Haydn: Sonatas & Variations – Leon McCawley

sommcd0162Whenever I hear Haydn’s piano music played well, I want to rush to my piano to play it myself. Such was the effect of listening to Leon McCawley‘s new ‘Sonatas and Variations’ disc on the Somm label. Haydn’s piano music is not performed enough, in my humble opinion, so it is a pleasure to have a recording of such quality to enjoy.

A brace each of sonatas in major and minor keys, these works have long been part of McCawley’s concert repertoire, and this shows in his deft and insightful handling of articulation, dynamics and Haydn’s rapid changes of mood. Nothing feels forced nor contrived, and there’s wit and humour aplenty, especially in the C major Sonata (No. 60, Hob. XVI/50) which shows Haydn (and McCawley) thoroughly enjoying his mastery of the instrument and its capabilities. McCawley brings elegance and spaciousness to the slow movements, revealing fine details of inner voices. Haydn’s final piano sonata, No. 62 in E flat Hob. XVI/52, which unlike the last sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert was composed some 15 years before Haydn died, rather than at the end of his life, combines grandeur and exuberance in its opening movement, while the slow movement has a stately nobility. The finale is a lively romp, but despite the rapid tempo, there is never any loss of detail or precision.

The F minor Variations are a delight, at once melancholy and wistful in the minor variations, and gracious, playful and warm in the major ones. Interior details are highlighted and a sense of the overall architecture and narrative of the work is clear. And I am pleased to note that McCawley observes all the repeats, which turns this work into something enjoyably substantial. Throughout there is tasteful pedalling and the piano has a lovely clarity, perfect for this music.

Recommended.

Haydn
Piano Sonatas
No. 53 in E minor
No. 60 in C major,
No. 33 in C minor
No. 62 in E flat major
Variations in F minor Hob. HVII/6
Leon McCawley, Piano

SOMMCD 0162

 

 

V is for……

marquee20letter20-20vVolunteer

Guest post by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey

I am a volunteer pianist. For the past 12 years, I’ve brought music to residents of assisted living homes, memory-care centers, and retirement communities.

Before becoming a volunteer pianist at age 50, I had played classical music almost exclusively, along with Christmas carols and the occasional Broadway tune or popular movie theme. I love classical music; many of my elderly listeners do, too. They enjoy having piano performance students come from the local university to present practice recitals. Those students play classical music better than I ever could. I’m an amateur pianist, albeit a serious one.

So for my volunteer gigs I focus instead on standards from the 1920s through the 1940s. These songs—especially the ones popular during World War II—have deep emotional meaning for my audiences. When I play “As Time Goes By” or “Sentimental Journey,” my listeners feel a sense of ownership. “You play our music,” they tell me.

For my elderly audiences, this music stirs memories. I recognize the look of nostalgia in their eyes as they remember dancing with the spouse they’ve now lost, or longing for home while away serving in the military.

One hunchbacked octogenarian shuffled to the piano to tell me that his mother played when he was a little boy. Then he burst into tears and sobbed, “I miss her so much.” Sometimes a particular song will inspire a listener to tell me a story. Some are surprisingly personal. Upon hearing “Tenderly,” a rheumy-eyed man whispered in my ear, “That song was the cause of my five children.”

The power of music is never more evident to me than when I volunteer in a dementia unit. Patients arrive slumped mutely in wheelchairs, seeming unaware of their surroundings. But when I play a song like Irving Berlin’s “Always,” they raise their heads and begin singing. Unlocked by the music, the lyrics flow from their long-term memory.

Volunteering offers no monetary compensation. I am paid in kisses blown to me from across the room, in pats on the arm, in glasses of juice offered by shaky hands.

My work as a volunteer pianist is not all hearts and flowers. The pianos I play are often neglected and out of tune. Cell phones ring during my performances. I will always remember the man in my audience who answered his phone and told the caller, “No, I’m not busy, I can talk. I’m just listening to someone play the piano.”

I compete with the roar of vacuum cleaners, with the clattering of lunch dishes being cleared away in nearby dining rooms. On one memorable occasion, a

housekeeper dusted the piano while I was playing it. And then there was the time I got hit by a ball when an audience member decided to multi-task, listening to the piano music while he played a game of fetch with his dog.

I’ve run into a few curmudgeons over the years. One told me I was “no Liberace.” Another approached the piano, leaned in close, and snarled, “Why don’t you go play somewhere else?”

Still, I cannot imagine a more gratifying way to contribute to my community than by being a volunteer pianist. Not long ago, an elderly women slowly steered her walker to the piano as I packed up after a performance. “You have no idea how much sunshine you brought into this room with your music,” she told me. “We were all dancing in our hearts.”

That is my reward. Priceless.

Paulette Bochnig Sharkey, pianist and writer, blogs at https://volunteerpianist.wordpress.com/

Meet the Artist……Alice Sara Ott, pianist

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

My parents took me a to piano recital when I was three because they couldn’t find a babysitter that night. I don’t remember the pieces the pianist played but I was fascinated by the power of music that made the audience quiet for nearly two hours. I thought that if I learned this “language” people would also listen to what I want to say and so I went to my mother after the recital and told her that I wanted to become a pianist. She wasn’t happy about this and so it took me a year to convince her.

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

Definitely my teachers, but also each and every collaboration with an orchestra and a conductor has given me the opportunity to learn something new and develop myself.

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

Learning to say no and finding out my limits.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

All of my performances and recordings are fingerprints of certain stages in my life so far, but my recent album ‘Wonderland’ means a great deal to me. There is a lot of my heart’s blood in it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

None in particular. Of course there are days when I feel very comfortable with a work and think that I finally understand and own it – until the next day when I suddenly realise that I am still very green

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

There are so many wonderful works I want to play and programme, so I usually pick one bigger work and try to build a story around it. It also depends on what the programme of my next album is. I also of course ask colleagues and people around me for advice.

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

There are too many wonderful halls out there, so I can’t name just one or two. It’s not so much a matter of the country or hall I play in, it’s about the interaction between the audience and me. So wherever music unites me with the audience,  I feel “home”.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Always the ones I am playing at that moment.

When I am off, I don’t listen so much to classical music. I love Tom Waits, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who are honest and take risks in the music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Once I played a concert in Rio de Janeiro and there was a couple sitting in the first row, eating popcorn while listening to my performance. I LOVED that.

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

To know what happiness means to you. As long as one is not happy, he/she can not make others happy.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To appreciate the small things in life.

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t own them, but I would say my family and my friends are the most essential things in my life. And I actually have quite a nice whisky collection that keeps growing

What is your present state of mind?

I just got out of a two month break. That was a wonderful thing and I am incredibly grateful to my friends who gave me so much energy and joy in this time. Now I am recharged and can’t wait to go back to work.

German-Japanese pianist Alice Sara Ott has gained critical acclaim for her performances at major concert halls worldwide and has established herself as one of the most exciting musical talents of today. The Guardian, commenting on her recent performance with the London Symphony Orchestra, said that she “gave the kind of gawp-inducing bravura performance of which legends are made”.

Alice has worked with the world’s leading conductors, including Lorin Maazel, Paavo Järvi, Neeme Järvi, James Gaffigan, Sakari Oramo, Osmo Vänskä, Vasily Petrenko, Myung-Whun Chung, Hannu Lintu and Robin Ticciati.

More about Alice Sara Ott

Kenneth Hamilton plays Ronald Stevenson, volume 1

81u7rrpufwl-_sl1500_The Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson died in March 2015. He was one of the most important composers of our time, a composer-pianist in the grand tradition of Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninov, probably best remembered for his monumental Passcaglia on DSCH, his tribute to Shostakovich composed in 1962. Stevenson has been compared to Liszt and Busoni: he transcribed many works for piano, and he was also a generous supporter of other musicians and students. His musical language is also redolent of these composers, as well Chopin and Alkan, but always with its own distinctive voice and an awareness of his adopted Scottish heritage.

This new disc by pianist and academic Kenneth Hamilton, which marks the beginning of Hamilton’s survey of Stevenson’s vast keyboard output, avoids the really large-scale works, though the Peter Grimes Fantasy is pretty substantial – Stevenson’s own Lisztian operatic paraphrase, in which themes from Britten’s opera are woven into music of expansive, inventive virtuosity and vivid imagination.

The disc works well as a “recital programme” offering an excellent introduction to Stevenson’s varied oeuvre. Alongside the more meaty works such as Beltane Bonfire and Symphonic Elegy for Liszt, there are shorter works, including transcriptions of Scottish folk songs and Three Elizabethan Pieces after John Bull, which are reminiscent of Percy Grainger in the combining of rich harmonies and textures with period music.

Hamilton studied with Stevenson and his understanding of the composer’s personal idioms is evident in his masterful handling of this music: robust and sweepingly romantic in the more bravura works, charming and witty in the shorter pieces with moments of luminous delicacy, as, for example, in Stevenson’s transcription of Rachmaninov’s Lilacs, which is all filigree textures, echoed in the opening of the transcription of Ivor Novello’s We’ll Gather Lilacs.

Recorded on a Hamburg Steinway at the School of Music, Cardiff University, Hamilton achieves a warm resonant sound which is particularly suited to the more expansive, textural works, though occasionally a little too dominant. Overall a most enjoyable disc with comprehensive liner notes by Kenneth Hamilton, which draw on his studies and conversations with Stevenson.

PRIMA FACIE PFCD050 1CD

primafacie.ascrecords.com

Gala Charity Concert for SPIN, 2 December 2016

A special fundraising concert in support of medical charity Specialists in Pain International Network (SPIN) to enable the organisation to continue its important work

2 December 2016, 7.30pm

St John’s Waterloo

Soprano Anna Cavaliero joins pianists Lee Varney and Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist) for an evening of enticing, delightful and festive music in the elegant setting of St John’s Waterloo

Programme includes

J S Bach/arr. Gyorgy Kurtag – Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit, BWV 106

Franz Schubert – Ave Maria

Benjamin Britten – Night Piece (Notturno)

Richard Strauss – Morgen! from Five Songs, Op 27

Herbert Howells – Come Sing & Dance

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Etude Tableau in C minor, Op 33, no. 3

Ticket price includes interval mulled wine and mince pies

BOOK TICKETS

 

All profits go to SPIN

SPIN is a multi-professional group of pain management clinicians founded in 2000. Its aims are to engage in a dialogue across cultures with other pain specialists and promote good standards of pain management for patients’ benefit; to educate and train through interactive discourse and lectures in both the clinical management and the basic science of pain; and to encourage and share the results of research.

www.spiners.org

Version 2Anna Cavaliero has performed as a soloist in both Europe and the United States, though she is now based in her native London. An Ian Evans Lombe Scholar supported by a Helen Marjorie Tonks Award, Anna is currently studying for a Masters degree in Vocal Performance at the Royal College of Music under the tutelage of Rosa Mannion and Christopher Glynn. She spent 2014-15 in Salzburg, Austria, studying at the Universität Mozarteum, and at the Mozart Opern Institut. In 2012-13, Anna took courses at The Shepherd School of Music, Houston, Texas, having been awarded the C. D. Broad Scholarship to Rice University. She there met composer Daniel Knaggs, who has written several pieces specifically for her voice. Anna enjoys performing in opera, oratorio, and as a recitalist. She read English at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, where she was also a Choral Scholar under Stephen Layton (2010-14).

Meet the Artist……Peter Byrom-Smith, composer

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

As a child there was no real music in our house, or reading materials as such, mainly due to my mum’s mental illness. As a result of this, and of course other problems in the family, I didn’t actually speak or really communicate until about 6 or 7 years of age. However, I had obviously listened to much music, both radio broadcasts and recordings, mainly at schoolfriends’ houses, or at school itself, which I totally soaked up at each opportunity – everything from the Beatles and the Monkeys to Beethoven and Mancini. When I got my first musical instrument, a guitar which was purchased through a shopping catalogue operated by a friend’s mum, and for which I paid by doing potato picking on farms, and  as a newspaper delivery boy, I sort of just started playing back what I’d heard, improvising along the way of course, trying to pin down correct pitch, melody, rhythm, etc. of each song/piece until I’d got it as close as the original. I didn’t know what I was doing at the time of course.

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

From above, you can obviously see I didn’t have the possibility of music lessons, so I am completely self-taught in music. However, I studied very hard, seeking the knowledge of this strange craft known as music notation, and how to turn ideas in my head into something I and others might play one day – daydreams, maybe, but a very determined Yorkshire boy/man I became, constantly trying to hear/read more music all the time. Many musicians have been an influence, and still are, on my life really: Elgar, his struggle for recognition as an artist, plus his wonderful musical structures enchanted me early on; Neil Young, his stories of life in both his lyrics and musical arrangements, appealed to a young teenager in the 70’s; Gershwin, with his amazing cohesion of jazz and classical genres were to lead me to  carry on this ‘cross genre/culture’ idea in all my later work! Of course, as a fifteen year old boy I truly had no idea where I was going with this magical thing called music, with its strange terms, dots, lines all over the place, but I read everything from ABRSM theory books to  Antony Hopkins books on music and listening/analysis,etc and from Ferdinando Carulli’s great little book ‘Guitar Method’ to the symphonies of Mozart, etc. too – all an education. After school, I was determined to write music one way or another and now I had found a way of communicating my thoughts and feelings I was on a roll!!

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

When I left school at 15/16 years of age, I wasn’t sure how I would do it, but boy was I gonna try and write music as I thought it should sound, and whatever meant something to me,`i was really hoping that somehow people would understand my thoughts and what I was trying to say. Of course, easier said than done, but I learnt very quickly how to be flexible, playing in theatre pits, busking, pop bands, teaching, as well as giving recitals with my own music, I managed to build a small, very small, reputation on the large music scene in UK. Persevering however, I accepted my first true commission for a soundtrack to a lecture series at a local art school, which I both arranged and and multi tracked on two cassette players – a truly awful result I’m sure, but people liked and used it, so a win win situation, as people say now, eh. Of course, frustrations come as an artist, as you try to get to where you think your journey should take you, but as always in life, you carry on, taking rough with smooth and never regret artistic choices, or directions, as you always learn something from the experience – well I certainly did, and after over 40 years of being a composer I’m still getting a thrill and learn something new every work I produce.

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

I work in all genres of music: film, theatre, pop/rock music, animation, concert works,etc, and, or so, because of this cross genre working, I have worked and continue to work and learn from such a variety of musicians and their different backgrounds and approaches to music, its really a truly pleasurable experience and exciting, each time am opportunity occurs for me to share ideas and develop my thoughts into musical sounds form the performers. I am not very computer literate at all, I have no music software, and no idea how it works. When younger, I actually wrote all the parts out by hand, even the large orchestral works, brass band pieces and songs. Luckily, for me, I now have an assistant who I get to turn my stuff into files, which then can be emailed around the world the same day, which I find pretty amazing, although slightly confusing how it does so, at the same time! I am very lucky that I have found a career in something, i.e.; which is truly all I know about, and that people approach regularly for new works – now an animation, then a concerto, now a theatre piece, then an album for a rock band to arrange/produce,etc – all of both equal importance in the musical world and in my life.

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

I always approach my work in the same way now, as when I was a young boy. First of all, I try to arrange a meeting, face to face, as I don’t like the impersonal, remote meetings; phone, emails; Skype, etc, however, this can be impossible sometimes; for example, I have a long term project in Japan, and another project coming up in Poland, so will have to talk on Skype, etc, until each visit, but otherwise I’ll jump on a train – my favourite form of transport – and meet to discuss/talk through everything over either a lunchtime meal, or a few pints in the pub, as either way is very constructive to me! Meeting musicians, either in concert hall, or in the studio is always a pleasure and, to be honest, an honour too to me. I am very happy to enjoy what I do and also appreciate that I’m fortunate that I found how to both express my life, thoughts, emotions, etc, through music, whilst at the same time making a living at it too. This is important part of my philosophy, as coming from a working class background and growing up on a large council house estate in the north of England, I’m very proud of my roots, therefore wish to share with others! I’m also very lucky that all the musicians I work with from any of the genres, seem to respect my thoughts and expertise in composition, although of course, when it comes down to specific technical things like fingering, bowing, phrasing etc ,etc I am always totally in their hands – a genuine collaboration I like to think.

Of which works are you most proud? 

I have composed so much stuff over the years, and have been so lucky that nearly everything I’ve written has been either performed, recorded or broadcast at some point. So trying to pick a particular work out is very difficult, as you could imagine, but maybe I can quickly suggest a few that stick in mind. ‘Suffolk Serenade’ (mezzo,horn+strings) was a joint commission with my wife (writer Gillian) to write a ‘complimentary’ piece to Benjamin Britten’s ‘Serenade’ for the Britten centenary. At the interval, the concert was actually down in Suffolk of course, I was approached with a dilemma – the audience would like to hear it again! Yikes, I thought, as did the conductor too, as it lasted over 30mins in total – although, I may add the orchestra and conductor were very keen and seemed to like it thoroughly too. Anyway, that was amazing that an audience and musicians enjoyed my scribblings so much that they were willing to suffer more tonal distress….hee, hee, from me and was great for a premiere of a contemporary piece of music was accepted on first hearing. Another important piece was a work I wrote for the theatre entitled ‘The In Between Space’. I was composer in residence for Converge at the time, which helps provide student lessons in music, drama, dance, creative writing,etc,for people with mental health issues. I wrote the incidental music soundtrack and was invited to attend the two days of performances – truly wonderful they were too.The last one I choose is the most recent too. I am at present working on a joint project with Japanese composer Nobuya Monta; we are having joint concerts and recordings of our music,both in UK and Japan.On Sunday 17th July this year he visited the UK and we launched our first event: Concert and CD launch of ‘Heading for the Hills’ at Blueprint Studios ( where we recorded it) an album of Japanese and British music for string quartet. First the Strata String Quartet played a selection of the tracks from the CD, then, whilst the studio played back the whole album, we toasted a new adventure in Japanese/British musical culture which we hope to develop over the next few years. It took a lot organising, as you can imagine, bringing performers, studio and record label all together and on board for a journey which was developing as we went along – a truly musical adventure,but if you want it to happen, it will.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I suppose my musical language is really a combination of many styles, it crosses many musical boundaries really. To be honest, I’ve never actually paid any attention to trying to write in any style at all, whatever comes out of my head I scribble down, then wait to hear the performance – either live or recorded. As I have worked with so many musicians and on so many projects over the years on numerous variety of commissions, I’ve no doubt been subconsciously influenced on what I’ve heard and learnt from each experience and each project – which is exactly what I did when I started at this composing malarkey I suppose. One thing I’m very certain of of though a lot of my individual voice emanates from Elgarian melody, jazz harmony and rock/folk rhythms – all styles of music I liked when I was a youngster and still enjoy listening/playing now too!

How do you work? 

When I receive a commission, for film, concert hall or studio work, I tend to think a lot about the project and meet with the performers to discuss my ideas. Collaboration is very important to me as a composer,sharing thoughts with the players is pretty inspiring to me,as we bounce around ideas off each other and I get to know them and likewise – this so important,I feel anyway. Then I think a little bit more, often walking around, or on my many train travels, until the piece is completed in my head and I have a clear vision of the finished work. I then sit down to use pen and paper to write the score; it doesn’t matter if it’s for full orchestra or a soundtrack for animation etc, I still like the intimacy and immediacy of ink and stave – transferring thought directly to paper. If I need to get score/parts to the other side of the world, I’ll get someone to turn my manuscript into computer ‘stuff’ and email it to players,otherwise I’ll pop in post, or better still, I’ll revisit them and hand over in person.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers? 

I love concerts and enjoy the ‘buzz’ even the tuning up at the beginning has always made the hairs on the back of neck stand up – although,alas, a few less hairs these days! I enjoy a wide variety of musical genres, but I suppose Elgar, Rodrigo, Michael Nyman, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin, Radiohead are all composers and musicians I enjoy listening to regularly and still get great inspiration from. I enjoy listening either live performances – which I much prefer – although I enjoy broadcasts and recordings too of course.I used to do a lot of teaching, which I really enjoyed and which taught me a lot, I actually think we learnt off one another, they from my knowledge and experience,me from their open minds,new exciting ideas, my students would bring along a selection of stuff they were enjoying,o ften from musicians I’d never heard of, which have become favourites, like Arcade Fire, and Einaudi too. Whilst I do a little teaching now, mainly as a guest lecturer at different universities/colleges, etc, I still find it invigorating to listen, explore and find new sources of musical sounds and ideas – I think this is very important for a composer.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Other than the excitement at my first rock concert aged 12, by prog-rock band Hawkwind, which was scary and amazing, in equal measure, I seem to remember one of the most memorable and truly overwhelming was a performance Elgar’s cello concerto – many years ago, at York University Central Hall. In the final, agitated fast movement, there occurs a refrain from the slow movement, of that delicious, hauntingly beautiful melody, which builds then dies away bit by bit. Well, in this performance as the slow theme dissipates to Elgar’s dynamic instruction, probably a ‘ppp’ the melody did just this and also something else, which I still can’t quite figure out how, but however the cello sings totally solo then ..gets, quieter ….quieter, quieter, slower……….then almost inaudible. At this moment I and I believe everyone else in the audience held their breath………then after what seems like ages the baton beats and were off for the final orchestral flourish and crashing last few bars. But,the few seconds took me to a really musical and totally magical place that I still recall, not all the concert, but that moment, and I wish I had experienced more of these moments in time – although I’ve been at a few others,close but not so sublime!

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

I think, just my personal thoughts these of course, that a musician should always strive to be themselves. Yes, learn from others, study the works of others, but please develop your own style. As composers, we feel we have something individual to say, so it’s very important that we develop our own voice to say and express this. Also, to enable this to happen I feel it’s very important to listen to as wide as possible, and practical, as much music from as varied sources and genres as possible. It’s very important to not become stagnant, or complacent in your music, audiences and musicians deserve better than this and more importantly so do you as a composer. I enjoy writing, listening and learning, still, absorbing from anywhere and everywhere; art, theatre, concerts, broadcasts, socialising, travel, all are very important to me to help keep my feet on the ground, except on a plane of course, but also keep my mind, eyes and especially my ears open and help me continue to work in the 21st Century.

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

I hope I’ll continue to learn more of the art of composing music from around this small world of ours. It’s a small, but beautiful planet with a wide variety of peoples and cultures and as the technology develops it brings both closer together and hopefully understand one another through art, and particularly in my case music.Sharing our musical ideas across the globe helps composers across the globe develop a new ‘palette’ from which to draw their individual colours to express. I for one, will strive for another ten years to do this. Continuing to have the opportunity to explore new new musical horizons, writing more compositions which cross the boundaries of musical genres.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting in a pub beer garden drinking a nice glass of cold cider and eating a cheese ploughman’s with my wife; I believe the nicest things in life are often the simplest.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Parker fountain pen, with which I sign all my finished scores.

‘Heading for the Hills’, Peter Byrom-Smith’s new album for string quartet is available now

Peter Byrom-Smith is an internationally renowned composer. Writing for and performing with many musicians from across a wide spectrum of genres, Peter’s musical journey has taken him on many trips around the world. His music has been performed, broadcast and recorded in U.K, Europe, Singapore,  Japan and U.S.A. by numerous musicians. He is as happy to have his music performed in small country churches as he is at Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall. 

His music crosses boundaries: a melange of sounds, bringing together elgarian melody, jazz harmonies and rock rhythms. 

In an ever growing portfolio of work, which includes pieces written for full orchestra and chamber musicians. He also regularly works with pop/rock musicians, both in the studio and in live performance, as well as writing sound tracks for film and theatre.  Peter’s work is performed regularly and he receives frequent commissions for new music.  

www.peterbyromsmith.com

 

Dappled things and sparkling gems

Stephen Hough, composer and pianist with The Prince Consort at Wigmore Hall, Friday 28th October 2016

An evening of music for piano and voice by pianist and polymath Stephen Hough, performed by The Prince Consort, with Hough himself playing in the second half, promised to be something intriguing and special, especially as the programme included the world premiere of Hough’s song cycle Dappled Things, dedicated to John Gilhooly, director of Wigmore Hall.

In setting poetry to music, Hough is working within a fine English song tradition that includes composers such as Purcell, Elgar, Delius, Vaughan Williams, Butterworth and Britten, and indeed there were fleeting musical glimpses of these composers within Hough’s works

Read my full review here

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(picture: The Economist)

An Autumn Sonata – Part 2: finding context and background 

A personal journey through Schubert’s penultimate piano sonata

The journey continues…..

My nature tends towards the intellectual when studying and learning music, and my approach to the Sonata in A D959 was no different. After an initial sight-read through the entire work to gain a sense of the overall structure and narrative arc of the piece, I set about reading and listening around the music as far as possible to understand the context and background to this music before the serious note-learning process began. Here I share my reading list and “background listening” Spotify playlist. I have starred the books/articles I found most useful

Books:

Schubert’s Late Music: History, Theory, Style – Lorraine Byrne Bodley (ed) and Julian Horton (ed) (Cambridge: CUP, 2016)*

Music Sense and Nonsense – Alfred Brendel (London: The Robson Press, 2015)*

The Cambridge Companion to Schubert – Christopher H Gibbs, ed (Cambridge: CUP, 1997)

Franz Schubert: an essential guide to his life and works – Stephen Jackson (London: Pavilion Books/ClassicFM, 1996 )

Franz Schubert’s Music in Performance – David Montgomery (Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press, 2003)

Schubert Studies – Brian Newbould, ed (Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing, 1998)*

Schubert: The Music and the Man – Brian Newbould (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999)

The Classical Style – Charles Rosen (London: Faber & Faber, 1997)

Articles:

‘Schubert the Progressive: The Role of Resonance and Gesture in the Piano Sonata in A, D. 959’ – Robert S. Hatten Intégral Vol. 7 (1993), pp. 38-81

Schubert’s Dream’ – Peter Pesic, 19th-Century Music, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 136-144

‘Schubert’s Volcanic Temper’ – Hugh MacDonald, The Musical Times, Vol. 119, No. 1629, Schubert Anniversary Issue (Nov., 1978), pp. 949-952

In addition, various reviews of the sonata in performance, interviews with pianists, blogs and other resources, the internet proving a rich and varied source of reading material.

Alongside the reading, I undertook a lot of listening to immerse myself in Schubert’s distinct and very personal soundworld. This included some 15 recordings of the D959, from Arthur Schnabel and Shura Cherkassy to Inon Barnatan and Shai Wosner (whose recording of the sonata includes an interesting “take” on the andantino by Missy Mazzoli), and 5 live performances of the Sonata (including by Piers Lane, Andras Schiff and Richard Goode). This kind of listening is incredibly useful – one does not seek to copy or imitate these pianists in their interpretation of the work, but comparative listening and concert going offers useful context/insight into interpretative possibilities and how to present the work in performance. As the playlist below reveals, I have also listened to songs, chamber music, and symphonies. The idea that Schubert’s piano music is informed by his lieder writing is true up to a certain point, but the late piano sonatas are also rich in orchestral and string-quartet writing.

Playlist:

The Mindful Pianist – Mark Tanner

Mindful

adjective

1. attentive, aware, or careful (usually followed by of): mindful of one’s responsibilities.

2. noting or relating to the psychological technique of mindfulness: mindful observation of one’s experiences.

41czgktnuml-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Mindful Pianist by pianist, teacher composer and examiner, Mark Tanner is the latest volume in the Piano Professional series published by Faber Music in association with EPTA, UK (the European Piano Teachers’ Association). “Mindful” is the word du jour, and the practice of mindfulness – the therapeutic technique of focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations – has become increasingly popular in today’s stressful and busy world. This book, however, is not some groovy, new age, Zen guide to piano playing, but rather takes its inspiration and approach from the definitions of the word “Mindful”at the top of this article. With contributions from a number of leading pianists and piano pedagogues, including Philip Fowke, Murray McLachlan, Margaret Fingerhut, Penelope Roskell, Leslie Howard and Madeline Bruser, the book draws on the author’s and contributors’ own experiences of playing and teaching the piano, and explores ways in which pianists, amateur or professional, can be more attentive, careful, self-compassionate and mindful in their day-to-day engagement with the piano and its literature.

Written in an engaging and accessible style, yet clearly supported by many years of practical experience as a teacher and performer, and academic research, the book encourages the pianist to take a fresh perspective on playing and performing by applying the concept of mindfulness to the piano. Through 4 distinct parts, Mark Tanner explores the crucial connection between mind and body, and how an alert, focussed mind fosters playing that is more compelling, more refined and ultimately more rewarding. He begins with simple breathing exercises which enable one to focus while at the piano before a note has even been struck and includes practical advice on overcoming feelings of inadequacy when a practise session goes less well, or the self-esteem issues which accompany performing. He tackles the issues encountered by pianists when practising, performing, improvising and preparing for an exam with wisdom and gentleness – throughout the text, one has the sense of Mark encouraging us to be kind to ourselves and to show self-compassion. The section of exams (‘The View from the Examiner’s Chair’) is written from a wealth of personal experience and is particular helpful in offering perspective to those teachers, and  students, who may feel exams place undue pressure on aspiring young pianists. There is also a section on “mindful listening” (‘The Virtuoso Listener’) which encourages us to sharpen our listening abilities, both at the piano and when we hear music on the radio, in concert, on disc etc.

‘The Mindful Pianist’ is a long, detailed and highly satisfying read, and I will be extracting Mark’s wisdom to share with my own students as well as putting into practise some of his methods in my own playing and performing. Having recently had to deal with a setback in my playing career, I have found Mark’s intelligent, practical and gentle advice particularly helpful as I reflect and refocus on my own piano playing.

I am also grateful to Mark for citing this blog as a useful resource for independent learners.

Recommended

Interview with Mark Tanner

Further details and ordering

Meet the Artist…..Noriko Ogawa

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

My mother is a piano teacher. I used to crawl under the piano when my mother was teaching – I am talking about when I was not even a year old.  So, it was totally natural for me to take up piano lessons.  As for pursuing a career, I am still looking for the secret to succeed.  Quite honestly, I still feel like a music college student because the basics of my life have been the same (whether piano practise is done or not is a major issue of the day).

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

My mother Michiko for a start.  As for teachers, I am really grateful to two teachers, Mr. Hironaka who taught me in Japan and Benjamin Kaplan who coped with me in London.  Ben was the one who told me how to look at the music, how to analyse, and how to perform.

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

I cannot think of anything much off the top of my head. Coming from a family with a piano teacher with absolutely no connection to any ‘important’ people in Japan, let alone outside Japan, I feel I have done pretty OK.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recordings…. Takemitsu piano music because it was the first CD of the journey with Robert von Bahr and BIS (now, I have recorded 33 CDs with them!!!!).  I am proud of the most recent recording, SATIE with an 1890 Erard Piano.  I was asked to perform a recital on an Erard piano once.  I was reluctant because I am not a period instrument specialist, but the piano was so wonderful that I fell in love immediately.  As soon as I played the concert, I grabbed the arm of the owner of the instrument.  I asked him if I could use the piano for a CD recording. I am totally fascinated by Erik Satie at the moment. His music is raw, but the ideas he came up with are 20-30 years ahead of his time. I feel privileged to have this opportunity to re-discover his ability, to look into his musicality with more respect. Satie has been underestimated for a long time. Having the Erard for the recording has helped me to realise his genius approach, just because I love this particular instrument so very much!!

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

Debussy, Takemitsu for sure because I like working on ‘beauty of sound’ at the piano.  And some Rachmaninov.  I say this because every time I work with Russian orchestra, they tell me I have a ‘quasi-Russian’ heart.  Personally, I like performing Schumann and Liszt very much and I have been including their pieces in my solo recitals this year because 2016 is marks anniversaries of their deaths [Schumann 1856, Liszt 1886]. They show me the depth of piano music. Very often, I am totally emotional and shaken by their music when I walk off the stage after a performance.

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

Nowadays, it is important to know ‘anniversaries’ of composers or any musical events.  When I find my favourite composers’ anniversaries, I feel as though I won a lottery.  It doesn’t mean I am worked up with it.  In reality, I speak to the promoters of concerts and build programmes.  So, each concert is unique.

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

I am one of the advisors of Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall in Japan.  It is a magnificent concert hall.  Of course, Royal Festival Hall, Barbican, Wigmore, Cadogan, Kings Place in London are all very special to me.   Personally, I am happy wherever I am taken.  A school classroom can be a wonderful venue if I establish rapport with the audience.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I like my close colleagues rather than superstars in the world. I get excited when I get to see what is so amazing about them close up – Peter Donohoe, Martin Roscoe, Kathryn Stott, Ronan O’Hora, Charles Owen, Katya Apekisheva to name a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

When a huge black hairy spider came out from ‘between keys’ on the piano after I finished playing the first item.  The spider looked massive and dramatic against very white keys!

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

One has to go through very tough practising.  It is important to have that level of work to get out there.  On top of it, there are many things one has to have in order to make career. Noticing a moment of ‘chance’ is important. I am talking about all yjr practical bits. Of course, talent and enthusiasm have to be there too.

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

The same… if I can still manage the same things in 10 years from now, I would be delighted.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Happiness is something every individual decides. I am happy when I am pottering around the house. Equally, I am very happy when I receive some good feedback from the audience. I nearly forgot to say this… I am very happy when a performance has gone well. But even happier when I have done my piano practice according to my plan (most of the time, everything gets delayed, I don’t complete my plan)

What is your most treasured possession?

I have been keeping my diary for the last 30 some years, nothing detailed, it is more like a log, just a record what I have done that day. I often think what would be my luxury on a desert island. Nail clippers!

www.norikoogawa.co.uk

Noriko Ogawa has achieved considerable renown throughout the world since her success at the Leeds International Piano Competition. Noriko’s “ravishingly poetic playing” (Telegraph) sets her apart from her contemporaries and acclaim for her complete Debussy series with BIS Records, confirms her as a fine Debussy specialist. Her Images Book I and II were chosen as the top recommendation ‘exquisite delicacy’, BBC Radio 3’s CD Review, January 2014. Noriko’s latest recording for BIS records is of solo piano music by Eric Satie.

Noriko appears with all the major European, Japanese and US orchestras including the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Czech National Symphony Orchestra, St. Petersburg Symphony Orchestra, as well as the BBC Symphony Orchestra for the world premiere of Richard Dubugnon’s Piano Concerto. Noriko made her BBC Proms debut in August 2013 and appeared again in 2014 with the Endymion Ensemble. She was the Artistic Director for the Reflections on Debussy Festival 2012 at Bridgewater Hall. In 2015 she continued as Associate Artist for Ravel and Rachmaninov Festival.

As a recitalist and chamber musician, with her piano duet partner Kathryn Stott, Noriko has performed Malcolm Arnold’s Concerto for Two Pianos at the 2013 BBC Proms.

Noriko regularly judges the BBC Young Musician, Munich International Piano Competition, Honens International Piano Competition and the Scottish International Piano Competition. Noriko has been appointed as Chairperson of the Jury for Japan’s prestigious 10th Hamamatsu International Piano Competition in 2018.

Noriko’s Japanese translation of Susan Tomes’s book Out of Silence – a pianist’s yearbook has been reprinted due to popular demand.

Noriko is passionate about charity work, after the tsunami in Japan in 2011, she has raised over £40,000 for the British Red Cross Japan Tsunami Fund. Noriko founded Jamie’s Concerts a series for autistic children and parents and is a Cultural Ambassador for the National Autistic Society.

Noriko is a professor at Guildhall School of Music and Drama.

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture