course in a world where the other one will go and play if you don’t. Quick fix artistry is rampant in a selfie culture that looks to propagate the own achievement through any means possible. The music world is a confusing place.

At some point the student today has to make a decision to involve herself in the slow process of musical growth. At the same time modern aspects of musical performance cannot be ignored but must be incorporated in order for artistic intensity to be realized.

The young student must address this dichotomy early on in order to be able to successfully navigate the art form.

Andreas Haefliger performs Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 with the Minnesota Orchestra on 18th and 19th March 2016. Further information here

Coming from a rich tradition, the pianist Andreas Haefliger is: “consummately lyrical. Exhibitionism and pretence are antithetical to his musical personality”; he has “a vision of musical architecture second to none and a tender, profoundly cultivated sensibility, from which music flows unimpeded” ( International record review, September 2014). He has won many plaudits for his Beethoven Perspectivesrecitals on disc (Avie) and at major halls and festivals. He is also much sought-after as a chamber musician – past highlights include Mostly Mozart New York with the Takacs Quartet, and Salzburg Festival with Mathias Goerne. In 2014 he gave the premiere at the BBC Proms of a new concerto written for him by Chinese-American composer Zhou Long.

Haefliger was born into a distinguished Swiss musical family and grew up in Germany, going on to study at the Juilliard School in New York. He was quickly recognised as a pianist of the first rank, and engagements with major US orchestras followed swiftly – the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Pittsburgh, Chicago and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestras among them. In his native Europe too, Haefliger was invited to the great orchestras and festivals – such as the Royal Concertgebouw, Rotterdam Philharmonic, Munich Philharmonic, Budapest Festival Orchestra, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, Orchestre de Paris, London Symphony Orchestra and Vienna Symphony. He also established himself as a superb recitalist, making his New York debut in 1988, and has since performed regularly at major venues in Europe such as the Lucerne, Salzburg and Edinburgh Festivals and the Vienna Konzerthaus, as well as at major halls across North America and Asia.

Haefliger is a regular visitor to London’s Wigmore Hall, where he appears in December 2015 for the next instalment of his Perspectives series, in which he performs the complete piano works of Beethoven alongside works by other composers from Mozart to Ligeti. This series has formed the focus of Haefliger’s solo recital appearances and CD recordings in recent years. His latest chamber music project gathers friends Benjamin Schmid and Karen Gomyo (violins), Lise Berthaud (viola) and Christian Poltera (cello) for intensive rehearsal periods and concerts every year at the Louisiana Museum in Copenhagen, which the group will then take further afield. In spring 2016 he performs with his wife, the distinguished flautist Marina Piccinini, on an extensive tour of the USA.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the Artist……Ben Socrates, pianist

ben-socrates_0464_1 copy

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

I have a half brother to thank for this – Luke, who lives in Arizona, or at least he used to, and I’ve only met him once in my life. He came to visit us in Devon when I was younger, and my mother convinced my father to get an old pub piano – Luke is a singer/songwriter and she hoped we would appreciate hearing his music. I did, and I took a particular liking to that creaky piano, began making noises and was soon taking lessons. I don’t come from a musical family, and there wasn’t exactly a fertile scene for it in my hometown, so the desire for a career in music came later, when I enrolled on a music course at The University of Chichester, met some inspiring musicians and mentors, and discovered the breadth and potential of what was out there

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

My first major influence would be my first band The Plastic Hassle – which helped me learn how to improvise and write music, play with rhythm and make naïve psychedelic jazz-rock noise, at the age of 15. My first piano teacher had moved to Yorkshire by then and I was feeling a bit discouraged about music so this was a welcome kick! When I came back to classical piano aged 19 I found I had much more to express and ‘something to say’, and I never lost my love of improvisation. Adam Swayne, my teacher at university, switched me on to modern music, and showed me the scope and variety of piano repertoire outside the repressive ABRSM exam bubble. Finally, my teacher at Trinity Laban, Douglas Finch, who has always challenged conventions and collaborated successfully within other disciplines, which is something that became very important to me. There are of course many more influences, but these are the most important!

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

Finding time and a space to practice away from irritable neighbours. Finding other musicians and artists to work with, which is easy enough when you’re part of a big collaborative conservatoire but harder when you’re in the wider world chasing up jobs, gigs, and endless life admin! Organising interesting concerts and events myself, which I would like to do more of, it is a huge investment of time and energy but incredibly worthwhile, and can raise awareness for good causes. I would like to pursue my other musical interests – whether that’s composition, jazz, harmony, learning accordion, or electronic music – but as is known, getting and staying half decent at piano is time consuming enough in itself!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

My debut recital at Chichester Cathedral last year was special for me, so much of my musical development happened in that area, and coming back to perform for an audience of over 500 was quite overwhelming. I’ll be back there on the 8th March next year, excuse the plug. While studying for my Bachelors I was invited to perform the Shostakovich Piano Concerto No 2 with the university orchestra – the support and goodwill from the musicians, conductor and audience, and how it all came together on the night, is an enduring memory. Other than that, I enjoyed putting together a performance of Ravel’s La Valse, arranged for two pianos, with a choreography devised by contemporary dance students at Laban, for the first CoLab festival at Trinity Laban. I got to play some of Eric Satie’s Vexations at 4 in the morning, for a project at Chichester University. The performance, split between all the pianists that the university could muster, had been broadcast online for a good 12 hours prior to this and the music was firmly lodged in my psyche before I dragged myself out of bed to the concert hall!

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think it’d be easier to say what I perform badly! I suppose I feel most at home with music of the 20th century, which is very vague, and in itself contains a vast variety. I never tire of exploring whats out there, trying to find out how it all came about, and it’s place in history. Alex Ross can help with this.

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

I try and learn a programme or two worth of new repertoire every season, but then it is also satisfying to come back to something I struggled with years ago and find that I now better understand the music or am no longer wrestling with the technical problems, or I might find a whole new approach to take. A teacher told me that the best performances are of the pieces we learn and forget, then relearn, then forget, then relearn, and by then they are just so well internalised and part of our musical DNA.

When it comes to programming, I try and include a diverse selection from across the four main periods of Western music, but the challenge is in giving it some kind of unifying  thread. My recitals this year are loosely themed around the title ‘Visions & Dances’, with the music grouped around Visions (visionary, impressionistic, colourful, innovative, imaginative pieces, usually of the 20th century and beyond) and Dances (self explanatory), which really means I am able to incorporate all the music I love to play! I find that unpretentious and demystifying introductions can really help ‘sell your idea’ also.

I like to include contemporary repertoire in most of my concerts, not so much the wilfully difficult and obtuse stuff, but experiments in sound by Henry Cowell, Rautavaara, Somei Satoh and Frederic Rzewski have all been memorable for audiences (for good or bad!).

I occasionally start to write a ‘bucket list’ of the music I want to perform in the next year, 5 years, decade, lifetime, but such a list is never finished and can be overwhelming. It’s good to be spontaneous in our selections also.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I never get tired of performing Prokofiev – I haven’t yet approached the sonatas but I became hopeless addicted to the Visions Fugitives, the Ten Pieces opus 12 and some of the etudes. There is something very seductive about the expressive language, the kaleidoscopic colours, the hallucinatory changes of character. It seems like this kind of music emerged out of nowhere, from a timeless and intangible place, and I can’t really figure out where it went after Prokofiev departed. I admire the nationalistic, folkloric strain in music at the turn of the century – the Dvorak Slavonic Dances, and of course Brahms’ Hungarian Dances that inspired Dvorak, are pretty much the most fun I’ve had at the piano, and I love Janacek’s piano music.

When it comes to listening that is a very difficult question in the age of Spotify, as there is so much that I have loved, forgotten, come back to – but at the moment I am enjoying the more meditative music of Olivier Messiaen, Morton Feldmann, John Adams, Arvo Pärt. Also anything with a rhythm that makes me stop in my tracks, or want to dance, whether it’s Scarlatti, Villa Lobos, Gershwin or all kinds of electronic and world music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have a lot of admiration for musicians that have taken creative U-turns, in spite of achieving a certain amount of success, and turned their hand to different styles rather than play it safe, bringing a new audience and appreciation to other forms – Jonny Greenwood, Scott Walker, Robert Wyatt, David Byrne, PJ Harvey, for example. As far as pianists go I love what Chilly Gonzales is doing, bringing back the somewhat lost character of composer/performer, he is also a formidable improviser, and I recommend you listen to the online snippets from his 27 hour marathon piano performance (he was the Guinness World Record holder for the longest solo performance, but only for a few months!) you’ll be impressed by the variety of music at his fingertips. In the classical world it’s hard not be in awe of Daniel Barenboim at the piano or the podium, Grigory Sokolov for the Romantic repertoire, Martha Argerich in everything she does. Alice Sara Ott has done some really wonderful things with Chopin. They’re my favourites for now. I have to mention Art Tatum and Bill Evans also, for their boundless creativity at the piano, and the music of Charles Mingus never fails to blow me away. Why are all my favourite jazz musicians dead??

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Can I pick a few?

The second time I heard an orchestra was in Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloe, which set the bar rather high. I heard three quarters of Wagner’s Ring Cycle in the space of a week, it was the Berlin Statskapelle conducted by Barenboim at the 2013 Proms, and time seemed to stop for those 12+ hours. I was transfixed by Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians performed by the Colin Currie Group, and Cordelia Williams performing Messiaen’s 2.5 hour Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jésus from memory, with this superhuman ferocity and passion. I vividly remember when Douglas Finch improvised a set of subversive variations on Christmas themes we’d suggested, in the dark, at a party. There is a German composer called Haushcka who prepares a grand piano by filling it with ping pong balls, contact microphones, E-Bows (magnetic devices invented for guitarists to sustain sounds indefinitely), other gizmos – I expected a load of gimmicks and party tricks but it was quite an amazing transformation. When I was younger I was inspired by some of the modern jazz artists who for some reason came to play in my sleepy hometown of Barnstaple, particularly Seb Rochford’s Polar Bear, and Basquiat Strings, a string quartet of incredible improvisers backed by double bass and drums. When I got a place at Trinity Laban and found some of these very musicians were on the faculty, I was very excited; unfortunately my jazz chops hadn’t really kept up!

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

Despite my philosophical sounding name I don’t have a lot to say that hasn’t been said better already. I went to hear Daniel Barenboim speak at this year’s Edward W. Said Lecture and wrote down loads of quotes I considered important. They’ve been lost since I moved house, but essentially – use music to understand life, and life to understand music, and always impart this to everyone you encounter as a musician and teacher.

Happily the lecture is on YouTube for anyone who wants it in a bit more depth/less paraphrased!

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

In some remote part of the world with some good companions, a piano and just enough free time!

Meet the Artist……John Irving, fortepianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

A relative had a battered old upright that she was getting rid of. My parents thought I showed some musical talent and saved the instrument from the breaker’s yard so I could have some piano lessons. It got me through Grade 6 before it fell to bits!

 

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

As a youngster, I have to say it was my school music teacher, who conducted the local choral society. He took me to a performance of Haydn’s Creation he was conducting one evening. When the big C major chord arrived (‘and there was LIGHT’) I was hooked forever! My parents were wonderfully supportive. Later, Denis Matthews was a strong influence, teaching me to look beyond the notes and certainly beyond piano music for an understanding of musical language. I’ll never forget one lesson where he simply played (from memory) huge chunks of Mozart string quartets at the piano, explaining how the music worked conversationally and how that should underpin my own playing at the keyboard. But of all the influences, the strongest has to be my wife, Jane (a clarinettist), who makes music speak in ways I could never have imagined possible.

You are a noted performer on harpsichord, clavichord and fortepiano. When and how did your interest in early keyboard instruments develop? 

My main interest has always been in music of the ‘long’ eighteenth century, and there came a point when I realised that I simply couldn’t capture the sound I was seeking on a modern piano. The much lighter and articulate touch of clavichords, harpsichords and fortepianos suited my physical connection to this music far more effectively, and I made the decision to ‘emigrate’ from the modern piano. I’ve never looked back since. A strong inspiration has been Ronald Brautigam. His complete Beethoven piano cycle (recorded exclusively on pianos by Paul McNulty copied from originals by Stein, Walther and Graf) is in a league of its own. Partly, too, it’s the fascination I have with fine craftsmanship. It’s a great privilege to know some expert keyboard makers and restorers, and understanding the instruments from their perspective is something that crucially influences my approach to producing sound at the keyboard. There’s something deeply satisfying about the connection between the instrument and the way it can (through my physical actions) produce sound. Incidentally, I make no claims to ‘authenticity’ (a term those of us in the period instrument world never use anymore). I’m not ‘recreating the sound of Mozart’s sonatas as the composer intended’. How could we ever know that? I’m exploring sound possibilities that might be produced by instruments carefully and lovingly built using techniques and materials known in Mozart’s day. I also choose to play in ways that are informed by documentary evidence from his time (including his father’s very famous book on violin playing), rather than approaches that were developed a hundred years or more later and which were, willynilly, just imposed retrospectively on Mozart’s very different musical language.

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

It has to be achieving the balance between the academic and performing sides of my life. I worked for many years in the music department at Bristol University (where I was Professor) and latterly as Director of London University’s Institute of Musical Research. I now split my time (theoretically) 50:50 between being Reader in Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and performing. Finding enough time to practise is the key!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Probably the DVD documentary on Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio and also the complete Clarinet and Piano sonatas of Vanhal (issued on sfzmusic last year as part of the Vanhal bicentenary), with my wife sounding amazing on 5-keyed B flat and C Viennese boxwood clarinets.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I should say Mozart, really, given that I’ve published five books on his music! But at the moment, I think I’m making serious progress with Haydn (I’m recording four of his sonatas at the end of April). Played on fortepiano, I’m so much more aware of the extent to which Haydn’s music depends on colour and on silence – which suits my approach to sound production on the Viennese instrument with its much shallower key-dip and the immediacy and clarity of sound. I couldn’t possibly do this justice on a modern piano (which isn’t to say that it can’t be done).

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

First and foremost, it revolves around what my group, Ensemble DeNOTE is performing. DeNOTE was founded in 2010 when I was Director of the IMR in London, and was intended originally as a workshop for exploring ideas in Historically Informed Performance, bringing together players and scholars. But the group took off and soon gained an identity of its own, bridging the gap between scholarship and performance in hopefully accessible ways. We’ve done a huge amount in the university and conservatoire environments, as well as the Brighton Early Music Festival, and other festivals across the UK. At the moment, there’s lots of Beethoven (another CD recording at the end of March of the composer’s own arrangements of the Septet as a Trio, and the Piano and Winds Quintet as a Piano Quartet). Next season we are looking forward to Mozart’s Gran’ Partita in a quintet version dating from around 1800, as well as more performances of the “Kegelstatt” Trio at Finchcocks. I try to fit solo repertoire around this (and sometimes around CD releases). Despite the Vanhal disc last year, I don’t really plan repertoire around composer anniversaries. I’m more interested in connections of music and place (I have a Bach and Leipzig programme coming up with oboist Leo Duarte next month), and in the culture of arrangements, which were common in Beethoven’s day. That extends to commissioning new arrangements. Last year I premiered a version of Mozart’s E flat Piano Concerto, K.271 for piano and wind sextet; in June I’ll be doing K.488 for the same forces.

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

I absolutely adore St Cecilia’s Hall in Edinburgh, mainly because it houses one of my all-time favourite instruments, a glorious 5-octave clavichord by Johann Adolphe Hass (1763). The moment I first played this clavichord I just knew it was right for Mozart, and I was lucky enough to record a CD on it (which appeared last year).

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Mozart’s Piano and Winds Quintet, K.452. I never tire of that. The piano part is wonderful in itself, but what really fascinates me is the colours of the ensemble as a whole – on period instruments, at least. For instance, the middle episode in the finale, features a descending chromatic scale on the horn (yes, contrary to popular belief, natural horns can produce lots of notes other than the harmonic series!), each one of which is a subtly different colour from the last. On a valve horn it’s just not the same, really…

To listen to, I don’t really have a favourite piece. The shortlist would include Bach’s “St Anne Prelude and Fugue”, Corelli’s Op.5 Violin Sonatas, Haydn’s Creation, Beethoven 7th Symphony, Schubert’s last Sonata in B flat, large doses of Sibelius and Messiaen (the latter especially if played by Peter Hill, another of my teachers from university days), and at least 626 compositions by Mozart!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One is a piano duet recital with Ronald Brautigam where, contrary to what you might think from listening to his recordings of Mozart, he indulged in the most astonishing improvised embellishments, to the point where we were almost making the content up in musical conversation as the recital progressed! Another is a performance of Beethoven’s Piano and Winds Quintet last year, which was the world premiere outing of an exceptionally fine fortepiano by Yorkshire-based maker, Johannes Secker, whose instruments I’ll be featuring in a historical keyboard course in Lythe this July.

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

First and foremost, to study and respect the score, but never be enslaved by it. The music lies beyond the notes. Notes are symbols for sound. They represent possibilities for the imagination. Resist the notion that the score prescribes what you have to do; that it is something to be robotically obeyed. It’s actually a basis for negotiation, mainly with your own imagination.

Also, remember that humility goes a long way! There are plenty of musicians who have no idea of that concept, who believe their own publicity. Quite a few of them are “famous”. But is that the point, ultimately? Surely music is bigger than that?

What are you working on at the moment? 

For starters…Beethoven Op.16 (quartet version) and Op.38 (his trio arrangement of the Septet); a Mozart Piano Quartet; a clutch of Haydn sonatas for a forthcoming CD recording; a couple of Mozart sonatas; Bach 4th French Suite; Mozart Piano Concerto, K.488.

Tell us a little more about your forthcoming digital book ‘The Mozart Project’. 

I was asked to participate in this project when it was but a twinkle in the eye of two enterprising young men at Pipedreams Collective, Harry Farnham and James Fairclough. It just spiralled from there really. I wrote chapters on the Concertos and Chamber Music, recorded a series of video performances and eventually became their consultant editor. Several other Mozart specialists have contributed chapters, and the result will be an interactive experience that goes way beyond what a traditional book and a single author could achieve. We all hope The Mozart Project will introduce Mozart’s genius to new generations of admirers. You can follow tweets at @themozartproj and it’s due out at the end of this month on the AppStore.

John Irving discusses the immediate impact of Mozart’s Concertos.

JOHN IRVING is Professor of Historical Performance at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, London, and Associate  Fellow of The Institute of Musical Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. Previously Director of the IMR – the UK’s national music research institution – John has been Professor of Music at the University of Bristol and at the University of London. He now divides his time between his academic work at Trinity and his performing career as a fortepianist.

www.johnirving.org.uk

 

Meet the Artist……Christopher Guild, pianist

Christopher Guild, pianist

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

Not my family, initially, although to their great credit my parents were always entirely supportive of me in any of my aspirations – and still are.  A dear friend of the family, who lived round the corner from us at the time, was a great classical music lover and had a piano in her home.  It was she who incited in me a real interest in classical music.

I had already begun to play the violin at my local primary school (this was by the time I was 8 years old), and she was getting in to the habit of practicing with me every day after school for 20 minutes.   I remember being allowed to play on the piano for 10 minutes after my violin practice every day, and chatting to this lady about classical music: she was from Berlin, and I remember her enthusing me about the great German composers, mainly Schumann and Beethoven.  Eventually I asked my Mum if I could start having piano lessons, and so they began in Elgin, the town of my birth, in 1995.

Years passed until I found myself in my third year at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, working hard at the violin and keeping the piano ticking over although not taking it that seriously despite a recent victory at the Moray Piano Competition.  Something happened around this time and I suddenly realised I couldn’t stand the prospect of making the violin my career – although I still maintain I had a real flair for the instrument and indeed could have succeeded as a session musician, I never found it that comfortable to play and I always felt a deeper connection with the piano.  Somehow the piano suited me better: it seemed a more ‘independent’ instrument, you had total command of the music you were playing (I remember my teacher at the time, Margaret Wakeford, counselling me to ‘be your own conductor!’ when I played), and on the whole I much preferred the repertoire.  It promised me a greater deal artistically, even if the career path was to be more precarious.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

There are many people and many things, but one of the most important people has been Andrew Ball, whom I studied with at the Royal College of Music (London) for six consecutive years.  It was his open-mindedness, his way of thinking about music and indeed his great knowledge of just about everything which has steered me in to becoming who I am artistically.

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

I suppose this might be commonplace among all music college graduates in their mid-twenties, but it is the combination of attempting to make ends meet, whilst pursuing my artistic ambitions, and maintaining my artistic integrity in all that I do.  Keeping up my standards of playing amidst a hectic life of teaching, rehearsing, performing and of course those interminable periods spent on trains is certainly a challenge!

Which performances are you most proud of?  

Tricky!  I have to say that some of my recitals as a student tend to stand out: I’m proud that I performed works by Elliott Carter and Stockhausen in the same recital, for instance, and that I felt completely involved in the music.  Also, performances I gave of Reubke’s magnificent Piano Sonata in B-flat two years ago, a piece which has come to mean a lot to me.  More recently, playing the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor with Sian Edwards in Milton Keynes in 2012 was extremely memorable.  And of course, playing as part of my duo at our Wigmore Hall debut in November 2012 was very special.  Being in the green room before stepping on stage was something in itself, just looking at all the signed photos of so many of ‘the greats’ gazing down on you makes you realise just what a privilege it is to be performing in that hall.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Favourites so far in my career have been: Wigmore Hall, for the acoustic (it’s perfect, that’s it).  There have been a few stately homes and churches that were very comfortable to play in too.  I really enjoyed the Pump Room in Bath

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ask me in ten minutes and I’ll have changed my mind!  These days I’m gravitating largely towards British Music.  I have a real ‘thing’ for the Bridge Piano Sonata, the three Elgar chamber works too.  The music of Kevin Volans interests me currently.  As a performer, I strongly hope to get back in to contemporary music next season.  It sounds trite, I suppose, but any music with a truly strong and vital message will surely grab me.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Glenn Gould, for his individuality, his refusal to compromise his artistic vision and integrity – I think that’s a very important thing.  Whenever I hear piano rolls, or old records, of the now lost age of pianists I come away feeling totally inspired.  I recently bought an LP of a piano roll of Moritz Rosenthal and some of the playing is mindblowing!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but sometimes how people react to a performance I’ve given is what makes a concert particularly memorable.  For example, after performing at the Dorking Halls in Surrey last season, a Russian lady came up to me in the foyer and gave me a little matrioska doll, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for my performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3.  She was visibly moved (slightly choked), and it was the way she did it  anonymously too which made the experience so potent.  I keep the matroyshka on the bookshelves next to my piano: it reminds me of music’s power to enhance peoples lives, its possibilities, its importance.

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

Keep an open mind!  You’re about to enter a field which is enormously competitive, a lot of people will be striving for the same goals.  It pays to think outside the box a little.  Try never to turn down opportunities, even if they seem irrelevant to your interests: I’ve pursued paths I never dreamt of pursuing (or particularly wanted to pursue), and I ended up with quite a few great concerts, or jobs, that I would never have got otherwise.  And never lose sight of your artistic goals.  Above all, have fun!

What are you working on at the moment?

The biggest project this year has been preparing the vast majority of Ronald Center’s piano music for recording.  Ronald Center (1913-73) was an Aberdonian composer whose music has been incredibly neglected both during his lifetime and since his death. Aside from this, I’m preparing quite a lot of duo repertoire, namely works with violin – Sonatas by Grieg, Haydn, Hindemith and Janacek – and works with oboe – Sonatas by Poulenc and Dutilleux.

What is your present state of mind? 

Positive!

Christopher Guild’s new recording of piano music by Ronald Center is available now on the Toccata Classics label. Further details including sample sound clips here

Born in Elgin in 1986 and brought up on Speyside, Christopher Guild studied piano and violin locally before entering St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh aged 13.  He returned to Morayshire one year later to take top honours in the Moray Piano Competition – a victory which sees him as the youngest ever winner to this day. 

Christopher entered the Royal College of Music in 2005 as a Foundation Scholar, and remained there under the tutelage of Andrew Ball until 2011, successfully gaining a First Class BMus (Hons), and the MMus and Artist Diploma’s with Distinction.  He now combines a busy schedule as a performer with extensive work as a teacher, and coaches students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he is the Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance.

Christopher Guild acknowledges the following organisations for their invaluable support to his studies at the RCM: Dewar Arts Awards, the Robertson Scholarship Trust, the Alistair Maclachlan Memorial Trust, the Cross Trust, The Royal Caledonian Schools Trust, the Hope Scott Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarships Trust, the RCM Foundation, a Michael Whittaker Scholarship, and an Ian Fleming Award Award administered by the Musician’s Benevolent Fund. 


Christopher Guild’s full biography here

Christopher Guild’s Facebook fan page

Meet the Artist……James Lisney

(image credit: Suzie Maeder)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I have never seen playing the piano as a ‘career’; rather I started enjoying a life with music when my parents had the foresight to purchase a ‘cottage’ Pleyel piano for nineteen shillings. It had beautiful veneer inlay, brass candlesticks and a soundboard that could only cope with a pitch of A 430. This piano was a playground for improvisation and storytelling during a pretty easy-going childhood: a country school just down the road, plenty of woodlands to explore and sports facilities attached to my parents’ workplace. Music was always a natural part of life and I was lucky enough to be assessed by Gordon Jacob at the age of six for a bursary that provided lesson fees and assisted in the purchase of a really good Welmar piano.

We lived in a tiny semi-detached house and I felt particularly sorry for my family and neighbours who had to endure my doodling at the keyboard and, much later, large scale ‘noise’, such as produced by hard work on Brahms’ Concerto in D minor. My neighbour retaliated by playing Fur Elise – every day!

The first concert I attended was following a masterclass given by Sidney Harrison. He was full of amusing stories and played really popular repertoire with great care and taste (I heard him years later and I was pleased to note that his Liszt Liebestraum was really excellent). The next concert was supposed to be given by Clifford Curzon but ill health necessitated his replacement by John Ogdon (this must have been around 1969) with a typical programme of Beethoven’s final two sonatas, Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit, the Schumann Toccata and Balakirev’s Islamey.

On the radio there were musical encounters with Antony Hopkins (‘Talking about Music’), Semprini’s ‘Serenade’ – and Reginald Dixon on the cinema organ from Blackpool. Favourite early recordings included Serkin, Cyril Smith (playing the Dohnanyi Variations), Wilhelm Kempff, Solomon, Rostal and Schaefer, Eileen Joyce and The Beatles. Oh yes – I nearly forgot Danny Kaye.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

My teachers. I cannot stress too much how important it is to have a really good start. There could have been none better than Jean Murphy, who combined great thoroughness with excitable inspiration (singing, dancing, trying to get my shoulders down and collapsing in giggles – what more could a young pupil want?)

Jean had studied with Phyllis Sellick and I was extremely fortunate to learn with her from around eleven years old for about a decade. An amazing artist, who took exceptional pains with preparation, tone, complete understanding of the music, a rich comprehension of how the body worked: I use her inspiration every single day. In addition, her memories of Vaughan Williams, Rachmaninoff, Bertrand Russell, the Sitwells, Solomon Cutner, Curzon – an apparently golden age – provided constant stimulus. When I was tiring from our long lessons, she would take me into the drawing room to listen to Horowitz’s left hand in Scarlatti or Scriabin, ‘Louis’ (Kentner) in Liszt, Rosalyn (Tureck) in Bach – a whole host of musicians that she seemed to either adore or know very well. Rosalyn Tureck was at the house on one visit and generously helped me with some Bach. Phyllis certainly gave me a sense of what musical Britain must have been like fifty years earlier: on one occasion, after we had worked on the Brahms D minor, she looked out the window and said that in the old days she would have phoned Henry Wood to see whether he would hear me. I am still waiting for the Proms to call……

After Phyllis came two more important teachers. John Barstow remains a strong friend and his gift was to broaden one’s appreciation of music and build confidence. Together we saw my first Parsifals (Reginald Goodall), Mahler Symphony of a Thousand (Pritchard), Alexander Nevsky (Rostropovich), Shostakovich String Quartet cycle (the Borodin Quartet) etc. All stirred into the mix of a love and respect for piano playing that was ultimately much ‘bigger’ than merely being a pianist. I believe it was Arrau who said that it was necessary to be ‘at least a virtuoso’ and John incorporated model playing with a wide range of musical images. We had very few lessons – but they were supplemented by discussions and shared musical experiences.

The last teacher was at a summer school in Nice in 1983. I was there courtesy of the Anglo-French Society, the first Perlemuter Scholar. The lessons were taken in the class of Dominique Merlet, a concise and accurate teacher who had the gift of the utmost support combined with the ability to demonstrate to an astonishing level. He was an example of what was possible, what was essential in terms of ability, knowledge and the craft to consider a life in music.

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

Pianistically, everything remains impossibly difficult and, ultimately, relatively easy. The music of Schubert and Beethoven remain my central marker – and everything they wrote appears to be frantically challenging and yet so completely natural, so human. The late sonatas of both of these masters provide constant challenges, opportunities to develop, but their early works, chamber music, song and miscellaneous pieces provide similar nutrition. It is as if their vision is in their musical DNA and that the explicit mysteries of the late works are implicit in every phrase of their lifetime’s work.

One of the biggest challenges of recent years has been my work on the music of Jan Vriend. Having heard me play the Beethoven ‘Cello Sonatas with the wonderful Alexander Baillie, Jan set about writing a bouquet of astonishing pieces for me. It is no exaggeration to equate this achievement with the late flowering in Debussy’s compositional life. Music of such vigour, virtuosity and concentration, it has really made me dig deep to cope with its complex language and strive to do justice to its amazing message. Having played Anatomy of Passion with Alexander Baillie, I am now benefitting from the process from preparing performances with my daughter Joy – she has grown up hearing Vriend’s music and appears to have absorbed it by osmosis. With Imagine the Mountain premiered with violinist Paul Barritt, JOY (written for ‘guess who?’), I have been amazingly blessed – and challenged. On top of this, my simple request for a piano triptych to emulate a set of Debussy’s Images or a book of Albeniz’s Iberia, resulted in the astonishing Meden Agan, with its exuberant ‘Erotica’ movement. I loved taking ‘Erotica’ to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw for my fiftieth birthday series – but this is music to build into the repertoire and live with for many years. Thank you Jan!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

This is a very difficult one. I am permanently upbeat about my concerts (I enjoy performing immensely) – but also extremely critical. They are never ‘good enough’ but, at the same time, my vanity or standards are not what they are about – they are events for audience and performer alike; it’s ‘about the music’, not James Lisney.

Given that caveat, I recently heard some live playing from the late 80’s on Classic FM (an early Performer’s Platform kind of programme with Petroc Trelawny, and performed on a Boston piano and surrounded by office desks and computer screensavers). It was a set of Rachmaninoff transcriptions (Bach, Kreisler, Bizet and the like), and I was rather proud that I managed to deliver adequately in not the most glamorous of circumstances. That it was Rachmaninoff makes me extra proud as he is a composer of whom I am particularly fond.

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

I remember playing in the Ateneul Roman in Bucharest, one year after the end of Ceausescu. A Christmas concert – one of the first in many years – and I was playing Mozart K 488. The orchestra, amazing hall and spirit of the audience crystallised a remarkable musical experience.

I recently played Beethoven and Vriend at St George’s in Bristol and I think this is one of the United Kingdom’s best halls for the kind of music I play (along with the Arts Centre in Stamford – a gem!)

I also love non-standard and small halls. I have played almost one hundred and seventy times at the little concert hall at the Hindhead Music Centre (on the remarkable Steinway that dropped from the Covent Garden stage) and I regularly play at the Mosterdzaadje in Santpoort–Noord, the Netherlands. I recently opened the thirty-first season of Mosterdzaadje – a model of how a modest hall can be run simply, beautifully and with great warmth, providing music within a quiet suburb. No public subsidy – and no cuts.

When one can add the library at Wittem, the Palau de la Musica Catalana, Studio Music in Brightlingsea, my series at the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham etc I think I can say that I have completely failed to answer your question!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Performing – (mostly) what I have chosen to play. Recently came back to the warhorse concertos of Grieg, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky and they gave me a real buzz. If anyone out there wants to commission me for a Brahms concerto, please get in touch…

Listening to? Wagner and Mozart operas. If anyone out there wants to take me to Parsifal, please get in touch….

Who are your favourite musicians?

Well, there are many pianists but Gould, Arrau and Richter seem to be on a different level from the rest. After that, I would not want to be without Cherkassky, Tureck, Sokolov and special performances from the likes of Horowitz, Haskil, Ogdon and many more. I heard Ernest Levy recently and I thought his Beethoven and Liszt to be some of the most affecting and remarkable performances I have heard in many years.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The Borodin Quartet playing the final two Shostakovich Quartets perhaps, or the awe-inspiring Richter playing Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis in the Grange de Meslay. I was also lucky enough to visit Bayreuth………and then there are the performances that one comes across by so called ‘amateur’ pianists at summer schools or suchlike: little glimpses of heaven, pure music making, generously given.

In terms of my own performance, however, I have one choice: the Bremen ‘Konzert im Dunkeln’ Schubert recital I gave to raise money for stroke rehabilitation and to commemorate the centenary of Phyllis Sellick. This was at the fabulous Bremen Sendesaal – a venue that has a remarkable series of concerts that are given in the complete (and utter!) darkness. I will never forget coming out onto the stage to give my recital, the lights dimmed and the packed audience very excited by the novel idea. As the switch was thrown on the lights, plunging us into an all-enveloping black, the audience gasped as if they were at a fairground. It was a lesson to me in reaching out with music, without professional vanity and, on a practical level, how it is inner hearing that enables us to perform accurately and reliably rather than any visual cues.

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

Returning to my opening idea of not having a career, I also would advise musicians not to ‘aspire’. It is more a case of finding a way to live with this remarkable music, to enjoy and, if possible, to share it. Whether it is helping a small person to play First Tune by Barbara Kirkby Mason, my continuing struggles with Beethoven’s late sonatas or playing chamber music with colleagues, I can only advise that we enjoy the process.

If I read the question in terms of those who wish to dedicate a large proportion of their time to music (and even, on occasions, use it to pay the mortgage) then the advice is to spread as wide as possible. Improvise, compose, explore, teach, read, remain curious – and make your own mistakes. The cult of the teacher is not one that I subscribe to – try to build your own musical life, way of playing, whatever, from one’s own personality. Recently a wise friend said that he felt that Cherkassky’s great talent was to play every note entirely true to himself.

Oh yes – if you are going to depend upon music for a living, be prepared to work insanely hard, keep as fit as possible and it helps to have extremely good ‘chops’! (fingers!)

What is your present state of mind?

Very happy, keen to learn more music and determined to do it better. Advancing middle age is a great period in life, and taste, emotions, awareness seem to get deeper and more focussed. Arrau said that passion intensifies with age, and I can only agree with him – and try to emulate a little of what he achieved in terms of identification and self-fulfilment.

 

[Original interview date: 12 September 2013]

Meet the Artist……Yvonne Fontane

(photo: Josh Gooding)

Who or what inspired you to take up a career in singing and directing?

My grandmother was a painter and she always saw and showed me the world through an artist’s eyes. My mother was a singer, and although my father was a physicist, he would always play classical music at full volume at home or in the car, conducting the radio and screaming at the tempi.

Later, my passion for singing derived from the physical sensation when producing the classical sound, as well as from the different facets of the art form itself, including the drama, languages and poetry in the various genres of opera, oratorio and song.  After I had been active as a singer for many years, I wanted to be involved in opera productions at a much earlier stage in the process. I became interested in the ideas and concept of staging and directing opera, and found it riveting to work with a team on finding solutions to express a particular way of telling a story.

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

Love for what I do, and respect towards the piece in front of me and the people I am working with.

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

Figuring out what I needed to do in order to get to where I wanted to get to. This goes for my own life and career journey, but also for the individual projects and engagements I have been involved in.

What are you working on at the moment? 

I am currently working on my third, new production of Bizet’s Carmen at Winslow Hall Opera (WHO) in Buckinghamshire. I am directing and also singing the role of Carmen, bringing my number of performances of this role to around 165, but still feel there is so much to tell about the story and the character.  Joining me are a superb cast and team, and I can’t wait to get back into the experience that is WHO after last year’s success with Le Nozze di Figaro: high quality theatre making in very unique surroundings.

Italian tenor Gianluca Paganelli as Don José, South African baritone Njabulo Madlala (winner of the 2010 Kathleen Ferrier Competition) as Escamillo and Scottish-Polish soprano Natasha Day as Micaëla are leading a select cast which is supported by the company’s Founder and Music Director Robert Secret, set designer Francisco Rodriguez-Weill and lighting designer Tony Simpson.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working in an opera company? 

An opera company has to fulfil many different roles. Either subsidised privately or by the state, it has to find a healthy balance of serving its audience, finding and re-confirming a strong position in the artistic life of the community and its social calendar and co-operating with other art forms and arts institutions.  But at the same time, it has to remain free to accommodate the integrity and space which the artistic process and the artists’ work demand.

Do you have a favourite venue? 

There is no easy answer to this question. My favourite venue tends to be where I am at the present time. Certainly, Winslow Hall Opera has a very special place for me as I have worked closely with this company for many years, beginning in 2003 when it was still based at Stowe. It is an ambitious and inventive opera festival surrounded by the exceptional backdrop that only a magnificent 17th Century mansion by Sir Christopher Wren – the only Wren building outside of London – can present. It is now owned by former restaurateur Christopher Gilmour and his wife Mardi Gilmour, who have brought this festival to life with great vision and courage and out of their love for opera.

Who are your favourite musicians/singers/directors? 

My favourite singer is the German tenor Fritz Wunderlich who unfortunately died too young at the age of 35. To me, his singing represents complete honesty in sound and emotion. Especially his Schubert songs are the “truest” kind of music-making that I know.  One of my favourite musicians is the pianist Martha Argerich with her technical brilliance, power and risk taking. Both artists’ music always travels with me.  But aside from those two, I get most of my inspiration from other artists such as jazz, soul and blues musicians and all kinds of cross over artists, painters and sculptors.

One of my favourite productions is Jean-Louis Martinoty’s Le Nozze di Figaro for the Théatre des Champs-Elysées in 2004, conducted by René Jacobs. Here, simplicity and beauty, detail and clear characterisations are given time and space in an admirable synthesis between the artistic and musical direction.

What is your most memorable performing experience? 

The performances that are most memorable to me are the ones where all my performance skills and techniques were freely at my disposal and working perfectly together. But I’m afraid I can count on two hands the amount of times that has happened.

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

My favourite music to sing is Italian verismo. I’m afraid that I cannot possibly say what my favourite music to listen to is. The music in my car at this moment is Afro Celt, Bach’s St Matthew Passion, Tom Jones, Steve Ray Vaughn, Paolo Nutini and Richard Strauss’ four last songs.

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

Be true and honest to yourself and others and then show yourself, your ideas and work with confidence. I am always amazed when holding auditions or interviewing potential team members, how quickly and clearly that comes across and how strong it features in the decision-making.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

The point at which a balance has been achieved between family, work, relaxation and finances.

What is your most treasured possession? 

I feel slightly foolish, but it does seem to be my dishwasher and my SatNav!

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Aside from work, I enjoy waking up in the morning to fresh snow and clear blue skies, deciding on half a day’s skiing, then sailing down a ski slope which is drenched in sunshine and cold, soft snow with my carvers at the bottom of my boots.

What is your present state of mind? 

Now that I’ve just been thinking about skiing down a mountain, I’d say delirious.

Yvonne Fontane will be performing the title role and directing Bizet’s Carmen at Winslow Hall Opera on July 25th, 27th, 28th, 30th, August 1st and 3rd.  Saturday and Sunday performances start at 5.00pm, weekday performances at 5.30pm.  All performances will have a 90-minute supper interval. To book tickets to Winslow Hall Opera, please call 07504 298575 or email winslowhallopera@outlook.com

For more information on Yvonne please visit www.yvonnefontane.co.uk