The only magazine dedicated to contemporary classical music culture in the UK and Ireland
Celebrating and showcasing performers and composers

 

I’m really excited about this project, a new magazine focusing exclusively on contemporary classical music

We have a vibrant culture of contemporary classical music here in the UK and Ireland – full of committed performers, composers and supporters – and it would be great to see contemporary classical music understood and enjoyed more widely alongside its sister arts. Sounds Like Now will be a focal point and a cultural hub where people can:

  • Get to know the performers – what they’re doing, how they approach and what they think about the music and culture
  • Get to know the composers, established and new – what makes them tick?
  • Get to know the music, from those who know and love it
  • Find out what’s being performed, where and when
  • Find new repertoire including the latest publisher releases and selections by expert musicians
  • Find new recordings and get help discovering what’s already out there

If you’re a performer, composer, producer or promoter of new music, then Sounds Like Now will be there to share and celebrate your work. It will include;

  • Profiles of key performers and composers
  • Essays and reports from artists and commentators
  • Guides to key ideas and current trends in contemporary music
  • Interviews
  • Concert reviews and previews
  • Recording reviews
  • New music releases from publishers
  • Thorough UK-& Ireland-wide event listings
  • Q & A with contemporary music lovers outside the sector

Sounds Like Now will be an outward-looking publication which encourages more musicians and listeners to venture into the wonderfully rich and rewarding world of contemporary music.

Sounds Like Now will be a bi-monthly print and digital publication, available by subscription.

So whether you’re a seasoned new-music-head or wanting to venture in and could do with a guide, Sounds Like Now is for you!  Visit the Sounds Like Now crowdfunding page to find out how you can be part of this exciting new project.

www.soundslikenow.net

 

 

ian

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

My parents bought a piano, at first just as a piece furniture, when I was aged 6, and (so I am told!) I asked them ‘When am I going to have lessons?’ They said ‘Oh, hadn’t thought about that’, but I went to lessons with the local piano teacher (in Hartlepool), Christopher Simmonds, who was great in many ways. Within a year he could see that I had the potential to go places, and I went to Chetham’s when I was 10.

But I got inspired to really go with it mostly through taking music out of my local library and bashing through it at the piano, as well as listening to lots of recordings. I bashed my way through the whole of the Ring cycle, and lots of other operas, and got absolutely hooked. And then at around age 10, I first heard music of Stockhausen, Cage and Messiaen, and was instantly transfixed (I also read the Richard Kostelanetz volume on Cage which was available then, in the late 1970s). I just found a world of the untethered imagination there which was unlike anything else I knew in life. I was equally interested in composing in those days, too. Nowadays, composing is very occasional, but I do have plans to do more at some point when time permits!

I was very inspired by listening to a few pianists at an early stage – Brendel, Barenboim (I still love Brendel in particular); later on I got to know a much wider range, and was transfixed by Horowitz, Cziffra, Rosenthal, Hofmann, Gieseking and various others. But listening to recordings of Furtwängler and Karajan conducting Beethoven, Wagner, Musorgsky, Strauss, and so on, was every bit as important.

I think I just naturally took to the piano as an instrument – I could do a lot on it without it being too difficult at an early stage, though it was later that I really refined all sorts of technical things.

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

Too many to mention! I would like to try and honestly say something about how humanistic and socialist values are the most important influences, right down to how I play music, but that might sound very loaded. In some sense which is very very important to me, I want as a musician to somehow expand, even if only a small amount, the range of experience, consciousness, thoughts, desires, feelings, ideas, available in the cultural realm, to as many people as possible. This is of course a huge ambition, only ever likely to be achievable with a relatively small few, but that is still valuable. I play, and play in what some would say is a relatively uncompromising manner, because I believe in humans, believe in listeners, believe in their potential. I despise elitism for its own sake, but equally despise dumbing-down, and those who claim to be on the left who think culture should be reduced to a lowest common denominator in the name of some pseudo-egalitarian notion of ‘accessibility’. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever why a relatively average human being (if such a person exists!) could not engage with music of Lachenmann, or Ferneyhough, or Nono, or Finnissy – or late Bach, late Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy, Schoenberg, Ornette Coleman, or whoever – if they are open-minded and prepared to put a bit of effort in. I came to all this stuff for that reason – it certainly was not instilled in me through canonical education or anything like that. The same is true of the most advanced literature, film, theatre, painting or other artistic medium.

I am an academic and university lecturer as well as a pianist, teaching a range of musical areas, not just performance-related. I cannot express how rewarding it is to me when I read essays from students, many of whom have only had a relatively limited exposure to music and ideas thereof upon coming up to university, writing intelligent and incisive essays on musical subjects. I can be uncompromising as a teacher as well – I do not wish to provide pre-digested ideas to be parroted unthinkingly, nor to preach some credo in order to gain followers. There are unfortunately plenty in higher education today who primarily look to students for self-validation, rather than looking to bring out creative and critical thinking in students themselves and listen to what they have to say; and towards that former end some teach via spoon-feeding in a way that to which some will respond positively. I just want to expose students to a range of music and ideas that they might not otherwise have encountered (and, alas, in many cases still will not even after a university education), and let them arrive at their own conclusions, even if they are radically different to my own. And in some ways I feel the same way about giving a performance – I do not really feel any need or desire to win listeners round to my own perspective, I just offer it up for them to arrive at their own perspective.

To answer this question more directly, perhaps unsurprisingly I would say that the most important influence on my playing was my main piano teacher, György Sándor, with whom I studied in NYC in the early 1990s. I discovered his book On Piano Playing: Motion, Sound and Expression when I was about 18, and it completely transformed everything about how I play, at least in a physical sense. I knew then that this was who I wanted to study with, where I would find what I had not found with previous teachers. I had no teacher for the next four years as I prepared above all to study with Sándor, and I was not disappointed at all. He was also a tremendously generous, warm, human being, entirely void of any type of affected grandeur, preciousness, or anything like that. We disagreed violently about various things – he had no time for any atonal music, or much after Bartók, and also little time for historically-informed approaches to performance. I did and do disagree with him strongly on both those things, but still admired the coherence of his positions. As a teacher myself, I teach in a way based upon his pianistic methods, which I continue to believe are move valuable than any other systematic approach. Having spent a lot of time (not least in a scholarly context) studying other schools of playing, I see many of their limitations; some Russian schools preclude a pointed attack and to my mind rather restrict the range of articulations as a result, whilst some French schools (not all!) make a true legato impossible.

I could name any number of composers whose work has been an influence in one way or another, but that probably goes without saying; amongst performers, all of those mentioned above, and then very different ones including David Tudor, Frederic Rzewski, Andreas Staier, all sorts of singers, string players, conductors, and others, some pop and jazz musicians, lots of writers, film-makers, and so on. Overall – perhaps as a natural extrovert in some ways – I feel a natural empathy with all types of artists who I seem able to externalise somehow, and in whose work I find a type of honesty (a much maligned category, but which I continue to find meaningful – perhaps I might put it better by saying a quality of vulnerability?) rather than cynical calculation or preciousness. For those reasons I love the playing of Gieseking, or Charles Rosen, say, but have much less time for that of Alfred Cortot or Edwin Fischer or Samuel Feinberg.

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

There have been many. I like to think I am something of an idealist, though my ideals have changed or at least been modified over time (I’m 48 now, and think quite differently to how I did 20 years ago, say, though the underlying motivations are similar). I’ve always felt somewhat estranged from what I perceive as the rather precious and snobbish culture which surrounds classical music, and have sought approaches other from those which satisfy that culture’s concomitant expectations, but without this entailing musical compromise.

That has taken many forms, some of them hard-line to the point of belligerence, and sometimes led to some resistance. In some cases, deliberately avoiding a particular approach was interpreted by some as a simple inability to do it, which I don’t think was true, and I could get disappointed by this. I wouldn’t deny that I’m sensitive to criticism, though inwardly some of my own criticism can be as harsh – though not necessarily of the same nature – as that of anyone. Not that I expect everyone to like all I do (I don’t like everything I’ve ever done), by any means, but at least realise that this is a conscious choice rather than knowing no better. Towards the end of the 1990s, I moved towards more of an ‘anti-romantic’ position, with implications in terms of general approaches to articulation, voicing, pedalling, and so on (though with flexibility), at the same time becoming more deeply interested in historically-informed performance; in the mid-2000s I wanted to relax this more and more. Coming to terms with how one used to play, when things have changed, is not easy – and maybe my approach will change again?

Feeling truly at ease with concertising – at least as much as one can do (nerves never completely go away for me at least) – is not something I think I achieved regularly until the late 1990s, a little bit into my performing career. I made a lot of very significant technical adjustments when working with Sándor, and just sometimes, when very tense, I  found I might revert inadvertently to some of the bad old ways. In time, I came to see how this might come about, and which preventive steps to take in advance of a concert.

Overall, dealing with the internal politics of the profession, and some of the poison therein which exists, is very hard and wearing. The depths to which some people will sink shocks and upset me – for example when I heard one composer invent a story about another one’s father beating him up (definitively not true – that latter composer would have told me long before he told the other person) in order to portray him as mentally unstable. Certainly in the end the music we produce matters more than the musicians, but musicians are human beings, and it is far too easy to lose sight of this in the name of some elevated aesthetic ideals. Ultimately human interests do matter more than art.

In terms of academic music, I’m in many ways quite at odds with the dominant ideologies and approaches in a sizeable part of the Anglo-American world (perhaps less so with other schools from elsewhere). There is a good deal of musicology (though by no means all) which distrusts music and especially its particular quality of ambiguity, wanting instead to pin it down to firm, fixed meanings, or investigate anything except for the actual sounding music. And at the same time there is the strong presence of a market-based ideology, especially in the so-called ‘new musicology’, which is utterly dismissive of the idea that there could be any music with some degree of autonomy from commercialism, or that there could be any value in such a thing. As such, many academic musicians have put up little resistance to a lot of dumbing-down of wider education, not to mention cuts to public funding of classical music. Some will happily consign a good deal of Western art music to the dustbin when it seems fashionable to do so, and in the process deny a lot of students help with grappling with a repertoire which those academics themselves could take for granted (you can read more of my thoughts on some these subjects on pp. 28-29 of the following – http://www.sma.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SMA_newsletter_2015.pdf ). In quite a bit of musicology, I see a bit of a cynical jostling for position, which privileges whatever are the ‘right’ conclusions in order to win favour with particular factions, as well as what are often quite simple arguments bathed jargon in order to impress. My models for academic writing (not ones I remotely think I could match!) are the likes of Charles Rosen, or Richard J. Evans – extremely clear and intelligent writers who convey complex ideas but have an ability to communicate to a wider public. At the same time, I do not accept what a ‘reductive’ view of music in terms of its social context; no music or other culture can probably be entirely autonomous of such a thing, but still, most fundamentally, I believe in the importance of culture which does more than simply reflect its conditions, but can reflect back critically upon them, in various ways, not least by offering up the possibility of other types of experience than those otherwise provided by its context. To deny that is really to deny creativity, I would say. This is an unfashionable view in academia today, but one which is vividly apparent to me coming first and foremost from the world of musical practice.

To make a more general point, one about which my thoughts have been influenced by regular conversations with many other academics in many institutions: I would say the corporate structures of much contemporary academia, and the ways in which power is distributed and exercise, can work against academic freedom and the possibilities for critical thinking. The very principles of independent rational and critical thought can be strongly at cross-purposes with hierarchical organisations which reward conformity and compliance. Some are unbothered by this, so long as they can derive personal gain and advancement. With this can come bullying, though attempts to ostracise scapegoat anyone who doesn’t go with the flow. I have seen, heard about, and experienced this sort of thing.

But nothing is more of a challenge than coming to terms with the extent of abuse, mistreatment and bullying in music education and the wider musical world. In early 2013, the former Director of Music at my old school, Chetham’s, was found guilty of sexually abusing a pupil, Frances Andrade, from when she was 14; she tragically took her own life during the trial. I and others knew that this was far from the only case at Chetham’s – in particular the atrocious way in which the case of Chris Ling (a serial abuser at the school, who fled the country (at first together with six girls from the school) to avoid prosecution, and who shot himself when facing extradition last year) had been hushed up.

Why did I get involved with all of this? I think that, as a musician and an educator, I have felt for a very long time (perhaps in part as a response to the toxic culture which existed in my time at Chetham’s) that there can be a hideous conflation of supposedly artistic, aestheticized values, and a culture of dehumanisation and brutalisation. I don’t want to exaggerate this parallel, but I was influenced by some of my academic research into aesthetics and fascism, seeing how a fundamentally aesthetic view of humankind can lead to an easy way to utterly dehumanise those who do not fit that aesthetic vision (see for example Frederic Spotts’ work on this subject). A lot started to make sense to me more clearly than ever, and my belief in the vital importance of working for a music world in which despicable behaviour was not excused by the veneer of artistry became hardened. Michael Brewer epitomised everything that was wrong, something I saw but maybe did not fully comprehend when at school.

Anyhow, after the verdict, I hosted on my blog (http://ianpace.wordpress.com ) a petition calling for a public inquiry into abuse in musical education in general (all types of abuse – sexual, physical, psychological). Within a couple of weeks, I had got thousands of signatures from the musical profession, including many former pupils from the five specialist music schools. But with this, a great many people wrote to me with testimony of their own awful experiences, glad that at last there was a climate where people might be prepared to believe this had happened. As a result of this, I had inadvertently become an expert on the subject, and there was no turning back (this was not information I could easily turn over to anyone else). I submitted the petition to the appropriate authorities, but didn’t get much positive response. I came to realise that if I was to be taken seriously on this subject, I needed to know more about the wider issues of abuse (which to politicians and others seemed more significant), especially if abuse in music might be connected to these. This led me to the case of Alan Doggett (a conductor associated with Lloyd Webber and Rice, based at Colet Court School and then elsewhere), and to the organisation PIE (I don’t want to go into detail on this now – you can look on my blog for more). It took over a significant part of my life for an extended period – I have pulled back a little now, but am still active, and have compiled many documents on the basis of my research.

You cannot imagine how upsetting and frightening this can become – I had heard people say so, but never really had the measure of it until I actually felt it first-hand. The personal toll this has taken has been immense, both in terms of state of mind, relationship, and many other things, and it has coincided with other difficulties (including some other academics exploiting the situation to try and undermine my work in general). It is also impossible to avoid getting caught up in the wider politics of this, which is complicated by the fact that there are clearly some involved with other agendas, some far from benign, and also simply the fact that there are inevitably some very damaged people there. This has been the biggest challenge of my life. But I don’t regret doing it at all.

Some might want to use this issue to undermine classical music in general. In no sense is that my agenda – I care about that music very deeply, but want to see it practised and taught in a more humane environment. This should not be impossible.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?  

Performances: mostly I go away from them thinking of the things I was least happy with, but as time goes on I come to think a bit more positively. Not through listening to recordings (I rarely record live concerts from choice – live performance and recording are to me fundamentally differently mediums, as much so as theatre and film), but just having time to reflect and digest. I recall being quite pleased with a concert in Leeds in 2010 where I played Finnissy’s English Country-Tunes, probably the best I have played it. I also greatly enjoyed a concert the previous year as part of my leaving event at Dartington College of Arts, where I used to teach. This included the Fauré Nocturne No. 4, Janáček In the Mists, and Stravinsky Three Movements from Petrouchka and Rebecca Saunders’ Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall. There was a performance of Stockhausen Klavierstück X I gave at City University in 2014 which I think was not bad at all. What else? Radulescu’s Third Sonata in Leuven in 2007, in an extra concert after the main one (where I had given the premiere of the Sixth Sonata). And a performance of Feldman’s For Bunita Marcus right back in 1997, within the context of a series of the music of Howard Skempton. And any number of performances of Christopher Fox’s More Light, which I adore. Also a performance of Lachenmann’s Serynade in Aberdeen last autumn. And a concert in the Festival d’automne in Paris in 2002 where I played all of the Dusapin Études (the premiere of the complete set) and Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations. One concert in my home town of Hartlepool in 2014, with Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky, Janáček, and Earl Wild’s Fantasy on Themes from Porgy and Bess. These are a handful of those about which I feel reasonably happy.

Recordings: harder to say, because soon after they are released, I stop listening to them. When you have dissected them in the process of preparation, you know all the things which didn’t quite turn out how you wanted them too, and those become more difficult to handle with every listening. My recording of Dusapin’s Études and piano concerto À Quia is not bad, also that of Walter Zimmermann’s piano works, at least some of them. And I’m not unhappy with my biggest recording project to date, that of Finnissy’s The History of Photography in Sound, a 5-CD set.

Which particular works do you think you perform best? 

I’m less and less convinced about how well a good deal of repertoire from before around the mid-19th century works on a modern piano, so can’t imagine that I play much of that particularly well now. Best? Some Liszt, Brahms, some Debussy and Ravel, Bartók, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Stockhausen, Cage, Feldman, Ligeti, Xenakis, Lachenmann, Kagel, Rzewski, Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Sciarrino, Radulescu, Dusapin, Fox.

Chopin I adore (and above all I see as a contrapuntal composer), but I’m never really convinced that I can do what I want to on a modern instrument. The same is true of Schumann (all that thick passagework in the central registers is one reason his music is mistakenly assumed to be somewhat muddy). Scriabin I continue to try to negotiate (I find its exaggerated qualities can lead to banality, and have too much of an ironic sensibility to take all that mysticism and affected sensuousness at face value) with mixed results. Schoenberg is hard to bring off.

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

In many cases, depending upon what I get asked to play! But I like to expand what I do, as well as playing some of my well-ingrained repertoire. In the last few years I’ve been doing various new things – the transcriptions by Earl Wild of music of Rachmaninoff and Gershwin, the amazing Piano Sonata of Sergei Zagny, more recent work of Christopher Fox, whilst on my own looking more at composers like Florent Schmitt and Frederic Mompou. I want to play more lesser-known Slavic music of various types. This year I played the Dukas Sonata for the first piece, and have been documenting the process for an article on practice-as-research.

I hope at whatever age I will continue to champion the works of younger composers. In many ways that is the most important thing to do. Of course not everything is fantastic, but if these people do not get a proper hearing, we will never know which stuff is.

I love playing new work. I’ve just premiered an incredible new piece by Finnissy called Beethoven’s Robin Adair, and later on in the year I will be playing new works by Lauren Redhead and Patrícia Almeida. I cannot say how excited I am about this.

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

Various ones I have enjoyed: the main radio concert hall at Bayerischer Rundfunk, the Berliner Konzerthaus, the Warehouse in London. In general, venues without tiered seats sound best!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to? 

To perform: many things mentioned above! Above all Liszt, Debussy, Stockhausen, Lachenmann, Finnissy, Radulescu, Dusapin, I think.

To listen to: then things get much broader. I can listen to any amount of medieval music of whatever type, though some music of the Renaissance leaves me cold (but I like Josquin, Ockeghem, and then later Marenzio (very much) and Gesualdo). After that, much of what I listen to is from the nineteenth and twentieth (and twenty-first) centuries. I adore a great deal of opera (and teach a module on it). I also listen to a good deal of jazz of all periods, and have a real love for British jazz of the 1930s and 1940s – Henry Hall, Ambrose, and so on. A good deal of popular music – perhaps more British than American, though I go for 1940s and 1950s American music of many types, and then stuff of Hendrix, the Doors, and Zappa and Beefheart on one hand, and lots of Motown and Chicago funk on the other.

All sorts of music which I find somehow culturally significant, I suppose. My listening habits are extremely eclectic and catholic, but not undiscerning, I hope.

Who are your favourite musicians? 

Again – see the above! I also am drawn to many historically-informed performers and groups: Harnoncourt (especially), Goebel, Europa Galante, Il Giardino Armonico, Music Antiqua Köln, Frieburger Barockorchester the ORR and Gardiner, countless medieval vocal groups (but not so much those in the British traditions). I love the work of Ensemble Organum under Marcel Pérès, and also that of my university colleague Alex Lingas’s group Cappella Romana.

Some other pianists as well as those mentioned before: Josef Lhevinne, Ignaz Friedman, Egon Petri, Grigory Ginsburg, Earl Wild, Julius Katchen, Paul Jacobs, Jörg Demus, Aldo Ciccolini, Lazar Berman, Friedrich Gulda, Samson François, Kristian Zimerman, Dezsö Ránki, Marc-André Hamelin, Janusz Olejniczak, Bart van Oort.

Some other composers beyond those listed above who are favourites: Adam de la Halle, Guillaume de Machaut, John Dunstable, Guillaume Dufay, Marenzio, Monteverdi, both Scarlattis, Frescobaldi, Biber, Purcell, J.S. Bach, Rameau, Couperin, Charpentier, Vivaldi, Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, Chopin, Bellini, Donizetti, Liszt, Wagner, Verdi, Bizet, Musorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Fauré (cannot hear enough of his music), Albéniz, Ives, Debussy, Ravel (every work is worth hearing, many times), Puccini, Rachmaninoff, Schoenberg up until the early 1920s, and then from the late 1930s, Varèse, Bartók, Kodály, Percy Grainger, Pierre Boulez, Jean Barraqué, Dieter Schnebel, Luciano Berio, Luigi Nono, Sylvano Bussotti, Franco Evangelisti, Josef Anton Riedl, Hans Otte, Galina Ustvolskaya, Hans-Joachim Hespos, Ivo Malec, Nicolaus A. Huber, and lots of others.

What is your most memorable concert experience? 

The final concert in my 1996 series of Michael Finnissy – the high I felt after that was really something. Various occasions where I have stepped in at the last minute to play things. I can do this, and sometimes it generates such a level of adrenalin that the performance has something particularly special, even if it feels knife-edge! A few occasions where I really didn’t know if it was going to be possible: the world premiere of Brian Ferneyhough’s Opus Contra Naturam in Leuven in 2000 (finished just three days before the concert), or of Wieland Hoban’s when the panting STARTS four years later in the same place.

Playing with lots of singers, having the chance to play operatic repertoire I love so much.

It is difficult to answer this question, really.

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

Find a really good technical approach as early as possible – remember there is loads of quackery around. For pianists, if anyone tells you to play with your elbows locked into the body, or with a fixed wrist, find someone else instead.

Listen to all types of music, you can never listen to too much. And listen to many types of performers, and really listen – when you find something really striking, see if you can see how that is brought about. And don’t just listen to your own instrument, or even your own musical genre. For pianists, listen in particular to singers, but also to orchestras. Listen to music from outside of Western traditions. Look for music you would not encounter otherwise.

Try and have some experience of all of the following: keyboard, singing, percussion. All vital skills. Learn at least basic harmony and counterpoint as early as possible, and develop aural skills as best as possible. Get used to being able to listen intently and mentally analyse many musical and aural phenomena you encounter. Read more widely about music, music history, music theory, and lots of critical questions surrounding music.

Do lots of sight reading from an early age – that is how the skill is developed (spending time bashing through opera scores and the like when I was young helped immensely here). I can’t stress enough how important a skill this is, and how much one needs to be able to absorb music and get into a performable state in a short amount of time in a professional career, and with all the other pressures and demands of life.

If any teachers or others try to dismiss the music you care about, on grounds of its being allegedly elitist, Eurocentric, or whatsoever, remember they almost invariably have a chip on their shoulder about it for other reasons. Stand up for what you believe in against such people, even if they are your teachers.

Become more widely conversant with many arts – literature, poetry, theatre, film, painting, sculpture, architecture, etc. and ideas, and the world in general. Understand what you can about the cultural, social and historical context of the music you play, but try and understand the context in which you are playing it too. Look outwards as well as inwards. Embrace the world and people with all their imperfections. Remember how much you can always learn from others. Try and imagine yourself inside the mind of someone who shares few of the same core assumptions about music and culture as yourself. Then you will have a clearer idea of how you might be able to communicate with them.

Take on board two bits of advice I heard from different pianists: Peter Donohoe once said that when young and starting out, do whatever you can that is to do with music, it will all benefit. John Lill once said that a musician has to be very sensitive to the music they play, but very insensitive to all the crap they will put up with because of the politics of the profession. Both of these are very good pieces of advice.

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

Mostly doing the same type of thing, perhaps a bit more recognition, feeling a more supportive general environment in society as a whole (with a different complexion of government) for what I believe. Having issued more recordings and writings. Maybe composing some more. Commissioning lots more new works. Remaining in good health as I approach 60!

What is your idea of perfect happiness? 

Just spending time together with my wife Lindsay, in a nice place, such as in Italy.

What is your most treasured possession?

My piano and my books.

What do you enjoy doing most? 

Playing, reading, listening, eating and drinking well, cycling, teaching, and being with Lindsay. Seeing friends and people in general.

What is your present state of mind? 

Somewhat anxious, distrustful, ever-aware of how easily corruptible and awestruck by power so many people are. Concerned about the world is getting even more ruthless and inhuman all the time, and how fear is being stoked to breed prejudice. The US might elect Donald Trump President – that is terrifying, and speaks of a wider malaise in that society. Also concerned to see classical music and other forms of demanding artistic education get lost (or rather, become restricted to those privileged enough to have an elite education) in a mire of relativism and eschewal of value judgement. Preparing to go on strike tomorrow against real-terms cuts in pay for academics, casualization, and gender inequality. But still ultimately hopeful and optimistic, refusing to give in to complete cynicism.

I think I feel very internationalist in outlook. And as inspired as ever when encountering creativity. That’s why I remain an optimist, however jaded by experience.

I would like to mention another project I am involved in, crowd-funding to make a recording of the piano music of Marc Yeats. This is something I so want to make happen, and has less than two more weeks to run. Full details, and ways of supporting the project, can be found here – https://ianpace.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/my-recording-of-marc-yeats-piano-music-please-support-this-project/ . Please do help!

 

Ian Pace is a pianist of long-established reputation, specialising in the farthest reaches of musical modernism and transcendental virtuosity, as well as a writer and musicologist focusing on issues of performance, music and society and the avant-garde. He was born in Hartlepool, England in 1968, and studied at Chetham’s School of Music, The Queen’s College, Oxford and, as a Fulbright Scholar, at the Juilliard School in New York. His main teacher, and a major influence upon his work, was the Hungarian pianist György Sándor, a student of Bartók.

Ian Pace’s website

hesketh_coverThe latest release from pianist Clare Hammond is a disc for BIS Records of solo piano music by British composer Kenneth Hesketh –  Horae (pro clara) (2011/12), Notte Oscura (2002), Through Magic Casements (2008) and Three Japanese Miniatures (2002).

Horae (pro clara) was written for Clare Hammond following Kenneth Hesketh’s meeting with Clare at her debut recital at the Southbank Centre in 2010. They have subsequently developed a close artistic collaboration.

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Clare Hammond (photo: Julie Kim)
Clare says of Ken’s music that “it can seem overwhelming at times, yet if one engages with its textural intricacy, the scope of his extra-musical allusions, and volatile virtuosity, rich rewards lie in store”. Clare seems ideally suited to this type of repertoire. Her debut album, Piano Polytych, containing works by Kenneth Hesketh, Julian Anderson, Piers Hellawell, Giles Swayne and Philip Grange, revealed her to be a fine advocate for contemporary piano repertoire, combining flawless technique with a sharp intellect and musical sensitivity to bring such works to life with colour, vibrancy and rhythmic precision, and totally without the self-consciousness or affectation that sometimes accompanies performances of this type of repertoire.

Kenneth Hesketh’s musical language is drawn from a broad range of stimuli, including classical architecture, medieval iconography, poetry, Bauhaus constructivism and existentialism, and these extra-musical references bring texture, structure and a wide range of moods, tempi, colour and piquancy to his music. The works presented on this disc are complex, both technically and musically, with dense textures and abrupt voltes faces between the macabre and grotesque and the delicate and poignant. What Clare Hammond does so well is to bring a sparkling clarity to the tightly-packed textures without comprising her sensitive musicality and her ability to shift seamlessly between the myriad moods and styles of the pieces.

The first work on this disc, Through Magic Casements, takes its title from Keats’ Ode To A Nightingale and much of its soundworld seems to echo the imagery of the poem with its urgent febrile passages which fade to nothing at the end.

The work which occupies most of the disc, Horae (pro clara), was premiered by Clare Hammond at the Cheltenham Festival in July 2013, and consists of twelve miniatures which as a whole form a ‘breviary’ or book of hours. The movements are not titled; instead they have evocative performance directions and some incorporate literary references. Thematic material, such as Hesketh’s fascination with machines and automata, is shared across the set, thus linking the pieces, though they can be performed in any order. Some contain dense thickets of notes and melodic lines, abrupt and plangent bass interruptions, and vibrant rhythms (VII: Capriccioso), while others comprise spare shards and delicate scurrying traceries (VI: Nervoso, ma dolce, for example).

The third work Notte Oscura (2002) is a piano transcription of the first interlude in Hesketh’s opera The Overcoat, after Nikolai Gogol, and in it Hesketh highlights Gogol’s description of St Petersburg’s powerful and all-pervasive cold. The opening bass chords are perfectly judged by Clare Hammond, lending a sense of foreboding before the music moves into a more melodic passage, though the mood of menace and anxiety is never far away. Repeated tremolo notes high in the register suggest shards of ice, while the bass sonorities conjure up the vastness of the Russian landscape.

The suite Three Japanese Miniatures concludes the disc. The works are drawn from fragments and paraphrases of a larger work by Hesketh inspired by Japanese folk tales and each movement portrays a story, from a nocturnal wanderer who finds himself amid the imposing grandeur of a ruined temple to a winter sprite who takes revenge on a broken promise by taking the lives of a man and his children and finally the story of Bumbuku, a daemon who takes the form of a badger and lives in a tea kettle. The works are expressive, haunting and humorous, and, as in the previous works on this disc, Clare highlights their distinctive narratives with precise articulation and a vivid palette of musical colour.

Horae (pro clara) is released on 27 May on the BIS label. Further information and sound clips here

An interview with composer Kenneth Hesketh will appear in the Meet the Artist series on 2 June

Clare Hammond is the recent recipient of a Royal Philharmonic Society young artist award 


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

Chance circumstance! I grew up in a tiny cottage with parents and three siblings, but close to my tenth birthday my grandfather died suddenly and it was suggested that I should go to live with my grandmother in her large farmhouse. From there being no space suddenly there was a great deal! There were few luxuries, but there was a piano, and my grandmother also had a general interest in music. Somehow I think that these two influences got me started. Before I had ever seen an orchestral score I had “invented” it, and by the age of 14 I had written three schoolboy symphonies etc…

Until the age of 16 I attended a very ordinary ex-Secondary Modern school (metalwork, technical drawing, milking the cows and horticulture). I recall taking my Midnight Symphony (80 pages of full score) to the music master one day who practically fell off his chair. He was very supportive and the piece was even performed by local music teachers. But my second stroke of fortune happened when I was awarded a scholarship place to the adjacent independent school. There they fostered my (probably quite thin) talent and enthusiasm for composing, and I was encouraged to apply to read Music at Cambridge.

How does a simple country boy end up there?.. Or three years later taking a doctorate?… I still wonder….

Important though all those were, I really had little idea of what I was doing, even less a voice or much technique. The Professor at Cambridge (I will not cause embarrassment by naming him) honestly told me as much; though I resented it at the time, he was quite correct. A few years ago I helped to commission a work from him, and gently reminded him… – we were both able to laugh!

In fact not long after my doctorate, and despite a fair degree of apparent success, I decided to abandon writing altogether. I looked through the microscope to see nothing; I also increasingly came to despise the whole new music world. So I hibernated for twelve silent years…

In 2001 I was suddenly fired up to write again. My good friend Michael Bell, pianist, directly challenged me to write again – it was a necessary, if rude, awakening! One of his students showed precocious musical gift and somehow these two catalysts, both playing in front of me daily, conspired to open my eyes to what had lain dormant. The result was a sudden flowering – it was as if a voice arrived ready-formed – the pen moved itself. I had never felt such confident ease in writing. This flood has remained undiminished now for fourteen years.

Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?

I am sure we can all think of specific “moments” – little glimpses of another plane. From my humble background of course everything was eye-opening, but as a teenager I was especially struck by encountering Schubert’s Die Winterreise, the delicate transparency that opens Peter Grimes, Strauss’s 4 Last Songs, Boris Godunov and so forth.

But the greatest sculptors of my musical psyche are the works of Leoš Janáček and Gustav Mahler, both of whom, like the painter Edvard Munch, dared to “compose their lives”, “to live in their compositions”. They taught me that music is not about playing games with notes, or some kind of “progressive scientific research”, but about conveying that life force that drives us, warts and all. We are each individual pebbles on the seashore, and each make our own splash in the ocean.

There have also been personal encounters: Robin Holloway, my first teacher, showed that one could fly in the face of orthodoxy (and God knows there is far too much of that “Emperor’s New Clothes-ishness” in the contemporary music world – …and recently, too!). His 2nd Concerto for Orchestra and Scenes from Schumann are personal favourites.

I learnt most perhaps though from Michael Bell. I truly think, through working with him daily in a music department and on recordings, that I finally understood how to listen, especially to articulation. There is a huge debt…

Recently I have become close friends Ondrej Vrabec, solo horn of the Czech Phil, and their Assistant Conductor. He has taken my music to his heart and become my greatest champion, commissioning and playing my horn concerto, and conducting other works.

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

I could mention having had to juggle my composing with a full time teaching post for many years. But far more significant is “the glass ceiling”, and sad to say, especially the glass ceiling in this country. The greatest challenge for any composer is a lack of interest. We need to hear our work performed in order to grow, and we are also fragile things on whom constant rejection takes its toll.

My real sadness is that so many of the people with power have no genuine interest in music, no inquisitiveness, and often no ears! I have lost count of the “jobsworths” who cannot get rid of one fast enough because the preconceived box cannot be ticked – it would not even occur to them to listen simply out of curiosity. Had I Beethoven’s talent it would be just the same. That is the greatest frustration, not anything more intrinsically related to inner struggle or personal compositional development.

Who are your favourite composers?

First and foremost, Leoš Janáček! I have held his walking stick, his conducting baton and the autograph scores of the Sinfonietta and Glagolitic Mass – incredible! One always hears his music as if it were for the first time. I admire hugely his coherent, cohesive sound world, his passionate drive, clear ideas, cunning textures and sparkling colours – how can one not smile every time!? I always do! Most of all, however, his was an utterly personal language but one which never lost its roots, or its connections with the listener. Compare this to what one now sees so often: a manufactured (and all-too-familiarly) empty desire simply to break the mould, or merely to relay the baton of progressive Modernism “logically” from one’s teacher to one’s pupil. No, Janáček had real genius.

….And then.. all the “wrong” people for a 21st Century composer…. Mahler, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Prokofiev, Nielsen, Sibelius…

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Mahler 10, both as a young man and a few years ago at Symphony Hall, Birmingham with CBSO; and Jenufa at Opera North in 2015 – legs of jelly on both occasions!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?

As mentioned above, I am still at heart a simple country boy. The sheer magic of hearing one’s music played at all whether by an orchestra, ensemble, or musician, has never left me; particularly working with an orchestra, a beast so varied and “improbable” – a mysterious coalescence of so many musical minds! And one never, never stops learning!

What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?

Challenges?… Well – in short, a deadline! How many composers have missed those!? But also not having total freedom in the parameters of a piece. I will say, perversely, that I have been fortunate enough not to have been commissioned that frequently and thus have had the freedom to decide my own agenda and timescales. However, contrarily, sometimes an awkward restriction, or unforeseen stipulation can force a creatively productive exploration – perhaps my Storyteller is an example – a mini-concerto for double bass and ensemble..

Pleasures?…. The opportunity to work with specific performers who “share the investment”. That combined journey is truly special. Of course a guaranteed performance is always welcome, and the time spent with like minds, often in a nice location!

Of which works are you most proud?

This is hard. For me I only succeed when there is a feeling of communion with the listener; of conveying some powerful idea successfully – and if I am shaken up by hearing it, myself! If I may slightly sidestep this question, I feel that perhaps my most significant work is the ongoing Steps piano series, which is an unusual and wide reaching project. This format, five large cycles comprised of smaller pieces, has great potential for colour, variety, and feeling of “journey” over a long time span without exhausting the listener. Like a song cycle, these short pieces can say a great deal.

But I hope also that in time my symphonies and concerti will stake a claim to scheduling. Perhaps my 2nd Symphony is the most epic of them – like Mahler’s 2nd it is my own “Resurrection”!

How would you characterise your compositional language?

This is often asked and so difficult to describe. My sensibility is Romantic rather than Classical. For me both emotional drive and a sense of free, organic growth are vital. I am with Mahler: music should contain all of life! My work is quite traditional in terms of genre, motif, development and perhaps also formal structures. One commentator said that I wilfully ignored recent stylistic trends, yet sounded distinctively modern. I hope so….

How do you work?

I grew up with pen and paper, but predominantly now I work on a computer with Sibelius software. I rarely use a piano. This might be surprising, given my general stance, but I have gradually made the process quite spontaneous. I work interactively with “realised instrumental sounds”, which again I have learnt to “hear past”.

Another composer once said that he had changed from a traditional “successive accumulation” technique to become more like a potter with a wheel – throwing on a slab of clay and subconsciously moulding “on the fly”. This is my method, too. It all starts very crudely, and hopelessly wrong, but gradually refines.

However, I never cease mentally doodling – all day, every day!

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

For composers, maybe also for others, too, it is important not to try “to manufacture” a voice. So much of the 20th century is riddled with shallow people like that. One trick ponies who have grabbed a little nameable “-ism niche” for themselves. My “honest professor” above always used to say that a student should simply try to compose the best piece he can, and that if a voice is there it will emerge when it is ready.

Unfortunately the whole current arts system glorifies all the wrong things. Thus young composers and performers are thrust into the limelight (as I was) long before they should be, and are often discarded just as fast. What does one know at the age of 25!?…. To resist the “industry” and not simply to fill the expected template is very hard when one’s shelf life is ten years. For composers finding a true voice can take a lifetime. I wish this were better realised by promoters and broadcasters.

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

In truth, on a small island with perfect peace! Conversely, to avoid the tinnitus and deafness that may slowly now be robbing me of my art.

But more practically, I would like simply just to be writing, with others finding performances and recordings for me. So much time is wasted in being one’s own manager.

Artistically, I suspect that my voice is now quite settled and may not actually change that much… I am not a Stravinsky! But who knows… I would love to reach the obligatory nine symphonies (and Steps volumes)…

What is your present state of mind?

The “full half” of the glass is content to explore further my sound world, with plenty of projects in mind; the empty half is endlessly frustrated by being ignored and banging my square head on the institutional round hole.

More information on Peter Seabourne can be found on www.peterseabourne.com or Wikipedia.

VIDEO:  A COMPOSER’S LIFE – Portrait of Peter Seabourne

World Premiere of Peter Seabourne Piano Concerto no.2 given by Kristina Stepasjukova with the Academy Orchestra of the Czech Philharmonic. The performance took place at the Martinu Hall in the Lichtenstein Palace, Prague on 12th March 2016 and was received with tumultuous, sustained applause and much comment. It has already been partly broadcast by Czech Radio:

A major new pioneering initiative to promote women composers
#avoiceforwomencomposers
  • 15 choral works commissioned from five women composers over the next five years
  • Educational outreach, recordings, publishing, competition, festival all part of the plan
  • Cheryl Frances-Hoad appointed as launch composer-in-residence
  • Leading names in the industry voice their support
  • Launch concert in the Dry Berth at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich, Wednesday 6th July, 2016
  • Independent IPSOS survey highlights gender gap in the public’s musical knowledge – only 4% of adults could name a woman composer

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The London Oriana Choir has announced the launch of a ground-breaking new musical venture championing the musical talent of women composers.

The heart of the project, known as five15, is the commissioning of 15 brand new choral works from five women over the next five years, but the plan is to include a programme of new performances, educational projects, recordings and other initiatives to raise the profile of classical music written by women across the UK, as well as helping to encourage and develop the talents of new young writers.

The first composer-in-residence is the award-winning Cheryl Frances-Hoad and the project will kick off in style this summer with a special concert at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich featuring new music from the first five15 commission, as part of a programme of events marking the re-opening of The Queen’s House this year.

This is also the start of a new, longer term collaboration between the choir and the Royal Museums Greenwich, involving its appointment as choir-in-residence for a three-year period, annual performances at the Cutty Sark amongst other events at the Royal Museums and involvement in its education and outreach programmes.

Dominic Peckham, musical director of the London Oriana Choir, said:

“The lack of exposure of the work of women composers is still sadly evident – the results of the independent survey we conducted show that very clearly. The London Oriana Choir has long been associated with commissioning and performing their music but felt that fresh impetus, new thinking and organisation is now needed to bring about greater change. I am very proud and excited to be involved with this project, which already has the support of several high profile individuals and organisations, and we hope that others will join us in developing five15 even further.”

Speaking of her appointment, Cheryl Frances-Hoad said:

“I am thrilled to be the launch composer of the five15 project and am looking forward to hearing the premières of all the new works by female composers that will be created in the next five years. I am sure the project will bring to the fore many positive role models for young composers.” 

The project has the backing of some major names in the classical music industry, including composer Cecilia McDowall who said: “The London Oriana Choir’s inspired project – five15 – brings a new and exciting perspective in highlighting the work of women composers. Conceived as a multi-faceted initiative it offers a broad spectrum of creative possibilities and will give many wonderful opportunities for showcasing new work in superb historic locations.

Composer and arranger Rachel Fuller observed:  “I’m really excited to hear that London Oriana Choir is launching this pioneering project to support and highlight the work of women composers. Composing and the development of young composers is frequently perceived as ‘a man’s’ profession. That’s changing!!”

BASCA welcomes the London Oriana Choir’s plans for commissioning 15 works by five female composers in the next five years,” Vick Bain, CEO of BASCA (British Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors), commented. “This is just the sort of initiative that is urgently needed to address the obvious inequality in composition. Over 80% of all composers are male and thus win most commissions in an ever perpetuating cycle. So by creating demand and profile for new works by female composers this will give heart to existing female professionals and inspiration to those young women coming through the ranks just entering the profession.  We very much look forward to hearing the finished pieces!”  

British composer and performer Kerry Andrew commented: “I’m a strong believer in positive prejudice, and I’m loving the London Oriana Choir’s tiered approach to promoting great music by women, from turning the spotlight on existing work to creating opportunities for emerging composers. Go, Oriana!”

Anyone interested in learning more about all aspects of the project should visit the five15 website where full details and contact information are available.

(Source: press release)

 

Piano pieces inspired by Erik Satie

biography-default2016 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Erik Alfred Leslie Satie, and to celebrate this occasion British composer Richard Fowles has released a personal hommage to Satie and his musical orginality.

Today Satie’s Three Gymnopedies are amongst the most well-known and much-loved music for piano, but during his lifetime, Satie was relatively unknown to much of the musical world. An unremarkable student, he was bohemian by nature, sceptical of established ideas and authorities, and was considered lazy by his teachers. Despite his relatively low profile during his lifetime, Satie helped shape the music of the 20th century: he was an inspiration and mentor to the group of composers known as “Les Six”, which included Poulenc, Milhaud and Honegger, and influenced contemporaries such as Debussy and Ravel who recognised him as a “new spirit” with a highly original approach to composition. It was not until the mid-20th century that his work became more widely known and appreciated, thanks in part to the endorsement of American composer John Cage.

Composer Richard Fowles was encouraged to pursue this composing project by his piano teacher at Brunel University, Sally Goodworth, after he wrote a couple of Satie-inspired pieces as a student. The result is a suite of 16 piano miniatures in part inspired by Satie’s own music (Knossienne Nos 1-3 being the most obvious, where the eastern melodies of the original Gnossiennes are woven into a harmonic framework redolent of the original, but never an imitation of it) and also by the composer’s life and unusual personality. For example, ‘Sea Bird’ (track no. 6) was the nickname given by Satie to his uncle Adrian, like Satie an eccentric character and an important figure in Satie’s early life. The music juxtaposes quirky melodies which unusual harmonies to create a work which is moody, enigmatic and witty.

In fact, wit pervades these charming miniatures, particularly in the triptych ‘The Velvet Gentleman’ which references aspects of Satie’s attire with which he was most associated, including his identical grey velvet suits:

On most mornings after he moved to Arcueil, Satie would return to Paris on foot, a distance of about ten kilometres, stopping frequently at his favourite cafés on route. According to Templier, “he walked slowly, taking small steps, his umbrella held tight under his arm. When talking he would stop, bend one knee a little, adjust his pince-nez and place his fist on his lap. The he would take off once more with small deliberate steps.”

Robert Orledge, Satie Remembered. French translations by Roger Nichols.

See also: “A Day in the Life of a Musician” by Erik Satie

From: ‘Daily Routines’, a blog by Mason Currey (published in book form as Daily Rituals)

In many of the pieces, Fowles mirrors the “walking beat” that seems to pervade many of Satie’s own piano pieces, a meter which may have been the results of his “endless walking back and forth across the same landscape day after day . . . the total observation of a very limited and narrow environment.” (Roger Shattuck, in conversation with John Cage).

Other pieces in the collection are more melancholy: ‘A Walk to the Chat Noir on a Snowy Day’ conjures up the solitary figure of Satie, dressed in his grey velvet suit, making his customary walk to a favourite haunt in the centre of Paris. Meanwhile the set called ‘Biqui’ recalls Satie’s relationship with Suzanne Valadon and his feelings of devastation when the affair ended. Each piece is offered in Andante and Lento, the slower metres and repeated chord motifs lending a desolate yet intimate atmosphere to the music.

‘Sylvie’, the final track on the disc, is named after one of three poems written by Satie’s friend J.P. Contamine de Latour that Satie put to music in 1886.Its jazz harmonies and winding melody is infused with a tender, almost elegaic air.

Throughout the collection, Fowles avoids pastiche by offering us the essence of Satie’s music, and some of his contemporaries,  viewed through the lens of own originality and inventiveness which fuses eastern melodies with sensuous perfumed harmonies.

The music is performed on this disc by pianist Christina McMaster, whose affinity for this type of music is evident in her crisp articulation, preciseness of touch, and an acute sense of pacing which brings the music to life with vibrancy and atmosphere. And there is an added bonus, for pianists may also purchase the collection as sheet music (roughly Grade 6-8 level). Fowles has scored the music in a traditional way and also without barlines, à la Satie.

There is much to enjoy in this evocative collection, for those who love the piano music of Satie, and for those who are just beginning to explore it.

The sheet music is available now. Order here

The CD is released on 8th April.

Sample tracks here

Richard Fowles is an English composer, guitarist and teacher. He has worked as both a composer and session musician in some of the UK’s biggest recording studios and has provided the scores for a number of films and television programmes. He is also an in demand orchestrator. ‘Un Hommage à Erik’ is Richard’s debut album and book.