‘Scenes from the End’ with Heloise Werner

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‘Scenes from the End’ by British composer Jonathan Woolgar is a one-woman opera focusing on grief in a variety of forms, from the abstract to the deeply personal, from the philosophical to the everyday. It explores big ideas – the notion of “the end” and what it might mean at different times and in different forms – concepts far bigger and complex than our individual comprehension can easily grasp or make sense of; and the frustration of the individual in a state of grief, surrounded by people whose prosaic or patronising attempts at offering “comfort” merely compound one’s sense of loss and anger.

ywtdacbiHeloise Werner is a young soprano and cellist with a particular interest in new music and music as drama. She is co-director of contemporary ensemble The Hermes Experiment and a member of new vocal ensemble SHARDS. ‘Scenes from the End’ developed from previous collaborations with Jonathan Woolgar and Heloise’s interest in exploring the boundaries between theatre and singing, and how that might work in a one-woman show.

Each of its three parts has a specific musical and textural focus. The first part explores grief for the end of the universe, a concept so vast we cannot possibly understand nor process it. The second part grieves for the human species and explores the arrogance of humankind (“We have done well, but we forgot to survive“), and, to my mind at least, offers a comment on our reckless plundering of the earth’s resources and man’s seemingly insatiable need to wage war on others. The final part grieves for an individual life, the pain of personal grief and the griever’s frustration at those around her who seem unable to respond appropriately (“Do not speak to me……but, stay with me“).

Sparsely staged, with only a chair and stool as props, the work has an immediacy which is arresting and very powerful. Heloise’s voice has a piercing clarity and depth, one moment beautiful, the next visceral and freighted with distress. The sung episodes are interspersed with spoken words (whispered, shouted), and gasping and panting, which calls to mind the gulping sobs of a grieving person who almost cannot cry any more. There are also recorded episodes, Heloise’s voice heard hauntingly from a distance, and percussion. Quotations are projected onto a screen which inform and expand on the narrative. The work is direct and thought-provoking with a raw intimacy enhanced by the simple staging and small size of the venue: one is close enough to see the broad range of emotions passing across Heloise’s face as she performs.

While the performance unfolded, the sounds of Hampstead Road filtered into the theatre – people talking, the rumble of traffic, a police or ambulance siren – reminding us, perhaps appropriately, that human life in all its humdrum and everyday continues.

‘Scenes from the End’ is showing in Edinburgh as part of the fringe festival from 22nd – 27th August. Further information and tickets here

heloisewerner.com

Meet the Artist……Roman Rabinovich, pianist

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(Photo: Robin Mitchell)

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

I come from a musical home, both of my parents are piano teachers. Music was everywhere around me when I was growing up.

You are also a composer and a visual artist. Can you explain the connection between your music and visual art?  

I’m a pianist who composes and paints. There are many parallels between visual art and music – tonalities, colours, textures, form/structure, proportions. One art form feeds the other. I’ve been drawing since I can remember myself. In recent years I’ve been creating a lot of digital art on my iPad. I also use the iPad to read music.

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

I was fortunate to have wonderful teachers. First, when I moved to Israel I studied with Arie Vardi; then with Seymour Lipkin and Claude Frank at the Curtis Institute of Music. They formed my musical understanding. Later on, András Schiff was very instrumental to my development. But perhaps the biggest influences are the personalities of the composers whose music I’m playing at the moment.

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

Finding mental space in the midst of traveling and playing a lot of different repertoire at the same time.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I don’t think too much about past performances.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

It’s difficult to be objective about what I play best. I love many things and I have a big and eclectic repertoire, ranging from Couperin to pieces that I commission. I would say that right now I feel very connected to the music of Haydn and Schumann.

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

The process of putting together a recital programme is fascinating and at the same time can be quite daunting. The possibilities are huge. Firstly, I play music that I love and feel connected to. For example, at the moment I’m quite obsessed with Haydn. I’m working on 24 Haydn sonatas for the Lammermuir Festival in September. It is an enormous amount of work. This informed the last season, in which I programmed a different Haydn sonata in each of my recitals. I try to have a thread in my programs. It can be a thematic thread or motivic one.

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

I’ve played in many beautiful halls in Europe and in the USA. It is hard to choose one, but if I had to it would probably be Wigmore Hall. It is just such a gorgeous and intimate place to make music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: anything by Haydn, Beethoven Opus 101, Stravinsky’s Petrushka, Rachmaninov and Prokofiev concertos.

To listen to: Sibelius symphonies, Mozart operas, Bach cantatas.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Bartok, Rachmaninov, Edwin Fischer, Schnabel, Szigeti, Furtwangler, Harnoncourt, Carlos Kleiber, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

András Schiff playing Goldberg and Diabelli Variations, and Opus 111 for an encore.

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

Be patient and know your priorities in whatever you do.

Where would you like to be in 10 yearstime?

Wherever life takes me.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being outside, either in the woods or the mountains.

What is your most treasured possession?

The present moment.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Making music.

What is your present state of mind?

Curious.

Roman Rabinovich - Papa HaydnRoman Rabinovich will be Artist in Residence at Lammermuir Festival, taking place from 9 to 18 September 2016 in East Lothian, Scotland. Alongside his concert series of 25 of Haydn’s piano sonatas, there will be an exhibition of Roman’s artwork. All of this art will be created especially for the project via iPad, inspired by Haydn and his music, and projected onto the wall. For further information about Roman, his art and performances at Lammermuir Festival, please visit his website: http://www.romanrabinovich.net

 

S is for……

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Style

 Getting all the notes of a piece under our fingers is only the first step on the way to performing. It’s what happens after this that engages the listener and makes the performance memorable. Of course, we naturally want to be different and make our playing stand out from the crowd, but it’s no good if we go a little overboard and play in the wrong style. Style is very important, and can be quite subjective. It’s something that we can always look into at a greater depth, and just one reason why musicians are always students.

Style is often dictated by the period in which the music was written. You wouldn’t expect a character in ‘Downton Abbey’ to come into a scene wearing a pair of skinny jeans, would you? Similarly, you wouldn’t want to play a piece in such a way that the listener is no longer able to understand how it could have been written in a certain period. The tone we use has a huge bearing on style. Recently, I played the beginning of the Prelude from Bach’s Partita in B flat major (BWV 825) to one of my teachers, and his first comment was that I needed to alter my tone. The sound I was producing would have been far more suited to the work of a romantic composer such as Brahms, so I needed to lighten my touch in order to make my style more appropriate for the work. The same principle can be applied to flexibility; a performer may choose to pull the tempo around in a Chopin Nocturne to a degree that would be out of character in one of Domenico Scarlatti’s sonatas.

A good way to implement style is to think about the instrument for which the music was written. Yes, you’re probably going to be thinking “erm… piano”, but remember that our instrument has come a very long way from the first pianos of Cristofori in the 1700s. Of course, the music of Bach and Scarlatti would have been written for harpsichord, an entirely different instrument indeed! This does sometimes throw up disagreements over certain aspects of playing, such as the use of sustain pedal, but as long as you think generally about the instrument, then you will be far better off than if you’d disregarded the matter!

However, to play a piece stylistically doesn’t mean that you are to play in a certain way when it comes to interpretation. This is what brings originality to your playing, and makes the music as current now as it was when it was written. To demonstrate my point, below are two famous recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (BMV 998), both recorded by Glenn Gould. The first was recorded in 1955, the second in 1981: both are examples of style fitting to Bach’s writing, but both recordings differ dramatically when it comes to Gould’s interpretation. You only need to listen to the opening few bars of the Aria to see my point:

Lewis Kesterton is a pianist currently studying at Birmingham Conservatoire. Read his blog here

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Schubert’s glasses

Schubert. This entry on the letter S would not be complete, for me at least, without a mention of Franz Peter Schubert, a composer whose music I have loved and lived with all my life: as a young child hearing my father play Der Hirt Auf Dem Felsem (‘The Shepherd on the Rock’) on the clarinet, my own LP of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony, my first encounters with the Impromptus and Moments Musicaux for piano in my mid-teens, as a precocious student who could play the notes, but who understood little of where this music came from or its emotional depth. Returning to the piano in my late 30s after an absence of some 20 years, it was Schubert’s music to which I turned first, revisiting the Impromptus initially, and then the late piano sonatas, with the benefit of musical maturity (the result of a lifetime of listening and concert-going rather than playing at that time) and life experience. As an argumentative teenager, often to be seen at weekends on CND marches, the old radical Beethoven had been my hero, a composer who wore his heart on his sleeve and whose life-affirming music declaims his existence, at once full-bodied and triumphal, but also other-worldly and philosophical especially in his late works. Schubert speaks more quietly: his soundworld is introspective, and intimate. He takes us into his confidence, and he is often at his most tragic when writing in the major key. His music packs a vast emotional punch – the range of emotions expressed within a piano miniature, such as the Impromptu in f minor D935/1, are startling, their unexpectedness underlined by his daring use of harmony and his expansiveness (which Schumann described as his “heavenly length”), underpinned by an innate sense of musical geometry and architecture. As a consequence, there are many interpretative possibilities in his music.

If Beethoven is notable for his musical structures and energy, Schubert is the spinner of beautiful melodies, music which speaks of his life in Vienna, of socialising and music making with friends, country rambles and joie de vivre (think of the joyful holiday moods of the  ‘Trout’ Quintet), but always shot through with darkness and heartbreak. He had plenty of intuitions of mortality during his brief life: he contracted syphilis in 1822/23, at that time an incurable and shameful disease, and lived in a city on a continent wracked by revolution and war. These were turbulent times, both personally and politically, and his music reflects this in its emotional voltes faces – all those layers of feeling and chains of emotions – perhaps most strikingly expressed in the slow movement of the Sonata in A, D959 or in the Fantasy in F minor, D940.

Frances Wilson pianist, writer, teacher and author of The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog.

Piano teachers express their views on the new ABRSM Diploma (‘ARSM’)

The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) has launched a new performance diploma, the ARSM, designed as “a bridge between Grade 8 and the DipABRSM”. The new Diploma, ARSM (Associate of the Royal Schools of Music), is different to both Grade 8 and the DipABRSM in that it includes no supporting tests (technical work, sight-reading/quick study, viva (for DipABRSM) or programme notes). The repertoire list is taken from the DipABRSM syllabus, though much reduced, and candidates may include 10 minutes of own-choice repertoire of Grade 8 or above standard to create a recital programme lasting 30 minute in total. To all intents and purposes this “diploma” looks very much like a reinvented version of the Advanced Certificate or Trinity’s Advanced Performance Certificate.

Concerns about the new ARSM have been expressed by piano teachers via Piano Network UK, a large and very active Facebook group comprising piano teachers, pianists (professional and amateur) and piano lovers, of which I am co-administrator. I would like to share some of these views here. My colleague and friend Andrew Eales, who writes the excellent Piano Dao blog, will be publishing a more considered response to the ARSM, together with an interview with Penny Millsom of the ABRSM in which he hopes to clarify some of the issues raised below. 

Please note that any views expressed here are independent and my publishing them does not necessarily mean Andrew and I support or endorse them. They are drawn from a diverse range of British piano teachers of differing ages and experience. My own comments and views about the ARSM diploma are in italics.

Level of attainment, marking and assessment criteria

  • I find the fact that Distinction is set at 45/50 interesting (in comparison to 70/100 for the dip/Licentiate levels) – though I have yet to decide what this actually means, if anything, about the marking, relative standards required, contributions of the viva and quick study…
  • In my view, it is simply Grade 9. Something on easy terms just to get letters after people’s names. 
  • Any old examiner, presumably no requirement for them to be a specialist in your instrument. So the exercise itself is kind of worthless, and the marking will be pretty irrelevant. But here, have a qualification…

Is it really a “Diploma”?

  • It’s essentially a composite of other products/services that ABRSM already offer – an examiner who is already there to examine Grade 1 players, a repertoire list that already exists… from a business point of view it seems like a great idea because ABRSM don’t seem to have needed to do much at all to add this to their overall offer, but the market could be quite large.
  • I don’t understand why it is marketed at associate level
  • Doesn’t this just devalue the DipABRSM in performance? By all means have the equivalent of the Trinity Advanced Certificate but don’t call it a diploma when it so clearly isn’t!
  • Same repertoire as the DipABRSM. So like a diploma, minus the bits people complain about. So, not particularly educational. 
  • I just don’t think it is sufficiently rigorous to be called a Diploma
  • It claims “associate” status, but simply isn’t on that level. So it devalues genuine associate diplomas as a whole, and is misleading to potential students/parents.
  • By calling it a “diploma” ABRSM have blurred the boundaries between the graded amateur exams and the higher professional diplomas. And very few people, if any, outside the profession (parents of students for example) will appreciate the difference. My concern is that it may devalue the higher diplomas and lead to further dumbing down across all exams. I’m afraid I feel it is primarily driven by commercial interests on the part of ABRSM. 
  • One of the main purposes of a professional qualification – and especially having letters after one’s name – is so that prospective clients are reassured that we are properly qualified. 
  • Hard to believe that this will confer diploma status, and entitle the holders to put letters after their name. To the general public, there will be little difference between an ARSM and a FRSM, or anything in between
  • This is really just a money-spinner. I cannot understand the logic in it being marked out of 50, or am I missing something?! It doesn’t appear to be accredited at a particular level, and I agree with others that it shouldn’t really confer diploma status. 

Who it is for?

I can see this new Diploma suiting some of my more talented teenage students who would like to improve their performing skills and/or want a different challenge post-Grade 8. A number of adult amateur pianists whom I know have also commented that they would like to take this diploma because the format encourages one to “enjoy playing”. 

A couple of teachers who are keen to improve their performance skills have expressed an interest in taking the ARSM as a form of continuing professional development:

  • …to me it is simply about skill refreshing. I do appreciate others’ concerns but perhaps for piano teachers who haven’t done any serious practice in a while it could be a good thing?

If you have views on the new ARSM diploma please feel free to leave comments below or use the contact page to get in touch.

ABRSM new post grade 8 performance diploma launched today

Source: ABRSM Media release – 4 August 2016

ABRSM is strengthening its current diploma offering with the addition of a new performance qualification, launched today (4 August). The new assessment, the Associate of the Royal Schools of Music (ARSM), has been launched to provide learners with an opportunity to develop and demonstrate their performance skills after Grade 8.

The new diploma will be available to take in all ABRSM practical exam venues worldwide from January 2017.

What is involved?

The exam can be taken by anyone who has passed ABRSM Practical Grade 8 or a listed alternative. ARSM is available in all instruments currently examined by ABRSM, including voice.

Within the challenge of performing a 30-minute programme, candidates are assessed on their musical communication skills, interpretation and technical delivery. Candidates will have to perform:

• at least 20 minutes of music chosen from the ARSM repertoire list (this is the same list set for DipABRSM);

• up to 10 minutes of music can be own-choice repertoire (of at least Grade 8 standard).

There are no written or spoken elements, and no sight reading, aural tests or scales.

John Holmes, ABRSM Chief Examiner said 

“The diploma, which is supported by the Royal Schools of Music, is suitable for musicians who are looking for a challenge after grades and will provide a meaningful goal to work towards.

ARSM is unique in focussing solely on practical performing skills – nothing more, nothing less. It’s about the art and craft of musical communication through a half-hour programme which you choose and put together according to your own individual musical strengths and enthusiasms.

As well as focussing on the playing or singing of your chosen items of repertoire, ARSM also involves assessment of the performance of your programme as a whole, giving you valuable feedback from two complementary perspectives.”

For more information about ARSM, visit www.abrsm.org/newdiploma

Meet the Artist……Jimmy Lee, composer

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

I discovered my ability to compose almost by accident. I had always been active and in love with the performing arts, school plays, school and church choir’s amateur dramatics etc…. It all started for me when I began to write poetry, mostly autobiographical of childhood memories, life experiences and so on. Without any formal training, I found that I could create melodies by turning my poems into song; I seem to have a natural gift as a songwriter. The four pieces on the album ‘The Empty Room’ were written on guitar some time ago and although I was not able to transcribe them for symphony orchestra myself at that time, When I was eventually able to hear the music played by the ensemble I founded, I was more than delighted and promised myself that one day I would record and perform all of my music albeit ballads, folk, Americana but most importantly, orchestral.  That time came a few years ago. Since that time I have produced four albums, written over thirty songs poems and produced two musical stage productions from albums.. All have been well received and proven very popular with a variety of audiences. I am ‘at one’ when I am performing!

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

In my childhood and at school I became emotional, reflective and very thoughtful when I heard pleasing melodies and songs. I remember at school performing Schubert’s ‘Trout’, so beautiful and meaningful; also the songs of Stephen C Foster. I was captivated by their meaning and how simple it seemed to be able to tell a story and express emotion and events good or bad. In the early 60’s I was fortunate enough to share a flat in London with very talented musicians, with a wide range of musical interests from folk to orchestral and I attended many performances throughout London and yearned to play my part. I practised hard on guitar/vocals and played my first few gigs at the Troubadour and the Half Moon in Putney.. From then on I was hooked.

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

To keep my desire to perform in check. I have dipped in and out of the music scene from the late 70s, performing in the UK, Europe and the USA but my sense of responsibilities’ to provide security for my young family always overruled my personal ambition. I have no regrets in pursuing a career in the commercial world, which was thankfully both enjoyable and successful.

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

The challenge is to understand what is required and to create something that will last, stand the test of time and be meaningful and pleasing not just to the audience but to yourself. I have no respect for transient music.

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

I am not the greatest musician in the world and I am always in awe of the standard talent and ability of trained or gifted musicians. Sometimes I feel intimidated and inadequate but I am usually put at ease and enjoy that company enormously.

Which works are you most proud of?

Apart from my orchestral works, which I am enormously proud of, there is a ballad on my ‘Runaway’ album called Hard Man. It was a difficult song to write and sometimes too difficult to sing but the lyrics say it all. It is a song about my Father who suffered terribly in Burma during the WWI and carried the scars for life. It is both a criticism and a tribute to a man who was never able to be the Father that I know he could have been and wanted to be.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are many from Chopin, Mozart, Schubert, John Williams, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Adele, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson and many more!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hearing my orchestral works performed by a full symphony orchestra at the Guards Chapel in Wellington Barracks, London in November 2015

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

For me, all music must tell a story that would be both interesting and in some way moving. The story line/lyrics will often suggest music and the music will often suggest a story line or lyrics. The two are inseparable do not be swayed by what is in vogue follow your instincts your gifts are specific to you… create and never give up!

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

Still alive and well.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?….

Contentment.

What is your most treasured possession?…

My health and my guitar.

What do you enjoy doing most?…

Snowboarding, wind-surfing, and performing but not at the same time !!!!

What is your present state of mind?…

Excited, apprehensive, confident and pleased that at this time in my life I still have a lot to look forward to.

From classical music to folk and country, Jimmy Lee has an exotic and diverse compositional style. Disregarding all barriers that stand between genres, Jimmy has pursued his love of music regardless of any rules. His career has taken him across the globe from bars and beer joints in America’s Mid West to London’s Wembley Arena. After taking a break from the music scene, Jimmy Lee founded the Blue Coconut Music Club and decided to take up his calling once again.

Jimmy Lee released his debut classical album for symphony orchestra in Spring 2016. Having caught the attention of the Director Music at The Army Corps of Musicians (CAMUS), Kneller Hall with the power and beauty of his music, Jimmy Lee begun a collaboration with the Military for his next project. The album was recorded by Abbey Road Studios at The Guards Chapel, Wellington Barracks and Birdcage Walk with combined military and civilian musicians.

Read more about Jimmy Lee here

 

 

R is for……

If there’s any excuse at all for making a record, it’s to do it differently, to approach the work from a totally recreative point of view… to perform this particular work as it has never been heard before. And if one can’t do that, I would say, abandon it, forget about it, move on to something else.
– Glenn Gould

R is for “robbed”. R is also for “rhubarb”. And, aged four, sat on a plump cushion, on top of my teacher’s piano stool, having just played the Minuet in G from the Associated Board’s edition of Eighteen Selected Pieces from ‘A Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach with about as much feeling as the Honda production line in Swindon,  I first came across what I initially thought was a portmanteau of the two. (By the way, I wouldn’t have known, then, what a “portmanteau” was, either. And I still have the very same music perched on my piano, today: such is the rustiness of the current state of what I laughingly refer to as my “technique”.)

“Technically, that’s excellent,” said Mr Bury (or words to that effect); “but it could do with some rubato…” – and then, of course, he went on to explain and demonstrate, beautifully, what that was.  And, although I have hunted it ever since, Snark-like:  at such a tender age, my emotional range was narrowly-focused. All I could see were Boojums.

My personal definition of the word Rubato is aural; rather than written or visual. Listen to the two (fantabulous) recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations which (the fantabulous) Glenn Gould made at each end of his career. The first, from 1955, <https://itun.eslasts 38:34, and is a demonstration of pure technical genius. The second, from 1981 – at 51:18 – lasts exactly one-third longer – and transforms each variation from what could easily be a mechanical Baroque exercise (see above) to something of a romantic, yet contrapuntal, serenade: particularly the opening (and closing) Aria. The difference, I believe, is not in the time taken – although there is a definite contributory effect from the time taken between making the two recordings. Subtract the first from the second – although I have to admit, given my word limit (and being, ahem, robbed of time), this is a little simplistic (and may be over-egging the pudding a little): there are a few more repeats, as well… – and what you are left with (IMHO) is the very essence of rubato.

The tempi are not so much “robbed”; as generously donated. Or, as Michael Kennedy so wisely states in the 1980 edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music (which also sits atop my piano), rubato is…

A feature of performance in which strict time is for a while disregarded – what is ‘robbed’ from some notes being ‘paid back’ later. When this is done with genuine artistry and instinctive musical sensibility, the effect is to impart an admirable sense of freedom and spontaneity. Done badly, rubato merely becomes mechanical.

…and I’m sure you can easily evoke your own guilty parties with regards to that last comment. In fact, I wouldn’t be too surprised if you disagreed with my exemplar, above. (I’m sure Chopin would.) But, surely that’s what rubato is really all about – the individual, “instinctive” subjectivity (hopefully dredged up from your very soul, and bypassing most of your mind) that you can bring to any piece of music: whether it be from your emotions; or even from a desire to stress a melody hidden deep within a morass of complex notes (see, for instance, Prokofiev’s Second Piano Concerto).

In other words, rubato – whether applied to one note, or a thousand – is simply a symptom, an expression, of one’s own interpretation.

Stephen Ward AKA The Bard of Tysoe

 

sergei_rachmaninoff_loc_33969uUp, up in the highest echelons of the pianistic pantheon sits Sergei Rachmaninov….

Regarded as one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, Rachmaninov had legendary technical facilities and rhythmic drive, and his large hands were able to cover the interval of a thirteenth on the keyboard. Today, his piano music remains amongst the most well-loved and widely-performed in the standard repertoire, yet in the 1950s the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians dismissed it as “monotonous in texture….. consist[ing] of mainly of artificial and gushing tunes….”. He was composing at a time when music was undergoing huge sea-changes (atonality and the development of the 12-note tone row, for example), yet he remained true to his own compositional vision and his music is unashamedly Romantic, full of sweeping melodies and rich textures. Even in his miniatures (for example, the Preludes, Moments Musicaux, Études-Tableaux) his music seems to express the vastness of the Russian landscape. It has a visceral and deeply honest quality.

“A composer’s music should express the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books which have influenced him, the pictures he loves…My music is the product of my temperament, and so it is Russian music”

Sergei Rachmaninov

Here is Sviatoslav Richter in the Prelude in G-sharp minor, Op 32, no. 12

Many of his piano works enjoy legendary status, and are performed around the world by the famous and the lesser known, such is their beauty, appeal and scale of challenges. Take the Third Piano Concerto, by his own admission his “favourite” of all his piano concerti – “I much prefer the Third, because my Second is so uncomfortable to play”. Due to time constraints, Rachmaninoff could not practise the piece while in Russia, and instead he practised and memorised it using a silent cardboard keyboard that he brought with him while sailing to the United States. It was premiered in New York on 28th November 1909 by Rachmaninov himself, and was dedicated to the pianist Josef Hofman, whom Rachmaninoff regarded as the greatest pianist of his generation, though Hofman never actually performed the Third Concerto.

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The opening theme of the Third Piano Concerto

Monumental, treacherous, gorgeous, its fearsome technical difficulties reflect the composer’s own transcendent prowess at the keyboard. For the pianist it is forty-five minutes of almost continuous playing, the equivalent in energy expended to shovelling three tons of coal just to move the keys – and this excludes the emotional and intellectual energy used. For the audience, when played well it, it encompasses the full range of human emotions in its towering virtuosity.

 

Meet the Artist……Marios Papadopoulos

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(photo Chris Gloag)

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

A keen ear and an aptitude for music I showed as a boy of five

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

I have always been inspired by great performances, particularly those of artists of the old school such as Cortot, and have sought to make strong, informed musical statements

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

To be able to keep my playing to a high standard. I am much more demanding now than I was ten years ago and the musical challenges are greater. Also, I have to ensure that the Orchestra has the resources to maintain its status and continue to expand.

You founded the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra in 1998, why did you decide to establish a new orchestra?

To establish an instrument of the highest quality in a town which is revered the world over for excellence. My colleagues and I have worked hard to create an orchestra worthy of the attention of some of the world’s greatest artist who now collaborate with us on a regular basis. I am totally against having to create a niche in order to attract attention. The OPO makes strong musical statements playing all kinds of repertoire, including your all time favourites.

Your piano festival begins on 30th July: what are you most looking forward to in the festival?

To acquaint myself with emerging talent and share my musical experiences with them.

The Oxford Piano Festival and Summer Academy is now widely acknowledged as one of the most prestigious of its kind in the world. A residential course at St Hilda’s College, it welcomes to Oxford some of the most talented young pianists from all continents to study with some of the world’s greatest artists and teachers. This year’s artists include Marc-André Hamelin, Peter Serkin, Dame Fanny Waterman, Paul Badura Scoda, Menahem Pressler, Peter Donohoe, Tong-Il Han, Alexandre Tharaud and Nikolai Lugansky.

The students attending are of the highest standard and many are on the verge of international careers. This year, we will be welcoming as students both the winner and runner-up of the 2015 Leeds International Piano Competition. In the younger category, we are delighted to be welcoming again three scholars from the Lang Lang Foundation, chosen by Lang Lang himself. It is a privilege to be amongst such outstanding talent: I learn a lot. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I rarely listen to my recordings once they have been edited

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I identify strongly with the German/Austrian classical repertoire of Mozart and Beethoven but also enjoy performing the romantic and 20th century repertoire.

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

We are here to serve the Oxfordshire community. As the only professional orchestra in Oxford, we are free to perform works we think our audiences would enjoy, including much of the core repertoire. The Oxford Philharmonic does not have to adhere to any gimmicks or acquire a niche to attract attention: it has a territorial claim and is in the service of the community.

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

I love playing in the Sheldonian Theatre. Other than its revered history, it has wonderful acoustics and provides an intimate setting for our audience and musicians alike

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

The works I work on at any given time. We have just performed Walton’s Façade which I loved, and I am now preparing to conduct Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphony: what a great master he was!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who move me

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The few concerts I have given in my life which were less discomforting than others 

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

Do not be afraid to be an individual and always aim at making strong musical statements

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

I hope to be still alive and on stage tackling repertoire I have still not been able to perform: would love to conduct more Wagner, for instance. Also, I would like to devote myself to recording a lot of the piano repertoire.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be with my family

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Anything that makes me feel alive

What is your present state of mind?

One of huge responsibility for something my colleagues and I have created and which I would like to see continue its legacy when I am gone

Marios Papadopoulos MBE is the founder, music director and driving force behind the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra (formerly Oxford Philomusica), Orchestra in Residence at the University of Oxford.

www.oxfordphil.com

Oxford Piano Festival 2016

Meet the Artist…..Bartosz Glowacki, accordionist

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

I started playing the accordion quite late, when I was 11 and I began attending one of the national schools in Poland where I am from. I soon realised that this is what I wanted to do in my life. I was very lucky to have amazing teachers who were also great human beings so that helped me a lot in my decisions.

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

I cannot name a single person in my musical career who has been the most important to me. I tend to take inspiration from everyone I have come across or worked with. My teacher Owen Murray from the Royal Academy of Music is one of them, for example, as someone who showed me the importance of sound quality.

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

I think that maintaining the artistic vision in every concert is the biggest challenge but I think this problem touches most artists.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

It is very hard to name them as every performance is special for me and I try to give my best in each of them. If I have to choose one it would have to be my performance of Concerto Classico by Mikolaj Majkusiak for accordion and symphony orchestra in Vienna or my first album “Encuentro” with my group, the Deco Ensemble.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love to play classical contemporary works for accordion and I think that is the most natural repertoire in classical music for accordion nowadays. But, I enjoy playing all different styles of music as it helps to develop your musical taste.

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

My choices are based on my new discoveries. I love to go for the pieces or transcriptions which are not very popular or completely new.

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

I think the Wigmore Hall is one of my favourite venues because of the acoustics. Also Studio S1 of Polish Radio is outstanding. I am also really looking forward to playing at the Wallace Collection for the first time as part of City Music Foundation’s Summer Residency on 28th July.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Works by Gubaidulina are my favourite to perform and Chopin to listen to.

Playing Chopin on the accordion would be one of the biggest mistakes possible.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are the ones who I work with as I am often very lucky to meet people who are very talented but, more importantly, are nice people to work with. I think is really important. From the musical legends my favourites are Vladimir Horowitz, the great jazz pianist and composer Krzysztof Komeda, and Paco de Lucia.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

I remember playing for one of the political institutions in Brussels during an exhibition of pictures on the martology of Eastern Europe. I did not want to spoil the institution but the organisers asked me to play one of pieces in my repertoire called The Gulag Archipelago based on Solzhenitsyn’s book. Unfortunately, straight after the performance, the audience were supposed to move to the area where the post event reception was meant to take place. However, most of the audience went there after I started playing. I thought that it was a very bad concert experience until one lady came to my dressing room crying and explaining that her family went through the Gulag prisons and how touched she was.
We went for coffee together and she told me a lot of incredible stories from her life which were absolutely inspiring. Those kind of moments compensate for all the bad experiences in a musician’s life.

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

I would have to say it is the concept of musical journey in the concert which the musician can reflect on.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The word “perfect” should be completely erased from any language as there is no such thing in real life. For me happiness should be balanced between what you do, who you do it with and how you do it. Having a lovely family, doing a lot of concerts with my artistic vision and being able to enjoy life is as close to perfect as it can get in my opinion. Finding this balance in real life situation is the hardest bit.

Accordionist Bartosz Glowacki performs works by Scarlatti, Arvo Pärt, Trojan, Makkonen, Semionov and Piazzolla on Thursday 28th July as part of City Music Foundation’s Summer Residency at the Wallace Collection 25-29th July. More details here

City Music Foundation’s mission is to turn exceptional musical talent into professional success by equipping outstanding musicians at the outset of their careers with the tools, skills, experience and networks they need to pursue music as a viable and rewarding livelihood. 

www.glowackiaccordion.com

 

 

The Three C’s

Confidence Commitment Concentration

Sometimes, and more frequently that you might imagine, my husband’s world (mountain-biking) and mine (music) intersect, with interesting results. At first sight, our respective passions could not be more different: he likes to hurl himself and his bike down the side of mountains, riding rough-shod (literally) over rocks and gnarly tree roots while I get my share of excitement out of playing the piano or hearing others play it in concert. How could there possibly be any connection between those two activities?

But a chance conversation between my husband, myself and two pianist/piano teaching friends over dinner recently revealed some noteworthy parallels between the world of the downhill mountain-biker and the performing pianist. In fact, there are many parallels between sportspeople and musicians, from the way we prepare for a race or a performance to the importance of listening to and taking care of our bodies (see The Musician as Sportsperson).

“Confidence Commitment Concentration” is a mantra my husband regularly repeats in relation to his cycling. In his world – and that of other sportspeople – Confidence is a key factor in propelling one down that vertiginous mountain track or round the running circuit. While negotiating a rocky descent there’s no time for self-doubt because a moment’s hesitation can lead to one to misjudge the line and ride into a tree, or worse. Confidence, and the ability to handle one’s bicycle or instrument adroitly, comes from practising and honing one’s technical skills. Assured technique then provides the firm foundation on which to build creativity and artistry. It also gives us the freedom and confidence to make snap decisions during performance and to prevent small slips or errors from distracting us or pulling us off course.

 

Commitment – so you’re barrelling down that alpine track and there’s a jump ahead. You can’t apply the brakes because you need the right speed to propel you over the jump. Now is the time to commit – don’t hold back and don’t be tentative. In a musical performance, we commit from the moment we start playing. At that point there is no going back – the first notes have sounded and we must play with commitment to offer our audience a convincing performance. Commitment also means playing fluently and not allowing errors or slips to distract us. And just as a moment’s hesitation on the mountain track could lead to an accident, tentative playing may hint at lack of confidence which might make our audience uneasy for the rest of the performance. Of course piano playing is not nearly as hazardous as downhill mountainbiking (I know this because my husband is a fairly frequent visitor to the A&E department at our local hospital), but a metaphoric accident during a performance can do serious damage to our confidence and self-esteem which may harm future performances.

 

Concentration – sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Of course you need to concentrate, but our concentration can easily be disturbed which can then disrupt or sabotage a performance. My husband cites things like “your mates standing at the side of the track taking photos or yelling at you“. In a musical performance, external factors such as a member of the audience coughing or rustling their programme can interrupt our concentration, in addition to internal issues such as the negative voice of the inner critic. Concentration can be trained to such a degree that we can accept external interruptions without affecting our performance – see my earlier post Mind Games for more on concentration.

Taken all together, The Three C’s can lead to a performance – musical or sporting – that is fluent, convincing and successful.

If you get one of The Three Cs wrong you can probably still pull it off, but if you get two of them wrong you’ll probably crash. 

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture

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