8-16 June 2019 – Clarendon Muse, Watford, Hertfordshire

The inaugural Master Music Piano Festival & Competition takes place across two weekends in June 2019 at Clarendon Muse in Watford and aims to promote local talent by offering young musicians a superb platform to experience and participate in fine music-making.

Featuring a set of unmissable recitals by leading young pianists of their generation including Ji Liu, Nicholas McCarthy, Artur Cimirro and Michael Harvey. The Master Music Festival will also host competitions scheduled for all ages and levels of performance ability together with a special Children’s Concert. Alongside much-loved core repertoire, the featured artists will also showcase their own new compositions and arrangements with their published sheet music available.

The Festival is the brainchild of Benjamin Williams, Director Of Master Music Publications, a new publishing house designed to promote original compositions, transcriptions, interpretative editions and educational resources by the world’s finest contemporary musicians. As well as the beautifully produced environmentally-friendly scores, Master Music Publications offers a wealth of additional information, biographies, context and a link to an online study guide with useful tips, videos and a discussion section.

Festival Programme:

Nicholas McCarthy – Piano Recital – June 8th, 7pm

British pianist, Nicholas McCarthy was born without his right hand and only began to play the piano at the age of fourteen. He went on to study at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London, becoming the first left-hand-only pianist to graduate in the college’s history. A passionate educator and motivational speaker, McCarthy champions left-hand alone repertoire, music that developed rapidly following the First World War as a result of injuries suffered on the battlefield. Expect an awe-inspiring recital of repertoire ranging from Bartok to Gershwin via Scriabin and Strauss. Notes McCarthy: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the first Master Music Festival and to be able to play alongside other esteemed artists from the piano world. As one of the few disabled artists in the classical industry, it gives me great pleasure to be able to share the music that I love so much with new audiences and hopefully even inspire people along the way”.

Artur Cimirro – Piano Recital – June 9th, 7pm

Brazilian pianist, Artur Cimirro enjoys an eclectic career as a composer, arranger, writer and art critic. He has composed works for piano, orchestra, choir, chamber ensemble, opera and ballet and his transcriptions and arrangements, dedicated to the left hand, deal with the exploration of new horizons in piano technique. They include notably ambitious projects, such as Liszt’s 12 Transcendental Etudes for the Left Hand Alone. As part of his recital, Cimirro will present a striking array of his own compositions and arrangements.

Michael Harvey – Piano Recital – June 15th, 7pm

A compelling and sensitive musician with a rare combination of intelligence, flair and charm” is how acclaimed pianist Leslie Howard described pianist, composer and teacher, Michael Harvey. Harvey has dazzled audiences at prestigious venues around the world with his virtuosic technique, individual sound and charismatic personality. His recital is bound to offer pianistic brilliance, creative sensitivity and a kaleidoscope of colours. Says Harvey: “I am looking forward to communicating with the audience at the inaugural Master Music Festival by sharing stories, pieces and some of my own compositions, several of which will be world premieres!

Ji Liu – Piano Recital – June 16th, 7pm

Praised by Pianist Magazine for his “sensitive and unpretentious musicality” and described as “a major talent” by Classical Source, Chinese pianist, Ji Liu has positioned himself as one of the brightest stars in classical music today. In addition to topping the classical charts on numerous occasions, he also delights audiences around the world, from the Royal Albert Hall in London to Carnegie Hall in New York with his thoughtful and intelligent recitals. Be sure to expect a sensational evening of music making at the highest level. Ji Liu commented: “It is my great privilege to work with Master Music Publications and to be involved with the very first festival. It is encouraging to see both new and core classical music presented in the festival and how they can meet and support each other. I very much look forward to sharing my musical thoughts and performing for everyone.

Children’s Piano Concert – June 8th, 3pm

This eagerly anticipated children’s concert will feature pianist Ji Liu, who will perform a collection of fun pieces for piano, including Schumann’s Kinderszenen and a narrated solo piano performance of Prokofiev’s popular ‘Peter and the Wolf’. This will be an enjoyable, educational event for children.

Piano Competitions – June 8th 4-6pm and June 15th – 2-6pm

On June 8th and 15th, the festival will feature piano competitions for all ages and abilities. Each participant will receive valuable and constructive written feedback. Medals, certificates and prizes up to £150 will be awarded to participants who achieve 1st, 2nd and 3rd place. The adjudicator will be Steinway and Classic FM/Global artist, Ji Liu. Entry forms are available here

Benjamin Williams, Director Of Master Music Publications added: “It has been very exciting and a great privilege for me to bring these incredibly talented international artists together for this unique festival that all can enjoy”.

Venue: Clarendon Muse, 70 Rickmansworth Rd, Watford WD18 7JA

Full details of the festival

One of the great pleasures of being an active member of the ‘Twitterati’ is the opportunity to connect with all sorts of interesting people around the world, who share similar interests to me. While many I will probably never meet outside the Twittersphere, I have met a few of my fellow Twitterers at concerts, for lunch and at other events (amusingly, at a recent Bachtrack party, a fellow reviewer and I identified each other by our Twitter call-signs, rather than our real names!). One of these is the left-handed pianist Nicholas McCarthy, and last night I attended Nicholas’s graduation recital in the lovely Amaryllis Fleming hall at the Royal College of Music.

Nicholas McCarthy

Nicholas was born without his right hand; that he plays the piano beautifully with just his left hand is remarkable in itself. What is more remarkable is that he only started playing the piano seriously when he was 14. He has studied with Lucy Parham at the Guildhall School of Music & Dance, and, since 2008, with Nigel Clayton at the RCM. This summer he will perform with the Paraorchestra (an initiative of conductor Charles Hazlewood) in the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paraolympics.

There has been something of a theme of left-handed piano repertoire and performance on my blog recently: ‘Meet the Artist’ interviews with Nicholas and another left-handed pianist Keith Snell (who was forced to switch to left-handed repertoire when he developed focal dystonia in his right hand), and a guest post on the history of left-hand piano, also by Keith Snell. There are some very well-known works for the left-hand, perhaps most notably, piano music by Godowsky and Scriabin. For his graduation recital, Nicholas selected a programme which contained no music by these “greats” of the left-hand repertoire. Instead, he opened with the graceful Meditation from Prelude No. 1, Gounod’s transcription which intertwines Bach’s sublime Prelude in C from the WTC with Gounod’s ‘Ave Maria’. The rest of the programme was a mixture of well-known works (‘Casta Diva’ from Norma, arranged by Fumagalli, Morgen! by Strauss, transcribed for left-hand by Jonathan Mann, and Du Bist die Ruh, Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s song, transcribed by left-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein) and less familiar repertoire, including a moody rendition of Britten’s The Miller of Dee (transcribed especially for Nicholas) and a work written for Nicholas by Anglo-French composer Tim Benjamin called Et Nous Les Os. With its unsettling clusters of sound high up in the treble and its plangent, sonorous chords in the bass, it was redolent of Liszt and Messiaen in both its scope and soundworld.

Nicholas is an elegant and understated performer. The movements and gestures he makes are so precise, so measured, so fluid that very soon one forgets he is playing with just his left hand. And his playing is not confined to the lower registers of the piano: far from it. At times, he moved nimbly between the furthest reaches of the keyboard as the score dictated, and the final piece of the programme, Der Erlkonig, provided a particularly physical work out. (As I said to him afterwards, “it’s difficult enough with both hands!”) His dynamic control was impressive, his tone and voicing poetic and subtly nuanced: achingly tender in the Meditation, growling and agitated in Erlkonig.

The whole programme was delightful, well planned with pleasing shifts in energy and mood, and beautifully presented. For me, the Tim Benajmin piece was the highlight, but I enjoyed every minute of it, and it was lovely to have the opportunity to meet Nicholas’s (very proud!) mum afterwards, and to congratulate Nick on a wonderful performance.

Nicholas’s Meet the Artist interview

Website: www.nicholasmccarthy.co.uk

Tim Benjamin composer

The Paraorchestra

Guest Post: A history of left-hand piano

 

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

An old friend of mine who is an accomplished amateur pianist was playing Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata and I just absolutely fell in love with everything about the piano. It was at this time I decided I wanted to be a concert pianist. Every time I hear the Waldstein Sonata I have the same sense of excitement that I remember experiencing when I first heard my friend play it. It is one of the few pieces (along with Tchaikovsky Concerto No.1) that makes me wish I had two hands so I could play it.

Who or what were the greatest influences on your playing?

The greatest influences on my playing are the two teachers I feel I’ve learnt the most from over the years. I studied with acclaimed pianist Lucy Parham whilst I was at the Junior Guildhall School of Music & Drama. It was then that I was introduced to left hand repertoire and my journey as a left hand pianist properly began. I gained so much from Lucy and I always hold her in high esteem as I feel that without her guidance and high expectations I would not have been awarded a place at the Royal College of Music where I’m currently in my graduation year.

My second greatest influence is my current teacher Nigel Clayton. I have found out so much about myself as a pianist since learning with him: he seems to be able to explain things to me in such a way that it instantly transfers into my playing. Aside from being a great teacher he is also very supportive of the things that I do outside of the Royal College. Whether I have a concert or a television interview he always calls or texts to see how it went or to wish me luck.

Which CD in your discography are you most proud of, and why?

One of the first classical CD’s that I bought and am still proud of owning is a box set of Bach and Chopin performed by Martha Argerich. A few of the pieces on the disc really astounded me, the English Suite in A Minor by Bach and Chopin’s Piano Sonata No.2. I couldn’t seem to stop listening to these two pieces in particular; in my opinion they are the perfect recordings of these works.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

I adore playing in St Martin in the Fields. The acoustic is great and I really love the piano they have there. I also think the central location gives any concert a bit more of a ‘grand’ feeling. It is exciting for a performer.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

My favorite piece that I perform a lot is the Prelude and Nocturne Op.9 by Scriabin. I have a lot of nostalgia over these beautiful pieces as they were the first pieces for the left hand that I learnt. Ever since I mastered them I have included them in every single recital that I have played and just adore performing them. I would play Scriabin all day long if I could.

Who are your favourite musicians?

As mentioned before, Martha Argerich is a real favorite of mine. Though I also enjoy listening to Stephen Hough, especially his Rachmaninoff. I also listen to the violinist Nicola Benedetti a lot, I think her musicianship and technique is unsurpassed.

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

I think that the most important concept for students is to always be musical. One could walk down the practice corridor of any conservatoire and hear perfect notes coming from all the students practicing, yet sometimes I think musicians easily forget about the music itself and worry far too much about correct notes. I personally would rather go to a recital and hear an exciting, atmospheric and electric recital with a few wrong notes thrown in as opposed to a note-perfect performance with no excitement. I always try to impress on my students that correct notes are very important but are certainly not the be all and end all.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Perfect happiness to me is being content and fulfilled in both work and personal life. I think that if you have problems in your work life or problems in your personal life you cannot be fully happy. For me it’s about finding a fine balance between both.

Nicholas’s new album Echoes is released on 20 October 2017. More information/order

Nicholas McCarthy was born in 1989 without his right hand and only began to play the piano at the late age of 14 after being inspired by a friend play Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata.

Having once been told that he would never succeed as a concert pianist, Nicholas would not be discouraged and went on to study at the prestigious Royal College of Music in London. His graduation in July 2012 drew press headlines around the world, being the only one-handed pianist to graduate from the Royal College of Music in its 130 year history.

Nicholas is a champion of the dynamic and brave world of left hand alone repertoire, a repertoire that first came into being in the early 19th century and developed rapidly following the First World War as a result of the many injuries suffered on the Battlefield. Paul Wittgenstein was responsible for its 20th century developments with his commissions with Ravel, Prokofiev and Benjamin Britten amongst others.

www.nicholasmccarthy.co.uk

Interview originally published in May 2012