something-blue-110Conway Hall, in London’s Red Lion Square, just a stone’s throw from Holborn and the British Museum, was purpose-built in 1929 to host concerts and lectures, which continue here today, and is a landmark of London’s independent intellectual, political and cultural life. The hall is owned by the Conway Hall Ethical Society, an organisation which advocates secular humanism.

Conway Hall’s chamber music concert series is the longest-running of its kind in Europe: the Sunday Concerts at Conway Hall can be traced back to 1878 when the Peoples Concert Society was formed for the purpose of “increasing the popularity of good music by means of cheap concerts”. Today’s concerts at Conway Hall continue this ethos of affordable music for all, and the Sunday Concert series includes workshops and concerts for children and young people as well as a full and varied programme of chamber music. 50 tickets for those aged 8 – 25 are kindly subsidised by the CAVATINA Chamber Music Trust to encourage young people to attend the concerts.

The new season begins on Sunday 11th September with a concert of music by Haydn, Mendelssohn Brahms performed by Gémeaux Quartet. Future concerts in the season feature pianists Alasdair Beatson, Ashley Wass and Simon Callaghan, artistic director of the Sunday Concerts series, and chamber ensembles Brook Street Band and members of the London Mozart Players, amongst many other fine musicians.

Conway Hall Sunday Concerts full schedule

Guest post by pianist Christopher Guild 

There’s quite a bit of repertoire for a live performer with a fixed audio track of some kind, where the player of the acoustic instrument needs to keep in synchronisation with in performance. Jonathan Harvey’s Tombeau de Messiaen is the most obvious example I can think of, and a work that I’ve performed on two occasions now. It’s written for piano and pre-recorded piano – actually, the track is an electronic keyboard with a piano sound (and a very 1994 keyboard piano sound at that – the work dates from that year). The prerecorded piano is a quarter tone out from the standard A440Hz tuning of the live piano, and there are fluctuations in pitch throughout. But there is no fluctuation in tempo: it is fixed, and even if there is some rubato, it’s obvious that it’s going to be the same with each performance.

This is challenging for the classical musician; brought up to listen to, and react to, the other performers we are playing with. We can’t do this with an audio track. My impulsive reaction to considering the idea of playing a piece the same way, time after time, with no scope for spontanaiety, used to be, ‘well why include a live performer at all? Why not write it as a piece of recorded music?’. There are many reasons why, and they will differ depending on which piece one considers. 

Tombeau de Messiaen could, I suppose, be arranged for two live performers, so that we gain the flexibility and indeed human magic of performing with another pianist (and sound diffuser); we have the technology now to play with a second live piano, or perhaps keyboard, linked to a laptop from which the pitch and the other synthesiser effects could be manipulated. That sounds like a fun idea to me and one I’m thinking of trying to realise when I have the time!

Piers Tattersall’s I Work With Care To Open My Heart, which I’ll be playing for the fourth time in public on Saturday 20th February at the Schott Recital Room in London, is a work for live piano, analogue radio, and electronics. The electronics part is predetermined and fixed. The piano part is too, and the ‘script’ or instructions for the radio operator is too, though part of the point of the piece is that no two performances will ever be the same because different programmes will be on the radio when we play them! The volume of the radio signal is controlled using automation. This means that the radio has predetermined instructions inputted to Logic and runs exactly in synchronisation with the electronics part played by the midi sequencer.

Early on we found it necessary to add a click track for me, along with low-level signal from the radio and midi sequencer, via an earpiece. 

This brings me to my main point, which is to describe the experience of performing a piece of (extremely hard) classical music with a clicktrack. One practises with a metronome, but isn’t in the performance mindset in the practice room, so I can’t count that as an experience to draw upon really.

Something I found with Tombeau de Messiaen is that I had to carefully work out how long I had during the stiller moments, when the resonance of the piano was left to decay and nothing was happening in the audio track. This is because quite often the live pianist has to come in exactly with the track without any warning, or, often, very little: there are moments in the score where Harvey has indicated the piano should play very quickly after the audio track enters. One needs to be ready, but to minimise the surprise one has to learn where it comes in. This is fine if the moment of stillness is measured in beats – one counts – but it never is in Tombeau de Messiaen, so the entry of the electronics is harder to anticipate. Sometimes the performer is given ‘c.6”‘, for example. So it’s important to build up what initially only feels like a sense of when to play, and with that, exactly how fast to play the rapid, unmeasured and extensive acciaccatura flourishes in order to finish at about the right time in order to begin the next musical event in synchronisation with the audio track. Such practice might be called building up procedural memory. I was able to do this through a huge amount of repetition, so that it all became habit. 

I Work With Care To Open My Heart is similar, but presents additional challenges. 

When I come to a particularly technically difficult passage, usually where I’ve got to tackle a tricky dart across the keyboard or where I need to negotiate semiquavers with uneven distribution between the hands, I slow down. I do this musically, not in the sense of bad practise whereby I might immediately stop playing so quickly simply because I can’t play this bit: that isn’t effective and holds back progress. I prepare for it by means of a rallentando in to the tricky section. Then, I accelerando once I’ve got out of the bad patch, and carry on. Essentially, I’m making my own music out of a problem, but I lessen the application of this practice method with each repetition. Then – somehow! – it begins to hang together better, and before too long I can rattle through the passage in question unhindered. It’s a big paradox of my experience of piano playing, but it really does work. Additionally, in order to make myself feel more comfortable when playing any big piece where the technical demands are great, I push myself to use extreme (and silly) rubato in practice – it’s a good test of how comfortable and in control one is, and it means if I can do it with total assurance, then I’m in control.

Whilst the element of risk in a performance is exciting for the performer and the audience, it should never be so great so as to really worry everybody! Letting the music almost play itself is a great feeling. I remember one teacher of mine (Andrew Ball) say to me once that the best concerts he ever gave were the ones where he felt like he was sailing a boat: the weather was such (metaphorically) that the boat was able to sail happily without much effort from the skipper, but only a nudge on the rudder now and again according to (musical) will or fancy was required to keep the journey interesting. Otherwise, the skipper/performer could sit back and let it happen. Feeling in control applies very much to I Work Carefully.

Importantly, the reason I can’t practise I work carefully… with the metronome is because there is a metric modulation almost every bar. ‘Irrational’ time signatures play an important role in this piece, and there are often passages going from 3/4 to 4/5, leading in to 4/4 leading in to 5/10, etc. The principle beat of each bar changes too often to make practice with the metronome worthwhile. (It’s worth just pointing out that this is obviously what the clicktrack is programmed to do!). After several rehearsals with the click, the piece does begin to play itself, and I can begin to sit back as described above.

It wouldn’t be fair to leave the idea of suppressing one’s own artistry, though. There is scope for playing the plentiful rapid passagework in I work carefully… with a wide variety of touches, articulation, and dynamics. One can interpret it as capricious in places, martellato (I believe, even when the composer hasn’t explicitly called for it), and staccatissimo. But it just all has to take place within the very fixed temporal framework dictated by the electronics.

The Edison Ensemble (Christopher Guild and Piers Tattersall) will be performing at Schott Music, 49 Great Marlborough Street, London W1, on Saturday, 20th February at 19:00. Tickets £7 in advance, or £12 on the night.

 

Meet the Artist……Christopher Guild

Meet the Artist……Piers Tattersall

 

The Pierrot Studio: Music. Art. Sound. Light. Performance. An exhibition supporting emerging artists and reaching new audiences

The Pierrot Studio

5 – 17 February 2016
Concert Opening: 4 February 2016
Performances begin at 18:30
Display Gallery, 26 Holborn Viaduct, London, EC1A 2AQ

The Pierrot Studio brings together sculpture, cutting edge music, light, sound, strobe and performance into one harmonious space: an exhibition that allows the worlds of visual art and classical music to collide through a series of collaborative installations and concerts.

Three artists and three composers will work together to create visual/aural artworks inspired by 20th Century visionary Arnold Schönberg. Each pairing will explore thematic elements of Schönberg’s seminal song cycle ‘Pierrot Lunaire’. The Dr. K Sextet will perform the new compositions written for each installation at the opening of the exhibition.

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Tim A Shaw and Ewan Campbell will take Schönberg’s study, or studio, as their starting point and will construct a skeleton, life size timber frame replica of this room, based upon photographs of the composer at work. Rather than presenting a stable or fixed piece of architecture, the installation will be much more akin to a psychic, virtual or imagined shell. The immersive room will include re-imaginings of Schönberg’s ‘musical’ sketches and painted self portraits.

Sara Naim and Chris Roe will create a poetic and transient rendering of Schönberg’s moonscape in ‘Pierrot Lunaire’. Roe’s composition will be amplified beneath a shallow vessel of milk. As the speakers reverberate with the varying tones and frequencies of the music, the liquid will begin to ripple and embody the sound through the various geometric patterns that appear in it. Naim will illuminate the milk with a strobe every 13 seconds in reference to Schönberg’s notorious triskaidekaphobia. She will create a series of frozen, sculptural moments, between which the audience will wait in darkness, absorbing the sound without vision.

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Jörg Obergfell and Stef Conner will look specifically at the absurdist nature of Pierrot Lunaire and create a series of masks and musical motives around the various archetypal Pierrot characters. Conner’s compositions will be interwoven around a central, slowly developing theme of laughter. Obergfell will translate these characters into more or less abstract mask forms that draw inspiration from both folk costumes and modernist aesthetics.

The exhibition is programmed by The Pierrot Project, an arts collective that encourages interdisciplinary collaboration between artists, composers and musicians.

The Pierrot Studio

Dr K Sextet

7 Star Arts promotes exciting and eclectic performances by a vibrant collective of musicians, actors, writers and artists, including acclaimed pianists Anthony Hewitt and Viv McLean, violinist David le Page, actress and writer Susan Porrett, jazz ensembles Partikel and the Liam Stevens Trio, and artist Klara Smith.

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Performances often take place in smaller, more intimate venues and feature mixed-genre programmes combining music and words, and music, words and pictures to create unique and accessible concerts which offer unexpected insights into the music being performed.

From December 2016, 7 Star Arts has a residency at The Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head. Known as the “suburban Ronnie Scott’s”, The Bull’s Head is now an established part of the London jazz scene and host to many acclaimed jazz musicians and singers.

Forthcoming events

Classic Gershwin at The Bull’s Head – 24th December 2016

The vibrant music of George Gershwin is interwoven with his fascinating life story from birth in the colourful, teeming New York of 1898 to his tragically early death in 1937. Performed by Viv McLean, piano and Susan Porrett, narrator in the intimate Jazz Room at The Bull’s Head, Barnes, London SW13

“Vividly illustrated…. rapturously received.. highly recommended.”

Aydenne Simone & Liam Stevens Trio – 5th January 2017

Join the incredible vocalist Aydenne Simone plus amazing pianist Liam Stevens and his trio.

Rowan Hudson with JJ Stillwell – 10th January 2017

Further information and tickets

The great strength of this format is the subtle interweaving of words and music. Susan’s text brings to life the personalities of Chopin and Sand through letters between them and their friends, and contemporary accounts. The readings set the tone, and the music reflects it, each piece sensitively rendered by Viv with expression and commitment, from the tenderest, most intimate Nocturnes (Op 9, No. 2, Op post. In C sharp minor) to an intensely poignant Mazurka (Op 17 No 4). …..Viv’s understated, modest delivery always allows the music to speak for itself, while Susan’s words lend greater focus, encouraging us to listen to the music even more attentively.

(from my review of ‘Divine Fire’)

PRESS RELEASE

On 29 June 2015 St John’s Smith Square announced its 2015/16 Season. With over 250 concerts and many individual series and strands, this season clearly demonstrates St John’s core mission: to be a centre of excellence for chamber orchestras, choral and vocal music and period instrument groups. St John’s also plays a vital function in presenting new work (with over 30 premieres for 15/16) and supporting emerging artists (including an own-promoted young artists’ series).

Orchestral performances

Orchestral performance is a cornerstone of the programme at St John’s Smith Square. Over the coming season St John’s is delighted to be welcoming the London Mozart Players, Orchestra of St John’s, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment*, London Sinfonietta* and Philharmonia* among others.

The London Mozart Players will be giving three distinct series: Mozart Explored, continuing their exploration of Mozart Piano Concertos with Howard Shelley; Beethoven Explored, performing the complete Beethoven Piano Concertos, again with Howard Shelley; and Mozart Explored: 1783, celebrating music from the year 1783 in Mozart’s life.

The Orchestra of St John’s bring a range of programmes including opera and oratorio, a traditional New Year Strauss celebration, a collaboration with Jonny Greenwood of Radiohead (13 February 2016) and a series of celebrity appearances entitled Public Passions opening on 5 March 2016 with Joanna Lumley

The Philharmonia bring Stravinsky under Esa-Pekka Salonen (2 June 2016), the London Sinfonietta with Martyn Brabbins and Garry Walker bring two programmes of premieres including a new work by Sir Harrison Birtwistle (1 June 2016) and a premiere by Laurence Crane (10 October) and the OAE have a regular season at St John’s in addition to their traditional Christmas and Easter St John’s concerts.

Choral and vocal music

There is also a vibrant season of choral and vocal music for the 2015/16 Season. This includes The Tallis Scholars‘ landmark 2000th concert (21 September), a celebratory event which also opens the London International A Cappella Choir Competition (22-26 September).

Other vocal highlights include performances from Polyphony under Stephen Layton at Christmas and Easter in Handel’s Messiah with the OAE (23 December) and Bach’s St John Passion on Good Friday (25 March 2016). Stephen Layton also continues his Handel oratorio cycle with The Holst Singers and The Brook Street Band, this time featuring Handel’s Solomon. Other Handel performances include the rarely heard Athalia with the Whitehall Choir, London Baroque Sinfonia and Paul Spicer (17 November).

Opera

As well as sacred choral music, Opera is a significant aspect of the 15/16 programme. There will be Salieri’s seldom-heard Trofonio’s Cave from Bampton Classical Opera (15 September), Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with the Orchestra of St John’s (14 September), Zelenka with Bury Court Opera (20 October), Handel’s Acis and Galatea with La Nuova Musica (2 November) and Rameau’s Castor et Pollux with Olivier Award-nominated Early Opera Company and Christian Curnyn (20 November).  There is also operetta with Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld from Opera Danube (29-31 January 2016) and Stephen Oliver’s realisation of Mozart’s opera The Goose of Cairo as part of the London Mozart Players’ 1783 series (14 April 2016).

Period Instrument Performances

Historically informed performance with period instruments is one of the key features of the 15/16 programme at St John’s, the UK’s only baroque concert hall.

The Brook Street Band, The Revolutionary Drawing Room, Solomon’s Knot, Arcangelo, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, La Nuova Musica, the Steinitz Bach Festival, the Academy of Ancient Music, the Early Opera Company, the International Baroque Players, The Amadè Players, Gabrieli and the European Union Baroque Orchestra all contribute to this rich vein running through the programme.

New Music and emerging talent

Across the programme there are over 30 premieres and commissions including new works from Alissa Firsova, Simon Holt, György Kurtág, Errollyn Wallen, Lawrence Crane, Martin Butler, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Tansy Davies and Christian Mason. All those selected for the St John’s Young Artists’ Scheme (Tabea Debus, the Ligeti Quartet, Joo Yeon Sir and The Gesualdo Six) also feature new music as part of their programming.

St John’s is also delighted to welcome the Park Lane Group for both a lunchtime series and their intensive festival (18-22 April 2016), featuring emerging artists and new music, and tomorrow’s opera stars get a chance to shine through Opera Danube’s training programme.

Regular Concert Series

St John’s hosts regular Thursday lunchtime concerts which, amongst others, feature Yeomen from The Musician’s Company and artists from the Dartington International Summer School. There is also a monthly organ recital series including performances by Thomas Trotter, Jane Watts and Roger Sayer, programmed by St John’s organ curator David Titterington.

St John’s other regular series is the Sunday at St John’s programme which includes mini-series such as the London Piano Trio’s complete Beethoven Piano Trios (11 October, 29 November 2015, 17 January 2016) and the Fidelio Trio’s focus on French repertoire and new works (15 November 2015, 24 January, 24 April 2016).

There is further great chamber music from the Françoise Green Duo, who have devised a fabulous series of first meets second Viennese School alongside new commissions (21 January, 25 February, 31 March, 7 April, 12 May 2016) and the return of the Henschel Quartet (6 October) following their magnificent debut last year.

The pianist Martino Tirimo, with friends including the Carducci Quartet, Minguet Quartet and Rosamunde Trio, presents a series spanning 2016 of the great piano quintets and there is an absolute tour de force of the Complete Chopin Cycle given by pianist Warren Mailley-Smith over eleven concerts.

Festivals at St John’s Smith Square

Festival programming is also central to this season. In September St John’s welcomes back pianist and composer Rolf Hind who has curated the second ‘Occupy the Pianos’ festival: a fascinating exploration of all things piano with nine concerts showcasing an eclectic mix of 20th and 21st Century music for pianos, prepared piano, voice and dancer (10-13 September).

A fortnight later Peter Phillips and The Tallis Scholars launch the second London International A Cappella Choir Competition with choirs battling out the prize over five days. Christmas sees the superlative St John’s 30th Annual Christmas Festival curated by Stephen Layton (11-23 December), bigger than ever before and including familiar faces, such as Ex Cathedra, Ensemble Plus Ultra and the Choirs of Christ Church Oxford, King’s College London and Clare College Cambridge as well as newcomers Siglo de Oro and the Choir of Merton College Oxford. St John’s also welcomes back the London Festival of Baroque Music (13-19 May 2016) which for 2016 has ‘The Word in Music’ as its theme.

Two new festivals for 2016 are ‘Principal Sound’: a focus on the music of Morton Feldman and those he influenced (1-4 April 2016) and DEEP∞MINAMLISM (24-26 June)* with music by Meredith Monk, Galina Ustvolskaya, Mica Levi and others.

 

Ongoing Partnerships

St John’s is also delighted to be the regular home for many orchestras and choirs including the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra, the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra Vitae, the 1885 Singers, the English Baroque Choir, the Collaborative Orchestra, the Orchestra of St Paul’s, Cantandum, Twickenham Choral Society, the Salomon Orchestra, the Fulham Symphony Orchestra, the City of London Choir, the London Phoenix Orchestra, the Parliament Choir, The London Chorus and the Royal Orchestral Society as well as many schools, music colleges and community organisations who use St John’s regularly.

Southbank Centre at St John’s Smith Square

Finally, there is one other exciting collaboration taking place at St John’s this season. During the period of refurbishment at the Southbank Centre St John’s will be providing a temporary home for concerts from the International Piano Series, the International Chamber Music Series and a number of the Southbank Centre’s resident ensembles. Artists appearing at St John’s as a result of this partnership include Nikolai Demidenko, Steven Osborne, Tamara Stefanovich, Imogen Cooper, the Jerusalem Quartet, Viktoria Mullova, Katia and Marielle Labèque, Nicola Benedetti, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Steven Devine, Ian Bostridge, John Butt, the Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen and the London Sinfonietta.

Richard Heason, Director of St John’s Smith Square said:

“I am immensely proud of the new season programme at St John’s Smith Square. St John’s is a wonderful place; a unique baroque building, majestic and serene and situated in one of the most inspirational settings I have ever come across. Our 2015/16 programme is packed with concerts and festivals of the highest quality which, I am sure, will prove to be informative, entertaining and inspirational. St John’s Smith Square doesn’t receive any public subsidy; our income coming solely from hiring the hall, box office revenue, the restaurant and bar and the generosity of our supporters. As such, this programme would be impossible to put together were it not for the support of a huge range of partners and friends. My thanks go to everyone who has helped to put together what I am confident will be a year of musical triumphs for St John’s.”  

Full concert listings are available on line:  http://www.sjss.org.uk/whats-on

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