Claudio Monteverdi

The Vespers of the Blessed Virgin – Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Saturday 8th December 2012, Landmark Arts Centre, Teddington

Twickenham Choral Society & Brandenberg Baroque Soloists

Sopranos: Philippa Boyle & Grace Davidson

Tenors: Peter Morton & David Webb

Basses: Lukas Kargl & Charles Rice

Conductor: Christopher Herrick

Twickenham Choral Society, with the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, and six solo singers, gave an enjoyable and very committed performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers to a sold out Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington.

Contrary to popular musical myth, Monteverdi did not write the Vespers especially for St Mark’s in Venice, though they may have been performed there. Nor were they specifically an ‘audition piece’ for the post of maestro di cappella. The work may have been written for wedding festivities in the church of St Andrea, Mantua, for the text contains the sensuous love poetry drawn from the Song of Solomon. The birth of the composer’s daughter, whose namesake was that of the Blessed Virgin, may also have been a motivation for the composition. Whatever the origins of the work’s composition, it is Monteverdi’s first sacred work. Published in Venice in 1610, the work is monumental in scale, requiring a choir large enough to cover up to 10 vocal parts in some movements, and split into separate choirs in others. The choir is also required to accompany several soloists.

Vespers were recited or sung in the evening, and the text of Monteverdi’s vespers adheres to the traditional order of the office of Vespers: it includes recitation of psalms, the singing of the Marian office hymn Ave Maris stella, and culminates in a Magnificat (the Song of Mary). The psalm settings are those used for the feast days of Mary and other female saints. In addition to these standard movements, Monteverdi also included motets for one, two, three and six voices, and an instrumental sonata movement into which the chant Sancta Maria ora pro nobis is skillfully woven. The work has become one of the most popular from this period of late Renaissance/early Baroque music, not least because it combines the profundity of the liturgy with secular music, and presents an array of musical forms – sonata, hymn, motet and psalm – without comprising the scale or cohesiveness of the complete work.

The venue for the concert, The Landmark in Teddington, a deconsecrated church turned arts centre, was perfect for this music in both atmosphere and acoustic, and there were times, particularly in the Concerto: Audi coelum, a tenor duet with “echoes” and choir, during which one of the tenors sang the echoes from the back of the apse, to the accompaniment of theorbo, when we might have been in San Marco, Venice 400 years ago.

The choir were joined by the Brandenberg Baroque Soloists, a new orchestra which plays period instruments, including three sackbuts, chamber organ, Baroque cornetti and theorbo. They provided an authentic accompaniment, underpinning the singing with devices distinct from this period such as ground basses, drones, and some fine ostinato ‘cello lines.

Founded in 1921, Twickenham Choral Society is an amateur vocal ensemble, which draws its membership from a wide area of west London, and has a proud tradition of performing a broad repertoire from every era. They rose to the many challenges of Monteverdi’s music and text (it is isn’t always easy to sing well in Latin) to give a highly committed performance which combined great clarity of diction and attention to detail, dynamic shading and colour, and at times deep emotion and drama. The polyphony and counterpoint were handled with aplomb, allowing us to enjoy the many strands of Monteverdi’s writing, and the choral set pieces were complemented by intimate writing for solo voices, accompanied by a single instrument, such as theorbo or ‘cello, or the choir. The first half closed with a rousing Psalm 147: Lauda Jerusalem, which shone with the celebratory joy implicit in the text.

This was an impressive and meticulously prepared performance, brought together under the skillful baton of conductor Christopher Herrick, who has been working with Twickenham Choral Society since 1974. I look forward to further performances by the society.

For further information about forthcoming concerts, please visit

Brandenberg Baroque Soloists

A retrospective of music I’ve reviewed over the year. 2012 has been one of my busiest years as a concert-goer, not least because of my reviewing job for Bachtrack (since April 2011). This has enabled me to get to many more concerts, and I’ve heard a great range of performers (not just pianists) and repertoire. Where relevant, I’m including a link to my review.


Peter Jablonski at QEH: a bit hit and miss, this one. I felt Jablonski was far more comfortable in the jazz-oriented repertoire (Copland and Gershwin) and Barber’s Op 26 Piano Sonata. But I’m glad I went, because he was a pianist I was curious to hear. Review


Marc-André Hamelin, Wigmore Hall. Hamelin wowed me at the Proms last summer, in a late-night all-Liszt programme, and he did it again with an ambitious, athletic and highly varied programme of music by Haydn, Villa-Lobos, Stockhausen, and more Liszt. Definitely one of the highlights of my concert year. Review

Peter Donohoe, QEH. Peter showed how Debussy should be played in his performance of Estampes, and then went on to demonstrate the invention and intellect of Liszt in an absorbing and at times very personal performance of the first year of the Années de Pèlerinage. His concert closed with a coruscating Bartok Sonata. A fine concert by one of the UK’s most acclaimed pianists (and a thoroughly nice bloke too!) Review

Peter featured in my Meet the Artist interview series – read his interview with me here


Truls Mørk (cello) and Khatia Buniatishvili (piano), Wigmore Hall. I love the lunchtime concerts at the Wigmore and quite often nip down there after work for an hour of quality music. Mørk and Buniatishvili came together to perform one of Beethoven’s most miraculous late works and Rachmaninov’s atmospheric and wide-ranging Cello Sonata in G minor, Op. 19. Review

François-Frédéric Guy, QEH. A Frenchman who bears more than a passing resemblance to Beethoven, playing Beethoven. A sensitive opening movement of the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata, and a monumental and philosophical Hammerklavier. Sadly, the evening was marred by much throat-clearing and coughing from the audience, which did not go unremarked by the performer. This is a pianist I would definite hear again. Review

Leif Ove Andsnes, QEH. A pianist whom I much admire for his understated manner and ability to allow the music to speak for itself. An enjoyable mixed programme in which Andsnes moved seamlessly from the mannered classicism of Haydn through to the romance of Chopin, the percussion of Bartok and soundwashes of Debussy. Review


Yuja Wang, QEH. I went to hear Wang purely out of curiosity, for much has been written about her playing and her concert attire. It was an interesting concert, but I felt this artist needs to live with some of her repertoire for longer to fully appreciate it and communicate it to the audience. Review

Leon McCawley, Wigmore Hall. Another excellent lunchtime concert by another pianist who is able to put the music first before ego. Chopin, Debussy and Schumann followed by an enjoyable green room chat. Review

Leon McCawley features in my Meet the Artist series – read his interview with me here

Lars Vogt, QEH. Another rather mixed offering. Some charming pieces for children and an ill-judged approach to Chopin’s iconic Funeral March from the B-flat minor Sonata. And Vogt’s gurning was rather off-putting too. (Hear me talking about this concert in my podcast for Bachtrack). Review


François-Frédéric Guy & Jean-Efllam Bavouzet, Wigmore Hall. French elan and Russian avant-garde combined in a stunning lunchtime concert. The sparkling two-piano version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring certainly roused many elderly Wigmore regulars out of their post-lunch slumber! Review

L’Arpeggiata, Cadogan Hall (Chamber Prom 3). An ensemble I have long admired on disc, it was a real treat to hear l’Arpeggiata live, and they did not disappoint with a lunchtime Prom of toe-tapping Baroque music enhanced by sensuous and energetic dancing. Review


Jennifer Pike (violin), Igor Levitt (piano) & Nicolas Alstaedt (cello), Cadogan Hall (Chamber Prom 4). Two duo sonatas and a trio in music by Debussy and Ravel. Exquisitely executed and presented. Review


Platinum Consort, King’s Place. I have been following Platinum Consort, a young choral octet, with interest after interviewing their director/founder, Scott Inglis-Kidger, and their composer-in-residence, Richard Bates, for my Meet the Artist series. At their King’s Place debut Platinum gave a faultless and highly absorbing performance of music by Renaissance and Baroque composers, new works by Richard Bates, and James MacMillan’s monumental Miserere. Review

Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Cadogan Hall (Chamber Prom 8). Aimard impressed me in his first Liszt Project concert at QEH last winter – his intellect, his technical facility, his total immersion in the music – and he did not disappoint in a lunchtime recital of Book 2 of Debussy’s Preludes. Review


Noriko Ogawa, Wigmore Hall. Another lunchtime at the Wigmore and a pianist I have long wanted to hear live. Noriko opened her concert with Takemitsu’s Rain Tree Sketch II, a piece I am working on myself for my LTCL programme. It was so arresting, so perfectly presented that I could have happily listened to endless repeats of the work. But Debussy’s Études were wonderful too, Noriko bringing a great range of colours and moods to the music. Review

Peter Donohoe, Sutton House. Peter opened Sutton House Music Society’s 2012-13 season with a programme called ‘Opus 1’, which allowed him to present works by Tchaikovsky and Schumann alongside pieces by Prokofiev, Bartok and Berg. Great to hear Peter again, at a delightful and intimate small venue Review

Benjamin Grosvenor, QEH. Grosvenor’s Southbank debut came hot on the heels of a host of awards, and, unsurprisingly, the venue was packed. I admit I have been avoiding Grosvenor, as the tag “prodigy” always worries me, so I heard him with a mixture of curiosity and repulsion. There were some fine moments in the concert, but I never really felt he caught fire and I feel he needs to mature as a performing artist. I hope that such significant early success does not lead to burn out and obscurity as Grosvenor grows up (it would be nice to think his career trajectory is akin to Kissin’s: we shall see…..). Review


Elena Riu, Sutton House. Another enjoyable trip to Hackney for ‘Inventions’, a fascinating juxtaposition of Bach’s Two- and Three-Part Inventions with inventions by contemporary composers, including Finch, Ligeti, Gulbaidulina and Lutoslawski. Review

Elena’s Meet the Artist interview

Metier Ensemble, The Forge. My first visit to this great little venue in Camden, which successfully combines an arts venue with a bar and restaurant in a purpose-built imaginatively designed space. Metier are a piano, flute and cello trio, and the programme of their ‘Keys and Coffee’ concert was perfect for a Sunday morning. Review

Meet the Artist: Elspeth Wyllie (pianist with Metier Ensemble)

Other musical highlights during this year include

Left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy’s graduation recital at the Royal College of Music, in which McCarthy demonstrated that one hand playing can be as beautiful and subtle, powerful and dramatic as two; it was a great privilege to be invited to Nick’s recital. Review

My students’ concert at Normansfield Theatre, Teddington in May was a wonderful shared celebration of music-making and a tribute to all the hard work my students put in during the year.

Late Schubert piano music in Surrey, performed by an acknowledged Schubert expert, including the Moments Musicaux, Klavierstücke, and both sets of Impromptus. Review

Concert highlights to look forward to in 2013:

Leon McCawley, Wigmore Hall

Mitsuko Uchida, RFH

Quartet for the End of Time, QEH (with the Capuçon brothers)

Piotr Anderszewski, QEH

Steven Osborne/Messiaen – Vingt Regards sur l’enfant Jesus, QEH

Since January 2012, I’ve also been reviewing exhibitions for Bachtrack’s sister site, One Stop Arts. You can find all my art reviews here

Karl Lutchmayer

What is your first memory of the piano?

Actually, and rather embarrassingly, I used to use the spaces between Bb and C# and Eb and F# to park my Dinky cars – and run them along the fronts of the white notes! It always vexed me that the spaces between other black notes weren’t wide enough for such a clearly useful purpose. However, it is also true to say that, at about the same time, I would hear my mother playing those timeless classis such as Rustle of Spring, Maiden’s Prayer and In a Persian Market.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

I am ashamed to say that in my 20s it was simply an economic necessity! However that changed significantly when I was awarded the Lambert Fellowship to return as a member of the keyboard faulty at the Royal College of Music, and it was here that I realised that I was far better at connecting with older minds, and it was at this time I stopped working with younger pupils.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

One always remembers one’s first teacher! June Luck (with whom I had tea recently!) taught me from middle C up to my Diploma and entry to the RCM, and I know it’s a cliché, but probably taught me as much about life as she did about playing the piano. Then there was John Barstow, who, somehow, and I really don’t know how he did it, managed to turn youthful dreams into grown up realities (as long as students were willing to work!). And here again too, broader culture was as important as practice – he expected students to go to concerts, the theatre, read literature, follow current events. After that there were of course many other extraordinary musicians who helped me to grow, but perhaps Lev Naumov (formerly Neuhaus’ assistant) stands out for showing me how to throw away the score!

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

Of course my own teachers, but also the many extraordinary treatises, from CPE Bach, and Czerny to Schnabel, Brendel, Rosen etc. Each time I open up one of those tomes I become acutely aware of my own ignorance, and try to become a little better! Also Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery, which has been by my side for a couple of decades now, but most importantly, as any teacher knows, my students, from whom I learn at least as much as I attempt to impart.

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Every time a student tells me that I’ve made a difference to their life – I can’t imagine anything more significant than that.

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

The passion – the idea that amidst a busy life here are people who want to be part of the tradition of human creativity. Of course, bringing such a wealth of experience, often quite, quite different from one’s own is also exciting as it offers so many various ways of discussing and understanding a concept. But it is so hard for adults to get used to the idea of necessary repetition, when its something they usually left behind at the school gate.

What do you expect from your students?

I expect them to do all they can with all that they have. The results don’t actually matter, as long as the journey is honest, which is why I get upset with the lazy ones, and those just in it for the buzz/fame/ ego, no matter how good they are, but the honest student with meagre talents is always a joy. If it isn’t about the journey of a whole person I really don’t know what the point is.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Gyorgy Sandor once told me that in his day pianists played concerts, but now they played piano competitions because there were no concerts left! In some ways he was probably right. A judicious use of exams/festivals/competitions in order to fire the work ethic/enthusiasm seems very wise – so that the young artist understands what it is to throw themselves at a particular goal at a particular moment (and let’s be honest, unlike most professions, we can’t just stand up in the boardroom and say ‘sorry been very busy, will a week next Tuesday do?’!), but as soon as they become an end in themselves they can only harm the art. After all, the artist has to throw himself wholly at his art every single day. I remember, when I was teaching in America, how students would ask whether it ‘would be in the test’ – when music becomes about jumping over hurdles, or acquiring laurels then it inevitably forgets about touching souls.

However, perhaps we should start being more honest in the big international piano competitions. We all know they’re fixed, whether through outright skulduggery or old fashioned juror bias, so why not instead make it a purely sporting event. Speed trials with time penalties for wrong notes and split-screen TV coverage, loudest chords and fastest octaves measured electronically, a speed learning competition, audience prizes for the most dolefully dreamy stare into the middle distance etc – what a great spectator sport, and at least it would be honest! 😉

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

I don’t really teach beginners, but from the wrong end of the telescope it seems to me that the fundamentals must be entirely thorough – fluency and lack of tension in the body, a real understanding of notation (I have yet to meet a 1st yr college student who understands the very different purposes of a slur and a phrase mark), a sense of musical style and an understanding of how music works.

For my advanced students these are all the same issues! But most particularly the idea of interpretation – the art of investing a score with life in an honest and coherent way. Once that is understood, adapting one’s skills to allowmit to happen in concert is just a matter of hard work!

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

Best is to see a musician grow and be able to help that process, and to meet so many wonderful people (anyone who loves the piano is going to be a friend of mine!). Worst is dealing with the many terrible neuroses which seem to come out so clearly in music making and so hamper the individual.

What is your favourite music to teach? To play?

To teach – Haydn. He knows all the rules, and constantly subverts them! It’s just so joyous!

To play – hmmmm. I love playing Liszt and Busoni, and at the moment I’m thrilled to be immersed in Alkan for the bicentenary next year, but every time I approach Beethoven I know I’m in for a rollercoaster ride – so vexing and daunting, but there is nothing like that moment after you’ve just played the last chord of one of the sonatas!

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

Pierre Laurent Aimard – an extraordinary artist at his best (although it does sometimes appear that he does too much) and his masterclasses combine the practical with the truly revelatory.

David Dubal – although he rarely plays the piano these days, his unique way of challenging, beguiling and even outraging his students, and his unbelievable breadth of culture pays the most extraordinary dividends. A true educator (recalling that the word ‘education’ actually means to draw forth, quite different from instruction, which is putting in!).

Karl Lutchmayer studied at the Royal College of Music under Peter Wallfisch and John Barstow and also undertook periods of study with Lev Naumov at the Moscow Conservatoire. For his Masters’ degree he conducted extensive research into performing practice in the piano music of Busoni, since when his research interests have grown to include Liszt, Alkan, Enescu, The Creative Transcription Network, reception theory, and the history of piano recital programming. He later returned to his alma mater and started his lecturing career when the prestigious Constant & Kit Lambert Fellowship was awarded to him by the Worshipful Company of Musicians – the first time in its history that it was awarded to an instrumentalist.

Full biography here

Robert-John Edwards (image credit: Don Lambert Photography, Stamford)

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

In terms of music in general, I’ve always wanted to play an instrument or do something with music. I can recall being extremely young (maybe only 2) at playschool and having an overwhelming attraction to the piano. However, my parents could not afford for me to have lessons, and I started to teach myself the piano from about aged 10. By the time I was 13, my parents and music teacher, Keith Foley, realised I had some ability and somehow lessons were arranged for me at school with a fabulous teacher by the name of Andrew Mann. By the time I was 18, I had reached Grade 8 but big holes caused by a lack of discipline in my practice appeared and I stopped playing seriously at the age of 20.

It was then, after major surgery on my jaw, which left me having to relearn to speak properly, that I was encouraged by a lady named Elizabeth Banks to take up singing. She remains a huge influence. Within 3 years, it was clear that I was significantly better singer than I was ever a pianist, and I never really looked back.

However, I had a further set back at the age of 25. I was diagnosed with a non-malignant tumour on my pituitary gland (a condition known as acromegaly). I had to have invasive surgery through my right sphenoidal sinus to remove the growth. The doctors had told me that I would likely not be able to sing again. A year later, I went back to having lessons with Tim Ochala-Greenough (who now sings with Opera North and ENO) who convinced me to give up being a school teacher, as I was at the time, and to pursue a professional career as a singer. I owe Tim big time for this as it was the best move I have ever made (even if I have become a poor, penniless musician by doing so!!!)

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

It’s funny; even though I’ve been principally a singer for 15 years (7 of those, professionally) there is a warped part of my brain that still thinks I’m a pianist! So when I first saw the question, names like Chura Cherkassky and Dinu Lipatti as well as Claudio Arrau and Hélène Grimaud spring to mind. But this choice of musical personalities probably says as much about how I approach my singing and repertoire choice/programming as the late Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau or Bryn Terfyl or Sir John Tomlinson. In fact, if I were to go one step further, as a child I listened endlessly to the soundtrack to Walt Disney’s Fantasia and a life-long love of Stokowski maybe coloured all of these choice influences!

Now I’m a more “mature”(!) musician, I can say that one philosophy of performing overwhelms everything. It must be honest. When I sing Winterreise and Kindertotenlieder or perhaps German’s Just So Songs and Sinatra hits, I try always to believe in every word and every note that is written. To me, this is the only way I feel believable and maybe even credible to those who come to see me perform.

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

Balancing parenthood with a career! Currently, I’m taking a little time out from opera to concentrate on raising a family (I have a very energetic 21 month old son who keeps me very busy indeed) and teaching, whilst getting my technique to the next level required (whatever that may be). I’m still “young” for a bass-baritone and who knows where I could be when I’m 46 and my children are established in school. My health in the past has told me that life is too short not to spend time in the here and now and my family are too important for me to be away from on tour for weeks and months on end right at this moment.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

Being a singer, you get the best of both worlds. In opera and oratorio, you work with an orchestra and enjoy all the colours and contrasts. It does demand a tip-top technique but it does not mean that one should have to shout to be heard (even in Verdi or Wagner). One of the best singers I have worked with over my short career, Mary Plazas, has the most astonishing pianissimo I have ever heard which is still audible at the back of the opera house whilst the orchestra are playing, yet sounds so intimate when you are nearby. However, we also get to do Lieder and this is where my heart truly lies. When you have a good pianist (and I have one in Philip Robinson, with whom I am working on a Winterreise at present), you can bounce ideas off one-another left, right and centre to produce the best interpretation and performance you can. We can be critical with one another without risk of insult or injury whilst being free to compliment each other or simply disagree where necessary too. I feel I can do so much more vocally with a pianist than with an orchestra and I feel truly alive when doing so!

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

Am I allowed to mention an entire town? Buxton is astonishing. Here you have this small, market town with a pretty ordinary demographic and yet there are not one but THREE major festivals that go on there (Buxton Opera Festival, The Buxton Fringe and the International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival). I made my operatic debut with Buxton Opera Festival back in 2007 in Dove’s Tobias and The Angel – not in the opera house, which I adore, but in St John’s Church, next door. It is a magnificent building with a lovely acoustic. I have performed there a few times now through the Festival and enjoyed each one immensely.

Who are your favourite musicians?

How long have we got? My musical tastes are truly eclectic. I remember once being almost psychoanalysed in a little independent CD shop (sadly, no more) in my hometown of Stamford as I had purchased a Robbie Williams CD, Paranoid by Black Sabbath, a recording of Tallis’ Spem in Allium, some Frank Zappa, a recording of Górecki’s Second Symphony and some romantic period piano music! Poor chap had to run half way around the world to find all the CDs to put in the cases from all of his drawers!

However, if you were to pin me down and point a loaded revolver at my head to make me choose just one, it would be Hélène Grimaud. She is not afraid to be adventurous, either in her programming or her performance. I do not always agree with what she has to say musically (I’m struggling a little with her recent recording of Mozart’s great A minor Sonata K310) but that’s the point. She doesn’t always want to play safe and I like, indeed admire, that a great deal. Her Credo CD (with Corigliano followed by Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata and the Choral Fantasia and topped off by Pärt’s Credo) is a personal favourite.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Would you be surprised to hear that I have two? Both, coincidentally at the Royal Festival Hall. One was when I was just 18 and I went to watch Peter Jablonski playing the Rach-Pag. Amazing. But that was not what blew me away. The second half of the concert was just one work, Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso No4/Symphony No. 5. Just stunning! The second movement – to a young man who was actually studying to be a composer at the time – and its backward variations of a unfinished fragment of Mahler’s just completely rewired my brain as to how composition should be in the modern age. Then, about 8 years ago, I got the chance to watch Hélène Grimaud there. Same row, coincidentally – row E in the stalls! She was playing the great B flat minor sonatas of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. She came on stage to rapturous applause for the second half and opened with that dramatic downward arpeggio of the Rachmaninoff sonata. The extraordinary thing was that she managed to time her bum hitting the seat precisely with the striking of the big bass B flat octaves at the end of that arpeggio! A bit of a stunt perhaps but, my word, great fun!

Very close behind this was the chance to watch Alfred Brendel’s last performance of the ‘Hammerklavier’ sonata. Again, Royal Festival Hall (I do frequent other venues, honest guv!) and his encore… Für Elise! Wow.

What is your favourite music to perform? To listen to?

Professionally… as a singer, Schubert Lieder all the way, although Puccini’s operas are all so rewarding too. However, like so many pianists, I love to play Chopin, I do a reasonable impression of a performance of a Beethoven sonata and I’ve been known to butcher the Bach/Busoni Chaconne on occasion!

To listen to… almost anything! Depends on my mood. Could be Bach, Beethoven, Brahms or The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Pretty Things or Ocean Colour Scene, Fat Boy Slim and Röyksopp!

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

Again, I have to say, be honest. What is on the page? Singers have to get so much out of what is on the page it’s delightful. There is the musical detail (often in the piano part in songs) but there is also the literary detail which is often the rewarding place to go. Read the poetry, read between the lines (just as your GCSE English teacher told you too) regardless of the language. Know what every word means and its context in the sentence, paragraph and entire story. Only then can you colour the music “correctly” (if there is such a thing… there is certainly an “incorrect”!) Knowledge is power!

What are you working on at the moment?

Schubert’s Winterreise with my accompanist, Philip Robinson. I am hoping to have that ready to go in the next 6-8 months. It is a mountain – a true journey if there ever was one. I am also hoping to record this and have that published but one step at a time. However, I am also about to do a performance of Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel, often referred to as “The English Winterreise”. It’s quite an eye opener doing that again after 7 years but also to be working on both side by side. So different and yet telling a very similar tale. Wonderful.

However, in my “time out” I have taken on a male voice choir called “The Belvoir Wassailers” – a bunch of working men, originally from the estate of Belvoir Castle (although no more) who make an honest noise. I love it. Without the grassroots music making of groups like theirs, music would truly have no meaning.

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

In the recording studios of either DG or Naxos recording an ambitious and audience-challenging cycle of songs from a cross section of composers. Or I’d settle for full-time chorus at one of the major houses…

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

…OR I’d settle for being at home, teaching talented (and not-so-talented but keen and passionate) students with my wife and child(ren) around me.

What is your most treasured possession?

My family.

Robert-John Edwards (left) with Alison Barton (Festival Chorus – right) as the Innkeepers with James Rutherford as Baculus in ‘Der Wildschütz’ (The Poacher) by Lortzing (Buxton Opera Festvial 2008)

Born in Stamford, Robert-John originally trained as a pianist and composer at Middlesex University and had small choral works performed at St Martin’s-in-the-Fields church and Lincoln and Winchester Cathedrals as well as at some local churches. He trained as a singer in his twenties and attended the Birmingham Conservatoire as a Postgraduate, studying with Henry Herford, scoring a distinction and winning the PGDip course prize in 2007.

Whilst at music college, he performed the roles of Dr. Katafelto in Williamson’s English Eccentrics, Scarpia in Puccini’s Tosca, Antonio in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and had four separate roles in Matthew Locke’s rarely performed Psyche.

His professional roles include Benoit/Alcindoro in Puccini’s La Bohème for Co-Opera Co, Priest/Cadmus/Somnus in Handel’s Semele for Operamus , Ashmodeus in Jonathon Dove’s Tobias and the Angel and The Alcade in Mendelssohn’s Die Hochzeit der Camacho (both for Buxton Opera Festival) whilst being in the professional chorus of several productions for the Buxton Opera Festival, Carl Rosa Opera and Stanley Hall Opera. As a professional understudy, Robert-John has covered the roles of Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guard, the Colonel in Patience (both Carl Rosa Opera), Harapha in Samson, Pancratius in Der Wildschütz, Father Phillippe in The Wandering Scholar, Gubetta in Lucrezia Borgia and Don Quixote in Die Hochzeit der Camacho at the Buxton Opera Festival.

Robert-John is extremely active as a teacher in his native Rutland and still performs with the church choir in Stamford that started him on the road to a singing career. He is also very active as a soloist both as a recitalist and with choral societies, performing many Messiahs and Creations over the past few years.

My first podcast is a contribution to a longer piece by on Piano Today. It features a fascinating interview with Piotr Anderszewski, one of the most insightful, intellectual and profound pianists working today, a round up of forthcoming piano recitals around the world, and my thoughts on the sometimes tricky art of reviewing piano concerts. Hear the full broadcast here:

Pianist Clara Rodriguez

London-based Venezuelan pianist, and champion of Venezuelan composers for the piano, Clara Rodriguez returns to the Southbank Centre on 10th December for a concert of music by South-American composers, including Villas-Lobos, Piazzolla and Ruiz, and Debussy. This promises to be a really wonderful evening of music, not just for piano, but for ensemble too, as Clara will be joined by Wilmer Sifontes on percussion, cellist Jordan Gregoris and violinist Ilya Movchan. The concert also features two London premieres of works by Colombian composer Germán Darío Pérez.

I reviewed Clara Rodriguez and friends at Purcell Room last autumn, and Clara also features in my Meet the Artist interview series. Read her interview with me here. And here is Clara in her own words about her forthcoming concert:

All concerts at the Southbank are special events, the magic of one evening only, the energy, imagination and love that goes into putting the programme together is part of our artistic proposal to the world. My concert on Monday December 10th at the Purcell Room is going to be another exciting yet very different experience to the other nine or ten ones I have played there in the past.

The high inspiration, poetry and skill behind all the pieces I am playing makes my heart jump with emotion. Just reading Verlaine’s Clair de lune poem makes me realize even more deeply about the beauty of Debussy’s Suite Bergamasque, which I could play for ever!

Votre âme est un paysage choisi
Que vont charmant masques et bergamasques
Jouant du luth et dansant et quasi
Tristes sous leurs déguisements fantasques.

Tout en chantant sur le mode mineur
L’amour vainqueur et la vie opportune
Ils n’ont pas l’air de croire à leur bonheur
Et leur chanson se mêle au clair de lune,

Au calme clair de lune triste et beau,
Qui fait rêver les oiseaux dans les arbres
Et sangloter d’extase les jets d’eau,
Les grands jets d’eau sveltes parmi les marbres.

Your soul is a chosen landscape
Charmed by masquers and bergamaskers
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fanciful disguises.

Even while singing, in a minor key,
Of victorious love and fortunate living
They do not seem to believe in their happiness,
And their song mingles with the moonlight,

The still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
Which sets the birds in the trees dreaming,
And makes the fountains sob with ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among the marble statues!

I have always been interested by the output of contemporary composers, their loneliness and their bravery in expressing their truths out on paper, apart from appreciating their talent, of course. On this occasion I will première three preludes by the young Venezuelan composer Mirtru Escalona Mijares who lives in Paris and has kindly dedicated the last of the Three Short Preludes to me. It is based on a tanka by the buddhist monk RYOKAN (1758-1831), it is called “…contempler longuement…” in it I have to use special concentration skills to play pianissimo and very slowly as opposed to our usual kind of preoccupation which is to play fast and lots of notes. Mirtru has been working very hard in purifying or cleansing musical phrases and thoughts. It is a challenge! Here is the poem the third Prelude is inspired by:

“Je n’ai rien de spécial à vous offrir juste une fleur de lotus dans un petit vase à contempler longuement “.

I have nothing special to offer to you/Just a lotus flower In a small vase/To be contemplated for a long time

“Hommage à Chopin”, a tour de force written by Villa-Lobos will follow. It is a strange piece, not exactly romantic, I think it has the force of the Amazonian jungle and depicts Chopin’s passionate torments and obsessions. It has a greater number of melodic layers than most piano pieces thus making it quite virtuosic.

It was while studying with Nadia Boulanger in Paris that Piazzolla was urged to develop his love for tango thus creating the “new tango” in which he transformed this old Argentinean dance into music capable of a variety of expression, fusing sharply-contrasted moods: his tangos are by turn fiery, melancholic, passionate, tense, violent, lyric and always driven by an endless supply of rhythmic energy. I am thrilled to be able to play Le Grand Tango, one of his most Classical pieces, and then in the same evening The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with leading young performers from France, Jordan Gregoris on the cello and from Russia, Ksenia Berenzina on the violin. You’ll see what exquisite pair of musicians they are. We are having the fun of our lives playing this music. It is luxury!

Not forgetting my Caribbean roots, I have added three composers from that part of the world, for two reasons, my dear London public expects it and simply because I have so much joy playing them. So, from Cuba a nostalgic Danzón by José María Vitier, who composed the music for the film “Strawberry and Chocolate”, then two London premières will follow by a composer from Bogotá, Colombia, Germán Darío Pérez, in which my friend percussionist Wilmer Sifontes will play the kind of percussion that should accompany a bambuco and then we’ll play together the very lively Zumba que zumba (joropo) written for me by the Venezuelan composer Federico Ruiz, in which Wilmer will play the Venezuelan maracas. I doubt it if this programme could be more exciting or varied!