Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?

I had played the piano for some years, and was playing occasional concerts by my early-teens, but for me the epiphanic moment was watching Jorge Bolet giving masterclasses and performing on BBC television. I suppose it came at just the right point in my musical and personal development, but suddenly I was obsessed, and pretty much every waking moment became about playing, listening to and reading about music – rather to the detriment of my school work.

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

Here I have to mention my first teacher, June Luck (who died recently). She was my local piano teacher in Ipswich, and had certainly never had a performing career, but she instilled one truly great maxim that has shaped my life and career: you can be anything you want as long as you’re willing to work hard enough. Then there were two teachers at the Royal College where I studied for my undergraduate and master’s degrees – John Barstow, who was really responsible not only for teaching me how to really control the instrument but also how to make friends with it, and the composer Edwin Roxburgh, who really opened my ears to contemporary music for the first time. After college, of course, there were many other teachers and mentors including Lev Naumov in Moscow, David Dubal in New York and Martino Tirimo in London, but special mention must be made of Ronald Stevenson. By the time we met at the end of my 20s I had established a performing and academic/lecturing career and was fairly well-known for my passion for Busoni. Ronald, who was the preeminent authority on Busoni and his circle made me understand the much larger perspective around early Modernism and its relationship to the piano, and led me along so many ‘paths less travelled’ in our epically long days in his music room and library which he called his den of musiquity!

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

Of course, the early years, establishing a career are always difficult, but my particular career as a pianist-lecturer seemed to baffle friends, colleagues and promoters alike – I suppose, back then before the internet and the portfolio career as a norm, it seemed strange that I didn’t fit into an easy pigeon-hole. Fortunately, the Royal College of Music awarded me a fellowship for two years during which time I was able to show how such a career could and did work, and indeed it set me on my third, rather unexpected path as an academic professor.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

I’m soon to be performing the Busoni piano concerto in London. I’ll never forget the day when I discovered John Ogdon’s recording of it in a second-hand record shop, and then a few weeks later, listened through to it with a score borrowed from Westminster Library. It was simply overwhelming, and as I started to pick my way through the score’s complexities, I couldn’t really begin to imagine how I could ever learn it. Eventually, about ten years ago, I gave a series of performances of it in the UK and New York with my amazing friend and colleague, Aleksander Szram playing the orchestral parts at a second piano (although we also had a live choir for the last movement). A couple of those performances are up on YouTube and although I certainly play it differently now, I am inordinately proud of the journey I made with that music.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

I’m very influenced by the idea of ‘Sprezzatura’ which was a term used by 16th-century courtiers to refer to a noble disdain. The idea is that you have to study every detail of your task, and then throw away the rulebook. I think I probably perform best those compositions which respond to such an approach – certainly Liszt, Busoni and Enescu amongst them.

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

Of course, I’m still influenced by promoters and venues, so for instance I recently gave some Medtner recitals in Bengaluru to celebrate the life of the Maharajah of Mysore, and a little while back was asked to give the premiere of the Edwin Roxburgh Piano Concerto. However, for the last few years I have also ensured that each season I include a work or two from my ‘bucket list’ which I’ve kept since my teens. This year it was the Schulz-Evler transcription of the Blue Danube, whilst previous offerings have included the Godowsky Passacaglia and Sorabji’s Jardin Parfumée. I realise I’ll never complete the list, but it’s really important to still treat myself to works I’ve always wanted to learn.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

For the last few years I have been living in India (my family home) for a few months each year, partly trying to offer educational opportunities to young musicians and teachers and partly giving concerts in my capacity as the first Indian Steinway artist. The concerts are sometimes quite traditional, but the really memorable ones have been where audiences have literally never seen a piano or knowingly heard Western music before. That’s a real privilege and responsibility, but it also sometimes reminds me of the memoirs I’ve read of the early years of the piano recital – the piano circus life as Liszt called it. So, I’ve headlined music festivals (even had a review in Rolling Stone magazine for performing Liszt!), given recitals to with brand tie-ins from wine to sports cars, and played for royalty (and was given the snuff-box to prove it!).

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Leading others (students and audiences) away from the increasing mundanity of our everyday lives to see the truly extraordinary in our world, ourselves and one another – whether just for a few minutes in a concert, or as an inspiration for future living.

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

To have an imagination, and then to work hard in order to turn into a reality both for themselves and their audiences, whilst at the same time trying to avoid the perils of narcissism (especially in the age of the selfie).

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

I’d like to have helped to create the first degree-awarding conservatoire in India, and have my own den of musicquity by the sea on the south coast of England, with a Great Dane by my side.

Karl Lutchmayer performs Busoni’s Piano Concerto in C at St John’s Smith Square on 30 November, with Seraphin Orchestra, conducted by Joy Lisney. This concert is the culmination of his 3-day concert series ‘Busoni – The Romantic Modernist’ which explores Busoni’s music beyond his well-known transcriptions of J S Bach.

Further details and booking


Karl Lutchmayer is equally renowned as a concert pianist and a lecturer. A Steinway Artist, Karl performs across the globe, and has worked with conductors including Lorin Maazel and Sir Andrew Davis, and performed at all the major London concert halls. He has broadcast on BBC Radio 3, All India Radio and Classic FM, and is a regular chamber performer. A passionate advocate of contemporary music, Karl has also given over 90 world premieres and had many works written especially for him.

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After their sell out performance of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony at West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge in March, Seraphin Orchestra make their London debut on 30 November at St John’s Smith Square with a generous programme of music by Rachmaninoff and Busoni, conducted by Joy Lisney.

In this concert, Busoni’s mighty, unapologetically immoderate Piano Concerto in C is the centrepiece of a programme which also includes Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances. Rarely-performed, in part because of the huge demands it places on both soloist and orchestra, the Busoni Concerto is one of the greatest pieces in the pianist’s repertoire and will be played by Karl Lutchmayer, a renowned Busoni expert.

Saturday 30 November, 7.30pm, St John’s Smith Square, London

Sergei Rachmaninoff – Symphonic Dances

Ferruccio Busoni – Piano Concerto in C Op. 39

KARL LUTCHMAYER piano

JOY LISNEY conductor

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Founded in 2017 at King’s College Cambridge by Joy and Emma Lisney, Seraphin Project mainly comprises young musicians studying in Cambridge, augmented by guest artists, including former BBC Young Musician prize-winners and leading players from top UK and European professional orchestras, including the Halle, RPO and BBCSO, who offer mentorship to the young players.

A dedication to music education through artistic excellence is at the heart of Seraphin Project’s activities and it exists to foster collaborations between musicians across generations and cultivate these new connections in performances ranging from chamber recitals up to full scale orchestral concerts. Seraphin seeks to provide experience for top student players working in a condensed intensive fashion which fits in with their studies, in collaboration with young professionals. The orchestra also aims to support emerging composers, granting them performances of their work in an open-minded culture and by committed players.


In addition to the Busoni Piano Concerto, Seraphin Project presents its first chamber series:

Seraphin Project Chamber Series #1: Quartet for the End of Time

17th November 2019, 8pm – West Road Concert Hall, Cambridge

Messiaen – Quartet for the End of Time
Busoni – Violin Sonata No. 2

Michael Whight – clarinet
Emma Lisney – violin
Joy Lisney – violoncello
James Lisney, Karl Lutchmayer – piano

BOOK TICKETS


Meet the Artist interview with Joy Lisney

International Piano interview with Karl Lutchmayer

Clara Schumann Festival at St John’s Smith Square 22-24 February 2019

Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of her birth

On Fri 22 Feb – Sun 24 Feb 2019, St John’s Smith Square celebrates the 200th anniversary year of Clara Schumann’s birth. Born in Leipzig in 1819, Clara Schumann is remembered nowadays as the wife of Robert Schumann and close friend of Johannes Brahms. This three-day festival hopes to shed some light on the various facets of Clara’s life – her role as an international pianist, a mother, friend, and composer. Although a significant portion of her compositions are for solo piano, Clara did write 29 Lieder, most of which are not featured often enough in recital programmes.

On this note, the Clara Schumann Festival opens with a very rare opportunity to hear Clara’s complete published songs, 29 settings in total. Renowned Belgian soprano Sophie Karthäuser shares the programme with the rising English tenor Alessandro Fisher (Winner of 2016 Kathleen Ferrier Competion and BBC New Generation Artist), accompanied by Eugene Asti who recorded The Songs of Clara Schumann on the Hyperion label.

Continuing the Festival’s particular focus on Lieder, Saturday 23 Feb 2019 begins with a Lieder Masterclass led by Eugene Asti. St John’s Smith Square are delighted to welcome three emerging singer-pianist duos from Oxford Lieder Young Artists, each of whom will explore a work by Clara Schumann plus another piece associated with her.

In their early years of marriage, Robert and Clara devoted considerable time to the study of fugue and counterpoint, notably Bach’s complete Well-Tempered Clavier which Robert referred to as his “daily bread”. Suitably titled “The Old Masters” (a term used by Clara to refer to the likes of Bach and Handel), Saturday’s afternoon recital juxtaposes Bach’s Prelude and Fugue No. 3 in C sharp BWV848 (a staple piece from Clara’s recital repertoire) with three of Clara’s own works from 1845, all performed by Gamal Khamis (Winner of the accompaniment prizes at the 2017 Royal Overseas League and Ferrier Awards competitions). The concert ends with another piece that nods towards the Baroque – Brahms’ Handel Variations Op. 24 (dedicated to Clara), performed by Mishka Rushdie Momen whom Imogen Cooper has hailed as “a really compelling talent”, garnering high praise for her “rare ability to communicate the essential meaning of whatever she plays” (Richard Goode).

The second day of the Clara Schumann Festival concludes with familiar numbers from Robert’s Myrthen, which he presented to Clara as a gift on their wedding day, and some Rückert settings from Clara and Robert’s joint opus. Entitled “Clara & Robert”, this programme also includes Clara’s early Variations a Theme by Robert Schumann Op. 20. The second half of this concert follows a similar vein; Beethoven’s song cycle An die ferne Geliebte Op. 98, with its longing for a distant loved one, precedes Robert’s Fantasy in C which includes a brief quotation from the Beethoven cycle, undoubtedly penned with Clara in mind.

Considered one of her best works, Clara’s Piano Trio in G minor Op. 17 (her only piano trio) opens the last day of the festival. This one-hour recital, “Clara & Brahms”, pairs Clara’s lyrical trio with one of her personal favourites – Brahms’ dramatic and turbulent Piano Trio in C minor Op. 101. Both works will be performed by the Busch Trio (Winner of 2012 Royal Overseas League Competition, and Prize Winner at the 2013 International Schumann Chamber Music Award), of whom The Times wrote: “what impressed most was the group’s effortless musicianship and unity of thought and attack. The threesome even seemed to be breathing in synch.”

Felix Mendelssohn and his close friendship with the Schumanns (and Brahms) is celebrated in “The Mendelssohn Connection” on Sun 24 Feb 2019 3.30pm. The tight-knit nature of this friendship group is reflected by the opening works – 2 Brahms settings of poetry by Felix Schumann (son of Clara and Robert, who they named after Felix Mendelssohn). The rest of the programme consists solely of works by Felix Mendelssohn – a selection of Lieder; his Lieder ohne Worte Book 5 Op. 62 for solo piano (dedicated to Clara), with its well-known Ein Frühlingslied; and, to conclude, the stunning Piano Four Hands in A MWV T 4 ‘Allegro Brilliant’ Op. 92, which Clara and Felix played together in Leipzig.

The final concert begins with two pieces as a memento of her friendship with the violinist Joseph Joachim: firstly, Clara’s own 3 Romances, one of her more frequently performed works nowadays; and secondly, the F-A-E Sonata which the composers dedicated to Joseph. This piece was first played through at a friendly get together by Clara and Joseph at Clara’s home. Both works will be performed by members of the Busch Trio. The Clara Schumann Festival ends with Brahms’ Vier ernste Gesänge, written towards the end of his life. The songs were first played to a group of close friends at a private gathering immediately after Clara’s funeral. After the cycle was published, Brahms sent a copy to Clara’s daughter Marie Schumann. Accompanying the score was a letter in which Brahms wrote: “…You will not be able to play through these songs just now because the words would be too affecting. But I beg you to regard them… as a true memorial to your beloved mother.” Brahms passed away 11 months after Clara.

Beverley Vong, Festival Curator said:

“Many will recognise Clara Schumann as the wife of Robert Schumann. However, in reality, she seems to have been so much more: not only did she juggle an international solo career with being a mother of eight (a feat in itself), Clara inspired a huge amount of music and this short festival features only a fraction of it. Selections of Clara’s own output are featured alongside works by household names to whom she was muse, friend, and colleague. In an age when women endured endless inequalities, Clara Schumann displayed remarkable resilience, determination, and devotion to music.”

Full Concert Listings

Festival Pass £45

Concert ticket: £18 (£15), YF

Masterclass ticket: £10

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7222 1061


(Source: press release)

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

My first piano was my uncle’s wedding gift to my aunt. At the time he was moving houses and the piano was ‘temporarily’ housed in my home, where it stayed for another 6 years! My first piano teacher (a small ballet company’s piano accompanist) was the person who really pushed me and my parents to think that it was really possible to consider a career path in Western classical music, a very new concept in China at that time. You must remember that this was merely only five years after the end of the Cultural Revolution!

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

The support of my mother throughout my life, and how she let me pursue what I loved to do, regardless of any social or financial consideration.

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

Juggling being a ‘hands-on’ mother of two young children and pursuing a performing career!

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?

There are some gems which I recorded for Pianist Magazine that turned out unexpectedly well. I have now recorded a large number of CDs for the magazine and I am very proud of issue 100, both for its significance and the music in it.

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

Not really. I would say perhaps the audience play a more important part in influencing my performance on the day rather than the venue itself.

Who are your favourite musicians?

I am not what you call a loyal listener, I go through phases. However, the old masters seem to always make me stop and pay attention whenever I hear them: Guido Agosti, Shura Cherkassky, Vladimir Sofronitsky, Pablo Casals, Alfred Cortot, Benjamin Britten, Louis Kentner… the list will go on and on.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Collaborating with James Loughran and the Aarhus Symphony Orchestra on Mozart’s Piano Concerto K.488. Also a small recital I gave in the Scottish border when the front leg of the old Bechstein piano suddenly broke during the final movement of Beethoven’s ‘Les Adieux’ Sonata; in happiness I hope!

As a musician, what is your definition of success?

Great question! Without sounding a cliché and being corny, all I want is just to play to people. My definition of success is being able to make that special bond with the audience – even if it is just to one single person on the night – in a short magic moment music can touch special places deep within.

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

To be forever inquisitive – one always finds answers if one keeps asking questions.

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

Pretty much the same as I am now, but perhaps travelling further afield to play more concerts, as the children will be more grownup. Also, dare I hope for much better gardening skills?!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Waking around with my family the day after a good concert.

What is your most treasured possession?

I am a very laid back Buddhist; I think that one of the main ideas of Buddhist teaching is to try not to hold on to many earthly possessions.

Chenyin Li performs two piano sonatas by Beethoven, Stravinsky’s Petrushka Suite and three Chinese transcriptions as part of the Bluthner Piano Series at St John’s Smith Square on 23 May. Further information and tickets here

www.bluthner.co.uk


The Chinese pianist Chenyin Li is internationally acknowledged as one of the most exciting and sought-after musicians of her generation. Her career was launched after winning the 6th Scottish International Piano Competition in Glasgow, as well as being the first prizewinner of the Campillos International Piano Competition, Dudley International Piano Competition and the European Beethoven Gold Medal. She has been described as a “gritty, fiery and athletic pianist, backed by a strong technique arsenal” (The Daily Telegraph), and “a player of remarkable subtlety” (The Scottish Herald), who “understands the original intentions of the composers as well as bringing her own individual interpretation which invests the music with a new life” (National Business Review). Read more

www.chenyinli.com

I was distressed to read this article by Richard Morrison in The Times yesterday about the possibility that St John’s Smith Square (SJSS), a beautiful baroque Grade 1 listed church in the heart of Westminster, may close permanently within 18 months due to financial difficulties.

For a long time the poor relation, despite its best efforts, to the cultural edifice of the Southbank Centre just across the river, SJSS has in recent years put itself on the map as a go-to musical destination, thanks in no small part to the imaginative, open-minded and innovative efforts of its Director, Richard Heason. In post since 2012, Heason has transformed SJSS from a “hall for hire” into a distinctive, forward-thinking vibrant cultural hub in the heart of London with new commissions, specially curated festivals and events, concerts featuring the venue’s fine organ, and a programme which supports young artists early in their careers. And while the Queen Elizabeth Hall was undergoing major refurbishment, SJSS hosted the International Piano Series and International Chamber Music Series, bringing it further endorsement of its status amongst London’s classical music venues

Back in the 1980s, when my father worked for a leading international insurance company, I attended concerts at SJSS which were sponsored by his company. I remember being struck by the beauty of the venue and its fine acoustic. In recent years I have rediscovered SJSS, not least because of its ease of access from Vauxhall station (a mere 10-minute walk across the bridge and along Millbank). It is my favourite concert venue along with Wigmore Hall and I have enjoyed some very fine concerts there – piano recitals by Paul Badora-Skoda, Steven Osborne, Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich, to name but a few, choral concerts by Polyphony, chamber music (most recently I Musicanti’s stimulating residency), Rolf Hind’s eclectic Occupy the Pianos Festival of contemporary music (returning 20th April), and Stephen Montague’s 75th birthday concerts (March 2018). I’ve heard premieres and new commissions, I’ve heard friends perform there, and I have made new friends there (a chance encounter in the café ahead of a performance of Messiaen last year).  I have even had the privilege of performing at SJSS myself, playing the hall’s beautiful Steinway as part of its Music Marathon events, which bring amateur and professional musicians together to celebrate shared music making.
For purely selfish reasons, I would be very sad to see this fine venue close for good. It would also be a loss for London’s cultural/musical heritage. It is a wonderful place, with a vibrant, varied programme of music. If you have not already done so, I urge you to discover it and support it. It is easy to find, being located within walking distance of Vauxhall, Pimlico, Victoria and Westminster stations. There is a pleasant café in the crypt and the venue is staffed by friendly, helpful people. Richard Heason can often be seen at concerts and is very amenable and approachable.
To survive, SJSS needs “a minimum of £200,000 a year for at least ten years” (Martin Smith, Chairman of the Board of Trustees). It receives no regular public subsidy, unlike its neighbour across the river, nor money from the Heritage Lottery Fund or Westminster City Council.
To quote that well-known advertising jingle, “every little helps” – so buy a ticket or three, or become a Friend, and go and experience the magic of music at SJSS (and the lemon drizzle cake is pretty good too, enjoyed with an inexpensive glass of rosé!).

A pianist drums a rhythm with his fingers on the side of the piano stool. At first he appears to be simply warming up his hands, but the rhythm is insistent and repetitive. His fingers move up to the fall board of the piano, still drumming. His hand reaches around to the flank of the instrument, edging towards the gold Steinway logo. He stands and moves around the curved body of the instrument, still drumming drumming drumming…. Suddenly a red balloon flies out of the belly of the piano, twirling into the air with a comical farting noise…..

Another pianist curls over a tiny toy piano, picking out a quirky tune which, on that instrument, sounds like many carriage clocks chiming…..

A flautist yells at the end of a piece which requires overblowing, triple tonguing and other complex techniques

Welcome to the world of composer and pianist Stephen Montague.

Steve at Barbican/G Crumb 2011

In celebration of Stephen’s 75th birthday St John’s Smith Square played host to 24 hours of music making, beginning at lunchtime on Friday 9 March: 5 concerts during the day and evening followed by a performance of Satie’s bizarre Vexations – 840 repetitions (c15 hours of music) of a curious little two-line piece, played by a tag-team of pianists in hourly slots. In the crypt below a video wall (set up by film maker Rob Munday and Royal College of Arts students) showed a new film by Kumi Oda (a biography of Stephen Montague) along with short films by Alex Julyan, Rob Munday and others which ran throughout the day and into the long night.

The daytime and evening concerts featured works written over the course of 40 years, including some new commissions/premieres, and demonstrated the quantity, breadth, variety and richness of Stephen’s work. This is the man who had breakfast with Aaron Copland as a student and who spent 15 years working with maverick composer John Cage; who has lived in the UK since 1974 but who still retains very strong ties to his American homeland, not least through his music. He’s a composer with a keen imagination, sharp wit and a healthy sense of humour, who, in his own words, has lived his life “looking forward”, and who shows no sign of stopping now that he has reached his three score years and 15.

Stephen’s connections to the country of his birth were revealed most strongly in the first concert of the day, ‘After Ives….and Beyond’. One of the most significant influences on Stephen is the American composer Charles Ives, and in the 1pm concert pianists Mikaela Livadiotis, Yaoying Wang, Jiarui Li, Christina McMaster and Lewis Kingsley Peart performed a programme of works which paid a direct homage to Ives in the use of folksongs, hymns and spirituals, marches, jazz, boogie-woogie and the mechanised sounds of the 20th century, together with Ivesian tone clusters and musical collisions, strummed and plucked effects inside the piano, and the drumming on the piano case. These effects – and the later performance by flautist Rebecca Griffiths of Vlug (Speed) which uses extended techniques and overblowing – demonstrate, in my view, Stephen’s fascination with sound. Now that may seem a daft thing to say of a composer, whose business is to create sounds, but Stephen is a composer who likes to push the capabilities of the instrument to it limits to create deep dark rumblings in the bass of the piano, or ethereal strummed murmurs from its innards, proving that striking the keys needn’t be the only way to “play” a piano. Chords and collections of notes are used for their colour and timbre rather than strict harmonic progression, and theatrics, surprise, chance and silence are also important elements. These things connect him closely to John Cage, who beleived that “all sound is music”.

The piano works in this segment combined Lisztian virtuosity in tumultuous passages with moments of repose, delicate far-away melodies and fragments of hymn tunes. The concert closed with After Ives (1993) which ends with an outrageously rambunctious and “perverse homage” to J P Sousa, whom Ives apparently detested, quoting his famous The Stars and Stripes Forever on the piano with Chopinesque melodic interjections and Lisztian extravagance, all masterfully and very wittily handled by Lewis Kingsley Peart.

In the second concert, Beguiled, Stephen paid homage to another of his musical heroes, Henry Cowell (1897-1965), a composer who liked to “live in the whole world of music” – an ethos to which I suspect Stephen also subscribes! This concert had an altogether more reflective, meditative atmosphere, showcasing works which draw on Japanese and Indian musical aesthetics, Blues, loops and phasing, and graphic scores. Highlights of the programme were Haiku, (which, according to the composer’s introduction, started out as a very short work (like Haiku) and became a long one): beautifully and sensitively performed from memory by Chi-Ling Lok, it was haunting, dreamy and ethereal, while the accompanying electronics lent a rather more unsettled backdrop to the work; Nun Mull, ‘Tears’ (2014) written in memoriam the Korean ferry disaster, commissioned and performed by Jenna Sung, who brought a plaintive tragic intensity to the work;  Raga Capriccio (2017), a kooky work for toy piano and tape, inspired by Indian music, commissioned and performed by Helen Anahita Wilson, which sounded like many clocks chiming and the delicate the “ting” of prayer bells; and Eine Kleine Klangfarben Gigue, in which the opening measures of the Gigue from Bach’s First Keyboard Partita provide a ground bass over which other instrumentalists (in this instance The Ling Ensemble – two recorders, violin and bass clarinet) gradually winkle out hidden melodies. It was played with a wonderful sense of humour and spontaneity, the musicians leaving the stage one by one as the piece drew to a close.

A quick glass of wine in the interval and back to the hall for the 4pm concert which was concerned with matters of life and death. Dark Train Coming (2001) was written for harpsichordist Jane Chapman and is the composer’s response to serious cardiac surgery following a doctor’s warning that he could be headed for the “Dark Train into the ether”. The work has a frenetic, filmic quality, with passages in the first movement reminiscent of the soundtrack to a silent film where the heroine is tied to a train track. In the second movement, we hear Baroque arabesques gone mad, while in the third the player taps out a rhythm on the case of the instrument before striking notes which have the exact electronic timbre and insistency of a hospital heart monitor. The finale was a simple melody in the upper treble accompanied by a music box playing Brahms’ famous lullaby, which suggested the hallucinatory landscape of anaesthesia and coming to from a deep sleep.

The middle works in the programme – Folk Dances (2002) performed by Ian Pace (piano) and Madeleine Mitchell (violin) and Mira, performed by pianist Roxanna Shini – were rather more upbeat. The first work was infused with idioms drawn from folk music, jazz and Blues, the second an exercise in using only the white notes of the piano with forearm clusters to create a work of expressive warmth. The programme closed with a magnificently portentous and apocalyptic organ work, Behold a Pale Horse (1990), inspired by the Book of Revelation (“Not exactly a happy birthday message but ya gotta have a sense of humour!”).

The final concert of the afternoon showcased talented young people performing works from Stephen’s collections Five Easy Pieces and Autumn Leaves, together with the world premiere of Hound Dog Blues for piano duo. In his introduction, Stephen explained that he has always found inspiration and nourishment from working with children and young people, and this charming short concert celebrated the new generation. Stephen even performed some of the music himself which lent a lovely sense of shared experience to the concert.

Fortified by more wine and supper, we returned to St John’s Smith Square for the evening concert which brought together other instrumentalists, pianists and the Fulham Symphony Orchestra, who between them performed three concertos, a short ensemble work called Dead Cat Bounce (2014) with lively animations on the columns of SJSS by Royal College of Art students, and a humorous piece Texas Pulp Fiction which was an ode to the composer’s travels through Texas on a Greyhound bus.

Ritual Ode to Changwan (2017) received its premiere at the concert. Performed by pianist Jenna Sung and the Project Instrumental ensemble, it is a theatrical work based on a popular South Korean folk song realised by prepared piano and string orchestra. Once again, we experienced the extraordinary sonic worlds a grand piano can produce when the pianist barely strikes a single note. It was a concentrated and highly arresting work in which the piano took centre stage, though not in the conventional sense of a classical piano concerto, but rather as a piece of performance art, and which finished with Jenna leaving a trail of tiny roses as she glided gracefully off the stage.

Disparate Dances showcased Nancy Ruffer (flute) and Oliver Wass (harp) in a three-movement work inspired by Eastern European, Japanese and Irish dance forms, with a wonderful foot-tapping, exuberant finale.

The final work of the evening was Stephen’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (1997). Scored in the traditional arrangement of soloist and orchestra and in three movements, it employs experimental elements favoured by Ives and Cowell, including fist and forearm clusters, and great walls of sound from the piano. The work draws on American vernacular music, folksongs and Civil War battle songs, and is an epic confluence of the composer’s American roots, viewed from the perspective of having lived away from the US for over 40 years. An intense, energetic and highly-charged work, it was performed with great gusto, vigour and elan by Rolf Hind.

Although the formal concerts finished at 9.45pm, the music was not over, and the performance of Satie’s Vexations, which had commenced at 9pm on an upright piano the crypt bar, continued upstairs as Norman Jacobs (New Music Brighton) appeared in the lift, playing the work on Helen Wilson’s toy piano. The music was then “transferred” to the upright piano and thence to the Steinway D for the overnight performance. Space was cleared in the hall for people to chill out or bed down for the night……. The all night count of repetitions was cleverly made visible by the RCA students’ real-time animation of expanding tree rings elegantly projected on the high walls and ceiling.

The whole event was a wonderfully vibrant and exhilarating showcase of Stephen Montague’s impressive compositional output, and the cheerful presence of the composer throughout the day – introducing the works, chatting to the audience – created a relaxed, informal atmosphere: this was very much music for friends, with friends and amongst friends.

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Birthday cakes for Stephen Montague in the crypt bar at St John’s Smith Square