This recent release by Duncan Honeybourne on the EMR label makes a persuasive and highly listenable case for lesser-known English composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Recorded in August 2020 at Potton Hall, between lockdowns, as it were, Duncan Honeybourne, by his own admission, feels this is his best work to date. While many of us chafed at the enforced isolation and restrictions, Honeybourne has used the time extremely productively (he has also just released a recording of piano music by the late John Joubert – more here). Freed from a busy concert schedule, Honeybourne has welcomed the opportunity to “reconnect” with the piano and really immerse himself in the repertoire he most enjoys and loves.

A champion of lesser-known English piano music, Honeybourne’s affection for and understanding of the pieces on this disc is evident throughout in performances which reveal an acute appreciation of the wide variety of styles, moods and textures of this repertoire. The result is a generous 2-disc album which contains no less than eight world premiere recordings of works by Christopher Edmunds, Edgar Bainton, Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, and Richard Pantcheff.

The title of the disc is taken from Psalm 103 (“out of the deep have I called unto Thee, O Lord“), appropriately for the three substantial piano sonatas which frame the complete programme – from Edmunds’ big boned, luxuriantly romantic piano sonata, composed in 1938, with its nods to Liszt and Rachmaninoff in both its scale and breadth of expression, to the Bridge sonata written in the aftermath of the First World War – a work of utter desolation which calls out for reconciliation and forgiveness in a world torn apart by conflict, and Richard Pantcheff’s Sonata of 2017, written for Duncan Honeybourne, which although divided by almost a century, shares the dark, brooding emotional bleakness of Bridge’s work. Honeybourne captures the intensity and range of sentiment in these three sonatas and does not shy away from bravura virtuosity in the first movement of the Edmunds Sonata, which opens the album with its vivid first statements offset in the middle movement by a melting tenderness and warmth.

These substantial, dramatic works are complemented and contextualised by shorter works, mostly pastoral in theme, poetic and rhapsodic in nature, and lyrically presented by Honeybourne. Hubert Parry’s delightful ‘Shulbrede Tunes’ are affectionate, sometimes wistful portraits of the composer’s family and their Sussex home; Bainton’s ‘Willows’ and ‘The Making of the Nightingale’ are contemporary with Bridge’s Sonata, tender and evocative pastoral pieces; while Pantcheff’s Nocturnus V: Wind oor die Branders evokes the wind on the waves in his native South Africa. Another nocturne,  Britten’s atmospheric ‘Night Piece’ portrays nighttime scurryings and chirrups.

Friendships and teacher-pupil relationships connect the selection of pieces on this album: Frank Bridge taught Benjamin Britten, who in his later years mentored Richard Pantcheff. Honeybourne studied Britten’s Night Piece with Dame Fanny Waterman, founder of the Leeds International Piano Competition, for which the nocturne was commissioned as a test piece.

This is engaging collection of distinctive and diverse piano music offers listeners the opportunity to explore some stunning, lesser-known gems of the repertoire

emr-cd070-71Of the recording, Honeybourne says: “It was a joy to devise this programme, featuring some masterpieces I’ve known for a long time and love dearly, alongside the stunning Pantcheff Sonata, which I premiered in 2019 in London at an English Music Festival concert. It is a special privilege to present the recorded premieres of some terrific pieces that have languished in manuscript for many decades, and I hope listeners will get as much pleasure from hearing these wonderful gems as I have from all the excavation and preparation. It’s a great honour to bring them all together on this release.”

De Clamavi Profundis is released on the EM Records label.

Recommended


Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts (WLCC) is delighted to announce its 2021/22 season of concerts which take place once a month at St Mary’s Church, Weymouth. This season is particularly special as not only does the series return to full capacity concerts, it also celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2022.

Despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, WLCC was able to present four concerts in its 2020/21 season which were enthusiastically received by a socially-distanced audience – proof that people really craved and appreciated live music.

The first concert of the 2021/22 season will be given by Penelope Roskell, who was brought up in Weymouth, and was fortunate to study piano with Elsie Monckton from an early age. As a child she played regularly at Weymouth Arts Centre. Since then, she has gone on to a stellar career as an international concert pianist, writer and Professor of Piano at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Penelope’s programme features three much-loved works for piano by J S Bach, Fryderyk Chopin and Franz Schubert, spanning over 100 years from the Baroque period to the Romantic era.

Future performers include pianists Margaret Fingerhut, Jelena Makarova, Nina Savicevic, Alan Schiller, John Humphreys and Duncan Honeybourne, violinist Peter Fisher, bassoonist Antonia Lazenby, and cellist Ulrich Heinen.

Founded in in 2002 by concert pianist and Weymouth resident Duncan Honeybourne, Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts presents high-quality chamber music in the heart of Weymouth and offers a platform for musical partnerships with friends and colleagues, many of whom enjoy international acclaim. The concerts also give young musicians, often recent graduates from conservatoire or university, valuable performing experience to a friendly, loyal audience.

WLCC programmes are varied and imaginative, mixing well-known works with lesser-known repertoire and composers, and all concerts take place in the attractive, welcoming surroundings of St Mary’s Church, Weymouth. WLCC is very fortunate to have use of an excellent Yamaha grand piano maintained by Weymouth Pianos Ltd. Tickets cost just £5, which represents extremely good value considering the very high quality of WLCC performers and programmes. WLCC is grateful for the support of staff at St Mary’s Church in ensuring concerts are covid-secure, safe and enjoyable for performers and audience alike.

Penelope Roskell performs on 15th September 2021 at 1pm. BOOK TICKETS

Full details of WLCC’s concerts can be found at weymouthchamberconcerts.com/.

Weymouth Lunchtime Chamber Concerts provide the whole musical package. Their programme includes established artists and emerging talent; and the conditions are superb for audience and performer alike.

Under the professional and experienced guidance of Duncan Honeybourne and Frances Wilson, Weymouth is truly fortunate to have a concert series that benefits both local people and the wider musical community…..this is a valuable initiative that deserves continuing support and celebration.

James Lisney, concert pianist

The series is organised by Duncan Honeybourne and Frances Wilson (The Cross-Eyed Pianist)


Duncan Honeybourne – Founder/Artistic Director

Commended by International Piano magazine for his “glittering performances“, Duncan enjoys a diverse profile as a pianist and in music education. His concerto debut in 1998 at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, and the National Concert Hall, Dublin, was broadcast on radio and television, and recital debuts included London, Paris, and international festivals in Belgium and Switzerland. Duncan has toured extensively as soloist and chamber musician, broadcasting frequently for the BBC and radio networks worldwide. His many recordings reflect his interest in 20th and 21st century British piano music. He is a Tutor in Piano at the University of Southampton.

duncanhoneybourne.com

Twitter: @DuncanHoneybou1

Frances Wilson – Concerts Manager

Frances is a writer, reviewer and publicist. Described by international concert pianist Peter Donohoe as “an important voice in the piano world“, Frances’ blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist has an international reputation and enjoys a large following. She also writes for Hong Kong-based classical music website Interlude and has contributed articles to Pianist magazine and The Schubertian, the journal of the Schubert Institute UK. She has appeared on BBC Radio Three’s Music Matters programme to discuss the role of music criticism today and the effect of the internet on music journalism. An advanced amateur pianist, Frances holds Licentiate and Associate Diplomas in Piano Performance (both with Distinction) and has studied with or received mentorship from a number of distinguished pianist-teachers, including Penelope Roskell, Graham Fitch, Murray McLachlan, Stephen Savage and James Lisney.

Twitter: @crosseyedpiano

The first jury I served on, I was determined that only the best would win. I suggested to my fellow jurors that we select somebody who could shine in Carnegie Hall rather than play like a well-schooled student. Everybody agreed. We all ranked each pianist and tabulated the results not once, but twice. The pianist who got the most points won. Nevertheless the outcome was disheartening. I thought the silver medalist was outstanding. After the award winners’ gala, I remarked that the second prizewinner would probably become world famous while the recipient of the jury prize might be forgotten. I glanced at my fellow judges — all seasoned musicians — hoping to provoke strong reactions that would betray the culprits who’d propelled the winner to the top. Instead, everybody laughed, and some said, “We’ll see.” And, “Don’t be so sure.”

Israela Margalit – playwright, television and screen writer, author, concert pianist and recording artist – gives some forthright and less than complimentary insights into the world of international piano competitions.

Read the full article here

It was perhaps inevitable that pianist and writer Susan Tomes would turn her attention eventually to the extraordinarily broad repertoire of the piano – her instrument, and mine, and that of countless others, both professional and amateur players. While her previous books have been concerned with the myriad aspects of being a pianist – from performing, recording and teaching, concert preparation, etiquette and attire, and audiences to the daily exigencies of practising and rehearsing – her latest volume, The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces is concerned with repertoire and how the piano’s development and capabilities have influenced how composers write for it. 

The book was inspired by Neil MacGregor’s A History of the World in 100 Objects, and takes a similar approach, using specific pieces to illustrate the piano’s history and illuminate its development, from the moment in the early 18th century when it began to supplant the harpsichord as the keyboard instrument du jour to the modern piano as we know it today. 

This new instrument offered composers a greater varieties of colours, effects and timbres, and so their music reflected the piano’s capabilities and range, its potential for songful lyricism or an orchestral richness of sound, amply demonstrated in the piano sonatas of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, for example, the song accompaniments of Schubert, or Chopin’s Nocturnes with their bel canto melodies.

The book begins in “pre-history”, as it were, with music written for the harpsichord, the most famous of which is Bach’s Goldberg Variations, a pinnacle of the repertoire and a work which continues to fascinate performers, audiences and commentators alike. Bach’s Italian Concerto also features in this section, together with works by Domenico Scarlatti and CPE Bach – all works which can be played and enjoyed equally on harpsichord or piano.

We then move from the harpsichord to the fortepiano and thence to the piano itself, in its earliest iteration, a much smaller instrument physically, but already one with far greater range and tonal projection than the harpsichord or fortepiano, as is clear from the music of Haydn and Mozart. One of the pieces explored in this chapter is Haydn’s Variations in f minor, Un piccolo divertimento, Hob. XVII: 6, a work of profound expression, which foreshadows Schubert, and pianistic breadth. Unsurprisingly, Haydn’s great E-flat major Sonata, Hob. XVI:52 is also covered in detail in this chapter, a work which utilises the capabilities of the piano to their fullest extent in a work of great character, texture and variety. 

But as these early chapters reveal, this book is not simply a chronology of the piano, not by any means; but rather a detailed exploration of some of the greatest music composed for the instrument as well as lesser-known gems, written from the authoritative standpoint of someone who knows both instrument and repertoire intimately. And it comes right up to date with a chapter focussing on music by living composer Arvo Pärt, Philip Glass, Judith Weir and Thomas Adès

Susan Tomes writes with a lucid eloquence founded on knowledge, experience and, above all,  affection for the piano, which shines through every paragraph. She not only offers the reader important analysis, contextual details and performance notes for each work, but also demonstrates a deep understanding of what it feels like to actually play this music, the sensation of the notes “under the hands”, how it sparks the imagination and provokes emotions, and the experience of learning and shaping it to bring it to life in concert – fascinating insights which take the reader “beyond the notes”, as it were. Thus, the book acts as both a historical survey and a primer for those seeking more detailed information about specific works, with guidance on performance practice and interpretation, drawn from Tomes’s own experience as a soloist, chamber musician and teacher. 

The range of pieces explored in the book reflects the vast breadth of the piano’s repertoire, and Tomes is the perfect guide through this almost overwhelming embarrassment of musical riches. 

Nor does she confine herself only to the solo repertoire. Concerti and chamber music also feature heavily, from, for example, Schubert’s much-loved ‘Trout’ Quintet to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3, to demonstrate the piano’s importance in these genres and how it interacts with and complements other instruments. Jazz is also covered, while the final chapter explores where the piano and its repertoire might be heading, and how we as listeners, and players, might open our ears and minds to a different range of music, presented in less traditional performance settings. 

This comprehensive, informative and highly readable celebration of the piano and its literature is a must-read for pianophiles and music lovers. With its wealth of analysis and contextual information it is also a significant resource for those who teach and play the piano, a book to keep close by the instrument to refer to, dip into, and cherish.


The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces is published by Yale University Press

This article first appeared on No Dead Guys, the blog of pianist and writer Rhonda Rizzo


It starts with fascination and attraction. Sometimes it happens slowly; other times it’s all at once. You want to spend every moment with this person. You want to know everything about the object of your desire, big and small. No detail is unimportant. No story is boring. And one day you realize that you know this person almost as intimately as you know yourself. This is what we commonly refer to as falling in love.

It starts with analysis and observation. Everything about the specimen is studied, examined, catalogued, and dissected. You draw conclusions based on findings. You write dispassionate observations. This is what we commonly refer to as scientific analysis.

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Making music, when it’s done right, is like falling in love. We tumble helplessly, passionately into a relationship with a piece of music, and in our effort to understand everything we can about it, we discover things about its structure, the composer, the circumstances in which it was created, others’ ideas of how best to play it, and (crucially) all the ways we can share our insights and love of what we’re playing through every note we play.

One of the greatest disservices a teacher can do to a student is to teach music like a scientist, not a lover. When this happens, it’s usually because the teacher has never had the experience of falling in love with music, or has shut out that love for one reason or another. In their hands, music is no longer alive, but is a thing to be dissected and coolly studied. Everything stays clean and scientific, there are safe “right” and “wrong” answers, and no one makes poor musical decisions in the heat of passion. Music becomes clinical, and (as a result) dead.

No one can think oneself into being in love. The magic is either there or it isn’t. Music is a sensual art first—we hear the notes being struck and then dying away; we feel the smoothness of the keys under our fingers; we see the play of light and shadows on the piano and the score; and we sense the interplay of sound, silence, composer markings, and our own hearts in the phrases we help shape. Analysis, observations, scholarship? These serve the senses, not the other way ‘round. This is what many of the late great pianists knew, which is why their recordings frequently offer more depth and humanity than many modern players, who play quickly and oh-so-correctly, but have little to say. We can read, memorize, study, and analyze everything there is to know about a piece, but until we abandon ourselves to the experience of playing the notes, the music lacks life. That doesn’t mean that playing the piano should be an anti-intellectual act; it means balancing head and heart; it means acknowledging that the heart part of this equation must come first.

If I could wish one thing for every pianist, it would be this: let yourself go. Let yourself be seduced—ravished!—by the music. As my undergraduate piano professor once told me, “make love to the piano.” Let the music teach you about itself through loving attention to the score, to historical writings, and to others’ experiences with it, and then abandon yourself to it. Hold nothing back. This is what it means to bring a great piece of music to life.


rhonda_rizzoRhonda (Ringering) Rizzo is a writer and a former performing and recording pianist. Her novel, The Waco Variations, was released in the summer of 2018, and her numerous articles have appeared in national and international music magazines, including Pianist Magazine, American Music Teacher, Clavier, Piano & Keyboard, and Flute Talk. A specialist in music that borrows from both classical and jazz traditions, Rizzo released four CDs, Made in America, Oregon Impressions: the Piano Music of Dave Deason, 2 to Tango: Music for Piano Duet, and A Spin on It.

She holds a BA from Walla Walla University and a MM from Boston University and is a passionate advocate of new music and living composers.

It may surprise you to learn that Austrian cyclist Anna Kiesenhofer, who won the gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics women’s road race, is an amateur rider. She doesn’t belong to a professional team (she left the Spanish team Lotto Soudal in 2017) which would pay her salary; she holds a PhD in mathematics and is a researcher and lecturer at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

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She may be an amateur on paper, but watching her dominate the women’s road race, storming far ahead of the main field, it was evident that she is someone who takes her training and preparation very seriously, as seriously as any pro rider.

“….cycling takes up a lot of space in my life. I don’t earn money. For the last one-and-a-half years, I was completely focused on today.

– Anna Kiesenhofer, in a post-race interview

There are several aspects of Anna Kiensenhofer’s attitude and training regime which I feel are particularly relevant, and also very inspiring, to the serious amateur musician – and indeed the professional too – and her dedication is proof that if one sets to a task with efficiency,  commitment and self-determination it is possible to achieve greatness.

Of course we may not aspire to Olympian greatness, but many of us strive for self-improvement, personal fulfillment and excellence in our music making – at whatever level we play.

Like the sportsperson’s, the musician’s training can lay the foundations of efficient, intelligent practice habits, secure technique, confidence in performance, musicianship, artistry, and – importantly – independence. While many of us may rely on the advice and support of a teacher or mentor, there comes a point when we may choose to step away from a teacher, either temporarily or permanently, and pursue our musical studies independently (and I will explore my own decision to do this in a later article). It takes a leap of faith to set oneself on a path of self-coaching, encompassing self-reliance, self-determination, and personal autonomy without the support of a teacher, but this is, I believe, necessary for one’s development as a musician seeking excellence and mastery.

Anna Kiesenhofer’s principles of self-coaching:

Don’t trust authority too much/Don’t necessarily believe your coach/teacher

By her own admission Anna Kiesenhofer is “anti-authoritarian” when it comes to coaches/trainers, especially the ones who claim to have all the answers and who seek to impose their own ways of doing things on their students.

“I started to realise that all those people who say they know, they actually don’t know. Many of them don’t know, and especially those who say that they know, don’t know, because those who do know say that they don’t know.”

A good teacher is not authoritarian; be wary of those who claim to have all the answers. A good teacher is open to discussion, adjustment, reflection to find what is best for the individual student, rather than a “one size fits all” approach. Don’t expect a teacher to have all the answers – and the best teachers know that they don’t have all the answers! A good teacher will equip their students with the skills with which to become an independent, self-reliant learner, and also a self-coach.

Find out what works for you personally

I meet people in the amateur piano world who’ve had lessons with a wide variety of teachers and attended many piano courses, hoping for the big answer, the miracle, which tells them “how to do it”. Instead, they are overwhelmed or confused with such a wealth of advice (much of it expert or well-meaning) and lack the confidence to extract from that advice what will actually be useful to them. This is also connected to the notion that there is a “right way” to play the piano (there isn’t!).

Exercise a degree of healthy scepticism when taking advice from others, even the most highly respected teachers. Be open to suggestions, but also questioning and curious, and select what advice works for you to support your own musical development.

Be wary of overly dogmatic or controlling teachers whose approach is “it’s my way or the high way”. Such a blinkered attitude will not serve your progress.

Create your own training (practicing) plan

Someone else’s practicing regime may not be the right one for you. Again, the “one size fits all” approach is impractical because we are all different, and while one person may do the bulk of their practicing first thing in the morning, others may prefer to break up the practice sessions into smaller sessions throughout the day. Create your own practicing regime and stick to it, but be willing to make adjustments to suit your changing needs, progress and goals.

And talking of goals…..Set yourself clear and achievable goals – a series of smaller targets is easier to manage that one big one and also helps to keep you motivated without feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead.

It may be helpful to discuss practice habits with others and to observe what others are doing, but be wary of comparing yourself to others as this can lead to issues with confidence or self-esteem. Have the confidence to stick to your own plan.

There are no short cuts, no miracles 

“If it was easy, everyone would do it” was a favourite line from one of my teachers, and he’s right. Playing the piano is difficult, at whatever level one plays, and appreciating and accepting this is an important part of the self-coaching mindset.

There are no miracles: self-determination, commitment, grit and, above all, a willingness to submit to the ongoing process of learning with persistence and passion are the qualities which drive achievement, whether you are a pianist or an Olympic athlete.

Further reading:

A Passionate Pursuit: The Pianist’s Mastery

Persistence and the concept of ‘Grit’


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