Catalogue Number: TOCC0179 EAN: 5060113441799 Release Date: 2 September 2013
Christopher Guild, piano
Sometimes described as “the Scottish Bartok”, composer Ronald Center (1913-73) was born in Aberdeen, the youngest member of a musical family. Despite his active working life as a soloist, accompanist, organist and teacher, his music was somewhat overlooked during his lifetime and after his death, and the centenary of his birth was rather lost amid the furore of last year’s composer anniversaries of Britten, Wagner and Verdi.
Fellow Scotsman and pianist Christopher Guild is a crusader for the neglected Center, and makes a persuasive case for Center’s piano music in his new disc on the Toccata Classics label. There are intimations of the percussive spikiness of Prokofiev, the folk idioms and harmonies of Bartok, the simplicity of Poulenc, the wit and humour of Shostakovich, and the sensuality and stately parallel harmonies of Claude Debussy (in a work entitled ‘Hommage’ which is dedicated to Debussy). Hints of Scottish airs make intriguing appearances in the music, reminding us of the composer’s heritage. There are moments of haunting beauty and wistful lyricism, such as in the ‘Larghetto’, the middle movement of the ‘Sonatine’, the ‘Impromptu’, or the first of the Six Bagatelles. Meanwhile, the Piano Sonata opens with a sprightly Bartokian Allegro molto,
Alert to the musical and emotional cross-currents in the music, Guild offers a sensitive reading of these interesting and varied works that is insightful, colourful, brimming with rhythmic vitality, and meticulously presented on this high-quality recording. An excellent introduction to Ronald Center’s oeuvre.
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
Not my family, initially, although to their great credit my parents were always entirely supportive of me in any of my aspirations – and still are. A dear friend of the family, who lived round the corner from us at the time, was a great classical music lover and had a piano in her home. It was she who incited in me a real interest in classical music.
I had already begun to play the violin at my local primary school (this was by the time I was 8 years old), and she was getting in to the habit of practicing with me every day after school for 20 minutes. I remember being allowed to play on the piano for 10 minutes after my violin practice every day, and chatting to this lady about classical music: she was from Berlin, and I remember her enthusing me about the great German composers, mainly Schumann and Beethoven. Eventually I asked my Mum if I could start having piano lessons, and so they began in Elgin, the town of my birth, in 1995.
Years passed until I found myself in my third year at St Mary’s Music School in Edinburgh, working hard at the violin and keeping the piano ticking over although not taking it that seriously despite a recent victory at the Moray Piano Competition. Something happened around this time and I suddenly realised I couldn’t stand the prospect of making the violin my career – although I still maintain I had a real flair for the instrument and indeed could have succeeded as a session musician, I never found it that comfortable to play and I always felt a deeper connection with the piano. Somehow the piano suited me better: it seemed a more ‘independent’ instrument, you had total command of the music you were playing (I remember my teacher at the time, Margaret Wakeford, counselling me to ‘be your own conductor!’ when I played), and on the whole I much preferred the repertoire. It promised me a greater deal artistically, even if the career path was to be more precarious.
Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
There are many people and many things, but one of the most important people has been Andrew Ball, whom I studied with at the Royal College of Music (London) for six consecutive years. It was his open-mindedness, his way of thinking about music and indeed his great knowledge of just about everything which has steered me in to becoming who I am artistically.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I suppose this might be commonplace among all music college graduates in their mid-twenties, but it is the combination of attempting to make ends meet, whilst pursuing my artistic ambitions, and maintaining my artistic integrity in all that I do. Keeping up my standards of playing amidst a hectic life of teaching, rehearsing, performing and of course those interminable periods spent on trains is certainly a challenge!
Which performances are you most proud of?
Tricky! I have to say that some of my recitals as a student tend to stand out: I’m proud that I performed works by Elliott Carter and Stockhausen in the same recital, for instance, and that I felt completely involved in the music. Also, performances I gave of Reubke’s magnificent Piano Sonata in B-flat two years ago, a piece which has come to mean a lot to me. More recently, playing the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor with Sian Edwards in Milton Keynes in 2012 was extremely memorable. And of course, playing as part of my duo at our Wigmore Hall debut in November 2012 was very special. Being in the green room before stepping on stage was something in itself, just looking at all the signed photos of so many of ‘the greats’ gazing down on you makes you realise just what a privilege it is to be performing in that hall.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Favourites so far in my career have been: Wigmore Hall, for the acoustic (it’s perfect, that’s it). There have been a few stately homes and churches that were very comfortable to play in too. I really enjoyed the Pump Room in Bath
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
Ask me in ten minutes and I’ll have changed my mind! These days I’m gravitating largely towards British Music. I have a real ‘thing’ for the Bridge Piano Sonata, the three Elgar chamber works too. The music of Kevin Volans interests me currently. As a performer, I strongly hope to get back in to contemporary music next season. It sounds trite, I suppose, but any music with a truly strong and vital message will surely grab me.
Who are your favourite musicians?
Glenn Gould, for his individuality, his refusal to compromise his artistic vision and integrity – I think that’s a very important thing. Whenever I hear piano rolls, or old records, of the now lost age of pianists I come away feeling totally inspired. I recently bought an LP of a piano roll of Moritz Rosenthal and some of the playing is mindblowing!
What is your most memorable concert experience?
There are many, but sometimes how people react to a performance I’ve given is what makes a concert particularly memorable. For example, after performing at the Dorking Halls in Surrey last season, a Russian lady came up to me in the foyer and gave me a little matrioska doll, as a way of saying ‘thank you’ for my performance of Scriabin’s Sonata No. 3. She was visibly moved (slightly choked), and it was the way she did it anonymously too which made the experience so potent. I keep the matroyshka on the bookshelves next to my piano: it reminds me of music’s power to enhance peoples lives, its possibilities, its importance.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Keep an open mind! You’re about to enter a field which is enormously competitive, a lot of people will be striving for the same goals. It pays to think outside the box a little. Try never to turn down opportunities, even if they seem irrelevant to your interests: I’ve pursued paths I never dreamt of pursuing (or particularly wanted to pursue), and I ended up with quite a few great concerts, or jobs, that I would never have got otherwise. And never lose sight of your artistic goals. Above all, have fun!
What are you working on at the moment?
The biggest project this year has been preparing the vast majority of Ronald Center’s piano music for recording. Ronald Center (1913-73) was an Aberdonian composer whose music has been incredibly neglected both during his lifetime and since his death. Aside from this, I’m preparing quite a lot of duo repertoire, namely works with violin – Sonatas by Grieg, Haydn, Hindemith and Janacek – and works with oboe – Sonatas by Poulenc and Dutilleux.
What is your present state of mind?
Christopher Guild’s new recording of piano music by Ronald Center is available now on the Toccata Classics label. Further details including sample sound clips here
Born in Elgin in 1986 and brought up on Speyside, Christopher Guild studied piano and violin locally before entering St Mary’s Music School, Edinburgh aged 13. He returned to Morayshire one year later to take top honours in the Moray Piano Competition – a victory which sees him as the youngest ever winner to this day.
Christopher entered the Royal College of Music in 2005 as a Foundation Scholar, and remained there under the tutelage of Andrew Ball until 2011, successfully gaining a First Class BMus (Hons), and the MMus and Artist Diploma’s with Distinction. He now combines a busy schedule as a performer with extensive work as a teacher, and coaches students at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance where he is the Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance.
Christopher Guild acknowledges the following organisations for their invaluable support to his studies at the RCM: Dewar Arts Awards, the Robertson Scholarship Trust, the Alistair Maclachlan Memorial Trust, the Cross Trust, The Royal Caledonian Schools Trust, the Hope Scott Trust, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Sir James Caird Travelling Scholarships Trust, the RCM Foundation, a Michael Whittaker Scholarship, and an Ian Fleming Award Award administered by the Musician’s Benevolent Fund.
A concert exploring a selection of piano works written by two distinctive voices of Scotland’s classical music scene in the 20th century. Ronald Stevenson, whose 85th birthday year it is, is a recognised giant of British Music and an authority on the life and work of Ferruccio Busoni. Perhaps most renowned as a composer for his gigantic Passacaglia on DSCH, the programme will feature some of Stevenson’s smaller piano works.
Stevenson is honoured in conjunction with a composer rarely heard of even within Scotland during his own lifetime, Ronald Center, whose centenary passed this April. Ever a reclusive character, it is only recently that his music has begun to re-emerge with the first ever survey on record of his complete piano music, by Trinity Laban’s Richard Carne Junior Fellow in Performance, Christopher Guild. A classicist at heart, Center’s music, with its influences of Britten, Prokofiev and Hindemith, stands very much in contrast to much of Stevenson’s.
This FREE, unticketed concert will appeal anyone with an interest in British Music, and those with a passion for making musical discoveries.
Ronald Stevenson: Komm, Susser Tod
Ronald Stevenson: Sonata Senerissima
Ronald Center: Giglot and Toccata
Ronald Center: Six Bagatelles
Ronald Stevenson: Wegenlied aus Alban Bergs Oper ‘Wozzeck’
Ronald Center: Piano Sonata
Alex Lewis, Madelaine Jones, Sally Halsey, Clare Simmonds and Christopher Guild.
Thursday 27th June, 6.30pm, Peacock Room, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, King Charles Court, Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London SE10 9JF (public transport: DLR Greenwich Cutty Sark, Riverbus Greenwich Pier)
Pianist Christopher Guild will feature in a forthcoming Meet the Artist interview.
The Cross-Eyed Pianist is free to access and ad-free, and takes many hours every month to research, write, and maintain.
If you find joy and value in what I do, please consider making a donation to support the continuance of the site