I always enjoy hearing the piano played well, and this morning I had the particular pleasure of hearing young people (aged c15-17) perform in a masterclass led by renowned pianist and teacher Andrew Ball. I was there at the invitation of Andrew Matthews-Owen who teaches at Trinity-Laban Conservatoire.

The Masterclass format offers a powerful tool for learning and teaching. For the performer, it is an opportunity to play for other people, including the teacher leading the class, in a more formal performance setting (in this instance, the beautiful Peacock Room at Trinity) and to have one’s playing critiqued by someone other than one’s regular teacher, which often leads to new insights and ideas about the music, how to shape it, communicate it and bring greater expression and imagination to one’s performance. For observers, it’s a chance to hear complete pieces in performance, and for a teacher, there is much to be gained in watching someone else teaching, and to share their wisdom.

Andrew Ball is a most sympathetic, kind and encouraging teacher. Where once the masterclass was an ordeal for the participants, putting their music before an opinionated master teacher, under the auspices of a generous, understanding teacher, the class becomes an exchange of ideas and a positive experience for all involved.

Six teenagers performed music by Chopin, Ravel, Prokofiev, Sculthorpe, McCabe and Burrell. The intention of this particular class was to reveal connections between 20th century and contemporary piano music and to demystify contemporary music, which is too often regarded as esoteric, inaccessible, atonal or “difficult” (for player and audience). The choice of music was impressive – the pieces selected by the young people themselves – and demonstrated a deliberate move away from the strict confines of exam repertoire. In fact, all these young people were playing advanced/post-Grade 8/Diploma level repertoire, and they all played with poise, quiet confidence, musicality and individuality. They were unselfconscious, with no hint of trying to imitate a particular professional performer, and they played without pretensions or affectation. Their naivety (and I use the word in the best possible sense) allowed them to approach their music with a freshness, free of any preconceptions, interpreting what was given to them on the page, and with Andrew’s gentle guidance, they were encouraged to project their personal musical imagination to the audience with colour and expression.

In addition to Andrew’s inspirational teaching, I was particularly impressed by the sophisticated choice of repertoire (see below for full list) by these young people and the care with which they had prepared their pieces.

Music performed:

Chopin – Nocturne Op 27/2

Ravel – Oiseaux Tristes from Miroirs

Prokofiev – Sonata No. 3

Sculthorpe – selection from Night Pieces

McCabe – Bagatelles 1 & 2

Burrell – Constellations 1 & 2

Junior Trinity