I don’t perform that frequently – maybe four or five times a year (excluding informal performances and “house concerts” at home) – but I understand the “process” of performing and the necessary and special preparation which goes into a public performance, not only the learning and refining of all those notes, but also understanding how to manage performance anxiety and hone stagecraft.

Anxiety is a natural part of the performance experience and should be accepted as such. For a long time performance anxiety or stage fright has been the “dirty secret” of performers, but recently a number of articles and books on the subject have revealed that it is common amongst even top international artists, which has, I think, made it easier for performers to speak openly about anxiety and nerves, and to offer coping strategies. The physical symptoms of anxiety are the result of the release of adrenaline, a hormone and neurotransmitter which is produced when we find ourselves in stressful or exciting situations. Known as the “fight or flight hormone”, it works by stimulating the heart rate, contracting blood vessels, and dilating air passages, all of which work to increase blood flow to the muscles and oxygen to the lungs. This gives the body an increased and almost instantaneous physical boost. In a performance situation, the side-effects of adrenaline pumping through the body include racing heart or palpitations, sweating, breathlessness and trembling or shaky hands, arms or legs. It also brings a heightened sense of awareness and increased respiration which can make one feel light-headed or dizzy. Fighting the symptoms of anxiety can simply make it worse, and I have found it easier to manage my nerves by simply accepting them as part of the performance experience (something which pianist Steven Osborne discusses in this article).

The symptoms of the release of adrenaline do not leave the body the instant the stressful situation ends, and when one is not actually in a genuinely dangerous situation, the effects of adrenaline can leave one feeling jittery, restless,  irritable and sleepless. In the immediate aftermath of the performance, you may continue to feel excited, “on a high”. Many people find it beneficial to “work off” the adrenaline rush after a particularly stressful situation (the classic musical example perhaps being the rock star trashing a hotel room after a gig!). It can take several hours for the body to settle down and the day after the concert, one can feel very flat as adrenaline leaves the system and one’s hormonal levels return to normal.

The euphoria of live performance is matched by a special kind of depression compounded by a profound tiredness after the event. A vast amount of energy – mental and physical – is expended in the experience of a performance, and the excitement of the concert fills your every moment in the hours leading up to it. And then, suddenly, it is all over. Now you’re ready for your bed, but you’ve still got to do the PR thing post-concert: meet people, sign programmes and CDs, give interviews. The day after the concert everyday life can seem exceedingly inferior to the excitement of the performance. In reality, there’s no time for exhaustion: you have work to do tomorrow – and work is the best antidote to these feelings of depression and tiredness. There may be another concert to prepare for, new repertoire to be learnt, old repertoire to be revived and finessed. We draw strength from our love of the repertoire, our excitement about our individual pieces and the prospect of putting them before an audience. The performance is what endorses all the lonely hours of careful practice and preparation.

“At this low point, we have only to let music itself take charge. For every challenge we can possibly want lies before us in the vast and inexhaustible repertory that cannot but replenish our spirit. For true musicians, depression is temporary because their music is permanent.” (Seymour Bernstein, from ‘With Your Own Two hands’)

Stage fright? Blame Liszt – article by pianist Stephen Hough

Performance Anxiety Anonymous  – strategies for coping with performance anxiety

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the guitar and make a career in music?

I had collected music since a very young child, but my life changing moment was hearing the rock guitarist Randy Rhoads. He was Ozzy Osbourne’s guitarist for his first two solo albums before his untimely death – Randy’s playing inspired me to go out and buy a guitar; he fused classical music with other styles such as blues and jazz into a unique heavy rock style. So I taught myself for a while and then began taking classical guitar and piano lessons before going to study guitar at the Guildhall School of Music. I became obsessed with classical music, I collected first everything I could find of Mozart, Beethoven, Bach and then more modern classical music. I taught myself improvising and composition whilst I studied the guitar. I didn’t receive any formal orchestration and composition training until I became a private student of Baz Elmes and then when I studied under Dr Stephen Goss as a post-graduate at the University of Surrey,

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

As a composer J.S. Bach, John Barry, Leo Brouwer, Benjamin Britten have all been very influential on my writing style. However, in my thinking and approach to playing, there are people from various non-musical disciplines that have given me great inspiration. A lot of people are surprised to find out what a fan I am of people like the cyclist Victoria Pendleton and the footballer Jermain Defoe. Their outlook, their determination, and battles, on and off the track/football pitch, have inspired me greatly.

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

As a mainly classical recitalist, the challenge is one many of us soloists face – and to put it bluntly it is attendance and generating a buzz about classical music. The music I perform is mainly contemporary with occasional programming of Bach or maybe Dowland. I use social networking and the internet to publicise things. I think for classical music to survive it really does have to move with the internet age.

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my America Suite for classical guitar. It has brought a lot of good fortune and also cemented my friendship with the talented guitarist Jonathan Prag who performed the piece at the Edinburgh festival earlier this year.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Now that is a difficult one, because I have a very strict rule to only work with people I really trust and also to only perform somewhere that is exciting and has a warmth, so everywhere I tend to perform, I am very fond of. Having said that and if pushed I would say it is The Frax Foundation art gallery in Albir, Spain. The acoustics are great, the art work is fantastic – and the audience always are made of people that enjoy live classical music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I do enjoy opening a concert with Manuel de Falla’s Dance Of The Miller. That first chord really kicks people up the backside. The Bach Lute Suites are immensely difficult, but I do love them very much, especially BWV 997. To listen to, I never ever tire of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Glenn Gould’s 1955 recording is my favourite.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love a lot of what I think of as the musical mavericks, people like Glenn Gould, gypsy jazz guitarist Jimmy Rosenberg, and as mentioned previously, Randy Rhoads. All those guys broke out of what was the done thing and innovated and delivered something fresh and exciting to people who expected something different. They all had incredible technical facility but never once let that come before the music, that is so special and rare in a musician of any style.

It is difficult because there are things I like in almost everyone’s playing that I will go away and think, ‘well I wouldn’t have done that bit that way, but I did like the way they approached that section.’ There is ALWAYS something positive in every performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably The New Music Series for young composers’ concert at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. I performed a recital of original pieces and it was first recital in St Martin’s. It was at the time the biggest thing I had done and I was so pleased, I thought if nothing ever happens again even, I have performed here, nothing can take that away.

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

I think to stay single minded and remember if you ever meet someone who says something cannot be done, that it is their opinion and it most likely can be done. People, have a habit of, if they can’t do something themselves, to discourage others. So my advice, even at 38 years of age (when I should be starting to become older and cynical), is to follow your heart, have fun and do your own thing.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am writing new music for the German soprano Susanna Risch and the English guitarist Jonathan Prag. At the time of writing I am in the final mixing stage of my latest classical guitar album ‘Made In England’ an album of music by Dowland, Britten and also for the first time on a recording, my America Suite.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

This is an easy one – being in my home with my wife. We have thousands of DVDS, a lot of sheet music and my music room is my sanctuary, recording for hours and hours on my own is bliss. Add pizza breaks and then the promise of red wine and some alien documentaries at the end and I am a happy man!

 

Matthew Sear (b.1975) is a London-born guitarist, pianist and composer. He began teaching himself the guitar and piano aged thirteen (while also composing his first pieces), before commencing private instruction in both instruments.

At 1993, aged eighteen, Matthew was awarded an unconditional place to study classical guitar at the Guildhall School Of Music and Drama in London, where he stayed until 1996, leaving the conservatoire to write for the psychedelic rock band ‘Collusion’.

Through the 1990‘s he worked as a street musician and cafe guitarist, while studying composition under Baz Elmes and guitar with Martin Vishnick. The study culminated in Licentiates from the Royal Schools of Music and RGT, and a place on the University of Surrey’s Master’s Degree programme, in classical performance.

Matthew gave his classical guitar debut in 2006, performing on Valentines Day at St Paul’s church, Covent Garden, London. In addition to the warm reception from St Paul’s, his performance also received a glowing endorsement from Grammy nominee Antonio Forcione and also BBC Radio’s Jonathan Witchell – who later enthused on his show…

“…Vibrance, energy and the ability to really communicate through the guitar. Fantastic live music: A performer in complete command…”

Since then, Matthew has performed as a classical soloist in some of Britain’s most famous concert venues; including St James’ Piccadilly, St Martin In The Fields and St John’s Smith Square.

In addition to performances in his native country, he has given recitals throughout North America and Europe; performing across France, Sweden and Spain – and in 2010, under the mentorship of Carlos Bonell, was awarded a Fellowship from the London College Of Music, the college’s highest award.

His expressive playing style continues to receive praise from audiences and the media alike. The ‘Costa Blanca News’ (Spain) remarking after a 2012 recital…

“…A young virtuoso, whose playing was like a colourful waterfall..”

“America by Matthew Sear, created an an atmosphere containing both the bustling New York Metropolis and hints of Southern Bluegrass. The result was very characterful.”

Melinda Hughes, The 2013 Edinburgh Festival – Broadwaybaby.Com

Matthew’s work as a composer includes music for solo instruments and ensembles – and his pieces have been performed on a variety of indie and mainstream stations: including BBC and SW1 Radio. In addition to radio airplay, his pieces have been performed at St Martin-in-the-Fields ‘New Music Series’ for young composers, and most recently the Edinburgh Festival. Currently Matthew is honouring commissions from award-winning soprano Susanna Risch, guitarist Jonathan Prag and screen writer Edward Kelly.

Matthew lives happily with his wife Suzanne in south-east London, a musician in her own right.  In addition to classical and world music, they share a passion for English football, cinema, String Theory and autism. They also perform (and record) with their friend, the string player Alison Jones in the Gypsy Jazz Trio ‘String Theory’. 

Matthew Sear’s website
www.matthewsearguitarist.co.uk

Music samples (iTunes)
www.itunes.apple.com/us/artist/matthew-sear/id374847081

Some thirty-five or so years ago now, during my student days in Glasgow, I was walking quite late one evening from the university back to my digs. And I had the Act 2 trio from Don Giovanni circling obsessively around my head. I had recently seen a broadcast from Glyndebourne of the opera (it was on ITV, as I remember: haven’t things changed!), and, even more recently, had seen a Scottish Opera production conducted by Sir Alexander Gibson, and featuring Robert Lloyd and Willard White as Don Giovanni and Leporello; and what would I not have given then to have been able to hear that music that very evening, at that very moment? I knew then that I needed to listen to that music again, and listen to it often, and, given that this was back in the Dark Ages before YouTube or Spotify, I had no choice but to buy myself a recording. Even if it meant living on beans on toast for the rest of the term (which I was doing anyway – so no great sacrifice there), I had to have this music with me.

And so started my record buying, which, after a few years, became CD buying. Those of us unable to make music for ourselves must be content listening to those who can. Which is fair enough, I suppose: I’m not complaining.

I didn’t grow up with Western classical music, neither at school nor at home. My parents were Indian (Bengali, to be more precise: they were from the part of Bengal that stayed within India after Partition); I myself was born in Bengal, arriving in Britain as a five-year-old nearly 50 years ago now. The music I heard at home as I was growing up was Bengali music, and, inevitably, that meant Rabindrasangeet – the songs of the poet Rabindranath Tagore. It is a bit difficult to describe Tagore’s stature in the Bengali speaking world, as there is no equivalent in the West, but it isn’t going too far to say that he virtually defines the nation’s culture all by himself: for more than 60 years, he wrote a vast body of poems that are of the highest quality – an extraordinary variety, never repeating himself, forever renewing his art; he wrote also novels, plays, short stories, essays; he exhibited paintings; and he was, on top of all this, a gifted musician, composing both the music and the lyrics of literally thousands of songs. These songs, Rabindrasangeet, form, effectively, Bengal’s national music, and I know of no Bengali who would not be able to recognize at least a dozen or so of them. Personally, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know any of these songs: these are most likely the first music I ever heard.

As a teenager rebelling against parental values, I turned away from all this; now, in my mid-50s, I can’t believe how unutterably stupid I had been to have turned my back on such riches. As an illustration, here is one of my favourites, sung by two renowned practitioners of Rabindrasangeet, KanikaBandopadhyay and SuchitraMitra:

The lyrics, rendered into English, go something like this: 
Who is it who travels on the path?
Who calls to me as he passes, 
calls me from home? 
 
The music that drifts on breezes on the path 
echoes within my breast 
with pain and longing. 
 
In full moon night, the tide 
floods in from the sea, 
and tugs at my soul. 
 
Eyes, unbidden, open wide. 
Why should I now remain at home? 
What thoughts keep me here? 

 

(Please do not pass judgement on the poetic qualities of the original merely from this: I have made no attempt to reproduce Rabindranath’s poetry – that would be well beyond me. This translation is merely to give some indication of what the song is about.)

As for Western classical music, I knew nothing about it: it wasn’t, frankly, high on the list of priorities in the comprehensive school I’d attended in Glasgow. It was only in my late teens that I found myself, purely out of curiosity, trying to discover what this “classical music” lark was all about. I had heard of a few big names, of course – Bach, Mozart, Beethoven – and I remember on my eighteenth birthday, using the gift vouchers I had received, buying LPs of Beethoven’s symphonies without having the faintest idea what to expect. The recordings featured the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Karl Böhm. I now know that these are rather good recordings, but in those days, I didn’t even know that interpretations of music could vary significantly: I know absolutely nothing. And what I heard changed me. Till then, music was merely something to listen to in the background while I tapped my feet or hummed along or did something else: I had no idea that mere music, mere arrangements of sounds, could have so powerful an effect: that seemed then, and seems still, a miracle. I could not believe what I was experiencing.

Soon, as a student in Glasgow (my parents had moved down to England by then), I found myself attending concerts at the City Hall: The Scottish National Orchestra had in those days Sir Alexander Gibson as Principal Conductor, and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra had as Principal Conductor the splendidly named Karl Anton Rickenbacker. I remember particularly a tremendously fiery Beethoven’s 7th symphony performed by Gibson and the SNO; and a superb Mahler’s 1st Symphony from BBCSSO conducted by Rickenbacker. I was, in short, hooked. I even found myself getting the Student Discount seats at Scottish Opera: to my surprise, these seats were no more expensive, and were often cheaper, than tickets for rock concerts, and, despite all that I read nowadays about the elitism of the classical music world, there was no-one standing at the door telling me “Sorry sir, you can’t come in, this event is for an elite only”. Strange, that.

I was fascinated. I regretted deeply my lack of a music education, and I took to taking out books from public libraries – which were well stocked in those days with rather good books – to find out something about the music that was fascinating me so; and I took also to checking out classical records from the well-stocked record library. Unlike today, when an interested neophyte would most likely be fobbed off with some patronising “easy-to-access” guff, everything was all around me then: I had merely to pick it up.

It is strange how first loves tend so often to be the strongest. The range of music I listen to now is, naturally, far wider than it was then, but the music I got to know in those early heady days of discovery remains dear to me still. I remember, for instance, having LPs of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which I had bought mainly because I liked the tunes. I love Tchaikovsky’s ballet scores still – kaleidoscopic orchestral colours, endless melodic invention, an ideal marriage of grace and of passion … what’s not to like? And the day I tire of Mozart operas or of Beethoven symphonies is the day I think I should give on music altogether.

Of course, it wasn’t just recordings: I continued attending concerts also. But, unless one lives in London (which I didn’t till much later) and is a very regular concert-goer, it is difficult, for someone like me at least, to get to know works without recordings. With any work of art that has any depth to it, first acquaintance is merely a tourist visit: one gets but a superficial impression at best, and at worst, sometimes, a misleading impression. To know a country well, tourist visits aren’t enough:one has to live there. I have never been able to form reliable judgements on types of music, or of composers, or, indeed, of individual works, without repeated listenings over a long period. And for that, live concerts, though indispensable, aren’t, on their own, enough: I need recordings.

Over many years of CD listening, many recordings have, naturally, become favourites. I don’t mean to list them all: this post is long enough as it is. But, leaving aside all those tiresome debates on “Is Maestro X’s recording better than Maestro Y’s?”, it would be remiss of me not to mention, at the very least, those wonderful recordings of Mozart’s piano concertos with Robert Casadesus at the keyboard, and Georg Szell conducting the Cleveland Orchestra; or Schubert’s Winterreise performed by Peter Pears and Benjamin Britten; Klemperer’s monumental studio recording of Beethoven’s MissaSolemnis; Bartók’s string quartets performed by the Juilliard Quartet; and a live performance of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Rafael Kubelik, with Janet Baker quite incandescent in that heartbreaking final song. There are many, many more I could pick, of course,but these five give, I think, a fair indication of the range of my tastes.

And opera: ever since I became hooked on opera in my student days, I’ve never tired of it. Shortly before the birth of our first child, my wife and I decided to have one “Last Big Night Out”, as it were: we bought tickets to see Le Nozze di Figaro at Covent Garden. (It’s a very favourite opera of ours: the first present I ever gave my wife, back in the days before we were married, was a recording of this very same piece.) On that night, Jeffrey Tate conducted; Thomas Allen and Carol Vaness were Count and Countess; Marie McLaughlin and Lucio Gallo were Susanna and Figaro.That whole evening was about as close to perfection as can be imagined. Many years later, we returned to Covent Garden to see the same opera, now conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras; and this time, we returned with our two children in tow, bothby now teenagers. I love all three Mozart-da Ponte operas, but, not surprisingly, Figaro has, over the years, acquired for me considerable personal significance. When I think of my favourite operas, it’s the three Fs – Figaro, Fidelio and Falstaff – that come most readily to mind. Throw in Boris Godunov, and maybe one of the products of Janáček’s extraordinary late flowering (The Cunning Little Vixen, say),and that would be a fair representation of my operatic taste.

My parents never really got my love of Western classical music: their ears – my late father’s ears, certainly – were too closely tuned to Indian idioms. As I was exploring Western classical music, it seemed to me that I was moving very far from my parents’ musical values; but my rediscovery later in life of Rabindrasangeet possibly indicates that the apple never does fall too far from the tree. However, fine as my tree is, I’m grateful that I have had the opportunity to explore far beyond its immediate environs, and to claim as my own whatever I may find.

One final memory of a concert: in 2006, at the Edinburgh Festival, I attended, with my son (then aged 14), a concert performance of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. I must confess to not being a fully paid-up Wagnerian: my feelings towards his music remain deeply ambivalent. But that evening, I had no reservation at all: it was a splendid performance, and I remember coming out of it floating, as it were, on a cloud of joy. Most notable was the tenor singing Walther: I had not heard of him then. His name was Jonas Kaufmann. I had heard good singing before, but this really was special.Our lad, that evening, came out of Usher Hall a fully fledged Wagnerian, and his enthusiasm remains to this day undimmed. I didn’t go quite so far, but even I knew it was the kind of evening that could change lives. And that is no hyperbole.

Himadri Chatterjee is an operational research analyst. He lives near London with his wife and two teenage children, and what little spare time he has is taken up with reading, listening to music, and, lately, indulging his logorrhoea and love of literature and music on his blog The Argumentative Old Git

 

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

I really do not know, perhaps my older sister’s lessons which I liked to listen to from the age of 3. She was not doing very well, in fact she hated practising the piano ( although she always loved the music but not the work involved) ,but I was learning a lot behind closed doors. We had a lovely grand piano and the piano & me were inseparable, very strange for a child of that age. I was also constantly glued to the radio, in those days in Poland, all you heard was either classical music or propaganda programmes. I chose music!!

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

My Russian teacher Professor Tatjana Kestner in Moscow, Professor Wanda Losakiewicz, Professor Zbigniew Drzewiecki in Poland and my last teacher, Professor Ryszard Bakst at The RNCM in the UK.

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

Challanges? In a musician’s life there are always plenty of challenges. You have to challenge yourself all the time otherwise your standards will drop. As I have had a long break from the piano for various reasons, my biggest challenge is to re-establish myself again on the concert platform.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am very proud of my recital performance I gave few years ago at Chethams School of Music during their annual International Summer School Festival for Pianists in Manchester (where I am a frequent member of the Piano faculty) just few weeks after my beloved sister Eliżbieta lost her long battle with cancer. It was a very difficult recital for me to play, in fact I was not sure if I could get through it. I have dedicated that performance and a CD which was recorded live during that recital to her memory. It was a very memorable and moving experience, and I received a standing ovation…

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love playing Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, most romantic composers – and Chopin of course.

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

It depends what I am asked for. I find that very often I will be asked to give all-Chopin recital. But I like to mix my programmes and deliver a variety of styles: it makes it so much more interesting and demanding, as you can show the different sounds and colours of the piano, especially when playing Debussy and  Ravel.

I still like to add new works to my repertoire, and I enjoy learning new pieces although it is not quite as straightforward as it used to be!!

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

I think the most fantastic venue I ever performed in was La Scala Theatre in Milan. The atmosphere on the stage and backstage was incredible. To think of all those wonderful singers like Caruso, Pavarotti, Callas, Frenni and so many others using the same dressing rooms: unbelievable!! (By the way, dressing rooms were not all that grand!!) Sheer beauty of both, recital room and the main hall, is something I will never forget and will treasure for ever. Wigmore Hall is another wonderful place. And of course very close to my heart is Chopin’s birth place, Żelazowa Wola, and Lazienki Park in Warsaw where you perform in the open air underneath Chopin’s monument. Sometimes you think he is going to say something to you – a bit scary!!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Chopin’s 4th Ballade and 1st Piano concerto, Schubert’s B-flat major Sonata D960 and Franck’s Prelude, Chorale & Fugue all feature very highly as my favourites but….. There are just so many pieces I love playing and fugues are amongst my favourites, in any style. Give me a fugue and I can spend hours poring over it!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Rubinstein, Richte, Gilels, Argerich to name just a few….

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There are a few, but most probably the most intense and memorable because of where it was – Mozart’s Piano Concerto KV 466 in La Scala ,Milan.

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

It is very important to play to others, especially if it involves a new piece never performed before. Play with a second piano if performing a concerto, and make sure that you study the orchestral score well so when it comes to first rehearsal you are not put off by some new tune you have not heard when playing with second piano! Also learn to take criticism and benefit from it. It is not always right, but there is always some truth in it, so do not be put off, and persevere .

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Very happy to be on the beach in Villajoyosa in Spain or walking around Old Town in Warsaw.

What is your most treasured possession?
My piano and my cat Pudding.

What is your present state of mind?

Feeling hopeful that some of my wishes connected with stage comeback will come true.

 

Alicja Fiderkiewicz was born in Warsaw, Poland and began to learn the piano at the age of seven. Her studies continued at the Central School of Music in the Moscow Conservatoire, Warsaw School of Music and finally at The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester where she was a student of Professor Ryszard Bakst.

Full biography on Alicja’s website:

 

 

www.alicjafiderkiewicz.com

 

 

Tucked down a narrow lane in Perivale, west London, a stone’s throw from the A4/Western Avenue, is St Mary’s Perivale, a beautiful 12th-century church. The tiny church became redundant in 1972, but has been transformed by the efforts of the Friends of St Mary’s Perivale into a fine music venue, serving west London.

Music events at the church (and also at sister venue St Barnabas, Ealing) are run by the indefatigable Hugh Mather, a retired doctor with a passion for the piano  and classical music in general. Hugh studied medicine at Cambridge, but was a chorister at Westminster Abbey and also played the piano and organ, achieving an FRCO while still at school. He subsequently completed the ARCM piano performer’s diploma. Throughout his medical training and career, he has continued to study the piano and gives many piano concert himself.

Inside the church

St Mary’s Perivale attracts an impressive roster of fine musicians, including pianists Viv McLean, Mei Yi Foo, Ivana Gavric, Karim Said and Rustem Hayroudinoff, and Leeds Piano Competition finalists Jayson Gillham and Andrejs Osokins. Concerts are free, with a retiring collection, and audience members can enjoy a free glass of wine and nibble, along with a distinctive “salon” feel thanks to the small size of the venue (it seats just 70 people). The church has a fine Yamaha piano, an excellent acoustic, and the audience can appreciate being closer to the musicians than in most other larger venues.

One of Hugh Mather’s main motivations for organising concerts at St Mary’s is to offer vital performing opportunities to young musicians, both those still at conservatoire and those just embarking on a professional career. The venue is also available for private hire and has proved a popular meeting place for the London Piano Meetup Group.

Full details of events at St Mary’s Perivale here

This year my annual student concert was held at the 1901 Arts Club, a beautiful, intimate venue in a former schoolmaster’s house (built in 1901) close to London’s Waterloo Station. The venue boasts a lovely Steinway C grand piano and an informal, convivial atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the very welcoming personalities of the people who run it. I use the venue for the South London Concert Series, an innovative series of concerts which I organise and co-host with my friend and piano teaching colleague, Lorraine Liyanage. I felt the small size of the venue (it seats just 45 people in a gold and red salon redolent of a 19th-century European drawing room) would enable the young performers to feel less anxious and to relax into the special atmosphere of the place.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club
The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

I cannot stress too highly the importance of performing, at whatever level one plays, and I have written extensively on this subject on this blog, my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and in my column for Pianist magazine. Music was written to be shared – whether in the home or the salons of other people’s houses, or in recital rooms or concert halls. But on another more important level performing builds confidence, not just in the sphere of music but in many other walks of life, and equips people (of all ages) with an important life-skill.

When I was the age of my students (9-14) I had few opportunities to perform for others. My then piano teacher never organised concerts for her students, not even small-scale events in her home, and as a pianist at school I was always rather sidelined (a solo instrument being deemed the epitome of showing off!), so my only real performance experience was either in the orchestra (where I played the clarinet) or in the choir, both instances where one’s performance anxiety is tempered by performing with others. One of the many decisions I took about my piano teaching when I established my practice in 2006 was that I would give my students performance opportunities. And so from little house concerts (with obligatory tea parties!) to the event this week at the 1901 Arts Club, the annual student concert has become an integral part of my studio’s activities.

Preparations begin many months before the actual date – and I know from my own experience as someone who has come relatively late to performing (in my late 40s) that preparation is everything. Being well-prepared is one of the best insurance policies against nerves and will enable one to pull off a convincing, enjoyable and polished performance on the day. Good preparation, including practising performing in less stressful situations, also means that any slips or errors in the performance on the day can usually be skimmed over and will not upset the flow of the performance.

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Many of my students chose to perform exam pieces – music which they had already played in an exam situation and with which they were therefore very comfortable. It’s always interesting to play exam repertoire after one has put it before the critical ears of the examiner: when I revisit my Diploma pieces (as I am now, in preparation for a concert in January) I notice a distinct sense of relaxation in the music – and my students have commented on this about their own pieces too. Some selected new pieces, and we also had solo clarinet and saxophone performances (it is so gratifying that a number of my students play other instruments – saxophone, trumpet, clarinet and cello – or sing in school choirs).

I always perform at my students’ concerts as well. I think it is important for them to see their teacher performing and to understand that I do my practising and preparation just as they do; also that I am also engaged in ongoing learning of new repertoire or revising previously-learnt music.

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The event at the 1901 Arts Club was really lovely. The young performers all played beautifully (no visible nerves whatsoever, though a number did say to me afterwards that they were really nervous!) and we had a lovely range of music from Arvo Pärt and Einaudi to Bartok and ragtime. Despite knowing my students pretty well now (some have been learning with me almost as long as I have been teaching), I am always amazed at the way they step up to perform with such poise. I don’t know what I do, but maybe by assuring them that their performance will be wonderful, they learn to trust me and this gives them confidence. Each performance was greeted with much enthusiastic applause by family and friends, and at the end of the event another piano teaching friend, Rebecca Singerman-Knight, awarded prizes for Star Performer (Tom Driver) and Most Enjoyable Performance (Eli Hughes). The children were presented with boxes of chocolate grand pianos (which I doubt lasted the homeward journey!). I have had some lovely feedback, from students and parents, and I think the general consensus is that this was a really enjoyable and inspiring event. I certainly felt so!

More about the benefits of performing:

On performing

Performing in a safe circle

Going into the zone

Strategies for coping with performance anxiety