The HASTINGS INTERNATIONAL PIANO CONCERTO COMPETITION is a prestigious piano contest which takes place annually, and is the “jewel in the crown” of the Hastings Musical Festival, founded in 1908.

Open to pianists of ages 16-30 years, including professionals, this contest, now in its ninth year, showcases some of the most talented young pianists in the world. Chosen semi-finalists will be offered a masterclass (Friday 15th March) with members of the Jury.

FIRST STAGE – Preliminary Round 11th – 13th March

SECOND STAGE – SEMI-FINALS. Thursday 14th March
Six pianists will play their Recitals.

Three semi-finalists will play in a Masterclass at Fairlight Hall – Friday 15th March – 7pm-9pm with members of the Jury

Tickets for the Masterclass are very limited, £12 per person (with wine and snacks). To book a place call Brenda on 01424 430923 or 01424 437357

Three finalists will play their chosen concerti (Saturday 16th March) with The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

Further information and tickets here. Children under 16 can attend for FREE when accompanied by a paying adult.

Hastings Musical Festival

Inspired by Alan Rusbridger’s book Play It Again, I am launching a new series of interviews with adult amateur pianists. The overriding theme of Rusbridger’s book is its celebration of amateur pianism and music making in general, as a convivial social activity and one which can provide ‘therapy’ in our busy lives.

I meet many amateur pianists in the course of my musical life, many of whom play at an advanced, or quasi professional level, but who have chosen to follow a different career path, for whatever reason. All of them express a love for the instrument and its literature, and this is their main motivation for playing the piano.

This series will celebrate the joy of amateur pianism, at whatever level. If you would like to take part in the series, you can either:

Download the Adult amateur pianist questionnaire and answer the questions, or

Write your own text and submit it to me (use the Contact page to get in touch initially)

For an idea of the kind of text I am looking for, please take a look at these interviews from Alan Rusbridger’s website:

Interviews with amateur pianists

Playing at Steinway Hall, May 2012

Toru Takemitsu (source: Wikipedia)

“My music is like a garden – and I am the gardener”

Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996)

It was rather wonderful to wake to the sounds of the music of Toru Takemitsu on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on Friday morning. An unexpected pleasure, as such music is usually reserved for the wilder shores of Radio 3.

Takemitsu was a composer, but he was also a writer on aesthetics and musical theory. His music is delicate and refined, as beautiful as Hokusai print or a carved jade netsuke. Largely self-taught, his music combines elements of Japanese and western philosophy with the subtle manipulation of instrumental and orchestral timbre, using both western and traditional Japanese instruments, and the use of defined silences to create a unique and extraordinary soundworld.

Takemitsu admired Debussy and Messiaen, as is evident in his piano music, and was drawn to composers who were themselves deeply influenced by the musical and philosophical culture of Asia, including John Cage. After my very positive experience with Messiaen for my ATCL Diploma programme, and my love of the piano music of Debussy, the desire to explore the piano music of Takemitsu seemed a natural one.

Takemitsu composed his Rain Tree Sketch II in 1992 in memory of Oliver Messiaen (1908-1992), the French composer who had a strong influence on Takemitsu. The work was composed for a concert “Hommage à Olivier Messiaen” at Les Semaines Musicales Internationales d’Orleans, France, and was premiered by Alain Neveux on 24 October 1992. The name of the work was probably inspired by a quotation from a novel by Kenzaburo Oe about the miraculous rain tree, whose tiny leaves store up moisture and continue to let fall raindrops long after the rain has ceased. The work is also a dreamy meditation on the flow of life, and was the last piano piece Takemitsu wrote (his first Rain Tree Sketch was written in 1982). It is in a clear ABA (ternary) form, with a rhythmic opening which is reprised, in shortened form, after the melodic middle section. Its tonal language is redolent of Debussy and Messiaen, with chords used for colour and timbre rather than strict harmonic progressions, and, like its dedicatee, Takemitsu employs recurring motifs (such as an ascending three-note broken chord figure) and well-placed silences to create a carefully nuanced atmosphere and colouristic shadings. Directions such as “celestially light” and “joyful” contribute to the metaphysical nature of this work.

There are some written in pedal markings, and these should be adhered to as the composer directs. Elsewhere, use of the pedal is at the discretion of the pianist. I tend on the side of restraint and use half or one-third pedal to avoid obscuring the clarity of the chords and melodic figures. Regarding the bars of silence, these should sound expectant and anticipatory, rather than dead; using the pedal to allow sounds to “ring” will help achieve this.

The metronome markings in the piece are somewhat ambiguous. On the dedication page of the score, the duration is given at 5 minutes, but if one adheres to the metronome markings exactly, the piece comes in at around 3 minutes. I have opted for a calm moderato, a sense of the music moving forward, but without pressing ahead. In my Diploma programme, this piece comes between the Bach D minor concerto BWV 974 and Mozart’s Rondo in A minor K511. The contrast is, to me, rather special, and I feel it works well.

While researching the programme notes on this piece for my Diploma, I came across an interesting piece of research in which the author discusses the suggestion of traditional Japanese instruments in this work, and other piano works by Takemitsu, specifically the Taiko drum (the low D pedal point at the opening of page 2), and the long zither koto and the short-necked lute biwa (the ascending arpeggio figure suggests the plucked sound of these instruments). The article contains many interesting thoughts about Takemitsu’s piano music, and is definitely worth exploring further.

As for performances of this work, when I heard Noriko Ogawa perform it at the Wigmore last autumn, I was struck by the incredible soundworld she managed to achieve, producing “droplets” of notes and really evoking the miraculous rain tree (my review here). The recording I have been using for reference in my study of this piece is by Ichiro Nodaira: I particularly like the relaxed tempo of the opening melody.

The pianist Paul Crossley has recorded Takemitsu’s complete piano music, sadly, now out of print, though available via some music streaming services and Spotify.


Further listening:

Rain Tree Sketch


Les yeux clos

Piano Pieces for Children: No. 2. Clouds

The first page of Rain Tree Sketch II (Schott Music)

What is your first memory of the piano?

Playing by ear on an instrument belonging to a neighbour.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

My own teachers.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

E. Marie Oswald (Woking) Michael Matthews, John Barstow, Kendall Taylor (RCM) Paul Badura-Skoda; Vlado Perlemuter, Louis Kentner.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

Experience of the lessons of Louis Kentner and Vlado Perlemuter given to my own pupils at Yehudi Menuhin School. The writing of: Friedrich Wieck, Heinrich Neuhaus, Günter Philipp, Donald Tovey and others.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

Adults understand concepts but they are set in their ways and find it difficult to change habits.

What do you expect from your students?


What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

They are useful focuses and inducements and experiences of performing but should not be ends in themselves.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginning students, and to advanced students?

Rhythm and sound, in both cases.

What do you consider to be the best and worst aspects the job?

Very rewarding to work with dedicated students. Deadly to work to predetermined criteria.

What is your favourite music to teach? To play?

All good music – whatever the piece (if good) that we are working on – that is my favourite.

What are your thoughts on the link between performing and teaching?

When I am working on a performance or doing concerts I have more ideas for teaching. So I try always to be practising something, however busy I get.

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?  Heinrich Neuhaus – huge general culture,  telling comparisons in teaching. Great artistic concept. Alfred Cortot – ditto. Vladimir Sofronitsky – complete unselfish possession by the music. Tatyana Nikolayeva – ditto. Mariya Yudina – ditto.  Edwin Fischer – ditto, plus inspiring poetic writing. Imogen Cooper – singing quality. Mitsuko Uchida – compelling focus and beauty of concept. Evgeny Kissin – perfection of gift and supreme achievement, with effortless physical aspect.  Murray Perahia – focus and concentration. Stephen Kovacevich – ditto. Grigory Sokolov – ditto.


Simon Nicholls studied at the Royal College of Music with John Barstow and Kendall Taylor, winning many awards and prizes, and attended master classes by Paul Badura-Skoda in Germany. For ten years he taught the piano at the Yehudi Menuhin School, working with Louis Kentner and Vlado Perlemuter, and for twenty years was a professor  at the Royal College of Music,  London. He now teaches piano, accompaniment and song interpretation in Birmingham Conservatoire. He has often been a visiting artist at Dartington International Summer School, teaching improvisation, piano and chamber music.

Simon Nicholls has performed frequently at London’s major recital venues, at Snape Maltings and Dartington International Summer School, and toured and broadcast on radio and television in Britain and abroad. He has performed in the United States,  including at New York’s Lincoln Center, and he has also played in the Czech Republic (Prague Spring Festival), Eire, France, Germany, Greece, Holland and India. He has recorded for Chandos Records and Carlton Classics, and written for many musical journals.   Compositions by Simon Nicholls have been published by Faber Music and Bärenreiter.

Simon Nicholls’ interest in the music of Skryabin is long-standing. He has made many research visits to Moscow, and in October 2007 he gave a lecture and masterclass on Scriabin interpretation at the State Memorial Skryabin  Museum, Moscow. He has had articles on Skryabin published in the U.K., America and Russia.