What is your first memory of the piano?

I saw and played a piano when we were visiting one of my father’s colleagues at his family home. It was a long visit, and I had time to explore: I fell in love with it at first sight and although I was around 4 years old, I remember I sat and tried to play using my fingers. I was glued, and although my parents looked a bit embarrassed I had taken over somebody’s possession, they were clearly impressed. Apparently our hostess tried to impress on my parents I should start lessons.

Who or what inspired you to start teaching?

My piano teacher in Greece, the well-known concert pianist and pedagogue D. Toufexis, a Julliard graduate and former Lateiner pupil along with concert pianist Danae Kara, both staff at The American College of Greece, inspired me to maintain a portfolio career. I loved how I could go see them perform at major venues and festivals and then have the privilege of private conversations and lessons with them.

Who were your most memorable/significant teachers?

The teacher who inspired me to become a musician was the head teacher of a large, state primary school in a well-to-do leafy suburb of Athens. He was himself a frustrated violinist with real passion for music education. His class produced three concert pianists (me included), one musical theatre singer-actress, and a musicologist. Yet the school was an ordinary non-selective state one.

Who or what are the most important influences on your teaching?

I finished my studies at the conservatoire in Greece, yet I knew that I could not trust myself to teach. When I came back from my Master of Music studies in the US at West Chester University of Pennsylvania (1994), I felt I could tackle anything: intensive courses in piano pedagogy were compulsory and included teaching practicums under supervision. At the end of my studies, my teachers were very eager to impress on me the need for certain books which became my bibles, especially the Denes Agay books on Teaching Piano, and were packed in my already impossibly heavy suitcases. Greece at the time felt quite cut off in many ways, and I still remember sending and receiving letters to the US which took about a couple of months: this was the era before Internet and Amazon!

Most memorable/significant teaching experiences?

Despite having taught at all levels for at least 20 years, I still remember being 10 or 11 and helping my friend practice her sonatina. After about 20 minutes her mum couldn’t help herself anymore and stormed in with my mum to stop me from what she thought was merely distracting my friend. My friend whispered “thank you”, as I had helped her to repeat sections rather than play through mindlessly. Years after, when we met again, the first thing she remembered was how grateful she was for helping her practice that one time. I’m sure her mum is still not convinced, but I know it was the earliest confirmation that I could actually be of real help, and is certainly my fondest memory.

What are the most exciting/challenging aspects of teaching adults?

I’ve been teaching adults almost from the beginning of my career. Challenges, except for time constraints, include self-imposed limitations, mainly arising from clashes with self-image, and definitions of achievement and prospects. That’s why my best adult student to date is a hard working dad of three who is totally committed to his lessons because he sees it as personal growth.

What do you expect from your students?

A certain level of commitment: I can inspire, demonstrate and explain, but I can’t force them to practice. There needs to be an initial interest, and in the case of younger students, there has to be parental support.

What are your views on exams, festivals and competitions?

Exams and festivals can be great motivators while providing benchmarks of attainment. Competitions are both exciting and a necessary evil: as long as there are transparent selection processes they have a place in one’s development. I think it is important for a musician to enter any form of competition trying to achieve playing their personal best (rather than focusing on being better than the other competitors). At the same time it is important to come into contact with one’s peers. What I do not like is the message that one has to comply with what’s expected – and certainly there are pianists who are unhappy at the suggestion of modifying their affinities for certain repertoire. I also do not condone excessive emphasis on performativity at younger ages: young children and teenagers should not be criticised for being their awkward selves on stage, especially if this does not interfere with projecting the music.

What do you consider to be the most important concepts to impart to beginner students, and to advanced students?

Smart practice, healthy posture-technique, and fingering, along with reading notation and counting are all concepts presented from the very first lessons and reinforced throughout the studies. Style and phrasing, along with pedalling, however, take a lot of exposure to repertoire and are more gradually introduced.

What are your thoughts on the link between performance and teaching?

My preference is for teachers who teach by example, as I found it most exciting to watch my own teachers perform. I am therefore a performer who teaches pupils how to perform on the piano, rather than how to play the piano. To perform is more than just pressing keys as instructed through notation: it is to communicate without the burden of words. The process of learning to perform is a complicated one of empathy with the perceived intention of the composer, and of enculturation.

Who are your favourite pianists/pianist-teachers and why?

Martha Argerich is a firm favourite for her transcendental technique, as are the Labeque sisters. I saw the Labeque sisters perform live in Greece and their communication and poise were simply amazing. From my own teachers, Dimitri Toufexis taught me a lot about projecting phrasing through physical gestures, Danae Kara stepped in as my mentor at the early stages of my career and pushed for a totality of conception in extended works. Dr. Bedford introduced me to Alexander Technique and Tai Chi to focus the mind, and my dearest Dr McHugh taught me how to control my hands and the piano keys in what she termed “slow key-depression”. Martino Tirimo and Elena Riu will always occupy a special place for being so flattering and incisive as duet coaches.

 

Natalie Tsaldarakis is a concert pianist and member of the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble. Natalie has also been active as a lecturer, piano teacher and examiner since the 1990s.

In 1994 Natalie was invited to membership by the American National Music Honour Society Pi Kappa Lambda for excellence in performance and she has been the recipient of numerous awards and prizes, including first and second place winners in piano competitions in the US, and Greece (MTNA Wurlitzer Collegiate Competition, West Chester State University Concerto Competition, the Pottstown Orchestra Competition, Deree College Faculty Development Award, WCU Graduate Development Award etc.).

Since 2005 Natalie has been based in London, UK. Between 1995 and until 2005, Natalie was artist teacher in residence at the American College of Greece as well as piano professor and examiner for Greek conservatoires of music including the National Conservatory of Greece.

Natalie has performed extensively at various venues and festivals in the UK and abroad, including the Southbank Centre, St John’s Smith Square, Oxford University, St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Glasgow City Halls, Sibelius Academy, Athens Concert Hall, Fairfield Halls, Winchester Cathedral.

Natalie has recorded both solo and with the Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble for the National Greek Radio (ERA-1, ERA-3), and has appeared on Greek television, and UK’s Resonance FM 104.4. The duo’s CD “Romantic Dance Music for Piano Duet” was requested by the Archive for Greek Music and Musicians (Lilian Voudouris Library, Athens Concert Hall) and hailed as an important musical event of international standing by the Greek specialist press.

http://natalie6784.wix.com/ivoryduopiano

https://m.youtube.com/Ntsaldaraki

http://www.twitter.com/Ntsaldaraki

 

 

For my first post of 2015, I’ve compiled a list of British pianists, the result of my call for nominations for British pianists. This is by no means a comprehensive list and readers are invited to continue to add more names (use the comments box below).

Links go to my ‘Meet the Artist’ interview with that pianist

Martin James Bartlett

Alisdair Beatson

Mark Bebbington

Sarah Beth Briggs

John Bingham

Christian Blackshaw

Nick van Bloss

James Brawn

Graham Caskie

Imogen Cooper

Jill Crossland

Christine Crowshaw

Peter Donohoe

Danny Driver

Gordon Fergus-Thompson

Margaret Fingerhut

Michael Finnissy

Norma Fisher

Philip Edward Fisher

William Fong

Ian Fountain

Philip Fowke

Grace Francis

Ashley Fripp

Benjamin Frith

Mark Gasser

Anthony Goldstone

Daniel Grimwood

Benjamin Grosvenor

Clare Hammond

Waka Hasegawa

Anthony Hewitt

Tom Hicks

Peter Hill

Rolf Hind

Nicolas Hodges

Alisdair Hogarth

Timothy Horton

Stephen Hough

John Irving

Julian Jacobson

Martin Jones

Graham Johnson

Peter Katin

Brian Kellock

Renna Kellaway

Mark Latimer

Paul Lewis

John Lill

Joanna Macgregor

Robert Markham

John McCabe

Nicholas McCarthy

Leon McCawley

Murray McLachlan

Viv McLean

Lara Melda

Hamish Milne

Erdem Misirlioglu

Mishka Rushdie Momen

Thalia Myers

Sarah Nicholls

Steven Osborne

Charles Owen

Ian Pace

Lucy Parham

Yuri Paterson-Olenich

Jonathan Plowright

Tom Poster

Jonathan Powell

John Reid

James Rhodes

Paul Roberts

Michael Roll

Martin Roscoe

Stephen Savage

Allan Schiller

Alexander Soares

Colin Stone

Kathryn Stott

Philip Thomas

Susan Tomes

Daniel Tong

Joseph Tong

Roger Vignoles

Mark Viner

Ashley Wass

Simon Watterton

Cordelia Williams

Andrew Wilde

Lyr Williams

James Willshire

Yuanfan Yang

Adopted, Honorary & Honoured Britons’

Alfred Brendel

Barry Douglas

Mary Dullea

Jayson Gillham

Michael McHale

Meng Yang Pan

Murray Perahia

Karim Said

Andras Schiff

Mitsuko Uchida

‘Late greats’

Harriet Cohen

Clifford Curzon

James Friskin

Myra Hess

Terence Judd

Sir Philip Ledger

Moura Lympany

Denis Matthews

Gerald Moore

John Ogdon

Harold Samuel

Irene Scharrer

Phyllis Sellick

Cyril Smith

Solomon

I wanted to write a further post in response to Dame Fanny Waterman’s piece in ‘The Observer’ in which she warns of a crisis in piano playing in the UK and blames the popularity of digital keyboards and electric pianos for the fact that UK performers are failing to compete internationally. (Read my initial response to Dame Fanny here.)

I don’t want to focus too much on the issue of competitions, which remains an area of heated debate amongst teachers, students, adjudicators and music journalists, but I would just like to quote some statistics which a colleague flagged up on Facebook in response to Dame Fanny’s article:

……a quick glance over the Leeds previous prizewinners [reveals that] of 95 names only 5 have sustained a major international career after the initial flurry of dates, only 2 of those were first prize winners anyway, and the most recent competitor from the group took part in 1987! Perhaps our British pianists have realised that there are better and more creative ways to create a career in the 21st century

Competitions should not be seen as the be all and end all, and I think we all need to get past this holy grail of “The Three C’s” – Conservatoire Competition Concerto.

In my experience, as a piano teacher and the co-organiser of a group for adult amateur pianists, I see no signs of a decline in interest in piano playing here in the UK. Far from it. I receive enquiries about lessons every week, and I know piano teaching colleagues in my own area of SW London and beyond would say the same. Most of us have healthy waiting lists. The piano remains a popular first instrument for children to learn because it is relatively easy to make a nice sound from the very first note. The members of my piano group range from people who have played the piano since childhood, returners, and adult learners of all levels. Some members are very fine players indeed, who are regular performers but who have chosen a different career path to music. What unites us is a shared passion for the piano and its literature.

In addition to piano groups, piano courses are becoming increasingly popular, offering adults and young people the opportunity to study with acclaimed performing artists and teachers. There are courses to suit all abilities and tastes from “piano retreats” in the French countryside, with five-star accommodation and wonderful food and the opportunity to study with an international artist, to weekend courses for advanced pianists (professional and amateur), courses focussing on contemporary music, accompanying, chamber music, jazz and much more.

Then there are festivals where children and adults can compete, receive constructive feedback from skilled adjudicators and enjoy hearing other people’s playing and repertoire.

The UK is host to many fine piano concerts throughout the year and attracts top-class British and international artists. Alongside concerts in mainstream venues, there are myriad other opportunities to hear piano music – but top international artists and also exciting young and emerging artists: in stately homes, churches, art galleries and museums, small regional arts centres, people’s homes, out doors….. These initiatives bring piano and other classical music closer to the audience and make the music and concert experience more accessible and intimate.

The piano is very much alive in the UK – let’s keep it that way.

Pianist and writer Susan Tomes has made an interesting and thoughtful contribution to this debate – read her article

 

This weekend sees a celebration of all things piano at London’s Institut Français, with workshops, lectures, film screenings and performances. In the run up to this surfeit of piano goodness, I am delighted to be publishing Meet the Artist Interviews with some of the performers, including acclaimed French pianist Pascal Rogé (who also performs at Wigmore Hall in June) and harpsichordist Kenneth Weiss. The first interview is with French pianist David Bismuth.

Full details about the festival here:

www.institut-francais.org.uk/itsallaboutpiano

Emmanuel Vass
Emmanuel Vass

The 2014 season of the South London Concert Series (SLCS) got off to a rollicking start with a sell out concert on Friday 24th January, featuring guest artist Emmanuel Vass. Described by The Independent as “one to watch”, Emmanuel, or Manny to his friends, is a rising star and with a deal with ClassicFM to promote his debut CD ‘From Bach to Bond’, the omens are good for this young Filipino/Yorkshire pianist.

The format of the event was the same as our launch concert: a guest recital of around 35 minutes, bookended by performances by “supporting artists” (we have dropped the moniker “amateur” because so many of our amateur pianists play to a very high level – and last night was no exception). And now that we have already run one successful event, the second one seemed much easier in comparison; in fact, the event basically ran itself. It helped that the bar at the beautiful and intimate 1901 Arts Club was open before the concert, which allowed guests to have a drink and socialise while the performers warmed up downstairs. And as an added benefit, which contributed to the convivial atmosphere, patrons were allowed to take their drinks into the music salon.

The concert was opened by Marina, an amateur pianist and violinist who works in financial services, playing an Etude in G minor by Moszkowski. This proved a lively opener, which caught the audience’s attention. Julie, a piano teacher from Surrey, took to the stage next, with Gershwin’s evergreen standard ‘The Man I love’, which had a lovely romantic lilt. Then it was time for our headline performer, Manny, who introduced his programme engagingly before launching into the bright and haughty first movement of Bach’s popular Italian Concerto. The middle part of his programme was all Spanish, an exotic Orgia by Turina and a sensuous Secreto by Mompou. Manny rounded off his performance with his witty and luxuriant James Bond Concert Etude, complete with Lisztian fiorituras and some vertiginous cadenzas, all of which were applauded very enthusiastically by the audience.

From Bach to Bond and then back to Bach with Alan’s measured and elegant performance of the Prelude & Fugue in C# from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The concert closed with a piece by Japanese composer Kozaburo Hirai called Sakura Sakura, which translates as Cherry Blossom, appropriately. Performed by Kyoko, it was atmospheric and arresting.

In keeping with the nineteenth-salon atmosphere of both event and venue, most of the audience retired to the upstairs bar and sitting room where the conversation grew louder as more Prosecco was consumed. It was lovely to chat to friends, old and new, and to be amongst so many music lovers and piano fans. Manny signed copies of his CDs and charmed everyone. The stalwarts amongst us then proceeded to the pub, where the conversation continued…..

The Spring edition of the South London Concert Series is on 21st March, featuring guest artist Anne Shingler, and a limited number of tickets are available.

Tickets are now on sale for our May event. Entitled ‘Eastern Accents’, it has a distinctly Russian flavour and includes music by Shostakovich, Ustvolskaya, Szymanowski and Stanchinsky, performed by Armenian-Australian pianist Vatche Jambazian, myself and Lorraine Liyanage. Buy tickets

Future SLCS concerts feature Angelo Villani and Daniel Roberts, and a new concert format ‘Notes&Notes’, in which a guest artist will give a short recital with talk. Full details on the South London Concert Series website. There is also the opportunity to hear Emmanuel again in a solo concert at a unique London venue. Again, details are on the SLCS website.

Lang Lang (photo © Philip Glaser)

Here’s an article from Bachtrack’s ‘Piano Month’ on pianists and their gestures. Whether you love or hate Lang Lang’s extreme facial expressions and flamboyant OTT gestures, or feel the perfomer’s gestures should only serve the music, this is an interesting and thoughtful read.

Every age has its own tastes, its own aesthetic lines drawn in the sand. Since the 19th century, with its seminal guardians of musical decorum (Clara Schumann chief among them), pianists and their critics have debated the role of stage persona. Most outspoken are those who believe that a quiet, undemonstrative approach to the instrument – à la Arthur Rubinstein – best reflects a serious commitment to earnest musicianship. The corollary is presumed true as well: that excessive body movement or facial expressions can cheapen an interpretation or betray a lack of real understanding. Pianist Lang Lang, often insensitively derided as “Bang Bang”, is held in this case to be Public Enemy Number One. Our current notion of good taste is less extreme, and concedes that a bit of visual display can be acceptable and even beneficial, so long as it is a natural byproduct of a performer’s interpretation. Read more