Tag Archives: female musician

Meet the Artist……Joanna Macgregor, pianist

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

I played all kinds of instruments when I was young, but the piano is like a universe. You can use it to compose and to perform – it represents so many different styles of music from early French keyboard music and Bach, to Beethoven and John Cage, jazz and blues. I’ve always loved the piano, and loved listening to other pianists.
I’m devoted to practicing and studying music, mainly. It’s the physical and intellectual stamina it requires that I still find so exciting; I really enjoy talking a pencil and marking the score, and spending hours with a work. It’s allowed me to travel all over the world, which I never expected, as a performer. I love teaching, and collaborating with other artists and composers.

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

My mother had me when she was young, and I was her first piano student. She was very imaginative in her musical tastes: together we played Bach, Mozart, Dave Brubeck’s Take Five, Beatles songs, and gospel music. Being taken on by YCAT (Young Concert Artist Trust) in my twenties was a fantastic apprenticeship; I built up a big repertoire, and learnt to communicate with audiences.

David Sigall was also undoubtedly a major influence. He was my manager until he retired last year. He taught me to see the long game, and encouraged me to be a curator and artistic director. He seemed totally unfazed by anything I got up to, whether it was starting a record label, conducting or collaborating with world musicians.

I’ve also been heavily influenced by jazz musicians; the way they collaborate, make things happen, hang out together, and support each other’s gigs.

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

I’ve always loved playing at the BBC Proms – my first one was nearly thirty years ago! And broadcasting live is tough – you have to be on top of everything.
My most treasured memory is working with Pierre Boulez, twice; first on a European tour with the Philharmonia and later with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He was witty, warm, elegant, gossipy and just a gorgeous musician to be with, both on and offstage.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Impossible to say, as they’re all flawed to my ears, of course. But for different reasons, Messiaen’s Vingt Regards; Deep River with the saxophonist Andy Sheppard, which explored music of the Deep South; and my most recent recording, the complete Chopin Mazurkas.

Very early on in my career I recorded Charles Ives’ First Sonata, an absolute epic, at Snape Maltings. I still love his music very deeply.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I seem to gravitate towards intense miniatures – Gubaidulina’s Musical Toys, Chopin Mazurkas – or huge cycles – Messiaen, Beethoven, Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. I like architecture; on the other hand I also like playing in the moment. I find so much music is a mixture of structure, and unfolding, like following a fork in the road.

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

It depends on the venues, and what I’d like to add to my repertoire. I still learn new pieces – this year it was Schubert’s last sonata in B flat, coupled with some late Liszt and Ligeti. I’m not at all rigid about the number of recital programmes or concertos I’ll carry around in any one season. It depends on all the other collaborations and new work I’m doing; I always seem to be working on new projects with poets or artists, as well as other musicians.

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

Many favourites – the Mozarteum in Salzburg, the Bimhuis in Amsterdam; the Wigmore Hall, the medieval hall at Dartington. Something to do with intense atmosphere and audiences.

Favourite pieces to perform?

I always love Bach and Beethoven; I love practising them. I’m heavily into Chopin’s fifty-eight mazurkas at the moment, played chronologically; rather like reading someone’s personal diary.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many. The pianists I listen most to (at the moment) are Edwin Fischer, Rubinstein and Maria João Pires. I adore spending time with Alfred Brendel; I admire great improvisers and slip into their concerts all the time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Probably playing Shostakovich First Piano Concerto at the Last Night of the Proms – memorable for all kinds of reasons, including the controlled hysteria backstage. Being invited to play the Goldberg Variations at the Albert Hall by John Eliot Gardiner was pretty exciting for me.

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

Individuality, fearless talent, creativity, and the ability to design opportunities – fundamental to building a long career. The piano students at the Royal Academy of Music (as Head of Piano there I mentor them all) come with a very high degree of technical skill and musicianship. But I encourage them to develop other skills—curating, improvising, working with multimedia, commissioning composers, conducting from the keyboard, having a working knowledge of early keyboards—that will help them flourish at the beginning of their careers. Every summer we run a Piano Festival, which is largely curated now by the students themselves, and it’s a testament to their imagination and unstoppable energy.

 

Joanna MacGregor is one of the world’s most innovative musicians, appearing as a concert pianist, curator and collaborator. Head of Piano at the Royal Academy of Music and Professor of the University of London, Joanna MacGregor is also the Artistic Director of Dartington International Summer School & Festival.

As a solo artist Joanna has performed in over eighty countries and appeared with many eminent conductors – Pierre Boulez, Sir Colin Davis, Valery Gergiev, Sir Simon Rattle and Michael Tilson Thomas amongst them – and orchestras, including London Symphony and Sydney Symphony orchestras, Chicago, Melbourne and Oslo Philharmonic orchestras, the Berlin Symphony and Salzburg Camerata. She has premiered many landmark compositions, ranging from Sir Harrison Birtwistle and Django Bates to John Adams and James MacMillan. She performs regularly at major venues throughout the world, including Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre and the Barbican in London, Sydney Opera House, Leipzig Gewandhaus, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam and the Mozarteum in Salzburg.

 

Meet the Artist……Madeleine Mitchell, violinist

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

Although neither of my parents were musicians, they were both very musical and liked to listen to classical music, so we often had BBC Radio 3 on at home and recordings of violin concerti by Elgar with Menuhin and Sibelius by both Heifetz and Ginette Neveu, were important influences. Apparently they discovered I was musical because the Sunday school teacher told my parents I was leading the singing at the age of 3!! Actually I don’t have such a great voice, but aim to sing through my violin. I am very grateful to my parents, who were not at all wealthy, for prioritising giving me piano lessons from the age of 6, over material things – they used to make some of our clothes and furniture and were generally very creative, which has imbued my life. I took up the violin 3 years later at school in shared lessons and was offered a Junior Exhibition to the Royal College of Music on both instruments and later a Foundation Scholarship to the RCM with a violin bought for me by my parents for £20. I had thoughts of becoming a composer when I was quite young and enjoyed harmony and music theory but my passion for the violin took over – I loved the possibilities, it’s such an expressive instrument and this is what made me pursue a career as a violinist.

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

I was lucky to be awarded the Fulbright/ITT Fellowship to study for a master’s degree in New York for 2 years with some very fine teachers – Donald Weilerstein (then leader of the Cleveland Quartet and a most inspiring musician), Sylvia Rosenberg, a real artist who’d studied with Nadia Boulanger as well as Ivan Galamian, and Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard and the Aspen Festival. But I later learnt as much from Jean Gibson – that “your body is your instrument” – to be free to channel and express the music. When I tour I’m likely to be be found in an art gallery; I find looking at paintings from Rembrandt and Vermeer to Cezanne, Monet and some abstract expressionists, very enriching.

Some of my most extraordinary musical influences in performing have been with Norbert Brainin and Ivry Gitlis. Being the violinist/violist in the Fires of London at the start of my career led me to meet all sorts of composers who then wrote works for me, such as Brian Elias, which has been a significant thread through my musical life.

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

Funding and fundraising (for which we are not trained) has become more and more difficult. I feel so passionately about being a musician and not selling my soul so there’s time to devote to one’s art, that in order to do so, I’ve often lived quite frugally. My generation were supported in our studies whereas now it has become more difficult with tuition fees, living costs and buying an instrument. To be a fine musician requires great sensitivity and yet in daily life it’s challenging not to be too sensitive and affected by things. I also think there is not enough appreciation that artists can improve with age! I think my playing has gradually developed over time. There’s a lot of emphasis on the latest talent of course, but you can take on too much at that stage when you’re flavour of the month whereas later on, where you know the music better, you can return to works with added experience and perhaps wisdom.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

The Grammy-nominated Lou Harrison Violin Concerto with Percussion Orchestra (‘FiddleSticks’ album with new works for violin and percussion), my NMC Artist Series disc ‘In Sunlight: Pieces for Madeleine Mitchell’ with a range of works written for me by composers including James MacMillan, Michael Nyman, Nigel Osborne etc., and a personal collection of favourites – ‘Violin Songs’. I’d very much like to pay tribute here to the pianist Andrew Ball, my musical partner for some 20 years in concerts, broadcasts and 3 albums.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

There is so much fine music I like to play. Perhaps late romantic/early 20C works like Bruch Violin Concerto, Franck and Elgar violin sonatas and the more lyrical contemporary works suit me best however.

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

It depends on what I may be asked to perform, when I’m able to devise programmes or perhaps premiere a new piece. I’ve always loved putting programmes together, aiming for a good balance and being attuned to the situation – the audience or the occasion. I have eclectic tastes and enjoy playing a wide range of music from c1700 to the present and sometimes combining with the other arts.

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

Wigmore Hall, of course because of the sound and the atmosphere, also St. George’s Bristol, Djanogly Hall Nottingham and Carnegie Hall, but also venues such as some country churches – I was invited to be artistic director of a summer series called Music in Quiet Places with chamber music which was very special.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Too many to list but my Century of British Music recital for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, both in Rome and in the US, receiving standing ovations and the first performance I gave of Messiaen Quatuor pour la fin du temps in the group I formed with pianist Joanna MacGregor in a special 6th century church, St Illtyd’s, which led to performances at the BBC Proms and a recording at Snape Maltings.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

I think to be able to say you’ve played your best, reached audiences in all sorts of places with the music and enjoyed it.

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

To aim to be a well rounded, cultivated musician, to have your eyes and ears open beyond your own instrument and to the other arts, nature and so on.

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

Still playing well and perhaps in a wonderful chamber group.

What is your most treasured possession?

My violin, which has been my companion in concerts in some 50 countries and my hearing and vision. Although not my possession, my life treasure is my daughter.

What do you enjoy doing most?

I enjoy playing music I love, to the best of my ability and I very much enjoy travelling (including swimming in warm seas). Listening to music, from Mozart operas to Jazz, but I also cherish silence – the most profound I ever experienced was in the Namib dessert when I was on tour giving concerts for the British Council.

What is your present state of mind?

Grateful, thinking back over all the things I’ve done, people I’ve met and worked with, amazing places I’ve visited through music and to Frances Wilson for hosting this interesting series.

MADELEINE MITCHELL has been described by The Times as ‘one of the UK’s liveliest musical forces’ (and) ‘foremost violinists’. Her performances as a soloist and chamber musician in some 50 countries in a wide repertoire are frequently broadcast including the BBC Proms, ABC, Bayerischer Rundfunk and Italian TV. She has given many recitals in major venues including Lincoln Center New York, Wigmore and South Bank Centre London, Vienna, Moscow, Singapore, Seoul Centre for the Arts and Sydney Opera House. She’s performed as soloist with orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic, Czech Radio, St Petersburg Philharmonic and most recently the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, in the concerto written for her by Guto Puw, which will be included on her forthcoming album, Violin Muse, of world premiere recordings by established UK composers, for Divine Art.

Mitchell’s acclaimed discography for which she has been nominated for Grammy and BBC Music Awards, includes works written for her by composers such as James MacMillan and the popular ‘Violin Songs’ – Classic FM CD of the week. She has also championed early 20C British music in performance internationally and in recordings. A highly creative artist, Madeleine devised the Red Violin festival under Lord Menuhin’s patronage, the first international eclectic celebration of the fiddle across the arts. She’s also created programmes with poetry and unique collaborations with voices and solo violin with percussion and has been Director of the London Chamber Ensemble for many years. Madeleine Mitchell won the Tagore Gold Medal as Foundation Scholar at the Royal College of Music where she is a Professor and the prestigious Fulbright/ITT Fellowship to the Eastman and Juilliard Schools in the USA, where she regularly returns to give concerts and master classes.

www.madeleinemitchell.com

Meet the Artist……Julia Morneweg, cellist

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

Genetic predisposition! My dad was a cellist in the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne. I didn’t however start playing the cello until I was 12 years old. When I was younger I always had a natural interest in the piano and at about 7 or 8 we got an electronic keyboard which quickly became my favourite toy. However for some reason still unbeknown to me, my parents never arranged formal piano lessons for me so I was almost entirely self-taught and didn’t have a proper piano lesson until I got to the RCM, by which time I was playing Beethoven Sonatas and all sorts of repertoire with far more enthusiasm than proper training!

At around 10 or 11 my parents suggested I should take up another instrument and I distinctly remember not thinking very much at all of the idea at the time (I just wanted to play the piano!), so I didn’t really get going on the cello for quite some time. Gradually the interest grew, but it wasn’t really until I started having lessons with Raphael Wallfisch at 15 that something clicked and I decided that this was what I wanted to do. Of course by that point I was so far behind everyone else that I had to do what other people would do in 10 years in 2! I worked incredibly hard and got into music college at 17, first in Hannover and then in London at the RCM.

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

I think my time at the RCM was hugely influential in terms of opening my eyes to the huge range of possibilities one has as a musician. Growing up and studying in Germany that wasn’t high on the agenda – you were expected to get an orchestral job and that was certainly the done thing in my own family! (My dad worked in the same orchestra for 43 years!) I think I am temperamentally wholly unsuited to knowing my schedule 12 months in advance, so discovering that your career can encompass many different aspects of performing and teaching was great and I ran with it. There is certainly no lack of diversity in my career now and I rarely know my full schedule even one week in advance!

As a cellist I think I always have soaked up influences not only from my teachers but also from many fantastic players (of all instruments) I have had the privilege of working with and that’s very much an ongoing process. I think it’s hugely important to be able to look at any piece of music you play not just through the prism of your own instrument, but to have a much wider base of knowledge and inspiration to drawn upon.

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

At the moment my greatest challenge is trying to find the perfect cello. This is hugely complicated by the fact that I am quite tall, but have absolutely tiny hands! Trying to find an instrument with the right proportions that also has the power and the quality to project in a large hall and keep up with the amazing instruments I am regularly surrounded by, is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. So far I found one perfect match – regrettably about £200,000 above budget!

Apart from that, the never-ending challenge is trying to keep on top of all my commitments (concerts, rehearsals, practice, travelling, students, managing a concert series etc…) and still have some sort of home life and down-time. Especially when your partner leads exactly the same life, trying to arrange going out for lunch or dinner, let alone a proper holiday, becomes a major logistical task! (And the laundry basket is constantly overflowing…)

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Hmmm…tricky! I think playing Shostakovich’s second Piano Trio at the Purcell Room a few years ago would have to be up there. It’s such a scary piece for any cellist, so to do it well in a very pressurised environment was a huge relief.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I think whatever I really get my teeth into, but very often that happens to be 20th century music.

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

Unfortunately I have found the choice to be less and less mine! In more than 10 years of touring the UK chamber music scene with my trio I found that, no matter what pieces we offered – and there were many, what promoters asked for remained largely unchanged. The repertoire favourites, sure to bring in a capacity audience, with only occasional forays into anything more adventurous.

So last year I took matters into my own hands and founded ChamberMusicBox, a London concert series where people only find out what’s on the programme as the concert unfolds! This year we have a pool of 25 fantastic players and each and every concert is a completely mixed bag of music for strings, woodwind, piano and occasionally even voice. I have had to learn phenomenal amounts of notes since the series began, but it is so satisfying!

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

I have been fortunate to perform in so many fantastic halls around the world, including some amazing brand new ones in Asia, but I think one of my favourite halls to play in would have to be Zurich’s Tonhalle. Both the small as well as the large hall have wonderful acoustics.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

One piece I never get tired of playing is Schnittke’s Piano Trio. It was actually the first trio I played at the RCM, and what was supposed to be a one-off concert actually started off my chamber music career path. We were incredibly fortunate to work on the piece with the late Alexander Ivashkin, Schnittke’s close friend and biographer, who brought the story behind the piece to live so vividly that it has ever since remained one of my very favourite works to perform. Sadly Sasha Ivashkin died three years ago, but everything he shared with us goes on stage with me every time I get to play it. It’s the most emotionally draining piece, but I just love it.

As a listener I am absolutely addicted to opera and singing in general.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Again, singers feature very heavily in that list: Placido Domingo, Jessye Norman, the great Italian bass Ferruccio Furlanetto, and many great singers of the 20th century such as Mirella Freni.

As a cellist growing up I have always had huge admiration for Leonard Rose. His playing was everything cello playing should be. But there are so many other players I love, too many to mention.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I think I would have to go with the most comical one of my career to date here! Several years ago I played at a festival in Sussex on a hot July day. At the time I was (yet again!) trying out a very nice Italian cello which I considered buying and this cello happened to be fitted with a certain type of mechanical metal pegs (they have largely gone out of fashion – thankfully!) which really didn’t seem to like going from a hot car into a cold church. Less than an hour before the concert the first peg started to slip. And the next. And another. No amount of tuning, pushing or shoving would keep these pegs in place and half an hour before the concert I had to admit my predicament to the organiser. He calmly told me not to worry and that he’d quickly nip home to fetch a cello he had. Fifteen minutes later he returned with a cello rather peculiar in colour and even more peculiar in sound. I had no choice but to play the concert on this cello. Only afterwards was I told its history: bought for £2 in an antique shop in Plymouth, it was completely stripped of its original varnish and repainted in a different colour – with fence paint!

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

Being a great player isn’t enough to guarantee you a great career! Today’s music profession demands so much more of those who enter it and I think as teachers we have a responsibility to be very open and honest about that. I would encourage aspiring musicians to be incredibly proactive and open-minded as to where their career path as performers may lead as, quite frequently, it will be somewhere totally different from where you thought it would lead when you entered college. Of course the reality is that, especially in London, you are eventually likely to be combining numerous different types of work, from chamber music to sessions, orchestral freelancing, teaching etc… You need to be extremely adaptable.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Cooking for those around me! I can regularly be found in the kitchen late at night after a concert cooking for whoever happens to be sat around our dining table at the time.

 

Since graduating with honours from the Royal College of Music in 2007, Julia Morneweg has quickly established a remarkably versatile career as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player.

The recipient of an EMI Music Foundation Award, she made her London concerto debut in 2006 performing the Elgar Concerto at St John’s Smith Square which immediately led to further engagements including a performance of Haydn’s C major Concerto with the International Mahler Orchestra at the same venue as well as Elgar with the Ternopol Philharmonic Orchestra in the Ukraine. Other concerto performances have included Lalo in London and Vivaldi in Cologne. As a recitalist she has appeared around the UK, Belgium, Italy, Germany and at venues such as the Purcell Room, Oxford’s Holywell Music Rooms, Trieste Opera House, St. Martin in the Fields, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum as well as the 2007 Charterhouse Festival (by invitation of renowned flautist Susan Milan) and the Tacoma International Music Festival, USA when she was only 16. Most recent festival appearances have included the Leamington, Lower Machen, Uckfield and Shipley Arts Festivals. Julia has collaborated with many renowned artists including Shlomo Mintz, Anna Kandinskaya, Mikhail Bereznitsky, Joan Enric Lluna, Sergei Podobedov, Kathron Sturrock, and Oleg Poliansky to name a few.

Julia Morneweg’s full biography

Meet the Artist……Miriam Kitchener, percussionist

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

I was introduced to music at a very early age and so it was instilled in me right from the start. I began with piano lessons, however at the age of 9 I decided that the drum kit was my true calling, and the rest is history!

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

I have had many inspirational teachers throughout my education who have nurtured my musical learning in many different ways and have all influenced me in my musical life and career.

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

The greatest challenge for me is becoming accomplished on as many different percussion instruments as I can – there are so many to choose from!

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

As part of a percussion quartet, we spent a day recording three pieces in November 2016 in preparation for a competition in May. We encountered many unusual setbacks in the lead up to the recording and on the recording day itself including a power cut, despite this I feel that we did a really great job and I’m really looking forward to hearing the results.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I really enjoy the performance aspect of being a soloist and find that the more unusual the piece of the music, the more I enjoy it and therefore the better I play it! At the moment, I’m working on a piece for body percussion and mime called Ceci n’est pas une Balle. It’s a really energetic piece that requires a lot of audience interaction and is really exciting to perform.

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

I choose repertoire based on what I appreciate listening to and what I feel will work best with my musical personality. Above all, I choose pieces that I know I will enjoy playing and performing to an audience.

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

For orchestral playing, I really enjoy the atmosphere of Birmingham’s Symphony Hall, the vast space is thrilling to perform in. Small solo venues can also have the same thrilling effect, with much more intimacy between performer and audience.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I’ve recently been introduced to an array of traditional Irish folk music and am enjoying both listening to and playing along to (with the aid of my bodhran) some awesome tunes. There are lots of great bands/artists on the Irish scene who mix traditional tunes with contemporary beats, some great ones to listen to are: Donal Lunny, Flook, Kila, and Planxty.

Who are your favourite musicians?

My favourite musicians are the percussionists and educators who I have had the chance to meet and work with during my education. These are the people who I can consolidate about my career and who will give honest and accountable opinions. They are the musicians who work tirelessly day in day out to make a success of their own careers, they are exceptional players and can give some of the best advice a fellow musician could ask for.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

This would probably have to be my very first visit to the proms when I was a younger. The vastness of The Royal Albert Hall was mesmerising and I can remember being particularly in awe when the orchestra played The Storm from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes.

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

Make yourself as versatile a musician as you possibly can. There are so many opportunities out there for musicians to take, not just as a performer. Immerse yourself in all aspects of music, from community work to concert organising, from being a session musician to creating your own folk band. Do as much as you can and experience as much as you can, while you can. Above all, make sure that you continue to enjoy all that you do!

What do you enjoy doing most?

Aside from all things musical, I enjoy going rock climbing and bouldering as often as I can. It’s great fun and important to occasionally take myself away from the musical world.
Miriam graduated from Birmingham Conservatoire in June 2016 with a First Class Honours degree in Music Performance; she is now studying for her Master’s degree at the same establishment. Miriam has worked with many percussion teachers and educators from around the world including Adrian Spillett, Alexej Gerassimez, Ney Rosauro and Colin Currie to name but a few. Miriam is a versatile percussionist with interests stretching from the Irish Bodhrán to the music of Latin America; from orchestral playing to solo repertoire. Miriam also has keen interests in learning and participation projects within the wider community and the arts management that surrounds them.

 

Meet the Artist……Heike Matthiesen, guitarist

 

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

Growing up in an opera family it sounds strange to fall in love with guitar, but all my life I was fascinated with Spain and Spanish music. I learnt piano from earliest childhood – and I could have stayed with it playing Granados, Albeniz etc, but I guess it was the attraction of this instrument that you can hold in your arms, carry with you and physically feel the vibrations that made me want to become a guitarist. Nothing between you and the sounds your fingers make with the strings, no bow or other “tools” to start the vibrations and it is the most “touching” instrument existing!

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

Without the courage of my first teacher, Professor Heinz Teuchtert who later confessed that he liked the interesting case to bring a complete musician with no experience on the guitar within one year from zero to University I would not answer your questions today. I had my first guitar lesson with 18!! I soon started to work as chamber musician and to play all kind of plucked instruments in opera houses. Then I met Pepe Romero who changed my life completely, turning me into a full soloist!

Musically I always feel my opera roots, it is all about singing with your instrument!!!

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

To handle all the rejections you receive when you start to become a freelance indie-classical, between clear “No” to you or to the guitar itself. And I write hundreds mails to presenters and promoters around the world every year…. It is a big challenge not to take it personal. My mantra: “Every “no” brings me closer to the next “yes”

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

It was a highlight to be part of the opening festival of the Salzburger Festspiele last year- I am proud to play at all the places which are devoted to music and where very few guitarists appear. We have a vivid culture of guitar festivals but it is like an “ivory tower”, I am so happy of my concerts in “real world” feeling like an ambassador for classical guitar.

Recordings? You can’t really earn money with CDs anymore, so why not do something idealistic? I will be very proud of the newest, featuring female composers.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

No secret, I LOVE Spanish music (and almost no concert without ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’)…. and I am trying more and more to connect my roots of opera and all my piano years with guitar.

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

Some programs stay for years, just with exchanging some pieces. Yes, and people book me again with similar programs because the loved it and guitar recitals still are rare in many concert series, so they love to repeat what worked once. It is different from piano world I guess.. I have tried to offer a big variety of programs in the last ten years, but I got almost no bookings for example with tango or really contemporary music, so it is by far to much work to keep them in my portfolio. Maybe it also that I am already considered specialist for Spanish music and those hyper-classical programs. And it is music I deeply love, so I am in the happy position that the music I get booked the most is the music I love to play the most!

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

I LOVE venues with historic flair, especially castles – they add a magical atmosphere to the music!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Recuerdos de la Alhambra already became my signature piece, playing it in almost every concert and never getting tired of it…

To listen to I need regular doses of Mozart and all kind of operas!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Emil Gilels, Artur Rubinstein, Marta Argerich, Tzimon Barto, Fritz Wunderlich (eternal: Dichterliebe), Maria Callas, Nathan Milstein, Julian Bream and of course Pepe Romero.

When I pack my bags for concerts I listen to Vicente Amigo or Yasmin Levy!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

The moment when I was completely alone in the Alte Oper Frankfurt preparing my banjo etc for Shostakovitch Jazz Suite, and Tzimon Barto came on stage and played his encore for the evening, the Albeniz ‘Tango’, just for me with a smile, a magic gift of pure beauty.

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

Oh my god, I hope you know what you are doing to your life: Insecurity (also financially), difficult family life, loneliness— and on the other hand magic experiences, inspiration, pure bliss. Be prepared for a wild rollercoaster that will challenge you in all aspects of your life and your personality .

So the most important advice: Treat yourself like if you were an olympic athlete, you are your own coach, mental coach, cook and doctor!

Where would you like to be in 10 years time?

I will be performing regularly in the small halls in the big venues – and in 40 years I hope to be the “grand old dame of the guitar” still playing concerts with the unbelievable wisdom of age.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Spectacular answer: Playing guitar!!!!

What is your present state of mind?

Balanced, full of courage, happy and completely addicted to this wonderful crazy life.

Heike Matthiesen is one of Germany’s leading guitarists whose virtuosity and spirited performance, coupled with a charismatic stage presence, are regularly highlighted by the press.

Born in Braunschweig, she received comprehensive musical training on the piano at an early age and only took up the guitar when she was 18. About a year later, she started studying at the Frankfurt Conservatory. Pepe Romero, who taught her for several years, was the formative influence on her playing.

In addition, she attended a large number of master classes, inter alia with Manuel Barrueco, David Russel, Roland Dyens, Alvaro Pierri and Leo Brouwer.

Apart from her solo commitments, Heike Matthiesen regularly performs with chamber music ensembles, and since 1997 she has been closely affiliated with Villa Musica Mainz. She has appeared with Los Romeros and, in 2005, recorded a CD with the Spanish Art Guitar Quartet (“Bolero”, NCA).

Heike Matthiesen has performed in many different countries, including the US, Russia, Japan, China, France, Spain, Italy, Poland, Iceland, Austria and Bulgaria, and is a very welcome guest at festivals and in guitar concert series.

She has had two recordings with Tyrolis, on “Sol y luna” with a Spanish-South American repertoire and “Tristemusette”, an internationally acclaimed portrait of Roland Dyens.

heikematthiesen.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Maria Camahort, guitarist

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

Listening to a friend of mine, when I was 9 years old (and so was she), playing the cello when she just started… which probably didn’t sound exactly wonderful… but to me it did!! And I decided I wanted to start music, and that I wanted to learn the guitar. Since that day that I listened to my friend, I kept saying to my parents during a whole year that I wanted a guitar… and finally I got one for my birthday!

To decide that music would be my career, happened later, at 18 years old. I was starting Bmus in ESMUC (Superior School of Music of Catalonia, in Barcelona), and at the same time Journalism and Public Relations. However my studies at Conservatoire started one week before the University… and during that week I fell in love with the Conservatoire… so on my first day at University (during my first 2 hours of lessons!) I decided to gave up Journalism and dedicate myself entirely to Music.

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

My main two influences were two teachers I had during my studies in Barcelona. I studied with them for several years, and I think it was from studying with them that I developed my own personality as a musician.  Feliu Gasull, Spanish composer and guitarist with a very interesting music language that combines the complexities of contemporary themes and variety of Spanish folk idioms. And Emilio Molina, a pianist specialized in classical improvisation, who is entirely dedicated to change Music education in Spain with a method that he created and that introduces Improvisation from the very beginning of the music learning process.

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

I think the greatest challenge for me has been focusing my career in chamber music and collaborative projects. As a classical guitarist, the main training you get during your studies is as a soloist, and your career is mainly focused in solo repertoire, with only a few projects on the side that involve more musicians. What I love is to learn from playing with other musicians, and that’s what I decided to focus on, before coming to London. And yes, it’s been a challenge!

However, this great challenge has allowed me to broaden my musicianship, as it lead me arranging repertoire (in order to be able to play repertoire that I liked with different ensembles), collaborate with other artistic disciplines (as it is the case of theatre), and actually  start composing my own little songs/themes.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

That’s an easy one… our Quintet debut album “Iberian Colours”, about to release!

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The works I arrange/create myself, without doubt. The process of arranging/creating repertoire makes you learn those particular pieces in a deeper level that if you approach a piece directly from a score already written.

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

Usually I work with projects that have already a defined theme, as it is the case of the Quintet (we focus on music by Spanish composers that was influence by traditional songs and dances). If that’s the case, that’s what decides the repertoire.

Sometimes just because I would like to learn a particular piece…

…And many times I listen to the suggestions from the musicians I work with, and go along with them.

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

I like venues that bring different genres of music, or even different artistic disciplines in the same space, and also that they do so in an informal setting although always with respect towards the events and the artists. I think The Forge venue, in Camden, could be a good example of this. But there are many others in London!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

There’s one that always gives me goosebumps when playing, at a particular point of the piece; it is Asturiana by Manuel de Falla. Also, the works by Feliu Gasull always interest me and they are always challenging, technically and musically, so I love to work on them.

Listen to…I don’t know where to start with… Orchestral music always amazes me, so does flamenco… I listen to very different styles of music, I wouldn’t be able to decide!! Lately I’ve been listening to Iberia by Albéniz… and also different works by Walton, the ones written for guitar but also other major works, like the Cello Concerto.

Who are your favourite musicians?

This is going to sound like an easy compliment, but it’s actually true… the ones I work with!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

I don’t think I can choose one in particular, and the ones I remember well it’s not because the concert itself, but because the complexity of the project/the hours spend on making the performance happen! I could say about the UK premiere of Feliu Gasull (it involved 15 musicians and lots of music learning), about the collaboration with Guildhall Drama department on the production of Blood Wedding by Federico García-Lorca, and many of the concerts involving the Quintet. Also a concert I did last January in Paris, at Salle Cortot, together with wonderful flutist Lucy Driver.

Again, these memories are not about the concert itself, but what I’ve learnt from the projects…

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

It’s about making them develop their own music personality, … so those ideas and concepts would vary depending on who is the aspiring musician. One thing for sure to say is that during their studies, apart from learning the core repertoire, the required technique, etc… they really need to ask themselves what is that they would like to achieve, and what they would like to work on in the future. Music studies are very demanding, especially from Undergraduate onwards… it could happen that with all that huge amount of hours of practising the repertoire for the auditions and exams, there is no much time left to question yourself what you really would like to focus your music career on.

What are you working on at the moment?

Various things: Obviously working on the quintet project!  Preparing our Cd release in June and our forthcoming performances in July. I’m at the moment arranging a piece from flamenco genre this time, which will be our new one to add on repertoire for the concerts we have at Buxton Festival and Arts in Action.

A concert in 18th June with Soprano Laura Ruhi-Vidal at Instituto Cervantes, which will feature works by catalan composers, especially Roberto Gerhard.

And a collaboration with theatre, with the company Little Soldier Productions, on their mad adaption of the work Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think there is no concept of perfect happiness…but if I would have to describe it, I think the trick is about finding things that makes you smile and projects (professionals and personal!) that make you excited about the future. And to try to be always awake, working towards keeping that energy that children have and share so easily…

The Maria Camahort Quintet’s album ‘Iberian Colours’ is launched on 16th June at a concert at Brixton East. Further information and tickets here

Maria Camahort is a guitarist, ensemble leader, composer and teacher. Graduating with a distinction in MMus Performance from the Guildhall School of Music, and awarded with the Guildhall Artist Fellowship 2010-12, her career has broadened vastly during the last five years. Her exceptional knowledge of her instrument and her devotion towards chamber music and collaborative projects have given her the opportunity to perform in a great variety of genres, settings and contexts.

Maria has performed in several festivals such as Barcelona Guitar Festival, City of London Festival, International Conservatoire Week Festival, Bath Guitar Festival, London Guitar Festival, Kings Place Festival, Edinburgh Guitar & Music Festival, etc. She has performed in venues of many cities, such as Barcelona, Madrid, London, Paris, St Petesburg, Warsaw, Cracow, Sevilla, Valencia, Oxford, Edinburgh, Brighton, Orléans, etc. In London, she has performed at Bolivar Hall, St Luke’s, St James´s Picadilly, The Forge, Bishopsgate Institute, Barbican Centre Pit Theatre, The Blue Elephant Theatre, Jackson’s Lane Theatre, Kings Place, St Martin in the Fields and Southbank Centre among others.

mariacamahort.com

Meet the Artist……Gabriella Swallow, cellist

Photo credit: Philip Gatward
Photo credit: Philip Gatward

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

My parents were both dentists, but my mother was a keen amateur harpsichord player. I started as a very good recorder player and gradually ran out of music as I devoured everything!! My parents had friends who were Dutch baroque musicians who recommended I start learning a string instrument. I said I wanted to play the biggest – as they didn’t have an estate car at the time they lied, so I am a cellist not a bass player!

I went to Chethams’ School of Music at 9 years old but had only really been playing cello for a year.

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

Early on I would say Jacqueline du Pré, like many cellists of my generation. I became obsessed with new music after hearing Harrison Birtwistle’s ‘Gawain’ for my 10th birthday at the Royal Opera House, so I suppose this experience changed my musical direction. 

I met my former husband, the composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, at 22 years old. His music always meant a huge amount to me and I was lucky he wrote for me a lot. We also both shared a huge passion for jazz and as he worked with musicians such as John Scofield and Peter Erskine this had a huge influence in the music and players I was interested in playing and collaborating with.

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

There have been many challenges but for me it has been building the self-belief and confidence which has very much effected the timing of my career. I was all set up and ready to launch into the profession in my early 20’s, but it felt much more natural to support someone else, especially someone whose work I really believed in.  Once I had the children I began the usual work/family life struggle everyone has. I have been a single mother now for three years so I have been trying to rebuild my life as well as restart my career on top of bringing up two very young children – to be honest every day is a struggle! Their father has moved down the road which has helped hugely and we organise diaries so the children are generally with one of us whilst the other works. Mark is a very hands on Dad and I am also lucky to have some incredibly supportive friends, mainly musicians, who have stood beside me during the challenging times.

Which recordings are you most proud of?

I’m really proud of a chamber music disc I did for Toccata Classics of all of Hugh Wood’s chamber music with the London Archduke trio, Paul Silverthorne and Roger Heaton. We recorded it at Champs Hill a few years ago.  I adore Hugh’s music and chose to perform his Cello Concerto with the Royal College of Music Sinfonietta when I won the concerto trials in my last year of college.

I’m also proud of jazz  recordings I have done as those sessions have always been a massive musical learning experience for me. Ian Shaw, Judith Owen and Barb Jungr’s albums, on which I have featured, I still enjoy listening to as their artistry is so wonderful! Most of the time I find it almost painful hearing old recordings.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

The two things I really enjoy doing and suppose feel comfortable  with now are the polar opposites musically. I have always loved working with classical contemporary composers – the stranger the music and the more demanding the better. I play lots of Lachenmann and Xenaxis when I can choose my own programmes. This is the music which I have always felt very natural  interpreting, probably more so than anything else.

On the other end of the spectrum, I love my work as a session ‘cellist. I like making the switch between styles and improvising does not fill me with dread. I relish the speed needed in interpreting something fast that has normally just been printed off and placed in front of me. Working closely with the artist and great producers in the moment can be very thrilling.

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

I tend to try and programme the same group for a run of concerts or festivals as it’s always nice working with the same players and programmes for more than a one-off performance. I work in so many different capacities as a ‘cellist the kind of booking I get will determine the repertoire. I feel quite passionately that if people are kept ‘safe’ from new music and not exposed to it because of their demographic/concert venue, then how will people ever get a chance to make a judgment themselves? I have been known to present a programme of Vivaldi, Stravinsky, Bach, Earth Wind and Fire and Kaija Sarriaho as I believe in every piece as good music. The musicians I work with on these programmes play each piece with the same passion and integrity which is crucial.

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

My favourite venue would have to be The Forge in Camden, north London, with whose owners I have had a close relationship with since they opened. I love the fact it’s run by musicians and is down the road from me as I am a north London girl now. I have launched both my duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins and my show ‘Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family’ there, and both have been happy occasions.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I love playing Helmet Lachenmann’s Solo cello piece Pression. I was fortunate enough to work with Helmut intensively  on the piece and was invited to perform it for his 75th birthday in the Konzerthaus, Berlin. He essentially made me grow new ears: he hears music in the most intense way and transcribes and describes what he wants so perfectly.

I always get a wonderful musical lift from playing Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances with my Quintet – Lizzie ball on violin, Pedro Segundo on drums, Bartek Glowacki on accordion and Dave Maric on piano. Every time we play it it’s slightly different. The tunes are so strong they keep going round my head for days after a show.

I tend to listen to music I don’t get a chance to play much – recently I’ve got obsessed with Ry Cooder after I returned from a trip to make an album in LA. Harry Shearer and a number of the artists featuring on the album are big fans and spent one evening playing me all their favourite songs. I’m also a big D’Angelo fan and recently saw him live for the first time at Hammersmith Apollo.

Who are your favourite musicians?

A very tough question as I’m meeting them all the time and I could list many. 

The musicians with who I am in groups with I have a huge amount of respect for: Genevieve Wilkins from G project, Judith Owen and her band, all my Urban Family collaborators, cellist Guy Johnston, Lizzie Ball-we share similar values and musical tastes and all stand out as people I like to work with and spend time with too. The two classical singers (although they do so much more!) I admire are Ruby Hughes and Lucy Schaufer. 

I became a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet over two years ago now and I would say without a doubt Gwilym is one of the greatest musicians I have worked with – the whole quintet actually (Thomas Gould, Yuri Goloubev and Martin France) are amazing and I always look forward to our concerts. 

Recently I have probably learnt the most from Leland Sklar, probably the most famous session bass player on the planet. When I have worked with him in sessions or gigs it’s pretty much been a masterclass every time.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

There have been so many it’s almost impossible to say but for very personal reasons I would say my Urban Family Concerts both at the Forge and at Wilderness Festival last summer. I am musician who has spent most of my career playing for different artists’ projects and groups so it felt incredible that so many colleagues wanted to support me at these events.  Also seeing classical musicians let their hair down at Wilderness Festival because I brought them there to make music was one of those life-affirming moments!

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

Follow your own path – don’t look over your shoulder as everyone’s journey both musically and in life is different.

There is work out there – you have to be inventive sometimes and even create your own work. The profession changes constantly so it’s wise to be diverse and say yes to everything when you start out, especially during this financial climate.

Obviously everyone is different but I would strongly advise anyone who went through both the music school and music college system like I did (17 years in one unbroken stretch) to take some time out to experience life and truly find out what YOU want to do. This is one thing I really wish I had done differently – even though in my case I would still have probably ended up being a musician. I only started really mixing with non-musicians when I went to antenatal classes!

The damage psychologically of being institutionalised is almost the hardest thing to overcome; I think it took me til 31 to really make the decision for myself to be a ‘cellist and then work on having the confidence and belief to go for it and enjoy it fully.

What is your most treasured possession?

Letters my father wrote to me before I was born. He died nearly 5 years ago and I miss him terribly. I was very lucky to be given a collection of letters he wrote to me as a 49-year-old, half a year before I was born. He told me what kind of person he was, his fears and the love he already felt for me. He didn’t want me to read them whilst he was alive so I was given them for my 30th birthday just after he died, but I could only bring myself to read them two years later when they then gave me so much strength: it was almost like he was speaking to me.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Apart from the obvious things like spending time with my kids and playing great music, it has to be boxing. I have always loved to box since I was a teenager but for the past year I’ve been training with a professional boxer, Tony Milch. It keeps me fit both physically and mentally and I love watching him in his matches – it’s a real buzz even if I can barely look! 

Gabriella Swallow has emerged as one of the most versatile and exciting cellists of her generation. She studied at The Royal College of Music with Jerome Pernoo. She was awarded the coveted Tagore Gold Medal and performed the Hugh Wood Cello Concerto in her final year. As a soloist Gabriella went on to make her South Bank debut with the London Sinfonietta in the world premiere of ‘About Water’ by Mark-Anthony Turnage. In the same year she performed Paul Max Edlin’s Cello Concerto with the South Bank Sinfonia, which firmly launched her place as a leading performer of contemporary music. This has led her to commission and work with many of the major living composers of today.

In 2013 she made her Wigmore Hall debut with the soprano Ruby Hughes and in the same season performed at the La Jolla SummerFest in San Diego, the Aldeburgh Festival with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group and the Cambridge Jazz Festival as a member of the Gwilym Simcock Quintet.

Gabriella is the string curator of Music Orbit’s string night ‘Strung Out’ and performs frequently at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club ‘Classical Kicks’ night curated by violinist Lizzie Ball and at Gabriel Prokofiev’s Nonclassical club nights.

As a recording artist she has recorded all the chamber music of Hugh Wood for Toccata Classics with the London Archduke Piano Trio, which was released to critical acclaim in 2009. 2012 saw the release of ‘Ivr d’amour’, a disc of Massenet Songs where she appeared with soprano Sally Silver and celebrated pianist Richard Bonynge for the Guild label and also soprano Lucy Shaufer’s debut disc ‘Carpentersville’ for ABC Classics where Gabriella features as soloist. This CD was launched with a concert at The Aldeburgh Festival 2013.

In 2010 she co founded the duo ‘G Project’ with percussionist Genevieve Wilkins. They made their debut with a sellout concert at The Forge in Camden and continue to perform regularly in the UK and Europe. Alongside her classical career she regularly crosses over in the fields of jazz and pop and is a sought after session musician appearing on many movie and television scores. She has recorded with many of the leading Jazz musicians on the UK scene including Ian Shaw, Barb Jungr, Liane Carroll, Guy Barker, Laurence Cottle, Pedro Segundo, Graeme Flowers, Jannette Mason and Claire Martin OBE. She has performed and recorded with Skunk Anansie, Sade, Dionne Warwick, Charlotte Church and has been a member of Judith Owen’s band since 2007. This year she continues her collaboration with Gwilym Simcock’s Quintet, whose members include the violinist Thomas Gould.

Gabriella is also a passionate broadcaster and arts commentator and has been a regular guest on BBC 4’s coverage of The Proms, Radio 3’s ‘In Tune’ and ‘Music Matters’. She has been a guest speaker at the Bath Literary Festival and ‘The Battle of Ideas’. 

Gabriella plays a cello by Charles Harris Senior built in 1820 and an electric cello by Starfish Designs.

gabriellaswallow.com

Meet the Artist…..Saira Clegg, saxophonist

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

I learnt to play the recorder from my best friend in the playground when I was 6 years old. We would practise together every break-time and I was instantly hooked on playing music. My parents gave me the choice between the clarinet or the viola; my mother having played the viola at a younger age and my uncle the clarinet. I started having lessons with the woodwind teacher at my school and it was there that I was introduced to the saxophone. I heard the sound through the door from the pupil before me and I went home and told my parents “that is the instrument for me”.

I started the saxophone aged 9 and a year later, I performed my first concerto with the local orchestra, the Ronald Binge Concerto for saxophone and orchestra. I wish I could hear a recording of it now!

I went to the Purcell School of Music and studied clarinet with David Fuest and saxophone with Simon Stewart. I then ended up completing my degree and masters in performance at the Akademie fuer Tonkunst in Germany, with a former member of the Rascher Saxophone Quartet: Frau Linda Bangs.

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

My parents were very supportive of my playing and would always take me to hear classical concerts, both orchestral and specifically saxophone. But, it wasn’t until I heard The Rascher Saxophone Quartet and had lessons from Bruce Weinberger that I really realised what the saxophone could do. The sound they create, the way in which the instruments blend together and the amazing virtuosity in which the players can perform, effortlessly; I wanted to play like that! That is really where I decided the direction and style of playing and decided to study with Frau Linda Bangs.

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

One of the hardest points in my career was the unfortunate sports injury which meant I had to have four operations on my hip, removing cartilage, cysts and bone. I continued playing, although it was and still can be painful to sit for long periods of time, sometimes sitting at all! My lecturers and teachers were very kind, letting me postpone exams until after surgery and letting me lie on the floor during lectures and rehearsals (mainly choir!) I really came to understand the importance of health: being healthy in your body but also in mind. I had the opportunity to spend time listening to other players, researching the saxophone and the history and feel that I am a more rounded player because of this.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

My final masters performance has to be one of my proudest moments. I played a programme which was 1hr 45mins long, including pieces for an 11-piece saxophone ensemble with percussion, a trio for xylophone, timpani and saxophone and also a piece for tenor saxophone and boombox. It was such a demanding programme, the adrenaline was racing and the audience were fantastic!

Which particular works do you think you play best? 

Even though people are surprised at the idea, I enjoy playing music from the baroque era the most. It dances and sings all by itself and is such a pleasure to play.

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

This all depends on the audience and venue I will be playing at. That’s a hard question to answer!

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

I haven’t found it yet, although my dream (since I was a child and saw the proms there) is to perform a solo saxophone concerto on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall. I am performing at the O2 next year which has to be the biggest venue for me yet.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

I enjoy performing all types of music, especially Baroque and rock n roll!

Who are your favourite musicians? 

The Rascher Saxophone Quartet were, and still are a huge influence and inspiration for me and I enjoy listening to their work very much. I also am a great fan of Maceo Parker, The London Community Gospel Choir and Anthony Strong.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

Towards the end of my time in Germany, I performed a baroque Sonata with myself and my colleague Sarah Wuensche on soprano and Frau Linda Bangs on the baritone. I still cannot believe I performed alongside the woman who inspired me and moulded me into the musician I am today. I still have the recording and it brings butterflies every time I watch it.

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

I think one of the most important things for any student, being old or young, is to have fun. Music is such a spiritual aspect of a potential fast-paced world and it can bring so much joy and happiness that if it isn’t fun to play, then maybe should be listened to. Passion enables dedication and practise, which in turn can create the most amazing and versatile of players on any instrument. Music is an important part of every life, whether it is being played or listened to.

What are you working on at the moment? 

At the moment I am the most recent member in a 1950s Rock n Roll band and I learning the repertoire by ear, listening to the original records. It’s a wonderful and lively genre of music and performing it in 50s attire is an exciting experience! The band is called The Wonderers and you can find them at www.thewonderers.co.uk !

I have recently founded a saxophone and cello duo, called SaxnCello and we are learning material ready for a series of concerts we have lined up next year. We are playing a wide range of music, from Mozart cello duets to tangos and even the theme tune from the Swedish Series ‘The Bridge’, which my husband has arranged for us.

It is an exciting time at the moment and I am enjoying be part of many different groups and genres.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My most treasured possession would have to be my soprano saxophone, a Buescher, curved gold saxophone from around the 1930s. I bought it from Frau Linda Bangs about half way through my studies and couldn’t give it back. Although it looks small and rusty the sound is sweet and round, producing a true saxophone sound that Aldophe Sax had intended.

Saira Clegg was born in July 1985 in London. She started the clarinet at the age of 8, and one year later started the saxophone. In 1997 she began studying both instruments with a scholarship under the Governments Music and Ballet Scheme at The Purcell School of Music. After leaving school she continued onto The Royal College of Music gaining a Foundation Scholarship for Clarinet and Saxophone. She then spent one and a half years studying with Bruce Weinberger in Switzerland, before restarting  and completing her Degree and Masters in Darmstadt, Germany with Linda Bangs-Urban.

At the age of 10, Saira performed her first solo saxophone concerto and one year later became the principal clarinettist of the English National Children’s Orchestra. Her last performance with the orchestra, at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (UK), was recorded for Classic FM radio. In 1999, she won the “Watford Twin Town” competition resulting in two solo recitals at the Rachmaninoff Festival in Novgorod, Russia. In 2001, Saira played the clarinet for Prince Charles at the UNESCO building, Paris. She won the “Three Rivers Young Musician” and “Watford Young Musician of the Year” in 2002. Saira has performed at Buckingham Palace, the Wigmore Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall and St. Johns Smith Square.

www.sairaclegg.com

 

 

Meet the Artist……Heather Bird, double bassist

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

I played the flute since I was about 6 and had no intention of playing the bass! When I was 13 or so, I had passed grade 8 flute and there wasn’t much else to do in Cumbria with the flute, so I was looking for a second instrument. There was an old bass in the corner of the music school at school so asked my school music teacher if I could borrow it. I got some lessons from Cumbria music service and that was it: I was completely hooked. I joined Cumbria Youth Orchestra, then Northern Junior Philharmonic playing incredible repertoire like Tchaik 4, Mahler 7 and realised that I’d fallen in love with the bass. I then was taken to hear a concert by Gary Karr in a church in Penrith when I was 14. I had never heard anything like it. I went backstage to meet him after the gig and he asked me to play him something on his Amati. That’s when I knew without a doubt I wanted to be a bass player.

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

Everything I do influences my musical life. Climbing mountains, meditation, reading a great book, cooking for friends, seeing an incredible piece of art – it’s impossible to separate out that from playing really.

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

Juggling parenting and playing is incredibly tough, particularly as a single parent. I taught as a peripatetic musical teacher full time for a few years and absolutely loved it. Now that my daughter Eden is older, it’s a joy to throw myself into full time playing again but I think it’s very hard for many musicians to balance their career and parenthood.

I found the elitism difficult when I first left Cumbria as we just saw the composers as normal people who had the ability to put what couldn’t be expressed in words into sound. So the posh thing was a bit tricky to deal with. But I’m working on that with my Classical Evolution gigs.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

Usually my last one – which was with Gabriella Swallow and her Urban Family at this year’s Wildnerness Festival. So much fun – playing with the genre, improvising, working with such fantastic musicians. I really enjoyed recording a piece by Ailis Ni Riain for the Delia Derbyshire tour last year called The Consequences of Falling for double bass and trumpet. It was inspired by a piece by Delia, who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and wrote the ‘Doctor Who’ theme. Really fantastic music, very challenging and I loved working on it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I love being in a big section playing the big stuff – Mahler, Shostakovich, Nielsen…… but over the last few years I’ve discovered an absolute passion for chamber music. Playing underplayed repertoire by people such as the woman composer Louise Farrenc – fellow bassist Leon Bosch introduced me to her beautiful quintets.

I also love working with composers on new works for the bass and have been incredibly lucky to work with some amazing composers such as James Stevenson, AIlis Ni Riain and am going to be working with Paul Abbott from September on some new pieces for bass, voice, extended vocal techniques. New music is incredibly important to me. I run Classical Evolution which brings chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations in a completely informal way, and I’ve commissioned 3 new works in that capacity too. The bass is fantastic for this as it allows such versatility.

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

The people that book me for orchestral gigs tend to do that! With my classical evolution gigs, I’m running 2 concert series in Manchester that are rather contrasting – one at a live music venue, Night and Day cafe where we’ll have improv nights where classical musicians who would like the chance to improvise can do it in the relative safety of the forms of tango, flamenco, baroque, and with a lovely friendly audience. More traditional repertoire that whatever me and my ensemble think will fit, and a new work each month. The other series is in the beautiful Portico Library in Manchester where I want to perform a more traditional repertoire but with some surprises thrown in every now and again but to work with authors to contextualise music in the frame of the great works that were written at the time.

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

Oh so many. From Matt and Phreds jazz club in Manchester to the Royal Albert Hall to a forest outside Liverpool where I commissioned and played in a piece for a children’s festival, to Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen…

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

All time favourite really has to be Mahler 2.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I’m lucky to have one of my best friends as one of my favourite musicians, and that’s the pianist Daniel Grimwood. Lots of other friends are just incredible and it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures to talk deeply about music and other facets of life with friends who’s musical talent you deeply admire.

I was brought up listening to Jaqueline du Pre, Pierre Fournier, Miles Davies, Carl Santana, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones (I had a big thing for Duran Duran when I was about 7). I love The Smiths, the Stone Roses. LTJ Bukem is a bit of a genius as is Bill Orbital. Recently living in Andalucia i discovered Paco de Lucia, Carlos Benavent, Javier Colina, Jorge Pardo…… far too many to mention and it changes pretty much daily!

What is your most memorable concert experience?

That is so difficult! Can I have a couple? The first time I really believed I could make a career was playing Nielsen 5 in Tivoli Gardens with Ole Schmidt. Truly extraordinary music and I loved every second.

Playing Schubert’s Trout at Classical Revolution’s first birthday concert in the Royal Exchange in Manchester with Martin Roscoe and Benedict Holland was pretty special too! 

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

Work hard and love what you do. Never stop learning, and be completely open to who you can learn from. It’s the best job in the world.

Tell us more about Classical Evolution

I got back from living in Spain and was appalled by the music cuts in education so did a little thing called Guerilla Orchestra, where we played Mission Impossible in a few cities at the same time – one of which was conducted by the lovely Peter Donohoe. This guy emailed me from the states telling me about Classical Revolution over there, where people were playing chamber music informally in coffee shops. So we decided to play Dvorak quintet in our jeans in Matt and Phreds. Luckily Ben Holland agreed to play, and it went from strength to strength. We ended up with 2 monthly slots, one fantastic Sunday afternoon monthly gig where we would have lots of kids running around, we were playing bigger works like Souvenir de Florence, Britten’s Les Illiuminations, then I commissioned some works and thought that the name Classical Evolution summed what we were doing much more succinctly. Since then I’ve been running courses with some of the best musicians in the industry with that same informal feel, home-cooked bread and soup, and we’re carrying on from there. I’ve now set it up as a Community Interest Company and we have collaborations with visual, written and theatre artists coming up, expanding into education projects for children as well as the usual gigs in our jeans in ridiculous places. I’ve been unbelievably fortunate to have this project supported as patrons by Martin Roscoe, Ben Holland, Alison Moncrieff-Kelly and Jamie Walton. I played with Elizabeth Ball who runs the fabulous Classical Kicks at Ronnie Scotts, so we have a few things up our sleeves too. It’s not taking music out of the concert hall, in fact quite the opposite. People who come to our gigs or see us playing have often never been to a concert but having seen us play in those informal settings are keen to know more and are then led to the concert hall. The idea and philosophy is basically in no way to dumb down, just to play this music, particularly chamber music, in the way it was originally intended with people having a bite to eat, glass of wine, and see it in the raw.

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

Doing exactly what I’m doing now – playing the bass and running Classical Evolution.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Being with my fantastic daughter up a mountain or in some ridiculous country somewhere. Or cooking at home for loads of friends. She’s a far better cook than I am!

What is your most treasured possession?

Boris (my bass)

What do you enjoy doing most?

Being a mother.

What is your present state of mind?

Excited about great projects in the pipeline, both playing and organising collaborations with sculptors, composers, musicians.. I’m a very lucky girl! 

Heather was born in Cumbria, and started playing the Flute aged 6, and the Double Bass aged 14. She played with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra and the Northern Junior Phil, before going on to the Royal Northern College of Music, studying the Double Bass with Duncan McTier.

Whilst at the RNCM, she played with the Symphony, String, Baorque, Chamber and Film Orchestras, Akanthos (the contemporary music ensemble), and kept a busy jazz schedule outside college.

After leaving the RNCM, Heather lived in Angola doing aid work, before moving to Cádiz, Spain for 3 years playing jazz, tango and teaching. She returned to the UK in 2010 to pursue an orchestral career.

As a Double Bassist she has worked with the RLPO, Sinfonia Verdi and the Milton Keynes City Orchestra, and well as numerous one-off dates.

Heather also runs Classical Evolution which was set up in 2011 to bring chamber and orchestral music to atypical locations with an informal feel to bring the music to new audiences. She has performed at the Spellbound Forest festival, for which she commissioned a new piece for children by James Stephenson. She also commissioned a new piece for the Just So Festival and organised a series of concerts for the Manchester Peace festival where she commissioned a further piece by the head of composition at Manchester University Richard Whalley and premiered it along with other new music in the live music venue Night and Day café.


Heather Bird
Director – Classical Evolution and Evolution Arts Centre
07456 528 166
 
For orchestral bookings please contact Morgensterns on 020 8681 0555 or visit www.morgensternsdiaryservice.com

Meet the Artist……Elspeth Wyllie

elspeth_wyllie-320x439Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and pursue a career in music?

I didn’t plan on becoming a pianist or a professional performer until studying with Raymond Fisher while at university; he gave me the technique and self-belief to give it a go. Before that, I got a huge buzz from being surrounded by other enthusiasts and immersed in music day in, day out at music school. I’d studied recorder and clarinet too, but gradually came to realise that the piano appealed the most – because of the wealth of repertoire and playing opportunities it offers. My family wasn’t particularly musical, but my mum could strum a guitar so we sang lots of songs when I was pretty small, and I loved listening to records.

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

Obviously my teachers – I’m very grateful for my time with Richard Beauchamp who is disarmingly modest, open-minded and curious. The quality and quantity of chamber music on offer at school has undoubtedly given me a passion for collaborative playing. I like to think I have a reasonably open-minded attitude and curiosity for all arts and music – growing up in Edinburgh with it’s annual festivals and inspiring live performances of music, dance, theatre and wealth of art exhibitions has helped that.

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

Staying focused and productive in personal practice, balancing commitments between different projects, being efficient with admin, and working out what’s next in a field that offers such huge flexibility for developing your career.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

The projects where there’s a shared attitude and natural understanding with the people I’m working with, or in new projects that involve an element of challenge or risk and stretch you further than you thought possible. Specific things I’m really proud of: solo performances of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and Elgar’s Enigma Variations, duo performances of Bowen’s Sonata for flute and piano with Claire Overbury, Amalie Trio’s school workshops about the drama and skills of chamber music, and my recent debut recording bringing together lots of colleagues, Enigmas.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Anywhere with a decent piano that’s not too cold, and an open-minded audience!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

To listen to: Barber’s Violin Concerto, Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet, Schubert’s three last piano sonatas, any of Brahms’ violin sonatas… Mind you, I don’t often listen to classical music in my downtime. I dance and sing along to bands like Snarky Puppy, the Divine Comedy, Count Basie and Stornoway, or listen to Cerys Matthews and Craig Charles on Radio 6 Music. To perform, I love finding compelling repertoire that’s less well-known: trios by Nicolai Kapustin and William Bolcom, an Azerbaijani suite by Fikret Amirov, songs by Bernard Stevens. I love it when the audience hasn’t heard of a piece or composer but enjoys the discovery. It’s way more interesting to me than being the 3000th person to play Beethoven’s Ghost Trio, however good the piece is!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Those who find endless expressive nuance without distorting the overall shape of the music, and who prioritise the music and avoid any on-stage presence of ego. I’ve been blown away by concerts and recordings by Adrian Brendel, Imogen Cooper, Stephen Hough, Kathryn Stott and Steven Osborne, and outside the classical world by the creativity of Stornoway and Chick Corea, and the skill of Courtney Pine and Joshua Redman.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Hmm. They’re often memorable for the wrong reason. Performing extremely badly but with total swagger aged 7, with two painfully-bandaged knees due to a pre-performance backyard incident! Nerve-wrackingly page-turning for Martha Argerich and Nelson Goerner in the Edinburgh Festival. Good ones: Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy (from memory, which is unusual for me), Enesco’s Violin Sonata no. 3 in my final recital at music college, the rapport with new colleagues in our very first performance together of Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio in C minor.

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

Play pieces you really believe in, and nothing beats being properly prepared.

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

Performing more frequently with my regular chamber music partners and doing more 1-1 coaching with adults – I enjoy accompanying and working with them to release potential musical expression and overcome frustrations. I also love working with choirs, so continuing to develop that alongside my performing work.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A productive days’ work, or being outside somewhere rural in good weather, or good food in relaxed company.

Elspeth Wyllie performs throughout the UK and abroad as a solo pianist, chamber musician and accompanist. She has appeared at the Purcell Room, Fairfield Halls, The Brunton, and on Classics Unwrapped for BBC Radio Scotland. She is a founder member of the Métier Ensemble (with flautist Claire Overbury and cellist Sophie Rivlin) and the Amalie Trio (with mezzo-soprano Catherine Backhouse and violist Alexa Beattie), performing regularly with them and in projects with other musicians from major ensembles, orchestras and opera companies.

In addition to chamber music, Elspeth rehearses and performs with choirs. Particular highlights have been a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and piano duo performances of Brahms Ein Deutsches Requiem and Liebeslieder Walzer. Her experience includes engagements with the BBC Symphony Chorus, the National Children’s Choir of Great Britain, and animateur Gareth Malone, as well as regular work with Clapham’s Festival Chorus and several other amateur choirs. Elspeth also teaches, coaches and accompanies, both privately and for workshops and courses. In the studio, she has recorded sessions at Abbey Road, AIR and Dean Street Studios, and for Novello publications.

Elspeth studied piano with Richard Beauchamp and Audrey Innes at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, and continued with Raymond Fischer while reading music at the University of Oxford. She completed her professional training with a PGDip from the Royal Academy of Music, London, studying piano and accompaniment with Andrew West and Colin Stone and winning many prizes, including the RAM Club Prize for Accompaniment, the Vivien Langrish Prize, Evelyn German Prize and J E Reckitt Award. She was supported during her studies by the Oldhurst Charitable Trust and was shortlisted for the 2011 Park Lane Group Award with duo partner Claire Overbury. She has enjoyed lessons and masterclasses with many wonderful musicians, including Julius Drake, Susan Tomes, Adrian Brendel and Tasmin Little.

‘Enigmas: solo piano and chamber works’ is released by Divine Art Records on 19 May 2017

www.elspethwyllie.co.uk