Meet the Artist & It’s All About Piano!

This weekend sees a celebration of all things piano at London’s Institut Français, with workshops, lectures, film screenings and performances. In the run up to this surfeit of piano goodness, I am delighted to be publishing Meet the Artist Interviews with some of the performers, including acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé (who also performs at Wigmore Hall in June) and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss. The first interview is with French pianist David Bismuth.

Full details about the festival here:

www.institut-francais.org.uk/itsallaboutpiano

Music of Our Time

Behind_The_Lines1-724x1024Music of Our Time (MOOT) is an innovative musical community founded by Norman Jacobs, which seeks to promote and appreciate contemporary music through communal listening, creative discussion, talks, films and other events, with a special focus on disability groups. MOOT enjoys a lively and busy season of concerts each year, always with a special theme: last year it was music and disability, and this year it is music of the First War in a series of concerts entitled ‘Sounds of War – Instruments of Peace 1914-2014′. The series launches on Wednesday 7 May with a concert of works for piano duet, performed by Helen Burford and Norman Jacobs.

The concerts, which form part of Brighton’s Fringe Festival, feature composers and music from the era of the First War (Bridge, Ravel, Elgar, Holst, Debussy, Butterworth, Finzi, Ireland), or focus on an aspect related to it, such as ‘Empty Sleeve – music for the left hand’, performed by left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy, which reminds us of the pianists who lost an arm during the conflict (most notably, Paul Wittgenstein) and who were able to continue a performing career, playing repertoire for the left hand. Alongside the concerts are film screenings (Oh! What a Lovely War!), a performance of Jessica Duchen’s play A Walk Through the End of Time, lectures and talks, a composing workshop and a trip to Frank Bridge’s house.

MOOT’s events will not only commemorate the centenary of the start of the First War and serve as a poignant remembrance for those whose lives were irretrievably altered by the conflict, but will also celebrate the music and poetry of that “lost generation”. Some, like George Butterworth, lost their lives in the war; others were profoundly and irrevocably affected by it (for example, Frank Bridge, a committed pacifist).

For more information about MOOTs events, please visit the Music of Out Time website

Meet the Artist……Corinne Morris, ‘cellist

Corinne Morris

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

I believe the great pianist Samson François nurtured a love of music in me when I was only 2 as I used to be mesmerized by any of his recordings and would invariably stop all activity to listen to his wonderful playing. As for the cello and becoming a professional musician, I was 11 at the time and it was a concert at the Royal Festival Hall with Paul Tortelier playing the Dvorak Concerto. At the end of the concert, when the hall had cleared, I remember climbing onto the stage and sitting there where Tortelier had sat moments before and thinking: ‘one day I too will perform in great halls around the world’

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

I have had many wonderful experiences with teachers: Raphael Sommer, a great disciple of Paul Tortelier, was a central figure in my early musical development and later I had the opportunity to have several lessons and master classes with Mtislav Rostropovich, Paul Tortelier, Bernard Greenhouse and William Pleeth – all very inspiring in their own unique way!

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

By far the greatest challenge of all has been, having to ‘give up’ my performing career due to a debilitating shoulder injury. The psychological aspects of ‘losing’ your career are huge and greatly add to the physical pain. 18 months of rehab and a strong determination to perform again and I am now back on stage! What a wonderful feeling!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of? 

My first concerto appearance after my injury was healed will always stand out as something special. For me it signified that I had overcome the injury, both physically and mentally.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

Yes, one where there is an audience eager to listen

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

At the moment: Dvorak Concerto, Shostakovich Concerto No1, Strauss cello sonata, Beethoven cello sonata Op 69, Britten cello sonata

My listening tastes are very eclectic and range from chamber-music (especially with piano), and opera. I particularly love Mozart’s piano concertos. I also love listening to Jazz, popular South American music (love their rhythms) and musicals.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

In no particular order: Clara Haskil, Itzhak Perlman, Mtislav Rostropovich, Joshua Bell, Daniel Barenboim, Pierre Fournier, Isaac Stern, Jacqueline du Pré, Yo-Yo Ma, Jonas Kaufmann, Martha Argerich, Paul Tortelier, Chris Botti, Barbra Streisand, Michel Camillo, Oscar Peterson

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Performing at the Barbican Centre for Paul Tortelier’s Commemorative concert

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

First and foremost, Music should be a passion if you are considering it as a profession – otherwise, the challenges along the way will be too huge and you’ll likely give up!

To very young students, I like to teach them how to practice effectively so that they can feel a certain amount of autonomy early on which I feel is important in helping them develop as human beings.

I will always try to nurture their own developing personality rather than imposing musical ways and attitudes.

Obviously posture and position at the instrument are very close to my heart and I am always checking and talking about this with my students

What are you working on at the moment? 

I like to have ‘ongoing’ works and those which I am preparing for up-coming concerts or recordings. At the moment: Bach, Beethoven, Strauss, Schumann, Korngold, Martinu and a UK premiere which I’ll be performing soon by Nimrod Borenstein.

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

Enjoying a fulfilling performing and teaching career.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Being able to do what you love doing

What is your most treasured possession? 

My ‘cello, even though it is on loan to me so technically it is not ‘my’ possession

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Exploring new things, meeting new people

What is your present state of mind? 

Entrepreneurial

Corinne’s new album Chrysalis is available on the Linn records label. More information 

British/French cellist Corinne Morris was well on her way to enjoying a promising career performing in the major concert halls around the world, when a debilitating shoulder injury brought her dreams to a halt. Despair turned to hope after discovering a successful treatment from the field of sports medicine. She is now picking up where she left off.

Corinne proudly marked her re-launch at the end of 2013 with her album The Macedonian Sessions; an 11-piece recording with the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra featuring music from Tchaikovsky, Bruch, Fauré, Saint-Saëns and Piazzolla, along with a self-penned composition.

Corinne has a long list of professional accomplishments, including being a prizewinner of the Maria Canals International Cello Competition in Spain, and the International French Music Competition in France. Corinne was chosen by Rostropovich to perform at his festival in Evian (where he affectionately nicknamed her Corinotchka). She was also invited to perform and take part in the world-famous Verbier Academy in Switzerland, as well as the international cello festival in Kronberg in Germany. Corinne has performed throughout Europe and beyond, including chamber music performances with Schlomo Mintz at the Jerusalem Conservatory. She has made several recordings for France Musique, Bayerischer Rundfunk (Germany) and ORF (Austria). Her BBC debut recital was broadcast on Radio 3, and she is on the list of solo artists for Radio 3 programmes.

Corinne started the cello at the age of 8 and was a student of Raphael Sommer, a major disciple of Paul Tortelier. At age 16, she obtained an ARCM with honours (Royal College of Music, London) and continued her training at the prestigious Conservatoire in Paris where she graduated with a first prize in both cello and chamber music. She then completed a post-graduate solo cello performing degree at the University of Music in Vienna, Austria. During her studies, Corinne had the privilege to take part in lessons and masterclasses with Paul Tortelier, Mtislav Rostropovich, André Navarra, Bernard Greenhouse, Ralph Kirshbaum and Franz Helmerson.

Corinne’s story has inspired many in the music industry and beyond. As she re-launches her career, she is passionate about changing industry attitudes towards injury through regular talks at universities and conservatoires, and interviews for publications including International Arts Manager, Classical Music Magazine and Gramophone. 

Corinne plays a cello by C.A. Miremont dated 1876 on loan to her by a private investor. 

For up-to-date info on concerts and news, please visit 

 

Classical music critics and the blogosphere

Yesterday on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters programme host Tom Service and a panel of invited guests, including the acclaimed concert pianist Peter Donohoe, discussed the future of music criticism. I listened with particular interest, since I have, through my blogging, joined the ranks of “music critic” (though I would never describe myself as a “music journalist”). The discussion was interesting and wide-ranging and some pertinent observations were made regarding the relationship between critics/reviewers and artists (as Peter Donohoe said “we should all be on the same side, that of the music”), the importance of music journalism in supporting and promoting (in a non-commercial sense) classical music, and the effect of the blogosphere and online review sites on music journalism. This last point was of particular interest to me, especially in the light of a rather unfair article by the Telegraph’s Arts Editor in Chief, Sarah Crompton, in which she describes people like me as “citizen critics” and suggests that we have no place in the ranks of “qualified” journalists. I was also rather put out by comments from members of the Music Matters panel who suggested that because bloggers are (generally) not paid, they must be on some kind of agenda or in the pay of someone else. This has moved me, along with several other blogging colleagues and fellow online reviewers, to offer an explanation as to why we blog.

I started this blog in 2010, initially as a means of writing down my personal thoughts on playing the piano, repertoire, concerts I have enjoyed, and various other music- or piano-related topics. In 2011 I was invited to join the team of reviewers for Bachtrack.com, an international concert and opera listings site. The people who write for Bachtrack are, in general, not professional journalists, merely people who care passionately about live classical music and who are able to convey that passion in engaging and intelligent reviews. At the beginning of this year, I was also invited to write for CultureVulture.net, a US-based arts and culture website which offers intelligent, quality arts journalism and covers a wide remit, from exhibitions and music to tv and DVD reviews. I have also recently set up a sister blog to this one, MusArtLondon, as a home for all my reviews, and those of my CultureVulture London colleagues, Nick Marlowe and ‘Erato’. (Find more here….).

I am not a “professional” writer any more than I am a “professional” pianist, for I receive no payment for my writing nor my piano playing. However, I do not believe that my lack of “professional” credentials makes my ability to express my views in writing any less valid than those of a trained journalist writing for one of the broadsheet newspapers or music magazines such as Gramophone. Indeed, a number of broadsheet music journalists are not musicians nor have any kind of musical background other than a declared “interest” in the subject; and yet some of these people can be seen as the ultimate arbiters of taste and quality. It must be said at this point that there are also a number of music journalists who have had a full musical training and are active as composers and musicians themselves.

In her article, Sarah Crompton states that “a critic is someone who devotes their time to the pursuit of cultural judgement”, and suggests that a journalistic training better equips her and her colleagues on other newspapers and journals for this task than my passion and enthusiasm for the subject (and maybe the fact that I am both a classically-trained pianist and someone who has enjoyed a lifetime of attending concerts). She also suggests that people like me don’t do our homework, that we simply rock up to a concert and toss off a few unconsidered paragraphs after the event. Not true: ahead of a concert I spend time researching the music and performer I am going to hear. One of the best classical music blogs which I read regularly is Boulezian, which is both well-informed and erudite. Its author is a professor at Royal Holloway, and an avid concert and opera goer. My particular grouch with Sarah Crompton’s point of view is the inference that because she writes for a broadsheet newspaper and is a “professional journalist”, her opinions and judgement are somehow “better” or more valid than mine.

I suspect that much of her anxiety is founded on the uncomfortable knowledge that the blogosphere is partly responsible for the slow death of traditional print journalism. I don’t applaud this: in fact, it saddens me. I used to work in old-fashioned book publishing and the thought of a world without books, journals and other printed matter appalls me. But the rise of the blogger and online reviewer/critic has, in my humble opinion, opened up the world of opinion-making and debate, and has created a vast and wonderful forum for the exchange of ideas. Criticism and reviewing has become more democratic and some fantastic blogs have emerged as a result, offering extremely intelligent and high-quality writing (see my personal picks below).

As a keen concert-goer and regular reviewer, I have never set myself up as the arbiter of taste and quality. I write about classical music because I care passionately about it, and I love live music. I am always happy to enter into a debate with people about the merits, or otherwise, of a particular concert or performer. I want this blog to be a place for discussion, and I am always happy to respond to comments. It cheers me enormously when people write to tell me how much they have enjoyed one of my reviews: indeed, the best compliments are comments such as “you brought the music to life in your writing” or “you made me feel I was right there with you at the concert”.

The debate about music critics and music criticism is nothing new, and is one that is likely to run and run, never more so now in our social media obsessed world, where everyone can, in effect, be a critic by simply “liking” a post on Facebook, Google+ or Instagram, or retweeting a link on Twitter. Traditional print journalists need to accept that the blogosphere is part of 21st century life and makes an important and valid contribution to our rich and varied cultural landscape.

Fellow blogger and Bachtrack reviewer Jane Shuttleworth offers her views on this issue

A riposte to Sarah Crompton’s article by a music blogger

A handful of music blogs I admire and follow:

Boulezian

Orpheus Complex

On An Overgrown Path

LietoFineLondon

Musical Toronto

Reviving old repertoire

Returning to old repertoire can be extremely satisfying, and one often discovers new things about the music when returning to it after a break. I also recall all the reasons what I like about the repertoire and why I selected it in the first place.

My teacher has cautioned me about reviving repertoire I learnt as a teenager. This is good advice, for despite a gap of over 30 years, all the impetuous errors of youth seem ingrained in the piece and the fingers, and undoing these problems can be nigh-on impossible. Against my teacher’s advice, however, I revived Schubert’s E-flat Impromptu for my ATCL Diploma in 2011, because I needed a “fast piece” in the programme. I had not touched the piece seriously for over 30 years, yet I was pleasantly surprised at how much of it I could remember (it must be said that this is not a particularly difficult piece to memorise, being constructed from repeating patterns and motifs). But working from the old Editions Peters score I had as a teenager meant that all the errors were still there, as well as my then teacher’s annotations. In order to learn the piece carefully, I ditched the dog-eared score and purchased a new Henle urtext edition. In effect, I started again from scratch with the piece: I learnt new fingering schemes, thought carefully about the structure and atmosphere of the piece, and was delighted to have it described as “an assured and stylistically accurate performance” by the diploma examiner. Having taken the trouble to re-learn the work carefully, it is now very securely lodged in fingers and memory.

People often ask me whether it is “hard” to revive old repertoire. In general, I have to say I have found it relatively easy to return to previously-learnt repertoire, though this isn’t always the case (the ‘Toccata’ from Bach’s 6th Partita will take some careful work if I want to revive it). However, one can take steps to ensure that once learnt a piece can be revived and made ready for performance relatively quickly.

Lately, I have been enjoying revisiting some of Szymanowski’s Opus 50 Mazurkas, the first two of which I played for my ATCL recital. The pieces felt different without the pressure of an exam hanging over me, and I felt I was playing them in a freer way as a result. I am also working on Rachmaninov’s G minor Etude-Tableau (Opus 33, No. 8), for my debut in the South London Concert Series in May (the piece will be paired with Szymanowski’s Mazurka no. 1). It is a mark of how carefully I practised the piece in the first place that within an hour of practising earlier today, I felt it coming back together nicely. Of course there are elements that will need some careful, detailed work (the cadenza, for example), but overall, it is still in pretty good shape. Getting it “concert ready” should not take too long.

Professional pianists will have many pieces “in the fingers” which can be downloaded and made ready for performance in a matter of days. This may include 20 concertos or more, most of Beethoven’s 32 Sonatas, many of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues, plus other pieces which are ‘standard’ repertoire: Mozart and Schubert sonatas, works by Chopin, Schumann, Brahms and Liszt, much of Debussy and Ravel etc., and popular ‘standards’ from the 20th Century repertoire by composers such as Messiaen, Bartok, Stravinsky, Ligeti, Berio, Berg, and Schoenberg. Careful learning and preparation mean that repertoire can be learnt, revived and kept going simultaneously. It is this kind of deep, thoughtful practise that is essential for ensuring repertoire remains in the fingers (and brain) even if one is not practising it every day.

Some thoughts on reviving repertoire successfully:

  • Recall what you liked about the pieces in the first place. What initially attracted you to the pieces? Rekindle your affection for the pieces when you revisit them
  • Don’t play through pieces at full tilt. Take time to play slowly and carefully.
  • Trust your practise skills. Be alert to issues as they arise and don’t allow frustration to creep in.
  • Look for new interpretative and expressive possibilities within the music. Try new interpretative angles and meaningful gestures.
  • Don’t hurry to bring the piece up to full tempo too quickly. Take time to practise slowly and carefully.
  • Schedule performance opportunities: there’s nothing better to motivate practise than a concert date or two in the diary.

Meet the Artist….Daniel Roberts, pianist

 

Daniel Roberts performing at the 1901 Arts Club
Daniel Roberts performing at the 1901 Arts Club

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

My Grandfather. When I was very young, I would watch him playing in his house, and even though he didn’t play professionally, his deep passion for music must have transmitted to me.

Also I went to a live performance of Rachmaninov’s 2nd Concerto in St David’s Hall Cardiff, with pianist Stephen Hough, and the thrill and intensity of that performance pushed me more into playing for a career.

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

I had a wonderful teacher called Alison Dite who introduced me to the composers I enjoy now, such as Chopin, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, and many more. Helen Reid taught me at Leeds College of music, and I learnt great ways to practice, and how to project the meaning of a piece to an audience.

Now I’m studying privately with Peter Feuchtwanger, and his vast knowledge of styles of playing, along with his unique technical approach, have been incredible for my development, and I’m constantly amazed at his generosity, and commitment to teaching. In every single lesson I discover something that can benefit all pieces.

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

In March 2013 I gave the world premiere of a duo piece by a hardly-known composer Peter Hatfield, called ‘Infatuation’ with violinist Hannah Woolmer, and I felt a huge responsibility in giving a good first performance of this work, and bringing it to life. We enjoyed a successful performance, and felt very happy when people told us they loved the music.

Which performances are you most proud of?

A few I’ve really enjoyed and given everything in:

  • My final recital in Leeds College of music for my Degree, including Chopin’s lovely 3rd Sonata, along with the kind support of fellow students, some of whose are now colleagues, friends, and the teaching staff.
  • A London recital at Schott’s music shop, where I played Sonatas by J.C. Bach, which deserve so many more performances, Songs Without Words by Mendelssohn, and Tariqa No. I (Iranian) a piece composed by my teacher Peter Feuchtwanger. Pieces that I love sharing with audiences, and can be viewed here http://www.danielrobertsmusic.com/videos/
  • Performing the ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’ by Rachmaninov for the first time. I listened to this work along with Rachmaninov’s piano concerti countless times growing up, so it was one of my biggest dreams to play this incredible piece. I entered a beautiful colourful world during the piece, that Rachmaninov has created with his genius variations on Paganini’s Caprice 24. It was very nice to play second piano in the orchestra for ‘Carmina Burana’ in the last half of the same concert too!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Although I haven’t performed there I would love to play the Royal Albert Hall, as I’m sure its huge space combined with a fantastic acoustic, gives a performer the potential of performing with no limits, and a great sense of rapport with audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love performing Prokofiev Sonatas, Mendelssohn’s Andante Cantabile and Presto Agitato, Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata, Rachmaninov Preludes, Chopin, Beethoven Concerto No. 1, and of course the Paganini Rhapsody.

I love listening to large-scale works such as Messiaen’s ‘Turangalila Symphony’ the Busoni Piano Concerto, music by Karl Jenkins, as well by Alkan, Saint-Saens’ Piano concerti in the wonderful recording by Stephen Hough. Also I love listening to jazz artists such as Oscar Peterson, and Hiromi Uehara.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Martha Argerich, Jools Holland, Valentina Lisitsa, Peter Donohoe, Marc André-Hamelin, Hannah Woolmer, Harry Connick Jr, Noriko Ogawa, Clara Haskil, Vladimir Horowitz, Erna Sack, John Ogdon, and many others.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

A few years ago I heard Martha Argerich performing Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 3, and I still think this is the best concert I’ve been to in my life! It was a masterful, and timeless performance, which left a positive mark in my musical heart forever.

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

Stick to the music you love, and give unfamiliar pieces time to grow on you, because as you mature you begin to love a whole different collection of works. Remember that the music is to be shared with the audience, and that you are the narrator of the musical adventure you present to the world. Remember that everyone responds to music differently, so it’s important to listen to different perspectives from people’s experience of your performance, to gain valuable insights into the true power of music.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m practising Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Peter Feuchtwanger’s ‘Variations on an Eastern Theme, Books 1 & 2’, Medtner’s ‘Fairy Tales’ and Saint-Saens’ ‘Wedding Cake’ valse for piano and orchestra.

How do you make repertoire choices from season to season?

I always aim to include lesser known works, which will sometimes be a premiere performance, as well as more populars ones. This comes from pieces I’ve been listening to for years, and a wish to experience in a personal way performing them.

Which works do,you think you play best?

Two pieces that I believe I play well at Feuchtwanger’s incredible ‘Tariqa 1’, which I’ve always enjoyed performing, and Mendelssohn’s beautiful ‘Andante Cantabile & Presto Agitato’.

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

Sharing music with people around the world, whether it’s in a live concert, an online broadcast, or through recordings that I plan to produce during this time. I also want to be helping young musicians to love music, and encouraging them to explore new pieces, relate it to their lives, and how it can help them. Most importantly I would still wish to be learning new things, and gaining inspiration each day so the music can be healthy and alive.

What is your most treasured possession?

My brain, because with it I can ‘work’ anywhere in the sense of imagining a piece I’m working on, and listening to music stored in my ‘mental iPod.’ Also you can recall life’s most fantastic experiences through the audio, visual and kinaesthetic memories, and this for me is better than anything else.

Daniel Roberts’ biography

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture