Guest post by Warren Mailley-Smith

It is a truly tumultuous time for musicians, and particularly classical musicians, during this lock-down period.   And for our particular profession, I personally suspect that things won’t be bouncing back ‘to how things were’ any time soon.

However, I believe there are genuine opportunities for all of us amidst the rubble and some cause for optimism as the pandemic crisis inadvertently provides a much-needed catalyst for the industry to explore new ways of monetisation, new formats and new audience development. I think the starting point is to utilise platforms, software and technologies that already exist and have been used extensively by other branches of the arts for some time.  Overnight, the traditional world of classical concert-going and music-making has been turned on its head and our only option currently is to explore new ideas, possibilities and solutions which can ultimately make us stronger when we reach the other side.

I believe that our biggest opportunity lies in overcoming the obstacles to online live performances (as opposed to pre-recorded) and enabling a reasonable/consistent degree of audio and video reproduction for the end user.  Sharing in the unfolding of a live performance on people’s screens still lends an edge of anticipation and audience engagement which a pre-recording can’t have. And this is crucial when it comes to monetising our efforts as it is the one bit of the few parts of added value we can offer to the trillions of existing free videos and recordings, which are only the click of a mouse away.

I am currently experimenting with one recital programme a week and performing it on multiple platforms on different days of the week. Crucially, different platforms lend themselves to different approaches for monetisation for us all – but the important thing is that multiple approaches are possible.

The following has been my starting point, but I believe this is the tip of the iceberg:

Instead of being limited by traditional concert-promoting methods to a geographical radius of a few miles around a venue, we are instead looking at potentially UNLIMITED audience reach thanks to a (mostly) reliable broadband connection.  As pianists, we are the lucky ones in that we have no artistic restraints other than the instruments on which we can play.  Our repertoire and music-making is potentially unlimited.  Not so, anything requiring more than one musician in the same room at the moment.

Hopefully things WILL return to normal as soon as possible.  But if they don’t, we at least have some possibility of finding an alternative path without artistic compromise, which can then run parallel to more traditional approaches (if we wish), once demand for traditional public performances return in force. It’s certainly a steep learning curve for us all (as if we didn’t have enough practical challenges to deal with already!), but if we are prepared to embrace the challenge, we will surely see the benefits, if not immediately, then in time.

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Warren Mailley-Smith

Music from the deep, meditations and manifestations of grief, loss and healing:  Seven highly intimate original guitar pieces in one landmark work from award-winning multi-genre musician and writer Douglas MacGregor. This is music that speaks of love, loss, death, yearning for the irretrievable, and, also, hope.

Composer and guitarist Douglas MacGregor lost his mother to cancer when he was just seven and, with that, a whole way of life. It wasn’t until twenty-five years later that the suppressed grief of this world-over-turning experience brought an emotional collapse that submerged him for almost two years. Throughout this time, music was the guide and lifeline, the method of making sense of the unfathomable.

He wrote seven pieces and then chose different non-studio locations over the UK – with a specific meaning to the pieces – to record and video each. He then consecutively released each performance online with an accompanying exploratory text.

MacGregor found inspiration in his ethnomusicological studies of ancient musical practices in grief rituals around the world.  The act of researching, writing, travelling and recording became a ritual in its own right – an attempt to recreate the healing tools of religion through music. It was also a form of therapy and, no less, an artistic endeavour.

MacGregor envisions the music operating on multiple levels simultaneously, “with this project, the line between art, ritual and therapy completely vanished becoming one and the same. The listener can hear the music solely as a piece of art and relate to it freely, or delve deeper into the story, meaning and transformative nature of each piece.”

For this album release, MacGregor worked with German sound engineer Sebastian Ohmert to recapture these pieces in all their sonic beauty, while retaining all the immediacy and intimacy of the original recordings.

These are songs without words, music from the deep. Each piece is an unpremeditated manifestation of love and loss laced with hidden and overt meaning. MacGregor’s poetic writing and performances are beautifully delicate and moving, sombre, soothing and hopeful in equal measures as well as truly breath-taking.

Songs of Loss and Healing is released on 22 May and is available to stream here.

100% of revenue from all pre-orders and first two weeks of sales will be donated to Winston’s Wish, a charity which supports grieving children and young people.

 

Douglas MacGregor’s website

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

I come from a very musical family of parents who are professional musicians, two sisters who are professional musicians, and one brother who used to play the violin. As you can imagine, growing up surrounded by music was incredibly inspiring and stimulating! I started playing violin at age 3 and piano at 5, and I remember making the decision around 11 years of age to become a professional pianist. At that time, I had attended an international summer institute for young pianists, and something just “clicked” with being surrounded by so many wonderful musicians. I thought something to the effect of “I have to do this!” and I’ve been devoted to the profession ever since.

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

I have been blessed with fantastic teachers throughout my life, teachers who not only gave me a foundation of musicianship and technique at the piano, but who also supported me as a person (and continue to do so). In this business, I think it is so important to have teachers who care about students in their development as musicians AND human beings. One person in particular who has had an extraordinary influence in my life is a Brazilian pianist named Luiz de Moura Castro. He also taught my eldest sister, and from the time I was ten, he has had a great impact on my approach to music. In addition, I come from a lineage of Russian teachers including a wonderful woman by the name of Zena Ilyashov (whom I studied with as a young pianist) and the well-known pianist and pedagogue Boris Berman (while at Yale School of Music). Both teachers gave me imperative tools for approaching the keyboard, perhaps most specifically in how I create “sound.”

As for performers who influenced me, I remember being spellbound at a young age by violinist Jascha Heifetz. There was something about the electricity of his playing which enamored me, and he’s one of the performers who still gives me goosebumps every time I hear one of his recordings. Likewise, Vladimir Horowitz has always been close to my musical heart; there’s a similar electricity and emotional impact when listening to him. I always try to tap into this kind of excitement/fire when performing.

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

I’ve done quite a lot of competitions, and that can be a brutal part of the learning process for any young pianist. As so many people know, there are variables quite often out of one’s control (politics, personal preferences, etc.), which can be disheartening. I did very well in some and less well in others, but at the end of the day, I learned about myself in the process: not just about playing at a consistent, high level, but what it means to believe in one’s self as a musician.

As with any profession, people can be dismissive, and especially when something is as personal as art. Therefore, it is imperative one believes in one’s worth and what one has have to offer as a musician. As clichéd as it may sound, I do what I do because I believe music needs to be shared with people; to me, being a performer is not about my ego or another person’s ego, but rather being a conduit for great music. This gives me the confidence to believe in what I am doing.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I absolutely love performing with orchestras, and my first performance of Brahms’ D minor concerto will always stand out in my memory. There’s something about that piece that requires extreme vulnerability and strength, and performing it was powerful beyond what I expected. The way Brahms conceived of the orchestral writing is stunning, and it truly feels chamber music when performing it.

It seems my most memorable performances are with orchestra, but another one was performing Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto a few years back. Of course it is a powerhouse of a piece, but there was a particular performance which felt like the highest energy I’ve ever had onstage, both in how I felt with the piano part as well as the interaction with orchestra. Both the Brahms and Prokofiev are extraordinarily powerful pieces, but the Prokofiev is powerful in a way that’s primal.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

That’s a great question, as I think I’ve “evolved” over the years in both my tastes and what I’ve excelled at. I used to gravitate primarily toward Russian repertoire, but in the past few years, I’ve come to adore J.S. Bach (even more than I used to) and much of the Spanish repertoire. Perhaps that’s an odd combination, but I would like to explore more of Bach in performance (although it can feel scary/exposed!) as well as the Spanish repertoire (would like to finally perform Granados’ Goyescas in its entirety).

I would be remiss not to mention the works of Australian composer Carl Vine, as I have recently released an album of his solo piano music including the world premiere recording of his Piano Sonata No. 4, a work written for me this past year. I adore his music, and much of the last year has been devoted to performing and recording Vine. In particular, the sound-world he creates is fascinating to explore, and there’s also an aspect of virtuosity that makes performing his music incredibly exciting (his writing is challenging yet idiomatic to the instrument).

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

Well as I mentioned, the past year has been greatly focused on Carl Vine, in particular because I commissioned a piece from him and knew I would be giving several premieres internationally. Usually, I make repertoire choices based on particular pieces I would like to play or composers I would like to explore more of. There are also times where presenters will request a particular piece(s), so it can be a combination of reasons.

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

I recently gave a solo recital at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, and it was a pure delight. The acoustics are fantastic, and there’s an intimacy to the hall that I much prefer in a solo piano recital rather than a hall which seats 4,000. I had a similar impression performing at the Salzburg Mozarteum, having a beautiful intimacy to the hall. That said, I performed with the Montreal Orchestre de Metropolitain in Montreal’s Place des Arts, and that was a fantastic hall and huge space. So, it also depends on the context of what and with whom I’m performing!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

On a superficial level, one could say success is defined by how many prestigious halls one plays in, how many recordings one sells, how many successful musicians one performs with. While those are all wonderful and important things to use as professional goals, I think they are also things which can be distracting to leading a fulfilled life as a musician. There are so many times when a musician will come to a crossroads in their career, asking themselves why they do what they do. I’ve come to realize that success as a musician can only truly be measured by how much one is enjoying what one does and how genuinely one is connecting with the audience, no matter the size or prestige. If I give a performance where even just one person has found inspiration or comfort through the music, or I’ve managed to inspire a young musician to get excited about classical music, that to me is true success as a musician.

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

Follow this career path because you love it and will do it no matter what difficulties come your way! It’s a very difficult career to choose, but one that can bring incredible good and beauty to the world.

What is your most treasured possession?

If I can count my cats as possessions, then I’ll say my cats!

What is your present state of mind?

Honestly, I’m grateful to be a musician. Without it, life would make a lot less sense!

Aphorisms: The Piano Music of Carl Vine is available now


Pianist Lindsay Garritson has performed throughout the United States and abroad since the age of four. She has appeared on stages such as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and Place des Arts (Montreal), and has been featured as soloist with the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra, Charleston Symphony Orchestra, Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, Las Colinas Symphony Orchestra (Texas), Orchestre Métropolitain (Montreal), Atlantic Classical Orchestra, Orquestra Sinfônica Barra Mansa (Brazil), the Yale Philharmonic Orchestra, and the European Philharmonic Orchestra, among others.

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John Gilhooly, Director of London’s prestigious Wigmore Hall, has announced a new series of lunchtime concerts at the Hall, starting on 1 June. This is, sadly, not a return to “normal” for classical music – far from it – but it does signal a tiny glimmer of hope for an industry decimated by the global response to the coronavirus.

In collaboration with BBC Radio 3, part of their Culture in Quarantine season, lunchtime concerts will be broadcast from Wigmore Hall, featuring artists who can get to the hall easily, and without, where possible, the need to use public transport. These include pianists Imogen Cooper, Benjamin Grosvenor, Angela Hewitt, Stephen Hough, Mitsuko Uchida and Paul Lewis, singers Lucy Crowe, Iestyn Davies, Mark Padmore and Roderick Williams, violinist Alina Ibragimova and clarinettist Michael Collins. These esteemed artists will perform to an empty hall, with a maximum of two performers on stage and BBC broadcasting and hall staff observing strict health and safety guidelines in order to produce the programmes. A series of 20 concerts will be broadcast on weekday lunchtimes on Radio 3 and livestreamed via the Wigmore Hall’s website and YouTube channel.

John Gilhooly writes:

We are very grateful to our wonderful colleagues at BBC Radio 3 for collaborating with us on this project, as well as the private donor whose magnificent lead gift has made the series possible, helping us to match the BBC’s contribution. Through these concerts we will bring great live music from our acclaimed acoustic to every corner of the nation and overseas.

I hope this project will also provide a glimmer of light for the entire industry, administrators and musicians alike. Arts and culture contribute £8.5 billion to the UK economy, and this complex industry will need to be rebuilt with public and government support, in due course. It is still unclear exactly when we will be able to open our doors to the public again, and although we remain cautiously optimistic about the future, we can only react to events as they unfold.

The intention is to present a larger number of artists in similar future broadcasts, possibly some who are included in the Wigmore’s autumn 2020 programme.

This will bring a degree of cheer to those of us who love the Wigmore and miss live concerts in the “sacred shoebox”: it will undoubtedly be a pleasure to hear the Wigmore Steinway being played once more, and to have the sounds and colours of music flood the fine acoustic. This will be a different kind of live music, a little closer to the “real thing”, perhaps, than the livestreams and  “living room recitals” we’ve grown used to seeing online as musicians strive to keep the music going while also validating their identity during these uncertain times, and beyond.

Nothing can replace the excitement, drama and atmosphere of live music. As pianist Imogen Cooper remarked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

The audience will be completely invisible – hundreds of thousands of people out there cooking their lunch…..We all need the immediacy and the danger and raw emotion of live music at the moment. It’s very cathartic.

Cathartic indeed. Yet I find I cannot listen to and enjoy much classical music at the moment as it reminds me all too painfully of the great hole coronavirus and government responses to it have ripped in our cultural life, and the grave difficulties faced by friends and colleagues in the profession. But of course I will tune in to these concerts (most probably on Radio 3 rather than via the livestream – I don’t particularly want to see my beloved Wigmore Hall devoid of the audience which helps to create its special ambiance).

For those of us who love live music, it is not just the “immediacy and the danger and raw emotion” that we miss. It is also the sense of a shared experience, the communication of emotions, and the celebration of creativity. Sure, one can appreciate those things in a radio broadcast or livestream, but you cannot truly replicate the live concert experience, not in its entirety.

It will be a curious experience for the performers too, playing to an empty space. For most, the sea of faces and the applause on walking across the stage, that special hush of expectation as the house lights dim, the feeling of collective listening and concentration, is as much a part of the live performance as the music itself. Imagination may go some way to create atmosphere in the mind of the performer (and this kind of ‘mental performance’ is a key part of the performer’s skillset in preparing for concerts) but I imagine playing to an empty hall, with only a few microphones and a handful of staff to be the “ears” for the performance, will feel quite strange. Yet, the artists giving these lunchtime concerts are respected, highly skilled professionals and I do not doubt that they will give their all to bring the music to us. British pianist Stephen Hough opens the series (programme TBC).


Further details of Wigmore Hall lunchtime concerts

 

 

 

On Thursday 7 May, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) unveiled a new digital conversation; the Illustrated Theory of Music (ITOM). This series of short, informal videos animate the stories behind Western music theory and provoke new questions about what we think we know. What does a ‘quaver’ really mean? Why do we use bars? Why does it have to be so slow? The series is led by the OAE’s dedicated musicians and audiences are invited to ask questions, challenge conventional wisdom and help to build a new understanding of music. 

Cecelia Bruggemeyer, OAE double bass and the star of the OAE’s first ITOM video, says:

The Illustrated Theory of Music is a wonderful opportunity to tell the story of music history and think about what we do: why we play as we play, why we make the choices we do and the theories and ideas that excite and inspire us. ‘Illustrating’ it brings the added bonus of thinking about how to share those ideas in a fun and accessible way with other people, whatever their prior musical knowledge and experience is.

Broadly speaking, the ITOM will cover topics in the Grade V theory syllabus and will be relevant to UK GCSE and A level music students and the American APs  (Advanced Placement) equivalent level of education. The videos will cover a wide range of topics, from intervals and ornamentation to the structure of the trio sonata. Keeping with the OAE’s distinctively playful style, the concepts will be illustrated with stories from music history and impish animations to accompany the accessible and engaging language used by the OAE players.

Crispin Woodhead, OAE Chief Executive, says:

Some people might see our videos and think – ‘that’s not theory’. And in the traditional sense – no, it might not be. But, so what? We’re going to show that there’s no right or wrong way to teach theory and that music history is full of colourful and amusing stories.

While the ITOM has been created with the purpose to teach, the OAE will not place emphasis on the notion that theory has to be learned to pass exams. Rather, the topics covered, which will be contextualised, explained with props and images and dramatised, will serve as the basis of a springboard of ideas to inspire the audience to research further into the topics independently.

Like the history of music, the OAE’s videos will not follow a linear, left-top-right format. Instead, the topics will zoom in and out on interesting and pivotal moments in music history, challenging the notion that history is a straightforward timeline with one right answer for everything.

As their YouTube channel grows, the OAE is ensuring that the ITOM has a place on its platform. Extending far beyond the lockdown the OAE will continue to build on their new educational series and establish it as a core element of the Orchestra’s personality

Watch the Illustrated Theory of Music here:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLa0I2f4DpWlrO9I39t7alez-DZipGMdg-


[Source: OAE press release]

In this guest post, pianist and teacher Helen Reid outlines her approach to teaching and the creation and ethos of her new online piano courses for advanced pianists.


The route towards creating this course – primarily during lockdown, though the idea has been in my mind for some time – has been a fascinating one. Many people have talked about lockdown being a time of creativity, and social media has seen no shortage of incredible video montages and moving living room performances. For many, however, that hasn’t been the case, and indeed the very proliferation of musical offerings on social media platforms has been confusing. Many musicians have felt the uncertainty of the next performance date putting them off playing their instruments altogether. For some, financial fears have far outweighed the desire or ability to think creatively. I found myself falling somewhere in the middle. I struggled to play the piano for myself, but the shift to online teaching, despite the crazily quick need to adapt, also inspired me to expand my teaching skills and techniques. In addition, having to find different ways to motivate students who were no longer going to perform their end of year recitals was a very interesting and important challenge, and I found that no two student routes were the same.

For some students, being released from the pressure to take the exams has allowed more time to work on technical issues around the pieces they were playing. We have explored the musical context in more depth and looked at issues of mental practice and preparation. Other students were excited about their performances and we have had to look at ways of adapting emotionally to the disappointment, devising alternative performance plans, both during and post-lockdown. I have considered this such an important responsibility to my students, to respond to each situation individually, and of course this is what we should aim for continually as teachers.

For many years, I have loved the idea of creating courses which place solo piano at the core and yet encompass many different facets. Just as we talk about portfolio careers, students (both young and old!) can benefit from a ‘portfolio course’. There are so many different skills needed to succeed as a musician. One has to be sensitive to produce beauty in performance, yet have an armoury to deal with the different types of rejection which might occur as a result of auditions, competitions and so on. Musicians must spend many hours in isolation, and yet also be happy in company, travelling to play concerts in varying locations, with different musicians and new audiences. Marketing and networking skills are important; teaching skills will more often than not be needed – the list continues. Lockdown encouraged me to put my thoughts into action, and to take time to create something which I hope can continue when normal life returns.

As Course Leader of the Professional Studies course, delivered to all the first years at the Guildhall School, I am acutely aware of how we must respond to the current situation in the content of what we offer our young musicians. We must give them the skills to help them on their way to a successful career at what is a very challenging period for music making. I am determined to address this with a sense of excitement and potential.

At the Guildhall School, I also work as a mentor on the PGCert in Performance Teaching. In 2014 I created an early years’ curriculum for 3.5 to 7 year olds, building a musical foundation in a holistic manner (www.blackbirdeym.com). I have contributed and led several research projects, primarily around the health of musicians. For the last six years, I have taught piano and accompanied recitals at Bristol University, as well as working privately with advanced students. I wanted to create a course which could combine all these aspects, and respond to some of the issues which arise frequently among my piano students.

The new online courses I have devised consist of focused one-to-one lessons, working on whatever the student wishes to bring. These are complemented by webinars, looking at issues such as structuring practice and other practice techniques, fulfilling potential in performance, keeping our body and mind healthy as musicians and considering how we communicate through our music performance. The webinars are also influenced by questions posed by the students during the course, so that we gain the benefit of exploration as a learning community. In addition, Dr Jonathan James delivers webinars looking at the wider musical context – exploring Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues and Beethoven’s Sonatas, for example. Jonathan is a fine speaker and I know he will bring an extra dimension to the courses. The students receive ongoing email support, so that they can ask advice or make suggestions as things occur to them during the course.

The first course takes place in June and is for Advanced Adult Pianists. The following two courses for advanced pianists will start in July and September, with the September course running all the way until Christmas. I was initially sceptical about online teaching, as I think perhaps we all were, and I was very nervous about how the first few lessons might go. However, given a reliable connection, I have found that it has enabled me to build more creativity into my teaching. This has been an exciting personal development and beneficial to my students. The current situation is a challenge for all artists, but the potential is there to connect with people all around the world, and expand our skills and understanding.

For more information on the courses, please visit helenreidpiano.com or email helenreidpiano@yahoo.co.uk


publicity photo.jpg.cropped525x195o73,-13s377x259Helen Reid first came to public attention when she appeared on BBC2 in the National Keyboard Finals of the BBC Young Musician competition in 1998. In 2000 she won first prize in the Karic International Piano Competition. In 2006 she was hailed as a ‘rising star’ in The Independent magazine.

Helen has given recitals all around in England, at venues including the Wigmore Hall, Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls and Blackheath Halls, London, St. George’s, Bristol, Cheltenham, the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester and the Aldeburgh and Buxton Festivals. She has performed in Spain, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. Concerto performances have included Rachmaninov’s second Piano Concerto with the Westmoreland Orchestra and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue with the Aurelian Ensemble at Blackheath Halls and the world premiere of David Matthews’ Piano Concerto, at Dartington International Summer School. Helen has played a wide range of chamber music, with artists such as Paul Archibald – trumpet, John Kenny – trombone, Sheida Davis – cello, and Fenella Humphreys – violin.

Helen studied at Chetham’s School, Royal Holloway University and Cologne Music College, completing a Master’s Degree at City University and the Guildhall School of Music. She is currently professor of piano at Bristol University; runs the Professiona Studies course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and has been invited to give masterclasses at Gdansk Conservatoire, Wells Cathedral School; The Universities of Bath, Royal Holloway and Hull, Dartington International Summer School and Pro Corda.

Future plans include an exciting new solo programme – Visions of Night, featuring music by Poulenc, Martin Butler, Michael Berkeley, Faure and Schumann. Currently booking for 2020-22.