Jane Wilkinson

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?

As a child I went to dancing class at a very early age. I would often get picked to sing solos in the annual dancing shows and I discovered that I was a better singer than dancer! So I started singing lessons at the age of nine and never looked back.

Who or what were the most important influences on your singing?

I was always a big musicals fan, and I would go to see West End shows and would be desperate to join in! I also loved Phantom of the Opera. To play Christine would have been a dream! Consequently, many years later, I auditioned for the role and was told I was too tall!

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

One of the biggest challenges for a singer is that you have to wait for your voice to mature and as an impatient teenager that can be very frustrating. There is no rushing nature but at the same time you seem to be wishing your years away. Not anymore! I still feel as though my voice will improve with age, but I’m no longer in any hurry!

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my concerts in South Africa in 2011. I went on a tour for 2 weeks and did 10 concerts in the space of those 2 weeks. I was part of a trio – The Nightingale Trio – which was voice, flute and piano. We flew the flag for English Songs and the audiences loved it. The travelling was amazing and I was so thrilled to just get through the concerts without any sore throats or illnesses.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Generally I love performing in churches and cathedrals. They always have amazing acoustics which are fantastic for the voice. They also have a great sense of stillness about them which is so calming. They are fascinating places full of history and are like little museums of the local area.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One of my favourite pieces to perform is Da Tempeste by Handel from his opera Guilio Cesare. It is like gymnastics for the voice. It’s such a showy piece full of runs and acrobatics. I also love playing around with ornaments. It’s a real chance to stretch the voice to the extreme. Sometimes the ornaments are different every time I perform them. It just depends on the day and I like to keep my accompanist on their toes! I also love the other Cleopatra arias, especially Ah! Mio cor. It’s beautiful in many ways and just shows the versatility of Handel’s compositions. They are a real work out for the voice but so rewarding to sing.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I really admire Renée Fleming. She has such a shimmering voice with so much depth and body to it. She is extremely charismatic when she performs and never fails to deliver. She has had a wonderful career and deserves all of her successes.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I once did a concert in a restaurant and the owner had two big Great Dane dogs. I am not the biggest fan of dogs and so I was very nervous when they lumbered into the room and came to sit at my feet. I couldn’t concentrate on performing for the fear of being licked!

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

My most important bit of advice to aspiring singers would be to enjoy the journey. Training can be frustrating but it’s also a time for experimentation. Use the training years as a time to explore a vast array of repertoire. You will then hopefully find your niche which will eventually allow yourself to carve out a career based upon your area of expertise.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working with a composer called Andrew Keeling on a new album. It has a rocky feel to it which is totally new for me! We are in the middle of recording it and it is all very exciting. Then I’m back to opera with a new production in the Autumn.

What is your most treasured possession?

The article that has been with me throughout my career to date is my black leather music bag. My mum bought me it when I started singing lessons at the age of nine and I still keep music in it. It was my pride and joy!

 

English soprano Jane Wilkinson grew up on the Fylde Coast in Lancashire and began her vocal training with singing teacher Brenda Waddington. After a year studying with Barbara Robotham, she was accepted in 2002 to study at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Glasgow, on the Bachelor of Music course with Helen Lawson. Jane then studied as a post-graduate at the Royal College of Music, London, with Jennifer Smith. Her current teacher is Jane Irwin.

Jane is an experienced performer in all aspects of singing – opera, recitals, concerts, choral singing and competitions. She currently sings and teaches in London.

Jane recently was short listed for the BBC Radio 2 Kiri Te Kanawa Prize. She was lucky enough to sing for Dame Kiri in a masterclass at the Royal college of Music.

www.janewilkinson.co.uk

Peter Donohoe’s Tchaikovsky Competition Diary

It’s thirty years since British pianist Peter Donohoe won joint silver medal at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Hard to believe now that at that time Russia was still the Soviet Union, under the iron rule of an old guard communist leadership, when people’s rights and freedom was severely restricted and when visiting foreigners, such as Peter and his co-competitors, were treated with suspicion and were subjected to close surveillance.

To mark the thirtieth anniversary of his fine achievement, Peter has published his Tchaikovsky Competition diary on his blog. It’s a fascinating document, charting not just the highs and lows and daily anxieties of participating in an international competition, but also an insightful and entertaining glimpse behind the iron curtain. Despite the fact that we know the final outcome, this is a thrilling account.

Download the text here

[Peter Donohoe will feature in a future Meet the Artist interview in August]

 

 

Arvo Pärt

Spiegel in Spiegel has to the best-known of all the music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b.1935). Composed in 1978, just before Pärt left Estonia for Berlin, it was originally written for single piano and violin, though many other versions exist, including for piano and ‘cello, or viola, clarinet, flute, and percussion. An example of minimalist music, it has a meditative and serene simplicity in both its structure and tonalities.

The piece has earned the status of “iconic”, largely due to the fact that it has been much used in film and television soundtracks, as well as in ballet and theatre productions; it is hard to credit now that Pärt’s music was relatively unknown in the west until the 1990s. The work’s recurring motifs – rising crotchet second-inversion broken chords in the right hand of the piano and sustained notes in the violin (or other instrument) which slowly ascend and descend – are instantly recognisable.

In the 1960s, although largely cut off from western contemporary classical music, Pärt experimented with serialism, collage, neo-classicism and aggressive dissonance, styles which cemented his modernist credentials, but set him at odds with the Estonian Soviet authorities. However, he was frustrated with the dry “children’s games” of the avant-garde, and, as a reaction to this and in an attempt to find his own compositional style, he went into a self-imposed creative exile, during which he explored the traditions, both musical and cultural, he was most drawn to: Gregorian chant, harmonic simplicity, and his Russian Orthodox faith. What emerged was a distinctive and unique compositional voice: the music of “little bells”, or “tintinnabuli”, heard for the first time in his piano miniature Für Alina. This piece set the seed from which his most famous music grew, including Spiegel im Spiegel, Fratres, Summa, and Tabula Rosa.

It is easy to dismiss Pärt’s music as simplistic, sentimental and clichéd “holy minimalism”, but the music’s power lies in both its absolute simplicity and the austere rigour applied to its construction. And here Pärt was harking back to his adventures in serialism, devising strict rules to control how the harmonic voices move within the music. As a result, his music sounds both ancient and avant-garde, while the new tonalities of the “little bells” and the simple harmonic progressions give the music a spare, profound and meditative expressivity.

The German title Spiegel im Spiegel means both “mirror in the mirror” as well as “mirrors in the mirror”, referring to the infinity of images produced by parallel plane mirrors. In the music, this mirroring is achieved through the fragments in the piano, which are endlessly repeated with small variations, as if reflected back and forth. These repeating fragments also invoke, in tintinnabuli style, the twilight first movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 27 no. 2, the ‘Moonlight’, with its peaceful recurring triplets. The piano part also reaffirms the melody notes of the violin line with parallel thirds and octaves, and further voices unfold from the core note, A.  F major, the key in which the piece is written, remains the underlying and omnipresent tonality throughout.

The opening measures of Spiegel im Spiegel

The piano part carries the tintinnabular voice with its repeating broken chords and low, sustained Fs in the bass. The texture is coloured throughout by high, bell-like (tintinnabular) recurring sounds in the upper registers. The violin line is based on a slow ascending melodic line, beginning with a G-A two-note scale, which alternately ascends then descends to A by step. With each subsequent ascent and descent, a note is added to the line, a process which could go on indefinitely (the “mirror in mirror” again). It is this continuity and constant inversion of the violin line, combined with the piano, that creates the sense of perfect tranquility. There is no drama or ambiguity here because we know the music will always return to the “home” tonality of A. Rather, the emotional content comes from introspective atmosphere created by the simplicity and pure sonorities of the music.

The composer gives no dynamic or phrase markings: the violin part in particular is curiously blank, and one could play it in a completely “flat” way,  and it would still sound effective. However, the musician has a natural tendency to increase the dynamic level as the music rises. When I was rehearsing this piece with my violinist partner, the first time we had played it together, we both found ourselves adding some dynamic colour and shading to complement the rise and fall of the melodic line. I have also found a tendency, when practising the piano line, to give the tiniest “breath” before the restatement of the opening motif (which recurs, rather like a traditional rondo theme), to indicate that we are returning “home”. The music closes almost exactly as it begins, with the repeated motif in the piano and a sustained A in the violin. A gentle ritardando in the final bar is all that is needed to close this piece.

The notes themselves are not difficult, but it is important to set an appropriate tempo for the music (too slow and it could sound ponderous). Then the main task is to set the mood of reflection, with the notes falling like water dropping into water, and to play the notes “as beautifully as possible” (Tasmin Little, violinist). The music, in effect, plays itself: there is absolutely no need for over-interpretation, and one should simply step back, “have faith” in the music, and the composer’s ability to create a mesmeric tranquility.

The piece featured in an episode of Radio 4’s series ‘Soul Music’, in which people discuss the importance and impact of a certain piece of music on their lives. Listen to the programme here

Clara Rodriguez

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I was brought up by a musical mother who studied the piano with Moisés Moleiro, and sang in the choir in the premiere of the ‘Cantata Criolla’ by Antonio Estévez. Unfortunately she fell ill very young and had to abandon music. When I was 7 I was accepted as a student at the Conservatorio Juan José Landaeta in Caracas where I had the most wonderful and generous teachers. My piano teacher was Guiomar Narváez, strict and very artistic, with a great passion for the classical composers and Latin American music. At 16 I won a scholarship to come to the Royal College of Music in London, where I was assigned to Phyllis Sellick as the teacher who would carry on developing what Mrs. Barbara Boissard and Michael Gough Matthews saw in my style of playing when they heard me in the audition in Caracas. For that I am very grateful: Phyllis was an extraordinary human being who taught me the art of piano playing.

Who or what were the greatest influences on your playing?

My main teachers obviously, including Polish pianist Regina Smenzianka and Paul Badura-Skoda, and also the many concerts I went to as a child growing up in Caracas. I remember listening to Martha Argerich, Claudio Arrau, George Demus, Willhem Kempf, Yoyoma, Alicia De La Rocha, and conductors such as Charles Dutoit, Cuban Nicolás Guillén reciting his poetry, popular singers like Mercedes Sosa, the cinema of Carlos Saura, Stanley Kubrik, Herzog, Chaplin….all these wonderful true artists, giving us the best of their knowledge and gigantic talents, seeing, listening and receiving all the universal and most humane expression and energy.

Then in London I have enjoyed many concerts of classical music and jazz, plus all my friends who also play and are now the great musicians of our time.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career?

Every concert you play, every CD you make is a challenge. To teach very gifted children is also a challenge. I think we face climbing Everest nearly every day! Nothing is easy. To play phrases in the most clear of ways, respecting the intentions of the composer is a challenge. When you decide that you are a pianist you understand that the challenge is what motives you, that’s what takes you out of bed.

A big challenge we face today is that classical music has been marginalised by the media, and by the idea that fashion, cookery and frivolous cinema or football stars are more important than profound thought, creativity and art. We have to keep going, as it is now up to us to make sure that this precious legacy we have acquired through centuries survives. It is a very hard and heavy burden!

Which CD in your discography are you most proud of?

Although I have recorded about 9 hours of music from Venezuela, by Venezuelan composers, I consider them all to be very different from each other. I have also recorded one CD of music by Chopin and another one by Ernesto Lecuona, which will come out in the autumn. I am sensitive to the qualities of the piano, acoustics and sound engineer. I have produced most of my CDs and am in general satisfied with the results; perhaps sometimes I am over critical and cannot bear listening to something that is too slow (I can think of one piece that I let myself be influenced by the engineer and now I do not agree with the tempo…). I think each CD is a world of its own: they are “concepts” and represent moments of our lives.

Critics are not familiar with Venezuelan music and a few years ago those CDs represented a kind of “political statement”. What’s good now is that those critics are more receptive, less “Eurocentric” and are beginning to understand (after 500 years) that Latin America is part of western culture.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I love the Purcell Room, the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Invalides in Paris, and the Teatro Teresa Carreño and Municipal in Caracas. Any hall with a decent piano and lovely audience will be always great!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love every piece I play, and with each of them there really is a love affair. From Bach, Scarlatti, Mateo Albéniz, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, to Chopin, Liszt, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, Scriabin…the list is very long. Equally I have to constantly listen to classical music, salsa and Latin American popular music.

Who are your favourite musicians?

All the musicians that show passion, love, understanding, involvement, imagination… There are millions of fantastic musicians in our planet.

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

I think I have answered this above, but there is a concept I have discovered recently and it is to do with sharing with the young one’s knowledge, experiences and very importantly giving these young, very talented musicians the opportunities to perform and express their ideas and art. I think experienced, successful musicians should open the path for the young. Not many people in the “business” will do it for them now days.

What are you working on at the moment?

Beethoven ‘Emperor’ Concerto, Mozart Sonatas, Villa-Lobos, Chopin, Piazzolla, exploring Colombian music…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness can be found anywhere, at any time, the thing is to be aware of this and enjoy it while it lasts.

‘Joropo’ by Moisés Moleiro

Caracas-born pianist, Clara Rodriguez studied with Phyllis Sellick after winning a scholarship from the Venezuelan Arts Council to train in London at the Royal College of Music. There she was the recipient of numerous prizes and performed as a soloist with the RCM orchestras including De Falla’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain and the Ravel Concerto in G at St. John’s Smith Square.

In Caracas she made her debut playing Mozart’s last piano concerto with the Simón Bolívar Orchestra under the baton of José Antonio Abreu at the age of sixteen; from then on Clara Rodriguez’s career as a concert pianist has taken her to perform all over the world. Her large and interesting repertoire covers works of the best known Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern composers; she has also intensely promoted the music of the Latin American continent.

Her discography includes CDs of the piano music of the Venezuelan composers Moisés Moleiro, Federico Ruiz and Teresa Carreño; her catalogue also includes Popular Venezuelan Music Vol. 1; El Cuarteto con Clara Rodríguez en vivo as well as the piano works by the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona and of Frederic Chopin late works.

Her recordings are regularly played on BBC Radio3, Classic FM, Radio Nacional de Venezuela, Radio France International, and networks from Argentina to the USA, Australia and China.

Clara Rodriguez teaches piano at the Junior Department of The Royal College of Music in London.

Clara’s latest recording, the piano music of Frederico Ruiz is available now on the Nimbus label. More information here

Clara’s blog

Updated: 2 June 2014. Today I received an email from the UK agent for Fazioli Pianos in response to this post. He took issue with a number of points and asked me to correct some factual errors and remove some phrases which were deemed “offensive”. For the sake of clarification, his comments are highlighted in red.

“The piano was parked across the room like a sleek, black limousine. It occupied nearly a third of the room and gleamed expensively in the light of the chandeliers. It was a Fazioli, the most expensive piano in the world, beautifully, exquisitely crafted, a triumph of design and modern piano technology. He eyed it suspiciously, and the vast, shining minotaur glared back at him, challenging him: “Tocchilo se osate. Touch me, if you dare”, it seemed to say. He had never played a Fazioli before; indeed, had never even been close to one, and, until now, never had any inclination to try one. Its reputation went before it: some people raved about its crystal clear tone quality, that once played, one would never want another piano, ever…. Others that it was just over-engineered Italian histrionics; nothing more than a show-piece, an instrument without heritage or integrity. A piano for the Ferrari owner who valued image and exclusivity above ultimate usability……..

……the sound was amazing, flooding the large room with an absolute purity and luminescence he had not encountered before in a piano. A sound of effortless clarity and depth. The treble was brightly translucent, the middle register had a viola-like mellowness, the bass enormous. The further down the register he went, the notes began to blossom, then growl, now swelling, like an organ, the sound rising from the great belly of the instrument and pouring into the elegant music room. The tone was brilliant and rich, right across the entire register, the touch perfectly even, and Stephen realised that he had never before, not even on the most impeccably set up concert Steinway, played an action that had better control. There was no forgiving middle ground in between with this instrument. It would, he knew, be impossible to conceal the slightest unevenness of touch or rhythm. There would be nowhere to hide….”

Like the protagonist of my novel, I’d never played a Fazioli – until now – though I’d heard it in concert, at the Wigmore and the Royal Festival Hall, on both occasions played by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt. And on both occasions, I disliked the piano’s sound. In the relatively intimate setting of the Wigmore Hall, the Fazioli concert grand, which, at just over 3 metres, is even larger than a full-size Steinway Model D, was just too big. Its treble was strident, its bass booming. It dominated the music (Bach and Chopin) more than it should have done. Even in a hall as big as RFH, the voice of the Fazioli was still too big. (A pianist (who likes Fazioli) argued with me that it was not the piano, but the pianist who was responsible for the sound.)

The piano in question was not a 308cm but 278cm. FYI as yet no 308’s have come into the UK

 

The debate continues, and Fazioli, like Marmite, divides opinion. I decided the only way to settle the debate in my own mind was to try a Fazioli myself. As it happens, Jaques Samuels Pianos, on London’s Edgware Road, is an agent for Fazioli in the UK; even better, they have a Fazioli in one of their rehearsal rooms at the moment.

Fazioli is not a long-established piano maker, like Steinway or Bosendorfer. The company was founded in 1981, by Paolo Fazioli, a pianist and engineer, whose aim was to create the most beautiful, perfect and highly-crafted piano possible. The factory is located in the northeast of Italy, in a region famous for its ancient and prestigious tradition in woodworking. The soundboards of Fazioli pianos are made from red spruce from the Val de Fiemme (Antonio Stradivari used the same red spruce to produce his violins). Each Fazioli piano is hand made by a team of workers, and only around 100 pianos are produced each year.

130 are made annually

Paolo Fazioli’s family are furniture makers

Mr Fazioli obtained his doctorate in engineering in 1969. It was never his intention to enter a professional career as a pianist, nor did he do so, piano was always a passion and he achieved his diploma in 1971 two years after his engineering studies had ceased.

But he never lost interest in the piano and became increasingly dissatisfied to find that the pianos he played were not especially well made, neither mechanically nor musically, and he became convinced that he could do better. He consulted experts in acoustics, metal foundry, harmonics and woodworking; he did his research and silenced his detractors, and by 1980 Fazioli and his team had produced their first prototype. He now believes his pianos are the best. His overriding criteria are as follows

  • To produce grand and concert grand pianos exclusively, aiming for the highest quality with no concern for large production
  • Not to imitate any other existing pianos, rather to create an original sound
  • To hand-craft each piano individually using time honored traditional methods combined with the latest technological advances
  • To strive constantly to improve the piano by using cutting edge technology. [source: Wikipedia]

They are certainly the biggest and most expensive on the market today, and the demand for an instrument with greater power and richness to be used in larger concert halls inspired the creation of the F308 model, the longest piano available, of any brand, at 10 feet. Fazioli pianos are endorsed by a number of top international artists, including Stephen Hough, Angela Hewitt and Louis Lortie.

I did not check to see which model was in the rehearsal room at JS Pianos, but it was not a monster, not by any means (I think it was a F183 model). A quick burst of Schubert’s E flat Impromptu confirmed what I’d read about the Fazioli’s action and touch: extremely even across the entire register, if a touch heavy for my liking. It felt “easy” to play, presumably because of the ultra-fine engineering in it, but one had the sense sometimes of playing at one remove from it. Difficult to explain, but my student, who played her exam pieces on it, remarked on this sensation as well. Listening to it, it had an incredibly rich bass, full-bodied and chocolatey. The middle registers were also very pleasing, with a smooth mellowness. But it was the upper register that bothered both of us. As a listener, it was just too bright; even when playing quietly, the sound was too much, and at one point, my student Sarah commented that it actually hurt her ears. (This was my experience when I heard Angela Hewitt play a Fazioli at the Wigmore; interestingly, the two friends who were with me on that occasion, and who are both hard of hearing, commented that the treble was too “strident”, brash even.)

The Rachmaninov G minor Étude-Tableaux was definitely more successful than the Bach D minor Concerto BWV974: the Rachmaninov dwells quite a lot in the lower registers, and the richness of the Fazioli’s bass voice made for a very atmospheric reading. I had to remind myself not to push the treble too much, even in the forte and mezzo-forte passages. The Liszt Sonetto 104 also came across well, again benefitting from the bass richness, but the Mozart Rondo in A minor K511 was less successful (admittedly, I was tired when I came to play it at the end of our session).

I am not sure I would want to own a Fazioli: it seemed almost too perfect for my liking, and so impeccably engineered that it actually came across as rather false. It was almost like the world’s best digital piano, and without a long heritage, like Steinway or Bechstein, it lacks integrity, in my view (maybe after Fazioli has been in production for 100 years, it will have gained that heritage). It’s really beautiful, but it has no soul. You don’t have to work too hard at it, to make it louder, or quieter: because of the way it is set up, it responds instantly to the touch. Strangely, this aspect of it irritated me: I like to feel I am “working” at the sound, but I don’t want a piano that it is just “raw sound”. Despite the hard acoustic of my piano room, even my little Yahama has a sweeter treble than the Fazioli, while my teacher’s Bechstein [actually a Blüthner] has the most mellifluously cantabile treble, a really lovely sound (if a rather floppy touch).

However, I am glad we had the opportunity to play a Fazioli, and it has certainly helped to inform my thoughts about what kind of grand piano I will choose when I come to buy one (hopefully next year).

For the purposes of fairness, I am also publishing the comments made in response to my personal opinion of the Fazioli I played:

Although this is your personal opinion it is far from the norm and as you yourself are not a professional pianist it does seem rather harsh. You may be interested to note that five of the six finalists at this year’s Rubinstein Competition chose Fazioli over Steinway. Four of the six switched to Fazioli after hearing it played by Ms Mazo in the semi-finals, clearly, as professionals, they hold a different view to you and none of  them described the piano as the ‘best digital piano’ (again with hindsight you may find this comment a little aggressive).  Further, at Wigmore Hall on Thursday evening, Francesco Piemontesi, told the Artistic Director John Gilhooly, and myself, that the Fazioli piano he had just performed on was the most beautiful piano he had ever played.

 

Jaques Samuels Pianos

Fazioli Pianoforti

“How do you find the time to do it?”

“What on earth do you to talk about?”

“What’s the point of it?”

Just a handful of comments I receive fairly regularly from those who do not Tweet. Unless you have been dwelling in a cave in Timbuktu, you probably know that Twitter is a social networking platform; a “micro blogging service” which allows individuals and organisations to share comments, news, thoughts, information, links, pictures and more in the form of short bulletins (maximum 140 characters – that’s 140 characters, not 140 words). Twitter was probably made famous by Stephen Fry, who is an active member of the Twitterati, and infamous by various ‘slebs’ (celebrities) who choose to air their dirty laundry in the Twittersphere. For the rest of us, Twitter offers a quick and easy way to connect with other people: it’s like Facebook, only better.

I joined Twitter two years ago, initially to promote my blogs. Then, last spring, I was co-opted to help with the publicity for a series of concerts pianist Peter Donohoe was giving at a small arts venue in north London. And that’s when I learnt the usefulness and power of Twitter.

Twitter is the “postcards in the shop window” of the digital age; but it’s also like a big noisy café or pub, full of friends chatting away, sharing stories, information, thoughts, comments, moving swiftly from one subject to another, while also eavesdropping on lots of other interesting conversations. Every day on Twitter (and yes, I hold my hand up and admit I am on Twitter every day: you only have to look at my Tweet count to see how much I use it, 9460 tweets as of just now – some 175 times more tweets than a friend of mine) I find useful and interesting things to read, gather information, share information, have “a larf” with friends, or simply pass the time of day with like-minded people (that café/pub analogy again). I use Twitter to promote my writing: tick a box on your blogging platform (WordPress, Tumblr etc) and your posts automatically stream to Twitter (and Facebook, and LinkedIn, if you so desire). I use Twitter to share recordings I’ve uploaded to SoundCloud (another social networking platform where people can share music, their own and other people’s), or videos I’ve uploaded or favourited on YouTube. I use Twitter to promote other people’s concerts, events, exhibitions, book signings. I’ve made friends via Twitter – and I even met some of them in person at the Wigmore last winter. Because we had chatted on Twitter, we got all the small talk out of the way before we met, so we could concentrate on the “big talk” (music, books, art, chocolate) while enjoying pre-concert drinks, which was far more interesting! And at a party for Bachtrack reviewers earlier this year, an exchange between myself and another reviewer went something like this:

“Hello @CrossEyedPiano!”

“How nice to meet you, @AltoJane!”

So how do you get the best out of Twitter? Here are my tips for optimal Twitter enjoyment:

  • I only follow people who really interest me (fellow pianists, piano teachers, music journalists, writers, foodies) and who tweet regularly with interesting things to say. I am not keen on users who tweet profanities, slag off other people, or use Twitter as a place to rant.
  • The more you tweet, the more you are likely to be noticed and earn new followers. Dormant Twitterers just aren’t that interesting. Sorry.
  • Try not to go in for too much flagrant self-promotion. I know I am guilty of this, to a degree, but I do try to keep my tweets varied and interesting.
  • Using another user’s Twitter name (with the @ prefix) is called a mention. By doing this you alert other users to that person so they can check out that person’s profile – and maybe follow them!
  • Ask other users to retweet your tweets and watch the results of the “ripple effect” (this is what I did with Peter Donohoe’s concert series).
  • Twitter can react very quickly to certain comments, events, news etc. Take the angry reaction by the Twitterati to comedian Ricky Gervais’s off-colour remarks last year. So be careful what you tweet. No slagging off colleagues, students, etc (except in direct messages between friends!).
  • Remember – unless you direct message (DM) someone, all your tweets are public (hence see above!)
  • I tend to avoid the inane and profane: for this reason I follow neither Stephen Fry nor James Rhodes.
  • “Follow Friday” (#ff) is a Twitter tradition: on Fridays recommend users to others.
  • You can undo a rewtweet and delete one of your own tweets.

Twitter as a promotional tool:

  • Tweet upcoming concert dates (try to include a link for ticketing info etc), appearances, signings, CD releases. But don’t just tweet once two months before the event. Keep up the momentum: you want your concert/exhibition/signing to be at the forefront of people’s minds – and remember, the Twitterati have short memories. Twitter is very “here today gone tomorrow”.
  • Tweet reviews and other press coverage ahead of your event (again, remember to include a link, preferably to one of my reviews!)
  • Retweet any mentions by your agent/manager/PR/concert venue/friendly bloggers/other interested parties
  • If you have samples of your work on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud, share them on Twitter. (I was applauded for my ingenuity in including some links to Dutch composer Jan Vriend’s work on SoundCloud ahead of the premiere of his new work for piano earlier this year. It was a great way to offer a taster of his work ahead of the concerts.)
  • Use the hashtag (#) to facilitate easy searches (I regularly use #piano and #pianoteaching).
  • Enable a Tweet button on your website/blog so that readers can tweet to others.
  • If you’re on tour Tweet some bulletins of what you’re doing/where you’re playing. Pianist Peter Donohoe tweeted rolling updates from the Tchaikovsky competition last summer, which gave a real flavour of the tension and excitement of the event.
  • Don’t tweet “had a dry biscuit and a cup of tea at 11” or “rained again. took dog out”. We only tweet things like that in an entirely tongue-in-cheek way when we’re all enjoying the hashtag “original Twitter”.

Caveat emptor!

Beware spammers and sexbots. At the moment, Twitter seems fairly “clean” and free of spam, but just like anywhere else on the internet, it is liable to spam/inappropriate usage. You can block and report users whose tweets you feel are spam or inappropriate. We’ve all been followed by the sexbots whose tag line says “next summer I am having sex on the moon”, or offered a free iPad2. In many ways, Twitter is self-regulating, so help to keep it clean and enjoyable by reporting users who are there for the wrong reasons.

Just in case he reads this, many thanks to @Mangofantasy, who was my very first follower on Twitter, and who has subsequently become a friend, on Twitter and in Real Life, sharing my love of music, art, literature, blogging, food and more. Also thanks to all those people who retweet my tweets, share my blog posts via Twitter, and generally help to make life on Twitter engaging, amusing and informing.