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

My family owned an old upright piano that had belonged to my grandparents. It was brilliant to muck around on, and I remember trying to play some TV themes: I got quite good at Grange Hill. There was quite a lot of music at home, as my two older brothers also learned the piano and we all sang in the local church choir, along with my Dad. Although, I did find dressing up in a cassock quite funny. I had really good teachers who were disciplined, while letting me do my own thing. When I was 11, my state school put on Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, and that was an incredible experience, even though I was only a badly behaved squirrel. A few years later I heard a recording of Debussy’s Prelude a’apres-midi d’un faune, which opened my ears to how sensuous and sexy music could be, and sent my teenage hormones through the roof. I then devoured music at the piano, mostly borrowing scores from the library.

Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career both as a performer and a composer?

There’s such a huge range of good music from across the centuries that I love, and nearly of it shares the same philosophy: that music’s essentials (melody, harmony, rhythm, texture, structure) can combine into something that reflects our lives. This shapes my work in what I play and compose/arrange. Making music should also be part of a community, and it can be linked with popular and folk styles while maintaining strength and depth. That’s one of the great legacies of people like Benjamin Britten and Percy Grainger, and their music is a big influence in different ways. Jazz has always had a big impact too, especially the composer/ arrangers like Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Nelson Riddle, or Leonard Bernstein’s fusion of styles. It shows us that music can be dangerous, dirty, brash and raunchy as well.

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

Self-motivation: maintaining a belief that what you’re doing is worthwhile in a crazy and complicated world, especially during periods of depression. This seems to become harder the older I get.

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

There are so many things I’m lucky to have been involved with, as a performer, composer and arranger. Some of the orchestral pieces I’ve written for the BBC Proms are a highlight: ‘Wing It’ in 2012, ‘Gershwinicity’ in 2018. The ongoing Scary Fairy orchestral fairytale series is a lot of fun, with Craig Charles narrating his poetry. There’s also a concert of orchestral folk song arrangements with the singer Sam Lee, playing jazz songs with Jacqui Dankworth, recording Elgar’s 2nd Symphony on the piano, choral concerts, chamber music… too much to list. And I guess playing the piano at the London 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony: my Mum died of cancer that morning and I managed to hold it together, even though I was in the middle of having a complete emotional breakdown.

As a performer, how do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

When I do get the chance to choose, it’s always a very eclectic mixture of music, linked thematically in some way. I generally try and get in a new piece or arrangement of some kind, maybe something entertaining. After all, a concert can be fun too.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Although it’s a bonkers barn of a place, playing at the Royal Albert Hall in the Proms always feels like a bit of a party. Playing the organ there can be a ridiculous ego trip.

As a composer, how do you work?

I do get tunes or harmonies that pop into my head, often as I’m just about to fall asleep, which can sometimes be a nuisance. Normally I throw all the ideas together by improvising at the piano, singing along at the top of my voice. This is scribbled down on semi-legible manuscript, worked at and crossed out until I’ve got a full complete draft. Then I typeset it on Sibelius software, so that I can actually read it.

How would you describe your compositional style/language?

There’s often a lot of jazz styles in there: swing, funk, blues and others, mixed with classical structures and colourful tonal harmonies. Clear melodies and strong rhythms play a big part too. Most of the time, the music is about our life experiences and emotions: joy, sadness, love, loss.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As an audience member it was actually at the ballet, the first time I saw The Rite of Spring danced by English National Ballet. I was hyperventilating by the end.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

In a way, any musician that can make a living as a performer is a success, especially while trying to raise a family. Beyond that, I think anyone that can find new and inspiring ways to connect with audiences is doing it right. Giving people life-enhancing experiences outside of the mainstream is vital, including going into schools, hospitals, prisons.

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

Be versatile, work hard and try to stay as positive as you can. We’re pretty lucky to be doing this, when you think about it.

What is your present state of mind?

Buzzing like a beehive.


Iain Farrington has an exceptionally busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music, London and at Cambridge University. He has made numerous recordings, and has broadcast on BBC Television, Classic FM and BBC Radio 3. Through his multi-faceted work as a musician, he aims to bring live music to as wide an audience as possible. Iain’s concert programmes often mix popular and jazz elements into the traditional Classical repertoire. His many chamber orchestral arrangements allow large-scale works to be presented on an affordable smaller scale, and his compositions range from virtuoso display pieces to small works for beginner instrumentalists.

As a solo pianist, accompanist, chamber musician and organist, Iain has performed at all the major UK venues and abroad in the USA, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Malaysia, Hong Kong and all across Europe. He has worked with many of the country’s leading musicians, including Bryn Terfel, Sir Paul McCartney and Lesley Garrett. Iain played the piano at the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympics with Rowan Atkinson, the London Symphony Orchestra and Sir Simon Rattle, broadcast to a global audience of around a billion viewers. With Counterpoise he has worked with numerous singers and actors, including Sir John Tomlinson, Sir Willard White, Jacqui Dankworth and Eleanor Bron. As a session pianist, Iain has recorded numerous film and TV soundtracks for Hollywood, Disney and independent productions. His solo organ performance in the Proms 2007 on the Royal Albert Hall organ was critically acclaimed, and he performed his Animal Parade in 2015 at the Royal Festival Hall organ for a family concert. Iain was Organ Scholar at St John’s College, Cambridge University, and Organ Scholar at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Iain is a prolific composer and arranger, and has made hundreds of arrangements ranging from operas to piano pieces. He has composed two 40 minute Scary Fairy orchestral works combining poems by Craig Charles with a continuous full score, first performed and broadcast on BBC Radio 2 ‘Friday Night is Music Night’ with the BBC Philharmonic. For the BBC Proms he composed an orchestral work Gershwinicity in 2018, A Shipshape Shindig in 2017, a jazz guide to the orchestra Wing It, and a Double Violin Concerto, in 2012 for the Wallace and Gromit Prom. Iain’s choral work The Burning Heavens was nominated for a British Composer Award in 2010. He has made arrangements in many styles, including traditional African songs, Berlin cabaret, folk, klezmer, jazz and pop. Iain is the Arranger in Residence for the Aurora Orchestra who have performed and recorded his compositions and arrangements, including all the songs for the Horrible Histories Prom in 2011. His organ arrangement of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 5 was performed at the 2011 Royal Wedding in Westminster Abbey.

iainfarrington.com

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

I suppose I was inspired to learn the piano by watching my Father play. He studied at the RNCM and so music was a part of our home life. I was then lucky to study with a great teacher, Heather Slade-Lipkin, initially privately and then at Chetham’s School of Music – and the idea of a career in music followed on naturally.

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

My two teachers, Heather and Joan Havill, have been huge influences.

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

Currently it is finding time to practice with a 20 month old child! More seriously, I think that maintaining your desire to improve, the desire to work every day, and maintaining the love that made you start learning the instrument in the first place takes a deal of mental fortitude and effort.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

My recording of Ronald Stevenson’s Passacaglia on DSCH stands out, in the quality of the finished product and in the sense of achievement in recording one of the longest and most difficult works for solo piano ever written. My performance of the Passacaglia lasts for 85 minutes. The work places colossal demands on technique, stamina, and the ability to pace a performance.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I don’t know! I think I’ll say Debussy as I am in the middle of performing all his solo piano music this year!

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

I tend to look for potential projects and themes. So this year, being the 100th anniversary of the death of Debussy, I have devoted myself to the task of learning and performing all of his solo works. I am in the middle of a complete cycle of performances in Glasgow, and am curating a Debussy Festival in Edinburgh, at St Cecilia’s Hall, in December. The festival will feature the solo piano music, a selection of the songs and the late chamber sonatas.

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

The Bridgewater Hall is fantastic. I love the feeling of space, and having to fill that space with sound and character.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I think I am very changeable! If Beethoven, then Brendel. Bach would be Perahia. Schumann would be Radu Lupu or Richard Goode. So I am a bit of a butterfly…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing a Mozart concerto in Calcutta Cathedral. High up the windows of the Cathedral did not have glass panes. It was an evening concert, and during the performance local birdlife came home to roost. That Mozart A major concerto was accompanied by singing from up high, a fitting complement to such a fabulous composer.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Personally I let other people decide as to my own success. I believe that if you are making a living from performing music, if you are trying to be the best musician that you can be, and if you are inspiring others – then that seems to be pretty successful.

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

To my students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland I have always stressed the need to be flexible and to be adaptable. Skills as a musician are essential, but on their own they are rarely enough. For most pianists a career playing Bach and Beethoven is difficult to obtain; one’s love of the great classical composers must be complemented by a practical interest in contemporary music, teaching, chamber music, taking music to young people, researching music that has been forgotten or overlooked. All of this is part of a musical career.

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

I don’t think I can give a definite answer but I remember an immediate fascination with the piano though it wasn’t really something I seriously pursued until the age of about 11. Having said this, I don’t think one really chooses to pursue music but, rather, that it is a calling.

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

I suppose, repertoire-wise, Marc-André Hamelin was the biggest influence – his recordings really opened the door to me as to what there was off the beaten track. Opera has also been quite important to me in recent years. Aside from these more obvious things, art and literature (contemporaneous to whichever music I’m studying) are generally of huge importance when it comes to cultivating an understanding of the music.

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

I think most musicians, if they’re honest, will answer that earning a living is up there. In connection to this is the aspect of striking a healthy balance between teaching and playing together with whatever else we have to do.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

There are some tracks I’m very proud of. I think all CD recordings I’ve made I’m proud of in different ways but, for me, I also think it’s more a sense of what each CD represents; what was going on in my life at the time and the memories connected with learning the works.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

At the moment I am especially drawn to the nineteenth century. I feel I have a particular flare for operatic fantasies but if you had told me that ten years ago I would have laughed in utter disbelief!

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

At the moment, it tends to revolve around what I’m doing recording-wise but not exclusively so. There are also certain things I imagine I would like to play at certain times of the year – not quite sure why that is but the seasons do influence this.

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

I can’t say I do though there are places I enjoy playing and I do sometimes programme works specifically for the space and instrument if I feel it might be particularly gratifying.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Marc-André Hamelin, Myra Hess, Georges Cziffra, Raymond Lewenthal, Maria Callas and Richard Bonynge to mention but a few.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably giving the Hellenic première of the Liszt Hexaméron in Athens, 2012.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Earning a living – the rest is an added bonus.

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

I think a sense of what our purpose is. It’s something so obvious it’s overlooked. The world will always need music – it comforts, enlightens and, above all, unites us. Sharing it I regard as a solemn duty and one of grave importance in these fractured and distorted times.


Mark Viner is recognized as one of the most exciting British concert pianists of his generation and is becoming increasingly well known for his bold championing of unfamiliar pianistic terrain. He studied at the Purcell School of Music and the Royal College where his principal teachers included Tessa Nicholson and Niel Immelman. Having won first prize at the C.V. Alkan – P. J. G. Zimmerman International Piano Competition in Athens in 2012, his international engagements have flourished, he has been broadcast on German Radio and been invited to the Oxford Lieder Festival, Cheltenham Music Festival, ProPiano Hamburg and Husum Rarities of Piano Music in Germany. Last year he was invited to play for the Prince of Wales’s visit to his hometown of Oxford. Due to his close association with unjustly neglected areas of the piano literature, he was recently elected Chairman of the Alkan Society.

His recent recording of Aklan’s 12 Études in the major keys Op. 35 was praised for ‘turning Alkan’s forbidding torrents of notes into real music’.

Conductor, recording  producer and Artistic Director of the Hertfordshire Festival of Music Tom Hammond interviews Stephen Hough CBE, who this year is the Festival’s Principal Artist and Featured Living Composer – plus a cycle of his oil paintings will be on display at Hertford Theatre during the duration of the Festival (June 10-16).

Stephen, have you ever done an interview about your paintings that hasn’t referenced music, or the piano?
No I haven’t. In fact I’ve very rarely spoken about my painting, in speech or in print.
Do you remember a day when you put paint onto a canvas for the first time, and thought “Now, I’m a painter”?
I haven’t really thought in those terms. My painting is something very private, partly because it’s the most sensual thing I do artistically. Playing the piano is sounds in the air, writing music or words is marks on a page, but painting is dirty, physical, earthy – and tangible/present. I can look at what I’ve done and show it to someone. It exists. And it can be destroyed … gone for ever.
Can you describe your processes? What sort of paints, canvases, brush techniques, textures, etc.?
I’ve used mainly acrylics in the past but recently I’ve fallen in love with domestic gloss paint. Its liquidity and the vibrancy of the colours. I like to mix other things in with the paint – grit, sand, shredded paper etc. I use a palette knife mostly but also brushes. And fingers, but with surgical gloves!
When a painting is framed and/or hung, do you step back and think ‘finished’, or do you look at a canvas later and think ‘wish I’d done something slightly differently’?
I think with abstract art in particular it’s never finished. That’s one of its fascinations. It’s an improvisation like jazz. When is a riff or a solo finished?
Will you be nervous about people’s reaction to seeing one of your paintings?
The first time was hard – like taking off my clothes in front of strangers! And any time when someone else is in a position of judgement it is an emotional risk …
 
Is the process of painting cathartic, or stressful?
Mainly cathartic, though not relaxing. I get very excited and energized when I paint.
You’ve probably collected more air miles than Phileas Fogg; do you take paintings with you when you’re working in, Asia, Australia, South America…..?
In the past I tried doing small pieces in hotel rooms. But it’s pretty frustrating, and now I’m painting bigger works it’s impossible.
What was the last painting or other purely visual art that you saw that spiritually moved you, and can you explain why?
I loved the recent show at Tate Britain – All Too Human. I’m moved spiritually by the fragility of human life portrayed in art, not by angels and altarpieces. Christ in glory doesn’t move me; Christ as everyman suffering does.
In one hundred years time, would you like to be remembered for your paintings?
I honestly can’t think about that. But the indestructibility of paint perhaps means that when CDs are faded the globs on canvas which have avoided the landfill might still be hanging in there somewhere.

Stephen Hough will be in residence and involved in four events on June 10 and 11 at this year’s Hertfordshire Festival of Music. Book online, by telephone or in person. Full details here
Image: ‘Dappled Things’ by Stephen Hough

Ludwig van Beethoven

Piano Sonata No. 6 in F major Op. 10 No. 2

7 Bagatelles Op. 33

Piano Sonata No. 26 in E flat major Op. 81a ‘Les Adieux’

Llŷr Williams, piano

Wigmore Hall, 4th April, 1pm

Fans of Beethoven’s piano music are in for a rich treat with Llŷr Williams’ new 12-disc box set Beethoven Unbound, released on the Signum label to mark the completion of Williams’ Beethoven cycle at Wigmore Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD). All the works were recorded live at Wigmore Hall over three years and nine recitals. What is especially rewarding about this set is that it contains not only the 32 Piano Sonatas but also the Diabelli, Eroica and c minor Variations (WoO 80), two sets of Bagatelles Opp 33 and 126, and shorter works such as the Andante Favori and Für Elise.

Llyr Williams must credit Benjamin Ealovega handout ...

I had the pleasure of hearing Llŷr Williams live for the first time (rather cross with myself for missing his earlier Beethoven concerts at Wigmore Hall!) at a special lunchtime concert to launch the recording. The three works in the programme offered a striking snapshot of Beethoven’s creative life over the course of nearly 20 years, demonstrating the revolutionary forward pull of his artistic vision – a slow movement in an early sonata (Op 10/2) which foreshadowed the spaciousness and lyricism of Schubert – and his debt to the classical tradition (traces of Haydn in finales and the Bagatelles). Williams’ has a rather unique stage presence which some may find off-putting: he makes little witty gestural “asides” to the audience, often at the end of a section or movement, as if to say “well, there you have it!”. I found this rather agreeable: at times it felt as if Williams was communicating directly with me alone and it created a rather charming and sometimes cheeky intimacy: one felt as if one was very much party to the humour. And there was wit and humour aplenty in the F major Sonata Op 10, No. 2 – a first movement of bright contrasts was followed by a slow movement of almost Schubertian intensity, rounded off by a galloping finale. In the rarely-heard Op 33 Bagatelles, Williams revealed Beethoven’s symphonic and ensemble writing in these piano miniatures, with clear voicings (wonderfully bright brass fanfares in the first Bagatelle and deep, resonant ‘cellos in a later one) and orchestral textures, while always alert to the pianistic nature of Beethoven’s writing: Williams’ clarity and attention to detail was impressive, especially his articulation and use of the pedal. The Sonata in E flat, Op 81a, ‘Les Adieux’, had just the right amount of emotion and heartfelt expression without becoming sentimental, and the “reunion” of the finale was memorably joyful.

As Williams’ said at the reception after his concert, while others choose to focus solely on the 32 Piano Sonatas (in itself a monumental undertaking), this recording steps outside of that traditional presentation, and the works on the individual discs in his Beethoven Unbound set are arranged not chronologically but like mini recital programmes, reflecting the way Williams presented the music in concert.

Recommended – and at £45 (that’s just £3.75 per disc) it’s very good value.

Beethoven Unbound (Signum Classics)

Meet the Artist – Llyr Williams


(photo: Benjamin Ealovega)

iain-burnside-web-2017

 

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

There was a wonderful piano teacher in Glasgow called Lilian Grindrod. I remember as a 5 year old watching my cousin Beth play and thinking, that looks like a lot of fun, I want to try that. My Grandpa was an organist and choral conductor and he put air under my wings at every stage of my childhood. My school was academically strong but ruthlessly anti-musical. I’m the only professional pianist I know who was never asked to play in a school concert. So all the music came through my family, where it seemed the most natural thing in the world.

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

When I was at Oxford, I nervously got on the London train for some lessons with Alexander Kelly. He opened my eyes to connecting emotionally with music in general, and the piano in particular. He was very generous and very funny, and lessons passed in a blur of excitement.

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

Challenges change shape as careers develop. We all have demons perched on our shoulders, and the enduring challenge is to block out their noise. When I was starting out I jumped in at short notice to play for Margaret Price in Vienna. It was a hard programme with lots of songs i’d never played. No-one had pointed out that audience would be sitting on stage with me, close enough to touch. And that it was being broadcast live. I opened the music and thought, this would not be a good time to mess up.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Recording is such a bittersweet experience. I mostly hate hearing my recordings, and see only things I don’t like. Occasionally there’s a track where you might think, hmm, that was ok, but mostly my (very Scottish) reaction is to question, did I get away with it? Being what the Americans call a collaborative pianist, it usually gives me more pleasure to listen to my collaborators.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

There is a particular circle of Performers’ Hell reserved for anyone who answers that seriously! I do identify more strongly with particular areas of repertoire, and I also have a few composer allergies. But those composers come up in programmes and it’s part of my job to be convincing with them too.

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

That’s a jigsaw: some programmes I choose, others land in my lap. I adore programming – it’s one of the great joys of this profession. But the choices other people make are often more interesting, and lead to musical discoveries.

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

I love the Crucible in Sheffield. Performing in the round with an audience raked above you is a transformative experience, particularly when that audience is warm and knowledgeable and welcoming. In a totally different way, the church at St Endellion in Cornwall is a place where magic happens, for reasons I’ve never fully understood.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I did a recital in Japan where every time I nodded for the page turner to turn, she slowly nodded back, transforming the gesture into a most elegant bow. Every time. I had to anticipate by half a line to keep the show on the road.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I’d love to come up with something highbrow and philosophical, but the honest truth is, getting by without major disaster. Actually enjoying the process is the Holy Grail.

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

Be true to the composer, and to yourself. In that order. Remember that a large part of talent is the capacity to change.

What is your present state of mind?

There’s not a pianist alive whose state of mind is anything other than “I Really Should Be Practising”.


Iain Burnside is a pianist who has appeared in recital with many of the world’s leading singers (“pretty much ideal” BBC Music Magazine). He is also an insightful programmer with an instinct for the telling juxtaposition. His recordings straddle an exuberantly eclectic repertoire ranging from Beethoven and Schubert to the cutting edge, as in the Gramophone Award-winning NMC Songbook. Recent recordings include the complete Rachmaninov songs (Delphian) with seven outstanding Russian artists (“the results are electrifying” Daily Telegraph). Burnside’s passion for English Song is reflected in acclaimed CDs of Britten, Finzi, Ireland, Butterworth and Vaughan Williams, many with baritone Roderick Williams.

Away from the piano Burnside is active as a writer and broadcaster. As presenter of BBC R3’s Voices he won a Sony Radio Award. For Guildhall School of Music & Drama Burnside has devised a number of singular theatre pieces. A Soldier and a Maker, based on the life of Ivor Gurney, was performed at the Barbican Centre and the Cheltenham Festival, and later broadcast by BBC R3 on Armistice Day. His new project Swansong has been premiered at the Kilkenny Festival and will play in Milton Court in November.

Future highlights include performances of the three Schubert songcycles with Roderick Williams at Wigmore Hall. A Delphian release of songs by Nikolai Medtner launches a major series of Russian Song in the 2018 Wigmore Hall season. Other forthcoming projects feature Ailish Tynan, Rosa Feola, Andrew Watts, Robin Tritschler and Benjamin Appl.

Iain Burnside is Artistic Director of the Ludlow English Song Weekend and Artistic Consultant to Grange Park Opera.

 

(Artist photo and biography courtesy of Askonas Holt)