Two days before the UK exited the EU, the Orchestre National de Lille (ONL) performed a programme of European music at London’s Cadogan Hall. They were joined by Chinese-American prize-winning pianist Eric Lu for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4, the piece with which Lu secured his first prize at the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2018.

The foyer and concert hall reverberated with bi-lingual conversations; unsurprisingly, there were many French people in the audience. In 2020, the ONL is the only French symphony orchestra touring the UK, and its presence here is part of a wider cultural and economic delegation to foster ongoing links with the UK and the Hauts-de-France region, and to further strengthen Anglo-French relations post-Brexit.

The charismatic Alexandre Bloch conducted without the score for the works by Ravel and Debussy, perhaps a sign of how intuitive this music is for him. Opening with Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye, a perennial favourite and a gentle opener for this colourful programme, Bloch drew characterful watercolour washes of sound and textures from the orchestra, whose silky transparent strings, haunting woodwind and sparkling percussion elevated these children’s pieces to something far more subtle and sophisticated.


Debussy’s La mer was illustrated in more vivid strokes and colour in an evocative and dramatic portrayal of the mercurial, capricious nature of the sea, from gently lapping waves on a summertime beach to a swelling, storm-tossed ocean. It’s a cliché to say that French musicians truly understand French music, but here one felt a profound appreciation by orchestra and conductor of Debussy’s kaleidoscopic, atmospheric soundworld – those shimmering agitated strings, bright brass and luminous woodwind which brought the music to life in myriad detail and brooding intensity, culminating in a thrilling climax.

Unusually, the concerto opened the second half. This was perhaps for practical reasons, given the amount of rearranging of the stage which was required. Beethoven began sketching his Fourth Piano Concerto in 1804, and unlike many other pieces from his middle period which have become associated with heroic struggle and his personal demons, this work is imbued with serenity and joy, though not without poignancy: this was the last of the composer’s five concertos which he was able to perform himself, due to his increasingly debilitating deafness.

I have been wanting to hear Eric Lu live since enjoying his Leeds competition performance, and I missed his Wigmore Hall solo debut last December due to illness. There are two things which immediately strike you about this young (he’s only just 22) pianist: his modest stage presence and elegant, poetic sound, most obviously demonstrated in his pianissimo touch and Mozartian clarity, especially in the upper register of the piano. There was an intimacy too, in his interactions with the orchestra, and when not playing he turned towards them and conductor, awaiting his next cue.

His quiet presence brought a very palpable tranquility to the second movement, the piano’s tender, hymn-like entries contrasting with the bold, pestering strings. In the finale there was a quiet strength and bravura from Lu in gleaming passages and crisply articulated rhythms, the orchestra matching him with energy and élan.


Unfortunately, I had to leave after the Beethoven, and only heard Lu’s encore (Chopin’s Prelude in B-flat) via the live link the foyer, before dashing for my train. I also missed the final piece in the programme, Ravel’s La Valse, which I don’t doubt was played with the requisite passion and sensuality by the ONL.

Photos ©Ugo Ponte/ONL

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

I actually never dreamed of becoming a classical musician, and I feel very privileged to have had such a natural and in many ways unexpected career path. The piano choice was purely practical – it was an instrument that was offered to us by a friend so I could start lessons. Of course, now I can say that I was very lucky because I love my instrument for the endless colours and possibilities it offers, for the many sounds – big and small – and the vast repertoire.

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

Influence on my musical life and career can be linked directly to the influence on my life, and that has been mainly by my parents, who have instilled morals, discipline, and enjoyment upon my life. I gather inspiration from everything that surrounds me, the experiences I have, and those I encounter both on and off stage.

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

I cannot, with certainty, separate challenges from successes, as these are inextricably linked in my mind. On the one hand, I do not come from a musical family, but I have learned everything from scratch. When I persevere through the most challenging segments of my calendar, they make me stronger, and enable me to know what I am capable of and what I wish (not) to do.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I hope to be proud of every performance, and especially of every recording. The way I judge past performances includes elements such as the piano, the hall, and the audience, and these are intertwined with the memories I kept of that particular week – a very large cauldron. I have especially fond memories of some performances, such as the first time I performed in Warsaw, where all my grandparents heard me perform in a concert environment for the first time ever, or my BBC Proms debut in sweltering London summer weather.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I would not programme works I do not think myself capable of performing, and I hope to add something unique with my interpretation.

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

As a pianist I am in the position of having seemingly endless repertoire to choose from. I have certain pieces on the horizon that I would like to perform, and when there’s the opportunity to do so, I will add them to my repertoire. Recordings dictate the choices of repertoire somewhat, in that I need to prepare it beforehand and perform it after. Large multi-concert tours likewise; these decisions are mutual, made years in advance.

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

I’m terrible at picking favourites (favourite colour, country, person, city, etc.) and this extends to all walks of life. I enjoy the variety of concert halls, and believe it is a skill to adjust appropriately to each environment, from the ultra-accurate 21st-century “high-definition” halls, to some beautiful 19th-century acoustically warm ones, to the Italian opera houses which make you feel suffocated (acoustically, of course), not to mention everything in between. Every hall presents a challenge – and an opportunity – and overcoming the challenges while exploiting the opportunities is part of what makes a performance successful.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I have too many to name – from those I’ve worked with and admire, to those I am friends with, to others who may inspire me in performance.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I flew to a remote community in Saskatchewan, Canada; an outreach concert from my performance with the Saskatoon Symphony. In La Ronge, most people had never heard a piano before – it was also sent for the recital. The concert was packed, the excitement was palpable, and the genuine appreciation was unlike anything I’ve felt before or since. Falling snow, children in “Sunday’s best” sitting on the floor of the school gymnasium in complete silence. A concert I will gather strength from for years to come.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is deeply individual, and I consider myself very fortunate to be where I am today.

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

Make sure you stay true to yourself, practice only just enough, and learn about other things beyond music.

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

Walking on planet Earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Enjoying the small things that make life magical.

What is your most treasured possession?

My memories.

What is your present state of mind?

Always the same – happy.

Canadian pianist Jan Lisiecki has won acclaim for his extraordinary interpretive maturity, distinctive sound, and poetic sensibility. The New York Times has called him “a pianist who makes every note count”. Lisiecki’s insightful interpretations, refined technique, and natural affinity for art give him a musical voice that belies his age.

Jan Lisiecki was born to Polish parents in Canada in 1995. He began piano lessons at the age of five and made his concerto debut four years later, while always rebuffing the label of “child prodigy”. His approach to music is a refreshing combination of dedication, skill, enthusiasm and a realistic perspective on the career of a musician.

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(Artist photo: JL Holger-Hage)

Guest post by Ben Goldscheider

The Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings by Benjamin Britten is one of the many works written for the great horn player of the twentieth century, Dennis Brain. It had its first performance on the 15th October 1943 at the Wigmore Hall with Brain playing and Peter Pears singing.

What, to me, is so remarkable in this piece is how Britten uses the horn as an unspoken commentator on the text sung by the Tenor. This is introduced in the Prologue which is a short movement for solo horn, setting a rather haunting atmosphere that sets up the reflective mood of the following movement, the Pastoral. Britten was seemingly trying very hard to push the limits of a seemingly invincible Dennis Brain, indicating that the Prologue be played on the natural partials of the horn; a recipe for disaster for many other horn players! He makes particular use of the 7th, 11th and 14th partials which, on the horns natural configuration, are “out of tune” to our modern tempered ears. I like to think that Britten was both pushing forward in terms of technical challenges and musical idiom but also looking back, using the natural harmonics of an instrument very much connected to nature, a theme that is central to the Serenade.

Britten’s style of “word painting”, that is, to match the music with the literal meaning of the text, is masterful throughout the Serenade. The opening verse of the Pastoral,  “The Day’s grown old; the fainting sun/ Has but a little way to run”  evokes a very reflective or even sombre feeling which is perfectly encapsulated by the descending triadic melody in D-flat Major that dominates the movement. Sharing this melody between horn and voice, Britten manages to create a musical language in which, after a period of time, merges the dialogue between horn and voice into one expressive gesture.

Again in the following movement, the Nocturne, Britten’s use of the horn to accentuate the power of the text is central to the musical message. He uses the phrase “Blow, bugle blow” from Tennyson’s The Princess which is then punctuated by the horn playing rapid fanfare figures, starting further away in a very quiet dynamic before coming to the fore at the height of the horn’s range and dynamic powers. In the third movement, the phrase, “O rose, thou art Sick” by William Blake is expressed by a mournful descending semitone figure over a pulsating string ostinato that pushes the music in a very uneasy way.

In the Hymn, a movement based on text by Ben Jonson, Britten continues in the tradition of the Mozart and Strauss Horn Concertos by writing a rondo-like figure in 6/8 time. Britten chose words from Cynthia’s Revels which is a play that depicts Queen Elizabeth I as the virgin huntress Cynthia. This allowed Britten the freedom to deploy the horn in its typical hunting style in an extremely lively movement that finishes with the horn player walking off stage to prepare for the Epilogue. Whilst the piece is by no means humorous, I can’t help but find connotations with the humour written into the horn part of the Mozart Horn Concertos by the composer himself, often making fun of, and insulting, the horn player. It cannot be a coincidence, or at least Britten himself must have had it in his conscience, that following a 6/8 movement (all of Mozart’s Horn Concertos finish with a lively 6/8 Rondo), Britten writes one of the lowest notes available on the horn (perhaps he liked the idea that one may miss this note and then have to walk off stage embarrassed) before the horn player has to leave in an almost comedic effect. I have never played this piece without hearing at least one snigger from the audience…

As a piece, Britten’s Serenade is written extremely well for the horn. It is very idiomatic, despite its challenging aspects of endurance and sheer technical capability. What is rather rare to the piece is that Britten writes the expressive phrases in sonorities that sit very well on the instrument: he writes the explosive figures at a range in which the horn player will be able to fully express the meaning of the music and he writes with a full understanding of the instrument’s capacity to be a perfect partner to the sensitivity of the voice. I personally find it hugely rewarding to play and it is an absolute joy to be able to play such a masterpiece with the human voice, an instrument which is to me, the epitome of expression.

I very much look forward to playing this piece on 16th March at Cadogan Hall with the English Chamber Orchestra with Ben Johnson (Tenor) and Jessica Cottis (conductor). More information


d68502_b03c86f3f58d41b592ad96ad328dbb7dmv2_d_3477_5150_s_4_2_srz_970_903_85_22_0-50_1-20_0At the age of eighteen, Ben Goldscheider reached the Final of the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition, where he performed at London’s Barbican Hall with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Since then, he has performed at venues including the Berlin Philharmonie, Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre and London’s Royal Albert Hall, where he made his BBC Proms Debut in 2018. He has also appeared as soloist with the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra and City of London Sinfonia. In 2018, Ben released his debut album with Willowhayne Records to critical acclaim, and was selected both as BBC Music Magazine’s “Rising Star” and Gramophone Magazine’s “One to Watch”.

This season, Ben makes concerto debuts with the English Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Camerata and the Prague Philharmonia.  In February he returns to the Berlin Philarmonie to perform the Gliere Horn Concerto with das Sinfonie Orchester Berlin conducted by Radek Baborák. A committed chamber musician, Ben has performed at London’s Wigmore Hall with tenor Julian Prégardien and pianist Christoph Schnackertz, the Pierre Boulez Saal alongside Daniel Barenboim and Michael Barenboim and the Verbier Festival with Sergei Babayan. Future highlights include the Jerusalem Chamber Music Festival and Trio concerts with Callum Smart (violin) and Richard Uttley (piano) across the UK, featuring the premiere of a new work by Geoffrey Gordon in London. Sought-after as an orchestral player, he has performed as guest with the Staatskapelle Berlin, Philharmonia, English Chamber, West-Eastern Divan Orchestras and in 2018, played the solo horn call from Wagner’s Siegfried in a semi-staged production with The Hallé and Sir Mark Elder.

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Meet the Artist interview with Ben Goldscheider

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

My mom, at the very beginning. She was a big classical music lover and an amateur singer. She told me that before she had me, she was wishing for her first child to be more musically-talented than herself. Well, I think the result became better than that, at least.

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

Many musicians and artists but especially all my (piano) teachers. All of them were so vital that I would’ve been a completely different musician without them in my life.

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

When I first came to Germany at the age of 20, when the new world was, all of sudden widely opened up for me. As a teenage girl in South Korea, I knew nothing about the classical music world in Europe. Let’s put this way, I didn’t know how to get concerts, from where or whom. My final solution was entering competitions again.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

I like the two recent ones. ‘Modern Times’ featuring only the works which were written between 1910-1920, my favourite era!

The newer one, issued on my own label, is a very specifically-conceptual CD that I basically recorded for those who listen to music while doing something else – driving, cooking, reading, or drinking a cup of coffee on a hot, lazy summer day. I feel that music is ready to serve people even when people are not entirely ready to listen to it. When every bit of music you listen to – whether at restaurants, cafes, or through TV commercials – becomes more tasteful, it’ll certainly be good for you. That’s what I believe in.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I feel like I’m speaking my own language when playing Mozart. In the same sense, I feel like I’m telling my own story when playing Schumann.

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

Well, it is not the easiest process…. First of all, I want to create a special experience both for me and for the audience, anywhere, anytime. This means that certain occasions or acoustic, or atmosphere would not get totally along with my, “fixed program” because every place is too different from another. So I always tend to investigate the surrounding of that specific concert venue before I propose any program. As a result, the programs vary a lot, at each place.

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

I have none, and I wish not to have one. Every place is precious.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I would name few violinists, such as Michael Rabin, Christian Ferras. And many pianists as well of course, Alexis Weissenberg, Lili Kraus, Alicia de Larrocha, Earl Wild… My younger self was in love with many singers including Fritz Wunderlich. I was never such a big fan of orchestral music but I loved many renditions by Klaus Tennstedt and Georges Szell. But all of them as recording artists: I was born too late to catch any of these people’s concerts live.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

When I am able to select repertoire on the spot, or say two weeks ahead of concerts so that I can play only what I 100,000% feel like playing. I simply can’t imagine what I would like to play in 2 years……sigh… It would not be bad either to bring my own piano to each place!

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

That we musicians are serving music, not the other way around

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

Still in this planet! The priority still is survival.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

If I could be, in a reality, as mind-blowing as I’m on stage, that’ll be perfect happiness!

What is your most treasured possession?

My siblings. Although I don’t quite possess them.


Yeol Eum Son performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto Nos. 21 and 8 at Cadogan Hall on Friday 20 April 2018 with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. Her recording of Mozart’s radiant Piano Concerto No.21 in C major K.467, also with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and its \ounder, the late Sir Neville Marriner, which was destined to be the legendary conductor’s final recording, is released on the Onyx label on Friday 20 April 2018. More information

A double Second Prize winner at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 2011 and at the 13th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2009, Yeol Eum Son’s graceful interpretations, crystalline touch and versatile, thrilling performances have caught the attention of audiences worldwide.

Praised for her widely eclectic concerti repertoire, ranging from Bach and all-Mozart to Shchedrin and Gershwin, her recent concerto highlights include appearances with the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, Konzerthausorchester Berlin and Bergen Philharmonic under the baton of Dmitrij Kitajenko, a debut Paris date with Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and Mikko Franck, Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra under Valery Gergiev, Seoul Philharmonic and European tour with KBS Symphony Orchestra.

(artist photo: IMG Artists)

“today I finished the Fantasy and the sky is beautiful…..”

Fryderyk Chopin, 1841

The sky was indeed beautiful on perhaps the last day of summer, August Bank Holiday Monday, when I and my concert companion escaped the city heat and embraced the cool elegance of Cadogan Hall for an hour of poetry in music.

Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov is still in his twenties, yet he plays with all the assurance, poise and musical sensibility of an artist twice his age. His performance of piano music by Fryderyk Chopin was one to savour, to revisit (thanks to the wonders of the Radio Three iPlayer) and to hold in the memory for a long time to come. It is rare to be so transported, to lose time, suspended in sound, such was the effect of Pavel Kolesnikov’s playing.

A pianist from another era, Phyllis Sellick, declared that a concert featuring only one composer was “a list”. But how can one say that of the music of Fryderyk Chopin, so rich and subtle, so varied yet accessible that each performer, professional or amateur, can find their own personal way into it? Kolesnikov created a programme of pieces which “cast a different light” on Chopin, revealing not only his deeply Romantic mindset but also “an extremely refined, clear, clean style” (PK), perfectly complemented by Kolesnikov’s cultivated playing.

Pavel Kolesnikov (photo: Eva Vermandel)

Some purists may balk at his elastic tempi, pushing rubato perhaps a little too far for some tastes (though not ours). This slackening of tempo, stretching of time, was felt most palpably in the repeats in the Waltzes, proof that no repetition is the same in the hands of a pianist. There were decorations too, sprinklings of improvisation, graceful musical seasonings, though always subtle and delicate as a breath. As a great admirer of Bach, I am sure Chopin would have approved of these embellishments, especially when delivered with such sensitivity and intuition.

From the opening work, a Waltz scored in A flat major but constantly hovering in the minor key, played with a tender poignancy and a caressing touch, Pavel Kolesnikov created a bittersweet intimacy in each work he touched, even in the grander, more expansive measures of the Fantasy in F minor and Scherzo no. 4, whose skittish good-nature closed this exquisite hour of music.

As I said, it is rare to be so transported by sound, by pianist and composer so perfectly in sympathy; yet I have heard Kolesnikov before in Debussy and Schumann, and I have been moved to tears by the poetic refinement of his playing. When so many young players seem to subscribe to the louder-faster school of pianism it is refreshing to hear a pianist who does not rush, who knows how to create breathing space and dramatic suspensions in the music, and who appreciates the smallest details as well as the most sweeping narratives.

Afterwards we stepped out into the Chelsea sunshine, found a shady spot for a drink and a long conservation about music, concerts, art, writing, and had the privilege of meeting the pianist, who was dining at the same cafe, to offer our congratulations for his wonderful, transporting performance.

My review for Bachtrack here and my companion’s response to the concert here

‘By Special Arrangement’
Saturday January 9th, 2016,
Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square

To Cadogan Hall on Saturday night for my first concert of 2016, this time not piano music but an evening in the company of The Pink Singers. Long before Gareth Malone first encouraged people to sing together, The Pink Singers were founded in 1983, and are the longest running LGBT choir in Europe. The Pink Singers are London’s LGBT community choir, comprising over 80 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people from a diverse range of backgrounds united by a passion for singing. In addition to performing two London concerts each year, The Pink Singers also sing with other choirs in the UK and around the world and participate in Gay pride and other festivals for LGBT people. The choir is directed by Murray Hipkin, who also serves on the musical staff of English National Opera.

There was a great atmosphere in the bar before the concert, much noisy greetings of friends, conversations and laughter heralding an evening of fine singing, entertainment, and a wonderful, all-consuming sense of a shared experience.

The Pink Singers are most definitely performers as well as singers: this was clear from their opening number, ‘Mr Blue Sky’ by ELO, which included a spoof newscast, dancing, mime and animated singing. Later in the evening, a performance of ‘Masculine Women Feminine Men’ (Leslie & Monaco, arr. Murray Hipkin) came complete with a dash of Busby Berkeley-style dancing.


A clue to the theme of the evening was in the title of the concert – By Special Arrangement. The programme showcased not only the diversity of music for SATB voices, but also the special talents of arrangers within The Pink Singers. There were particularly tender and poignant renditions of ‘This Woman’s Work’ by Kate Bush (arr. Andy Mitchinson) and Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ (arr. Chris Chambers), a song which always reduces me to tears. There was also an extraordinarily powerful setting of text from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, ‘The Zanies of Sorrow’ by Matthew King, originally commissioned for the North London Chorus. There was also a charming, reflective setting of ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’ by W B Yeats by Fran George (who happens to be a piano teaching friend and colleague of mine).

The variety of music, from showstoppers from opposing ends of the world of music (‘Relax’ meets ‘Zadok the Priest’!) to tender intimate ballads such as Bob Dylan’s ‘Make You Feel My Love’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ demonstrated The Pink Singers’ ability to switch effortlessly between myriad soundworlds, genres and moods. And get this, the choir is largely composed of non-professional musicians (I hesitate to use the word “amateur” because to all intents and purposes these singers are totally professional, in both their sound, precise timing and slick, seamless presentation).

But there’s more….. In addition to the main choir, The Pink Singers has also spawned number of smaller ensembles , two of which had guest spots in the concert. The Barberfellas are a close harmony group – with a twist (they wear tight shorts and high heels!). Their set was witty and naughty, but also sensitive and tender, as evidenced by a lovely rendition of M.L.K. by U2 in an arrangement by Bob Chilcott. We also enjoyed a set by Gin and Harmonics, an all-female close harmony group whose repertoire included a lovely setting of Sea Fever by John Masefield (music by Kate Nicholroy, a member of the ensemble) and Biebl’s Ave Maria.

The Barberfellas


Gin and Harmonics perform ‘Mad World’

It was a splendid start to my concert-going year, and the evident enjoyment of all the singers and the audience combined to create an evening that was uplifting, joyous, tender, and poignant and, above all, a celebration of music and community.

The next Pink Singers concert is at Cadogan Hall on 4th June 2016.

The Pink Singers

The Barberfellas

Gin and Harmonics