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)

World Piano Day, an annual worldwide event founded by a group of likeminded people, takes place on the 88th day of the year (29th March this year), because of the number of keys on the instrument being celebrated.

This playlist mostly comprises music I’ve learnt or am learning/revisiting, or that I simply like. I’ve made it collaborative so that others can contribute and between us we can celebrate World Piano Day, the wondrous instrument that is the piano, and its enormous breadth of repertoire

hikikomori! is a new opera by young composer Zygmund (Zyggy) de Somogyi.

The work was commissioned by Nigel and Sue masters of  not-for-profit opera production group Opera in Oborne (Oborne is a small village outside Sherborne in Dorset and the venue for the performances), and supported by Cameratina, a group of classical music enthusiasts who co-fund small-scale operas and recitals.

Zyggy was commissioned to write a piece that was ‘of our time’; he chose Hikikomori, the modern Japanese phenomenon in which people withdraw completely from all society for years at a time as the inspiration for his new opera.

I caught up with Zyggy to find out more about the background to hikikomori! and his creative impulses for the work:

What were your musical and other influence/inspirations for this work?

Musically, hikikomori! straddles the barriers between a wide range of styles. One thing that draws me to the opera is the aspect of timelessness that telling a story through the medium provides: two operas that greatly inspired the musicality of hikikomori! are George Benjamin’s Written On Skin and Kaija Sariaaho’s Innocence, which both craft narratives that simultaneously feel both incredibly contemporary and incredibly timeless. I also took inspiration from the story beats of psychological horror films such as Psycho and mother! (which the title of the opera pays homage to.)

Stylistically, the opera inhabits a post-tonal sound world, with hints of jazz harmony and sparse elements of new-tonalism throughout (including a juxtaposition near the opera’s finale.) However, for myself — in the same manner of the unconventional nature of a libretto adapted from a video game — the musical inspiration for hikikomori! stemmed less from the tropes of contemporary opera, and more from the emo and alternative rock records I grew up listening to. I hope that people who feel nostalgic for bands like My Chemical Romance and Funeral for a Friend, or are fans of bands such as Creeper, Bring Me The Horizon, and Havelocke, will get a lot from this opera — just as those who are interested in contemporary classical music.

Tell us more about the subject matter and choice of the Japanese word Hikikomori as a title for the work….

The word “hikikomori” derives from the Japanese word for a social phenomenon in which young people — particularly Japanese men — shut themselves away from the world, locking themselves in their rooms for months, years, or even decades on end.
The libretto of hikikomori! is a semi-adaptation of the story of indie psychological horror video game OMORI. The storyline of OMORI centres on a young shut-in boy, living in a childlike dream world in his own head, as his denial-fuelled adventures with his childhood friends gives way to a hidden, tragic truth.

Through a loose retelling of the story of OMORI and the social phenomenon of hikikomori, the opera also comments on the collective trauma that we have experienced over the past two years. The effect of the pandemic on young people, in particular, has been dramatic: a survey conducted by The Guardian shows that 7% of seventeen-year-olds have attempted suicide (source: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2021/feb/21/uk-17-year-olds-mental-health-crisis), and a further 24% admitted to self-harm, in the first year of the pandemic.

While the trauma and isolation felt by the opera’s titular hikikomori has its roots in a more intimate grief, the universal themes I have strived to realise through this opera can be applied to a multitude of facets of our imposed lockdown: the fears of our own mortality, the loved ones taken from us too soon, the constant headlines reminding us of the world’s gravitas.

Describe your experience of working with other singers/musicians

It has been an immense joy and privilege to work with an incredibly talented and dedicated cohort of singers and instrumentalists over the course of the opera’s gestation. The premiere performance of hikikomori! features soprano Iuno Connolly, mezzo-soprano Katy Thomson, tenor Liam Bonthrone, and baritone Kieran Rayner, accompanied by Michelle Santiago on piano, under the artistic direction and mentorship of the Royal Opera House’s Susanna Stranders. We have recently finished a series of workshops in central London on the opera’s minutiae, and our performers have lent incredible performances that have brought the dream world and its characters to life — which has been an amazing feat, considering all of the singers are also busy learning Pauline Viardot’s Cendrillon for the same weekend!

What you hope people will take away from hearing your music?

In essence, hikikomori! is an opera about grief, trauma, isolation, survivor’s guilt, and recovery from all of the aforementioned. While exploration of these topics may be understandably uncomfortable or painful for some — as the titular hikikomori faces in the darkest depths of his mind, in the opera’s final act — for myself, a confrontation with the truth and its consequences is how we forge the path to acceptance, and the way we can bring ourselves to move on.


hikikomori! premieres on 4 April 2022, at 3.30pm at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Oborne, Dorset. The premiere will be preceded by a talk by the composer, facilitated by artistic director Susanna Stranders.

Tickets cost £10 – contact Opera in Oborne at 01935 817194 or email info@operainoborne.org to reserve your place. Limited capacity. More information

 

 

I finally got round the watching John Bridcut’s film of Winterreise, with baritone Benjamin Appl and pianist James Baillieu. I’m a great admirer of Bridcut’s films, in particular those about Benjamin Britten, and this new film of Winterreise is immensely appealing in both setting and, of course, the music. It’s filmed in Switzerland, in and around the extraordinarily striking Julier Tower, a remarkable modern theatre constructed of wood and glass whose stark, blood-red walls contrast sharply with the snow-covered landscape in which it stands. The scene is set immediately, with Benjamin Appl trudging through deep snow, in a snow storm (apparently, the snow began to fall just before filming began). Here is Schubert’s lonely wanderer, having left the house of his beloved, cast out on a journey of reflection on love, love lost, regret, sorrow, the torment of reawakening hope and the journey to resignation. Set to poems by Wilhelm Müller, this is a literal and metaphorical journey for the protagonist.

I love this music (and as regular readers/followers know, I love the music of Schubert in general, and his later piano music in particular), and I’ve heard Winterreise in concert on a number of occasions, each one of them moving and memorable – Ian Bostridge with Mitsuko Uchida, in English translation with Roderick Williams and Chris Glyn, in a modern reworking in Zender’s Winterreise (also with Bostridge) and most recently sung by mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager with Julius Drake, on one of the hottest days of the year back in the summer of 2018. Each time I have found much to ponder in this, perhaps the finest song cycle by Schubert, or indeed anyone else….

Ian Bostridge in Zender’s Winterreise

There is no denying the arresting grandeur of the setting of Bridcut’s Winterreise. Bright white, deep snow, stunning Alpine peaks – and that curious modern structure set amidst it all. Appl is as striking as the landscape, as perfectly chiselled as those mountains, with deep blue eyes which burn with passion or glaze with tears in the more poignant songs or passages, or occasionally fix the viewer with an unsettling directness which only adds to the power of Müller’s text and Schubert’s music. He has a wonderfully clear, clean voice, with a range from a whispered pianissimo (the level of control here is impressive) to raging fortissimo. James Baillieu, playing a gorgeous Bösendorfer piano, whose case (was it rosewood?) seems to hark back to a Schubert- era instrument, brings depth and clarity to the music. He avoids ponderousness in the darker songs and there are moments of delicious sweetness or tender poignancy – in Der Lindenbaum or Frühlingstraum, for example – but it is in the darker or more desolate songs that Baillieu really portrays the wanderer’s predicament, often simply through judiciously placed single notes or a fractional pause (agogic accent) before placing a note (Gefrorne Tränen, for example). The closing song, Der Leiermann, is absolutely devastating in its spare simplicity.

The performance of the music is first class, really engaging, and both singer and pianist deftly capture Schubert’s shifting emotions, curious harmonic shifts (as Baillieu says in one of the commentaries, the shift from major to minor in Schubert is like moving from one universe to another). The songs are occasionally interspersed with commentary by Appl and Baillieu (less frequently) on the music, and there’s a wonderful segment of Appl in conversation with Brigitte Fassbaender, discussing the appropriateness of this music for the female voice as well as the male.

But I have to admit, I found quite a lot of the film distracting. Pondering this after the event, I suspect it is because I have my own internal image of the lonely wanderer and for me, he (or she) is not in an awe-inspiring Alpine landscape, but rather trudging along a snowy road, in a flat, featureless landscape only occasionally relieved by a signpost, a village, a stream….. I also found some of Appl’s acting a little contrived – he didn’t always seem entirely comfortable (and presumably quite cold!) out in the snow drifts, and for me, he was always far more convincing when inside with Baillieu (and there are some wonderful moments when he sings seated at the pianist’s side, a nod, perhaps, to the way the songs would have been performed in Schubert’s day). Also, I don’t need visual cues to understand the narrative – but for this reason, I think the film is an excellent introduction for the Winterreise ingénue, the narrative compellingly matched in striking images and impressive sound quality which allows us to fully appreciate and enjoy composer, music and of course the musicians.

Winterreise is available via the BBC iPlayer and Marquee TV

Listen to a podcast with Benjamin Appl

Benjamin Appl’s new recording of Winterreise, with James Baillieu, is available on the Alpha Classics label

An interview with Chinwe D John, a medical doctor and author, whose first EP “Within a Certain Time and Place” was released in March 2022.

Tell me a little about your background. Have you always written poetry?

Firstly, let me say thank you for hosting an interview with me. I was born in California to Nigerian parents, and had lived on four continents by the time I was a teenager. Due to my younger siblings schooling in the UK, I came to spend a modest amount of time in England. I ended up pursuing my post medical school training in the States, where I practice my medical vocation as a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist. I did not start out writing poetry, though my first published work “Tales of Fantasy and Reality”, was a poetry book.

For as long as I have had memory of myself, I have written stories, and made up simple melodies. Growing up during my time in Nigeria, the school system sharply separated art and science courses, once one got into the higher secondary school years. I always wanted to be in the medical field, but also had a passion for literature. There were no options available for me to pursue a combined training in both fields, so I became a partially self-taught student of literature, sitting in formal lectures during class breaks, and devouring as many books as I could get my hands on. It helped that my parents, both professionals in the field of science, encouraged reading in all of us siblings.

How did you come to write your song “Now as Before” and what motivated you to approach a British composer rather than one based in the US to write the music?

In October of 2020, there was growing tension in the air here in the States, and I turned, as I often do, to classical music for solace. Serendipity led me to discover the work of tenor Andy Staples, and I was enchanted by his wonderful singing voice and versatility. Around the same time, there were numerous news reports in UK news outlets, on the unique plight of its classical musicians due to a combination of the pandemic, and EU work restrictions. This led me to take a closer look into the classical music industry, and my conclusion was unless a new audience was brought in, once the core supporting demographic passed on, there would be no way for the industry to exist as we know it.

Added to this, was the trend to decrease funding for the arts in UK schools. I decided to do my small bit to support an industry that had given me a lot. In my mind, one way to increase classical music’s listening audience, was to commission contemporary composers, and have them set music to lyrics which are reflective and relevant to our current times.

As to why the UK? Many reasons, some of which I have already mentioned. For me, if the UK, which had been a major influence when it came to orchestral music/choirs/literature, was investing less in the arts, it signified a global shift in perspective. A reduction of value in the arts, to me signifies a reduction of value in matters of humanity, at a time when technological advancements do not appear to be matched by an advancement in our expression of humanity.

I wrote the lyrics to “Now as Before” in January 2021, and it was the first time I was writing in four years. The line which gave birth to the song, came from a line I had written about eight years ago for a never published poem. I knew that I wanted to write a song whose main theme was Hope. I wanted the song to touch on some of the internal conflicts and challenges we face today as individuals, show how these challenges have always existed, and perhaps give some suggestion as to how to address them.

It was a really challenging time – it still is – and I felt a prayer would help ease people’s minds. Mid-February of 2021, I was invited to a live Zoom event by La Nuova Musica. A question I posed (regarding the need to commission contemporary classic composers to set music to lyrics reflective of our present time), got the attention of Andy Staples, who was a guest artist at the event. This for me was a sign to continue with my search for a UK based composer, with the hope that he, Andy, would agree to collaborate on the song once it was completed.

How did you meet composer Geoff Hannan?

In January of 2021, serendipity at play once again, led me to a recommendation, which in turn led me to the London Sinfonietta’s website. On this website was a list of composers whom they had commissioned through the years. I listened to works from many composers, including those on a BBC “postcards from composers” feature, and made a list of six composers whose use of melody worked with what I had in mind for the lyrics. Geoff was amongst the composers on the list, and I contacted him at the end of February to enquire if he would accept a commission to write music for a piece whose theme would be Hope. He asked if I had any lyrics, and after I sent over the lyrics for “Now as Before”, he composed the music for the chorus that very day.

How do you feel Geoff Hannan has responded to your lyrics in his music?

Honestly, and with great attention to the meaning of the lyrics. The music compliments the lyrics beautifully. He is a fantastic musical interpreter of emotion, and it shows in these songs.

What are the main themes explored in your songs on the EP?

“Now as Before”: Hope. The repetition of history. The importance of interpersonal interaction. Our interconnectedness with nature.

“Changing Fate”: Predetermined versus Undetermined fate. The Judas and Job questions. Nihilism and apathy versus Optimism and action.

“Oriented”: Perception of reality. Mental status. Time travel. Everlasting love.

Who are your favourite writers/poets?

I will list a few favourites:

Writers: Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Roald Dahl, Oscar Wilde, Jane Austen, E.M Foster, P.G. Wodehouse, George Orwell, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe, James Clavell, Milan Kundera, Umberto Eco, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

Poets: Khalil Gibran, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Dana Gioia, Sahir Ludhianvi, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, David Olney, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, and Maya Angelou.

And who are your favourite composers/musicians? Did your musical taste influence how you approached writing these songs?

Composers:

Old time favourites are: Purcell, Handel, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, R.D. Burman, Ennio Morricone, Claude-Michel Schönberg and John Williams.

Currently, I am paying closer attention to, and discovering works by Schubert, Mahler, Schumann, and the contemporary composers with whom I am collaborating.

Musicians: Stevie Wonder, Van Cliburn, Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein, Abner Jay, Jeff Buckley, The Smiths, Bob Marley, Jacques Brel and too many others to list here.

Yes, my musical taste did influence how I wrote these songs. Additionally, when I am trying to write a poem or a song lyric, my lines come accompanied by simple melodies. This helps both in ensuring a smooth rhythm, and coaxing the words to come along.

How does it feel to have your lyrics represented in songs written by Geoff and performed by Andy Staples and Alisdair Hogarth? What do you feel these musicians bring to the project?

It feels wonderful! This EP project is one of the most unique and successful projects I have ever initiated. Working with people you know is challenging enough, working successfully with strangers during a global pandemic, is nothing short of a miracle. All three brought their musical genius and experience, but genius alone would not have brought about a successful collaboration. All three artists brought dedication, work ethic, and a commitment to the goal. They also made sacrifices. Andy and Alisdair had the additional task of finding a distributor for the work, which they handled with great aplomb, getting the EP released by the great Voces8 label. I am very thankful to Geoff, Andy and Alisdair, for collaborating with me. I hope listeners connect with our music, and the goal of our EP “Within a Certain Time and Place”, is achieved.

“Within a Certain Time and Place” is available now on the Voces8 label and via streaming. Listen here


Chinwe D. John is a medical doctor and author, who was born in the U.S to Nigerian parents. In 2012 she published a book of narrative poetry Tales of Fantasy and Reality. This was followed by a novel The Boy in the Painting, Book 1 of The Time Shield Series, in 2016. Within a Certain Time and Place, released in 2022, is her first EP

As part of this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM), French horn player and this year’s HFoM Principal Artist Ben Goldscheider will be giving a horn masterclass on Thursday 9 June 2022, 5.00pm-6.30pm, at Queenswood School, Hatfield, Hertfordshire.

Applications are now open for musicians to apply:

  • Anyone can apply. There is no age limit; however, applicants should be Grade VIII or Diploma standard, and above.
  • There is no charge to apply to participate in the Masterclass, and tickets to observe the sessions will also be free. Due to limited space, the classes will also be made available as a livestream.
  • The services of a professional pianist will be provided, free of any charge, if you’re chosen to participate. You will only need to cover the costs of transport to and from the class, and accommodation, should that be necessary.
  • APPLICATION DEADLINE: Tuesday 12 April 2022

DOWNLOAD Masterclass Application

Find out more about Ben Goldscheider


The Hertfordshire Festival of Music (HFoM) celebrates and nurtures exceptional music-making, bringing world-class musicians to the county. HFoM’s aims include supporting professional and young musicians from Hertfordshire, presenting fascinating music by living composers, and devising major and innovative projects for education and participation.

Founded in 2016, HFoM has presented concerts that have inspired extraordinary audience responses, with artists such as Tasmin Little OBE, Dame Emma Kirkby, Chloë Hanslip, Stephen Hough CBE, Steven Isserlis CBE, the Carducci Quartet,
the Galliard Ensemble, and the Orchestra of the Swan.

In 2022 Ben Goldscheider will be the Principal Artist at the Hertfordshire Festival of Music, which runs from 2nd to 11th June 2022.

In addition to the masterclass, Ben will be giving a recital with pianist Richard Uttley on Thursday 9th June 2022, also at Queenswood School. Ben will also be performing with a quintet on Friday 10th June at 7.30pm in St Saviour’s Church, St Albans.

Full details of all the HFoM concerts and event will be available on the HFoM website:
www.hertsmusicfest.org.uk

A “friendly and accessible vibe…the very highest level of music-making and extremely imaginative programmes, in beautiful locations

– Judith Weir, CBE, Master of the Queen’s Music