ENIGMAS with Elspeth Wyllie, piano


in a new album with


ENIGMAS: Solo piano and chamber works

by Elgar, Leighton, Rubbra, Bowen and Sackman

Performed by acclaimed young artists:


solo and chamber recitalist, appearances at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, and for BBC Radio Scotland


guest player with Britten Sinfonia, the RPO, and the Hallé Orchestra


appearances at the Southbank Centre and on BBC Radio 3 In Tune


guest player with Munich Chamber Orchestra, ensemble appearances with Lisa Batiashvili and Kim Kashkashian


Britten Pears Young Artist 2015, solo appearances with Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Garsington Opera

To coincide with Elgar’s 160th birthday on 2nd of June 2017, Divine Art is releasing a recital recording of solo piano and chamber works, featuring Elgar’s own solo piano transcription of his much-loved Enigma Variations.  Elgar originally extemporised and sketched out the music at the piano, and his transcription highlights the intimate nature of a work inspired by friends and acquaintances.

This is complemented by a varied collection of masterful repertoire by British composers. Edwin York Bowen’s Sonata for flute and piano is well-known to flautists and Kenneth Leighton’s Elegy is familiar to many cellists – both works deserve to be more widely-known as staples of post-romantic concert repertoire. Edmund Rubbra’s Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for trio are exquisite, essential listening, and this is the first modern-day recording with a mezzo – as Rubbra intended. Finally, a premiere recording of Nicholas Sackman’s Folio I for solo piano, a lively suite originally written for his family.

Recording release date: 19 May 2017



EDWARD ELGAR – Enigma Variations, Op.36 (composer’s own piano transcription)

KENNETH LEIGHTON – Elegy for cello and piano

EDWIN YORK BOWEN – Sonata for Flute and Piano, Op. 120

NICHOLAS SACKMAN – Folio I for solo piano  *premiere recording*

EDMUND RUBBRA – Two Sonnets by William Alabaster for medium voice, viola and piano Op.87

ENIGMAS Solo piano and chamber works (Divine Art catalogue no. DDA 25145)

CDs available to pre-order:  www.elspethwyllie.co.uk/enigmas-cd/

Digital format available 19 May: www.divineartrecords.com

For further information please contact:

Kathryn Marshall (Divine Art) – Kathryn@divineartrecords.com

Elspeth Wyllie (performer) – 07878 411300

Gottschalk and Cuba – A Project by pianist Antonio Iturrioz

Gottschalk and Cuba is a journey through 150 years of music which started with a 19th-century American pianist-composer visiting Havana in Cuba and a 21st-century Cuban pianist who came to America telling the story……

548f7ab6a0c07_louis_moreau_gottschalkNew Orleans born Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) was one of the most astonishing keyboard virtuosos in 19th-century America. But he was much more than that. He was America’s first important pianist-composer. He was an extraordinary traveler, bringing his virtuosity to Europe, to Central and South America and to the Caribbean, where he lived in Cuba for extended periods. As a composer, his unique style combined his Creole musical heritage with the American, Latin American and Afro-Caribbean influences he absorbed during his travels – all expressed within the boundaries of classical piano writing prevalent in the 19th century. Gottschalk made friends wherever he traveled and these far-reaching connections are the subject of Cuban pianist Antonio Itturioz‘s new project Gottschalk and Cuba, a CD containing aantonio world premiere recording of the entire Nuit des Tropiques, Symphony Romantique, both movements, on one piano. The programme also features Antonio’s transcription for solo piano of the second movement (Fiesta Criolla) of Gottschalk’s monumental Nuit des Tropiques, (Night in the Tropics), a symphony Gottschalk wrote on the island of Martinique after living several years in Cuba. It is a historic work because it is the first symphony written by an American composer. After Gottschalk’s death, his friend Nicolas Ruiz Espadero published a two-piano version of this symphony which is the basis for Antonio’s transcription. In addition, the CD features piano music by well-known Cuban composers whose works all have connections to Gottschalk in one way or another.

More information about Antonio Itturioz’s ‘Gottschalk and Cuba’ kickstarter project here

Interview with Antonio Itturioz

A timely reminder that the piano is for ‘playing’

Lately, I have lost the will to play the piano seriously. This waning of interest in the instrument and its literature which I adore, and would normally consider to be the centre of my life (apart from my family), happened gradually over several weeks and coincided with the recurrence of a shoulder injury, which had plagued me most of last year, in addition to learning that my husband urgently needed a fairly major medical procedure. Normally when stressed I turn to music to provide a distraction, and pleasure, but my attention was too closely focused on my husband’s health and I couldn’t concentrate on practising seriously, nor gain any kind of enjoyment from it (and usually I love practising). It pains me to admit I have hardly touched the piano for the past two months.

Returning to playing seriously after an absence can be tough. Lack of regular practise means fingers and limbs may be less than responsive, sluggish or uncomfortable, and prone to injury. In this case, one should not do too much nor too quickly, and should always be alert to physical signals from the body. Never play through pain and take frequent breaks when practising. Stimulating the mind to focus on playing can be harder still. If the mind is weary from stress or anxiety, it is not necessarily receptive to the concentration, and imagination, required to practise or study music, and telling oneself “I really should be practising!” can set up unhelpful feelings of guilt which can create further lack of motivation or discouragement.

I’ve tried to practise, truly I have. I dug out some Haydn from my bookshelf because I find his music, even in a minor key, to be endlessly uplifting, witty and refreshing. I lost myself in some Philip Glass, but only for about 15 minutes, and managed to play Schumann’s love letter to Clara, the Romance in F sharp, several times without errors, while trying to concentrate on creating a beautiful cantabile sound. But none of it was very satisfying or enjoyable…..

Then my piano teaching colleague, friend and fellow blogger Andrew Eales published this post and provided me with the impulse I needed to get me playing regularly again. In the article Andrew advocates developing an ‘Active Repertoire’ of, say, three pieces which we can play well, ideally from memory (for those moments when we encounter a street piano begging to be played), and reminds us of the importance of “play” and “pleasure” in our music making.

Play these three pieces for pleasure, and daily if possible. Allow them to become embedded in your memory and in your heart.

It’s very easy to regard practising as “work” – often “hard work” – and to lose sight of the fundamental reason why we choose to play our instrument – for enjoyment, for “play” (and even professional musicians will cite this as the reason why they took up their chosen instrument). When I read Andrew’s article, I realised I had been berating myself not only for not “working” (practising seriously) but also for not “playing” for pleasure. So while I am still finding a way back into serious practising of advanced repertoire, I will work on my Active Repertoire and ensure I gain pleasure from doing so.

Coming out a day after my husband was discharged from hospital, Andrew’s post seemed particularly supportive and inspiring. The last few weeks have passed in a fog of daily hospital visits, anxiety and not enough sleep. Music and the piano took a back seat during this time, but now I can feel the will to play, the tug of the instrument, returning afresh – thanks to a friend’s inspiring words.

Sometimes, often, the will to play is stirred by an external force – a concert or recording, a stimulating   article, conversations with friends or colleagues – but ultimately the inspiration must come from within oneself.

BathSongs: ‘Brahms to Broadway’

Bath Festival launches the BathSongs series in 2017 with ‘Brahms to Broadway’, a sumptuous mingling of words, music and song. Informal in style and performed in a small and intimate setting, the series will provide a chance to listen to international artists at the top of their career, appearing alongside rising stars of the future. The series of six one-hour early evening events covers a wide range of music from folk to classical to Broadway.

Building on the heritage of the Bath Literature and Bath International Music Festivals, and with more than 130 events over 10 days, Bath Festival takes place from 19th to 28th May 2017 and brings some of the world’s leading writers, musicians and cultural figures into the iconic buildings and onto the streets of Bath. Full programme at www.thebathfestival.org.uk

Saturday 20th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: A Top 20 Collection

Tenor Joshua Ellicott is joined by emerging star Verity Wingate and pianist Alisdair Hogarth of The Prince Consort, taking us on a journey of a top 20 of all-time great classical songs by Schubert, Rachmaninov, Gershwin, Schumann, Debussy and Wolf.

Monday 22nd May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Emotions of Spain

Two young singers, soprano Carolina Ullrich and tenor Luis Gomes, join world-leading accompanist Malcolm Martineau to explore Spanish song with work by Falla, Granados, Toldra and Espla – encapsulating love, jealousy, pride, joy and sadness with poetry of unmistakable flavour and piquancy.

Tuesday 23rd May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Brahms from First to Last

The life of Brahms is traced through his songs from first to last. Malcolm Martineau is joined by one of the truly great singers of recent years, Ann Murray, and young baritone Samuel Hasselhorn.

Thursday 25th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Timeless Stories through Folksong

Internationally-renowned soprano Claire Booth, accompanied by Christopher Glynn on piano, perform songs by Brahms, Grainger and Grieg – all composers whose work draws on aspects of traditional folksong.

Friday 26th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: American Songbooks

Rising stars baritone Gareth Brynmor John and soprano Rowan Pierce will delight and touch your heart with songs that range from spiritual to Broadway. Accompanied by Christopher Glynn.

Saturday 27th May/St Swithins, 5.45pm

BathSongs: Whatever Love Is…

Alisdair Hogarth and tenor Andrew Staples of The Prince Consort join forces with award-winning poet Laura Mucha to explore the subject of love, juxtaposing songs with poetry, philosophy and psychology, drawing on Mucha’s research on who and why we love. Plus the world premiere of a new song written by Cheryl-Frances Hoad.

BathSongs series pass: buy a ticket to three concerts in the BathSongs series and receive 50% off a fourth concert in the series.

Under 18s £1 tickets for BathSongs series *Limited tickets available JUMP IN

How to book

* In person at Bath Box Office from 10.30am to 5pm on the release dates

* By telephone on 01225 463362.

* Online at www.thebathfestival.org.uk

* Gift vouchers for The Bath Festival can also be purchased at Bath Box Office, by telephone and online.

[source: press release]

Meet the Artist……James Heather, composer


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

Ever since my family took on a second-hand piano from a friend when I was 9 I started to make music, I used to play with a box on my head to learn to play freely without looking at the keys, it must of looked weird! Around this time I played a simple part in a school performance, an older pupil commented on how easy it was, that pissed me off! It was a formative moment for me in trying to improve. Music was important from the start, something impossible to truly articulate in words, it had a profound effect on me, I realised its power to connect in what seemed like an honest way,

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

My Granny on my Dad’s side and my Grandad on my Mum’s. Both used to compose songs rather than just play others. My Grandad having a more rule-abiding approach to composition and my Granny being a bit a more improvisation side. I remember re-tuning a piano with my Grandad at age 12 into equal temperament and writing down frequencies to see if modern pianos were tuned as they should be. My Dad and Brother were also early influences, they used to share music with me from classical to punk to techno and beyond. I think its quite common in the early days of composing to want to please those people who influenced you, before you gain confidence to branch out further afield without always needing nods of approval.

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

The biggest frustration was probably losing confidence to share my compositions throughout my 20’s. I was starting to work as a publicist for some bonafide commercial and critically successful artists at the record label Ninja Tune, that took up time and also meant the bar was set higher in my head to the standard of a composition needed. Additionally I felt more detached from my family and friends after moving to London and finding my feet in a new city, so perhaps I became more introverted with my art. I now see this as a useful period, as I never stopped composing, even on cheap small keyboards due to the lack of space I was living in. Perhaps this period was needed to not get too comfortable early on and work on a sound without commercial pressure.

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

I am only just starting to release music commercially so commissioned pieces are hopefully something that will come more in future. I have provided pieces to people in the world of sync & publishing, they need hooks at more regular intervals and certain styles to be followed, I enjoyed that process in the refining of my arrangements for sure, perhaps less so having to do a certain style for market. Luckily I do melodic upbeat songs within the more complex dark compositions, so I think it’s not a compromise as such, just a slight re-angling of my sound with full sign-off from me on the brand it might be associated with. Years ago I was also asked to write a song for a key moment at a wedding with a brief and ex-ample song. People asking for your music to help on a special day is a definite pleasure.

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

In the school and college days I found this frustrating, as it was a competitive environment with indie bands of the time, and usually people didn’t have the work ethic to follow through what we would plan over a beer! It was one of the reasons I became a solo pia-nist, with occasional dabbles in working with friends who made “beats”. I am now reaching a stage where collaboration is something I am interested in again, I am interested in taking my sound into unexpected environments, I’ve just done some work with a well known elec-tronic producer and a RnB singer so I am looking forward to that coming out. I have noth-ing against the classical world, but I sense it could be a bit of a cul-de-sac if that’s all someone did, It’s important for me to be cross-genre as an artist in collaboration where possible.

Of which works are you most proud?

I think the “Water Sonatas” album I did as in 2015 helped me with a bit more visibility,. It was the first time I uploaded an album to the internet and told anyone, I just put it all up online and gave away mp3’s, it wasn’t on stores. The organic sharing of it among journalists and music industry people was confidence-building and made me think my music could travel further. This led to my first released work “Modulations: EP 1” which is out on June 9th, on Coldcut’s record label Ahead Of Our Time (an imprint of Ninja Tune) with an album to follow later in year. The art direction on both releases is by Suki and I love how beautiful it’s all going to look!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say at the moment it’s a melodic language that modulates between keys freely but I want to explore a more dissonant language going forward, but one with a foot in harmony. My work has elements of soul and jazz in there too which clash subtly with a more classical framework. I want to explore this more too going forward. Within the DNA is a light and dark tension at play with hope bubbling beneath.

How do you work?

Ideally I have 48 hours with no distractions at home. In the morning I might not do any composing, I’ll do usual stuff like breakfast, watch TV, talk to friends and family and find excuses to put off the dusting! I might plan out roughly what i want to achieve in the compositions too, taken from notes I make during the week on feelings I’ve soaked up. As the day gets older and I feel I am reaching a peaceful state I will just play for hours, and record the bits I am most happy with. It has to feel like I am pushing new ground every time I step to the keys. Improvisation is something traditionally I feel comfortable in and never playing same thing the same way twice. More recently I have been relearning and fine-tuning my compositions from years of recording, looking back a little in order to have a set of songs people might recognise when playing live! I try to stop by 11pm so I can watch a bit of football to unwind from the creative zone and get my 8 hours kip!

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

In the classical world I would say Beethoven, Debussy, Lisa Gerrard and Max Richter. I actually listen more to electronic and hip-hop music (among other styles) much more however these days. I like the rawness of Wiley and the consciousness of Roots Manuva and Jonwayne in the rap world. I also love Cinematic Orchestra, Young Fathers, Aphex Twin, Bonobo, PJ Harvey and Leon Vynehall form other genres, I could go on forever. I love mu-sic from every genre that feels like an honest explosion of the heart, whether thats conveying beauty or anger. To me my music is punk in spirit, but on first listen its anything but.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The live world is something I was initially very shy with and not something I pursued, I am happy in isolation. But in the right environment I do play on occasion. I performed a Sofar Sounds recently, where invited people watch a gig in a house and it goes onto YouTube. That’s a cool vibe, but to play somewhere like The Barbican one day is something that I’ll aspire to. I am ambitious and want to push myself in the live arena, but at my own pace. I wish more places had acoustic pianos!

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to as-piring musicians?

The fallacy of self-importance is not a cool thing and not sustainable to a peaceful inner core. Be confident with your art but be interested in others too. Be humble and bend the rules.

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

Making a living out of my compositions in a varied manner, from albums to collaborations to score work, helping other artists get the exposure they deserve and continuing a spiritual, loving path with my wife.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I believe in joy, somewhere between happy and unhappy where the pressure to be perfect has been eradicated and the lows of imperfection measured against perfection are a distant memory.

What is your most treasured possession?

I feel I can live without any of the few possessions I have, in that respect I’m down with the monks! Without access to the ability to compose music though makes me feel like a metal spring is being pushed down in my stomach however!


On June 9th contemporary pianist James Heather releases “Modulations: EP 1” via the Ninja Tune imprint Ahead Of Our Time, which is Coldcut’s re-launched playground for free expression and experimentation.

These sparse pieces ebb and flow, slowly enveloping the listener in a subtly subliminal fashion. Heather’s minimalist approach allows the instrument’s rhythmic, tonal and melodic capability to take centre stage, offering an intimate encounter with the piano and its player. “Modulations: EP 1” is the first in a series of EPs that showcase a versatile handling of assorted emotions and styles.

The seven tracks are drawn from Heather’s large bank of self-penned music, which were written and recorded at different times and in various headspaces. ‘EP 1’ will be followed by an album in the summer, which represents a more unified body of conceptual work

Further information 

James Heather is one of the new school set of ‘post classical’ artists flourishing in the wake of the long, steady but recently accelerated success of figureheads like Max Richter, Ben Lukas Boyson and Jóhann Johannsson, and the wider public’s overdue but now burgeoning relationship with this varied genre.

The Ecstasy…….and the ecstasy. Peter Donohoe’s Scriabin marathon at Milton Court

Is it Chopin? Or Liszt? Or maybe Brahms? To the ingenue listener, Scriabin’s first piano sonata suggests all of these composers – Chopin’s long-spun lyricism, Liszt’s sweeping romanticism, Brahms’ plangent, orchestral textures, or maybe even Rachmaninov on a fantasy-frolic. But as Alexander Scriabin’s great friend, Leonid Sabaneyev said “he is not like Chopin. He is like Scriabin“.

Scriabin inhabits a distinctive, personal soundworld which is hard to define. It is the music of excess, ecstasy, tumult and passion. It is excessive, overripe, decadent, heavily perfumed, languorous and frenzied, lacking in structure and sometimes downright bizarre. The music of extremes, it is “hyper everything”, and as such it defies description or categorization. Its language is complex, often atonal and frequently almost impenetrable. For some listeners, and artists too, it is this “over-the-top-ness” that is off-putting; for others, myself included, it is this sense of excess and rapture that is so compelling. His personal life and outlook mirrored the excesses of his music: he was dissolute, he could be outrageous, he had high-falutin’ ideas of his own self-worth, and he believed music should be intimately connected to all of human experience. Perhaps this explains the breathless sensuality, the roaring passion and mystic spirituality of his music. All of human life is here, in all its ecstasy.

Scriabin was also a synaesthete, as I am, and it was his synaesthesia which initially drew me to his music.

…..he wrote and spoke of the colours of his music, of the constantly changing shapes that chords and rhythms and melodies could summon up, almost like a spiritualist at a séance. His scores bristle with detailed and evocative markings designed to help the performers imagine what the listeners see and feel.

– Gerard McBurney

The ten piano sonatas chart the course of Scriabin’s musical development more faithfully than any of his other music. The last sonatas hint at where his music was heading and offer a captivating glimpse into his adventures in atonality, while the early ones demonstrate his forays into late-nineteenth-century romanticism, the music of his compatriot Rachmaninov.

In presenting Scriabin’s ten piano sonatas in a single concert, British pianist Peter Donohoe amply demonstrated the variety of Scriabin’s writing for the piano – its rich textures, trembling filigree gestures, mystic perfumed harmonies, and ferocious virtuosity (Scriabin was a fine pianist himself). From the first youthful sonata, written a year after Scriabin left the Moscow Conservatoire and at a time when he was raging against a self-inflicted injury to his right hand, to the incense-laden mysticism of the ninth, the infamous “Black Mass”, Peter Donohoe plunged into the programme with relish. Never mind that there were still nine sonatas to go, the first was played with pulsating power and energy.

The programme was not presented entirely chronologically, and the middle section of the concert featured sonatas six, seven and eight, played in a single sequence without applause (as requested by the performer). At this point, one simply submitted to the music, to be drenched in myriad sounds and textures. Here Scriabin’s kaleidoscopic tonal palette, filigree figurations, perfumed sonorites and complex rhythms were magically brought to life by a pianist who totally “gets” this music. Hauntingly-lit piquant harmonies, ethereal accompaniments, jazz idioms, Peter Donohoe brought muscularity and featherlight delicacy to this ecstatic music.

The music was interspersed with engaging readings by Gerard McBurney, which illuminated the music and the man. These were accompanied by projections behind the piano, mostly grainy photographs of the composer and his friends, or abstract images which were supposed to suggest a synaesthete’s response to the music. For this synaesthete, it was rather awkward – and I suspect it may have been for Scriabin too: for him key of F was associated with deep red, while for me it is mauve, yet we were treated to blue during the first sonata (in F minor).

I was disappointed not to be able to stay for the final segment of the concert, but I have Peter’s recording of the complete Scriabin Piano Sonatas to enable me to complete this magnificent journey.

Meet the Artist……Stephen Upshaw

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

Growing up, I was often the slightly withdrawn aesthete picking up beautifully coloured leaves on the football pitch rather than playing the game, so in a way I think I was just waiting to find the right creative outlet. The moment came when, aged 10, I decided to play the viola in my school orchestra. It became clear immediately that I had found the medium and instrument that sparked my imagination. Unusually, I never played the violin or indeed any other instrument before the viola – my first read notes of music were in the dreaded alto clef! It seemed that EVERYONE else wanted to play the violin, and my lanky limbs and desire to be different made the sultry viola a natural choice. My parents are not musicians but are great appreciators of music of all styles and so I always loved listening to (and dancing around to) music from an early age so was thrilled to finally be able to make it myself.

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

Throughout my musical development I have had a number of inspiring teachers and mentors. I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, home of Marilyn Seelman, violist and pedagogue extraordinaire, and she completely changed the course of my musical life (and the flexibility of my bow hold), seeing a future brighter and bigger than I had ever envisioned for myself. I then went on to the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston where Carol Rodland taught me all about co-ordination, tension-free playing and musical abandon, Martha Katz guided me in the great art of chamber music playing and how to search for the perfect and most creative sound at any given moment, and Katarina Miljkovic opened my ears to and sparked my passion for the vast array of music written since 1950. I then finished my studies in London with the great David Takeno whose irrepressible enthusiasm about music and unbelievable work ethic continue to be a daily inspiration.

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

Confidently forging my own musical path, trusting my instincts and not being afraid to take musical and career-related risks.

You’ve recently joined the board of The Riot Ensemble, tell us about your work with them?

The Riot Ensemble is a wonderful group of virtuoso musicians from across Europe who I was excited to discover upon my arrival to London. Their focus on the newest and most exciting music from across the globe was an immediate draw and after playing a few projects with them over the years, I was thrilled to be invited to join as an artistic board member and regular player. We produce and commission new work across the UK and abroad from a diverse selection of composers and aim to present a wide array of musical styles in contexts both traditional an unusual. We’ve just selected 7 composers from our 279 Call for Scores applications and are always on the lookout for new and interesting compositional voices – it’s always so inspiring to see the wonderfully wide range of work that’s being created!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I particularly relate to anything which showcases the extreme, beautiful and huge emotional/ sonic range of the viola.

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

Often these choices are made based on a number of logistical factors such as commission schedules, artist availability, etc., but one strategy I love to employ is to construct a programme around a single work that is particularly special to me. For example, the recital I have coming up in June, centred around Debussy’s Sonata for flute, viola and harp (with the wonderful Gabriella Dall’Olio and Anna Noakes). The Debussy has long been one of my favourite pieces of music and I’m particularly interested in placing canonical works of the past in dialogue with music of our time, in this case Saariaho’s stunning ‘Vent Nocturne’ for solo viola and electronics, Garth Knox’s duos with viola powerhouse and fellow Atlantan Jennifer Stumm and a new work for solo viola and sampled sounds by a student composer from Trinity Laban.

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

I’ve played in a wide variety of venues in recent years, from celebrated concert halls to clubs, basements and living rooms, and it would be hard to pick a favourite. Generally, I love playing anywhere with an excited and attentive audience. In terms of enthusiasm and energy, I remember being blown away by the audiences in Japan and Korea and for full houses of seasoned concert goers up for the most challenging of new music night after night, Vienna’s Konzerthaus.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To perform: I love the quicksilver energy, vitality and youthful fearlessness of Mendelssohn’s chamber music, the beauty and power of Jonathan Harvey’s ensemble works and the primal pyrotechnics of Luciano Berio’s viola music (I’m looking at you, Sequenza!).

To listen to: Beethoven symphonies and violin concerto, Brahms chamber music (early Cleveland Quartet recordings particularly), Mozart Requiem

Who are your favourite musicians?

Gidon Kremer, Kim Kashkashian, Joseph Szigeti, Helmut Lachenmann, Whitney Houston, Little Dragon, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter

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

Try to understand why you are making music, what you want to say in your interpretations and to whom you want to say it. Without getting too fluffy, I really do think it’s also important to always remember what a privilege it is to make art professionally and to never take it for granted – the world needs more gratitude and we can start with being grateful for the enlightening task we as musicians have been set!

Stephen Upshaw performs a recital with Trinity Laban students and staff at St Alfege Church in Greenwich on 8 June – more information here

Since making his concerto debut at 17, violist Stephen Upshaw has played in prestigious halls (Carnegie Hall, Barbican, Wigmore Hall, Vienna’s Konzerthaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw…) and festivals (Lucerne, Salzburg, Huddersfield, City of London, Aix-en-Provence…) around the world. A recognized interpreter of contemporary music, he has worked regularly with ensembles such as Klangforum Wien and Ensemble Modern, collaborating with composers such as Heinz Holliger, Julian Anderson, John Adams, Helmut Lachenmann and Michael Finnissy, who recently wrote a new solo piece for Stephen.

Stephen has a strong interest in synthesizing music with other fields and has helped realize collaborative projects with the Boston Architectural College, Transport Theatre Company, Hofesh Shechter Company, Rambert Dance Company and Parasol Unit Art Space. He is also the founder and Artistic Director of Sounding Motion, a company combining contemporary music and dance.

He holds a BMus(Hon) from the New England Conservatory of Music (Boston) and completed his Postgraduate studies in the class of David Takeno at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In 2016 he was awarded the Richard Carne Fellowship for solo artists at Trinity Laban.


English National Opera announces 2017/18 season

 ENO’s 2017/18 season features four new productions and five revivals at the London Coliseum, supported by a number of projects in other venues

Daniel Kramer directs his first opera as ENO Artistic Director, a new production of La traviata starring Claudia Boyle in her role debut as Violetta

Martyn Brabbins begins his first full season as ENO Music Director, conducting performances of Marnie and The Marriage of Figaro

ENO presents the world premiere of Nico Muhly’s latest opera, Marnie, directed by Michael Mayer and conducted by Martyn Brabbins

A new production of Verdi’s Aida opens the 17/18 season, conducted by Keri-Lynn Wilson. After sell-out performances of his Olivier Award-winning Akhnaten, Phelim McDermott returns to direct

Cal McCrystal directs a new production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, starring ENO Harewood Artist Samantha Price in the title role alongside ENO favourites Andrew Shore and Yvonne Howard

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and ENO present a new production of The Turn of the Screw, directed by multiple Olivier Award-winner and Artistic Director of the Open Air Theatre, Timothy Sheader. ENO Mackerras Fellow Toby Purser conducts

Revivals of audience favourites include Jonathan Miller’s The Barber of Seville, Richard Jones’s Rodelinda, Phelim McDermott’s Satyagraha, Robert Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Fiona Shaw’s The Marriage of Figaro

A raft of exciting British conductors new to ENO includes Leo McFall, Alexander Soddy and Hilary Griffiths. Keri-Lynn Wilson and Karen Kamensek return after acclaimed debuts in the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons respectively

Over 93% of cast and conductors in the 2017/18 season are British born, trained or resident. Rodelinda, Iolanthe and Satyagraha all feature casts that are entirely British born, trained or resident

More than 15 principal roles across the 17/18 season will be taken by current or former ENO Harewood Artists.

Over 39,500 tickets are available for £20 or less across the 17/18 season (500 for every performance)

ENO 2018/19

In November and December 2018 ENO will honour the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War with a moving and contemplative interpretation of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem. Directed by Daniel Kramer and conducted by Martyn Brabbins, ENO’s award-winning Chorus will be at the dramatic and musical heart of these performances of Britten’s masterpiece. The exceptional team of soloists comprise soprano Emma Bell, tenor David Butt Philip and baritone Roderick Williams.

Daniel Kramer and Martyn Brabbins will work together again for the final production of the 2018/19 season. ENO and Opera North will co-produce the world premiere of composer Iain Bell’s fourth opera, Jack the Ripper, with Rupert Charlesworth in the title role. A sympathetic exploration of womanhood in London’s East End, the central roles will be created by some of the UK’s finest singers including Josephine Barstow, Lesley Garrett, Susan Bullock, Janis Kelly and Marie McLaughlin.

(Source: ENO press release)

Let there be Love (Songs)


Love, in its infinite variety, was in the air at Hoxton Hall on Wednesday evening for a concert of newly-written love songs for solo piano, performed by British pianist William Howard. The event was the first of three marking the culmination of William’s Love Song Project, which began with the release of William’s album of romantic songs without words, Sixteen Love Songs, in June 2016. Having commissioned and performed music by living composers throughout his career, William wanted to explore the possibility of creating a contemporary version of his Sixteen Love Songs, modern songs without words on the theme of love which would connect to the composers featured on the Sixteen Love Songs disc. From an idea discussed while hill-walking with composer Piers Hellawell, the Love Song Project came to be and was met with great enthusiasm by the composers whom William initially approached.  Alongside the commissioned pieces by leading British composers including Robert Saxton, Judith Weir, Bernard Hughes, Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Howard Skempton, William launched a composing competition which yielded 526 entries, of which we heard the first, second and third prize winners in the under 25 and over 25 categories.

The subject of love is, of course, the major preoccupation of pop songs and composers of the Romantic period, but has rather fallen out of favour amongst modern and contemporary composers whose focus seems to be more abstract or concerned with the big issues of the day such as climate change or political upheaval. In his introductory talk, William explained that this  “very indulgent” project had revealed a great variety of compositional languages, imagination, moods and character. Many of the works are very meaningful, or highly personal, are easy to relate to and travel far beyond the confines of the strictly defined genre of “classical music”. What the works share is their brevity, and “an overwhelming tenderness for the piano” (Piers Hellawell), and reveal the infinite lyricism and resonance of the piano.

Aside from the championing of contemporary composers, the project has produced a wonderful body of new repertoire for solo piano to suit all tastes.

The audience was invited to give feedback and select favourites from the programme of 12 pieces, but it would be hard to choose one stand-out piece from such a broad range of very fine music. The winning competition entries had clearly been selected with thought, the judges careful to avoid imposing their own stylistic agenda on the pieces, and these were interleaved with commissioned works to create a programme of great charm and variety. The works reflected the myriad facets of love – from tender pieces written for babies or children (‘Camille’ by Joby Talbot, ‘Daniel Josiah is Sleeping’ by Simon Mawhinney) or a partner (‘For Teresa’ by Robert Saxton, which quotes Beethoven’s ‘Fur Elise’, another love song for piano, and is redolent of Schumann’s heartfelt outpourings to Clara in its melodic lines and rich textures). Other works focussed on more abstract aspects of love, or love other than the human kind (‘Arbophillia’ (love of trees) by Samuel Cho Lik Heng, third prize winner in the under 25 category). The programme ended with Cheryl Frances-Hoad’s ‘Love Song for Dusty’, which pays homage to both Dusty Springfield (“a temporary obsession of mine when I discovered that other types of music existed other than ‘Classical’“) in its song structures (verses, choruses, bridges) and pop-infused harmonies, and also to the nineteenth century composers of sweepingly romantic piano solos and songs without words such as Mendelssohn and Liszt. It had a wonderful warmth suffused with wit and humour. William’s sensitive, graceful playing brought to the fore the individual characters of each piece, not an easy task when one is moving between very short pieces of contrasting mood and style.

This was a really delightful evening, made more so by the number of friends and supporters in the audience who together created a very friendly and convivial atmosphere: it felt like a concert for friends and amongst friends – the best kind of music making – and pianists can look forward to the opportunity to explore some wonderful new repertoire.

The Love Song Project concerts continues at Leighton House Museum and Cheltenham International Music Festival in May and June, and include music by Judith Weir, Howard Skempton and Nico Muhly. Details here

Frances Wilson blogs on pianism, classical music and culture