Tag Archives: 1901 Arts Club

In praise of the piano summer school

This week I had the pleasure of attending a piano meetup event organised by Fiona Page, the owner of La Balie, a beautiful 16th-century restored farmhouse in the Lot-et-Garonne region of France, and now home to a piano summer school, launched in summer 2015.

The event was a relaxed soirée at the 1901 Arts Club, an intimate and elegant venue near Waterloo station whose cosy ambiance and welcoming staff lends itself to conviviality. Many of the guests had attended the summer courses, others were planning to attend next year, and I was there as I have been helping to publicise the courses.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

Piano courses bring like-minded people together and firm friendships are regularly forged in the process of shared study and pleasure in music. I have made some very good friends through piano courses I have attended and the social aspect of such courses is a big attraction for many participants. The convivial and relaxed atmosphere which Fiona has created at La Balie is evidently infectious: when I arrived at the 1901 Arts Club there was already much lively chat and laughter coming from the upstairs bar and lounge before the concert began, and this continued into the interval and after the concert. The programme was varied, reflecting the musical tastes of the performers, and there was some fine playing.

After the interval, the course tutor, pianist James Lisney, played music by Chopin, prefacing his performance with generous thanks to Fiona and impassioned praise for the summer school concept (he is regular tutor at a number of summer schools) and its value.

“If you think you have learned everything there is to learn, think again”

He cited his own experience of attending a summer school in France, following study with Phyllis Sellick. and revealed that his own experience proved his comment: there is always more to learn.

My own experience of piano courses confirms this. Even if you study with a regular teacher, or no longer have lessons, if you are a teacher or a student in conservatoire, there is always more to learn, and piano courses offer a different way of learning which can be highly beneficial to one’s development as a pianist, as well as offering opportunities to connect with other pianists

Piano courses are incredibly popular (as evidenced by the number listed in my annual round up of courses and summer schools – and this is by no means exhaustive). Participants enjoy the opportunity of “total piano immersion”, the chance to study with top class tutors and internationally-renowned musicians, and to share repertoire and socialise. For many, the piano course can be revelatory and rewarding, but it also takes a sensitive tutor and responsible students to help make the course successful and enjoyable for all.

I have attended wonderful courses where the sense of a shared learning experience is very potent and inspiring. To get the most out of a piano course, go with the intention to take from the course what you need, not to compare yourself to others but simply enjoy the other repertoire and playing you hear. For many, the attraction of receiving tuition from a top-class pianist/renowned teacher is also very important – to return home from the course and tell your friends that you studied with So-and-So….. In fact, it is about the quality of tuition, not the “big name” who is giving it, and it can be helpful to seek recommendations from friends and colleagues who have already attended courses as to who is the right tutor for you. Some people enjoy a rigorous approach, others (like me) prefer to be treated with more kindness.

If you regularly study with one teacher, someone else’s approach may run counter to your own teacher’s and may be confusing, especially for the less confident player. And if you attend many courses and summer schools, the masterclasses may be like going to the doctor: one teacher will tell you to do with one thing, another will advise something completely different. The differing opinions and approaches of teachers can be confusing, and sifting out what is useful advice and what is not, can be tricky. Again, take from the tuition what you feel will benefit you. If others swear by Hanon exercises every morning, it does not mean you must too….. An important part of our development as pianists, at whatever level we play, is knowing what will be most beneficial to us, personally. And no teacher’s advice should ever be regarded as absolute gospel!

Because the teaching at summer schools is organised in a different way to the one-to-one private lesson, tutors by necessity may not always be able to give very detailed or thorough advice. Instead, a sensitive tutor, such as James Lisney, will be able to identify what the student needs then, at that moment. Group classes and workshops are also a useful way of sharing ideas on aspects such as technique, proper warm up routines, performance anxiety etc and such classes often become a forum for lively discussion and contributions from all participants. The great thing about being on a course is that there is time to digest this advice, act on it and come back to the tutor with it later in the week.

 

La Balie, France
La Balie, France

Being on a residential course also offers opportunities for free playing, informal concerts, plenty of piano chat, socialising, and relaxing, all of which feeds into our musical landscape and informs our playing (if we allow it to). Talking to participants at La Balie, I got the impression that people had really reveled in the expert teaching, the shared music making, the superb accommodation, fine food and general sociability of the courses. Add to that a charming hostess, a beautiful location, and the lovely sunshine, and you have much, much more than a piano holiday….

La Balie.
Further reading

More articles on piano courses and summer schools

Playing too many masterclasses can be confusing for the student (article from The Strad magazine)

Meet the Artist……Peter Murdock-Saint, pianist

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

During a family holiday in Jersey in 1988, I heard a cocktail pianist at the Hotel de France.  I became transfixed with the piano sound, and each evening at the hotel restaurant would stand next to the artist and gaze (realising now how irritating it would have been for an eight year old in chinos and a gaudy shirt, to be peering and examining the artist’s fingers).  I also remember eating each course terribly slowly to maximise on the listening potential!

After much nagging (persistence usually pays off!), and against my late father’s intentions (S.A.S. fighting machine), Ma bought me my first piano for £50.00.  It was an Erard, and I adored it until I wore it out.  My world gradually became totally music and arts orientated, and I felt it was the only thing I excelled in; there was no option other than to forge a musical path.  Looking back, I had no idea what colourful and wonderful opportunities it would hand to me.

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

This is the easiest of the questions to answer.  Margaret Fingerhut, who believed in me at a time when I was having quite a major confidence wobble in my life, taught me at the RNCM, and on occasion privately afterwards.  I learned more in the short time I had with Margaret, than I did from any other principal study tutor I studied with during my degree course.

Before this, Arthur Williams taught me organ (I ended up covering five different church organist posts at the same time!), and piano encompassing everything I needed to know to set me up in moving forward with my career.  He took me on many trips to concerts and hands on playing events across the country, and in his will left me his entire sheet music and recordings collection.  It was one of the most harrowing days of my life having to play for his funeral, and listening to Elgar’s ‘Dream of Gerontius’ in its entirety looking at the 7 foot gentle giant lay in his coffin!  On a lighter note, I amusingly curse the huge collection Arthur left me, each time I have to move house, as do the friends that help me pack it up each time.

After Arthur had sadly passed away, Doctor Stephen Collisson took on the challenge of preparing me for conservatoire entry auditions, and had playing Bach English Suites, Brahms Ballades, Mozart Sonatas and Rachmaninoff Preludes in the short space between A levels and conservatoire entry.  He had time and patience and gave me extra time whenever I needed, or was having a mini-meltdown, and probably understood me more than I did at the time!

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

This has to be when I went across to the dark side, and organ was my principal study.  I was fortunate enough to land a position as Organ Scholar at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal Hampton Court Palace when I was 17.  This involved learning up to an hour’s worth of new choral accompaniments per week, plus some taxing voluntaries.  My first service there, the setting for Evensong was Stanford in A (orchestral reduction); alone in the organ loft in such an auspicious setting, my heart was in my mouth, all trussed up in the royal livery.  That place was magical, most notably at Midnight Mass.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I have one recording available which was awarded a five star review, and demanded a second album.  Also a telling off from the reviewer who had never heard of me, and that my modesty and lack of online presence is holding me back.  The recording was done in whole takes only, and I insisted that the ‘inaccuracies’ were kept in as part of the performance.  Hidden on the album cover is my insignia “there are no mistakes, just happy accidents”, I also have this on a plaque next to my piano at home, as I feel it is vital for students to be aware of this, as well as me.  The recording is very special in another way I have never revealed until now, in that I was head-over-heels for the page-turner.  Shortly after he moved to the other side of the world.

In terms of performances, it has to be 2012 Manchester Pride Concert Series, promoting LGBT composers.  I was due to accompany the Poulenc Trio for piano, oboe and bassoon amongst other chamber works.  Sadly the oboist got stuck in another country the day before, and I had twelve hours to pull together a solo recital to be recorded live and aired on BBC Radio 3, BBC Manchester and Gaydio!  After dealing with a stroppy audience lady who screamed “WHAT, no oboe….I’m off” … Chaminade, Debussy, Hahn, d’Indy, Dukas, Ravel, Saint-Saens and Widor were played, and this recording kick-started my YouTube channel in an attempt to embrace technology and my reviewer’s advice!

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The pinnacle two works in my repertoire are unusual French sonatas.  Chaminade and Dukas!  The Chaminade I learned back in 1996, and the Dukas in 2003.  The Chaminade I use as a cornerstone in recitals a lot as it covers many forms; Fantasia, Fughetta, Nocturne, Toccata.

The Dukas has been allowed by programmers twice due to its need to be served with a good dose of happy pills and a course of counselling afterwards.  I also find it is quite an aerobic challenge, and gave it the nickname “French Hammerklavier”.

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

I am constantly on the discovery path, delving far too deep into the byways of the gargantuan repertoire available to us, sadly a vast amount now out of print I uncover from what seems another world.  Often, after playing through the unknown, one can see why it never caught on.  Other times, it makes no sense why it never made it past a first edition.

I leave the core repertoire to the high-masters.  I have far too much fun in the unknown, and tracing ancient scores whose printing plates were destroyed in the wars.  My most recent example of this is the Scharwenka Piano Sonata No. 1 in C sharp minor (first version), and works by Granville Bantock.  The piano works of the great French organists such as Dubois, Tournemire, Vierne and Widor are also an interesting route to follow.

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

I found myself puzzling over this question, then my answer came to me in my own living room.  The recital work I have enjoyed the most is in the salon setting, where people can discuss music, enjoy food, cake and wine, and follow a less formal protocol such as the concert halls.  I always enjoy socialising with people who have come to share the music.  To perform, hide in a dressing room, then retire to a hotel room would not make me happy at all.  Excitement is to be shared.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Although I have what I call phases of favourite pieces, I always end up hurtling back to Chaminade for her simple yet effective turn of melody and exotic harmonies, and of course her largest form of writing, her Piano Sonata, which even then, is totally accessible to anyone.  Many links, (albeit tenuous), can be made to other wonderful works as Chaminade’s brother-in-law and eminent pianist Moszkowski.  Even Stokowski wrote his first opus for Chaminade’s sister, Henriette Moszkowski née Chaminade!

In terms of listening, I adore the freshness of Rameau and the Couperins.  I have also recently discovered Lebegue thanks to a recent trip to Vienna with friends, and some harpsichordal geekyness.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have found over recent years, my personal preferences lie in the hands of lady pianists and accompanists, too many to mention by name here; but, I am pleased to see this fairly recent surge after a male-saturated scene.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

This was actually a ballet performance at a very young age, when Ma sneaked me to see Tchaikowsky’s Nutcracker and parked her car outside her place of work in case my father was checking up.  From there Ma’s boss at work drove us to the ballet.  I found the whole evening spell-binding and magical, although still confused as to the travel arrangements!

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

The most important thing I learned at conservatoire was how not to treat people and students.  The favouritism and bullying I witnessed and experienced shocked me to the core.  My impossible situation was such that had I made any more fuss, I’m pretty sure it would have ended my study and career.  I stood my ground, and tunnelled, surfacing into the light at the end with some scratches and bruises, but to the annoyance of some hierarchy, unscathed.

I tell students I work with about my experience, and that there are many wonderful people in the field, and as a minority career group, we should all support each other.  Sadly this is not the case, and I feel duty bound to give warning about the blockades and barriers (aka unpleasant people in powerful positions), students may face.

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

This is a taxing question at present, as I am currently caring full time for Ma.  I would like to say, “exactly what I am doing now”, but when the new start comes, my secret intention is to start again somewhere exiting and new, surrounded by my close network of wonderful friends, and lots of exposure to the arts.

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Perfect happiness for me, is spending time with friends, being creative, whether it be baking or what we call “danger concerts” …. all this without having to clock-watch.

What is your most treasured possession?

This has to be the autographed manuscript I am lucky enough to possess of Chaminade’s Piano Sonata.  When my number gets called in, my vast Chaminade collection will be available for borrowing, and viewing via the Cornulier family in France (Chaminade descendants).

What do you enjoy doing most? 

When I’m not working on a musical project, hunting library archives, or catching up with social networking gossip, I enjoy exploring all things Art Nouveau and French cinema.  Period dramas are a big favourite and practising concert harp.

You are performing Dukas’ Sonata in E-flat minor on 4th December. What is the special fascination of this sonata for you and how did you discover it in the first place?
 
I shall answer this question backwards if I may, as it is the Sonata that found me, a little like Bilbo and the ring in The Hobbit! “It came to me, my own, my precious”
 
Searching in the dimly lit archive wheelie-to-and-fro stacks within a French private collection left to Henry Watson Library, for some very early Chaminade; the moving of the casing on the tracks must have dislodged some scores and the Dukas came down like a feather from heaven (not a horn from hell as one colleague put it), and landed on the linoleum tiling infront of me. It is jolly good fun turning those wheels and watching several thousand books move gracefully, then reading the sign to check if anyone is inbetween cases, and having an ‘ah well too late now’ moment There are worse ways to go, other than being pressed between Chambonnieres and Vianna da Motta!
 
I had one of my ‘ooooooooh’ moments, picking the score up, and watching the cover-page waft away as it cracked off of its binding. It felt heavy, all 56 A3 pages of it printed on that wonderful French (latrine) paper of the day, that goes brittle at the edges, and eats itself inwards. Clefs are usually to go first, then the key signature…what I call the vitals first….then the dots. Leafing through I could see Dukas had been very busy with his ‘note pepperpot’, and there were some gloopy nutella like textures throughout all four movements. For the first time I abandoned poor Chaminade, I thought ‘challenge accepted’, and power-minced out of the stacks home to the piano. Again like Tolkien, it felt as though I had dug too deep, and released a demon from the ancient world, a shadow wreathed in flame! I could not get out from this music and the way was shut! … It is dark and brooding covering all forms, fantaisie and prologue, nocturne et chorale, toccata-scherzo et fugue, culminating in a rapsodie. Here Dukas tries to outdo Liszt in places where the line, “Go back to the shadow….you shall not pass” comes to mind, and after 40 minutes of forboding gloom and battle, and vagrant Balrog-like chromaticism; triumph wins, and we finally are released into the major tonality.
The special fascination for me is the emotion Dukas conveys and that the sonata carries. Tragedy, pity, defeat, surrender, plunder, gloom, tranquility, tyranny, heroism, peace, relentlessness, mysticism and nostalgia. It is exhausting to play physically and emotionally, with all these facets packed into 50 minutes and four movements, and preparing to perform it is what I imagine preparing for a hefty marathon would be like (those that know me, I am no sports icon). The only thing I can compare it to is my 22 mile charity bicycle ride across Sandringham with zero training on a beautiful bicycle that weighed 5 stone. (I was only meant to be on the finish line handing out Robinson’s squash and cake). I had a wonderful cyclist encouraging me forward with snackettes on a stick, and this person has transmogrified now into my page-turner (the parallels are amusing), for the ‘Dukas after Dark’ event.
It has had a few mini-outings to select ears, and the first question people ask is how long it took to learn. 18 months to learn the dots back in 2004, and since then it has been quietly stirring under my fingers like a languishing beast, for over a decade, ready for it’s first big outing on December 4th at 1901 Arts Club for South London Concert Series. Curious, as Dukas finished lavishing over the work in 1901, and I am extremely excited and thankful to be finally performing this keystone of the piano repertory. It has been one hell of a journey, nevermind about Hobbits!

 

Peter performs Paul Dukas’s Piano Sonata in E-flat minor in a special concert at the 1901 Arts Club, Waterloo, London on 4 December 2015. Further details and tickets here

Born in 1980, Peter embarked upon piano tuition aged 8 after hearing a cocktail pianist perform in the Hotel de France, Jersey and after much persistence was bought an Erard as his first instrument. Three years later he took up the church organ too, studying with Arthur Williams, Paul Hale and David Briggs. After numerous parish church organ scholarships in Birmingham, Olton, Solihull and Bickenhill, (including work on the famous Handel organ for Lord and Lady Guernsey and The Earl of Aylesford in their private estate chapel), he undertook organ scholarships at Solihull School for Boys and at Her Majesty’s Chapel Royal, Hampton Court Palace.

Having received a bursary from his L.E.A. Special Awards Committee, Peter entered the Birmingham Conservatoire Junior School where he performed Grieg’s Piano Concerto. He has also performed the piano concerti of Chaminade, Pierné, Boieldieu, Lalo, Massenet, Saint-Saens, Widor, Vierne, and Rubinstein. In 2004 he graduated with a BMus(Hons) from the Royal Northern College of Music after studying with Margaret Fingerhut. Since then he has established a busy career having taught for Manchester High School for Girls and Ashton-under-Lyne Sixth Form College, has a busy private practice, is an instrumental accompanist, and has a full time post specialising in French music at Forsyth Brothers Limited, Manchester.

Now specialising in only piano, Peter continues to seek professional coaching from Margaret Fingerhut (recording artist), and has had duo performance coaching with Peter Dixon (BBC Philharmonic). He is especially keen to champion unjustly neglected solo and chamber repertoire, particularly that of the French Romantic School, Dukas’ piano oeuvre and Cécile Chaminade for whom he gave a BBC Radio 3 interview in 2013. Peter has broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio Manchester and Gaydio taking part in the Manchester Pride Chamber Concert Series performing Saint-Saens, Chaminade, Dukas, Ravel and Hahn. In March 2005 Peter recorded ‘A Gallery of Miniatures for Piano’, a full length disc of piano byways that received an acclaimed 4.5 star review.

Meet the Artist……Tania Stavreva, pianist

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

I started to play the piano at a very early age (I was 4 years old). I can’t remember exact details but my parents were telling me that every time I saw a piano, I always wanted to play on it. It was even hard to pull me out of it once I started playing. Then they decided to buy me a real piano at home. My father was a professional musician, a teacher and a child prodigy. His name was Georgi Stavrev. He played the violin, the guitar and his big dream later was to be a symphony conductor but he got very sick. I remember listening to classical music at home all the time (especially Brahms, Beethoven, Bach) and always playing the piano. Sometimes my dad would play The Beatles, Queen, Aretha Franklin and jazz but it was mostly classical music that I was surrounded by at home and at school. Music was just a part of my life and I was born at the right musical family where I was lucky to have my parents support to pursue music as a career from early age. There was music at home, music at school, I was going all the time to the school’s concerts, the festivals concerts and the local Symphony concerts. I was in an intensive professional music program for children since the age of 4. When my parents moved to Plovdiv two years later, I started working with the renowned pedagogue Mrs. Rositsa Ivancheva at the National Music School “Dobrin Petkov”. She is a major influence and she was my piano teacher for 13 years. During my last 3-4 years of music school, I started lessons also with Prof. Krassimir Gatev at the National Conservatory in Sofia (while studying in Plovdiv with Mrs. Ivancheva). I miss both of these incredible teachers because they left the world just few years ago…

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

Important influences from the past: growing up I was very inspired to listen to the interpretations of Horowitz, Richter, Gilels, Pogorelich, Van Cliburn, and Rubinstein. They all have influenced my musical life for years and here is an example how: after hearing Scriabin’s 3rd Sonata (performed by Horowitz) I immediately got inspired to learn it. I had big success with it at concerts and competitions. Later Horowitz inspired me to learn also Vers la Flamme and the Barber Sonata (my recordings of these works are all on YouTube).

New influences: 1) working with new composers (Mason Bates, Gil Shohat, Vasil Kazandjiev, Carl Vine, Penka Kouneva, Nikolai Kapustin etc.) – what is amazing about this, is that there are not that many recordings of these composers’ works. Often, there are even no recordings at all – which means that I have to learn the work on my own (can’t listen to another pianist to get inspired). This is a direction I would like to continue – to create from my inner self rather than get inspired by somebody else’s interpretation. 2) Contemporary pianists: I’ve had the pleasure to work with and share musical ideas with pianists such as Daniel Pollack and Frederick Chiu, whose unique program “Deeper Performance Studies” is a major influence on my musical life and career.

Acting: It might sound strange but acting had an important influence on me too. During my time in Bulgaria I also had 5 years of private acting training. I couldn’t do both – theater school and music school so I was taking acting lessons only privately and secretly (my parents didn’t allow me to study acting but I decided to do it anyway lol). Acting opened a special door in me as an artist and it helped me even further with music – being able to perform with imagination, to “speak”/connect to the audience, to transform into a different character depending on which composer/piece I am working on. These are classes musicians don’t learn at music conservatories and they help very much with interpretation and stage presence. In Bulgaria I was trained by the Stanislavski’s system and I am a similar performer when it comes to my piano works – I get very emotionally involved in the content. I feel that all the arts are connected within each other. They are like different languages we would like to learn or explore but only one is our mother language and in my case it is music.

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

Finances. When I first moved to the USA it was very difficult learning how to support myself, to rely on myself, to take care of myself all by myself. I was only 18 or 19 years old. I didn’t know anybody when I first moved to Boston, I wasn’t used to the language too. I had $20 cash in my pocket, two suitcases, a full scholarship and lots of dreams. The full scholarship covered my tuition and school fees but I had to work the max hours possible in order to pay by myself for rent/dorm, living expenses, etc. There was a law that freshman must live on campus during the 1st year. I wasn’t informed about it while in Bulgaria. I found out about it when I arrived. International students on a student visa F-1 were allowed to work only on campus, no more than 20h per week for only $8h. Imagine if this is really enough to pay $1500 per month for dorm required by the school (basically 3 girls in one room) without living expenses and if that would allow the needed time to focus on practice, studies, go to classes, etc. The stress was incredible! To keep long story short – my college years were some of the most difficult times ever in my life where I faced some serious challenges.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Recordings: My upcoming debut album titled “Rhythmic Movement” to be released this coming fall, depending on finances. It features music by Bulgarian composers Pancho and Alexander Vladigerov, Mason Bates, Ginastera, Kapustin and I composed 2 works as well. A lot of the pieces on the program for July 25th at the 1901 Arts Club are also on the album.

Performances: it’s hard to point just one. I would say probably my Carnegie Hall/Weil debut. Harris Goldsmith was one of the critics reviewing the concert and this debut basically was the start of a real career. Another performance I will never forget was a multimedia at a modern space in NYC featuring music, live body painting and photography. I like to experiment with the idea of synesthesia and connect my art to other artists work.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

The ones that I practice the most! Also the ones that I’m spiritually connected to and the ones I have something meaningful and something special to say. I also believe that music (art in general) is a reflection on personal life and that’s one of the reasons my programs are very unique. The program on July 25th features works that are very close to my hearth. Each piece is very special and very meaningful to me.

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

My repertoire ranges from Baroque to Contemporary. Sometimes concert presenters would ask me to play anything I would like to put on a program but sometimes they would specify if they have any specific preferences. For example when I performed at the French Cultural Center, the entire program had to focus on featuring French and French influenced composers. When I performed at the Bulgarian Center in New England, I performed works by all Bulgarian classical composers. New music concert series require all contemporary composers programs and other presenters prefer more traditional (Bach, Beethoven, Chopin) type of programs and more well-known composers.

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

In New York: I just recently performed at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York – a beautiful and intimate concert venue and a gallery in West Village. I love the area (West Village in Manhattan), I also love art (the fact that it is a gallery) and that the setting is intimate (it allows a closer connection with the audience). There is a very good energy about the space and location and I just feel excited and comfortable performing there.

In Bulgaria: I was born in Sofia but my hometown is Plovdiv. There is a very unique amphitheater from Roman times in the center of the city that in the summer features film nights, concerts, dance performances, operas, etc. This would be a very magical place to perform – under the starts! The view from there is amazing too. I’ve never seen a piano on that stage but maybe one day soon… I started dreaming already

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: Right now I’m really into Schumann, I’m working on the piano concerto. Last month I was into Vladigerov. My current favorite pieces are the ones on the program for July 25th at the 1901 Arts Club but I assure you that I’m going to have more new favorites soon since I keep searching for new inspirations all the time:)

To listen to: I love “Gaspard de la nuit” (performed by Pogorelich), Scriabin’s 5th sonata (performed by Horiwitz), Beethoven – “Appasionata” (performed by Richter), Brahms – the 1st Piano Concerto (performed by Claudio Arrau), Prokofiev – the 2nd and 3rd Piano Concertos, works by Bach (especially when Glenn Gould performs them), Sonata for Violin and Piano (by composer Milcho Leviev). I love listening to orchestral music too: Daphne’s Cloe, Stravinsky – Firebird, Mason Bates – Alrernative energy. I also enjoy listening to jazz (Bill Evans, Miles Davis), some rock (a lot of British bands)

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Deceased favorite musicians: Bach, Richter, Horowitz, Gilels, Claudio Abbado, Evgeny Mravinsky, Rubinstein, Ginastera, Beethoven, Leonard Bernstein, Anton Dikov, Krassimir Gatev, Maria Callas, Freddie Mercury,

Living/contemporary favorite musicians: Joshua Bell, Keith Lockhart, Ricardo Mutti, Mason Bates, Vasil Kazandjiev, Yo-Yo Ma, Frederic Chiu, Daniel Pollack, Evgeny Kissin, Martha Argerich, Penka Kuneva, Will Calhoun, Matthew Bellamy,

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Concert Hall: the Grammy Museum Auditorium (Clive Davis Theater) – I was a part of a great mix of artists and musical genres. I loved the red curtains at the back and the lightning.

Rock club: probably when I opened for Amanda Palmer at the Webster Hall in NYC. This is memorable since I got to play Ginastra in a rock club introducing the composer and a movement from his 1st sonata to several hundred fans of Amanda’s that never knew that classical music could sound like that.😀 A lot of my friends from school were telling me that I was crazy and that this could affect my good reputation. It was fun. It’s a different type of energy on such stage. I like making classical music more accessible to untraditional audiences as well. Did you know that the British band ELP arranged the “Toccata” from the piano concerto by Ginastera and played it for Ginastera? He loved it and he said that this is how his music should be played

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

To be present in life and also when they perform on stage, to be very strong, not to be afraid to take risks and experiment with new ideas, to take a good care of themselves (eat well, sleep well, exercise, meditate, stay healthy), to know what they want and from there to know what they give and why, to perform live as much as possible, to stay always inspired and motivated, to never give up, even when they face difficulties.

Where would you like to be in 10 years?

To travel the world while living in the present moment

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being present. You can tell that I am into meditation. Often the things we want are not the things that make us happy, even when we get what we want. There is something called “the wanting mind” that will never stop wanting no matter what we get. I feel happy the most when I do something to make somebody feel happy. I get happiness when I give happiness. Actually, when I give, sometimes I get even more than I expected.

What is your most treasured possession?

We don’t owe anything forever. We temporarily have things and people. We are even temporarily in our bodies. Greatest values in my life are my dearest friends, being surrounded by people who care about me and love me and people who made a difference in my life. But I don’t owe them, I’m just lucky to have them in my life…

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being on stage, collaborating with amazing artists, musicians, creating and sharing

Tania Stavreva performs in London at the 1901 Arts Club, 7 Exton Street, London SE1, on Saturday 25th July. The concert includes the UK premiere of her ‘Rhythmic Movement in 7/8’ as well as premieres of works by other composers. Further details and tickets here

More information about Tania here

When Ireland met Elgar: Steinberg Duo at the 1901 Arts Club

John Ireland (1879-1962)

 

The splendidly intimate and elegant 1901 Arts Club played host to Steinberg Duo on Friday evening in a concert of music by John Ireland and Edward Elgar. Steinberg Duo, which comprises husband and wife Nicholas Burns and Louisa Stonehill, are regular performers at the 1901 Arts Club and curate a series of concerts there.

The music of John Ireland is, perhaps unfairly, rarely performed. The majority of his output was piano miniatures and songs. He studied with Charles Villiers Standford at the Royal College of Music (who also taught Vaughan Williams, Holst, Howells and Butterworth, amongst many others) and by the end of the First World War had emerged as a celebrated composer following the overnight success of his second Violin Sonata, of which more later.

The Steinberg Duo have been praised for their “warm musicality” and virtuosity and this was more than evident throughout their programme which opened with Ireland’s first violin sonata in which the influence of the French impressionist composers Debussy and Ravel was evident in its adventurous harmonic palette. The work is no gentile Edwardian drawing room piece and it was played with requisite muscularity and poise by Louisa on violin, with a nimble and sympathetic accompaniment by Nick on piano.

Ireland did in fact meet Edward Elgar and described the few hours in Elgar’s company as “the finest lesson I ever had”. To celebrate this meeting, Steinberg Duo performed a group of miniatures which represented the kind of salon music which was popular at the end of the nineteenth century and entirely appropriate for the small music salon at the 1901. These short but charming works were a pleasant and contrasting interlude between the sonatas by Ireland.

The second part of the concert was occupied by John Ireland’s second Violin Sonata, the work which made him famous. Since the composer was unfit for military service during the First World War, he was able to continue composing. The Violin Sonata No. 2 was premiered on 6 March 1917 by Albert Sammons and William Murdoch, who performed in uniform, and was an immediate success, so much so that the published Winthrop Rogers was on the composer’s doorstep before breakfast the following day. The first edition sold out before it was put on sale, and the work secured Ireland’s success and reputation.

By 1917, the British populace had developed a weary stoicism about the progress of the War. The work perfectly captured the mood of the period by avoiding sentimentality. Instead, it is imbued with pathos in its arresting themes, striking chromatic twists and turns and harmonic and rhythmic motifs redolent of Debussy’s Violin Sonata or Ravel’s Piano Trio. The middle movement is one of great poignancy with a simple song, on the violin, at its heart. Its expressive melancholy suggests a musical anthem for doomed youth, but also a requiem for a way of life destroyed by the War.

Speaking of his own music, Ireland said “Whatever I have to say is said in the music, and if this does not speak for itself, then I have failed”. This powerful and emotional work was given a passionate and involving account by Steinberg Duo who allowed the music to speak for itself.

Steinberg Duo

1901 Arts Club

Meet the Artist…… Ernest So, pianist

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

The late Jacob Lateiner (1928 to 2010) who was my teacher at Juilliard. He was an inspiration in more ways than one: as a pianist, a scholar, a collector, a gourmet, a connoisseur, and one smooth talker who could melt the heart of any woman (or so I imagine). Sometimes I wish everyone I know could have the chance of meeting Lateiner, who exerted such a big influence in my life and encouraged me to go down this rabbit-hole. Even now I still feel his presence; I step where he points.

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

Finding my own voice. Not so much about public speaking, though I do tend to speak during concerts, but in the sense of crafting a repertoire that best expresses my personal expressive character. Appreciation is very different from performing; I may appreciate many different composers but performing them convincingly is a whole other matter.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I have a deep affinity with the late romantics (the generations after Chopin/Schumann/Brahms) whose particular and eloquent way of writing for the piano transcends all language. They used the piano to express an endless spectrum of feelings, from unabashed romanticism to Parnassian intellectual probity, from Panglossian pessimism to spiritual elation.

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

I take inspirations from every corner of daily life. I tend to string together works that create a coherent idea for a programme, from single-composer to country-themed selections; more often I try to balance public tastes with serious historical or cultural elements. Planning a successful programme is one of the hardest parts of the job, as it requires creativity and immense knowledge. A good programme sells like a basket of fat olives, while a poorly constructed programme feels like a tangled tale.

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

I love a more intimate setting. I love the stage, and I am very comfortable on stage, big or small, but when I am physically close to my listeners I tend to be more emotionally spontaneous.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The most memorable experiences are always the best concerts and the worst venues. The best performances were those when I was completely “in the zone”. I was performing in France the poetic and impressionistic music of Louis Aubert, the pianist-composer contemporary of Ravel, when not even the most enticing French women audience (of which there were many) could have drugged me out of the “zone”. On the other hand I have had numerous concerts in less-than-desirable settings that I’ll always remember. Once I was performing in China on a piano with a rickety leg, and throughout the entire concert I was picturing different threatening scenarios and news headlines … “Pianist died during concert under a piano, literally”.

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

At the student level, learn as wide a repertoire as possible, from William Byrd to the latest sounds, from the Balkans to Buenos Aires. The next step is to find a unique voice and performing style, and specialize in it. Whenever possible, travel.

What are you working on at the moment?

Identifying the composition of grapes in different vintages of Spanish cava and from different producers. Also trying to work out my latest commission of a double-breasted suit with a Parisian tailor.

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

Alive, but not obsolete.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being interviewed.

What is your most treasured possession?

The lust for life and for beauty.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Meeting a patiently analysed situation with all the resources of thought.

What is your present state of mind?

Aching streaks of melancholy.

Ernest So performs works by Rachmaninoff and Gliere at the 1901 Arts Club on Friday 12th December as part of the South London Concert Series. Further details and tickets here

Critics have hailed Ernest So as a performer who exerts a “phenomenon presence on stage” and who “evokes the romanticism and technical brilliance of a 19th century pianist”.  Mr. So’s early manifestation as concert pianist brought prizes such as the Bes​t Performer A​ward in Singapore and later the Beethoven Trophy.  His years at the Juilliard School were spent under the artistic influence and instruction of renowned Beethoven scholar Jacob Lateiner (1928 – 2010); other teachers include Solomon Mikowsky, the late Constance Keene, and Jonathan Feldman.

Ernest So’s full biography can be found on his website:

www.ernestso.com

 

La Belle Epoque: l’Invitation au Voyage with Corinne Morris

This autumn seems to be about journeys with cellos, surveying some of the best music written for the instrument and performed by some of the finest musicians.

While father and daughter duo James and Joy Lisney take the five Beethoven sonatas for piano and cello on an exhilarating grand tour of Europe and the UK, British/French cellist Corinne Morris curates a three-concert series at the beautiful and intimate 1901 Arts Club focusing on music of la Belle Epoque. Discover the music of the Belle Époque era on a journey through famous works and composers such as Debussy and Saint-Saëns to the hidden gems of songwriters Hahn, Chaminade, Duparc and many more…..

“Divan Japonais” (1893), Henri de Toulouse-Laurec

THE BELLE ÉPOQUE…
…..meaning the ‘Beautiful Era‘ was a period in French and Belgian history that began in the late 19th century and ended when World War 1 began in 1914.  It was characterised by optimism, peace at home and in Europe, new technology and scientific discoveries and intense artistic activity.  France was a cultural centre of global influence and the Eiffel Tower, built in 1889, became the symbol of Paris to its inhabitants and to visitors from around the world.

Besides Impressionism, the visual arts saw various movements flourish including the Nabis, the Symbolist movement, Fauvism, and early Modernism, followed by Expressionism and the beginnings of Cubism and Abstraction, whilst the decorative style known as Art Nouveau became prominent throughout much of Europe.

At the same time, European literature underwent a major transformation during the Belle Époque.  Realism and naturalism achieved new heights with Guy de Maupassant and Emile Zola.  Fiction writers of that time included four Nobel Prize winners: AndréGide, Anatole France, Roger Martin du Gard and Romain Rolland.

Salon Music was all the rage and popular composers such as Reynaldo Hahn, Henri Duparc and Cecile Chaminade produced a large repertory of songs, while instrumental music was represented by famous composers such as Fauré, Saint-Saëns, Debussy and Ravel and by lesser-known ones like Ernest Chausson and Benjamin Godard.  The Parisian musical scene also attracted foreign composers such as Igor Stravinsky whose Rite of Spring was premiered in the Theatre des Chaps Elysées on the eve of World War 1.

This series of three concerts is curated by the British/French cellist Corinne Morris. Corinne is joined by other musicians and each concert has a special theme. The first, ‘Masterworks for Cello and Piano’ introduces familiar and not so familiar French repertoire from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Debussy famous cello sonata, completed a hundred years ago. Corinne is joined by pianist Kathron Sturrock for this programme.

In the second concert Corinne is joined by the Melicus Duo (soprano Marie Vassiliou and pianist Nico de Villiers). Many of the great songs and salon music from the Belle Epoque were based on famous poems of the time and this concert will explore the link between composers and contemporary poets.

And in the final concert, two large-scale works of the Belle Epoque will be performed: Cesar Franck’s Cello Sonata and Ernest Chausson’s  Piano Trio, fine examples of the large-scale works also typical of the Belle Epoque. Corinne is joined by violinist Fenella Humphreys and pianist Viv McLean.

Kathron Sturrock, Melicus Duo, Fenella Humphreys, Viv McLean
Kathron Sturrock, Melicus Duo, Fenella Humphreys, Viv McLean

The unique atmosphere of the 1901 Arts Club, which recreates the ethos and ambiance of the 19th century European cultural salon, provides the perfect setting for what promises to be a lively, varied and beautifully-presented voyage of musical discovery.

Book tickets

The Salon at the 1901 Arts Club

Described as ‘a triumphant assertion’ by Classical Music Magazine, Corinne Morris‘s relaunch album Macedonian Sessions recorded with the Macedonian Radio Symphony Orchestra, marks the British/French cellist’s return to the platform after a debilitating shoulder injury brought her career to a halt for over 5 years. 

Corinne has performed throughout Europe and beyond. She was chosen by Rostropovich to perform at his festival in Evian, and subsequently invited to the Verbier Academy in Switzerland.  She has made several recordings for the BBC, France Musique, Bayerischer Rundfunk and ORF.  Corinne, a student of Raphael Sommer, obtained an ARCM with honours (Royal College of Music, London) before continuing at the prestigious Conservatoire in Paris where she graduated in both cello and chamber-music.

Corinne’s story has inspired many in the music industry and beyond.  She has given several interviews for publications including International Arts Manager, Classical Music Magazine, Gramophone and Australia’s Limelight Magazine.  Most recently Corinne has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune programme and she gave a highly successful recital at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Students’ Concert at the 1901 Arts Club

This year my annual student concert was held at the 1901 Arts Club, a beautiful, intimate venue in a former schoolmaster’s house (built in 1901) close to London’s Waterloo Station. The venue boasts a lovely Steinway C grand piano and an informal, convivial atmosphere, thanks in no small part to the very welcoming personalities of the people who run it. I use the venue for the South London Concert Series, an innovative series of concerts which I organise and co-host with my friend and piano teaching colleague, Lorraine Liyanage. I felt the small size of the venue (it seats just 45 people in a gold and red salon redolent of a 19th-century European drawing room) would enable the young performers to feel less anxious and to relax into the special atmosphere of the place.

The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club
The music salon at the 1901 Arts Club

I cannot stress too highly the importance of performing, at whatever level one plays, and I have written extensively on this subject on this blog, my sister blog The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and in my column for Pianist magazine. Music was written to be shared – whether in the home or the salons of other people’s houses, or in recital rooms or concert halls. But on another more important level performing builds confidence, not just in the sphere of music but in many other walks of life, and equips people (of all ages) with an important life-skill.

When I was the age of my students (9-14) I had few opportunities to perform for others. My then piano teacher never organised concerts for her students, not even small-scale events in her home, and as a pianist at school I was always rather sidelined (a solo instrument being deemed the epitome of showing off!), so my only real performance experience was either in the orchestra (where I played the clarinet) or in the choir, both instances where one’s performance anxiety is tempered by performing with others. One of the many decisions I took about my piano teaching when I established my practice in 2006 was that I would give my students performance opportunities. And so from little house concerts (with obligatory tea parties!) to the event this week at the 1901 Arts Club, the annual student concert has become an integral part of my studio’s activities.

Preparations begin many months before the actual date – and I know from my own experience as someone who has come relatively late to performing (in my late 40s) that preparation is everything. Being well-prepared is one of the best insurance policies against nerves and will enable one to pull off a convincing, enjoyable and polished performance on the day. Good preparation, including practising performing in less stressful situations, also means that any slips or errors in the performance on the day can usually be skimmed over and will not upset the flow of the performance.

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Many of my students chose to perform exam pieces – music which they had already played in an exam situation and with which they were therefore very comfortable. It’s always interesting to play exam repertoire after one has put it before the critical ears of the examiner: when I revisit my Diploma pieces (as I am now, in preparation for a concert in January) I notice a distinct sense of relaxation in the music – and my students have commented on this about their own pieces too. Some selected new pieces, and we also had solo clarinet and saxophone performances (it is so gratifying that a number of my students play other instruments – saxophone, trumpet, clarinet and cello – or sing in school choirs).

I always perform at my students’ concerts as well. I think it is important for them to see their teacher performing and to understand that I do my practising and preparation just as they do; also that I am also engaged in ongoing learning of new repertoire or revising previously-learnt music.

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The event at the 1901 Arts Club was really lovely. The young performers all played beautifully (no visible nerves whatsoever, though a number did say to me afterwards that they were really nervous!) and we had a lovely range of music from Arvo Pärt and Einaudi to Bartok and ragtime. Despite knowing my students pretty well now (some have been learning with me almost as long as I have been teaching), I am always amazed at the way they step up to perform with such poise. I don’t know what I do, but maybe by assuring them that their performance will be wonderful, they learn to trust me and this gives them confidence. Each performance was greeted with much enthusiastic applause by family and friends, and at the end of the event another piano teaching friend, Rebecca Singerman-Knight, awarded prizes for Star Performer (Tom Driver) and Most Enjoyable Performance (Eli Hughes). The children were presented with boxes of chocolate grand pianos (which I doubt lasted the homeward journey!). I have had some lovely feedback, from students and parents, and I think the general consensus is that this was a really enjoyable and inspiring event. I certainly felt so!

More about the benefits of performing:

On performing

Performing in a safe circle

Going into the zone

Strategies for coping with performance anxiety

A week of music……

A busy week of enjoyable and varied concerts in Brighton and London. Here’s my round up:

Sunday 4th May – Helen Burford, piano, Brighton

Helen has a particular interest in contemporary British and American music, and an unerring ability to create imaginative and eclectic concert programmes which combine her interests with more mainstream repertoire. For her afternoon recital as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival, she opened with Somei Satoh’s haunting Incarnation II, a work which allows one to fully appreciate the full range of sounds and resonance possible on the piano. An extraordinarily absorbing and unusual work. The Japanese connection continued with Debussy’s evocative Pagodes, followed by Haydn’s C major Piano Sonata Hob. XVI No. 50 with two witty and sprightly outer movements enclosing a slow movement played with expression and warmth. In typical style, Helen cleverly paired Hush-A-bye, a work by contemporary American composer Julie Harris, with Debussy’s much-loved Clair de Lune. Both pieces recall nighttime – the first has night sounds combined with fragments from the lullabies, “All the Pretty Little Horses” and “Hush Little Baby Don’t Say a Word”, while the veiled harmonies and rippling semiquavers of Debussy evoke moonlight. Helen closed her programme with a lively and foot-tapping Rumba Machine by Martin Butler.

Monday 5th May – Jonathan Biss at Wigmore Hall

Biss is a musician I was curious to hear live, having enjoyed interviews with him, and his insightful and intelligent writing about Beethoven. His recital opened with an early Beethoven Sonata, Op 10, No. 2, and there was much to enjoy in his nimble and witty rendition of the first movement. However, the second movement lacked shape and the final movement was too rushed. The second Beethoven of the concert was the ‘Waldstein’ which lacked structure and a clear sense of the underlying “four-square” nature of Beethoven’s writing. The end result felt rather superficial. Sandwiched between the two Sonatas were selections from Janacek’s On An Overgrown Path. These were enjoyable but lacked a certain sensitivity to the emotional depth inherent in these miniatures.

Wednesday 7th May – Behind the Lines: Music from the First War, MOOT, Brighton

Another lunchtime concert, hosted by Music Of Our Time, a wonderful music collective organised by the indefatigable Norman Jacobs. This year’s focus is on music and composers from the First World War, and the concert, duets and solo works performed by Helen Burford and Norman Jacobs, was a touching, tender and occasionally humorous tribute to composers such as Cecil Coles (who was killed in April 1918) and Frank Bridge, a committed pacifist who was profoundly affected by the war. There were also works by Debussy and Stravinsky, and the concert ended with a four hands version of ‘Mars’ from Holst’s Planets suite. The concert took place on the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania, which gave the concert an added poignancy.

Friday 9th May – David Braid, guitar & Sergei Pobdobedov, piano

The end of the week and a concert at the delightful 1901 Arts Club, a converted schoolmaster’s house not five minutes from the bustle and noise of Waterloo Station. One of London’s hidden gems, the venue seeks to recreate the ambiance and ethos of the European musical salon, with its gold and crimson decor and friendly, convivial atmosphere. It is the perfect place for intimate chamber music, and this evening’s concert was no exception.

I interviewed David Braid earlier this year and I was curious to meet him and hear him in performance, for his musical landscape and influences accorded, in part, with my own interests. He plays an electric archtop guitar, more usually associated with jazz or rock/pop musicians. He makes transcriptions for this instrument, with piano accompaniment (his duo partner Sergei Podobedov), of works by Renaissance and early Baroque composers such as Byrd and Sweelinck. The concert included music by these composers and Bach, together with piano solos of works by Chopin (two Scherzi, handled with stylish aplomb and energy by Sergei) and Schubert/Liszt, and some of David’s own compositions. Taken as a whole, this was a most intriguing and unusual concert, beautifully presented. It is hard to describe the sound of the archtop guitar with the piano: at times it recalls the Renaissance lute (which David also plays) while also sounding entirely contemporary, thus making the music sound both ancient and modern. David’s own compositions were haunting, delicate, fleeting – the Waltzes in particular had great poignancy and tenderness – and his contrapuntal writing connects his music to the Baroque masters whom he also plays. One of the nicest aspects of the evening, apart from the high-quality music, was that during the interval instead of disappearing upstairs, the musicians stayed in the salon to talk to the audience, further enhancing the sense that this was very much an evening of music amongst friends.

South London Concert Series with Emmanuel Vass

Emmanuel Vass
Emmanuel Vass

The 2014 season of the South London Concert Series (SLCS) got off to a rollicking start with a sell out concert on Friday 24th January, featuring guest artist Emmanuel Vass. Described by The Independent as “one to watch”, Emmanuel, or Manny to his friends, is a rising star and with a deal with ClassicFM to promote his debut CD ‘From Bach to Bond’, the omens are good for this young Filipino/Yorkshire pianist.

The format of the event was the same as our launch concert: a guest recital of around 35 minutes, bookended by performances by “supporting artists” (we have dropped the moniker “amateur” because so many of our amateur pianists play to a very high level – and last night was no exception). And now that we have already run one successful event, the second one seemed much easier in comparison; in fact, the event basically ran itself. It helped that the bar at the beautiful and intimate 1901 Arts Club was open before the concert, which allowed guests to have a drink and socialise while the performers warmed up downstairs. And as an added benefit, which contributed to the convivial atmosphere, patrons were allowed to take their drinks into the music salon.

The concert was opened by Marina, an amateur pianist and violinist who works in financial services, playing an Etude in G minor by Moszkowski. This proved a lively opener, which caught the audience’s attention. Julie, a piano teacher from Surrey, took to the stage next, with Gershwin’s evergreen standard ‘The Man I love’, which had a lovely romantic lilt. Then it was time for our headline performer, Manny, who introduced his programme engagingly before launching into the bright and haughty first movement of Bach’s popular Italian Concerto. The middle part of his programme was all Spanish, an exotic Orgia by Turina and a sensuous Secreto by Mompou. Manny rounded off his performance with his witty and luxuriant James Bond Concert Etude, complete with Lisztian fiorituras and some vertiginous cadenzas, all of which were applauded very enthusiastically by the audience.

From Bach to Bond and then back to Bach with Alan’s measured and elegant performance of the Prelude & Fugue in C# from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The concert closed with a piece by Japanese composer Kozaburo Hirai called Sakura Sakura, which translates as Cherry Blossom, appropriately. Performed by Kyoko, it was atmospheric and arresting.

In keeping with the nineteenth-salon atmosphere of both event and venue, most of the audience retired to the upstairs bar and sitting room where the conversation grew louder as more Prosecco was consumed. It was lovely to chat to friends, old and new, and to be amongst so many music lovers and piano fans. Manny signed copies of his CDs and charmed everyone. The stalwarts amongst us then proceeded to the pub, where the conversation continued…..

The Spring edition of the South London Concert Series is on 21st March, featuring guest artist Anne Shingler, and a limited number of tickets are available.

Tickets are now on sale for our May event. Entitled ‘Eastern Accents’, it has a distinctly Russian flavour and includes music by Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya, Szymanowski and Stanchinsky, performed by Armenian-Australian pianist Vatche Jambazian, myself and Lorraine Liyanage. Buy tickets

Future SLCS concerts feature Angelo Villani and Daniel Roberts, and a new concert format ‘Notes&Notes’, in which a guest artist will give a short recital with talk. Full details on the South London Concert Series website. There is also the opportunity to hear Emmanuel again in a solo concert at a unique London venue. Again, details are on the SLCS website.

Meet the Artist……David Braid

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

My mother initially taught me the piano at home and I also took regular violin lessons. However, in what may be a glaring example of ‘instrument-determinism’, I never really enjoyed music until I found the guitar via a new Headmistress that arrived at my primary school: a wonderfully charismatic singing, accordion and guitar-playing nun from Ireland called Sister Annunciata. Incidentally, I’m still in touch with her – I always send her my ‘products’; my CDs, book, etc.

She taught me the guitar via Elvis/Beatles/Abba songs and everything just clicked from then, there was no question that I was not going to be a musician. I spent much of my teens playing guitar in rock bands, the fiddle in Welsh folk groups and after a brief fascination with jazz (specifically Django Reinhardt) I arrived at composition via classical guitar in my later teens; taking it joint-first study with guitar at The Royal College of Music.

I suppose it was a natural progression from emotive immediacy to complexity as one matures; having said that, I always loved Bach even when I was young and often raided my father’s vinyl collection; to listen to his organ music especially.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

Sibelius – the incredible logic than you can hear clearly even on the first hearing and the sheer physicality of how the music moves through time.

Messiaen – outstanding, transcendental beauty an ‘other-worldly’ character that one cannot quite explain, his strong religious belief and spirituality transcends the notes, in a similar sense to how one can almost ‘taste’ the humanity and idealism in Beethoven.

Lutoslawski – precision, concise argument, clarity and large scale sweep of energy, what a craftsman!

Britten – he’s someone I grew into much later I have to admit but his skill in handling musical time, expectation and narrative is second to none of his time and he can be incredibly moving.

Shostakovich – such profundity; I can‘t understand how people can hold up figures like Stravinsky as being that important or even interesting when a giant like Shostakovich was around.

John Dowland – perfectly exquisite songs, not bettered since that I’m aware of – his songs are easily on the level of Schubert’s and I actually personally prefer them, although this is subjective (I also play the lute). Also, that British songwriting sound (still clearly audible in The Smiths for example – who are in a sense the true heirs to the Elizabethan school) means a lot to me.

Sweelinck – he’s truly remarkable and original – sitting on the divide between the Renaissance and Baroque periods; so lyrical yet a real contrapuntal animal to his guts!

I, together with the pianist Sergei Podebedov, have recently made some arrangements of his organ music for semi-acoustic archtop guitar and piano. We are premiering these at 4pm on July 21st at The Studio at St. James Theatre in Victoria. It is a great privilege to play this music. He is one of the best composers I know of – from any period!

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

Finding a modus vivendi that allows for the necessary peace of mind to compose and practice while earning enough money to have a civilised existence (as much as one can at this early stage of our evolution). I have finally achieved this by also working as a journalist, this frees me completely from teaching commitments and from doing any music that is not 100% on my own terms. Time is not an issue, I have no interest in sport or other such distractions – I find composing for more than 3 hours a day to be counterproductive, for me at least.

Another massive challenge – ‘though one that has largely disappeared now – was getting people to play my work. Very hard to do when you’re first starting out. One solution was to play/conduct it myself, the other is that I have a number of loyal friends from my college days, who are first class musicians and have helped me a lot by performing my work. This has naturally led to other contacts and opportunities

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Commissions are truly a double-edged sword, and although I’ve been fortunate to receive a fair few, I would never want to rely on them for a living unless I had quite a choice to pick from – although I’m not sure anyone has that luxury.

It is vital – to me anyway – that I follow each piece with the logical outcome that follows it, i.e. each piece informs and points to the next, even if only by contrast. To have this guided by someone else (or worse a ‘panel’) for mere cash is not something I could ever accept.

The last commission I had was for the incredibly well-armed (technically) choir, Chapelle du Roi for a piece at St. John’s Smith Square, I really loved doing this as I never had to think about limitations and writing for a cappella choir is about as pure as it gets.

Having said this, I’m not interested in dense complexity, experimental screeching, or other such dated things: it’s rather that the choir would know how to interpret and phrase a line and bring a piece of music to life without me having to guide them.

Other commissions, such as a few film scores I did, were less interesting really. Essentially the role of a film composer is that of a decorative artist, you’re not free to follow any musical logic but rather just provide a bunch of audio moods, signals and wallpaper.

I’d certainly turn down another film score offer unless it was something truly amazing such as a time-loop science-fiction film that allowed me to do interesting things with the formal structure. I think in the future the idea of music serving film may be reversed as people’s listening habits become more sophisticated; although who knows, anything can happen – no one saw the internet coming!

A move towards more musical sophistication appears to be happening though: the hold of the more primitive forms of popular music is finally slipping as seen in the arrival of such things as ‘post-rock’, the strong interest in the often highly-complex music of other cultures, and the innovative programming ideas of holding classical concerts in more social settings such as Wilton’s music hall.

People love music – the problem that (good) popular music faces is the greed and associated controlling aspects of major recording companies that spoil it all.

I would be very happy indeed to see the major labels all collapse through piracy and file sharing – poetic justice! The smaller independents such as Linn/Toccata/Guild are amazing – models of enthusiasm and true love of music. These would flourish without the obsolete behemoths of Virgin, et al around.

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

It is a pleasure when working with good people who have an inquisitive mind and are not there simply for the money. Otherwise it is a compromise and is frustrating. I have been pretty fortunate though in that I have, more often than not, had first-rate players and sympathetic people who really get what I’m trying to do.

Although I had a brief spell as a ‘hairy-chested’ modernist, I have moved away from this over time and generally have very few or no problems in rehearsals as I try and make everything totally clear and natural for the players in the score.

Going back to modernism for a second I would like to say I that I have come to the conclusion that it is now largely (with some obvious exceptions) unfortunately morphed into intellectual onanism and appeals to no one at all outside those composers and academics who rely on it for their very living from the various grants/arts funding bodies that support it.

It has become a dictatorial institution with Boulez as its ‘Dear Leader’. This is ironic given that it started as a rebellion. However, the fire that existed in those early modernist works is long gone as it has now become the establishment. The same thing happened to Rock and Roll, which is why punk was absolutely necessary in order to kill it stone dead and allow new things with real integrity to then flourish.

This doesn’t mean we have to write in pastiche or turn to simplistic popularism, we clearly need to look ahead, but the standard fare of atonal, or just ugly, meaningless squawk one always hears at contemporary music concerts is now a hackneyed cliché and insulting to intelligent open-minded people who have paid good money to come and hear music – I can no longer bear to attend such things. I, like most of the public, would rather go to the cinema and see a well-made artwork which has cultural relevance.

I would say to a young composer – be a rebel! Write something in D major, annoy your professor, but make it so damned interesting and beautiful that he/she has nothing to say; that is the real challenge for us now.

Contemporary classical music in the UK occupies exactly the same space as bullfighting does in Spain – it is entirely supported by the state and is ignored by 95% of the population. Take that support away and allow it to attempt to function as a genuine living art form that is an honest deal between listeners and composers – it would most certainly die in the time it takes to play a Bach prelude (one of the short ones!).

Given a choice – although I believe very strongly that all funding should be cut for new music and given to hospitals instead – in order to breathe new life into it, I would sooner see all funding cut from bullfighting of course!

Which works are you most proud of?

Hard to say – they all have something(s) that could be improved. The setting of Pablo Neruda I did for soprano and string quartet, ‘Morning’, works ok. I’ve had very strong feedback about it – people seem to love it. It’s the first track on my current CD with Toccata Classic. Steve Reich called this piece “Very honest stuff” so I suppose I got something right.

I’ve been writing a lot of lute and guitar music recently which I perform myself – I enjoy this so much, it feels so free playing one’s one music, I can change, improve things – improvise a little here and there. It’s a wonderful thing. I always feel it’s a shame that so few composers perform their own music (or even perform at all) I think they’re missing out on tactile, immediate and invaluable feedback on what works the best and most importantly – why.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

I love the Wigmore’s sound but it needs to bring in a younger audience or it will turn into a museum. This cannot be done by pulling in DJs and other trendy things that they tried to do recently – that just insults intelligent people.

They should give free tickets to all music students as matter of course. They should also give free hire (as opposed to the £1400 it costs) for music graduates for their first 4-5 years after college.

This would allow for fascinating and energetic projects to happen naturally and the players would bring all their friends and probably fill it – it’s not that hard – I’ve nearly filled it once. It would bring strong and long-lasting loyalty to the hall among the young and would actually make economic sense over less than a decade even. Otherwise, the way things are going, it could become another shop for expensive medical products like the others on Wigmore Street, this would be a tragedy. They also need to stop commissioning composers – one contemporary piece on a programme is enough for many music lovers to not attend. This is a sad truth and something that composers need to address urgently by re-engaging with the public instead of experimenting on them!

I also love the Barbican main hall though I’ve not had a piece done there. I love its clean modern lines and bright acoustic bounce. The Southbank is great too – a real feel of democratic openness pervades the entire complex: I love it. I’ve had a couple of Southbank things, it’s always been brilliantly done from their side and the halls really have something special about them.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Performers (living): Baroque violinist Andrew Manze, lute players Jacob Lindberg and Paul O’Dette, Julian Bream, Marta Argerich, Murray Perahia, the Iraqi oud player Naseer Shamma, Indian sarod player Ali Akbar Khan, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Emma Kirkby and Johnny Marr.

(Dead) – Glenn Gould, Stéphane Grappelli, Django Reinhardt, Solomon, Wanda Landowska, Wilhelm Furtwangler, Thomas Beecham

Composers – largely covered above in the answer to Q.2 above though I love so many others too of course.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Julian Bream at the Queen Elizabeth Hall back in the early 1990s – it was perfect. It’s not only that he sings though the instrument but rather that he is the greatest such singer of all that I’ve heard (since Gould died). I’ll never forget it as long as I live.

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

Ignore all fashions such as atonality, the new tonality, minimalism, new complexity, etc., and listen to your instinct, never compromise on your values for any reason.

Ask yourself why you want to be musician, if the answer is anything less than – “because I have to /I’m compelled to” then give up the place to someone who can say that.

Try to listen and understand everything, even music you don’t like, to find out why you don’t like it. Is it because something in it doesn’t work (this can be the case – don’t feel bad about coming to that conclusion) or is it because you have cultural blinkers on? This is not easy.

If you’re going for composition learn counterpoint and fugue properly – don’t just brush across it like they teach at the colleges here (skimming it in ‘techniques’ lessons is not even close to being good enough for a composer).

Write about 15 of them in different ways, chromatics, doubles, 6 voice, the lot. Study Bach and Buxtehude very closely. This will show you how the vertical and linear aspects of music combine to make music with depth; one dimensional music is not acceptable.

Once this is mastered you can apply it to any style: Fugue is not a form but a way of thinking. If you can’t be bothered doing this then do not expect to be a strong composer, go and work in the city instead – at least then you’ll have a good wage and is much easier than music!

What are you working on at the moment?

Funnily enough given my advice above, I’m writing a prelude and double fugue for clarinet, semi-acoustic archtop guitar and piano. I will premiere this at The Forge in Camden in January.

What is your present state of mind?

My standard nervous alternation between grim dissatisfaction and bliss plus total confusion as to the absurd state of mankind and the world – this is very good – it compels me to act!

David Braid performs at the 1901 Arts Club on Friday 9th May with pianist Sergei Podobedov. They will premiere their new (2014) transcriptions of works by Sweelinck plus Byrd, Gibbons and other composers from the C.15th/16th Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, alongside first performances of new duos and solos by David Braid, plus various solos by Chopin and other later composers. Further details here

London-based Welsh-born composer David Braid studied at the Royal College of Music from 1990-94, taking joint-first study in Guitar with Charles Ramirez and Composition with Edwin Roxburgh; also attending the composition classes of George Benjamin.

David later attended the Cracow Academy of Music in Poland, studying composition with the late Marek Stachowski and Zbigneiw Bujarksi, subsequently going on to The University of Oxford (St. Anne’s College) under Robert Saxton.

In addition to the UK, David’s work has been performed in the USA, Germany, Poland, Russia, Denmark, Sweden and South America. Recently, the string orchestra version of his setting of Pablo Neruda’s poem Mañana, ‘Morning’, Opus 3, was premiered in Moscow.

David Braid’s full biography

David’s debut recording of Chamber and Instrumental Music is available on CD or to download from Toccata Classic. Further information here