Tag Archives: British pianist

Meet the artist……Rick Simpson, jazz pianist & composer

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

Hmm…that’s hard to say. I think by the time I knew I wanted to music I hadn’t really met anyone or seen any concerts – I just knew that I loved playing the piano and making up little tunes. It wasn’t really until I found Jazz that I knew exactly what it was that I wanted to be doing. Before that I was quite unfocused and split my time between doing the grades and playing music from musicals and coming up with my own arrangements of them. My old piano teacher used to give me hell for not playing what was on the page, but I think that I’d always enjoyed playing around with music made the transition into Jazz piano at the age of fifteen more comfortable.

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

My classical piano teacher at Guildhall, Laura Roberts, has probably had the biggest influence on my musical life. She’s been a close friend and ally over the years and even though we rarely see each other now she still has a big influence over me. She pulled me out of so many bad habits at the piano – before I met her I really had very little idea of how to play the piano properly so she really turned my life around. I’m still trying to work on the simple ideas she presented me ten years ago.

For Jazz if I had to name one figure it would be Keith Jarrett. He was my first real love in music and the first pianist I ever heard. I’d never listened to any famous classical pianists before, or really even any piano music in general and when I first heard Jarrett it was mind-blowing and I devoured everything I could get my hands on. What can I say about Jarrett that hasn’t already been said! To me he’s the biggest musical genius of all time. 

Other than Jarrett there came a time in my life around the age of 21 where I felt like the African-American lineage of Jazz Piano had a greater pull for me. Before then I was quite into the Bill Evans – Brad Mehldau – ECM sound, and I still love that, but the Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Wynton Kelly, Herbie Hancock lineage really took over at some point. Its all beautiful and it ultimately all comes from the same place but I always want to keep on working on what is a Black American art form. Even though my own music comes from a lot of influences outside of Jazz I won’t ever stop trying to get together what Charlie Parker and Bud Powell were doing in the 1940s.

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

I think anxiety has held me back massively. Its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt happy on stage. I used to be a nervous wreck and it showed. That’s really held me back and I feel like I need to make up for lost time but I’m generally a lot happier and settled than I was in my early and mid-twenties.

How would you characterise your compositional language?

I would say that the music I’ve written over the last four or five years has come from not thinking of tonality or chords. None of the music from my new record has any chord symbols in it. I wanted to get away from the sound that I felt that I’d heard too much of in the London Jazz scene – music which has been clearly written with a single melody line over a set of sometimes quite bleak chords. Kenny Wheeler has been a huge influence on a lot of people in London but I had to get as far away from that sound as I could. When I write music these days the composition is first and the improvising is second. At some point I’ll go back to writing very small compositions that serve as vehicles for improvising but right now with my band Klammer the music is about the compositions.

How do you work?

I work very slowly, which is of great annoyance to me. I know some people who can write several tunes in one sitting, but I don’t think that works for me. I’ll write a couple of bars and then I’ll forget about it for days on end, and then come back to it and add a few more. I’d like to get things out faster but sometimes I think leaving things can cause you to come back afresh and take the music somewhere else. 

Often I think its helpful to know what you want to write before you start. That’s worked well for me in the past where I’ve wanted to write the fast tune/the ballad/the straight 8’s odd time tune, but these days I just sit and see what comes out.

Who are your favourite musicians/bands/composers?

Modern musicians/bands that pose a huge influence on me these days are Jason Moran, Django Bates, Matt Mitchell, Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Radiohead, Animal Collective, Deerhoof, John Hollenbeck, Wayne Shorter, Steve Reich, Liam Noble, people like that. I love hip hop, techno, ambient, singer-songwriter music too and it all runs together.
And from the past – Thelonious Monk, Stravinsky, Ravel, Bach, Schubert, Billie Holiday, Mahler, Messiaen.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Seeing the Wayne Shorter Quartet playing music from outer space in 2006 at the Barbican Centre. It was without doubt the most incredible music I’ve ever heard. People in the audience were screaming during the encore, it was so super-charged. There’s a recording of it out there somewhere…That band is on the farthest outer edge of what’s possible. No one is doing what they can.

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

Ronnie Scott’s. It took me a long time to make peace with the piano – that piano kicked my ass! I had to really learn how to play grand pianos and its only been in the last two years where I’ve felt comfortable playing one – but now I love playing there. The atmosphere and sound are perfect and I would play there every week if I could. I’ve had some great gigs there recently with Leo Richardson’s Quartet and it just feels like the perfect place for that music.

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

Be friendly. Get your social skills together. Never, ever rely on what you perceive to be as your talent, its not enough. When I was younger I didn’t feel confident in some social situations and used to hope that I could just get by on my playing. You can’t – you have to go out there and meet people and make friends.

For Jazz musicians I’d say get as much together as you can. Don’t just do one thing, get it ALL together. It’s all as equally important and the more you have in your tool box the more exciting your improvising will be. It’s not fun when you know how someone is always going to sound. Jazz should be the sound of surprise. Tape yourself. Play classical music too, its all in there.

Other than that just practice as much as you can, see as much of life as you can and don’t worry if things don’t happen straight away. Never get lazy or complacent. When I was younger I noticed that some older musicians who I used to worship had done so and I vowed I would never slack off. The only person who can help you get better is yourself.

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

Still practicing and trying to get better. I still feel like a beginner and I still don’t feel like I’ve achieved anything and I don’t really want that feeling to go away. It keeps you moving. That said, if I’m still doing what I’ve done over the last few years in ten years time I’ll be very happy. I’d just like to do more of it and eventually move into teaching at one of the music colleges. I love this life and I just want it to last a long, long time!

Rick Simpson’s new album with his band Klammer is available now on the Two Rivers Records label

Rick Simpson is based in London playing a wide variety of music, and leads his own group playing original jazz music. Rick is a regular performer at Ronnie Scott’s, the 606 Jazz Club, Pizza Express Dean Street, The Vortex, The Bull’s Head, and he has appeared at larger UK venues such as the Royal Festival Hall and the Purcell Room. In 2008 Rick won a Yamaha Scholarship Prize for Outstanding Jazz Musicians. A recording of Rick’s band was put on the front cover of Jazzwise Magazine.
Since graduating from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2008 he has performed with musicians such as Christian Scott, Eric Harland, Joe Sanders, Michael Janisch, Ernesto Simpson, Martin Speake, Earl Burness Travis, Stan Sulzmann, Jeff Williams and Brandon Allen as well as younger musicians in London. Rick plays in the ensembles of Jay Phelps, Tim Thornton, Tommy Andrews, Leo Richardson, Paul Riley, and US Jazz Singer Hailey Tuck amongst others

Rick also teaches on the prestigious MEhr Clef courses alongside Stan Sulzmann, Steve Waterman, Alan Barnes, Malcolm Edmonstone Mark Hodgson, Lee Gibson, Ursula Malewski and Martin France.


Meet the Artist……Martin Roscoe

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

I started piano aged 6 and didn’t show much interest in the first few months but a family trip to London when I was just 7 included a night at the Proms, with Malcolm Sargent conducting the Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique which just blew me away. When I got back home they couldn’t get me off the piano ! As far as a career was concerned I really had no idea what was entailed … I just drifted into it…one thing led to another. 

Who or what have been the most important influences on your career as a musician?

My teachers to start with: Marjorie Clementi, who sorted out my technique when I went to her aged 13 and who taught me to listen to myself for the first time. Gordon Green, who taught me how to practise in so many imaginative ways, and whose infectious love and enthusiasm for music overall was very inspiring. He really was a great human being. When I was a student Alfred Brendel’s early recordings were a great inspiration, and also the playing of so many pianists… Richter, Rubinstein , Kempff and Curzon to name a few of the most important.

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

Recording all the major Schubert works for Radio3 in the 1980’s and more recently recording all the Beethoven Sonatas for Deux-Elles. Playing at the Proms was a great experience , but very challenging!

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival – tell us about your programmes

With Ronan O ‘Hora I’m playing the immense Busoni Fantasia Contrapunctistica, and with Kathryn Stott the Percy Grainger Fantasy on themes from Porgy and Bess. A tremendous contrast between the towering intellect and gravity of the Busoni and the great fun and panache of the Grainger.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My performance of Rachmaninov’s Second Concerto at the Proms in 1989, and my recordings of the Beethoven Sonatas

Which particular works/composers do you think you play best?

Beethoven and Schubert for sure. Mozart’s Concertos, Brahms, Dohnanyi, and Debussy.

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

I’ve started to play themed programmes in the last few seasons….The piano and nature for example this year including Beethoven’s Pastoral Sonata and shorter works by Liszt, Schumann, Dohnanyi Ireland and Debussy all inspired by nature. Next year The piano and Art …works by Liszt, Debussy and Granados culminating in Mussorgsky’s Pictures. Also a lot of all Beethoven programmes when recording the sonatas. Now all Schubert programmes in preparation for recording his works.

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

S0 many – but Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall for concertos…. The clarity and immediacy make it so exciting. For solo it’s difficult to beat Kings Place. For chamber the warmth of sound in the Wigmore is very special

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Too many to list….but for listening I’m still as obsessed by Wagner now as I was when I discovered his music as a teenager. Haydn Quartets are an endless treasure trove…..

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, where to start ? Just recently I heard two stunning performances from very contrasting pianists whose work I love and admire…….Richard Goode and Martha Argerich

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Taking part in the final concert of Kathy Stott’s Piano 2000 festival at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester…all the Rachmaninov Concertos in one evening. I played No.2

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

Fidelity to the score and the communication of the music without personal interference. Meaning is more important than style, yet a sound knowledge of style is also necessary. An interest in all the works of the major composers, not just the piano music.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from playing Schubert and Beethoven, walking on the hills of Scotland and the Lake District, cooking, watching films, and listening to Wagner

With an extraordinary career spanning over 4 decades, Martin Roscoe is unarguably one of the UK’s best loved pianists. Renowned for his versatility at the keyboard, Martin is equally at home in concerto, recital and chamber performances. In an ever more distinguished career, his enduring popularity and the respect in which he is universally held are built on a deeply thoughtful musicianship allied to an easy rapport with audiences and fellow musicians alike.

Read more about Martin Roscoe here

Meet the Artist……Kathryn Stott, pianist

(photo Nikolaj Lund)

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

I’m not sure I was particularly inspired by anyone at the age of 5, but we had an upright piano in the house as my mother gave piano lessons to little ones after her day job. I don’t remember she pushed me to start but I was easily drawn to the instrument and picked up the basics pretty quickly. I had no wish to sit there for hours on end, so I think my saving grace was being able to read music quickly and get on with whizzing through my little book! I’ve never felt that I made a conscious decision to pursue a career in music. I went to the Yehudi Menuhin School at the age of 8 and it just naturally led to studies at the Royal College of Music – actually I never felt there was a choice NOT to continue!

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

Although my lessons were infrequent with Vlado Perlemuter, he did influence me a lot in the way he approached clarity and intensity of sound. Nadia Boulanger influenced my ears to be as wide open as is humanly possible but the teacher who actually had the most profound influence, was Kendall Taylor who I studied with for 4 years at the Royal College of Music. He basically put me together after I had become very fragmented and most important, was the first person who believed in me. I’ve known Yo-Yo Ma for all of my adult life (and worked with him for 31 years) and without doubt he has influenced me tremendously, both as a pianist and a person.

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

I’ve had a number of challenges along the way. Perhaps the greatest was balancing being a mother and trying to maintain a focus on having a career which often took me away from home. My other great challenge was to accept I didn’t really like performing from memory and just deal with the fact I prefer using the score. I’ve now been doing that for about 20 years. I remember a promoter told me the critics would shoot me after I gave my first full recital using the score. It appears I’m still here.

You’re performing in the inaugural London Piano Festival in October – tell us about your programme?

I initially thought it would be a good moment to perform the Dutilleux Sonata again – a piece I absolutely love. I performed it for a whole season 10 years ago but then it disappeared from my repertoire until I recorded it for BIS 2 years ago. Then of course comes the question of what to perform with it. Somehow I couldn’t escape the idea of F sharp and now here we are with music by Ravel, Messiaen and Fauré. I’m often fascinated by keys and why music sounds the way it does because a composer chose a particular key. I think it will be interesting to explore the contrasts of F-sharp for an hour. 

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

I don’t particularly dwell on whether I’m proud of something or not so there are probably performances which went especially well which I’ve totally forgotten about. I think I’m proud of the fact that I performed Rachmaninov’s 4th Concerto for the first time only a few years ago. As I get older, adding works such as this seem a bigger mountain than when I was younger, but I would have been gutted to get to the end of the performing road and never have played it…what a piece! Recordings – I’d probably have to say my complete Fauré for Hyperion. Not because I think it’s better than anything else I’ve done but it was such a beautiful labour of love to learn the complete works. I know I would play everything differently now but that’s how these things go. I don’t listen to my recordings – that’s for other people to do.

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

I think there are certain pieces I perform better now simply because I’ve had some life experiences which have definitely affected how I express myself. For example I feel I now play the Britten Concerto in a way which makes much more sense than when I was younger – same with works by Shostakovich. I have no idea really – my interest in repertoire is vast so sometimes it’s good to explore even if I don’t think it’s for me.

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

It depends on the season and what is generally going on. I always have a lot of chamber music in my season, so as that repertoire is not necessarily determined by me, I might decide my own recital repertoire according to other things in place. Concertos I don’t play as often and it’s always been rare to dictate repertoire. Then of course, there are festivals where you might have a million things to play in a short space of time. I try to think how I’m going to be able to prepare everything time wise and so some choices are made on that. It goes without saying that I’ve programmed or hinted strongly I want to play a certain piece just simply because I have to play it!

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

I don’t have one favourite but on the list would be Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires for its beauty and history, the Concert Hall in Luzern for being contemporary but warm and Symphony Hall in Boston for its acoustic, relationship to audience and wood floor (stage) which tells a thousand stories. I generally dislike very high stages so even a great hall where I’m too far from the audience is not in my top ten.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

No favourites – depends what day it is. I love silence more and more but I love listening to Symphonic Music, Opera, Lieder –rarely piano music just for pleasure

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I don’t have favourites but I’m currently enjoying listening to Philippe Jaroussky.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If you mean me performing then performing at the Hollywood Bowl with Yo-Yo and lots of lovely, wonderful Brazilian musicians. I remember we all held hands to take a bow and I said to guitarist Sergio Assad ‘remember where we are’. He knew what I meant. It was a happy evening for us all in an iconic venue. If the experience is me sitting in the audience – I’ve just been to my first Wagner Ring Cycle performed by Opera North. Truly memorable.

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

I always think it’s important for young musicians to find their own voice and I often discuss the concept of being true to ones self, to think about why they want to be part of the music profession and to try to balance the wishes of a composer with what they have to say as an individual. Learning to tell stories via their instruments is what I’m interested in and most important, I do like to stress we all mess up and performances are not ruined thanks to some wrong notes. In the end, I hope to help them be creative, independent, courageous and above all curious.

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

Anywhere where I feel to be alive and well

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

I don’t think it exists

What is your most treasured possession? 

My photo albums – I’m very nostalgic

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Walking in the countryside with my dog, Archie

What is your present state of mind? 

Always lots going on!

Kathryn Stott performs music in F-sharp by Fauré, Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux as part of the inaugural London Piano Festival at Kings Place on Saturday 8 October.

Further information here www.londonpianofestival.com




Meet the Artist…… Charles Owen, pianist

(photo: John Batten)

photo: John Batten

photo: John Batten

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

I gravitated quite instinctively towards the little cottage upright piano which we had at home when I was a child. Neither of my parents are musicians – vicar and teacher respectively – but both love music and encouraged my earliest fumbling attempts at the keyboard!

There was never an actual moment when I decided to pursue a career in music. It all happened very organically from the earliest lessons with a Hampshire County Award teacher  followed by a place at the inspirational Yehudi Menuhin School and then onto the Royal College of Music. I’ve never had any real doubts or regrets about following the musical path

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

Two exceptional pianists have guided my playing and approach to the piano and music making in general:

The wonderful Russian pedagogue Irina Zaritskaya taught me at the RCM in the early 1990s. She revealed and shared her special secrets into achieving pianistic fluency, a huge variety of touches and rich musical imagery. Her warm personality coupled with a generosity of spirit are qualities I remember and treasure.

I later had the privilege of working closely with Imogen Cooper on a wide range of repertoire. Imogen’s focus, intellect and sheer intensity of listening are truly exceptional. She demanded a greater sense of ‘digging deep’ into the scores, really focusing on long lines, balance of sound, projection, colour and style. All of the qualities that make her own playing so memorable and remarkable’

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

For me these are threefold:

Studying, developing and maintaining a huge range of music is a challenge for the vast majority of pianists. Tackling certain epic works such as Bach’s ‘Goldberg Variations’ or Brahms’ 2nd Piano Concerto stand out in my mind as particularly demanding but immensely rewarding experiences.

The ability to cope with long journeys, strange environments and a wide range of different instruments, whilst always aiming to deliver the best performances is a perennial challenge!

Keeping a sense of long term perspective in one’s aims as a musician. Managing leaner times, dealing with difficult aspects of the music profession, remaining motivated and hopeful whilst keeping the flickering flame of that essential love of music alive and well’

You’ve recently announced the London Piano Festival with your duo partner Katya Apekisheva. Why did you decide to found this festival?

Katya and I have both attended many excellent festivals where various instrumentalists gather together to play chamber music.  In 2011 we were invited to the New Ross Piano Festival in Ireland where the focus was almost exclusively on pianists performing in solo and duo capacities. The atmosphere, camaraderie and sheer quality of the concerts there were very special indeed. 

After this positive experience, we decided to create something similar in the UK and were thrilled when Kings Place in London, with their pair of vibrant, contemporary concert halls, enthusiastically took up our idea. Pianists are destined by the very nature of the instrument to be solitary creatures. We hope to change all that for one dazzling weekend in October!

What are you most looking forward to in the London Piano Festival?

The Two-Piano Gala on the evening of Saturday, October 7th!

This mammoth concert will see the two Kings Place Steinway pianos placed together for an evening of piano duo music drawn almost exclusively from the Twentieth Century repertoire. Seven pianists including Stephen Kovacevich, the doyen of current players, will join forces in various duo formations to explore the riches, complexities and excitement of music for two pianos.  Rachmaninoff, Ravel and a world premiere by the superb American composer Nico Muhly, will all be on the menu.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

It is difficult to be truly proud of any particular performance or recording as so many aspects can always be improved upon.

Having said that, certain concerts where all the elements seem to combine do remain in my memory. Recent positive concert experiences include a Wigmore Hall performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet with the Takács Quartet, the Beethoven concertos at the magical St Endellion Summer Festival in Cornwall and a concert from last summer’s Ryedale Festival where I played the Goldberg Variations to a rapt, packed audience in one of Yorkshire’s grandest stately homes.

In terms of recordings, my have fond memories of a beautiful September weekend in Barnes when I recorded a solo Poulenc disc at St Paul’s School with super views across the Thames. I had just met my partner and was ‘walking on air’ at the time of the sessions. All that was back in 2003!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

Another impossibly embarrassing question! If forced to answer, I would mention the Debussy Preludes, Bach Partitas, some of the big Schubert sonatas and of course my beloved Janáček.

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

I am not one of those musicians who has a clear plan for their whole playing career in terms of repertoire. Perhaps I should try to be!

I gravitate towards certain composers and their works rather as you may pick up a book from your packed library shelves. There is a little bit of divination going on here.

My aim is to constantly learn new works, to react to the suggestions of others and to regularly revisit pieces from earlier in life. Returning to these with new experiences and musical knowledge is one of the best aspects of being a full time musician. I’m becoming increasingly interested in contemporary music and feel excited to have recently worked with/recorded music by Jonathan Dove, James Macmillan and Nico Muhly

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

The Wigmore Hall for its sublime acoustics, stunning pianos and sheer history

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Concerto wise, I love to perform any of the five Beethoven, also the Schumann and Bartok’s 3rd. Plenty of two piano works are a thrill to play, particularly Ravel’s La Valse and the Rachmaninoff Suites. As a listener my list is utterly endless –  Bach Brandenburg concertos, Janacek operas, Mahler, Sibelius symphonies, Schubert & Schumann lieder, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Rufus Wainwright…

Who are your favourite musicians?

Alfred Brendel, Radu Lupu, Murray Perahia, Martha Argerich, Andras Schiff, Brigitte Fassbaender, Gerald Finley. Of those no longer with us – Carlos Kleiber, Claudio Abbado, Jacqueline du Pré to name just a handful

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Impossible to select just one! Perhaps the most unexpected was a performance in the South of France at the En Blanc et Noir Festival, Lagrasse where pianists perform in a semi covered, stone market place. I was giving my first ever concert of Liszt’s Anneés de Pelerinage, Switzerland and whilst launching into the octave deluge of ‘Orage’, a genuine summer storm raged overhead complete with crashing thunder and flashes of lightning. Perfect timing, coincidence and choreography!’

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

Commitment, passion, patience and a sense of giving your all to the works of the truly wonderful composers who enrich our lives.

On a practical front, each musician needs to acquire the essential knowledge of musical building blocks – harmonic movement, structure/architecture, a feeling for melodic shaping, precise rhythmic grasp – whilst constantly developing their abilities to listen closely to what is actually coming out of the instrument!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Having clear headspace and a mind free of extraneous worries

What is your most treasured possession?

My 2009 Steinway Model B Piano

The London Piano Festival, a brand new celebration of the piano created by Katya Apekisheva and Charles Owen, runs from 7-9 October 2016 at London’s Kings Place. Further information about the festival here

Charles Owen is recognised as one of the finest British pianists of his generation with an extensive series of performances and recordings to his name.

Charles has appeared at London’s Barbican and Queen Elizabeth Hall and regularly gives recitals at the Wigmore Hall and Kings Place. Internationally he has performed at the Lincoln Center, Weill/Carnegie Hall, the Brahms Saal in Vienna’s Musikverein, the Paris Musée d’Orsay, and the Moscow Conservatoire.

His chamber music partners include Adrian Brendel, Nicholas Daniel, Augustin Hadelich, Chloë Hanslip, Julian Rachlin and Mark Padmore as well as the Carducci, Elias, Takács and Vertavo Quartets. In addition he has an established piano duo partnership with Katya Apekisheva with whom he has recorded the duo versions of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and Petrushka

Charles studied in London at the Yehudi Menuhin School, the Royal College of Music with Irina Zaritskaya and later furthered his studies with Imogen Cooper and Valeria Szervánszky. He has won numerous awards, including the Silver Medal at the Scottish International Piano Competition (1995) and the 1997 Parkhouse Award with the violinist Katharine Gowers. A regular guest at many leading festivals such as Aldeburgh, Bath, Cheltenham, Leicester and West Cork , Charles has also performed concertos with the Philharmonia, Royal Scottish National, London Philharmonic and the Moscow State Academic Symphony orchestras.

Charles’ solo recordings include discs of piano music by Janácek, Poulenc and the complete Nocturnes and Barcarolles by Fauré. Together with Natalie Clein, he has recorded cello and piano sonatas by Brahms, Schubert Rachmaninov and Chopin for EMI.

Charles Owen is a Professor of piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.


Peter Donohoe: Prokofiev Piano Sonatas Vol III

50fb9b63faf24b079dabd5a6bbbcf0c2Piano Sonata No. 6 in A, Op. 82 (1940)
Piano Sonata No. 7 in B flat, Op. 83 (1942)
Piano Sonata No. 8 in B flat, Op. 84 (1944)

Peter Donohoe, piano

Peter Donohoe’s third volume of Piano Sonatas by Sergei Prokofiev completes the cycle with Nos. 6, 7 and 8. Peter has a long association with the piano music of Prokofiev – the Sonata No 6 was part of his silver medal-winning programme at the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition – and indeed the composer’s homeland, as a regular visitor to Russia throughout his career (his diary from his stay in then Soviet Moscow during the 1982 Tchaikovsky Competition is a fascinating read).

Prokofiev composed piano sonatas throughout his life and the final three belong together in the same way as the final three piano sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert. Though the works were not intended to be performed consecutively, they do exhibit “familiar” attributes which connect them. For Peter Donohoe, these sonatas form one of the great cycles in piano literature, written by a composer who was also a magnificent pianist (surviving recordings of Prokofiev playing his own works are testament to this). This final instalment of Donohoe’s recording for Somm includes what are called the “war trilogy” piano sonatas, written during World War II, and reflecting on and reacting to the horrors of Soviet Russia’s titanic struggle against Hitler.

The sixth sonata opens with a clangorous motif which rings out before the music retreats into darker passage work and a second subject with folksong qualities. Donohoe’s pacing, acute rhythmic vitality and colourful dynamic palette combined with a glorious sound (evident throughout the recording) allows the music to build gradually to a climactic reprise of the open motif. Donohoe brings a wry humour to the second movement, a rather jaunty march, interrupted by a tense and sinuous middle section, but the ominous tread is never far away. The third movement is an elegant and rather poignant waltz, and like the preceding movement the middle section contains more unsettling material. There is a lovely clarity of line here which brings an expansive romantic sweep to the movement. The finale, all frenetic scurryings and mocking themes, is a fine example of Donohoe’s effortless fluency and technical control.

The Sonata No. 7 is the most popular of the three, and its menacing, militaristic tread is evident from the opening. Donohoe’s restraint in the quieter, middle section hints at impending drama as the frenetic energy builds. Although scored in a major key, there is nothing joyous about this music. The middle movement, marked Andante caloroso, contains a consoling cantabile melody as beautiful as any nineteenth-century salon piece, but once again the mood is disturbed by plangent bass chords and an overriding sense of melancholy. There is power here, in Donohoe’s rich fortes, but his sense of restraint creates an extraordinary tension despite the hushed conclusion. The perpetuum mobile finale crackles with energy, subtly phrased and crisply articulated, it is both triumphant and unsettling.

Like the previous sonata, No. 8 is also scored in B flat. Composed in 1944, it is the longest of Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas and is a work of great breadth and emotional tension. Again, it is Donohoe’s ability to hold back rather than push the dynamics which creates a greater sense of drama, tension and impending tragedy. The middle movement opens with a lyrical Schubertian melody over an accompaniment which grows more florid. This feels like the calm before the final tempest and Donohoe’s sensitive line and delicate touch creates passages of great charm and beauty. The finale begins with a hectic motif which is both playful and heroic.

There is a wonderful immediacy to Donohoe’s playing combined with vibrant pianistic colour, sprightly articulation, technical assuredness and musical authority which runs through every note. An impressive conclusion to the cycle.

Available on the Somm label

Meet the Artist……Kenneth Hesketh, composer


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

My musical life began as a chorister at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool in 1977 when I was nine, but singing had already been a part of my life (winning local music festivals for solo singing), which is the reason I went to audition at the Cathedral. After joining I was given piano lessons and other basic theoretical training. From about the age of ten, I was composing a number of things which further supported my initial forays into composition; primarily the unwavering support of my mother and grandmother who purchased a piano and reams of manuscript paper. Various BBC programmes on music at the time engaged me; my parents mentioned a James Blades programme on percussion that I was enthralled by before I want to the Cathedral and I subsequently took up percussion alongside piano. I also fondly remember the Stravinsky centenary programmes on BBC 2 in 1982. The support of the organist at Liverpool Cathedral, Ian Tracey, a lovely piano teacher, Dorothy Hill, who was also an opera fanatic who would invite me to accompany her to Opera North seasons in Liverpool for a number of years. Singing high quality choral music of the Italian renaissance, English Tudor and even 20th century periods, all of these cemented my need to live in music.

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

It dawned on me about 10 years ago that one reason much of my work is saturated by activity against sustained resonances comes from my childhood memories of the acoustical properties of the Cathedral building.  The sort of aural glow that is present in that building (and sometimes, musical confusion!) seeped into my head at an impressionable age and has remained ever since. The reverberation of a large acoustic space also suggests ambiguity, doubt and distance to me. Also, the nature of ritual and text, the rich, reflective nature of space and echo, all left their mark on me.

Music of the Franco-Russian period – orchestral music mostly – was important when I was a very young composer and remains a pleasure for me to this day. I was lucky from the age of 13 to have my orchestral work performed by the Merseyside Youth orchestra and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. From 2007-2009 I was the RPS Composer in the House with the RLPO which felt like a full turn of the wheel and a wonderful homecoming. About the age of 12 I had composition lessons from composer Steven Pratt (I remember that mine would often follow Steve Martland’s lessons) and he challenged my rather safe musical horizons with works by Berg, Messiaen, Boulez, Hugh Wood (his teacher) and other repertoire I would not have come across myself at this time. Three composers followed who have had a profound influence on how I believe a composer should be, Edwin Roxburgh, Oliver Knussen and Henri Dutilleux – fastidious in work, with acute musical ears and generous in spirit and nature.

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

Maintaining space – both physical and mental – to work, to stay on top of commissions, to teach and be an active and present father to my young son. The musical challenges have been to remain true to the real inner voice and how to express it as clearly as possible, which also has a direct impact on technical issues of notation and performer psychology.

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

The challenges may come from the terms of the commission,  the constraints of the instrumental forces, the duration, the context which the new piece will find itself in (I’m not a fan of ‘themed’ or anniversary commissions but take them anyhow) and so on. The solving of these problems is also the pleasure of working on a commissioned piece. Solving a self-imposed technical issue (formal, harmonic etc.) and conveying something of the deeper intended affect or mood – without simply priming people in a programme note! –  is also a challenge/pleasure coupling.

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

As scores are only the best possible ‘model’ to aspire to in realising a work, one hopes that it can be executed as conceived in the rehearsal time allowed. One also hopes that a collective situation can be arrived at where I feel the piece is well represented and speaks as intended (expresses its nature) and that there has been a transformative journey, for all involved – audience, performers, myself.  Working with technically brilliant and artistically informed musicians is one of the great pleasures of this musical life, as is the celebratory drink after a premiere!

Which works are you most proud of?

The ones which seem the most authentic to my ‘inner voice’ (perhaps even musical conscience) and also the ones where I’ve taken technical and emotional steps beyond my own initial expectations. This, in the happiest of circumstances, can lead to a synthesis of things I was only dimly aware of but which then become a foundation to build on in the following work.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

There are a great deal of established musicians and composers from the past and present who I find exciting, and even close to, that cover different musical genres (art music, medieval music, Moorish music, folk music). But I suppose it is the people that I have established a long-term working relationship with (and usually personal friendship) that are the most interesting and that I favour.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

To be honest I find performances nerve-wracking (perhaps a reason I gave up giving them myself) so I try to put them behind me or at least view them in hindsight.  However, my Prom concerts – be they as a performer (I was in the National Youth Orchestra of GB as a percussionist) or composer – are very special memories. Going onto the stage with an audience at the RAH is a hard experience to beat. But then, when I was 17, accepting the applause of a Liverpool Philharmonic Hall audience after the premiere of my early symphony, and more than two decades later accepting the applause on the same stage for a large work for orchestra, choir and tenor and being greeted with a warm and extended applause once more, these will also remain in memory.

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

Strive for technical mastery; be honest to your inner creative impulse; be curious and listen, read and experience art in all its forms; challenge yourself regularly if not daily (ask hard questions); make connections and get your name and work out there, however distasteful or difficult you may feel it is. If you wanted an easy profession you took the wrong turn.

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

Still here.

Pianist Clare Hammond has released a disc of solo piano music by Kenneth Hesketh. Featuring Kenneth’s masterpiece, Horae (pro clara), a series of twelve miniatures written for Clare in 2011/12, this disc features a further three works which illustrate his kaleidoscopic approach to colour and the incisiveness of his imagination: Notte Oscura, Three Japanese Miniatures and Through Magic Casements. The disc is available now on the BIS label.

Described by Tempo magazine as “a composer who both has something to say and the means to say it”, Kenneth Hesketh’s work has met with widespread critical acclaim. He is a composer fluent in multiple genres and has worked with leading ensembles and orchestras in Europe, the USA, and the Far East.

He has received commissions from organisations including the Seattle Symphony Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester and Birmingham Contemporary Music Group amongst others. Hesketh’s work has featured at the Prague Premieres (Czech Philharmonic orchestra), Tanglewood, Munich Biennial, Beijing Modern Music, ISCM (Korea) and Gaudeamus Festivals. Appointed Royal Philharmonic Society/ PRS Foundation Composer in the House with the RLPO, his works were performed and broadcast as part of European City of Culture events. His music has been recorded on the London Sinfonietta label and has been the subject of a number of portrait discs on the NMC, BIS, Psappha and Prima Facie labels.

Hesketh’s early interest in other artforms, be they classical architecture, medieval iconography, poetry or Bauhaus constructivism, have more recently included a fascination with entropy, mutation and existentialism. His work has been described as “pure music, in possessing – because the notes seem to be creating their own harmonic and rhythmic forces and processes – a great freshness.” (Paul Griffiths).

Hesketh has worked with an array of important conductors including Sir Simon Rattle, Vasilly Sinaisky, Vasily Petrenko, Susanna Malkki, Ludovic Morlot, Pascal Rophé and Oliver Knussen who was an early champion of his work. Christoph-Mathias Mueller and Clark Rundell have also championed Hesketh’s music in Britain and Europe with orchestras including the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, SWR Sinfonie Orchester Baden-Baden and Ensemble 10/10.

His works for chamber and solo forces have been performed by Nicholas Daniel, Hansjorg Schellenberger, Sarah Leonard, Rodney Clarke, Sarah Nichols, Christopher Redgate, Tamsin Waley-Cohen and Clare Hammond. Commissions in this genre include the Endymion Ensemble (in honour of Hans Werner Henze’s 75th birthday), the Festival Présences (Paris), the Munich Biennale, Kissinger Sommer Internationales Musikfestival, ensemble Psappha, the Continuum ensemble, the Michael Vyner Trust for the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble contemporain de Montréal and the ASKO ensemble.

Hesketh’s music for the stage covers subjects as disparate as the Brothers Grimm and DNA. Commissioned by The Opera Group and Phoenix Dance Theatre, his work has toured nationally (including performances at the Royal Opera House in London). He has also composed music for three art films, all sharing an interest in the bizarre and eerie on celluloid.

Kenneth Hesketh is professor of composition and orchestration at the Royal College of Music, honorary professor at Liverpool University and active as a guest lecturer and visiting professor.

“Hesketh’s music is beautiful, complex and restless … His response to musical form is particularly remarkable … The colorful orchestration and palpable verve in the individual gestures and large-scale construction make me want to return to them again and again.” American Record Guide

Meet the Artist……Ian Pace, pianist


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

My parents bought a piano, at first just as a piece furniture, when I was aged 6, and (so I am told!) I asked them ‘When am I going to have lessons?’ They said ‘Oh, hadn’t thought about that’, but I went to lessons with the local piano teacher (in Hartlepool), Christopher Simmonds, who was great in many ways. Within a year he could see that I had the potential to go places, and I went to Chetham’s when I was 10.

But I got inspired to really go with it mostly through taking music out of my local library and bashing through it at the piano, as well as listening to lots of recordings. I bashed my way through the whole of the Ring cycle, and lots of other operas, and got absolutely hooked. And then at around age 10, I first heard music of Stockhausen, Cage and Messiaen, and was instantly transfixed (I also read the Richard Kostelanetz volume on Cage which was available then, in the late 1970s). I just found a world of the untethered imagination there which was unlike anything else I knew in life. I was equally interested in composing in those days, too. Nowadays, composing is very occasional, but I do have plans to do more at some point when time permits!

I was very inspired by listening to a few pianists at an early stage – Brendel, Barenboim (I still love Brendel in particular); later on I got to know a much wider range, and was transfixed by Horowitz, Cziffra, Rosenthal, Hofmann, Gieseking and various others. But listening to recordings of Furtwängler and Karajan conducting Beethoven, Wagner, Musorgsky, Strauss, and so on, was every bit as important.

I think I just naturally took to the piano as an instrument – I could do a lot on it without it being too difficult at an early stage, though it was later that I really refined all sorts of technical things.

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

Too many to mention! I would like to try and honestly say something about how humanistic and socialist values are the most important influences, right down to how I play music, but that might sound very loaded. In some sense which is very very important to me, I want as a musician to somehow expand, even if only a small amount, the range of experience, consciousness, thoughts, desires, feelings, ideas, available in the cultural realm, to as many people as possible. This is of course a huge ambition, only ever likely to be achievable with a relatively small few, but that is still valuable. I play, and play in what some would say is a relatively uncompromising manner, because I believe in humans, believe in listeners, believe in their potential. I despise elitism for its own sake, but equally despise dumbing-down, and those who claim to be on the left who think culture should be reduced to a lowest common denominator in the name of some pseudo-egalitarian notion of ‘accessibility’. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why a relatively average human being (if such a person exists!) could not engage with music of Lachenmann, or Ferneyhough, or Nono, or Finnissy – or late Bach, late Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Schoenberg, Ornette Coleman, or whoever – if they are open-minded and prepared to put a bit of effort in. I came to all this stuff for that reason – it certainly was not instilled in me through canonical education or anything like that. The same is true of the most advanced literature, film, theatre, painting or other artistic medium.

I am an academic and university lecturer as well as a pianist, teaching a range of musical areas, not just performance-related. I cannot express how rewarding it is to me when I read essays from students, many of whom have only had a relatively limited exposure to music and ideas thereof upon coming up to university, writing intelligent and incisive essays on musical subjects. I can be uncompromising as a teacher as well – I do not wish to provide pre-digested ideas to be parroted unthinkingly, nor to preach some credo in order to gain followers. There are unfortunately plenty in higher education today who primarily look to students for self-validation, rather than looking to bring out creative and critical thinking in students themselves and listen to what they have to say; and towards that former end some teach via spoon-feeding in a way that to which some will respond positively. I just want to expose students to a range of music and ideas that they might not otherwise have encountered (and, alas, in many cases still will not even after a university education), and let them arrive at their own conclusions, even if they are radically different to my own. And in some ways I feel the same way about giving a performance – I do not really feel any need or desire to win listeners round to my own perspective, I just offer it up for them to arrive at their own perspective.

To answer this question more directly, perhaps unsurprisingly I would say that the most important influence on my playing was my main piano teacher, György Sándor, with whom I studied in NYC in the early 1990s. I discovered his book On Piano Playing: Motion, Sound and Expression when I was about 18, and it completely transformed everything about how I play, at least in a physical sense. I knew then that this was who I wanted to study with, where I would find what I had not found with previous teachers. I had no teacher for the next four years as I prepared above all to study with Sándor, and I was not disappointed at all. He was also a tremendously generous, warm, human being, entirely void of any type of affected grandeur, preciousness, or anything like that. We disagreed violently about various things – he had no time for any atonal music, or much after Bartók, and also little time for historically-informed approaches to performance. I did and do disagree with him strongly on both those things, but still admired the coherence of his positions. As a teacher myself, I teach in a way based upon his pianistic methods, which I continue to believe are move valuable than any other systematic approach. Having spent a lot of time (not least in a scholarly context) studying other schools of playing, I see many of their limitations; some Russian schools preclude a pointed attack and to my mind rather restrict the range of articulations as a result, whilst some French schools (not all!) make a true legato impossible.

I could name any number of composers whose work has been an influence in one way or another, but that probably goes without saying; amongst performers, all of those mentioned above, and then very different ones including David Tudor, Frederic Rzewski, Andreas Staier, all sorts of singers, string players, conductors, and others, some pop and jazz musicians, lots of writers, film-makers, and so on. Overall – perhaps as a natural extrovert in some ways – I feel a natural empathy with all types of artists who I seem able to externalise somehow, and in whose work I find a type of honesty (a much maligned category, but which I continue to find meaningful – perhaps I might put it better by saying a quality of vulnerability?) rather than cynical calculation or preciousness. For those reasons I love the playing of Gieseking, or Charles Rosen, say, but have much less time for that of Alfred Cortot or Edwin Fischer or Samuel Feinberg.

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

There have been many. I like to think I am something of an idealist, though my ideals have changed or at least been modified over time (I’m 48 now, and think quite differently to how I did 20 years ago, say, though the underlying motivations are similar). I’ve always felt somewhat estranged from what I perceive as the rather precious and snobbish culture which surrounds classical music, and have sought approaches other from those which satisfy that culture’s concomitant expectations, but without this entailing musical compromise.

That has taken many forms, some of them hard-line to the point of belligerence, and sometimes led to some resistance. In some cases, deliberately avoiding a particular approach was interpreted by some as a simple inability to do it, which I don’t think was true, and I could get disappointed by this. I wouldn’t deny that I’m sensitive to criticism, though inwardly some of my own criticism can be as harsh – though not necessarily of the same nature – as that of anyone. Not that I expect everyone to like all I do (I don’t like everything I’ve ever done), by any means, but at least realise that this is a conscious choice rather than knowing no better. Towards the end of the 1990s, I moved towards more of an ‘anti-romantic’ position, with implications in terms of general approaches to articulation, voicing, pedalling, and so on (though with flexibility), at the same time becoming more deeply interested in historically-informed performance; in the mid-2000s I wanted to relax this more and more. Coming to terms with how one used to play, when things have changed, is not easy – and maybe my approach will change again?

Feeling truly at ease with concertising – at least as much as one can do (nerves never completely go away for me at least) – is not something I think I achieved regularly until the late 1990s, a little bit into my performing career. I made a lot of very significant technical adjustments when working with Sándor, and just sometimes, when very tense, I  found I might revert inadvertently to some of the bad old ways. In time, I came to see how this might come about, and which preventive steps to take in advance of a concert.

Overall, dealing with the internal politics of the profession, and some of the poison therein which exists, is very hard and wearing. The depths to which some people will sink shocks and upset me – for example when I heard one composer invent a story about another one’s father beating him up (definitively not true – that latter composer would have told me long before he told the other person) in order to portray him as mentally unstable. Certainly in the end the music we produce matters more than the musicians, but musicians are human beings, and it is far too easy to lose sight of this in the name of some elevated aesthetic ideals. Ultimately human interests do matter more than art.

In terms of academic music, I’m in many ways quite at odds with the dominant ideologies and approaches in a sizeable part of the Anglo-American world (perhaps less so with other schools from elsewhere). There is a good deal of musicology (though by no means all) which distrusts music and especially its particular quality of ambiguity, wanting instead to pin it down to firm, fixed meanings, or investigate anything except for the actual sounding music. And at the same time there is the strong presence of a market-based ideology, especially in the so-called ‘new musicology’, which is utterly dismissive of the idea that there could be any music with some degree of autonomy from commercialism, or that there could be any value in such a thing. As such, many academic musicians have put up little resistance to a lot of dumbing-down of wider education, not to mention cuts to public funding of classical music. Some will happily consign a good deal of Western art music to the dustbin when it seems fashionable to do so, and in the process deny a lot of students help with grappling with a repertoire which those academics themselves could take for granted (you can read more of my thoughts on some these subjects on pp. 28-29 of the following – http://www.sma.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SMA_newsletter_2015.pdf ). In quite a bit of musicology, I see a bit of a cynical jostling for position, which privileges whatever are the ‘right’ conclusions in order to win favour with particular factions, as well as what are often quite simple arguments bathed jargon in order to impress. My models for academic writing (not ones I remotely think I could match!) are the likes of Charles Rosen, or Richard J. Evans – extremely clear and intelligent writers who convey complex ideas but have an ability to communicate to a wider public. At the same time, I do not accept what a ‘reductive’ view of music in terms of its social context; no music or other culture can probably be entirely autonomous of such a thing, but still, most fundamentally, I believe in the importance of culture which does more than simply reflect its conditions, but can reflect back critically upon them, in various ways, not least by offering up the possibility of other types of experience than those otherwise provided by its context. To deny that is really to deny creativity, I would say. This is an unfashionable view in academia today, but one which is vividly apparent to me coming first and foremost from the world of musical practice.

To make a more general point, one about which my thoughts have been influenced by regular conversations with many other academics in many institutions: I would say the corporate structures of much contemporary academia, and the ways in which power is distributed and exercise, can work against academic freedom and the possibilities for critical thinking. The very principles of independent rational and critical thought can be strongly at cross-purposes with hierarchical organisations which reward conformity and compliance. Some are unbothered by this, so long as they can derive personal gain and advancement. With this can come bullying, though attempts to ostracise scapegoat anyone who doesn’t go with the flow. I have seen, heard about, and experienced this sort of thing.

But nothing is more of a challenge than coming to terms with the extent of abuse, mistreatment and bullying in music education and the wider musical world. In early 2013, the former Director of Music at my old school, Chetham’s, was found guilty of sexually abusing a pupil, Frances Andrade, from when she was 14; she tragically took her own life during the trial. I and others knew that this was far from the only case at Chetham’s – in particular the atrocious way in which the case of Chris Ling (a serial abuser at the school, who fled the country (at first together with six girls from the school) to avoid prosecution, and who shot himself when facing extradition last year) had been hushed up.

Why did I get involved with all of this? I think that, as a musician and an educator, I have felt for a very long time (perhaps in part as a response to the toxic culture which existed in my time at Chetham’s) that there can be a hideous conflation of supposedly artistic, aestheticized values, and a culture of dehumanisation and brutalisation. I don’t want to exaggerate this parallel, but I was influenced by some of my academic research into aesthetics and fascism, seeing how a fundamentally aesthetic view of humankind can lead to an easy way to utterly dehumanise those who do not fit that aesthetic vision (see for example Frederic Spotts’ work on this subject). A lot started to make sense to me more clearly than ever, and my belief in the vital importance of working for a music world in which despicable behaviour was not excused by the veneer of artistry became hardened. Michael Brewer epitomised everything that was wrong, something I saw but maybe did not fully comprehend when at school.

Anyhow, after the verdict, I hosted on my blog (http://ianpace.wordpress.com ) a petition calling for a public inquiry into abuse in musical education in general (all types of abuse – sexual, physical, psychological). Within a couple of weeks, I had got thousands of signatures from the musical profession, including many former pupils from the five specialist music schools. But with this, a great many people wrote to me with testimony of their own awful experiences, glad that at last there was a climate where people might be prepared to believe this had happened. As a result of this, I had inadvertently become an expert on the subject, and there was no turning back (this was not information I could easily turn over to anyone else). I submitted the petition to the appropriate authorities, but didn’t get much positive response. I came to realise that if I was to be taken seriously on this subject, I needed to know more about the wider issues of abuse (which to politicians and others seemed more significant), especially if abuse in music might be connected to these. This led me to the case of Alan Doggett (a conductor associated with Lloyd Webber and Rice, based at Colet Court School and then elsewhere), and to the organisation PIE (I don’t want to go into detail on this now – you can look on my blog for more). It took over a significant part of my life for an extended period – I have pulled back a little now, but am still active, and have compiled many documents on the basis of my research.

You cannot imagine how upsetting and frightening this can become – I had heard people say so, but never really had the measure of it until I actually felt it first-hand. The personal toll this has taken has been immense, both in terms of state of mind, relationship, and many other things, and it has coincided with other difficulties (including some other academics exploiting the situation to try and undermine my work in general). It is also impossible to avoid getting caught up in the wider politics of this, which is complicated by the fact that there are clearly some involved with other agendas, some far from benign, and also simply the fact that there are inevitably some very damaged people there. This has been the biggest challenge of my life. But I don’t regret doing it at all.

Some might want to use this issue to undermine classical music in general. In no sense is that my agenda – I care about that music very deeply, but want to see it practised and taught in a more humane environment. This should not be impossible.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Performances: mostly I go away from them thinking of the things I was least happy with, but as time goes on I come to think a bit more positively. Not through listening to recordings (I rarely record live concerts from choice – live performance and recording are to me fundamentally differently mediums, as much so as theatre and film), but just having time to reflect and digest. I recall being quite pleased with a concert in Leeds in 2010 where I played Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes, probably the best I have played it. I also greatly enjoyed a concert the previous year as part of my leaving event at Dartington College of Arts, where I used to teach. This included the Fauré Nocturne No. 4, Janáček In the Mists, and Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrouchka and Rebecca Saunders’ Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall. There was a performance of Stockhausen Klavierstück X I gave at City University in 2014 which I think was not bad at all. What else? Radulescu’s Third Sonata in Leuven in 2007, in an extra concert after the main one (where I had given the premiere of the Sixth Sonata). And a performance of Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus right back in 1997, within the context of a series of the music of Howard Skempton. And any number of performances of Christopher Fox’s More Light, which I adore. Also a performance of Lachenmann’s Serynade in Aberdeen last autumn. And a concert in the Festival d’automne in Paris in 2002 where I played all of the Dusapin Études (the premiere of the complete set) and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. One concert in my home town of Hartlepool in 2014, with Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Janáček, and Earl Wild’s Fantasy on Themes from Porgy and Bess. These are a handful of those about which I feel reasonably happy.

Recordings: harder to say, because soon after they are released, I stop listening to them. When you have dissected them in the process of preparation, you know all the things which didn’t quite turn out how you wanted them too, and those become more difficult to handle with every listening. My recording of Dusapin’s Études and piano concerto À Quia is not bad, also that of Walter Zimmermann’s piano works, at least some of them. And I’m not unhappy with my biggest recording project to date, that of Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, a 5-CD set.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m less and less convinced about how well a good deal of repertoire from before around the mid-19th century works on a modern piano, so can’t imagine that I play much of that particularly well now. Best? Some Liszt, Brahms, some Debussy and Ravel, Bartók, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Cage, Feldman, Ligeti, Xenakis, Lachenmann, Kagel, Rzewski, Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Sciarrino, Radulescu, Dusapin, Fox.

Chopin I adore (and above all I see as a contrapuntal composer), but I’m never really convinced that I can do what I want to on a modern instrument. The same is true of Schumann (all that thick passagework in the central registers is one reason his music is mistakenly assumed to be somewhat muddy). Scriabin I continue to try to negotiate (I find its exaggerated qualities can lead to banality, and have too much of an ironic sensibility to take all that mysticism and affected sensuousness at face value) with mixed results. Schoenberg is hard to bring off.

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

In many cases, depending upon what I get asked to play! But I like to expand what I do, as well as playing some of my well-ingrained repertoire. In the last few years I’ve been doing various new things – the transcriptions by Earl Wild of music of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, the amazing Piano Sonata of Sergei Zagny, more recent work of Christopher Fox, whilst on my own looking more at composers like Florent Schmitt and Frederic Mompou. I want to play more lesser-known Slavic music of various types. This year I played the Dukas Sonata for the first piece, and have been documenting the process for an article on practice-as-research.

I hope at whatever age I will continue to champion the works of younger composers. In many ways that is the most important thing to do. Of course not everything is fantastic, but if these people do not get a proper hearing, we will never know which stuff is.

I love playing new work. I’ve just premiered an incredible new piece by Finnissy called Beethoven’s Robin Adair, and later on in the year I will be playing new works by Lauren Redhead and Patrícia Almeida. I cannot say how excited I am about this.

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

Various ones I have enjoyed: the main radio concert hall at Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Berliner Konzerthaus, the Warehouse in London. In general, venues without tiered seats sound best!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: many things mentioned above! Above all Liszt, Debussy, Stockhausen, Lachenmann, Finnissy, Radulescu, Dusapin, I think.

To listen to: then things get much broader. I can listen to any amount of medieval music of whatever type, though some music of the Renaissance leaves me cold (but I like Josquin, Ockeghem, and then later Marenzio (very much) and Gesualdo). After that, much of what I listen to is from the nineteenth and twentieth (and twenty-first) centuries. I adore a great deal of opera (and teach a module on it). I also listen to a good deal of jazz of all periods, and have a real love for British jazz of the 1930s and 1940s – Henry Hall, Ambrose, and so on. A good deal of popular music – perhaps more British than American, though I go for 1940s and 1950s American music of many types, and then stuff of Hendrix, the Doors, and Zappa and Beefheart on one hand, and lots of Motown and Chicago funk on the other.

All sorts of music which I find somehow culturally significant, I suppose. My listening habits are extremely eclectic and catholic, but not undiscerning, I hope.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again – see the above! I also am drawn to many historically-informed performers and groups: Harnoncourt (especially), Goebel, Europa Galante, Il Giardino Armonico, Music Antiqua Köln, Frieburger Barockorchester the ORR and Gardiner, countless medieval vocal groups (but not so much those in the British traditions). I love the work of Ensemble Organum under Marcel Pérès, and also that of my university colleague Alex Lingas’s group Cappella Romana.

Some other pianists as well as those mentioned before: Josef Lhevinne, Ignaz Friedman, Egon Petri, Grigory Ginsburg, Earl Wild, Julius Katchen, Paul Jacobs, Jörg Demus, Aldo Ciccolini, Lazar Berman, Friedrich Gulda, Samson François, Kristian Zimerman, Dezsö Ránki, Marc-André Hamelin, Janusz Olejniczak, Bart van Oort.

Some other composers beyond those listed above who are favourites: Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, John Dunstable, Guillaume Dufay, Marenzio, Monteverdi, both Scarlattis, Frescobaldi, Biber, Purcell, J.S. Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Charpentier, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Bellini, Donizetti, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Fauré (cannot hear enough of his music), Albéniz, Ives, Debussy, Ravel (every work is worth hearing, many times), Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg up until the early 1920s, and then from the late 1930s, Varèse, Bartók, Kodály, Percy Grainger, Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Dieter Schnebel, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Sylvano Bussotti, Franco Evangelisti, Josef Anton Riedl, Hans Otte, Galina Ustvolskaya, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Ivo Malec, Nicolaus A. Huber, and lots of others.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The final concert in my 1996 series of Michael Finnissy – the high I felt after that was really something. Various occasions where I have stepped in at the last minute to play things. I can do this, and sometimes it generates such a level of adrenalin that the performance has something particularly special, even if it feels knife-edge! A few occasions where I really didn’t know if it was going to be possible: the world premiere of Brian Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam in Leuven in 2000 (finished just three days before the concert), or of Wieland Hoban’s when the panting STARTS four years later in the same place.

Playing with lots of singers, having the chance to play operatic repertoire I love so much.

It is difficult to answer this question, really.

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

Find a really good technical approach as early as possible – remember there is loads of quackery around. For pianists, if anyone tells you to play with your elbows locked into the body, or with a fixed wrist, find someone else instead.

Listen to all types of music, you can never listen to too much. And listen to many types of performers, and really listen – when you find something really striking, see if you can see how that is brought about. And don’t just listen to your own instrument, or even your own musical genre. For pianists, listen in particular to singers, but also to orchestras. Listen to music from outside of Western traditions. Look for music you would not encounter otherwise.

Try and have some experience of all of the following: keyboard, singing, percussion. All vital skills. Learn at least basic harmony and counterpoint as early as possible, and develop aural skills as best as possible. Get used to being able to listen intently and mentally analyse many musical and aural phenomena you encounter. Read more widely about music, music history, music theory, and lots of critical questions surrounding music.

Do lots of sight reading from an early age – that is how the skill is developed (spending time bashing through opera scores and the like when I was young helped immensely here). I can’t stress enough how important a skill this is, and how much one needs to be able to absorb music and get into a performable state in a short amount of time in a professional career, and with all the other pressures and demands of life.

If any teachers or others try to dismiss the music you care about, on grounds of its being allegedly elitist, Eurocentric, or whatsoever, remember they almost invariably have a chip on their shoulder about it for other reasons. Stand up for what you believe in against such people, even if they are your teachers.

Become more widely conversant with many arts – literature, poetry, theatre, film, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc. and ideas, and the world in general. Understand what you can about the cultural, social and historical context of the music you play, but try and understand the context in which you are playing it too. Look outwards as well as inwards. Embrace the world and people with all their imperfections. Remember how much you can always learn from others. Try and imagine yourself inside the mind of someone who shares few of the same core assumptions about music and culture as yourself. Then you will have a clearer idea of how you might be able to communicate with them.

Take on board two bits of advice I heard from different pianists: Peter Donohoe once said that when young and starting out, do whatever you can that is to do with music, it will all benefit. John Lill once said that a musician has to be very sensitive to the music they play, but very insensitive to all the crap they will put up with because of the politics of the profession. Both of these are very good pieces of advice.

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

Mostly doing the same type of thing, perhaps a bit more recognition, feeling a more supportive general environment in society as a whole (with a different complexion of government) for what I believe. Having issued more recordings and writings. Maybe composing some more. Commissioning lots more new works. Remaining in good health as I approach 60!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Just spending time together with my wife Lindsay, in a nice place, such as in Italy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my books.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Playing, reading, listening, eating and drinking well, cycling, teaching, and being with Lindsay. Seeing friends and people in general.

What is your present state of mind? 

Somewhat anxious, distrustful, ever-aware of how easily corruptible and awestruck by power so many people are. Concerned about the world is getting even more ruthless and inhuman all the time, and how fear is being stoked to breed prejudice. The US might elect Donald Trump President – that is terrifying, and speaks of a wider malaise in that society. Also concerned to see classical music and other forms of demanding artistic education get lost (or rather, become restricted to those privileged enough to have an elite education) in a mire of relativism and eschewal of value judgement. Preparing to go on strike tomorrow against real-terms cuts in pay for academics, casualization, and gender inequality. But still ultimately hopeful and optimistic, refusing to give in to complete cynicism.

I think I feel very internationalist in outlook. And as inspired as ever when encountering creativity. That’s why I remain an optimist, however jaded by experience.

I would like to mention another project I am involved in, crowd-funding to make a recording of the piano music of Marc Yeats. This is something I so want to make happen, and has less than two more weeks to run. Full details, and ways of supporting the project, can be found here – https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/my-recording-of-marc-yeats-piano-music-please-support-this-project/ . Please do help!


Ian Pace is a pianist of long-established reputation, specialising in the farthest reaches of musical modernism and transcendental virtuosity, as well as a writer and musicologist focusing on issues of performance, music and society and the avant-garde. He was born in Hartlepool, England in 1968, and studied at Chetham’s School of Music, The Queen’s College, Oxford and, as a Fulbright Scholar, at the Juilliard School in New York. His main teacher, and a major influence upon his work, was the Hungarian pianist György Sándor, a student of Bartók.

Ian Pace’s website

Horae (pro clara) – Kenneth Hesketh

hesketh_coverThe latest release from pianist Clare Hammond is a disc for BIS Records of solo piano music by British composer Kenneth Hesketh –  Horae (pro clara) (2011/12), Notte Oscura (2002), Through Magic Casements (2008) and Three Japanese Miniatures (2002).

Horae (pro clara) was written for Clare Hammond following Kenneth Hesketh’s meeting with Clare at her debut recital at the Southbank Centre in 2010. They have subsequently developed a close artistic collaboration.

Clare Hammond (photo: Julie Kim)
Clare says of Ken’s music that “it can seem overwhelming at times, yet if one engages with its textural intricacy, the scope of his extra-musical allusions, and volatile virtuosity, rich rewards lie in store”. Clare seems ideally suited to this type of repertoire. Her debut album, Piano Polytych, containing works by Kenneth Hesketh, Julian Anderson, Piers Hellawell, Giles Swayne and Philip Grange, revealed her to be a fine advocate for contemporary piano repertoire, combining flawless technique with a sharp intellect and musical sensitivity to bring such works to life with colour, vibrancy and rhythmic precision, and totally without the self-consciousness or affectation that sometimes accompanies performances of this type of repertoire.

Kenneth Hesketh’s musical language is drawn from a broad range of stimuli, including classical architecture, medieval iconography, poetry, Bauhaus constructivism and existentialism, and these extra-musical references bring texture, structure and a wide range of moods, tempi, colour and piquancy to his music. The works presented on this disc are complex, both technically and musically, with dense textures and abrupt voltes faces between the macabre and grotesque and the delicate and poignant. What Clare Hammond does so well is to bring a sparkling clarity to the tightly-packed textures without comprising her sensitive musicality and her ability to shift seamlessly between the myriad moods and styles of the pieces.

The first work on this disc, Through Magic Casements, takes its title from Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale and much of its soundworld seems to echo the imagery of the poem with its urgent febrile passages which fade to nothing at the end.

The work which occupies most of the disc, Horae (pro clara), was premiered by Clare Hammond at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2013, and consists of twelve miniatures which as a whole form a ‘breviary’ or book of hours. The movements are not titled; instead they have evocative performance directions and some incorporate literary references. Thematic material, such as Hesketh’s fascination with machines and automata, is shared across the set, thus linking the pieces, though they can be performed in any order. Some contain dense thickets of notes and melodic lines, abrupt and plangent bass interruptions, and vibrant rhythms (VII: Capriccioso), while others comprise spare shards and delicate scurrying traceries (VI: Nervoso, ma dolce, for example).

The third work Notte Oscura (2002) is a piano transcription of the first interlude in Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, after Nikolai Gogol, and in it Hesketh highlights Gogol’s description of St Petersburg’s powerful and all-pervasive cold. The opening bass chords are perfectly judged by Clare Hammond, lending a sense of foreboding before the music moves into a more melodic passage, though the mood of menace and anxiety is never far away. Repeated tremolo notes high in the register suggest shards of ice, while the bass sonorities conjure up the vastness of the Russian landscape.

The suite Three Japanese Miniatures concludes the disc. The works are drawn from fragments and paraphrases of a larger work by Hesketh inspired by Japanese folk tales and each movement portrays a story, from a nocturnal wanderer who finds himself amid the imposing grandeur of a ruined temple to a winter sprite who takes revenge on a broken promise by taking the lives of a man and his children and finally the story of Bumbuku, a daemon who takes the form of a badger and lives in a tea kettle. The works are expressive, haunting and humorous, and, as in the previous works on this disc, Clare highlights their distinctive narratives with precise articulation and a vivid palette of musical colour.

Horae (pro clara) is released on 27 May on the BIS label. Further information and sound clips here

An interview with composer Kenneth Hesketh will appear in the Meet the Artist series on 2 June

Clare Hammond is the recent recipient of a Royal Philharmonic Society young artist award 

Pianist Christina McMaster St John’s Smith Square 2016/17 Young Artist

Ever since its reinvention as a concert hall, St John’s Smith Square has played a pivotal role in supporting the most promising young musicians. Simon Rattle, Steven Isserlis, Nigel Kennedy and Jacqueline du Pré are just a few of the musicians who performed at St John’s Smith Square before going on to begin internationally renowned careers.

St John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme 2016/17

“The Young Artists’ Scheme at St John’s Smith Square is a vital part of our mission as one of the UK’s leading concert halls. By investing in the development and nurturing of exceptional talent we are helping to ensure that music making and creative opportunity is refreshed and renewed for future generations. It is also, of course, incredibly exciting simply to observe the young performers as they develop across the course of their involvement with the scheme and a real reward for our audiences to be able to share this process of development.” – Richard Heason: Director, St John’s Smith Square

Pianist Christina McMaster is amongst the line up of the 2016/17 Young Artists’ Scheme (which also includes the Minerva Piano Trio, harpist Oliver Wass and the Ferio Saxophone Quartet). A champion of contemporary repertoire, Christina has been praised for her innovative programming, and her collaborations with a diverse mix of genres and arts, recently working with the Brodowski Quartet, violinist Lizzie Ball, rapper Tor Cesay, director Richard Williams, actors from Central Saint Martin’s and a number of designers for London Fashion week. She also commissions and performs a wide range of new music, and has worked with established composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Tansy Davies and Stephen Montague as well as emerging composers – collaborating most recently with Freya Waley-Cohen and Richard Bullen.


Christina launched her debut album ‘Pinks & Blues’ in October 2015 on her own label to a sell-out audience at St James’ Theatre, the album is a fusion of jazz and blues influenced classical and contemporary music with two new commissions.

“Thanks to the St John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme I am able to design and deliver my ambitious vision of an exciting ‘mini-festival’ across 2016/17 season with an array of concerts from solo piano music by Bartók, Scarlatti, Ligeti, Debussy, to a concert where 120 school children take over the galleries of SJSS! Responding to the building’s rich history I’ll perform music by Dowland, Shostakovich, Britten and Birtwistle with the Ligeti Quartet; and the brilliant sisters Kristine and Margarita Balanas will join me for piano trios by Schumann and Arvo Pärt. The scheme has also provided the wonderful opportunity to commission new music by Richard Bullen and Ayanna Witter-Johnson; Ayanna will pay homage to one of her heroines in celebration of International Women’s Day alongside some of my musical heroes including Ruth Crawford-Seeger, Charles Ives and Meredith Monk.”  –

Christina McMaster

Meet the Artist……Christina McMaster

Review of Pinks & Blues

St John’s Smith Square Young Artists’ Scheme

Intimacy and Control: Steven Osborne at St John’s Smith Square

The transfer of the International Piano Series to St John’s Smith Square while the Southbank Centre undergoes a facelift is proving successful and popular. An elegant venue with a fine acoustic and a beautiful Steinway piano, coupled with one of the UK’s most gifted pianists active today, made for an evening of music making of the highest calibre, in a diverse programme which opened with Schubert and closed with Rachmaninov.

Steven Osborne
(photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

Schubert’s second set of Impromptus D935 are less frequently performed than the first set, with the exception of the third of the set (a set of variations based on the Rosamunde theme). The first and the last, both in F minor but very contrasting, were presented in this concert. The word “Impromptu” is misleading, suggesting a small-scale extemporaneous salon piece or album leaf. Schubert’s Impromptus, composed in 1827, his post-Winterreise year of fervent creativity, are tightly-structured and highly cohesive works.

There is nothing “small scale” about the opening of the first of the D935, and Steven Osborne‘s account of this was brisk, almost terse, and bold, with a grandeur redolent of Beethoven at his most expansively gestural. But Schubert does not linger in this territory for long and soon the music moved into a far more introverted realm. The middle section, tender duetting fragments over an undulating accompaniment, was poetic, intimate and ethereal. By contrast, the other F minor Impromptu was infused with Hungarian flavours, with offbeat rhythms and twisting scalic figures. Osborne pulled it off with a modest bravado, alert always to Schubert’s miraculous harmonic shifts and fleeting moods.

Read my full review here