I can think of few better ways to spend a Monday lunchtime than enjoying piano music in a beautiful setting such as the Wren church of St James’s, Piccadilly. It was doubly pleasing to escape the cold October rain on this particular Monday.

St James’s Piccadilly hosts regular lunchtime recitals, mostly featuring up-and-coming and emerging artists. There is no entrance charge, though audience members are invited to make a donation afterwards to enable the church to continue to host these concerts.

A multi-award winning graduate of the Royal College of Music, pianist Amit Yahav is now pursuing a career as a performing artist as well as undertaking doctoral studies into the music of Chopin, at the RCM. He has received particular praise for his performances of Mozart, Chopin, Schumann and Liszt.

Amit opened his recital with Bach’s Partita No. 2 in C minor BWV 826. The Partitas were the last set of keyboard works Bach composed, and are the most technically demanding of all his keyboard suites. They were originally published separately, and later collected into a single volume, known as the Clavier-Übung I (Keyboard Practice), the title suggesting that Bach regarded these as technical works for rather than music for performance. In fact, like the French and English Suites, the Partitas are extremely satisfying, enjoyable and varied works, for both performer and listener.

The C minor Partita opens with grand orchestral statements before moving into more fluid territory, to which Amit brought great clarity of articulation, despite the rather echoey acoustic in the church, and the large voice of the Fazioli grand piano. The subsequent movements were shapely, Amit always sensitive to the melodic lines and “voices” so crucial to Bach’s music. The Courante, Rondeaux and Capriccio were sprightly, imbued with wit, despite the minor key.

The Schumann Humoresque Opus 20 might seem a strange pairing with Bach’s mannered arabesques, but in fact both pieces worked well together as a programme. The Humoresque shares a number of features with the Partita, most notably its changes of mood and tempo through the individual movements. The work consists of seven movements, to be played attaca one after another. Amit was adept at neatly capturing the mercurial wit and humour of Schumann’s writing, highlighting Schumann’s dual musical personalities: episodes of warm lyricism and emotional depth were contrasted with masterly double-octave passages, nimble tempos, and full-toned fortissimos. This was an extremely enjoyable concert, the music performed with finesse, sensitivity, and obvious commitment by this young artist.

Details of future performances by Amit Yahav can be found on his website

Meet the Artist….,.Amit Yahav

“Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love”

The inspiring and moving story of the oldest living Holocaust survivor and concert pianist Alice Herz-Sommer.

Now 109 and living in a tiny flat in London, Alice still plays the piano for several hours every day, practicing her beloved Bach and Beethoven. Once a renowned and celebrated concert pianist who performed to enthusiastic audiences around central Europe, Alice was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, where, like thousands of others, she endured unspeakable hardships. Yet it was music that enabled her to look beyond the horrors of day-to-day life in the camp. She played more than 100 concerts inside the camp, and still talks with great passion about the experience.

Allice’s extraordinary story has now been made into a full-length documentary by Oscar®-winning filmmaker Malcolm Clarke

Full details about Alice and the film about her life here

 

(©2014 Amit Yahav)

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

There was a piano in the house ever since before I was born. It was my mother’s; she had played the piano as a young girl, and still plays the piano as a hobby occasionally today. It was a brown upright piano, which her grandfather had purchased for her. I have loved music for as long as I have memories, and have always enjoyed playing the piano. When I was slightly older and more advanced, my teacher at the time, Oscar Cano, explained to my parents that I needed a better instrument in order to make further progress. It was around the times that my parents bought a grand piano that they were able to afford, and I started going to watch concerts at the Concertgebouw (I grew up in Amsterdam) that I remember thinking, I want to be on that stage.

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

The greatest influences on my playing have been three of my teachers: in no particular order, the late Yonty Solomon, Oscar Cano, Mikhail Kazakevich and Niel Immelman. Most of what I know about playing the piano I learnt from these four great pianists.

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

The music profession is one that requires a lot of persistence, and a great deal of determination. From performing and recording to teaching, almost everything in music is a challenge. For me it has always been a question of finding a new approach to learning a passage, or to explaining something to a student, etc.

The fact that classical music is being somewhat pushed aside in favour of other forms of music means that we keep being challenged to keep this century-old tradition alive, and to keep it relevant.

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

In June 2012, I played my Artist Diploma recital at the Royal College of Music. The programme included two Beethoven sonatas (“Moonlight” and “Appassionata”), as well as the Liszt Dante Sonata and Chopin’s G Minor Ballade. This mammoth programme, without a break, was a performance of which I was very proud.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Every performance venue is different. I very much enjoyed playing in the Kleine Zaal of Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, the the Felicja Blumental Hall in Tel Aviv, and in the Purcell Room in London. I am generally more preoccupied with the instrument than with the hall. I love playing in locations that are more intimate, because I feel that I can then really communicate with everyone in the audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

This is difficult. There are so many! I really enjoy playing Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, the Liszt Sonata, Beethoven’s “Appassionata” and his Fourth Concerto, so many things by Chopin, Saint-Saëns’s G Minor Concerto… Like I said, there are so many!

Who are your favourite musicians?

I love listening to Radu Lupu and Grigory Sokolov playing live. Of those pianists who are no longer alive, I really love many of Arrau’s recordings, as well as those of

Gilels’s and Richter’s. One of the pianists whose recordings I really admire is Julius Katchen. For some unknown reason, despite being quite a well-known name during his life, he seems to have been somewhat forgotten of late.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I remember watching the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under Zubin Mehta at the BBC Proms. It was a dreadful experience, in a way, because people with political affiliations made great efforts to try and stop the concert and interrupt it in the middle. The orchestra, however, played all the way to the end. For me, it was a sort of affirmation of the power of music, and how it is above political divisions.

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

I think that good practice habits are crucial. Learning how to practise efficiently can dramatically reduce the amount of time one needs to spend practising a given passage. This has two important implications. Firstly, it allows one to learn a greater amount of repertoire, and to learn works quickly. I had to learn Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto in 4 weeks once. Secondly, the risk of repetitive strain injuries is reduced if one doesn’t need to spend 8 hours a day practising.

What are you working on at the moment?

Bach – C Minor Partita

Chopin – Polonaises op. 26, Concerto in F Minor op.21

Liszt – Transcendental Etude in F Minor (no. 10)

What do you enjoy doing most?

I love it when I get the time and the chance to learn something new. Preparing a new work for performance or recording is, for me, the ultimate journey of discovery.

Interview date October 2013

Amit Yahav’s debut CD of works by Chopin, including the Ballades, is available now. Further details here

Recipient of numerous international scholarships and awards, Amit Yahav is a graduate of the Royal College of Music with distinction. Following his distinction on the Master of Music course, he was invited to participate in the RCM’s exclusive Artist Diploma programme under the tutelage of Prof. Niel Immelman and Prof. Vanessa Latarche, from which he also graduated with distinction. Previously, he had studied in London with the legendary Prof. Yonty Solomon and Prof. Mikhail Kazakevich, and in Amsterdam with Oscar Cano and Marjès Benoist.

Amit Yahav’s full biography

www.amityahav.com

I meet many piano teachers, at courses, workshops and masterclasses. It is always good to meet other piano teachers, to exchange ideas and discuss aspects of our work. Many of the teachers whom I meet are also performing musicians, professional or otherwise, and many regard performing as a necessary, indeed crucial, part of the job as a teacher.

I also meet many teachers who do not perform, for one reason or another. Some cite lack of time, others anxiety or lack of confidence. I actually met one teacher who claimed she was “too afraid” to perform for her students in case she made a mistake.

As teachers, performing is, in my opinion, a necessary part of the job. An exam is a performance, and we need to be able to guide and advise our students on how to present themselves in a “performance situation” (exam, festival, competition, audition), and to prepare them physically and emotionally for the experience. A whole new and different range of skills are required as a performer, and it is important to stress to students the difference between practising and performing. We also need to be able to offer support for issues such as nerves and performance anxiety, and to offer coping strategies to counteract the negative thoughts and feelings that can arise from anxiety. How can you train others to perform if you have never done it yourself?

A successful performance demonstrates that you have practised correctly, deeply and thoughtfully, instead of simply note-bashing. Preparing music for performance teaches us how to complete a real task and to understand what is meant by “music making”. It encourages us to “play through”, glossing over errors rather than being thrown off course by them, and eradicates “stop-start” playing which prevents proper flow. You never really demonstrate your technique properly until you can demonstrate it in a performance. Performing also teaches us how to communicate a sense of the music, to “tell the story”, and to understand what the composer is trying to say. It adds to our credibility and artistic integrity as musicians. And if you haven’t performed a piece, how can you say it is truly “finished”?

I always perform in my student concerts, not to show off, but to demonstrate to my students (and their parents, who pay my bills!) that I can actually do it, that I too am continuing my piano studies by preparing repertoire for performance, and that I have managed my performance anxiety properly. I also feel that by performing with my students, we transform our concerts into a shared music-making experience.

I hope that by hearing and watching me playing, my students can better grasp aspects of technique or interpretation we might have discussed in lessons, as well as enjoying the sheer pleasure of listening to piano music, and perhaps drawing inspiration from it. I also get ideas when I am performing which inform my teaching.

For the teacher who is nervous about performing, one can start in a very low-key way by hosting an informal concert at home, or by joining a piano group, which provides a supportive and friendly environment where people can perform for one another. Choose repertoire with which you feel comfortable, and practise performing it a few times (at least three) to friends, family and pets before putting it before an audience. I guarantee your students will be dead impressed by anything you can play as a teacher!

Resources

Music from the Inside Out by Charlotte Tomlinson. A clear and well-written book on coping with performance anxiety, with tried and trusted techniques for dealing with nerves and improving self-confidence.

All 32 Piano Sonatas in a day? Read on……

Celebrated pianist Julian Jacobson, acclaimed for the vitality, colour and insight he brings to his performances, celebrates the 10th anniversary of his first all-Beethoven charity piano marathon by staging this amazing event once more. The event will run from 9.15am-10pm on 15th October 2013 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, with the aim of raising money for WaterAid and St Martin-in-the-Fields’ The Connection at St Martin’s which gives crisis grants to people in need across the UK.  Donate here.

Julian Jacobson (photo credit: Roger Harris)

Julian will perform all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas from memory in chronological order with the exception of Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’, prefaced by the Sonata in E minor, Op 90, which together will form a special lunchtime concert from 1-2pm within the marathon event itself. Likewise there will be a special ‘Total Beethoven’ concert at 7pm that evening which will conclude the day’s marathon. During this outstanding feat of endurance – undertaken by only two other pianists – he plans to take just 2 longer breaks of 30 minutes each on the day and a few shorter breaks of just 5 minutes each. The event will be live-streamed with a button for people to donate during the webcast.

This will be a very special event indeed. Aside from the sheer Herculean task of learning, absorbing and reproducing all those notes, and sustaining a performance for over twelve hours, to hear Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas in (almost) chronological order offers a far-reaching overview of Beethoven’s musical style, the development of the piano sonata as a genre in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, and a glimpse into the inner workings of Beethoven’s compositional life and personality.

I asked Julian about the special challenges of preparing for such a musical marathon

CEP: How do you prepare, mentally and physically, for such a performance? What are the particular challenges of presenting all 32 Sonatas in one day?

JJ: Just attempt not to drown. An insane project. Go through all the sonatas in decreasing circles (revision over two months, then again over one month, two weeks, one week, three days…..). Try and keep fit, or get a bit fitter.

Admission to the event during the day is free, with a donation. Book tickets for the evening concert ‘Total Beethoven’ (7pm) via the Box Office: 020 7766 1100 or online from the St Martin-in-the-Fields website.

Read Julian Jacobson’s blog about the project

www.julianjacobson.com