Who or what inspired you to take up the cello, and pursue a career in music?

When I was growing up, there was always music playing in the house, and my parents started me on the recorder at 4, the piano at 5, and then the cello at 6. I was very lucky to start with a fantastic cello teacher (Marina Logie) who is a family friend and lives very close by. She really instilled a love and curiosity for music in me, and also set me up very well technically. When I began with my current teacher, Leonid Gorokhov, at 11, this feeling was encouraged even more, and I think that I have them both to thank for my career in music!

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

Apart from my two teachers, the pianist Alison Rhind (who coached me for several years) was incredibly important in my musical development. I am lucky to have worked with some amazing musicians who have very much influenced my playing and my development as a person, including Petr Limonov, Tom Poster, Huw Watkins, and Krzysztof Chorzelski.

Winning the BBC Young Musician Competition definitely shaped the trajectory of my career, and left me with a really special relationship with the BBC.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I am really proud of the CD ‘1948’ I recorded with Petr Limonov, as we took every effort to approach the project with great care and love for the music. I also am proud that I had the courage to wait until I felt I was ready to record my first CD, which isn’t always easy with the pressures of the music industry!

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

So far I am really enjoying exploring lots of different venues, but I think that the Wigmore Hall could come to have a special place in my heart. The acoustic is stunning, and its history of having hosted such incredible performers makes it very exciting to perform there!

Who are your favourite musicians?

That’s a very hard question, as I find inspiration in so many people’s playing (and there are so many insanely talented people around at the moment!). I’m a huge fan of the ‘old-style’ musicians including Heifetz, Szeryng, Shafran, Piatigorsky, Fritz Wunderlich and many more.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think that the final of the BBC Young Musician will always be up there with the most memorable performances for me, as it was the first time I had played with such a good orchestra and conductor, in such an amazing hall.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

For me, it is to find, and stay true to, my own voice. Success is to never stop learning; complacency would be failure for me. I also think that being able to collaborate with people who inspire me is a form of success!

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

In 10 years I would like to have 10 years of exciting new experiences behind me, with lots of travel and playing in many different situations with different people. At that point I might consider getting a teaching position somewhere, but It’s too far ahead to know how my desires will change in the process!

What is your most treasured possession?

Definitely my cello. I am so so lucky to have been given a beautiful Ruggeri cello by some private benefactors. It makes (almost) every practice session a joy

 


Winner of the 2012 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition, Laura van der Heijden has been making a name for herself as a very special emerging talent, captivating audiences and critics alike with her imaginative interpretations and probing musicianship.

Laura van der Heijden’s critically acclaimed debut album ‘1948’ (Champs Hill Records, 2018), with pianist Petr Limonov, focuses on music for cello and piano from the Soviet era, and has received BBC Music Magazine’s Newcomer of the Year award.

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….never had I had a piano teacher so demanding and tyrannical

– Leonard Bernstein on Isabelle Vengerova

The composer Philip Glass described her as somewhere “between intimidating and terrifying” whose lessons invariably left students “shaken and silent”, while Virgil Thomson wrote that she had a “no-nonsense approach to musical skills and a no-fooling-around treatment of anyone’s talent or vocation”. But the great teacher Nadia Boulanger was comfortable with her mixed reputation. For her, musical training without rigour had no value, and she was not alone in her attitude.

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Isabelle Vengerova teaching a young Gary Graffman (Curtis Institute Archives)
Vengerova and Boulanger fit the traditional image of the master-teacher – didactic, autocratic, rigorous – and they were not the only teacher who struck awe, fear and reverence in the hearts of their students. Such teachers were – and continue to be – conferred with an almost god-like status.

Vengerova was insistent on a complete adherence to her approach.  For two years I was not allowed to touch a piece of music…..she changed my life, physically at the piano and musically at the same time, without my knowing it was taking place. She was the most profound influence on my life, a remarkable woman.

– Anthony di Bonaventura, pianist

She yelled, she threw things, she reproached (often colorfully), and she insisted students learn her way, without exception. In short, she terrified her pupils.

– Curtis Institute Archive

But there’s a misconception here – that teachers of classical musicians have, or should have, very severe personalities, and that they must be scarily formidable to be successful and, more importantly, to enable their students to be successful. Ritual humiliation in lessons and masterclasses or rapping the knuckles of a student with a ruler whenever they played a wrong note are, fortunately, largely outdated teaching practices which would not be tolerated today where a greater understanding of the psychology of learning and modern pedagogical methods has resulted in a more enlightened approach to teaching and students.

So what is the ‘purpose’ of a music teacher? The obvious response is to instruct, educate and train a student in the skills required to succeed as musician.

The word “teach” derives from the Old English word tæcan which means “to show” or “guide”, and a good teacher will provide guidance/instruction, encouragement, and constructive feedback to their students to enable them to practice and progress. An extension of this is the idea of “guiding” the student in their learning by opening doors, encouraging the student to see the bigger picture beyond the narrow confines of the musical score, and to foster inquisitiveness, confidence, self-determination and independent learning. In order to transfer their skills and knowledge, a teacher must explain, demonstrate and inspire.

Conversely, a didactic or autocratic teacher who demands that the student adheres to “my way and no other way” can constrict, confuse and ultimately dismotivate. Unfortunately, impressionable or naive students can be taken in by the “famous” teacher who declares “Look at me, I’m a great player. I’m the great teacher”, and hero worship can cloud a student’s focus while also massaging the teacher’s ego and, sadly in some instances, leave the student vulnerable. Such teachers can do lasting damage to a student’s confidence.

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Lang Lang with his teacher Gary Graffman
Open-mindedness, generosity, empathy, respect and humility, the knowledge that, as a teacher, one does not “know everything”  and that one is prepared to acknowledge one’s own limitations are all facets of a truly great teacher.

the great teacher always gave the complete view in music toward the student — not of alternatives, not just one way of doing it…..He gave you the whole picture of many different worlds, many different possibilities…

– Lang Lang on his teacher Gary Graffman

The revered teacher Gordon Green (who taught concert pianist Stephen Hough, amongst others) said that the aim of the teacher is to make him- or herself  “dispensable” to the student. Ultimately, a good teacher should become redundant by enabling their students to become confident, independent learners.

There are of course great, highly revered teachers on whom the title “demigod” can be justly conferred. These include the great pianist-teachers of an earlier age – Chopin, Liszt, Busoni, Perlemuter, Kentner, Tureck – whose methods, wisdom and values have been passed down through their pupils, grand-pupils, and great-grand pupils. Such teachers appreciate that a significant aspect of the art of teaching is to create independent, enabled individuals rather than “soundalike” clones of themselves.


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Guest post by Nick Hely-Hutchinson

I have been longing to share my love of this piano piece by Frederic Chopin (1810-49). So much of his music will be well known to you, since his waltzes, etudes, nocturnes and mazurkas are played widely; less so, what I am posting about today, so I hope it will be something new to many.

Although Chopin did write some instrumental music, notably two concertos, he wrote nothing in his brief life which did not include the piano. And brief it was: he was never particularly healthy, even from a young age, causing Berlioz to observe that “he was dying all his life”. It was probably tuberculosis that killed him, in an apartment immediately opposite the hotel from where the late Diana, Princess of Wales, made her last fateful journey nearly 150 years later.

Chopin was refined, even delicate, impeccably dressed and mannered, somewhat at odds with the writer George Sand, a dumpier, trouser-wearing, cigar-smoking sexual predator with whom he had a troublesome love affair, which did not end well. Although the woman who was probably the most central figure in his life, she was not even at his deathbed.

Chopin was a highly accomplished pianist who preferred the setting of the salons of Paris to the concert hall, and was quickly recognized for his talent – “Hats off, gentlemen, a genius!” was Schumann’s early assessment of a prodigy whom many viewed as the successor to Mozart. Apart from being born in Poland, there is nothing obviously nationalistic about his work, but it is filled with the broadest spectrum of emotions, always imbued with simple and delightful tunes, even if sometimes fiendishly difficult, as in today’s example.

Chopin wrote four ballades, a term he was the first to apply to a music composition, having been normally associated with poetry and song. The first of these is a piece full of drama, the impact of which grows on every hearing. It does not appear to have any particular reference or story behind it, but unquestionably you can detect a story of sorts unfolding, with elements of despair, yearning and hope all in the mix. It starts simply enough, with a joyful climactic moment a few minutes in, preceded by the sweetest of melodies; before launching into a blistering phase of speed and technical wizardry. The last eighty seconds, ending with an agonizing downward scale, will have you on the edge of your seat.

Unlike Vladimir Horowitz in this 1968 recording. Don’t despair in the first minute: the quality of the film is not great at the start, and it is by no means note-perfect; but his impassive, and expressionless, approach, somehow conveys a far greater understanding and enjoyment of this work than any back-arching ceiling-gazer. You may wonder what all the fuss is about at the opening, but perseverance will be rewarded.

Tenderness, drama, colour and extraordinary clarity. I make no apologies for calling on Horowitz: if ever there was a case of ‘less is more’, surely this is it.


 

This article first appeared on Nick Hely-Hutchinson’s own blog Manuscript Notes.

Nick worked in the City of London for nearly 40 years, but his great love has always been classical music. The purpose of his blog, Manuscript Notes, is to introduce classical music in an unintimidating way to people who might not obviously be disposed towards it, following a surprise reaction to an opera by his son, “Hey, dad, this is really good!“. He is married with three adult children.

Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

Music has always been a part of my life to the point that I could not envision a career outside of music. During my undergraduate study, I found myself more drawn to musicology than performance. However, it wasn’t until my PhD that I realised the power in forging a career that bridges both.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My parents encouraged me to pursue music. My professors at university opened up so many possibilities for what that path could look like. I found wonderful support during my study abroad year at McGill University. That is where I first learnt about the composer Florence Price. Studying the history of this incredible woman of African descent then opened up the career path I’m on now.

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

As I’ve begun to grow more into my identity as a pianist-scholar, one of the biggest challenges has been embracing public performance. Musicology has always felt much safer and a little more anonymous—the perfect match for my introvert self! But public performance has pushed me to embrace more open and vulnerable ways of communicating my passion.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my Four Women recording. The album focuses on four composers from the first half of the twentieth century: Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. The album title alludes to Nina Simone’s 1966 song of the same name. I have always been so moved by Simone’s aspiration to become a classical pianist and wanted to bring her influence into the recording. Four Women is very autobiographical and represents my first real venture into communicating my passion with openness and vulnerability.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Florence Price’s Fantasie Negre and Vítězslava Kaprálová’s Dubnova Preludia (April Preludes), Op. 13.

As someone who champions music by women composers, how do you make your repertoire choices?

My repertoire choices are often inspired by the kind of research I’m doing. For example, my research on Florence Price and her Chicago community has led me to programme works by Chicagoan African-American women composers, past and present. Other times, my choices are inspired by collaborations. Working with violinist Er-Gene Kahng has broadened my repertoire to encompass more duo and chamber material by Price and her peers. I am also excited to be in the midst of preparing Doreen Carwithen’s Concerto for Piano and Strings as part of a collaboration with the Singapore-based organization Music For People.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Earlier this year, I gave a recital at the Chicago Cultural Center. The programme was called Of Folk, Faith & Fellowship: Exploring Chicago’s African-American Women Composers. I performed Florence Price and Margaret Bonds alongside Regina Harris Baiocchi and Dolores White. Baoicchi and White are contemporary composers and it was such an honour to have them attend the concert. What’s more is that the Chicago Cultural Center used to be a library and Price and Bonds would regularly visit. The whole performance was so immersed in the wonderful history that it sought to present. It was an unforgettable experience.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Defining success became much easier once I formed a mission statement for my work as a musician. I recognized that my mission would evolve alongside my own creative growth. But as it stands, my mission is to challenge systems of oppression and amplify historically silenced voices. My success is defined by every opportunity I have to perform or record the music of marginalized composers, particularly as these moments are often grounded in even greater historical or cultural significance. And so, my definition of success stems from my ability to fulfil my mission.

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

To not be afraid to shape your path in your own image. Championing music by women composers has been empowering for me. And so, to aspiring musicians, I encourage you to embrace and involve your fullest self along your journey.

What is your present state of mind?

A mix of hopeful, excited, determined and eager.


Samantha Ege is a British scholar, pianist and educator. Her PhD (University of York) centres on the African-American composer Florence Price. As a concert pianist, Ege’s focus on women composers has led to performances in Singapore, Australia, the UK and the US Ege has also championed Florence Price’s repertoire alongside violinist Er-Gene Kahng with duo recitals in Singapore, Hong Kong and the US.

Ege released her debut album in May 2018 with Wave Theory Records, entitled Four Women: Music for solo piano by Florence Price, Vítězslava Kaprálová, Ethel Bilsland and Margaret Bonds. The album featured the world première recording of Bilsland’s The Birthday Party, which led to Ege preparing an edition of the suite, now published by Faber Music. Four Women has been described as “an impressive collection…performed with virtuosic assurance.” Ege has also been commended “for her goal to bring the music of these composers to greater public awareness.”

www.musicherstories.com


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Next to the Leeds International Piano Competition, Dudley International Piano Competition (DIPC) is this country’s oldest and most respected piano competition. Established in 1967, the DIPC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017. Previous winners and competitors include Benjamin Frith, Joanna Macgregor, Andrew Wilde, Alicja Fiderkiewicz, Peter Donohoe, Graham Scott and Paul Lewis, all of whom have gone of to enjoy successful international careers, and the competition offers young pianists an important career-enhancing opportunity. The competition finals take place in Symphony Hall Birmingham with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.

The next competition is scheduled for 2020 but DIPC needs a significant injection of funds (£12,000) in order to continue. Please consider supporting the DIPC fundraising campaign:

DONATE HERE

 

dudley-international-piano-festival-blog-header

thumbnail_IMG_3393The beautiful packaging and handwritten note from the artist, embellished with pressed flowers, hinted at what was contained inside. For several days I didn’t want to open the package, it was so pretty, but when I did, I found something equally lovely, and intriguing too: an album of music, songs and poetry which reminded me of childhood holidays in Suffolk – by the sea at Aldeburgh or walking through the marshes and reed beds around Snape and Iken – and my parents listening to music by Benjamin Britten on their record player. And it is the music of Benjamin Britten which forms the basis of ‘The Wild Song’ – a musical and literary collaboration between soprano Marci Meth, pianist Anna Tilbrook, actor Simon Russell Beale and composer Mychael Danna.

marci_coverBritten was greatly influenced by the natural world, and specifically the coastal landscape of Aldeburgh and the windy, open marshes around the village of Snape where he lived and where he established the Aldeburgh Festival. One only has to listen to the Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’ to hear how much the sounds of the shoreline and the turbulent North Sea, the wind in the reed beds and birdsong infuse his music. His folksong arrangements are also rooted in the Suffolk landscape which he knew and loved so much, and 31 of them feature on ‘The Wild Song’, sung by Marci Meth with pianist Anna Tilbrook.

The songs alternate with poems by W B Yeats, read by actor Simon Russell Beale and selected by Marci, chosen because they complement the folksongs on a similar theme and their language resonates naturally with the lyrics of the songs. In addition, musical interludes by Oscar-winning film composer Mychael Danna are interspersed between the songs and poems. Each of Danna’s interludes contains a quote from the piano part of Britten’s folksongs – but slowed down, stretched and/or looped, so these become Danna’s own transcriptions of Britten’s.

Marci’s voice is elegant and sweet, perfect for Britten’s naïve song arrangements, and sensitively accompanied by Anna Tilbrook, whose piano sound is equally elegant, and both singer and pianist are alert to the shifting moods and charaters of these songs; there is plenty of wit, humour and robustness in the more lively songs. The poetry provides moments to pause and reflect – there is something very comforting about being read to and Simon Russell Beale surely has one of the most pleasing speaking voices – while Mychael Danna’s interludes act almost as a soundtrack, evoking Britten’s Suffolk. The entire album is very atmospheric. It is also beautifully produced with great care and attention to detail, including a generous booklet with all the song texts and poems. Appropriately, the album was recorded at the Britten Studio in Snape Maltings, Suffolk, where Britten lived and worked.

Recommended

Order The Wild Song

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Reed beds and river Alde near Snape Maltings, Suffolk