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Who or what inspired you to take up the double bass and make it your career?

I played the flute since I was about 6 and had no intention of playing the bass! When I was 13 or so, I had passed grade 8 flute and there wasn’t much else to do in Cumbria with the flute, so I was looking for a second instrument. There was an old bass in the corner of the music school at school so asked my school music teacher if I could borrow it. I got some lessons from Cumbria music service and that was it: I was completely hooked. I joined Cumbria Youth Orchestra, then Northern Junior Philharmonic playing incredible repertoire like Tchaik 4, Mahler 7 and realised that I’d fallen in love with the bass. I then was taken to hear a concert by Gary Karr in a church in Penrith when I was 14. I had never heard anything like it. I went backstage to meet him after the gig and he asked me to play him something on his Amati. That’s when I knew without a doubt I wanted to be a bass player.

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

Everything I do influences my musical life. Climbing mountains, meditation, reading a great book, cooking for friends, seeing an incredible piece of art – it’s impossible to separate out that from playing really.

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

Juggling parenting and playing is incredibly tough, particularly as a single parent. I taught as a peripatetic musical teacher full time for a few years and absolutely loved it. Now that my daughter Eden is older, it’s a joy to throw myself into full time playing again but I think it’s very hard for many musicians to balance their career and parenthood.

I found the elitism difficult when I first left Cumbria as we just saw the composers as normal people who had the ability to put what couldn’t be expressed in words into sound. So the posh thing was a bit tricky to deal with. But I’m working on that with my Classical Evolution gigs.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Usually my last one – which was with Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family at this year’s Wildnerness Festival. So much fun – playing with the genre, improvising, working with such fantastic musicians. I really enjoyed recording a piece by Ailis Ni Riain for the Delia Derbyshire tour last year called The Consequences of Falling for double bass and trumpet. It was inspired by a piece by Delia, who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and wrote the ‘Doctor Who’ theme. Really fantastic music, very challenging and I loved working on it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love being in a big section playing the big stuff – Mahler, Shostakovich, Nielsen…… but over the last few years I’ve discovered an absolute passion for chamber music. Playing underplayed repertoire by people such as the woman composer Louise Farrenc – fellow bassist Leon Bosch introduced me to her beautiful quintets.

I also love working with composers on new works for the bass and have been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing composers such as James Stevenson, AIlis Ni Riain and am going to be working with Paul Abbott from September on some new pieces for bass, voice, extended vocal techniques. New music is incredibly important to me. I run Classical Evolution which brings chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations in a completely informal way, and I’ve commissioned 3 new works in that capacity too. The bass is fantastic for this as it allows such versatility.

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

The people that book me for orchestral gigs tend to do that! With my classical evolution gigs, I’m running 2 concert series in Manchester that are rather contrasting – one at a live music venue, Night and Day cafe where we’ll have improv nights where classical musicians who would like the chance to improvise can do it in the relative safety of the forms of tango, flamenco, baroque, and with a lovely friendly audience. More traditional repertoire that whatever me and my ensemble think will fit, and a new work each month. The other series is in the beautiful Portico Library in Manchester where I want to perform a more traditional repertoire but with some surprises thrown in every now and again but to work with authors to contextualise music in the frame of the great works that were written at the time.

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

Oh so many. From Matt and Phreds jazz club in Manchester to the Royal Albert Hall to a forest outside Liverpool where I commissioned and played in a piece for a children’s festival, to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen…

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

All time favourite really has to be Mahler 2.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’m lucky to have one of my best friends as one of my favourite musicians, and that’s the pianist Daniel Grimwood. Lots of other friends are just incredible and it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures to talk deeply about music and other facets of life with friends who’s musical talent you deeply admire.

I was brought up listening to Jaqueline du Pre, Pierre Fournier, Miles Davies, Carl Santana, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones (I had a big thing for Duran Duran when I was about 7). I love The Smiths, the Stone Roses. LTJ Bukem is a bit of a genius as is Bill Orbital. Recently living in Andalucia i discovered Paco de Lucia, Carlos Benavent, Javier Colina, Jorge Pardo…… far too many to mention and it changes pretty much daily!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That is so difficult! Can I have a couple? The first time I really believed I could make a career was playing Nielsen 5 in Tivoli Gardens with Ole Schmidt. Truly extraordinary music and I loved every second.

Playing Schubert’s Trout at Classical Revolution’s first birthday concert in the Royal Exchange in Manchester with Martin Roscoe and Benedict Holland was pretty special too! 

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

Work hard and love what you do. Never stop learning, and be completely open to who you can learn from. It’s the best job in the world.

Tell us more about Classical Evolution

I got back from living in Spain and was appalled by the music cuts in education so did a little thing called Guerilla Orchestra, where we played Mission Impossible in a few cities at the same time – one of which was conducted by the lovely Peter Donohoe. This guy emailed me from the states telling me about Classical Revolution over there, where people were playing chamber music informally in coffee shops. So we decided to play Dvorak quintet in our jeans in Matt and Phreds. Luckily Ben Holland agreed to play, and it went from strength to strength. We ended up with 2 monthly slots, one fantastic Sunday afternoon monthly gig where we would have lots of kids running around, we were playing bigger works like Souvenir de Florence, Britten’s Les Illiuminations, then I commissioned some works and thought that the name Classical Evolution summed what we were doing much more succinctly. Since then I’ve been running courses with some of the best musicians in the industry with that same informal feel, home-cooked bread and soup, and we’re carrying on from there. I’ve now set it up as a Community Interest Company and we have collaborations with visual, written and theatre artists coming up, expanding into education projects for children as well as the usual gigs in our jeans in ridiculous places. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have this project supported as patrons by Martin Roscoe, Ben Holland, Alison Moncrieff-Kelly and Jamie Walton. I played with Elizabeth Ball who runs the fabulous Classical Kicks at Ronnie Scotts, so we have a few things up our sleeves too. It’s not taking music out of the concert hall, in fact quite the opposite. People who come to our gigs or see us playing have often never been to a concert but having seen us play in those informal settings are keen to know more and are then led to the concert hall. The idea and philosophy is basically in no way to dumb down, just to play this music, particularly chamber music, in the way it was originally intended with people having a bite to eat, glass of wine, and see it in the raw.

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

Doing exactly what I’m doing now – playing the bass and running Classical Evolution.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my fantastic daughter up a mountain or in some ridiculous country somewhere. Or cooking at home for loads of friends. She’s a far better cook than I am!

What is your most treasured possession?

Boris (my bass)

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being a mother.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited about great projects in the pipeline, both playing and organising collaborations with sculptors, composers, musicians.. I’m a very lucky girl! 

Heather was born in Cumbria, and started playing the Flute aged 6, and the Double Bass aged 14. She played with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra and the Northern Junior Phil, before going on to the Royal Northern College of Music, studying the Double Bass with Duncan McTier.

Whilst at the RNCM, she played with the Symphony, String, Baorque, Chamber and Film Orchestras, Akanthos (the contemporary music ensemble), and kept a busy jazz schedule outside college.

After leaving the RNCM, Heather lived in Angola doing aid work, before moving to Cádiz, Spain for 3 years playing jazz, tango and teaching. She returned to the UK in 2010 to pursue an orchestral career.

As a Double Bassist she has worked with the RLPO, Sinfonia Verdi and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra, and well as numerous one-off dates.

Heather also runs Classical Evolution which was set up in 2011 to bring chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations with an informal feel to bring the music to new audiences. She has performed at the Spellbound Forest festival, for which she commissioned a new piece for children by James Stephenson. She also commissioned a new piece for the Just So Festival and organised a series of concerts for the Manchester Peace festival where she commissioned a further piece by the head of composition at Manchester University Richard Whalley and premiered it along with other new music in the live music venue Night and Day café.


Heather Bird
Director – Classical Evolution and Evolution Arts Centre
07456 528 166
 
For orchestral bookings please contact Morgensterns on 020 8681 0555 or visit www.morgensternsdiaryservice.com

I recently ran a survey, Perceptions of Independent Piano Teachers, as part of some research for a paper I am writing to present at the Oxford Piano Group meeting at the end of this month. Originally intended to offer some insight into whether private and independent piano teachers regard themselves as “professionals”, the survey revealed some interesting and unsettling thoughts on how independent piano teachers perceive themselves generally, and how people outside the profession view them. The majority of respondents were independent/private piano teachers and it was their response to the question When you think of the typical private piano teacher, who teaches at home, what image immediately comes to mind?  which gave me significant pause for thought. See more on this below….

One of my ongoing issues is people not regarding what I do as a “professional” role, despite the fact that I adhere to many of the perceived definitions of the word “professional”: I am paid for my work, I hold professional qualifications, and I belong to several professional bodies. I also run my studio in an efficient and businesslike manner with clear terms and conditions regarding payment of fees etc, I market my studio effectively (website and social media), I participate in regular ongoing professional development, and know how to communicate and interact with my “clients” (my students and their parents). Discussions with friends and colleagues in the profession indicate I am not alone in this, and indeed this is one of the main aspects about which music teachers and musicians in general feel so denigrated: because we enjoy our work and (often) work from home, it is not perceived as “a proper job”, and as such, we are often undervalued, expected to work for low or no pay, and our job is regarded as some kind of eccentric hobby. Nevermind that many of us have undergone a long and specialist training, or have years of experience and an impressive track record of success.

One of the major problems of private piano teaching is that it is unregulated. This means anyone can set up as a piano teacher and recruit a few students. Other professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants for instance – have their own professional/regulatory bodies, with professional exams, code of ethics, and so forth, which lends proper accreditation and gravitas to their role. Piano teachers can opt to join professional organisations such as the European Piano Teachers’ Association (EPTA) or the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), but membership is not compulsory and these bodies do not “regulate” nor inspect; they offer support, legal advice, continuing professional development, public liability insurance, busaries etc.

I would like to share the results of my survey, in the hope that this may encourage all independent piano teachers to consider how the profession is regarded and to support me in raising the profile of the private piano teacher.

Qualifications
What has the average piano teacher studied to teach in an independent studio?

Piano to grade 8 – 78%

Music theory to grade 8 – 37%

A-level music (or equivalent) – 45%

Music degree – 50%

Teaching diplomas – 46%

Performance diplomas – 43%

Piano pedagogy – 30%

These results interest me because I frequently come across the view that the private piano teacher should have attended music college or taken a degree in music, as a minimum qualification to teach. While I accept that a BMus or MMus (or equivalent international qualification) would be desirable, it is worth pointing out that not all conservatoire or university music courses offer a separate and/or specialist course in piano pedagogy; the main focus tends to be on performance, and music theory and history. Now, you might be the most talented, internationally-renowned pianist, but if you can’t communicate in both words and actions how to do it, you are not going to cut it as a teacher. Many professional musicians teach because they have to; but they are not necessarily the best teachers just because they have undergone a conservatoire training.

As an unregulated profession, there is no minimum standard qualification for independent piano teachers. Personally, I would like to see Grade 8 piano set as a minimum standard together with some other accreditation required and recognised by a body such as the ISM or EPTA.

Here is a teaching colleague of mine on the thorny issue of qualifications:

There is huge range of qualifications on offer, some of which test different things to others. I think in my experience, the usual thing, ‘qualifications do not necessarily a good teacher make’ stands true. All the qualifications I’ve done, I’ve done because they enhance and enrich my teaching rather than that they somehow make me look a better teacher. I’ve never once, in 13 years been asked about them anyway, and I find this quite common. Having worked with quite a few teaching diploma candidates, for example, it is clear which of them are using the qualification as a means to reflect on and evaluate their teaching skills, and those who want the piece of paper (and for the latter, the act of doing the qualification will have had little or no impact upon their actual teaching ability).

What are the main duties and responsibilities of an independent piano teacher?

100% of respondents stated that “teaching piano” is the main duty/responsibility of the independent piano teacher.

Preparing lessons – 87%

Collecting fees – 59%

Scheduling lessons – 73%

Preparing students for exams – 80%

Writing student reports/appraisals – 34%

Marketing the studio – 41%

Administration and recording keeping – 61%

Encouraging students – 91%

Keeping up with one’s professional development – 81%

I was interested to note that “collecting fees” did not receive a higher response, since conversations with colleagues, and my own experience, suggest that this is one of the more time-consuming (and irritating) aspects of the private piano teacher’s role, along with other general admin. Additional comments in response to this question included: dealing with parental expectations, keeping abreast of the current writing/thinking in piano teaching and pedagogy, taking lessons and playing/performing oneself, learning the music that students choose to play, informing students of interesting/relevant concerts and encouraging them to listen to music.

What non-musical skills do you think an independent piano teacher should have in order to teach successfully in a home studio?

Administration and organisational skills – 87%

Computer skills – 53%

Business skills – 57%

Knowledge of learning styles and how to accommodate them – 86%

People skills – 95%

An ability to challenge and motivate students – 96%

Patience – 96%

A sense of humour – 84%

Communication and writing skills – 71%

The responses to these three questions above suggest that independent piano teachers have a clear idea of what the job entails, and what skills are necessary in order to fulfil the role.

In response to the question Do you consider private piano teaching to be a “profession”?  91% agreed with this statement, while 7% did not. 2% responded “Don’t know”. When asked to qualify their responses, the following comments were made:

It’s a hobby, even if a full-time living, and never feels like a ‘real’ job. It’s up to the teacher to be self-motivated and conscientious if he/she wants to do a good job of it, though, but it’s increasingly a peripheral and quaint thing to do in life.

No [it’s not a “profession”], in that there are no recognised entry qualifications, no regulation and no career progression.

It doesn’t command any respect, people think it’s a hobby, not a vocation.

Depends on qualifications

What attributes and/or qualifications do you think define a private piano teacher as a “professional”?

Qualifications (e.g. music degree, education degree, performance or teaching diplomas) – 95%

Experience – 80%

A career as a professional performing musician – 25%

Ongoing professional development – 71%

Self-motivation – 50%

Good business skills – 36%

Additional comments in response to this question:

Success in motivating, teaching and helping students grow – not just musically, but personally, as well

I am constantly baffled as to why some piano teachers are not part of a union or professional body

Understanding of child development and basic psychology (we teach adults too)

A ‘professional’ attitude to practicalities such as studio policy, having insurance. Planning lessons

An ability and willingness to perform up to something resembling professional levels, but not necessarily having a professional performance career.

When you think of the typical private piano teacher, who teaches at home, what image immediately comes to mind?

It is the largely negative responses to this question which have given me most pause for thought. Remember, the majority of respondents are independent piano teachers – these comments are their view of how our profession is perceived by others:

Probably an older, rather eccentric female

Someone who is probably not properly qualified

Old lady next door, cardigan, cats, musical erasers

Someone who is not really up to the job- who isn’t fully trained or a professional musician and has realised they can make a quick buck teaching piano. Someone who is kind and nice to the children and parents but ultimately unaware that they are teaching bad technique often and not aware of the rigours of quality music-making

Not a profession but a religion!

Someone who is keen to develop people in their creativity and understanding of music. They love what they do, and teach it because they themselves love to play and be creative.

A mum who used to play…..has kids and needs a bit of extra money

I divide it into two types: Those that live and breathe the piano, and those for which it is a “nice little hobby”.

Someone who has Grade 8 or Diploma in performance. Teaches pupils for the exam they are working on, leaving ear training and background knowledge until the week before the exam. May be a great performer.

It used to be a woman in her 40s or 50s sitting, slightly seriously, beside a wide-eyed child at an upright piano. Things have moved on now and I know teachers across a wide demographic.

Interestingly, when I asked two professional pianists who also teach (one privately, one in a university music department) how they are perceived by their students and parents of their students, I received the following replies:

I find that my students and parents treat me as ‘highly professional’ due to the calibre of my performing engagements. This is completely unrelated, however, to any ability I might or might not possess as a teacher. The latter comes from studying and working in the field for over thirty years, from discussions with psychologists and other instrumental teachers – and trial and error.

I find that generally (with a few exceptions) teaching within an establishment [a British university] one does get the appropriate respect and indeed, as instrumental teachers, most of the students treat us as being on a par with the other academic staff. The only private teaching that I do (at the moment) is on a consultation basis, so people (generally parents of talented late teenagers or sometimes young professionals themselves) approach me because of what I’ve done or because they’ve actually heard me in concert. I guess that generally means that one has already overcome the hurdle of being respected and the people involved do therefore treat one as ‘professional’. But this is less about qualifications/prizes won….

Do you have any memorable anecdotes about the perception your students, their parents, or someone outside the profession has had about the independent piano teacher or the job of teaching from a private home studio?

Parents of new students think often of piano teaching as a simple, stress free and lucrative job. Parents of older students realize it’s a profession, that requires knowledge, competence and constant learning on the part of the teacher.

Thinking I’m a part-timer. – Believing I deserve less professional respect. For instance: paying me late, assuming I want to babysit their kids, wanting to switch times when a plumber/electrician wouldn’t put up with their crap. This might be a bit controversial, but I think part of the problem lies in the fact that as a profession, there are very little “benchmarks” or “guidelines” to guide absolutely everybody in a uniform fashion, even within unions and professional bodies. For instance, there are some piano teachers who may put up with late payment because they feel they don’t have a choice, or other teachers who allow pupils to switch times and cancel at the very last minute. This makes others believe all piano teachers are the same. I think this freedom and flexibility to operate is a positive, but if you compare to say, the GMC (General Medical Council) or BMA (British Medical Association), they are a lot more stringent and dogmatic about what their members should and should not do as professionals.

“What do you do for a living?” (Parent couldn’t believe this was my job)

Once a mother pulled her son out of lessons because I was getting too skilled and teaching too much and she just wanted him to read notes. I told her I was allowed to grow too

As organizer of a local piano competition and representative of a teaching union, I sat down to check a piano was in tune and the stool was at the right height at the start of the competition day, only for a parent to ask “so you actually play the piano then? Like properly!” Made me smile for hours.

One piano parent asked me and my colleague Claire “So what do you want to be when you are older?” whilst she was sat in my private piano teaching practice which I rent and run as a business.

I am troubled by these largely negative comments and the recurrence of the word “hobby” in relation to piano teaching. The perception, expressed by teachers themselves, that the role is not valued nor regarded as a proper professional job is very evident in these responses. While the stereotypical view of the private piano teacher as a little old lady down the road is fading, there is a still a strong perception that the private piano teacher is doing the job for “pin money”, or because they can’t get a “better” job. I find this view deeply depressing: I take my job very seriously and adopt a professional attitude to every aspect of my work (the fact that I also enjoy it a great deal is an added bonus). How do we change this attitude into a positive perception of piano teachers as highly skilled and professional people? I believe that the impetus must come from within the profession, from piano teachers themselves, and from professional bodies such as EPTA and ISM, who should be actively promoting private piano teaching as a recognised and respected profession.

I would like to thank everyone who took part in my survey and also those pianist and piano teaching friends and colleagues who responded to more specific enquiries from me.

In a later post, I will explore professionalism in private piano teaching in more detail.

Please feel free to leave comments or to contact me directly via the Contact page of this site.

Opera ingenu Nicholas Marlowe (my co-reviewer for CultureVulture.net) went to see ENO’s production of Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West.

Often laughed off as the first Spaghetti Western,  La Fanciulla del West remains the least known of Puccini’s major works. Set during the California gold rush of 1849-50, it was first performed to universal acclaim at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 1910 (a far cry from the disastrous opening of Madame Butterfly at La Scala six years earlier). And yet Richard Jones’s new production is the first at the ENO for fifty years.

La Fanciulla tends to appeal to serious aficionados of Puccini’s score rather than the ordinary opera-goer, and it’s not hard to see why. The paucity of stand-alone arias – never mind a ‘Nessun Dorma’ – is a major stumbling block, the only real crowd-pleaser being ‘Quello che tacete’ in Act I, strongly reminiscent (I wonder why?) of ‘Song of the Night’ in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. It also has one of the most preposterous plots in all opera, and characterisation that veers dangerously close to cardboard: saloon-owner-with-a-heart-of-gold Minnie, miraculously-reformed bandit Ramerrez aka Dick Johnson and sleazy Sheriff Jack Rance. You might think that singing it in English would have smoothed things a little, but I rather missed the cries of “Howdy, ragazzi!” and “Whiskey per tutti!”

Peter Auty and Susan Bullock in The Girl of the Golden West. (Photograph: John Snelling/Getty Images)
Nevertheless, the entire ensemble did well in what was largely a production of firsts. Highly-regarded British soprano Susan Bullock ruled the roost in a feisty stage debut as Minnie (she previously sang the role in concert at the Edinburgh festival in 2010). It was tenor Peter Auty’s debut as Dick, and American bass baritone Craig Colclough’s as Rance. Canadian conductor Keri-Lynn Wilson, meanwhile, made her UK operatic debut in the pit. Sterling support came from an ENO chorus that shifted convincingly from bible class to lynch mob.
 
The opening act in the Polka saloon I thought suffered from a lack of clear definition in the male roles, although some were still very good indeed; I particularly liked Graham Clark as Nick the bartender. Act II, set in Minnie’s cabin, was somewhat knockabout, provoking a certain amount of tittering in the Colisseum audience, and at this stage I began to wonder if Jones and co were playing the whole thing for laughs. All came good in the final act, however, particularly in Auty’s poignant rendition of Dick’s final despairing aria, well matched by Bullock’s gutsy performance as she pulled out all the stops to save her fella from the noose. 
La Fanciulla del West continues at ENO at the Coliseum.

 

(photo credit: Rory Isserow)
(photo credit: Rory Isserow)

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

I don’t remember not playing the piano! But as a career – the London-based Swiss pianist, Albert Ferber, with whom I was studying, encouraged me to make my debut at Wigmore Hall in 1974.

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

All my teachers in different ways; musical members of the family; friends and colleagues who believed in me. The composer William L Reed was a marvellous mentor and facilitator. Perhaps most important of all, a passion for the music I had found and a powerful desire to communicate it.

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

To focus on priorities.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

The ones where there has been that special communication with listeners – whether in the concert hall or in feed-back from far-flung corners of the world. I do not wish to be solely defined by the many Grainger ones, but they have presented much repertoire that is new, fresh, entrancing, life-enhancing – hard work, but what a joy!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

The particular ones for which I feel a gut instinct, whether by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov …. the list goes on.

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

That is dictated by the projects I am undertaking.

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

I have enjoyed different venues for different reasons – the Melbourne Recital Centre is lovely, but so too is London’s Kings Place for its vibrant sense of enterprise (and very fine hall), and St John’s, Smith Square for its beauty. I have often relished the pin-point acoustics of Wigmore Hall, and the warm atmosphere of the Purcell Room. It was a thrill to play on the stage at Covent Garden for a gala Australia Day concert and at the Royal Festival Hall in Grainger’s ‘The Warriors’. By contrast, a good piano in a large music room can be perfect for a recital where one introduces the music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Most recently Bach transcriptions and originals for a Bach CD on LIR Classics. And see above……

Who are your favourite musicians? 

To hear: I so loved the Pollini Beethoven cycle, and in different sonatas, Brendel (the last three) and, unexpectedly, Barenboim in some of the early ones. Of course, that force of nature, Argerich!  On disc – Dinu Lipatti, Solomon and Richter.

For many years I played two piano programmes with my friend and colleague, John Lavender. We gradually developed a way of creating one texture from two pianos. We recorded much new Grainger repertoire on three discs and John also made some splendid two piano versions of such works as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ overture as part of an all-Russian programme.

I have been lucky to work with so many fine artists – in earlier days, the mezzo Muriel Smith, more recently, certain outstanding singers – Stephen Varcoe, Martyn Hill, James Gilchrist and Della Jones, in the Chandos Grainger recordings and in concert. Wayne Marshall was a memorable colleague both as pianist and conductor. It has been a great pleasure to work with the cellist, Rohan de Saram, who has recently returned to the standard repertoire along with his extraordinary abilities and achievements in the field of contemporary music. Earlier women pianists who inspired me in concert included

Lili Kraus, Alicia de Larrocha and Rosalind Tureck. Also Hephizibah Menuhin, whom I knew and admired as a friend.

These are but a few names amongst many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Too many memorable experiences to choose one – but playing in 1980 in the Beijing Conservatoire and to a radio audience they told me averaged 50 million – was certainly the largest audience ever!

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

Be yourself. Find your unique path. Work hard. Know that beyond failure there is always the next step. Cherish your friends and the wonderful opportunities we have to share our music.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A concert at King’s Place, London, to mark 40 years since my London debut.

It will be a programme filled with melody and shared with some good friends, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and a group of gifted young professionals, as we shall be premiering a piano concerto movement written by Grainger when he was just 13 years old.

I’ll start with mighty Bach arr. Liszt and progress through Grieg (lovely Grieg) by way of Grainger to the Dvorak Piano Quintet Op 81 – what an utterly gorgeous work.  

What is your present state of mind? 

Expectant.

 

Penelope Thwaites’ 40th Anniversary Concert takes place at London’s King’s Place Hall One on Wednesday 8th October. She is joined by the Fitzwilliam Quartet and outstanding young professional artists in a programme of music by Bach arr. Liszt, Grieg, Grainger and Dvorak. Further details here

 

London-based pianist and composer Penelope Thwaites has performed and broadcast in over thirty countries on five continents. Since her Wigmore Hall debut in 1974, she has appeared regularly as recitalist in major concert halls, and in a wide repertoire she has built a reputation as an intensely communicative artist. As concerto soloist she has appeared with the Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and with leading orchestras in Australia, Europe and America.

© Dario Acosta Photography / DG

He looks like he should still be at school, yet he plays with the commanding presence, exceptional technical facility and deep commitment a professional artist thrice his years would envy. He’s slight, floppy haired, yet he can bring power and richness to the boldest fortissimo passages, while his pianissimos are delicate whispers. Welcome to the world of Daniil Trifonov.

Superlatives quickly become redundant when attempting to describe the pianistic feats of this young artist, winner in 2011 of both the Tchaikovsky and Rubenstein Competitions, and still only 23. He’s already got a clutch of recordings under his belt, and is in demand around the world. His London concert marked his Royal Festival Hall debut (he has already played at the Wigmore and Queen Elizabeth Halls), and it was therefore a pity that due to an unfortunate, and probably accidental, concert clash with Behzod Abduraimov’s Wigmore Hall recital, the Festival Hall was not as full-to-bursting as it might have been for this eagerly-anticipated debut.

Read my full review here

(photo: Gautier Deblonde)

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

I started as a jazz bass player having become very interested in jazz as a teenager. I had studied classical piano from the age of 5, but took up the bass when I was 18.  I only started to compose in my early twenties and for this move it was the work of John Cage that was the key inspiration.

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

Initially it was Cage.

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

There have been many, but perhaps writing my first opera, a setting of Euripides’ Medea in Ancient Greek was the most challenging as it was the first thing I’d ever written for orchestra, for the stage, for the human voice and I’d only ever seen one opera live. In addition I was my own publisher and I had only 8 months to write it while teaching full time…

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

The main challenge, which is in fact a pleasure, is to get to work with many very different artists  – both with performers, choreographers, opera directors etc.

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

It is, again, the encounter with artists of real quality and I have to find what works best for them; that is to say, I always take account of their characters both musical and otherwise.

Which works are you most proud of?  

I’m not really proud of any of them! There are works that I think are of greater significance but I never proud of my own achievements though I take pride in the successes of others – my children for example.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

My favourite musicians are the members of my own ensemble, who are the finest singers and chamber music players I know, and with whom I have chosen to work. There are many composers whose works I enjoy and admire but none would be “favourites”!

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

There are many, but I would single out two. One was a concert performance of my first opera by BBC Scottish Symphony orchestra 11 years after the opera performances. The other was touring an old piece of mine, The Sinking of the Titanic, during the centenary year of the sinking, when I included my four children in my ensemble (my three daughters on viola, two cello; my son on double bass)

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

There are two:

Always keep and open mind and a spirit of enquiry (so as not to develop predictable routines) and make sure that you have a secure musical craftsmanship ( so that you are able to express your ideas without difficulty of technique).

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

I would like to be still alive and well, and in our home with my entire family on the Pacific coast of Canada (where we live for part of the year)

What is your present state of mind? 

Alert and as serene as possible

Gavin Bryars presents ‘The Bass in My Life’ with Daniele Roccato, double bass, who performs works by  Stefano Scodanibbio, Giacinto Scelsi, Ivan Fedele, Franco Donatoni, Daniele Roccato and Gavin Bryars at the Italian Cultural Institute London tonight.  The event is part of the Suona Italiano residency to promote Italian music. Further information here

“… The music of Gavin Bryars falls under no category. It is mongrel, full of sensuality and wit and is deeply moving. He is one of the few composers who can put slapstick and primal emotion alongside each other. He allows you to witness new wonders in the sounds around you by approaching them from a completely new angle. With a third ear maybe. . .” –Michael Ondaatje

Gavin Bryars’ full biography

www.gavinbryars.com