(photo credit: Rory Isserow)
(photo credit: Rory Isserow)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career? 

I don’t remember not playing the piano! But as a career – the London-based Swiss pianist, Albert Ferber, with whom I was studying, encouraged me to make my debut at Wigmore Hall in 1974.

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

All my teachers in different ways; musical members of the family; friends and colleagues who believed in me. The composer William L Reed was a marvellous mentor and facilitator. Perhaps most important of all, a passion for the music I had found and a powerful desire to communicate it.

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

To focus on priorities.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

The ones where there has been that special communication with listeners – whether in the concert hall or in feed-back from far-flung corners of the world. I do not wish to be solely defined by the many Grainger ones, but they have presented much repertoire that is new, fresh, entrancing, life-enhancing – hard work, but what a joy!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

The particular ones for which I feel a gut instinct, whether by Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms, Chopin, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninov …. the list goes on.

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

That is dictated by the projects I am undertaking.

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

I have enjoyed different venues for different reasons – the Melbourne Recital Centre is lovely, but so too is London’s Kings Place for its vibrant sense of enterprise (and very fine hall), and St John’s, Smith Square for its beauty. I have often relished the pin-point acoustics of Wigmore Hall, and the warm atmosphere of the Purcell Room. It was a thrill to play on the stage at Covent Garden for a gala Australia Day concert and at the Royal Festival Hall in Grainger’s ‘The Warriors’. By contrast, a good piano in a large music room can be perfect for a recital where one introduces the music.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Most recently Bach transcriptions and originals for a Bach CD on LIR Classics. And see above……

Who are your favourite musicians? 

To hear: I so loved the Pollini Beethoven cycle, and in different sonatas, Brendel (the last three) and, unexpectedly, Barenboim in some of the early ones. Of course, that force of nature, Argerich!  On disc – Dinu Lipatti, Solomon and Richter.

For many years I played two piano programmes with my friend and colleague, John Lavender. We gradually developed a way of creating one texture from two pianos. We recorded much new Grainger repertoire on three discs and John also made some splendid two piano versions of such works as Tchaikovsky’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ overture as part of an all-Russian programme.

I have been lucky to work with so many fine artists – in earlier days, the mezzo Muriel Smith, more recently, certain outstanding singers – Stephen Varcoe, Martyn Hill, James Gilchrist and Della Jones, in the Chandos Grainger recordings and in concert. Wayne Marshall was a memorable colleague both as pianist and conductor. It has been a great pleasure to work with the cellist, Rohan de Saram, who has recently returned to the standard repertoire along with his extraordinary abilities and achievements in the field of contemporary music. Earlier women pianists who inspired me in concert included

Lili Kraus, Alicia de Larrocha and Rosalind Tureck. Also Hephizibah Menuhin, whom I knew and admired as a friend.

These are but a few names amongst many others…

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Too many memorable experiences to choose one – but playing in 1980 in the Beijing Conservatoire and to a radio audience they told me averaged 50 million – was certainly the largest audience ever!

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

Be yourself. Find your unique path. Work hard. Know that beyond failure there is always the next step. Cherish your friends and the wonderful opportunities we have to share our music.

What are you working on at the moment? 

A concert at King’s Place, London, to mark 40 years since my London debut.

It will be a programme filled with melody and shared with some good friends, the Fitzwilliam String Quartet and a group of gifted young professionals, as we shall be premiering a piano concerto movement written by Grainger when he was just 13 years old.

I’ll start with mighty Bach arr. Liszt and progress through Grieg (lovely Grieg) by way of Grainger to the Dvorak Piano Quintet Op 81 – what an utterly gorgeous work.  

What is your present state of mind? 

Expectant.

 

Penelope Thwaites’ 40th Anniversary Concert takes place at London’s King’s Place Hall One on Wednesday 8th October. She is joined by the Fitzwilliam Quartet and outstanding young professional artists in a programme of music by Bach arr. Liszt, Grieg, Grainger and Dvorak. Further details here

 

London-based pianist and composer Penelope Thwaites has performed and broadcast in over thirty countries on five continents. Since her Wigmore Hall debut in 1974, she has appeared regularly as recitalist in major concert halls, and in a wide repertoire she has built a reputation as an intensely communicative artist. As concerto soloist she has appeared with the Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, City of London Sinfonia and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and with leading orchestras in Australia, Europe and America.

On a fine mid-September afternoon a group of adult pianists, piano fans and music lovers gathered at Craxton Studios for a recital and talk by acclaimed pianist, teacher and writer Graham Fitch.

Craxton Studios, a beautiful Arts & Crafts house in Hampstead, north London, has an important musical heritage and is therefore the perfect place for concerts and gatherings of musicians. Originally built by the artist George Hillyard Swinstead for his family and as his art studio, the house was bought by Harold Craxton and his wife Essie in 1945 after they and their family were bombed out of their home in St. John’s Wood during the Blitz. Professor Harold Craxton OBE was an eminent and much-loved pianist and teacher (he was a Professor at the Royal Academy of Music), and those of us of a certain age will know his name from ABRSM editions of Beethoven and Co, edited by him and Donald Francis Tovey. The house on Kidderpore Avenue became a meeting place for musicians to come together and the house became a focal point for the artistic and musical milieu of London. This tradition continues today, as the house is used not only for concerts but also rehearsals, auditions and as a film location.

When Harold Craxton died in 1971, a trust was established in his name to support young, extremely talented musicians embarking on a professional career.

I first visited Craxton Studios in December 2013 for a concert by pianist Sarah Beth Briggs. I was impressed by the warm atmosphere and particularly the special ambiance and decor of the venue. Concerts are held in the artist’s studio, a large airy room at the back of the house, adorned with paintings, which looks out over the garden. The piano, which was Harold Craxton’s own instrument, is an early 20th-century Blüthner. (There is another grand piano in the small rehearsal studio on the top floor of the house.) The Craxton family still manage the property and it continues as a lively hub for musical activities in London.

‘Notes&Notes’ with Graham Fitch was a new concert concept for the South London Concert Series. I have always found concerts in which the performer introduces the music most interesting, and I find audience members enjoy hearing anecdotes about the music or why particular pieces are important, and as such offer something more personal and interesting than a standard written programme.

Graham Fitch introducing his programme
Graham Fitch introducing his programme

Graham’s programme consisted of Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat and the French Suite, No. 5 in G, both popular and accessible works, and Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 50 in C, Hob. XVI/50, written while the composer was living in London. Graham introduced the music, explaining that Bach was drawing on a tradition of presenting a suite of stylised dances popular at the time (Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gigue etc). He also described his first encounters with this music and his studies with Andras Schiff, who has received high praise for his own intepretations of Bach, and who “gave” Graham the ornaments in the French Suite. Graham also explained that there is no “right way” to play Bach and that a romantic interpretation is as valid any other.

Graham combines a vibrant, colourful sound with an ability to highlight all the different strands of melody, voices and interior architecture in the music, together with subtle use of pedal, sensitive phrasing and restrained rubato. As his introduction to the Haydn Sonata, he explained that Haydn was working with John Broadwood, the London piano maker, and the Sonata shows the composer experimenting with the range of possibilities afforded by an English piano (as opposed to the Viennese instruments which Haydn had previously been used to). Graham’s performance sparkled with wit and humour, while the middle movement had a lovely arching melody, warm and supple.

Afternoon tea & scones
Afternoon tea & scones

After the music came the tea party and guests gathered in the dining room to enjoy tea and scones (with clotted cream, of course) and the chance to meet Graham and talk to other pianists and piano fans. There were many friends amongst the audience and the house was full of conversation. Some people even went to try the piano, before the studio was cleared ready for an audition the following day. The general consensus was that this was a really lovely event, combining music, words and conviviality, and we hope to host a similar concert at Craxton Studios next year.

 

 

 

Craxton Studios website

Meet the Artist……Graham Fitch

 

(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

As part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of Love this summer, there have been three screenings of the classic love story Brief Encounter, with a live performance of the score (drawn largely from Rachmaninov’s perennially popular 2nd Piano Concerto) by pianist Leon McCawley with the LPO. The film screening took place during the second half of the concert and was preceded in the first half by a full performance of the Rachmaninov Concerto. The whole event was introduced by Lucy Fleming, daughter of Celia Johnson, who plays Laura, the female lead in Brief Encounter. Her introduction was full of wonderful anecdotes about the making of the film (which took place during the final year of the war), including extracts from Celia Johnson’s diary.

Trevor Howard as Alec and Celia Johnston as Laura in ‘Brief Encounter’

Based on Still Life, a one-act play by Noel Coward, and directed by David Lean, the plot centres around Laura, a suburban housewife married to a dependable but rather dull man. A chance meeting with a doctor, Alec Harvey, in the ‘refreshment room’ at the station (which is fiercely guarded by the wonderfully-named Myrtle Bagot, played by Joyce Carey with some of the best lines in the entire film) leads Laura into a brief but intense romantic liaison with the doctor, before circumstances and their own moral integrity forces them to part, never to meet again…. Much of the action is narrated by Laura, and despite the plummy, cut-glass RP accents of the main characters, the plot is sharply-observed, witty, very funny at times, and also heart-rendingly poignant. The story is underpinned by the wonderful score, and was in fact largely responsible for bringing this epic piece of music to wider fame. It has undoubtedly contributed to the enduring appeal.

It must be 20 years since I last heard the ‘Rach 2’ performed live (I think by Evgeny Kissin at the Proms) and I had forgotten what a gloriously rich and expressive work it is. Towering and climactic, it is demanding work to play, and one of the chief challenges is avoiding an overly-romantic reading of it. Leon McCawley’s warm tone was perfect for this work, combined with an exquisite clarity and an ability to highlight some of the less obvious details in the score. The entire work had a classical edge to it which avoided sentimentality, yet never detracted from the rich textures of the score.

Leon McCawley & the LPO (photo (c) Leon McCawley)
Leon McCawley & the LPO (photo (c) Leon McCawley)

To perform the score with the film must have taken some very careful rehearsing to create such a smooth synthesis of film and soundtrack. In her introduction, Lucy Fleming explained that some complicated technical processes were used to strip out the original music from the film. A new soundtrack was commissioned especially for the RFH screening: this played while we watched the film was the most wonderful cinematic and musical experience, a nod back to the days of silent cinema, almost, when films would be accompanied and “narrated” by a resident pianist, small orchestra or organist.  A really superb evening celebrating great music and a great film, both of which have most definitely stood the test of time. Oh, and the enduring power of love…..

grahamfitchWho or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career? 

I was destined to read modern languages at Oxbridge but my heart wasn’t really in it. The piano was an all-consuming passion by my mid teens, and I’m afraid once the blinkers went on I couldn’t see myself being happy doing anything else.

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

Apart from my wonderful teachers Stephen Savage, Peter Wallfisch and Nina Svetlanova (each of whom gave me different parts of the puzzle), I was very influenced by András Schiff. Not only his playing (which blew me away the first time I heard it) but having the privilege of studying with him at Dartington in 1982 and then privately afterwards. Another profound influence was Leon Fleisher’s weekly piano class during my Peabody year, studying Chopin with Ann Schein and having some marvelous lessons with Julian Martin. Playing chamber music with some amazing string players and also playing the song repertoire have made me a more rounded musician than if I had just played solo.

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

I think juggling the various elements of what I do – playing, teaching, writing, adjudicating and now in my role as a principal tutor on the Piano Teachers’ Course (EPTA) UK. There never seems to be enough time to practise!

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

I have played a wide variety of styles in my time, from the French and German baroque through to contemporary music. If push comes to shove I would have to say I identify most with the mainstream Classical and Romantic repertoire. I can’t imagine a world without Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Chopin – to name but a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

If you mean as a listener, it would have to be Schiff’s Goldbergs at Dartington in 1982. One of the most memorable of my own would probably be playing the same work in Perth, Australia in the late 90’s – in front of an audience of pianists.

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

A love of music, an appreciation of how music is built and how to communicate this in your playing. Aspiring musicians need a heck of a lot of discipline if they are going to amount to anything, but so often they don’t really know how to work. Part of my mission seems to be helping them learn how to practise.

Your ‘Notes & Notes’ recital on 14th September includes works by J S Bach and Haydn. Tell us a little more about why you selected these particular composers and works? 

I chose to play these particular works because I think Bach and Haydn go very well together. The B flat Partita and the G major French Suite are very often played, and I find I often teach them. The Haydn C major is such an inventive work – I just love the humour in it.

Why perform and talk about the music? How do you think this approach illuminates the music and composers for the audience? 

There is a growing trend for performers to talk about music, and to engage with their audience on a more personal and intimate level. If the venue is small enough, it can be a great way of enhancing the listening by offering what are basically spoken programme notes – and maybe some personal observations and anecdotes.

Graham Fitch’s ‘Notes&Notes’ recital is on Sunday 14th September 2014 at 3pm at Craxton Studios, Hampstead, north London. After the concert, the audience is invited to join Graham for a cream tea and a chance to socialise with other music lovers. Further information and tickets here. This concert marks the launch of the 2014/15 season of the innovative and popular South London Concert Series.

Graham Fitch, now based in London, maintains an international career not only as a pianist, but also as a teacher, adjudicator and writer. He has been appointed to the piano staff at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and runs private teaching studios in South West London, and the West End of London.

A published author, Graham has written several articles on aspects of piano playing and musical style. He has also produced a generation of teachers through his influence as a teacher. He is a regular contributor to Pianist Magazine, and is the author of a very successful blog, http://practisingthepiano.com/

www.grahamfitch.com

 

Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)
Daniel Grimwood (photo: Ian Dingle)

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?

I owe everything really to Charlie and Ciss Hammond, who were our next-door neighbours when I was a toddler in Kent; they had an upright piano on which I used to fiddle around. Although I don’t come from a musical background it must have been apparent to my family that I was musically inclined very early on. I was too young to remember much about it, but my guess is that it was exactly the same instinct which makes us learn language as children. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher, Dr Jennie Coleman currently of Dunedin, was beyond excellent and gave me a very solid foundation at a very early age.

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

Originally I had intended to be a violinist. At that time Yehudi Menuhin was it! I think the experience of having been a good string player has shaped my way with the piano.

Later on I hero-worshipped (and still do) Sviatoslav Richter and I am lucky enough to have been one of the few of my generation to have heard him live outside of Russia, an experience I shall never forget. No recordings represent what I heard on those evenings.

As I get older two figures return to my work over and over again; if I face a thorny technical problem or one of those little niggles where the head contradicts the heart I will ask, “what would Graham Fitch or Peter Feuchtwanger recommend?”. I believe the advice of these two men will always be a guiding light.

Being a pianist is less about playing the piano than it is about being a human being. The numerous extra-musical things which have made me who I am have also made me the artist I am. A musician can only express what they are and what they know.

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

I’m in my early forties and still a musician – that is challenge enough.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My complete Faure Nocturnes. I recorded it in tremendously difficult emotional conditions. My whole heart is in it and it is the recording I feel most accurately mirrors my inner being.

Although I move forward from past stuff quickly, I will always take pride in my Liszt and Erard project. The concert at the Wigmore was a definite high point in my career and I can still bear to listen to the CDs, which is unusual for me. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_wSsz-K8Cg)

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Schubert

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

I am a Gemini and my mind is always jumping from place to place, this has given me a very large repertoire so my choices are more often than not subject to passing whim.

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

Give me a piano that works and people who want to listen and I will play.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

This changes by the hour though I always seem to return to Schubert and Liszt who I think of as artistic brothers. Last year I subjected my home village of Brenchley to the entire first book of the Frescobaldi Toccatas, which I was in love with at the time – the following week I performed Liszt. I have a hungry mind and like not only to know the music posterity calls great, but the music around it.

Mostly I listen to music other than piano. I love the Organ and wish I were clever enough to play it well. I listen to the Symphonic repertoire most and lately I have been much impressed by the Symphonies and Cantatas of Sergei Tanayev.

I listen to the Monteverdi Vespers every Christmas and I love them.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

I favour different artists for different qualities. Some because they resonate with my nature, others because they challenge my nature. For example, I have long loved Ignaz Friedman, and there is something in his improvisatory streak that I recognise in myself. On the other hand, Daniel Barenboim, a pianist who couldn’t sound more different from me in many ways, fascinates me. The tone production is extraordinarily concentrated. I can’t get enough of his late Beethoven at the moment. I have worn out Stephen Hough’s CDs of the Saint-Saëns Concertos and I’ve lately very much enjoyed listening to Maria Joao Pires play Chopin with unusual depth. I just bought a splendid recording of Bart van Oort playing Field and Chopin Nocturnes on original pianos with highly original extemporisations. I could carry on…there are so many of us! But what is amazing is that we all have something totally different to say.

I can’t not mention Ingrid Haebler – hardly anyone I know has heard her Schubert Sonatas yet it is some of the most cultivated music making I have ever heard.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

One in a London hotel where a leg fell off the piano.

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

Follow your own instincts at all times. Arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Know your audience – all of them – and always remember that music is a birthright not a luxury. Never forget that we are the luckiest people alive; our job is our hobby – however difficult a life in music gets, and at times it really, really does – never lose sight of how much you love your art.

 

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

In front of a piano

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Dvorak in the bath by candlelight…

What is your most treasured possession?

My family

What do you enjoy doing most?

Outside of music, running

What is your present state of mind?

Contented

 

www.danielgrimwood.co.uk