Prom 52 offered a fascinating musical journey with French organist Thierry Escaich, who juxtaposed the organ music of J.S. Bach with responses to it by Mendelssohn and Brahms, as well his own improvisations on themes by Bach.

Thierry Escaich © Guy Vivien

(Thierry Escaich © Guy Vivien)

Escaich is part of the grand French tradition of organ improvisation which dates back to the 19th century, and he succeeded another great French composer and organist at St Etienne du Mont, Maurice Duruflé. Escaich calls the art of improvisation “composition in real time” and in an interview for BBC Radio 3 explained that he can often improvise for 20 minutes during a Catholic mass “in Bach style, in Romantic style”. In discussing Mendelssohn, whose Organ Sonata in A major featured in this programme, Escaich described this music as Bach “with a little more romanticism”, and explained that in his own improvisations he adds his own personality to the music of Bach, while honouring Bach’s themes, textures and idioms. The end result is music which shines a new light on Bach’s original, while demonstrating the exciting range of possibilities offered by this genre.

Read my full review here

(photo credit: Paul Mitchell)

Prom 29 had a distinctly French flavour, featuring music by Ravel and Messiaen, two composers who idolized Mozart, whose music opened the evening. The concert was bookended by two works in which dance featured strongly, from Mozart’s elegant post-Baroque ballet sequence for Idomeneo to Ravel’s swirling, breathless portrait of the disintegration of fin-de-siècle Vienna. Ravel also looked to Mozart’s piano concertos as a model for his own, and the vibrant, jazzy G major concerto formed the second part of the first half of the programme, performed by French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet.

Read my full review here

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

At a very young age I was drawn to the music room where my mother would be teaching the piano some evenings. When I was six she started teaching me and a few years later took me to audition at the Royal College of Music. During my ten years at the Junior Department I studied with Emily Jeffrey, who cultivated my love of music and inspired me to pursue the career of a concert pianist.

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

The most influential years of my musical and personal development were when I studied with Emily Jeffrey. Over the many years she always challenged me to be more disciplined and strive for greater heights. Apart from the wealth of knowledge she imparted upon me I can remember the many laughs and fun we had together. Her unerring passion and all-consuming dedication to music were a constant source of inspiration for me.

I am also immensely grateful for the constant support and guidance that my parents have given me, and their unequivocal belief in me.

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

At a young age I was always a little agitated and anxious before a performance. I disliked the tense moments before walking onto the platform, however once I started to play those feelings dissipated and the enjoyment took over.

After a few successful concerts my confidence began to grow and it gradually became less challenging

Which performance are you most proud of? 

I am proud of my performances throughout BBC Young Musician, at the ‘BBC Proms in the Park’ in Belfast and also my recent debuts at the Queen Elizabeth Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I greatly enjoy performing and listening to so many works from totally different periods. Personally I feel a natural affinity to the works of Bach, Mozart and Rachmaninoff, however I also love the works of Schumann and Prokofiev.

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

I hope to offer fresh interpretation and convey the emotions from the repertoire that I perform, so I keep this in mind when I select certain pieces.

I also spend many hours deciding on programme length, balancing the stylistic aspects and contrasts.

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

I wouldn’t say I have a favourite hall, because there are many different aspects from every hall that I enjoy. I love the intimate atmosphere and acoustic of halls such as Cadogan Hall and Wigmore, however I also appreciate the immense space and grandeur of halls such as Usher Hall and the Royal Albert Hall.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I greatly enjoy listening to operas such as ‘Tosca’, ‘La Traviata’ and ‘Tristan und Isolde’ and all the Tchaikovsky Symphonies. My current favourite pieces to perform are Gershwin ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, Prokofiev Sonata no. 7 and Mozart Concerto in D minor K466.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I hugely admire Leonard Bernstein, for his immense talent as a musician but also his dedication to musical education and inspiring younger generations. Maria Callas is another idol of mine, due to her unwavering, serious dedication to Opera.

Pianistically I am inspired by so many different artists, but Vladimir Horowitz and Martha Argerich are amongst my favourites.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The final of BBC Young Musician is a performance I will never forget. The BBC team were so supportive and encouraging and on stage I was totally immersed in the atmosphere and the music.

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

Firstly, to embark on a musical career, one must absolutely love and enjoy music. Of course there is a huge amount of dedication and work to be done to succeed, but the most important aspect is to passionately devote yourself to it. Stay true to yourself, the composer and the music.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Watching the sunset with a glass of red wine, an excellent book and a recording of Dinu Lipatti performing ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’

What is your most treasured possession?

I have a collection of complete recordings from Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Callas and Shura Cherkassky that I could not live without!

What is your present state of mind?

Introspective, a little anxious and excited for the future.


In May  2014, at the age of 17, Martin James Bartlett was awarded the title of BBC Young Musician. His winning performance of Rachmaninov’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’, with conductor Kirill Karabits and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, received overwhelming acclaim from Edinburgh’s Usher Hall audience and from those tuning into the live recording broadcast on BBC4 and BBC Radio 3.

Martin began his piano studies with Emily Jeffrey at the Royal College of Music Junior Department when he was 8 years of age, and then at the Purcell School also some 5 years later. Last autumn, he commenced his undergraduate studies with Vanessa Latarche at the Royal College of Music, notably as a coveted Foundation Scholar. Martin also previously studied the bassoon and the recorder, achieving Grade 8 Distinction on all three instruments by the age of 12.

Read more at martinjamesbartlett.com

(picture credit – operaomnia.co.uk)

British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor is no stranger to the Proms: in fact, since he made his Proms debut, performing with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the First Night in 2011, he has become something of a Proms veteran. However, this concert marked his debut in the Chamber Proms, held at Cadogan Hall.

The popular and precocious pianist presented a programme of music by Chopin, Mompou, Ravel and Gounod/Liszt, together with the world premiere of a new commission by Judith Weir, the newly-appointed master of the Queen’s music. A dance theme pulsated through this interesting and varied programme as Grosvenor explored the waltz from the contrasting perspectives of Ravel and Liszt, with interjections from Mompou, and opening with Chopin.

Read my full review here:

http://bachtrack.com/review-benjamin-grosvenor-chamber-prom-september-2014

Date reviewed: 1st September 2014

Tenor Ian Bostridge (image credit: David Thompson)

The final Chamber Prom of this season offered a pause to savour the music of the great English Renaissance lutenist, singer and composer John Dowland, whose 450th birthday falls this year.

Dowland’s music epitomizes the spirit of melancholy, fashionable in the Elizabethan period, and his most famous work is the Lacrimae, a set of seven pavanes for viols and lute, each drawn from the song Flow, My Tears.

For this concert, acclaimed tenor Ian Bostridge was joined by accomplished lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and the renowned viol consort Fretwork. Cadogan Hall is perhaps not the best venue to enjoy the intimate simplicity of Dowland’s music, but, seated in a semicircle, the musicians created an atmosphere of concentrated closeness, which held the audience’s attention for an hour and more, and allowed the seductive melancholy of Dowland’s music to shine through.

Read my full review

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?
Philip Evry, my mother, Iain Burnside, Graham Johnson and Robin Bowman inspired me to pursue singing professionally.

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

My mentor, Lillian Watson, David Sirus, Dinah Harris, Laurence Cummings, Julius Drake, my best friend and compatriot, Olivia Chaney, and Adam Gatehouse.

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

Singing what I love singing. Jumping in for a concert, learning Haydn’s Arianna a Naxos and Barber Knoxville in 36 hours for live radio broadcast.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Mahler Ruckert Lieder with the BBC Philharmonic and John Storgards, Phaedra with Thomas Sondergard and BBC National Orchestra of Wales, recordings with the wonderful Julius Drake, Berg and Chausson with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. These have been hugely special experiences as New Generation Artist at the BBC.

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

Lucerne Concert Hall was the most perfect acoustic I have ever experienced. I adore church acoustics so St Georges Hanover Square is very special, and LSO St Lukes. I also enjoy QEH, Ulster Hall, and  Glasgow Concert Hall – to name a few.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love listening to Brahms chamber music, music for solo piano by Chopin and Schubert, Schubert and Schumann song, Mahler symphonies, Shostakovich and Prokofiev symphonies  and ballets. Berg’s ‘Wozzek’, Strauss’s ‘Alpine’ symphony at full blast!!, Monteverdi ‘Vespers’, Tallis, Byrd.

To perform, I adore Schubert, Schumann, Bach, Handel, Berg, Britten, Mahler, Monteverdi, Purcell, and I love discovering new gems too!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Kleiber, Oistrakh, Callas, Margaret Price, Jessie Norman, Rostrapovitch, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong. From today’s generation Truls Mork, Laurence Cummings, Cristian Curnyn, Kozena, Sondergaard, Storgards, Paul Lewis, Imogen Cooper, Artemis quartet, Nico Altstadt, AKAMUS, OAE………the list goes on and on.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably the most recent: jumping in for BBC Proms with Imogen Cooper and James Gilchrist in Britten’s Abraham and Isaac.

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

Go to art galleries, look at paintings, sculpture, ceramics – this is the life blood for inspiration and imagination. I have learnt a great deal from instrumental recitals regarding sound as well as from singers, and seeing how performers, actors, and musicians communicate is really important in finding one’s own way of performing. Also, never forget the joy of music making. With the rough and tumble of this industry, my manager never ceases to remind me of this

What are you working on at the moment?

Gorecki ‘Symphony of Sorrows’ for the BBC Proms on September the 4th and a recording of Venetian Christmas Music for BIS.

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

Eating ice-cream with my nieces or being neighbours with my favourite people, maybe bringing up a couple of little ones of my own, who knows.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Discovering new places, meeting new and interesting people, dancing with good friends, cooking good food, Thai massage, being spontaneous, and living each day to the full!

What is your most treasured possession?

My mother’s Jazz Piano ceramics, which she made just before I was born. The other is my cello which I would love to start playing properly again at some point.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Too many things to mention!

What is your present state of mind?

Breezy, summery, and with a coffee

A BBC New Generation Artist and winner of both First Prize and the Audience Prize at the 2009 London Handel Singing Competition, Ruby Hughes is the daughter of the celebrated Welsh ceramicist Elizabeth Fritsch. She gained a First Class Distinction Concert Diploma in Concert and Song at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater, Munich, and was awarded a Royal Philharmonic Society Susan Chilcott Award. A former Samling Scholar, she gained a full scholarship to study with Lillian Watson at the Royal College of Music, London, graduating in July 2009.

Read Ruby’s full biography here

My review of Ruby Hughes, with James Gilchrist and Imogen Cooper, in ‘Britten Up Close’ at the 2013 BBC Proms