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

I was born into a family of a conductors, so it was my father.

Who or what are the most significant influences on your musical life?

There have been many influential musicians along the way who have been important influences for me – my father, my teacher Max Rudolf at the Curtis Institute of Music and Leonard Bernstein as far as conductors go. But there have been also influential instrumentalists and composers who have been important in my life, for example Radu Lupu and Arvo Pärt.

What, for you, is the most challenging part of being a conductor? And the most fulfilling aspect?

Every part of conductor’s life is challenging. From the enormity of the repertoire to the geography and travel.

The most fulfilling aspect is that a conductor can spend his or her life with talented human beings and explore music of geniuses like Mahler and Beethoven, for example  

As a conductor, how do you communicate your ideas about a work to the orchestra?

One communicates ideas through various methods – with the eyes, verbally, with gestures and body language.

How exactly do you see your role? Inspiring the players/singers? Conveying the vision of the composer?

I see my role as a medium between the composer and the musicians. The role is to formulate a point of view about the piece through study of the score and to convey this to the musicians. 

Is there one work which you would love to conduct?

There are many works I would love to conduct but one lifetime is not enough to get close to all the masterpieces in the repertoire.

Do you have a favourite concert venue in which to perform?

The Zürich Tonhalle, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Musikverein in Vienna, just to name a few.

Who are your favourite musicians/composers?

Hard to name a favourite composer but I do have a soft spot for music of Sibelius and Bruckner.

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Success is when you can make music on the highest possible level with like-minded musicians.

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

Make sure you love music enough to make it your profession and then be prepared to work very hard.

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

On the planet Earth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I think it would be the balance between personal and professional life.

What is your present state of mind?

I’m looking forward to the upcoming tour to Europe with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, Tokyo

Paavo Järvi conducts the NHK Symphony Orchestra in music by Takemitsu, Rachmaninov and Schumann at London’s Royal Festive val Hall on 24 February. Full details

(Artist photo: Julia Baier)

THE LISNEY TRIO
Emma Lisney – violin
Joy Lisney – cello
James Lisney – piano
with
Michael Whight – clarinet

Beethoven – Trio in B flat, Op 97, ‘Archduke’

Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time

9 March 2020 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre


Two chamber works, which carry a momentous emotional weight, composed almost 150 years apart comprise this programme performed by The Lisney Trio with clarinettist Michael Whight.

The premiere of Beethoven’s Trio in B flat, opus 97, ‘Archduke’, in 1814 was one of the composer’s final public performances as pianist. Completed in 1811 and dedicated to the Archduke Rudolph of Austria – a fine amateur pianist, patron, friend and composition student of Beethoven  – this trio is one of fourteen of Beethoven’s works dedicated to the youngest son of Leopold II, Holy Roman Emperor. It is a fine example of Beethoven’s heroic style and its perfect combination of brilliance, grandeur and profundity have ensured its central place in the trio repertoire.

Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time premiered in January 1941 at Stalag VIIIA, a prisoner of war camp in Görlitz, Germany. The composer dedicated the work ‘in homage to the Angel of the Apocalypse, who raises his hand towards Heaven saying “There shall be no more time.”’ From an evocation of morning birdsong, through fiercely concentrated and rhythmically complex dance music, the music intensifies to depictions of the coming cataclysm. Two songs of praise (‘Louanges’) are offered up, oases of extraordinary calm marked ‘infinitely slow’ and ‘tender, ecstatic’.

The Lisney Trio, comprising the members of a family that sustain distinguished international careers as soloists, are joined by renowned clarinettist Michael Whight for this recital of two of the most significant chamber works of the past two centuries.

Monday 9 March 7.45pm, Purcell Room at Queen Elizabeth Hall at London’s Southbank Centre

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James Lisney returns to the Purcell Room on 19 May for a concert as part of his international tour exploring the notion of ‘Late Style’ and creative maturity through the late masterworks of three composers who are particularly close to his heart – Haydn, Beethoven and Schubert – uplifting, communicative music of enduring appeal.

“a breathtaking interpretation of some of the last works of the great composers”
Seen and Heard International

Further information and tickets

Hot on the heels of the opening of Picasso On Paper, a major new exhibition at London’s Royal Academy of Arts, came pianist Roman Rabinovich’s personal hommage to this artist, the place of his birth and his creative life, in a refreshingly original, colourful and very personal programme of music by Zipoli, Debussy, Satie, Granados, Gershwin and Stravinsky, together with a work by the pianist himself.

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Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, 1920 (Picasso Museum, Paris)

Debussy said that he “loved pictures almost as much as music” and the same may be said of Roman Rabinovich, who is also an artist. Unsurprisingly, many of the pieces in this programme had strong visual narratives (Debussy’s atmospheric Estampes and Granados’ dramatic and engrossing Goyescas, for example). Connections to Picasso’s native country came through Spanish composers (Zipoli and Granados) and also music (‘La soirée dans Grenade’ from Estampes), but there were other, more tangible connections too: Picasso and Granados were contemporaries and both frequented Els Quatre Gats (The Four Cats), a bar in Barcelona; and Picasso encountered both Satie and Stravinsky through Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (Picasso’s 1920 portrait of the composer hangs in the RA’s current show, and he designed the costumes and setting for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella, and also for Satie’s ballet Parade).

Rabinovich was clearly very at home in all of this repertoire, from the sombre elegance of Zipoli’s g minor suite to the folksy vibrancy of Petrushka, an exuberant finale to the programme, and it’s encouraging to find a pianist who is willing to tackle such wide range of styles and moods with just the right balance of technical facility and bravura. The works by Debussy and Granados were particularly arresting, sensitively sculpted and shaded: Pagodes had the subtle washes and softened hues of watercolour while Granados’ El amor y la muerte (Love and Death) was darkly-hued, passionate and dramatic. Rabinovich’s own piece, its twirling perpetuum mobile outer sections bookending two less frenetic episodes, had the quirky wit of Satie and the rhythmic bite of Gershwin. And what a pleasure it was to hear one of Satie’s curious, haunting Gnossiennes. played with nonchalant grace.

Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus – Olivier Messiaen

Steven Osborne, piano

6 November 2019, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre

Messiaen builds cathedrals in sound. From a single candle gently flickering in a quiet side chapel to the glorious fan traceries of the main transept, the private place for solitary prayer and contemplation to the awe-inspiring painted spaces where the many gather to celebrate the glory of God, his music is monumental in its scale and breadth, a hypnotic Sainte-Trinité in sound.

And if Messiaen is the architect, then the pianist who performs his music is the guide, sometimes tenderly, sometimes violently, always colourfully leading us through the aisles and passageways, the arches and niches, past gilded icons and kaleidoscopic stained glass.

Messiaen’s Vingt Regards sur l’enfant-Jésus is arguably the greatest piano work of the twentieth century, a work which more than holds its own against Bach’s Goldberg’s or Beethoven’s 32 Piano Sonatas in its scale and breadth, its many challenges, technical, artistic and physical. It is a work of immense beauty, sensuous, powerful, sometimes brutal, thrilling, awestruck and awe-inspiring, ecstatic and intimate. It is also deeply personal and emotionally direct in its expression of the composer’s own profound Catholic faith; humble too in Messiaen’s ability to ground the music in a way that makes it accessible through his use of recurring themes and devices, in particular his beloved birdsong. These elements also give this tremendous work a cohesive, comprehensive architecture – and it is only by hearing the work in one sitting, as opposed to listening to individual movements from it, that one can fully appreciate Messiaen’s compositional skill and vision. Like a great symphony, the work moves inexorably through its movements towards a gripping finale.

I adore this music.

It begins with a whisper, barely a heartbeat, delicate chords, softly-spoken yet vividly hued (colour is so significant to the synaesthesic Messiaen) and repeated octaves, occasionally interrupted by luminous bell sounds; a profound, introspective contemplation. And then, some 130 minutes later, it ends in a blaze of glory, bells clanging across in the keyboard in ecstasy, “all the passion of our arms around the Invisible One….”

The extraordinary narrative arc and cumulative power of the Vingt Regards is akin to Bach’s Goldberg Variations, though its message is closer to one of his Passions. The expressive sweep of the work is vast, from the intimate, aching tenderness of Regarde de la Vierge (IV) to primal brutality of Par Lui tout a éte fait (VI) and the concentrated stillness of Je dors, mais mon coeur veille (XIV). As a consequence the work is rarely performed without an interval, but pianist Steven Osborne, who has been playing this incredible music for almost 20 years, believes it should be played as a whole, without a break, to create “a deeper sense of engagement with the work as a whole, for both myself and the listener.”

Steven Osborne, London 30 May 2013
Steven Osborne

The journey is remarkable, immense, exhilarating and overwhelming. Osborne knows this music so well that one feels at once totally at ease with him guiding us on this epic voyage yet also acutely alert, as he is, to every shift in harmony and tonal colour, every nuance and emotion. Speaking to him in the bar after the concert, I remarked that he seems very settled in the music (I first heard him play this work in 2013) and he commented that one just has to “go with it”. Such a modest description of such monumentality!

His virtuosity is restrained, yet his every gesture is freighted with meaning; he creates an extraordinary range of colours and tone – translucent filigree arabesques, shimmering, flickering trills, brilliant chirruping birdsong, plangent bass chords, rumbling, rolling Lisztian arpeggios….. And all despatched with an almost effortlesss sprezzatura, the music freshly wrought, as new sonorities, new meanings are revealed.

The performance was perfectly paced, the silences as poised and significant as the notes themselves, Osborne’s clear sense of continuity allowing each movement to be heard as a single statement in its own right, while also contributing to the cumulative, architectural effect of the whole. Here the rapture and ecstasy of Messiaen’s faith was captured in a profoundly concentrated performance that reverberated with passion, spirituality, awe and joy.

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a breathtaking interpretation of some of the last works of the great composers
Seen and Heard International


What is ‘Late Style’? It’s a question that has preoccupied writers and thinkers, from Theodor Adorno, who coined the term in relation to Beethoven’s late music, to Edward Said, whose book ‘On Late Style’ explores the output of composer, artists and writers in the later years of their creative lives.

We expect the late works of composers (and writers and artists) to be concerned with valedictory thoughts, of resolution and acceptance, that age and ill-health bring a state of serenity or resignation. Yet many composers’  late work is often intransigent, challenging and contradictory, inventive and transcendent.

Late style is also associated with an aesthetic mastery and a distillation of what matters most, as if an awareness that the end may be near has the effect of really concentrating the artistic focus. Beethoven, for example, reveals in his late piano sonatas an intense heroism, otherworldliness and non-conformity. For Adorno, Beethoven’s late works are an emphatic and triumphant assertion of his refusal to resolve life’s exigencies peacefully, a view which Edward Said endorses, regarding it as a strength in its own right, rather than a negative factor in Beethoven’s late music.

For Schubert and Chopin, both of whom died young (by today’s standards), lateness is relative, almost a philosophical construct. The “late” works of these composers demonstrate that lateness is not just about physical or creative maturity, but also an attitude of mind. In their music there is the sense of life lived with intensity, that time is finite and there is much more to say, and this seems to have focused these composers’ imaginations in a very specific way.

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James Lisney

‘Endgame’, a series of concerts by British pianist James Lisney, at venues in the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and the Czech Republic, explores the notion of Late Style through the lens of four composers who are particularly close to Lisney’s heart – Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. These recitals include some of the best-loved, most intriguing and satisfying music of these composers’ late output.

‘Endgame’ continues throughout 2020 at St George’s Bristol, West Road Concert Hall Cambridge, Southbank Centre London and Rudolfinum Prague

Full details on James Lisney’s website

Meet the Artist interview with James Lisney

I have nothing but praise for James Lisney`s piano playing; he combines velvet touch and wide range of colour with complete understanding of phrasing and dynamic shading. This is someone who can really give the mechanical box of wires and wood a singing soul.

The Telegraph

 

On a single staff, for a small instrument, the man writes a whole world of the deepest thoughts and the most powerful feelings. If I were to imagine how I might have made, conceived the piece, I know for certain that the overwhelming excitement and awe would have driven me mad

Thus wrote Johannes Brahms of the Chaconne, composed by J S Bach as the final movement of the Partita No. 2 for solo violin. Throughout much of its three-hundred year existence, the Chaconne has been a source of fascination for composers and performers on instruments other than the violin, inspiring numerous transcriptions by composers as varied as Johannes Brahms, Feruccio Busoni and Leopold Stokowski.

A tour-de-force of instrumental ingenuity, musicianship and virtuosity, cellist and composer Joy Lisney’s own arrangement is the latest response to the Chaconne and attempts to illuminate Bach’s music through the cello, occasionally taking inspiration from the instrument itself but mostly staying as close as possible to the original.

The monumental Chaconne is the centrepiece of a programme including works by Chopin and Brahms, performed by one of the UK’s most exciting cello and piano duos, Joy and James Lisney.

The programme concludes with Brahms’  Regensonate in D; an intensely nostalgic work that Clara Schumann described as “blissful” and “melancholic” – music that she wanted to accompany her “at that passage from here to eternity”.

8 June – London, Purcell Room, Southbank Centre

Joy appeared on BBC Radio 3’s In Tune on Monday 6 May

 

 

 


Praised for her stylish playing, musical maturity, formidable technical finesse and keen advocacy for new music, Joy Lisney is one of the most exciting young musicians to emerge in recent years in a busy career combining the cello with composing and conducting.

She has been performing internationally since her teens, at leading venues including the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw, Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, St. George’s Bristol and the Southbank Centre, in concerts featuring some of the best known works for cello as well as specially-commissioned new music and her own compositions. Her first string quartet was premiered by the Arditti Quartet in 2015 and she premiered her own composition ‘ScordaturA’ for solo cello in 2017 at St John’s Smith Square as part of the Park Lane Group concert series. Joy has also given world premieres of works by Judith Weir and Cecilia McDowall.

Read more


James Lisney’s website

 

Artist photos by Krisztian Sipos and Suzie Maeder