`I was delighted to be invited to participate in this live and online conference at the London College of Music, University of West London. The conference is part of a year-long research project exploring ways in which performers can create new and exciting sonic worlds in the production of live and recorded performances of the classical repertoire (further information about the project here http://cmhp-conference.com/index.php/about-cmhp).

The first session I attended, entitled ‘3D Audio Piano’, involved pianist Emilie Capulet working with Andrew Bourbon and Simon Zagorski-Thomas to record a layered performance of Debussy’s La Cathedral Egloutie (Preludes Book One). The score was divided into separate elements, such as “bells” or “monks’, which then informed the treatment of each element in the recording process to create a more intense and colourful sound when played back through a 3D Audio speaker array (like surround sound). I found this process most interesting, specifically from an interpretative and performance point of view and I could see the possibility of encouraging piano students (and myself) to think in terms of separate layers and multiple elements within a piece of music when attempting to highlight certain aspects or create a more intensely expressive performance. It strikes me that Debussy’s music lends itself particularly well to this approach, but it has an application in other music and composers too.

The second segment involved a live 3D Audio mix by Greg Smith of Emilie Capulet’s performance of Ravel’s Jeux d’Eau. Here, hyper production effects such as reverb were used to intensify the sense of the different fountains which Ravel illustrates in his score. The session finished with  a playback of a 3D Audio Remix by Simon Zagorski-Thomas of Emilie Capulet’s MIDI performance of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in C (XVI: 50). Here, Simon sought to capitalise on the wit inherent in Haydn’s writing as well as the composer’s interest in the rapid developments in the piano at the time of the Sonata’s composition. Listen to the piece here:

Later, I participated in a panel discussion where we considered a number of points including

  • Do recordings using hyper production techniques have any commercial potential?
  • Why are classical musicians so concerned with perfection in the recording studio when they know there is the “safety net” of editing?
  • Are performers unduly influenced by high-quality recordings and do they seek to replicate them in live performance?
  • Do high-quality recordings raise audience expectations about perfection in live performance?
  • Would experimental recordings using surround sound and 3D audio techniques attract a younger/new audience to classical music?
  • Do wrong notes really matter in a recording which is rich in expression?

I would be interested in readers’ views on these issues – please feel free to respond using the comments box below or by contacting me via the Contact page of this blog.

(A video of the panel discussion should be available shortly).

Revisiting a work one learnt last month, last year, or 20 years ago can be a wonderful experience, like reacquainting oneself with an old friend, while also making a new friendship. Picking up a piece again after a long absence, as I have been with Mozart’s melancholy late work, his Rondo in A minor, K 511, often offers new insights into that work, and reveals layers and subtleties one may not have spotted the first time round.

My experience with my studies for my Performance Diploma taught me how to practice deeply, to the extent that I was on intimate terms with every note, every phrase, every nuance, every shading in all of my exam pieces. After I had performed the pieces for the exam, I might have considered them “finished”: certainly, on the morning of the exam, my thought was “I have done all I can. There is nothing more I can do”. But that was then, on 14th December 2011, and now, mid-February, picking up the Liszt Sonetto 123 del Petrarca again ready for Richmond Music Festival, the piece feels very familiar, yet certainly not “finished”. Of course, it needs some finessing for its next performance in just over two weeks’ time, and some reviewing in the light of the examiner’s comments, and, yes,  it is “all there”, in the fingers. But it has changed since I last played it: it’s more spacious and relaxed, gentler and more songful. It won’t be quite the same piece as before, when I play it in the festival.

The Mozart Rondo K 511 is multi-faceted: it prefigures Chopin in its rondo figure, a weary yet songful and at times highly ornamented melody, and harks back to Bach in its textural and chromatic B and C sections (a more detailed analysis of this work here). This is actually my second revisit of this work: I first learnt it before I started having lessons with my current teacher (about 5 years ago), and then revived it about two years ago. So, third time around, I am finding more subtleties in it, while also being struck at how cleverly Mozart manages to express his entire oeuvre in the microcosm of a piano miniature: there are arias, grand operatic gestures, Baroque arabesques and chromaticism, Chopinesque fiorituras, extremes of light and shade, sometimes within the space of a single bar. All the time when I am working on it, I find aspects which remind me why I picked it up in the first place, while also discovering new things about it.

A work can never truly be considered ‘finished’. Often a satisfying performance of a work to which one has devoted many hours of study can be said to put the work ‘to bed’, but only for the time being. The same is true of a recording: rather than a be-all-and-end-all record, maybe a recording is better regarded as a snapshot of one’s musical and creative life at that moment. As a pianist friend of mine once said “it’s always the way: you commit a work to a CD then discover all sorts of new things about it….”. American Pianist Bruce Brubaker, in his sensitive and thoughtful blog Piano Morphosis, describes this as a process of “continuing”. Thus, one performance informs another, and all one’s practising and playing is connected in one continuous stream of music-making.

Here is Mitsuko Uchida in Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K 511. For me, this is a peerless interpretation of this work.

Mitsuko Uchida – Mozart: Rondo in A minor, K.511