The Françoise-Green Duo at St John’s Smith Square, Thursday 31st March 2016


The five-concert residency at St John’s Smith Square by the Françoise-Green piano duo is exploring the music of Vienna’s musical landscape through its salon culture, from Mozart and Schubert to Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School. Vienna’s unique system of private and public patronage allowed composers such as Mozart to present their music to a select audience via the salon. For Schubert, who did not have the kind of patronage and support Mozart enjoyed, nor publishers eagerly clamouring for his music, performances within the privacy of his own circle of friends was the only way his audacious music found a truly receptive audience. This salon culture became even more pronounced at the turn of the twentieth century, when Schoenberg and his cohort broke away from the Vienna Tonkunstlerverein and built their own community for the performance of their music outside of the mainstream where much of their music was premiered through private performance societies. The Françoise-Green Duo pay a special hommage to this by performing new works which they have commissioned especially for their residency.

Music for piano duo is often, and mistakenly, regarded as “light” – music to be enjoyed at home amongst friends, and the enduring popularity of music for piano duo is testament to its appeal, variety and inventiveness. Both Mozart and Schubert wrote fine works for piano 4-hands, including the latter’s Fantasie in f minor, D940, arguably the most profound work ever written for this genre.

This particular concert, the third in the series, revealed the contrasting characters of Vienna, from the elegance and wit of Mozart through Schubert’s bittersweet Allegro in A minor ‘Lebenssturme’, D947, to the decadence and eroticism of fin de siecle Vienna of Alban Berg, reimagined by British composer Kenneth Hesketh in his Die letzten Augenblicken der Lulu, and the world premiere of ‘Fable’, a new work by Colin Alexander which was dedicated to the duo.

The Françoise-Green Duo are notable for their confident and convincing handling of contemporary repertoire – one has the sense of two musicians who actively relish the challenges, both technical and artistic, that this music presents – yet their opening piece, the Sonata in F K497, written at the end of Mozart’s life, proved them at home in more traditionally “classical” repertoire. In this sonata, the two pianists are equal players, sparking off one another, and creating witty dialogues interspersed with rich orchestral textures. In the softer dynamic range, the pianists brought a tenderness which immediately shrank the large space of St John’s Smith Square to an intimate salon.

Kenneth Hesketh’s work is both a redaction of Berg’s ‘Lulu Suite’ focusing on the main material in the suite, but also providing a flashback of Lulu’s life in the immediate moments before her death. Soprano Sarah Gabriel’s performance in this work was dramatic and vulnerable, and the combination of spoken word and vocal line, culminating in a full-throated scream signifying Lulu’s death at the hand of Jack the Ripper, was searing. The piano part created an unsettling undercurrent, increasing in urgency towards the tragic denouement.
After the interval came the world premiere of Colin Alexander’s ‘Fable’, a work which fully utilised the fine acoustic of St John’s Smith Square, the resonance of the Steinway D, and the duo’s technical assuredness. At times, the sounds emanating from the piano recalled bells, bassoons, horns and chanting, which built in intensity to create a hypnotic whole. It put me in mind of Somei Satoh’s mesmeric Incarnation II, which uses the resonance of the piano to similar effect.
It’s all too easy to ascribe a certain mindset or state of health to Schubert’s music: his illness, syphilis, and its disturbing and debilitating treatment and side effects are well-documented. Whatever the composer’s mental state in the final year of his life, there is no doubt that this was a period of fervent, boundary-breaking creativity. The ‘Lebenssturme’ (Life’s Storm – a title assigned by the publisher after Schubert’s death) opens with a dramatic motif of forte (check) chords which gives way to an ethereal second subject, which Antoine Françoise seemed to float across the upper register of the piano. It’s a substantial work whose structure hints that Schubert might have had something longer in mind and which demonstrates fully the breadth and daring of his creativity in the year of his life. 

For an encore, the duo played the opening movement of Mozart’s Sonata in C major, K19d (dropped from the original programme better to accommodate the new works) Written when the composer was still a boy, yet already bright with promise, witty, colourful, and elegantly turned by Robin Green and Antoine Françoise.

‘The Viennese Salon’ continues at St John’s Smith Square on 7 April with a rare opportunity to hear Mahler’s Symphony No. 6 arranged for piano four-hands by Alexander von Zemlinsky together with works by Mozart and the world premiere of a new piece by Alissa Firsova. Further information here



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

As a kid, my parents asked if I wanted to play an instrument. I loved the saxophone but teachers said I was too small for it so I turned to the piano instead. I was six and I loved it. At the age of 13, I eventually took saxophone lessons and have enjoyed playing it since but piano always stayed my main instrument. It was definitely chamber music experiences that made me decide to become a professional. The idea of sharing the music not only with an audience but also with other performers on stage was the most beautiful thing I could imagine.

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

I’ll never forget as a kid listening to Murray Perahia playing Schubert on Sunday afternoons with my mother while eating chocolate, I realised then the power and beauty of classical music. I can easily say that the most important influences were the people I played with and still now every new musician I meet and perform with has an influence on me. I love discovering and sharing new ideas about music that will eventually change my own playing. From my very early chamber music experiences to my two groups formed as a student (Mercury Quartet and FranÇoise-Green piano duo) up until my current ensembles (NEC, Contrechamps, Nikel), every single person in those groups have challenged my playing and made me a better musician. And of course my teachers Paul Coker and Yonty Solomon that shared with me their knowledge and their passion for music. I also reserve a special place for the hungarian teacher and pianist Denes Varjon who opened a completely new world of understanding music for me.

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

Hard to say, I’d like to think that every project is a challenge, and the ones that aren’t, I try to forget about them quite quickly. I love challenges so they become a pleasure. My most intense and draining experience may have been to embark on the complete performance of Beethoven’s symphonies for piano four hands with Robin Green, 5 concerts in 3 weeks, never have I worked that hard in my life. I also played recently ‘Opus Contra Naturam’ by Brian Ferneyhough, if you don’t know his music, people label him as a ‘new complexity’ composer, just have a look at his scores and you’ll understand the word challenge. Six months of six hours a day on one 15min long piece. It was so worth it though.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

Probably the Ferneyhough mentioned above, it was such a huge amount of work that I really became one with the piece. But I tend to love performances as they happen and the moment it is finished, I simply cannot wait for the next one, I don’t really like to think that one was better than the other, I simply hope that the next one will be even better.

Haven’t recorded many CDs but very proud of Mercury Acoustic, a free improvisation album with the Mercury Quartet, there was something very special in the studio and the quality of recording is unique. I also believe that the Bach, Schubert and Kurtag CD with the Françoise-Green piano duo (release planned for 2016) could be very special. We recorded music that was so dear to us and I hope people will hear this on the album.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Since a teenager, I have always loved performing new music, I feel like I understand the language of contemporary music and I love learning new pieces, especially if written for me or my groups. There are certain pieces that I have performed so many times like Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time or Schubert’s Fantasie in f minor that I know I can perform under any circumstances.

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

I play with many new music groups that have an artistic director and decide the repertoire for me, like an orchestra, but the difference with an orchestra is that the repertoire is always new. It is so exciting, sometimes, I may not like certain choices as much as others but it’s the risk to take when we want to discover new things, and I definitely stick to that choice. If I discover a piece or a composer and fall in love with it, then I simply do everything in my power to programme it, and if there is nothing written for piano solo or my ensembles, then I commission.

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

Hard to say, it depends on the repertoire and the context. An audience can easily make a venue good or bad, and of course a great piano will change my perception of it. Yet I remember amazing gigs on bad piano just because the atmosphere and the audience was incredible.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I have always had a special place for Luigi Nono’s …sofferte onde serene…, it is a piece for piano and electronics and the electronic part is made of recordings Nono did with Maurizio Pollini. There is so much poetry in this piece and you can really feel the connection and friendship between the composer and the pianist. When you perform it, it may look as if you are alone on stage but it is really a duo with the sound technician. Even though the electronic part is completely fixed, every performance feels so different. A masterwork.

Who are your favourite musicians?

All the people I have mentioned in the previous questions, all the people that forced me to think about music and be a better musician. Some are performers, some composers. I always have huge admiration for people that really brought a brand new way of understanding music, Glenn Gould is one of them. Not only his playing but his thinking and his entire body of work.

Recently I have found those kind of artists more in the pop/electronica world. There are so many geniuses that are breaking new barriers and changing the pre-conceptions of music, that’s what I love.

And of course also all the great story tellers, we should all learn from singers that could take the stage and tell you the most incredible stories. Belgium singer Jacques Brel for example is a real hero.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

As much as I love concerts and sharing music with audiences, I think my most memorable moments are often in rehearsals, when there isn’t so much pressure and you feel very free. I will never forget being in tears at the end of a play through of Beethoven 9th symphony with the piano duo, I had just realised for the first time how incredible this music was and simply couldn’t stop crying.

There are always wonderful moments shared with composers when a brand new piece finally comes to life for the first time, when you realise you’ve just created something together, those are my favourite moments.

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

Discover new things, always question yourself and learn from everyone around you. And never forget to tell stories. As a classical music interpreter, it can sometimes be a strange feeling to perform someone else’s music, so you have to feel like it’s your own story that you share with the audience.

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

Somewhere new

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness would be boring, happiness is about the journey towards something better. If it is perfect, where do you go?

What do you enjoy doing most?

Discovering new places

What is your present state of mind?

Tired – it was actually tough to answer all those questions…

Antoine Françoise is one half of the Françoise-Green Duo, who begin a residency at St John’s Smith Square, London on 21st January with the first in a series of concerts entitled The Viennese Salon.

After studying in Switzerland and United Kingdom with professors Paul Coker, Yonty Solomon, Andrew Ball, Ashley Wass (piano), Laurent Estoppey (saxophone) and Michael Oliva (composition), Antoine Françoise performs nowadays in Europe and further as a soloist, chamber musician, with ensembles and orchestras. At the term of his studies at the Royal College of Music in London, he was awarded the prestigious Tagore Gold Medal, for his outstanding talent and dedication to music. Antoine now is a professor of piano (contemporary specialism) at the RCM.

Fascinated by the chamber music of the 20th and 21st centuries, as well as all new expressions of modern music, Antoine is founding member of the Mercury Quartet and the Francoise-Green piano duo, 2011 winners of Concours Nicati (Switzerland). He is also principal pianist of Nouvel Ensemble Contemporain (NEC, Switzerland) and London Contemporary Orchestra. He also played with the London Sinfonietta, Ensemble Contrechamps, Philharmonia Orchestra and the London Philarmonic Orchestra. He played with conductors such as Diego Masson, Pierre-Alain Monot, Nicholas Collon or Vladimir Jurowski.

Antoine worked closely with composers such as Julian Anderson, Rebecca Saunders, Hans-Peter Kyburz (giving the uk premiere of his concerto) and Eric Gaudibert (who dedicated his last concerto GONG to him).

In the classical field, he has performed widely in Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom, including concerti by Grieg, Hindemith or Poulenc and is hugely in demand as an orchestral pianist and chamber musician.

Meet the Artist…..Robin Green


Prize Winners at the Royal Overseas League competition and the Schubert International Duo Competition, the Françoise-Green piano duo presents The Viennese Salon – an exciting five-concert residency at London’s St John’s Smith Square dedicated to Vienna’s musical landscape, from the intimate salons of the late 18th century to the private society concerts of the 1900’s.

The duo will perform the complete Mozart piano sonatas for piano duet, a selection of four hands masterworks by Schubert, together with arrangements of the key orchestral pieces of the Second Viennese School: Schoenberg’s two Chamber Symphonies, the orchestral interludes from Berg’s Wozzeck, a new arrangement of the Lulu Suite, as well as Zemlinsky’s epic arrangement of Mahler’s sixth symphony.

To complete this residency, each concert will feature a new addition to the repertoire by young composers Vlad Maistorovici, Christian Elliott, Colin Alexander, Christian Mason and Alissa Firsova.

Full details of the concert series here

Meet the Artist….Robin Green (interview)