22069948_1912056895725052_5514396914646253568_nFor this, its 47th year, Rye Arts Festival has a new director of Classical Music, cellist Alison Moncrieff-Kelly. With this year’s festival just over a month away, I asked Alison to give us a taster of some of the highlights on the programme and to tell us a little more about what goes into organising a festival….

What can we expect from the classical music element in this year’s Rye Arts Festival and what are the events we should be looking out for?

As the incoming classical music Director for the Rye Arts Festival (RAF), I felt that I had to do a bit of research into what had gone before. The Festival has a wonderful pedigree, and the spread of musical interest has been remarkable; but what I did notice was that singers in particular had been less represented than other performers. So I lifted the phone to my close friend Iain Burnside, to brainstorm ideas. I very much admire the work Iain does in curating dramatised performances; and as one of the themes of the Festival is commemoration of the end of the First World War. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to put on ‘A First War Poet of England Am I’, a celebration of the songs and poems of Ivor Gurney. This will bring to the Rye Arts Festival Roderick Williams, along with Iain Burnside, and the actor Philip Franks, who will perform the poems. It’s an incredible privilege to have this combination of talent in our first week.

We also have Dame Emma Kirkby leading a programme of music by Dowland, Campion, Danyel and Ford with her group, Dowland Works. This is a wonderful opportunity to fill St Mary’s Rye with that famous crystalline voice.

I have tried to vary the offer, so there is also a big choral event – The City of London Choir are performing a programme of Elgar, followed by the Duruflé Requiem, Chamber recitals include The Revolutionary Drawing Room, who are performing ‘Music in Time of War’ in Winchelsea Church, and violinist Ani Batikian will perform music ‘From Armenia to Armistice’.

We have two wonderful pianists in the Festival: Danny Driver joins us for a recital that will include Rachmaninov York Bowen and Henriette Bosmans. Then Kenny Broberg, the winner of last year’s Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition, makes a welcome return to the Festival, performing the Mozart G Major piano concerto with the Hastings Philharmonic. This performance marks the beginning of a new relationship between the Rye Arts Festival and the Hastings Philharmonic.

We are also delighted to be consolidating a longstanding relationship with the Worshipful Company of Musicians by promoting two of their young artists in our lunchtime series – guitarist Laura Snowden and Buck Brass Trio.

Alisdair Kitchen and Euphonia Studio are giving the only UK performances of Les Mamelles des Tiresias this year. We are very proud to have Alisdair on board as the Rye Arts Festival in-house opera director – he’s a veritable powerhouse of creative invention!

How did you select the performers/programmes for this year’s RAF?

The idea was to start with the WW1 theme, and work from there. It’s been fascinating to discover how many strands led out of that central theme – so for instance, the Armenian armistice idea was very much Ani’s own inspiration. I love the enthusiasm that all the performers show for the Festival and the WW1 theme – the excitement has been extraordinary.

Can you tell us more about your role as Director of Classical Music?

My role is to create the classical music element of the Festival and to make sure that as many elements of the musical spectrum as possible are represented. I already have plans in place for the next two years, and am looking forward to continuing to broaden the scope of what the Festival offers.

This is your first year as director of classical music for RAF. What have been the challenges and pleasures?

It’s been a steep learning curve in terms of the organisational aspects of the job – an awful lot to put into place for a September Festival  when i was only appointed in October; but the committee has been wonderfully supportive, and I have found the energy and commitment around me incredibly stimulating. That, and the spontaneous enthusiasm from the performers has been really heartening.

What can people expect from the Festival? What kind of audience does it draw and what do you hope people will take away from the Festival?

People can expect a wide-ranging and varied programme, with some younger, emerging talent alongside stars of the classical firmament such as Roderick Williams and Emma Kirkby. The audience comes both from the local area and from London – there are a lot of second home owners in Rye, so the net is cast pretty wide. I hope people take away a sense in which the whole of the Rye area is expanding in cultural terms. It’s really accessible from London, and the town is magical – fabulous history, atmosphere, literary connections.

How do you see the music festival developing under your directorship?

I’d like to develop the mixed-media idiom that we initiate this season with Iain Burnside’s Gurney show. Iain is a fountain of creativity and I want to tap into that! I’m interested in several of his shows – Schwanengesang, which is a composite of the song cycle with dramatic interludes, was a brilliant piece of theatre that I saw him produce at the Guildhall. I also want to build on Emma Kirkby’s first appearance at the Festival: we’re discussing a residency for next year, to combine some workshops as well as performances. Other than that I’m really open to new ideas – definitely want to do move away from the traditional recital mold as the only form. There’s so much potential for other ways of performing.

You are a musician yourself – has this affected your approach to RAF?

Yes – I remember a friend of mine who works in management telling me that he thought he would make a really good manager, because he had been so badly managed so many times in the past, that he really knew what was needed to keep his staff happy. I have experienced some of the best and some of the worst of this challenging profession, and I think I know how to invite people to offer their best ideas, rather than telling them. Time will tell; but I’m a great believer in letting artist’s have their heads – they know far more about it from their vantage point on the stage, intuiting the audience response.

What are you most excited about in this year’s programme? What are your personal highlights?

I’m really challenged to answer this one, because I’m excited about the whole Festival, and not just the musical part: i anticipate getting no sleep for two weeks while I try to attend every single event! It’s a fantastic multi-arts Festival with a staggering range of talent and skill. Ask me again afterwards!


The 47th annual Rye Arts Festivals runs from 15-30 September 2018. For full details and tickets please visit the festival website

 

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

My first memory of a wind instrument was during a choir rehearsal at school when a flautist came to play alongside us – I was absolutely mesmerised by the way the instrument sounded. After weeks of begging my parents, they eventually gave in and got me a flute and lessons. I remember that they bought me the cheapest flute in the shop (thinking that it was going to be a five-minute wonder) and that when I tried to play it the head joint would spin around, we soon realised the problem and took it back to the shop for an upgrade!

After a year or so I was keen to start playing a second instrument, my teacher at the time was an ex-military musician and owned many different instruments. Each week he would bring one for me to try, eventually after several weeks he brought a saxophone and it was love at first sight. He left me with just the mouthpiece to practice on and I continued to make squeaks on it for a whole week (I must of sent my family crazy). Shortly after I acquired my first saxophone.

Not long after this when I was 13 years old I left to study at Chetham’s, already by this time I was sure I wanted to pursue a career as a musician. At the time I had no idea about what this meant, only that I loved playing music and that this was what I wanted to do all day long.

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

First of all my family: both my parents are very sporty, my mum was twice world champion in slalom canoeing and an ex-olympian. They know what it’s like to be dedicated to something. This has been amazing because I don’t think that it’s always easy for non-musical parents to understand music as a career choice, they’ve always been so supportive. They’ve helped me to understand more about my physical needs as a musician and given much advice on mental aspects such as dealing with stress, anxiety and nerves, something that isn’t alway talked about enough.

I’ve been lucky to have had many wonderful teachers right from the beginning. I really do owe a lot to Chetham’s who lay down the foundations for everything and provided me with the exposure that led to my studies at the Paris Conservatoire. Every year Chet’s would take us to the RNCM’s annual saxophone day, during these events I heard Claude Delangle and Vincent David for the first time, who would both eventually become my teachers in France. My time at the Paris Conservatoire massively influenced my playing, pushing it to new limits and helped me to realise the saxophones potential as a serious classical instrument.

After my studies in Paris I returned to London, where I’ve just finished at the Royal College of Music on the Artist Diploma course with Kyle Horch who is an absolute inspiration. I feel that the combination of Kyle’s teaching and the college’s amazing support structure has really allowed me to find new depths in my interpretations and performances.

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

When I first arrived in France at 18 years old, not speaking French and just trying to understand what was happening around me! This was a period where I went through many changes as a musician, but also the first time I was looking after myself. Thinking back it was quite a scary thing to do but it definitely helped shape who I am today.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It would have to be my first performance at the Wigmore Hall in 2016, not only am I proud of my performance but I feel that it was a real bench mark in my career that heralded the start of increasingly regular solo engagements.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Perhaps the best way to answer is by considering the audiences reaction to my performances, works by composers such as Debussy, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Takashi Yoshimatsu have received powerful responses.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

Sometimes I’m requested to perform specific repertoire but when allowed to choose I’m very keen to find a balance between transcriptions and original works. Although the saxophone doesn’t have the same quantity of repertoire as some other instruments, we do have many fantastic pieces, that deserve to be better known than they are.

When deciding what repertoire to perform I try to imagine myself as a member of the audience. I think about what would make me want to come to the concert and always choose pieces that I genuinely really like and feel a strong connection with.

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

I have particularly enjoyed performing at the Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square and Queen Elizabeth Hall. Above all I value the audience and their response to my playing, this is what really makes a venue for me.

Who are your favourite musicians?

There are of course many but I am a big fan of Emmanuel Pahud and Martin Fröst, I find their performances, creativity and versatility so inspiring.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Winning the gold medal at the 2018 Royal Over-Seas League Annual Music Competition at Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

A feeling of self-fulfilment whilst maintaining high levels of musicianship, communication with your audience and transmitting feelings and emotions. I believe that you are only as good as your last concert, therefore for me it’s about maintaining high standards repeatedly.

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

First of all never expect opportunities to just turn up out of the blue, be proactive about creating and finding new work. Be pleasant to be around, assume fully all projects you commit to and always strive to be better. Stay determined, there are always high and low points, believe in yourself and you capabilities. Don’t underestimate the need for rest, set aside time for yourself.

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

Continuing to perform as much as possible in exciting places and alongside fantastic musicians.


Praised for his “exceptional musicianship and emotive playing”, saxophonist Jonathan Radford is the 2018 Royal Over-Seas League Music Competition Gold Medalist and first prize winner. He is currently a Philip and Dorothy Green Young Artist with Making Music (PDGYA), a Park Lane Group Young Artist and a Countess of Munster Musical Trust Recital Scheme Artist.
Jonathan has given recitals at major venues in Europe including Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, Grieg Hall in Bergen, the Centre Pompidou and Philharmonie in Paris.  He has appeared as soloist with several orchestras including the Slovenian Chamber Orchestra and Liverpool Mozart Orchestra. A keen advocate of contemporary music he has premiered works by Luis Naón (co-commissioned by Radio France), Betsy Jolas (commissioned by the CNSM) and collaborated with IRCAM in Paris.
Highlights this season include recitals for music societies and festivals throughout the UK and performances at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (Southbank Centre), Wigmore Hall, the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall, St Martin-in-the Fields and St James’s Church Piccadilly. Over the past year Jonathan explored and commissioned new works for saxophone and mixed ensemble as part of his Junior Fellowship at the Royal College of Music.
Born in 1990, Jonathan studied at Chetham’s Schools of Music and at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris (CNSM) with Claude Delangle, graduating in 2017 with Masters degrees in both saxophone and chamber music with distinction. He recently graduated from the prestigious Artist Diploma course at the Royal College of Music, London with Kyle Horch where he was the Mills Williams Junior Fellow 2017-18.
Passionate about chamber music, Jonathan is a co-founder of the Yendo Quartet. The Quartet is regularly broadcast by Radio France featuring on Generation Jeunes Interprète, Alla Breve and En Piste, they have recently released their first CD, Utópico. This summer they take part in festivals in Croatia, France and Spain.
Jonathan is grateful for support from the Mills Williams Foundation, the Royal Over-Seas League,  the Hattori Foundation (Senior Soloist Award), the Musicians’ Company (Maisie Lewis Young Artist) and Help Musicians UK (Ian Fleming Award).
He is also a Vandoren Paris Artist.

Speaking-the-Piano-front-cover-1-e1530256784320This is the fifth book by acclaimed Scottish pianist Susan Tomes, and unlike her previous books whose primary focus is on the exigencies of life as a professional musician – from ensemble playing and touring, coughers in the audience to concert attire, or dealing with reviews – this latest volume is a series of reflections on learning and teaching.

At a time when music education is under serious threat, at least in the UK’s state schools, Speaking the Piano is in part a paean to the wonderful teachers Susan herself has studied with, including the renowned Hungarian piano professor, Gyorgy Sebok, a celebration of teaching and learning, and a heartfelt plea to retain music education as part of the school curriculum.

My own musical education, acquired internationally and continuing well into adult life, was a fascinating experience. It had an impact on me and my approach to life far beyond the arena of music. As time went by I began to teach the next generation of musicians, and found that the experience of teaching was as fascinating as the experience of learning.

– Susan Tomes

The book is divided into two sections, Teaching and Learning, and in the first section, Tomes draws on her experience as both a performer and teacher as well as her interactions with adult amateur pianists in the Piano Club which she recently established. Her wisdom is evident on every page and her writing is, as always, eloquent and intelligent, but never didactic. She is sensitive to the difficulties faced by many adult amateur pianists – and even some professionals too – in areas such as anxiety, harnessing the imagination, notation and reading music, understanding tempo and dynamics (not only physical but also psychological aspects of interpreting these markings), gestures and movement at the instrument, and myriad other issues, large and small, which face pianists and musicians in general whenever they go to play the music. She writes with honesty and clarity, using her own experiences as a student and teacher as the basis for sympathetic advice and guidance, and one has the sense throughout that she firmly believes in lifelong learning and that a teacher should always be adaptable and open to new insights and ideas, which may come unexpectedly from interactions with students. The book also celebrates the passion and commitment of the amateur pianist and gives encouragement to those who may find learning the piano at once wonderful and also frustrating.

The second part of the book on learning offers longer essays on the masterclass experience (good and bad), the wonders of jazz improvisation, and different genres of music. The final chapter – ‘Music Lights Up the Brain’ – discusses the pleasure of music, and the process of studying and learning music, the skills required to become proficient, and how teaching music performance at a high level (for example, in conservatoire) is a highly specialized art. Tomes also touches on scientific research into the benefits of playing a musical instrument and how learning music in school encourages children to develop self-confidence, cooperation, creativity and collaboration, and ends with a plea to “kindle a fire which will light the young musician’s path as they set out on their own journey of discovery”.

An engaging and engrossing read for music teachers, musicians and music lovers alike.


Speaking the Piano

Boydell Press UK, 2018

Meet the Artist – Susan Tomes

 

 

 

Franz Schubert – ‘Winterreise’, Temple Church, 24 July 2018

Angelika Kirchschlager, mezzo-soprano, and Julius Drake, piano

Guest review by Adrian Ainsworth

Schubert’s song cycle – surely the greatest work of its kind – sets to music a series of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller. In the opening lines, the protagonist begins an unspecified journey on foot, leaving behind a woman who, back in the Spring, he believed he would marry. But now the affair is over. By the second song, we find out her parents have made a better match.

In the bitter, freezing night, he strives to leave the town behind him. But his route is obscure, as he encounters familiar landmarks, signposts, a village, even the post van – and most of all, throughout, he feels the effects of nature: snow, wind, water, clouds, lightning. Towards the end of the cycle, the sense that this voyage is at least partly interior strengthens. Hallucinations get the better of him: an apparently friendly guiding light, multiple suns – all symbols for what he has lost). Finally, he meets a mysterious ‘organ-grinder’, and considers joining him, to sing and play together. There are a number of interpretations of the ending out there: the one I favour – and I think I’ve come across the most – is that the figure indicates the cycle is eternal. The hurdy-gurdy goes round and round for ever, and the grinder could even be the wanderer’s future self. Or, he could, simply, be Death.

(No-one seems to think he’s just an organ grinder.)

Schubert composed the first 12 songs in the cycle in early 1827, before he even knew about the rest of the poems in the sequence. The story of his friends’ utter bewilderment on hearing them is often told in programme notes and CD booklets, so I won’t repeat it in detail here. But with all these years’ hindsight, it seems to me that ‘Winterreise’ must have sent shivers down their spines because Schubert wrote exactly the music the words demanded. There are tantalising flashes of vigour, even joy – and brilliantly robust, yet fractured piano parts that mirror so well a voice wracked with both determination and despondency – but the overall mood is poignant, downbeat and unresolved.

‘Winterreise’ might be cold to the touch, but it’s difficult to escape its icy grip. Speaking as an avid listener, I seem to gather recordings of it in an almost addictive way, constantly searching for new angles and insights.

Singers are drawn to it like moths to a blue flame. Perhaps it’s the art song equivalent of a Hamlet, or Lear – a rite of passage. Many feel the urge to visit and re-visit it. Ian Bostridge has a famously close relationship with the cycle, writing a book about it, and recently performing a semi-staged, orchestrated version against projected footage of his younger self. Mark Padmore and Florian Boesch have each recorded it twice in the last ten years (with different accompanists).

And that’s just a few of the men. However, the protagonist of ‘Winterreise’ – definitely a chap – must be an irresistible ‘trouser role’…? (It’s easy to forget that song is as visual a medium as opera – writing before recorded music was dreamt of, Schubert could only ever have imagined someone standing up, putting these songs across to a live audience.) But even though there are numerous recordings – including Brigitte Fassbaender, Christa Ludwig, Nathalie Stutzmann or one of my personal favourites, Alice Coote’s searing live disc – the opportunity to hear a woman perform ‘Winterreise’ live still feels all too rare.

On this occasion we were in Temple Church to hear mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager’s interpretation, for the first time. I’ve always found Kirchschlager’s performances of art song thrilling: as much acted as sung, and with a captivating emotional range. I was excited to hear how she would apply this over a continuous narrative, rather than stand-alone lieder. What I experienced was completely fearless, at times frustrating but always fascinating.

The venue was both friend and foe. In Temple Church, at least where my companions and I were sitting, there’s a gloriously resonant but quite echoey acoustic. I’m not a sonic scientist, but at times, it felt like the voice and piano clashed slightly because a rumble of bass notes would tumble all over each other, or a phrase would be lost (for example, in the helter-skelter ‘Rückblick’ / ‘A backward glance’). At other points, however, in slower songs like ‘Wasserflut’ / ‘Flood’ or ‘Irrlicht’ / ‘Will-o’-the-wisp’, a fantastic sustain effect was created, allowing Angelika Kirchschlager and Julius Drake to continue singing and playing with the traces of the previous note or two still fading. This really enhanced the continuous feel of the performance and lent a sinister edge that would be hard to replicate in a studio recording.

Kirchschlager’s commitment to the piece was total, and I believe she portrayed the cyclic structure of the story as much through her body language as her voice. In the opening ‘Gute Nacht’ / ‘Good night’, she was still, transfixed, even to the point where I thought she was warming up in some way, not quite in full flow yet. Almost immediately, though, she opened out and began to move. Only in the final song, ‘Der Leiermann’ / ‘The organ-grinder’, when she withdrew back into herself, adopting the same pose, staring at some phantom far beyond the audience, did I realise – thoroughly moved and disquieted – that at the start we had seen her protagonist emerge, and now disappear.

Unafraid to sound harsh or broken when the context demanded, Kirchschlager could come across at times as if the acting were leading the singing. So effective was she in the cycle’s mood swings that the intensity felt a bit like listening to a 75-minute ‘Erlkönig’, a rollercoaster ghost-train ride that kept me riveted. But this didn’t prevent the emotional high-points of the sequence – in particular, the soaring anguish of the penultimate song ‘Die Nebensonnen’ / ‘Phantom suns’, Kirchschlager’s bright, glorious tone so tragically affecting – hitting home with a devastating beauty.


Adrian Ainsworth writes for a living, but mostly about things like finance, tax and benefits. For light relief, then, he covers his obsessions – overwhelmingly music, but with sprinklings of photography and art – on the ‘Specs’ blog, which you can find at

Twitter: @adrian_specs

Adrian is a regular guest writer for The Cross-Eyed Pianist

 

Concert going is a social as well as a cultural activity and one of the great pleasures is the after-concert discussion with friends – and occasionally strangers who linger in the auditorium or foyer – keen to share their thoughts on what they’ve just heard. Sometimes a performance can be so profound, moving or thought-provoking that an immediate verbal response may be impossible, as we each privately digest and consider what we have just heard. At other times, the words tumble out eagerly as we rush to share our impressions of the event.

Last week I was back in London for a very special concert at Temple Church, part of a series hosted by Temple Music Foundation featuring pianist Julius Drake and friends. Here was Schubert’s heartrending song cycle Winterreise, a work written the year before he died which has been invested with all kinds of meaning and psychobabble by those who believe this painful narrative is an autobiography of sorts. Austrian mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirschlager was singing this great work for the first time – and for me this was the first time I’d heard a female voice in the role of Schubert’s lonely winter traveller (I’ve now heard the work performed by tenor and baritone voices and also in an excellent English translation). Seated at the back of the church, it took awhile to tune one’s ear into the church’s acoustic, but once settled, it was clear to me that this was a performance of exceptional intensity, drama and emotion. I couldn’t see Kirschlager very easily from my seat, but her projection and commitment to the role was clear, her voice at times rough-edged and richly-hued to bring greater meaning and expression to the text and music.

Repairing afterwards with friends to a cosy pub on the Strand, we discussed what we had just heard over wine and beer (we also discussed the vessel from which my friend Adrian drank – was it a “tankard” or a “glass with a handle”? Such is the way when lively, inquisitive minds meet….!). While I enthused about the intensity and drama of the performance, my companions were rather more guarded, and this provoked a vigorous, but always friendly and considerate discussion. This was not some dry bar-by-bar analysis of the work and its performance, but thoughtful, heartfelt and immediate reactions by people who really care about music and concerts. It proved how meaningful, subjective and, above all, personal our experiences of music are.

It was a real treat to hear such an absorbing gig, then ‘share’ it there and then, as if the evening re-booted into 2 great nights in 1 – Adrian (@adrian_specs)

Never before has a performance led to a spirited, respectful and absorbing conversation. Something that deepened my understanding about a work and a performer – Jon (@thoroughlygood)

As a writer and reviewer, I find such conversations can crystallise or adjust one’s thoughts about a concert, the works performed and the performers, offering valuable reflection or reappraisal ahead of a review or article being written. It’s also a healthy reminder that we do not all like or appreciate the same things – and thank goodness for that, for these differences make the concert-going experience far more rewarding and interesting.


Adrian’s review of the concert at Temple Church will be published on this site shortly.