My local music society based at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington is proving a rich and varied source of fine music this autumn. Last month I attended excellent concerts by Helen Burford, in an eclectic programme of mostly contemporary music, and Joseph Tong who played works by McCabe, Sibelius and Ravel, and ended with a rollicking ‘Wanderer Fantasy’ by Schubert. For the first concert of November, pianist Madelaine Jones returned to the NPL to give a lunchtime recital of works by Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, and little-known female composer Louise Farrenc.

4bfbb2f28b-DSCF5588Now in her final year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, south-east London, Madelaine studies with my piano teacher, Penelope Roskell (I first met Maddie at one of my teacher’s weekend courses, some three years ago). A busy performing musician, Madelaine is now looking beyond next summer to where her musical studies might take her next: this recital was an opportunity for her to perform her programme for forthcoming auditions at the Royal Academy and Royal College of Music, Trinity, and Yale, amongst others.

Madelaine introduced her programme, explaining that Bach’s ‘Well-Tempered Clavier’ is considered to be the Old Testament of music, while Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas are the New Testament. As it happened, her programme contained works from both, and the opening Prelude from the Prelude & Fugue in D minor BWV 875 from Book 2 of the WTC was played with vigour, colour, and crisp articulation (Madelaine also plays the harpsichord, evident in her lightness of touch in the Prelude). The Fugue was more thoughtful, with sensitive attention to the strands of counterpoint (in her introduction, Madelaine described a fugue rather charmingly as “voices chasing each other”). This was an authoritative account, and a splendid opener for the concert.

Beethoven’s Opus 10 Piano Sonatas were published in 1798. The first and the third of the Opus are serious and tempestuous (the Op 10, no. 1 prefigures the Pathétique Sonata), but the middle sonata of the triptych, Op 10 no. 2 in F major, is more light-hearted, a “cheeky” first movement which amply displays Beethoven’s characteristic wit and musical humour. Madelaine was alert to the rapid shifts of mood, dynamics, and orchestration in Beethoven’s writing: a sprightly first movement gave way to an elegant minuet and trio, followed by a fugal finale, nimbly played by Madelaine. Sparing use of the pedal, precise articulation and musical intelligence resulted in a very colourful and enjoyable account of this early period sonata.

In a change to the printed programme, Stravinsky’s second Piano Sonata (1924) came next, again engagingly introduced by Madelaine. Composed while Stravinsky was resident in Paris in the 1920s, this Sonata harks back to Baroque and Classical models, and it was an inspired piece of programming to place it straight after the Beethoven, which helped illuminate the classical elements inherent in Stravinsky’s writing (a first movement in Sonata form – exposition, development, recapitulation – followed by a slow movement). Indeed, the slow movement, as Madelaine put it, was written as if Stravinsky had taken a typical Beethoven slow movement and simply “allowed the hands the wander around the keyboard”. Madelaine’s precise attention to detail, tonal clarity, energy of attack, and musical understanding made for a most interesting performance.

To finish Madelaine played the Air russe varié, op. 17 by Louise Dumont Farrenc, a French composer who, according to Schumann, writing in his Die neue Zeitschrift für Musik showed great promise, but who has fallen into obscurity. And indeed the work Madelaine performed was redolent of Schumann’s own music with its contrasting and varied movements and musical volte-faces. This work was proof that Madelaine is equally comfortable in Romantic repertoire, delivering a performance that caught the full emotional sweep and virtuosity of this music: a committed, bravura performance founded on solid technique and undeniable musicality.

Details of Madelaine’s forthcoming concerts can be found on her website:

madelainejones.co.uk

My Meet the Artist interview with Madelaine

Forthcoming concerts at the National Physical Laboratory Musical Society:

6th November – Corrine Morris, cello and Kathron Sturrock, piano

11th November – Alice Pinto, piano

18th November – Nadav Hertzka, piano

22nd November – Kathron Sturrock, piano

26th November – Frances Wilson (AKA The Cross-Eyed Pianist), piano in works by Bach, Cage, Debussy, Liszt, Elgar, and Messiaen

Concerts take place in the Scientific Music, Bushy House, National Physical Laboratory, Teddington TW11 0LW, and start at 12.45pm. Tickets £3 on the door.

All 32 Piano Sonatas in a day? Read on……

Celebrated pianist Julian Jacobson, acclaimed for the vitality, colour and insight he brings to his performances, celebrates the 10th anniversary of his first all-Beethoven charity piano marathon by staging this amazing event once more. The event will run from 9.15am-10pm on 15th October 2013 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, with the aim of raising money for WaterAid and St Martin-in-the-Fields’ The Connection at St Martin’s which gives crisis grants to people in need across the UK.  Donate here.

Julian Jacobson (photo credit: Roger Harris)

Julian will perform all 32 Beethoven Piano Sonatas from memory in chronological order with the exception of Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’, prefaced by the Sonata in E minor, Op 90, which together will form a special lunchtime concert from 1-2pm within the marathon event itself. Likewise there will be a special ‘Total Beethoven’ concert at 7pm that evening which will conclude the day’s marathon. During this outstanding feat of endurance – undertaken by only two other pianists – he plans to take just 2 longer breaks of 30 minutes each on the day and a few shorter breaks of just 5 minutes each. The event will be live-streamed with a button for people to donate during the webcast.

This will be a very special event indeed. Aside from the sheer Herculean task of learning, absorbing and reproducing all those notes, and sustaining a performance for over twelve hours, to hear Beethoven’s complete piano sonatas in (almost) chronological order offers a far-reaching overview of Beethoven’s musical style, the development of the piano sonata as a genre in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, and a glimpse into the inner workings of Beethoven’s compositional life and personality.

I asked Julian about the special challenges of preparing for such a musical marathon

CEP: How do you prepare, mentally and physically, for such a performance? What are the particular challenges of presenting all 32 Sonatas in one day?

JJ: Just attempt not to drown. An insane project. Go through all the sonatas in decreasing circles (revision over two months, then again over one month, two weeks, one week, three days…..). Try and keep fit, or get a bit fitter.

Admission to the event during the day is free, with a donation. Book tickets for the evening concert ‘Total Beethoven’ (7pm) via the Box Office: 020 7766 1100 or online from the St Martin-in-the-Fields website.

Read Julian Jacobson’s blog about the project

www.julianjacobson.com

©Philip Mead
©Philip Mead

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

My father who was an amateur pianist, piano tuner, conductor and trumpet player

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing? 

Ruth Harte and Stephen Savage for piano

Stephen Rhys for general music

Hans Keller and Henry David Thoreau for philosophy.

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

Giving the first London performance of the Cowell Concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in January 2004. The score is little more than a sketch.

Organising the first complete performance of the ‘Spectrum’ series of piano pieces with 144 pianists lasting 8 hours in 2008

Which performances/compositions/recordings are you most proud of? 

Complete Ives piano music on Metier

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in? 

St Augustine’s Church, Cambridge

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

Ives piano music

Who are your favourite musicians? 

The composer Horacio Vaggione.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The previously mentioned Cowell Piano Concerto premiere

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

Find your own way of doing things.

As a teacher make yourself dispensible as soon as possible.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Ives Concord Sonata

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

Still alive

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

A meal with my wife and children

What is your most treasured possession? 

My Boston Grand piano

What do you enjoy doing most?

Dreaming

What is your present state of mind? 

Contented

Philip Mead studied piano at the Royal Academy of Music, London, receiving numerous prizes and awards and a distinction in his final practical exam. Mead was a prize winner of the 1978 Gaudeamus International competition for Interpreters of Contemporary Music, and since then has been at the forefront of contemporary music in this country. He has performed virtually the entire piano music of Messiaen at London’s Southbank Centre, and given premieres by major composers such as Crumb and Stockhausen.

Philip Mead’s full biography

www.philipmead.com

British Contemporary Piano Competition 2013

In the second part of our podcast, pianist and conductor Alisdair Kitchen and I talk more generally, covering aspects such as teachers, inspirations and influences, forthcoming projects – and baking.

Listen to the first part of the podcast here

Download the complete Goldberg Variations, performed, recorded and produced by Alisdair Kitchen here

Download Alisdair’s complete #twittergoldbergs commentary here

www.alisdairkitchen.com

Follow Alisdair on Twitter @alisdairkitchen

This marks an interesting and exciting new development in my Meet the Artist project – a podcast interview with pianist and conductor Alisdair Kitchen.

The motivation behind this interview is Alisdair’s fascinating and highly enjoyable #twittergoldberg’s project in which over the course of a month he has released on Twitter a single variation from Bach’s iconic work every day, with an accompanying commentary to each variation on Norman Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc.

In the first part of our interview, we discuss the Goldberg Variations and the background to Alisdair’s #twittergoldbergs project, what Glenn Gould might have made of the #twittergoldbergs project and social media. In the second part (published 3rd September), we talk more generally, covering aspects such as teachers, inspirations and influences, and forthcoming projects.

Alisdair’s complete recording of the Goldberg Variations is available here

www.alisdairkitchen.com

Twitter @alisdairkitchen

One of the nicest aspects of my blogging and reviewing is that it has put me in touch with a network of interesting musical people – musicians, journalists and writers, promoters, and classical music enthusiasts – and has enabled me to enjoy music in a variety of different venues and settings.

My latest musical outing was an invitation to a run through of Promenade à Gaspard, a new “mixed genre” production featuring piano music by Liszt, Ravel & Mussorgsky, accompanied by readings and illustrated with pictures. The pianist was Anthony Hewitt, the reader actress Susan Porrett, who is involved in a similar concert concept, Divine Fire, which examines the relationship between Chopin and Sand through music and readings. The concert took place in an elegant town house with views across the river at Barnes, a setting which provided an enjoyable intimacy and informality to the evening’s entertainment, and was particularly appropriate for the Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs.

Anthony Hewitt, pianist

After champagne, general introductions and socialising, we were ushered upstairs to the host’s spacious piano room. Despite the fact that the event was billed as an “informal first try out”, there was nothing unrehearsed about Tony’s playing which was colourful, committed and convincing throughout (he later admitted that this was the first time he had played Pictures At An Exhibition through as a complete work, though one would never have guessed from his expert reading of this monumental work).

Susan Porrett, actress

The first half opened with a handful of Liszt transcriptions of Schubert songs (Ständchen von Shakespeare, Die Forelle, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Auf dem Wasser zu singen and Der Erlkönig), each preceded by a reading of Goethe’s text which inspired the song. It was really interesting to be given additional visual cues from the poetry, as well as the pictures created in the music itself (in Tony’s hands, Schubert’s eponymous trout was lively and playful), and one could carry an image from the readings throughout the musical performance. Words and music complemented one another extremely well in these short pieces, bringing the music to life in new ways.

Ravel’s famously difficult Gaspard de la Nuit is based on a poem by Aloysius Bertrand. Once again, each movement was preceded by a reading from the poem by Susan Porrett. This combined with Tony’s dramatic and virtuosic playing brought Ravel’s music to life to great effect, the words shining a new angle on the music while we listened.

After a short interval, Mussorgsky’s Pictures At an Exhibition took centre stage, and Susan’s introductory reading described the pictures which Mussorgsky sought to portray in his score. The music is extremely “visual” in its own right, Mussorgsky painting contrasting images with the use of recurring motifs, textures, and tempo, and he took inspiration directly from pictures by his friend Viktor Hartmann. In this production, the pictures will be projected behind the pianist, changing as the movements of the music progress. My only worry about this is that the pictures should not distract the listener from the music, and therefore need to segue slowly from one to another. This was a fine performance, even more impressive for being only a few feet away from the pianist, allowing a special insight into just how technically demanding this work is to play.

I enjoyed the evening very much and look forward to seeing Promenade à Gaspard again when the format has been tweaked and refined for public performance.

For information about this, and other similar concert concepts, please go to

www.sevenstarconcerts.com

Divine Fire, performed by Viv Maclean and Susan Porrett, is at Bridport Arts Centre on Saturday 3rd August. Further details and tickets here

www.anthonyhewitt.co.uk