Pianist friends Alison Bestow and Claire Vane set up Pianissimi, an adult piano course, five years ago. I caught up with them to find out how their venture is progressing….

Pianissimi has been running for five years now; what is the secret of its success?

Claire: We have both been to many other piano courses, both in the UK and abroad. We are therefore very clear about what we want from a piano course; maximum face-to-face tuition, both in masterclasses and in individual lessons, and opportunities to perform every day. We also want to create a supportive, friendly environment and excellent organisation to keep the whole thing running smoothly. Many people have been with us for several iterations of the course, so we think we’re on the right track.

What do people most enjoy about Pianissimi?

Alison: Our tutors are first-rate. Warren Mailley-Smith and Penelope Roskell have been with us from the start, and this year we have achieved our ‘dream team’ which includes Graham Fitch and Nicholas Moloney. The tuition is intensive and so we make sure to keep participants fuelled with home-made cakes during the day and wine and snacks in the evenings, which people always appreciate, especially after performing following dinner.

Claire: Participants always say how friendly everyone is. The location is really beautiful, on the side of the river Orwell with spectacular views, so the environment is inspiring.

Alison: For me one of the highlights is playing the Fazioli grand in the recital hall with its tiered seating. Although I know you prefer the Bechstein, Claire….

What are the challenges of both running and attending the course?

Alison: We split up the organisation between us, and we have very different skills, so it works very well.

Claire: I do publicity, networking and the loot. Alison does the tedious timetabling which would drive me mad.

What have been the best moments of the course?

Alison: I love all the evening concerts; there is always such a variety of performances and I always come away with something new that I am inspired to learn. I have made many new piano friends.

Claire: We did a scratch eight hands two piano duet last year which was hilarious. I loved the visit from Chris Norman of 1066 pianos who told us more about how pianos work, Steinways in particular, and how he goes about voicing them.

Alison: And the talk from Colin Hazel about women composers was fascinating.

Any sticky moments?

Claire: The accommodation is in school boarding houses, and one year we were given high bunks beds with a desk underneath – not ideal for one participant who was pregnant and another with a dodgy knee. The school sorted it out for us; never again!

Alison: The staff at RHS are brilliant.

Who is this course aimed at?

Alison: We want the course to be very inclusive for anyone who loves the piano as much as we do, so we suggest that attendees are grade 7 onwards and including diploma level and post-diploma. The levels of experience and performance are varied, but we try to ensure that everybody feels comfortable and confident playing in a group. The course is also ideal for those with a specific aim, such as preparing for a graded or diploma exam, or getting ready for a particular performance. There will be lots of performance opportunities for those who want them. But there won’t be any pressure on people to perform if they don’t want to.

How can I book?

Claire: There are a few places left for the June course. All the information about the course is on our website: http://pianissimi.wordpress.com/


Pianissimi is held at the Royal Hospital School, 8 miles from Ipswich, Suffolk.

Course dates: Thursday, 2nd June 2022 (5 pm) to Sunday, 5th June 2022 (5 pm)

View the location and facilities here

One Sunday afternoon I was idly leafing through a copy of Vanity Fair, which I found lying around at the country home of my parents-in-law. On the back page was a revealing interview with A Famous Person, based on the Proust Questionnaire, a set of questions which the French author Marcel Proust answered at different times in his life. Later that day, I thought this might make an interesting addition to my blog – a weekly interview where each respondent answers the same questions. And thus, in April 2012 the Meet the Artist interview series was born.

At this time, I’d been writing this blog for nearly two years. Originally intended as a place where I could record my thoughts about returning to the piano after an absence of some 20-odd years, it had quickly become a kind of online classical music ‘magazine’ with varied content: concert reviews interspersed with articles on piano technique, teaching, and repertoire, and more esoteric ‘think pieces’ on music. More importantly, it now had the beginnings of an established, regular readership, albeit still quite small (today it enjoys c30,000 visitors per month). A series of interviews with musicians seemed a good addition. Classical musicians have an aura of mystique (usually created by audiences and others, rather than the musicians themselves) and there is, I find, a great curiosity about what classical musicians do; not just the exigencies of life on the concert platform – the visible, public aspect of the profession – but, in effect, ‘what musicians do all day’. The Meet the Artist interviews offer a snapshot of other facets of the profession, giving readers a chance to get “beyond the notes”, as it were, and in doing so reveal some fascinating insights.

The willingness and openness with which people respond is refreshing, often unexpected, and largely free of ego. In addition, the interviewees give advice and inspiration for those considering a career in music, and attempt to define “success” in a profession where one’s ability to communicate with and move an audience is placed considerably higher than monetary returns.

Tamara Stefanovich

I never sought out the “big name” international performers like Angela Hewitt, Ivo Pogorelich, Tamara Stefanovich or Marc-André Hamelin (or indeed prog rock legend Rick Wakeman!), but as the series grew in reputation, so I found these people were happy to be interviewed, either directly (usually by email, occasionally in person) or via their publicists and agents. The series has become not only a valuable compendium of surprising, insightful, honest, humorous and inspiring thoughts from a wide range of artists, but also a platform for young and lesser-known artists in particular to gain exposure in an industry which is highly competitive. Others use the series as a means to promote upcoming concerts, recordings or other events, while also leaving an enduring contribution to audience’s and others’ understanding of how the music industry “works” and what makes musicians tick. It has received praise from the likes of pianists Stephen Hough and Peter Donohoe, both of whom are featured in the series.

James MacMillan, composer & conductor

From strictly classical artists such as harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani or composer and conductor James MacMillan, two of the earliest interviewees, the series has broadened in its scope over the years and now includes musicians from the world of crossover classical music, folk and jazz. Yet regardless of genre, what these interviews often reveal is how one’s chosen instrument and its literature exert a strong attraction, seducing would-be professionals from a young age and continuing to bewitch and delight, frustrate and excite.

To date, the series features over 1600 interviews from some of our greatest living musicians to young artists poised on the cusp of a professional career. Every single interview has value, and I am immensely grateful to the many musicians who have freely offered their insights, reflections and advice in their interviews.

To all of you who have taken part in the Meet the Artist series to date, THANK YOU.

Frances Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist, April 2022


The Meet the Artist series is ongoing – if you would like to take part, please click here for more information

James Lisney

 

ames Lisney’s  acclaimed …petits concerts series returns to London’s 1901 Arts Club, a bijoux salon-style venue close to Waterloo Station.

In keeping with the ethos and ambiance of the venue, and inspired by the annual series of concerts given by Charles Valentin Alkan at the Erard showroom in Paris in the 1870s, James Lisney’s …petits concerts present classical music in an intimate and convivial setting.

The series feature piano music by Debussy, Stevenson, Chopin, Haydn, Liszt and Beethoven. Concert goers can enjoy a glass of champagne at a pre-concert reception and an opportunity to meet the performer and mingle with other music lovers. These concerts are in support of two charities, Help Musicians (formerly the Musicians Benevolent Fund), which has done so much to support musicians during the pandemic, and The Amber Trust, a charity which provides opportunities for blind and partially sighted children, and children with more complex needs, of which Lisney is patron.

 

READER OFFER: ENJOY DISCOUNTED TICKETS TO 14 MAY CONCERT with CODE FREDERyK

FIND OUT MORE / BOOK TICKETS

Guest review by Adrian Ainsworth


Edna Stern’s latest release is a fascinating find. Beautifully performed, for sure, but those performances are led by an intriguing, impeccably realised idea.

The pieces on this disc are well-loved and oft-recorded: the first four ‘Impromptus’ (D899) and the ‘Moments Musicaux’ (D780). But Stern, following the courage of her convictions, has arrived at a new way of hearing them. Or perhaps, more accurately, a very old one.

The artist’s sleeve-notes explain the background at length, and if you buy this album, you’ll find they are an excellent read. So I will just try to summarise here. Broadly, Stern became disenchanted with modern digital recording – in particular, the facility to edit performances into ‘perfection’. To the non-expert listener, what can sound like a seamlessly executed rendition of a work is sometimes a painstakingly finessed collage from multiple takes. Flashes of divine inspiration that don’t conveniently occur within the same run-through are made to do so, after the fact.

This came to a head, Stern tells us, when working with a sound engineer who produced an edit that was stitched together to the point where she could barely recognise her own interpretation. For this project, then, each of the ten pieces is represented by a single, intact take. Of course, Stern recorded them several times in order to choose her favourite, but no artificial mix-and-match took place. She picked the versions she found the most interesting or appealing, if not necessarily the most accurate: the integrity and spirit of the performance outweighed the occasional stray note or tempo.

One of the reasons I enjoyed Stern’s booklet essay so much is the extremity of her position. While she acknowledges the value and skills of everyone involved, she calls that game-changing edit a ‘monster’, and likens the studio correction of mistakes to offering a performance from a robot over a human. It’s forcefully argued stuff.

And thought-provoking. Schubert-lovers who are tripping over Impromptu recordings – anyone with shelves (or hard-drives) full of versions of their favourite works: what are we looking for? I realise there’s an element for many of seeking an ideal version that matches the one in their head, of looking for the ‘best’… and I don’t envy critics who have to make these sorts of comparisons all the time. But what it’s really about, surely, is hearing the works you love ‘renewed’, enjoying the surprise and delight of seemingly infinite reinterpretations of the same music.

You could argue that, most of the time, these differences survive modern recording techniques. What must be Stern’s worst nightmare – correcting every error or deviation from the score so that every pianist’s Schubert CD comes out identical to all the others – hasn’t come to pass. But by removing the safety net, Stern has thrown down a gauntlet of sorts – will other classical musicians follow suit and subject their unvarnished playing to scrutiny?

I use the word ‘classical’ here deliberately. Pristine clarity may be the common goal in this genre, but over on the rock side of the fence, many acts have often wanted to go back to the source, in their search for authenticity. There’s the huge number of bands who went through the ‘Unplugged’ rite of passage in the 90s. There are producers like Steve Albini, who seems to carry out the intensive labour upfront, listening to his clients and finding exactly the right place for the microphones in the room – then documenting the resulting live sound, with staggering results. There’s the formidable roster of groups – perhaps most famously, the White Stripes – who have made records at London’s Toe Rag Studios, renowned for their totally analogue set-up.

There is a rock-snob trap here, of course: “when it’s me, it’s authenticity – when it’s you, it’s nostalgia”. But Stern is totally alive to this, seeking to recapture the sound of the recordings she loved most during her early development. Has she succeeded?

When you start ‘Schubert on tape’, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d just lowered the stylus on to vinyl, or pressed the clunky play button on a cassette player. You hear the room before the piano. Instead of a CD’s usual dead silence, you hear an ambient noise that I instantly want to describe as ‘warmth’: it’s not disruptive, there’s no hiss or clicking, just a hushed presence that replaces any potential dryness or sterility.

There’s no doubt about it. I was hit by two waves of entirely pleasurable nostalgia. One, true: my youth, playing records and tapes in my room. Two, false: the feeling evoked by Stern of being at a Schubertiade, hearing the composer perform his work in intimate, informal surroundings.

Because once the music starts, you are there in the room (especially if using a decent pair of headphones). You can hear some of the pedal work – towards the end of Impromptu No. 4, for example, there’s a passage where this almost becomes a percussion feature – and the rise and fall of the keys, even (I think) accompanied once or twice by the click of a fingernail. This sustained, audible ‘physicality’ really brings home the effort involved in a good performance and, in the salon of the imagination, makes you feel genuinely close to the player.

I think there is also a pleasing effect on the dynamics. I was reminded of something the rock writer David Hepworth said on a podcast, when discussing the merits of vinyl over CD – almost his instant response was: “The drums don’t hurt.” Analogue recording as evidenced here has a generosity of scope – I can hear that Stern is across every pp and ff, and all points between, but the sound never becomes a bang or a whimper – it’s all accommodated in the bandwidth.

We hear chiming, keening top notes and a gorgeous bass rumble – particularly in, say, Impromptu No. 2 or Moments Musicaux No. 2 – reminiscent of a fortepiano (I was interested to read that Stern also plays this instrument). The dexterity and sensitivity of Stern’s playing is still immaculately conveyed, shining through – while benefiting from – the tape’s ambience.

As a result, I think Stern’s particular strengths and this style of recording are perfectly aligned. A successful experiment, then – I look forward to seeing the research continue, and hearing which composer becomes its next subject.

Schubert on Tape is available on the Orchid Classics label

This review first appeared on sister site ArtMuseLondon.com


105491206_266430451442172_334752493078903436_nAdrian Ainsworth is, by day, a copywriter specialising in plain language communications about finance and benefits. However, he spends the rest of the time consuming as much music, live or recorded, as possible – then writing about it, often on Specs, his slightly erratic ‘cultural diary’ containing thought pieces, performance and exhibition write-ups, playlists, and even a spot of light photography. He has a particular interest in art song and opera… and a general interest in everything else.

Twitter @Adrian_Specs

Pianists and co-Artistic Directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen reveal another exquisite line-up for the seventh London Piano Festival (LPF) which returns to Kings Place from 6-9 October 2022. Four days of classical and jazz piano performances will see Festival debuts from star soloist Tamara Stefanovich, jazz sensation Vijay Iyer and rising star Dominic Degavino, in addition to Dame Imogen Cooper who has been a Patron of the London Piano Festival since its launch in 2016. Returning artists include Noriko Ogawa and Paul Roberts, as well as the Festival’s Artistic Directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen. Under 30s tickets are available for all concerts at a reduced price of £8.50. The Festival is delighted to be working with International Piano magazine as media partner for the seventh year running.

Co-Artistic Directors Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen commented, “We are delighted to present the seventh edition of exciting piano-themed concerts featuring an exceptional line-up of pianists in the welcoming setting of Kings Place. The recent return to unrestricted live music-making, complete with extra appreciative audiences has been energising for performers around the world. This year there will be a particular focus on the joys of musical collaboration between pianist friends, a sharing and exchange of ideas. Nothing can ever quite reproduce the visceral impact of a live event, the sheer thrill of experiencing music in real time.”

Visionary pianist Tamara Stefanovich opens this year’s Festival with a programme exploring form and freedom, beginning with Bach’s Aria variata (BWV 989) interweaving the birdsong-inspired pieces of Messiaen and Rameau, and ending with Messaien’s mesmerising Cantéyodjayâ [6 Oct].Piano duets have been performed at the London Piano Festival every year since it launched in 2016, helping to introduce audiences to new works whilst also celebrating rarely-performed masterpieces. This year Dame Imogen Cooper is joined by Katya ApekishevaCharles Owen and Dominic Degavino, pianists who have all benefitted from her skill and unique insights through masterclasses and teaching sessions over the years, for an evening of piano duets. The four pianists will take to the stage in different pairings to perform Schubert’s piano duets whilst recreating the atmosphere of an intimate social gathering [7 Oct].Katya Apekisheva and Noriko Ogawa explore contrasting 20th-century preludes in their afternoon recital [8 Oct]. Apekisheva will perform Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes, a collection of short pieces in all twenty-four keys, taking the audience through a diverse assortment of moods across the complete set. By contrast, Ogawa will play Debussy’s 12 Préludes, Book I, an imaginative collection which doesn’t follow any strict harmonic template.Later that evening award-winning jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer will perform a solo improvised set [8 Oct]. Known for performing internationally with ensembles and his own trio, this special evening of solo jazz improvisation will be a rare treat for London audiences.To celebrate the launch of his new book, concert pianist and lecturer Paul Roberts returns to the Festival to present a lecture-recital with Charles Owen celebrating Liszt’s passionate response to the poetry of Francesco Petrarca [9 Oct]. Roberts’ new book – Reading Franz Liszt – explores the inspiration Liszt drew from the poetry of Francisco Petrarca (1304-74), revealing the link between two major artists born 500 years apart.The London Piano Festival was founded by pianists Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen in 2016 and takes place every October at Kings Place, London. Previous visiting artists have included Alfred Brendel, Alexandra Dariescu, Julian Joseph, Gabriela Montero, Stephen Kovacevich, Jason Rebello and Kathryn Stott, amongst many others. The Festival has also commissioned a number of new works for two piano, working with composers including Sally Beamish, Jonathan Dove, Elena Langer and Nico Muhly.

Full details atwww.londonpianofestival.comAll concerts take place at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London, N1 9AG

www.kingsplace.co.uk

[Source: press release]

A post for World Piano Day 2022 on why we LOVE the piano – a compilation of comments received via Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you to everyone who contributed


It’s complete. Since I was a child it’s been the place I go to relax. I’m not a pianist but I can play and it makes me extremely happy. During the first lockdown singing made me sad for all we were missing (especially my co-musicians). I found solace at the piano. (CS, singer)

The colours produced by harmonies in even the simplest pieces. I was teaching a piece from a tutor book to young beginners this week and as soon as they added the LH to produce 3 and 4 note chords something magical happened. (MJ)

The touch of the keys, the sound, the huge variation in textures, the colour of the wood, the space where it sits…..and the fact the whole family have access to it! (RN)

The ability to thunder away one minute then tug at your heart the next with soft, quiet subtlety (T)

Photo by Itay Weissman on Pexels.com

The possibilities I have to play like a whole orchestra, but also very simplistic and moving melodies. The dynamics and the tone forming. Being a one (wo)man player or a chamber musician, working with a singer or giant orchestra… so many things to love about my piano. (FK)

you can see what you’re doing… (TC, composer)

The combination of intuition and control. (EMcK)

You never have to bring it with you. Wherever you go, it’s there. If it isn’t there, you’re in the wrong place. (RN)

Not having to get it out of a box (HW, composer & pianist)

Duration and decay (Kirkdale Bookshop)

A musical instrument and dinner table! (A)

Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

I like the fact it’s (often) a place as well as an instrument. The room gathers memories, which enrich the music making. I like how you can see all the notes physically even when silent. But most of all I love the sound. Just playing a big C major arpeggio is, to me, a joy. (JD)

It’s mindfulness, it’s meditation, it’s calm. And when headphones are involved it provides a much needed solitude, as I escape into its world. As I mainly improvise, it’s a crafting table, that gives life to new music. I love the tactile connection. The piano is home. (JW)

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways: the sound of a singing treble with the sostenuto pedal, the richness of full chords and the power one feels as they sound, the immense satisfaction of feeling & hearing the clangourous sounds… and so much more! My beloved instrument. (BC)

Photo by Dalila Dalprat on Pexels.com

The amount of opportunity it has to offer, the range and the versatility (ID)

I love the feel of the keys! They are my friends! (BO’R)

…as a medium, the piano is its own self sufficient universe. I don’t think any other solo artistic activity can boast the same level of storytelling or emotional exploration as well as refined pianism does (ES)

The variety of tone colours at your disposal, ability with sustain pedal to play so many notes at once, you almost have the whole orchestra in front of you. As a child I was mesmerised by being able to ‘see’ all the notes at once and wonder about their possibilities, I loved exploring and finding the scales by ear by noting the order of keys and shapes and patterns your hand made, the similarities and differences. (RR)

Liszt’s Bosendorfer piano at the Franz Liszt Museum in Budapest

Underneath a grand piano there are all sorts of secret hiding places for valuables (watches, jewellery, money, etc). No other instrument offers this possibility. Imagine trying to stuff a Rolex inside a piccolo or viola? That’s what I love about the piano. I also love the fact that the notes are all there- all you need to do is play them in the right order (takes a bit of skill grant you). A more serious answer – the piano is a glorious instrument of ‘make believe’. It forces the imagination into overdrive – we ‘think’ we’re hearing something which is not happening. Its defects are, paradoxically its virtues.  (JH)

The ability to use so many of one’s senses. I like the fairness factor of piano: you put in a hard work, you get the results. You don’t, it shows too. In life it is not always as fair as that. (JM)

The SOUND. I just bloody love the sound of the thing. Why would anybody want to play another instrument?! (MV)

All of the little tiny parts of the action like a bird skeleton, with their daft names (DG)

The immediate visual appeal it has without even being played; the fact that a mechanical machine that needs no electricity is capable of (in competent hands) making music that elicits emotions in such a profound way. There is nothing as deliciously decadent as a dusty, old upright sitting in a forgotten corner, waiting to be played. And the majestic presence of a grand that is always begging to give all its rich harmonies. The piano can be the best friend and the worst enemy because it seduces you but enslaves you as you try to get more and more depth and richness from it. The piano reveals one’s inner struggles like no other instrument does (MAdB)

The sense of freedom from the world when playing it (JK)

Every time you play at a concert you will meet a new instrument. I love the whole experience of getting to know the instrument and trying to get the best out of it. They are all so unique and it can be so rewarding (WH)

Someone recently asked me “what do you like to play”? Usually people just ask “what do you play.” It was a reminder for me to never forget the “like” and “love” origins of my work, especially during difficult practice days or performances that don’t quite go to plan. (SE)

a deep connection with musicians of the past and the now makes the piano and piano music so life-affirming (AH)