I Musicanti
 
Leon Bosch, conductor
Arensky – Tchaikovsky Variations
Tchaikovsky arr. Stephenson – Rococo Variations
Alexandra Harwood – Sinfonia Concertante ‘The Secret Ball’ (world premiere)
Shostakovich, arr Stasevich – Sinfonietta after the String Quartet No. 8

4th November 2017, St John’s Smith Square, London

 

On (almost) the eve of the centenary of Russia’s October Revolution, I Musicanti presented a programme which spanned the old and the new: music from Imperial, Tsarist Russia (Arensky and Tchaikovsky) to an elegy to post-Revolution, post-war Russia in Shostakovich’s searing String Quartet No. 8 (here arranged for string orchestra with timpani), and the world premiere of a new work written by a fifth great granddaughter of Catherine the Great, Alexandra Harwood.

Following on the success of their first series at St John’s Smith Square, I Musicanti’s latest series ‘Alexandra and the Russians’ showcases brand new works specially written for the ensemble by Alexandra Harwood alongside well-known pieces and lesser-known or neglected gems of repertoire. This is proving a very successful and satisfying “formula” for I Musicanti: the juxtaposition of old and new, familiar and lesser-known offers interesting comparisons and contrasts within programmes, and brings to the fore music which may otherwise have lain dormant and unheard (for example, Schubert’s Quartet in G D96 for flute, viola, cello and guitar, which was part of the May 2017 programme). The programmes are also just about right in terms of length, no more than 40 minutes maximum per half – an important consideration for those of us who have a longer train ride back to the leafy suburbs after a concert.

Perhaps the most significant facet of the success of the I Musicanti formula is the selection of musicians. The ensemble is flexible – sometimes a quartet, sometimes at septet, depending on the repertoire; on this occasion a small string orchestra, led by Fenella Humphreys. The musicians are hand-picked: as Leon Bosch, the driving force behind the ensemble, said to me after the first concert (which included Peter Donohoe on piano), “I can choose the best people to work with” – and this shows in the quality and commitment of performances and performers. This is not flashy, ego-driven playing, but really exceptional playing driven by common purpose and a shared love of the music.

The concert opened in Russia’s Imperial age with Arenksy’s Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky, written as a tribute to the recently-deceased Tchaikovsky, and which begins, choral-like, with a motif which mimics the sound of male voices in a Russian Orthodox Choir, expressed in the dark sonorities of two cellos, violin and viola. A lyrical work with seven variations of differing tempi and moods, it was an affecting and genial start to the evening, elegantly presented by I Musicanti.

For Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, a work inspired by the composer’s love of Mozart, the ensemble was joined by South African cellist Peter Martens for a performance which combined understated virtuosity (the work contains some fiendish technical challenges for the cellist and few opportunities for the soloist to rest) with a delightful interplay between soloist and ensemble. This arrangement, by cellist and composer Allan Stephenson, restores the variations to their original order and assigns the original wind solos to the string principals (in this case Fenella Humphreys, violin, and Richard Harwood, cello, who both brought colour and verve to the music). Peter Martens’ tone was rich and colourful, balancing wit with seriousness to create a performance of great variety, character and warmth. This was the first performance of Allan Stephenson’s arrangement, the scoring for strings bringing a clarity to the music with no less texture or richness than the original.

After the interval, the world premiere of Alexandra Harwood’s Sinfonia Concertante: The Secret Ball, a work scored for string quintet surrounded by orchestra inspired by a story by Alekxander Afanas’ev (1826-71). A single movement takes the listener through a series of dances, opening with a grand, if slightly raunchy waltz followed by a polonaise, tango, polka, mazurka, tarantella, sarabande (using fragments of melodies from Corelli and Bach), minuet (with a fragment from Mozart), Bourree (Bach quoted again), Badinerie (Corelli), Galop and finally another waltz, the music fading away to nothing, as if the dancers are disappearing into the dawn. Alexandra is a noted composer of film music and the piece had, for me at least, a very visual quality with a clear narrative. In the lively, foot-tapping fragments of dance, one could easily picture the secret ball, dancers twirling on the dance-floor, while unspoken scenes and assignations perhaps took place in side rooms.

This work provided a striking contrast to the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 (in an arrangement for string orchestra and timpani by Abram Stasevich) which followed. Here was a work of great emotional power which takes Shostakovich’s motto theme DSCH as its starting point, the motto returning in various guises throughout. The timpani provide an underlying martial character to the work (said to be dedicated to “to the victims of fascism and the war”, but also perhaps dedicated to the composer himself who in July 1960 discovered he was suffering from a debilitating muscular weakness). This was a compelling, sombrely elegaic and tautly managed performance, and a fine close to what I feel was I Musicanti’s best concert so far in their residency at St John’s Smith Square. This concert also represented a debut of sorts for double bass player Leon Bosch as it was his first appearance in London on the conductor’s podium, a role he seems to relish.


Further I Musicanti dates at SJSS

Sunday 21 January 2018 at 3pm – music by Arensky, Alexandra Harwood (world premiere), and Tchaikovsky

Sunday 3 June 2018 at 3pm – music by Prokofiev, Smirnov, Alexandra Harwood (world premiere) and Glinka

Do go – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

Meet the Artist interview with Alexandra Harwood

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

Ultimately my parents! However that isn’t quite as simple as it sounds: they were both professionally trained pianists, and I never remember a time when I wasn’t absorbing beautiful music at home from my mother’s fingers, but I didn’t really get to know my father till I was 20. Nevertheless he was in the background guiding my musical training, so I owe my main inspiration to both of them though at different times and in different ways.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My fabulous teacher from 7 to 11 was Lamar Crowson. Without his thorough grounding I doubt if I would ever have become a pianist as I had a boyish rebellion at around 12 to 16 when I didn’t do any serious practice, at one point giving up playing completely. At that time non-classical pianists inspired me: McCoy Tyner, Thelonious Monk. I still love them.

Later on I was much inspired by some great string players, particularly Sandor Vegh, at Prussia Cove, who enormously influenced my thinking towards a more expressive, less literal and technical (and also less subjective) response. Also György Kurtág, perhaps the greatest musician I have ever encountered..

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I don’t think anything came close to preparing the UK premiere of the first six Ligeti Études. In their early days they were only printed as a facsimile of Ligeti’s manuscript and I would pore over a single bar for hours just trying to work out what I was supposed to play, let alone play it. The three Beethoven Sonata marathons I did were a challenge, but at least I knew the music already!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Hmmm – none particularly! Some I can live with – the Balakirev Sonata and other pieces, Weber 2nd Sonata, some chamber music recordings and some of the contemporary two-piano recordings I did with Andrew Ball 20 years ago or more. When I hear, for instance, John Casken’s “Salamandra”, the two-piano piece he wrote for us, I wonder what became of this furiously energetic young man! Though I keep going and still have recording plans, including with my current duo with Mariko Brown.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I think that if I stopped to think of it I would neither play those well nor anything else! I try to approach each piece and each performance as if it’s the first time I’ve played it. Nevertheless there have been some recurrent themes and composers I seem to feel more at home with: Beethoven and Debussy – perhaps two very different sides of me.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I try to play only music I love and feel I can say something to at a given moment. That can sometimes be a problem if a recital is booked a long time ahead though I usually find I can rekindle the love affair! I need enough variety, though sometimes reality puts a check on that – If you’re playing a Beethoven cycle you basically have to spend most of your time on Beethoven. Certain types of music become less interesting to me to play as I get older, for instance I don’t play much of the more abstract contemporary music any more. On the other hand I’m going to start playing Bach in my 70s.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

A good concert leaves me on a high wherever it is. Having said which, I’ve only played a few times in the Albert Hall and it was fabulous. Just that unique, electric atmosphere.

Favourite pieces to perform?

Ravel G major Concerto. Oh for another chance to do that!

Who are your favourite musicians?

Fritz Kreisler. David Oistrakh. Arthur Rubinstein. Carlos Kleiber. Martha Argerich. Samson François. Yuja Wang.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Playing in the garden of the British Ambassador’s residence in Riyadh with an air temperature of 36 degrees, and the Ambassador’s wife’s falcons solemnly listening.

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

Love, love, love. The more they love the music, and themselves playing it, the more they will want to communicate with their audiences, the more technique they will want to acquire (for the right reasons) and the more closely and accurately they will want to read the scores of these incredibly great musicians who have written their inexhaustible masterpieces for us.

Julian Jacobson celebrates his 70th birthday with a series of Sunday afternoon concerts at St John’s Smith Square, commencing on 22nd October. Full details and tickets here

One of Britain’s most creative and distinctive pianists, Julian Jacobson is acclaimed for the vitality, colour and insight he brings to his enormous repertoire ranging across all styles and periods.

Read more about Julian Jacobson

Julian Jacobson piano: Masterpieces of Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev
70th Birthday Concert Series

St John’s Smith Square, Westminster, London SW1P 3HA

 

Julian Jacobson, who has established a reputation as a pianist of extraordinary breadth and versatility, celebrates his 70th birthday this autumn with a series of Sunday afternoon concerts entitled Masterpieces of Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev, at St John’s Smith Square on 22 October, 26 November, 11 February and 11 March 2018.

The series features Prokofiev’s mighty War Trilogy, the 6th, 7th and 8th sonatas – widely regarded as the crowning glory of his output of piano music – a rare opportunity to hear the trilogy performed in sequence in the first three concerts. In the final concert Julian will play four pieces from Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet” and he will be joined by his regular duo partner, the Anglo-Japanese pianist Mariko Brown, in Gershwin’s “An American in Paris”, in Julian’s own virtuoso transcription for piano four hands.

A highly respected Beethoven pianist, Julian’s repertoire is firmly centred on the great classics of the repertoire – in recent years he has become particularly known for his Beethoven cycles and marathons (playing the complete 32 sonatas on three occasions in one day, most recently in 2013). He has also been an acclaimed exponent of contemporary music including jazz (giving the UK premiere of Ligeti’s Études in 1987 among many others), and as a much sought-after duo and ensemble pianist he has partnered many leading British and international soloists. His concert tours have taken him to over 40 countries worldwide and he has recorded more than 30 CDs.

Beethoven’s perennial sonatas: No.14 in C# Minor ‘Moonlight, No. 8 in C minor ‘Pathétique’, No. 23 in F minor ‘Appassionata’ and the Eroica Variations are complemented by major works of Schubert, including the Wanderer Fantasy and his Four Impromptus D899, as well as the Prokofiev.

Speaking about the St John’s Series, Julian Jacobson says: “As a man approaches his 70th birthday – something I thought only happened to other people – he can either try and run away from it or “face the music”. And so I decided I would challenge myself by presenting four programmes of composers I love and have been involved with over many years, celebrating some of their greatest and most loved piano music. There is a time for highways and byways and I have spent many years happily exploring them, but increasingly I feel the need to try and measure up to the pinnacles of the repertoire and see what I can bring to them of myself. I invite you warmly to share my journey!”

Highly regarded by audiences, critics and fellow musicians, György Kurtág remarked during the International Musicians’ Seminar (IMS) in Prussia Cove that: “Julian Jacobson is a possessor of perfection in musical interpretation and this illuminates his chamber music partners as well as his students and all listeners…”

Masterpieces of Beethoven, Schubert and Prokofiev

Four Sundays at St John’s Smith Square, London

Dates and programmes:

Sun 22 Oct 2017 at 3.00pm

Beethoven Eroica Variations op. 35

Schubert Four Impromptus D899

Prokofiev Sonata No. 6 in A op. 82

 

Sun 26 Nov 2017 at 3.00pm

Beethoven Sonata No.14 in C# Minor ‘Moonlight’

Schubert Sonata in D D850

Prokofiev Sonata no.7 in B flat op. 83

 

Sun 11 Feb 2018 at 3.00pm

Beethoven Sonata No. 8 in C minor ‘Pathétique’

Schubert Sonata in A D959

Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 in B flat op. 84

 

Sun 11 Mar 2018 at 3.00pm

Schubert Wanderer Fantasy

Beethoven Sonata No. 23 in F minor ‘Appassionata’

Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet: Ten Pieces op. 75 nos. 1, 4, 6 and 10

Gershwin An American in Paris arr. Jacobson for piano 4 hands

For tickets and further information visit: www.sjss.org.uk

Julian Jacobson www.julianjacobson.com
Source: press release/Jo CarpenterMusic PR Consultancy

Last weekend I performed at St John’s Smith Square, one of London’s premier music venues. This was part of their Music Marathon, 12 hours of continuous music making to coincide with the Open House London weekend. There was a great range of music and performers, a good-sized audience and a friendly atmosphere. I chose to perform, perhaps rather over-ambitiously, Schubert’s Sonata in A, D959, preceded by Britten’s Night Piece – a demanding programme of music lasting 45 minutes. I performed the Schubert Sonata 7 times last year (including the FTCL Diploma recital) but as any performer will tell you, each live performance reveals new or unexpected things about the music and you as a performer. I believe it is important to perform the music we study and play – not least because this wonderful music was written to be shared. Performing can take many forms – from informal playing at home with friends to a concert at a world-renowned concert hall – and each performance presents its own dificulties, stresses, pleasures and revelations.

I came late to performing, having had a long break from the piano after university, and completed two performance diplomas in my late 40s. In order to do this, and because I had not had a formal musical training in conservatoire, I had to “learn” how to be a performer (mostly by teaching myself and talking to and observing professional musicians at work). The most significant thing I have learned is that one must be extremely well-prepared – and prepared for anything and everything that can happen, both within the music itself and all the things one cannot control. Even the best laid plans in practise can come awry in performance, for a variety of reasons. For this reason most professional performers (and serious amateurs too) will do a number of practise performances in less important venues before the most important concert in their diary (at the Wigmore Hall for example, reputedly one of the hardest places to perform in because of its famously knowledgeable and discerning audience). Each performance is part of the learning process and whatever happens in a performance should be seen as a point of reference for future practising and preparation (and a timely reminder that we can never truly say that a piece of music is “finished”).  For example, during my SJSS performance certain passages which had seemed pretty secure in practise came unstuck (noticeably to me, but probably not to the audience as I managed to improvise). It can be quite a jolt to discover that one’s careful practising may not have been quite as scrupulous as one thought. For this reason, I try not to spend too much time negatively reflecting on a performance which may not have gone as well as I’d hoped, preferring to note the areas which require improvement and incorporate these into my practising regime. Thus, through these marginal gains one can take the music to another or different level each time it is performed.

Performing is physically and mentally demanding. and an unusual level of mental concentration is required combined with physical stamina for the duration of the performance (and playing for 45 minutes continuously is hard work!). Interruptions to one’s focus, such as noises in the hall, an error or memory lapse, or negative self-talk, can throw a performance off track and one sometimes has to muster huge forces to bring one back to the task in hand. This is why we must practise so meticulously, to make the music as secure as possible, so that we don’t break down or stop in performance (something I have only witnessed once in a professional performance, though I have encountered numerous but tiny errors or memory slips).

In addition, the stress and anxiety of performing does not pass the moment one leaves the stage. It can take some hours for the body’s stress hormones to return to their normal levels, which can leave one feeling jittery, restless, irritable and sleepless – despite one feeling physically and mentally drained. I have found isotonic drinks such as Gatorade help alleviate the physical and emotional effects of performing (these products have been proven to offer enhanced recovery to patients undergoing complex surgery).

Finally, one should try not to negatively post-mortem a performance too much. It has happened, in the moment, and now it is over and one should look forward to the next opportunity to present one’s music in concert. Compliments and generous feedback from audience members, colleagues and friends can make a huge difference to one’s attitude to a performance and help maintain a positive mindset.

So what did I learn from performing at St John’s Smith Square? First, that meticulous preparation is crucial and constantly reminding oneself of this truth is so important. Secondly, that one should never become complacent in the face of this great music; remain humble and do not allow one’s ego to get in the way of the music. Thirdly, accept compliments and comments with courtesy and humility – these are almost always genuine and given generously. Lastly, I have huge respect for professional musicians who perform regularly – because it ain’t easy!

A free 12-hour MUSIC MARATHON at St John’s Smith Square for Open House London Weekend

At 10am on Saturday 16 September, St John’s Smith Square opens its doors for Open House London Weekend 2017, inviting visitors to experience the stunning Baroque architecture while listening to and participating in musical activities.

There will be 12 hours of non-stop performance, open rehearsal and workshops from 10am on Saturday 16 September until 10pm that evening. All events are free of charge and people are encouraged to drop in at anytime to hear what’s happening. The schedule for the Music Marathon can be found on the St John’s Smith Square website at https://www.sjss.org.uk/events/open-house-2017-music-marathon

This year’s Music Marathon once again has a fantastic selection of pianists throughout the day. Blüthner artist Yuki Negishi performs works by Chopin, Liszt, and Nikolai Kapustin and we welcome back The Cross-Eyed Pianist’s own Frances Wilson with a programme of Britten and Schubert (from 5.15pm). Praised for “exceptional musicianship, poise and supreme confidence” at the Blackheath International Piano Festival, Harriet Stubbs features with Leo Nicholson to perform the first movement of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 on our two grand pianos. Késia Decoté returns this year with her programme of piano works by contemporary female composers (including works for toy piano) and Niamh Beddy continues her collaboration with dancer and choreographer Alice Weber to perform Carl Vine’s Piano Sonata No. 1 and a world premiere from Stevon Russell.

Soloists take the stage in the form of young award-winner Emmanuel Sowicz performing classical guitar arrangements of Bach and Scarlatti alongside Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Sonata ‘Omaggio a Boccherini’ Op. 77. International percussionist Beibei Wang brings us Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 on the marimba coupled with a work by kiwi composer John Psathas combining percussion with electronics, and a world premiere of one of Beibei’s own compositions. Having graduated from both the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, violist Katherine Clarke brings her passion for contemporary music to St John’s Smith Square with works by Garth Knox and Paul Patterson.

The Wall of Sound Singing Ensemble make a welcome return to St John’s Smith Square with their uniquely-styled traditional folk arrangements. We’re also delighted to have back our London International A Cappella Choral Competition 2017 competitors, Iken Scholars, with a programme of Lobo, Scarlatti, and Lotti. 

There is a variety of ensembles participating, from the Eos Trio opening the marathon with Stravinsky, CPE Bach, and Khachaturian, to baroque trio Musicke in the Ayre exploring the repertoire of 16th and 17th century art song from across Europe, accompanied by lute and bass viol. The marathon closes with a very special performance from experimental music collective Echoshed of their new piece Dialogues, written especially for the Music Marathon utilising the different spaces around St John’s Smith Square.

This year will also feature short talks on the history and architecture of St John’s Smith Square from Artistic Director, Richard Heason.

Richard Heason, Director of St John’s Smith Square said: 

“One again we celebrate Open House Weekend with a 12 hour marathon of continual music making at St John’s Smith Square. There’s a huge range of music on offer, with both new and old, familiar and fresh. St John’s will resound to the sound of choirs, orchestras, solo instrumentalists and electronic music and all of it is available to listen to free of charge in this magnificent Grade 1 listed concert hall. Come and join us as we embark on our marathon of music making.”

#SJSSMarathon

Full details of the Marathon: https://www.sjss.org.uk/events/open-house-2017-music-marathon

 

Once again the impeccable musicianship, collective commitment and imaginative and varied programming of I Musicanti impressed with the first concert in their new series at St John’s Smith Square. Entitled ‘Alexandra and the Russians’, each recital in this 4-concert series features a new work by composer Alexandra Harwood, who can trace her Russian heritage back to Catherine the Great.

Bookended by Shostakovich’s taut and impassioned Piano Quintet Op 57 and Glinka’s good-natured and lyrical Sextet in E flat, Alexandra Harwood’s ‘Fiddler in Hell’ was a rollicking, foot-tapping romp and a great platform for violinist Fenella Humphreys’ colourful virtuosity and affinity with new music. Meanwhile, Schnittke’s mysterious and unsettling Hymnus II demonstrated the supreme technical control and musical understanding of Leon Bosch (double bass) and Richard Harwood (‘cello).

I Musicanti’s creative approach proves that it’s possible to present new music in accessible programmes which combine familiar works with lesser-known pieces. Future concerts in the series include music by Tchaikovsky, Arensky, Prokofiev, and Smirnov performed by some of the finest musicians active in the U.K. today.

Highly recommended ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

IMusicanti.co.uk