I was delighted to take part in Jon Jacob’s Thoroughly Good Podcast project with composer Thomas Hewitt Jones (who happens to be one of the first people to feature in my Meet the Artist series). We met in the crypt bar at St John’s Smith Square (one of my favourite music venues in London) to talk about blogging, composing, concert going and more…..

Listen here

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Guest review by Karine Hetherington

I don’t go to the British Museum as often as maybe I should. My education in ancient civilizations sadly ceased the minute I left primary school. However I still love the Greek myths. I have happy memories of fashioning the Greek gods and heroes from papier-mâché and chicken wire in class and recall my felt tip drawing of Prometheus writhing in agony as an eagle pecked out his liver!

When I received an invitation to attend a talk and musical concert at the British Museum about the Parthenon Frieze in June, it seemed the ideal opportunity to renew my interest and to learn something of the precious exterior ornamental band which ran around the 2,500- year-old Parthenon temple.  I also wanted to know what all the fuss was about, why lawyer Amal Clooney, one month after marrying superstar George, was taking up the Greek cause to return the priceless marbles to Greece. Today, around 60% of the frieze is housed in Room 18 of the British Museum, the majority of the remaining 40% resides in the Acropolis museum.

The Parthenon Freize at the British Museum (picture source: Wikipedia)

So I set out on a gloriously sunny evening in June with the words of my friend Molly Borthwick (generous supporter of that day’s event) whirling around in my mind: “You haven’t met Ian (Jenkins), you haven’t heard him speak! He’s the world expert on Greek and Roman sculptors. You’ll lurvv him!”   When Molly says these things, I listen.

An hour later I was in the back row of the lecture hall. Without any ceremony a silver-haired Ian Jenkins walked on stage, looking the part of Victorian gentleman and flamboyant academic in his slightly creased, pin-striped suit and a silver watch chain, from which hung his museum key. From his lectern he perused the audience. I scanned the room myself. My gaze flitted across the packed lecture hall composed of suited men and women in heels and summer dresses, over to a younger crowd nearer to where I was sitting, in jeans, sneakers and dark tee-shirts, some of whom, started to canoodle the minute they sat down.

I went back to reading the programme: “Ian is the curator of the Museum’s critically acclaimed exhibition ‘Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art”. “The body” I thought to myself, a theme which is bound to get the punters in at the British Museum. Tonight however, Ian’s angle had changed. We were being offered: ‘The Parthenon Frieze: a symphony in stone’. As I am a great classical music lover and a Wigmore Hall regular, I was intrigued by the musical connection. This, coupled with the fact that we were going to be treated to a live UK premier of newly commissioned work entitled Panathenaia which had been inspired by the Parthenon frieze.

Ian explained that the frieze was the decorative sculptural upper band of marble, which originally ran off the entrance to the Parthenon temple.  The frieze evokes the ‘Great Panathenaia’, the festival held every four years to celebrate the birth of Athena. Here we had to imagine it in situ: two parallel processions progress along opposite sides of the building towards their finishing point on the east wall. We see horsemen, chariots, animals for sacrifice, young women and magistrates or tribal heroes. There are chariot races that day and music competitions, the prizes special jars, filled with olive oil, with a depiction of the event on them.   The high point of the ceremony is the presentation of the peplos or sacred cloth, newly woven, to adorn an ancient olive statue of Athena.  Presiding over these festivities are the gods and goddesses. The interesting thing, Ian tells us, is that there is a question mark over whether the gods are viewing these events from on high – that is from Mount Olympus – or down at the Temple in Athens, suggesting perhaps the merging of the human and the divine. Have humans become godlier or have the gods become more plebeian? There is a pause whilst we take this in. A man in front of me stops tapping the screen on his iPhone and looks up, as if he has just woken up to this momentous question left hanging in the air.  He looks around vaguely then bows his head again and resumes his silent tapping.

Ian’s talk becomes more and more fascinating as he draws all sorts of modern artistic parallels with the frieze. He sees the same arrangement of horses in a work painted by the great artist Mark Gertler in 1916, ‘The Merry go round’ and so on. And then comes Ian’s tour de force. “The symphony” which is to be found in the Parthenon Frieze. Ian starts to show us slides of his transcription of the frieze, which he has converted into a sort of Braille, in which the numerous figures seen from above, are represented by simple shapes. And here I quote from the Panathenaia librettist Paul Williamson, as I’m not a musicologist : “The heads of the horsemen, for example, are shown as ovals, laid out in rows to indicate the depth of field. The effect of the semibreve-like ellipses arranged on staves, as it were, is incredibly like musical notation.”

Oh my! My brain is now reeling, I am eager to hear the music to give it a rest.

Full of anticipation we leave the lecture hall, and make our way up a grand staircase to Room 18, the Parthenon frieze viewing gallery.

Twenty minutes later, having finally settled in our seats, we are able to admire the frieze for real; we stare at the sections of white marble sculptures on the walls, beautifully lit, looking so clean, the figures so beautifully fluid and lovingly preserved, though incomplete. It is hard to believe that they are so ancient. The TV camera is there with Patricia Wheatley, formerly with the BBC and head of the BM Broadcasting unit, the photographers with their telescopic lenses, all now aiming at the stage, for the choir, two sopranos, the orchestra and lead violinist Hugo Ticciati (soon to be playing at the Wigmore I noticed with interest) has just stepped in. The enthusiastic Ticciati starts speaking a little fast on the stage, but it doesn’t matter, all I need to know is in the programme, namely that it was he who had the idea of commissioning this work in the first place.  Ticciati enlisted the services of award-winning composer Thomas Hewitt Jones (Winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition) and they chose Paul Williamson to write the libretto. Ticciati and his orchestra performed the finished work once in Sweden last summer, at a summer festival he organises, and instead of the Parthenon, a rock-balancing artist was called in to reconstruct his own frieze with some stones from a nearby lake. Apparently the last irregular diamond of stone was put in place as the music ended.

Wow! I thought, not bad, not bad at all. But even a rock-balancing artist cannot compete with these beautiful smooth, sculpted warriors running along the wall.

A young bearded conductor steps up on stage with tight corkscrews curls, followed by two late musicians, who, cowering with embarrassment and grasping their violins quickly find their seats.

Panathenaia is a Cantata in eight movements for string orchestra, timpani, soloists and choir. The hugely talented composer, Thomas Hewitt-Jones drew his inspiration from certain figures from the frieze and temple statues.

The instrumental Prelude opens with the tense plucking of strings and jagged rhythms, then the full orchestra enters into a slow lumbering movement of strange, mysterious sounds marking the start of the Athenian procession or is it the wars that preceded the building of the Parthenon temple, as there is the rumble of drums.   We are transported back to c. 495-429 BC, where the instruments one imagines to have such different discordant sounds.

In marked contrast, the following “Temple” movement with the Choir, is one of beautiful high, ethereal voices, denoting the harmony and beauty of the land and holy building where justice reigns: “This ancient land’s an orderly/Arrangement, wrought from flowing forms”.

“The Weaver’s Song” following, sung with great feeling by the fine blonde soprano Paulina Pfeiffer is both mournful and serious in tone – serious because she is weaving the sacred cloth which will clothe the statue of Athena, therefore a great responsibility – mournful – because she is alone, separated from her warrior boyfriend who is taking part in the chariot races during the festival: “Eros, has made me dull”. Apparently in rehearsals, Paulina, was disturbed by her voice ricocheting off the frieze in Room 18. She was, I was told, holding back tonight, and I noticed her shoulders stiffen a little as one particular high note echoed around our heads. The effect however was thrilling!

I loved “The Lyric Suite”: Hugo Ticciati’s achingly beautiful violin, sometimes so haunting and then the unsettling bassoon, plucking of strings and tympani which crescendos into a full-blown orchestral swell setting things up for Prometheus and his challenge with the gods.

In “Prometheus” we had the gorgeous pairing of the blonde soprano and dark mezzo-soprano, Karolina Blixt. Blixt looked very striking in her Grecian ivory dress and liquid eye liner eyes which flashed at the audience, causing quite a ripple amongst the male members who looked up at her in complete reverence (I see a star in the making). “Ah but the gods have lost their spark” they sing signifying the decline in the influence of the gods, making way for Prometheus who “…freed the agent of change/That far-seeing rascal”. The sopranos snarl the word “rascal”

In “Shadows in a dream” the choir asks what harmony is possible when humanity inherits the earth? Tympani – storm rumblings loud then soft and distant, set the scene for the following “Birth of Pandora”, Zeus’s revenge on humanity. I loved the amazing anarchic dance of the satyrs attending the birth of the beautiful, ‘baneful’ Pandora. “Caper on your crooked legs” – wonderful alliteration by Paul Williamson the librettist. And finally the Coda – plucking of double basses like footsteps fading away. The music has turned full circle. We are back to where we started.

Loud applause. Ian Jenkins the curator, the musicians, singers, composer, librettist and conductor, had transported us into another world, another time. It had been an exciting, illuminating experience, one that I am very keen to repeat. These sorts of happenings however are rare and require money, time, commitment and passion. Vision too. I felt privileged to have attended such an event.

Since then I have returned to admire the frieze in the British Museum twice!

Discover this extraordinary composition performed by orchestra and singers for the first time ever in the British Museum’s Duveen Gallery, which houses the Parthenon Sculptures. Surrounded by these stunning carvings, Panathenaia celebrates their artistry and tells the story portrayed in the timeless stones.

Karine Hetherington is a teacher and writer who lives in London. A dual-British and French national, with a Russian ancestry thrown in, her short stories and novels reflect her passion for both the detail and grand sweep of European history. After studying creative writing at Birkbeck College in London, Karine has been telling stories that have brought history to life, with tales of love and adventure that draw on the detail of real events and real lives. Karine’s novel ‘The Poet and the Hypotenuse’ is available now. Read an extract here

Meet the Artist……Thomas Hewitt Jones

Paul Smith of VOCES8

Who or what inspired you to take up singing and make it your career?

I think everyone in VOCES8 was very lucky to have some amazing music teachers as we grew up. Many of sang in cathedral choirs and 3 of the founding members were choristers at Westminster Abbey. When you get so completely immersed in choral music from such an early age, I think you either fall in love with it or move away from it completely, and we were the former! We’re very lucky to have a full time job making music with VOCES8 – it’s a wonderful career to have!

Who or what are the most important influences on your singing?

With 8 different musicians in the group, there are always plenty of musical influences flying around, and that’s what makes working together as an ensemble so exciting. Where Barney or Charles might revel in our early music, and Emily would probably sing Bach all day long, we also all love different genres of music too – Paul loves jazz, and Dingle has a very eclectic musical palette…. All of this feeds into our music making. While we’re an a cappella group, it also helps that some of us play musical instruments too. Rob is a professional organist whenever he has a spare minute to play.

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

Musically, I think our first couple of recording projects were really challenging, but for different reasons. We recorded ‘Aces High’, an album of jazz, pop and James Bond songs, in 2009 in California, and the process was incredibly challenging for all of us. Then, when we recorded the Bach Motets album in 2010, we were challenged, musically, in an entirely different way. We love both discs, but as we look back on those recordings, I think we’re so proud of them because we know how much effort went into them.

What are the particular challenges/excitements of working with an orchestra/ensemble?

We spend a lot of our time teaching – we work with about 25,000 young people every year! – and last night we were talking with a group of singers about this very topic in Bedford!

Being a full time performer is wonderful, but there’s something special about being part of a small team. I love being onstage with the same group of people each night, sharing with our audience a concert that we’ve spent months piecing together in the rehearsal room.

Having a vibrant rehearsal environment in which we can all share artistic ideas and then bringing that to life on stage is just great fun! In VOCES8 we have 8 very different personalities too, and that can sometimes be a challenge! We’ve been together now for such a long time that any arguments are always resolved, and I suppose we feel rather like one big family! I know I’m lucky to be surrounded by such a talented and passionate group of people!

Which recordings are you most proud of?

Ha ha! I think I’ve answered this one – if I had to choose one, it would be ‘Aces High’. I think, looking back on this in years to come, we’ll realise that we created something completely new with that album, and I don’t think I’ve found another album in that genre that I prefer, which means I must be happy with how it turned out! It was also amazing to be recording in California and working with the most amazing production team you could possibly imagine.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?

In VOCES8 we’ve been really lucky to perform in some fabulous venues…. And while it’s hard to beat some of the top London venues (nothing is ever quite as scary as performing in your home town!), the NCPA in Beijing was just staggering, and the outdoor amphitheatre in Vaison-la-Romaine was a joy to sing in.

Who are your favourite musicians?

So many that I couldn’t even start to name check them all, but I’d go for Miles Davis as one…

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Headlining the first ever classical music festival in Kenya on a huge outdoor stage will live forever in my mind I think! But we’ve had so many inspiring, emotional, spiritual and sometimes simply funny places to sing… every day is different!

What is your favourite music to perform? To listen to?

That depends entirely on my mood. This week in rehearsal we’ve been looking at Byrd, Panufnik, Marcello and Simon and Garfunkel…. All for different upcoming projects, and all great in different ways.

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

Be open to as much as possible, dedicate yourself to what you want to achieve and then work out how you’re going to get there. Don’t every worry about someone telling you that they don’t like what you’re doing. Art is subjective. And in the world that we live in, being as multi-faceted as possible is always going to be helpful for you.

What are you working on at the moment?

We’ve just finished recording the music for the Olympic Mascots with our composer-in-residence, Thomas Hewitt Jones; we’re working on music by Roxanna Panufnik for a recording linked with our publishing house, Edition Peters, next month; we have a recording project in France with our good friend Patrick Ayrton in the summer and then a busy touring schedule to France, Germany, Spain, Taiwan and Italy to keep us on our toes! Oh, and we’re publishing our first VOCES8 Songbook in July too… then throw into the mix all of the education projects that are coming to an end as the school holidays beckon, and you can imagine we’re not getting to sleep very much at the moment!

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

Happy wherever I am!

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

That changes by the day, but feeling like I’m enjoying my life and also able to contribute to the happiness of others.

What is your most treasured possession?

My iPhone and I are pretty inseparable…!

What do you enjoy doing most?

When I’m not making music, I love sport…. And food, wine, films, books…! Hmm.

What is your present state of mind?

I need another coffee!

Like several members of the group, Paul’s musical life began as a treble in Westminster Abbey. His singing continued at Bedford School, where he held a music scholarship, and later at King’s College, Cambridge, during his gap year. Whilst studying PPE at the University of York, he spent much of his time performing musical theatre and jazz, most notably appearing in a production of Candide. At this time he was also a member of the RSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir. Upon graduating in 2004 he embarked upon a successful career in corporate training and events with the New London Orchestra and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. In August 2006 Paul assumed the position of CEO for Voces Cantabiles Music.

Paul’s light baritone has made him the perfect choice for VOCES8′s early repertoire. An experienced performer in jazz and music theatre, he also provides the group with the American twang for the lighter repertoire. A height-based comedic partnership with his fellow bass, Dingle, has amused audiences the world over.

Alongside his singing duties with VOCES8 Paul leads the Hatch My Ideas! initiative run by Voces Cantabiles Music. Paul shines both as a Workshop Leader and Manager, and the projects he and his team have designed have innovated music education in UK.

Visit www.hatchmyideas.co.uk for more information.

VOCES8

The international award-winning octet, VOCES8, has established itself at the forefront of British a cappella. Performing a repertoire ranging from Renaissance polyphony to unique Jazz and Pop arrangements, the group has been praised for stunning performance, exquisite singing and creating a sound that spans the entire range of vocal colour.

Founded in 2003 by ex-choristers of Westminster Abbey, VOCES8’s career has developed both in the classical choral scene and the world of a cappella with an annual touring schedule that takes the group to Europe, the USA, Africa and Asia. Highlights include performances at the Royal Festival Hall, the Wigmore Hall, Tel Aviv Opera House and the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing.

With an ongoing programme of recordings and live broadcasts VOCES8 is heard regularly on international television and radio including Deutschlandradio Kultur, ARTE TV and the BBC.

VOCES8 plays a key role in the education work of the non-profit foundation VOCES CANTABILES MUSIC. The group leads innovative workshops as part of larger outreach projects in two hundred schools throughout the UK and internationally. VOCES8’s education work extends to workshops and master-
classes for people of all ages and abilities with the aim of inspiring creativity through music.

Thomas Hewitt Jones

Who or what inspired you to take up composing and make it your career?

I have composed ever since I was a child. My maternal grandfather was a nuclear engineer, but the grandparents on my father’s side were both composers: Tony was a good craftsman; he studied with Nadia Boulanger and predominantly wrote choral music. His wife Anita was very adept at composing fantastic educational music. I suppose having composition in the family contributed to my experimentation with ‘finding sounds’ at a young age, originally writing purely on one’s own terms. I later learned that being able to fulfill a brief is a prerequisite to being professional composer.

Who or what are the most important influences on your composing?
At 9 years old I was playing hymns at school assemblies and I think this taught me a lot about harmony, melody and basic structure – you have to learn the rules before you break them. My father, a cellist in the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, took us to see dress rehearsals on Saturday mornings from a young age and I love the emotional depth of 19th Century orchestral music. I’m a lover of great melody, and I try to write music that speaks in a direct way but is underpinned by complex harmonic movement. This extension of a neo-romantic approach is very compatible with the cinema, which is probably why I’ve landed up doing that as well as standalone instrumental and choral music.

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

Getting commissioned as a composer is about diversity, and being able to turn one’s hand to whatever projects come in. You can’t afford to be choosy, especially at the beginning. I feel lucky to have had some great early commissions – from a carol ‘Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth’ published by Oxford University Press and three ballet scores for Ballet Cymru, through to a piece for full orchestra at a Richard Stilgoe Concert at the Royal Festival Hall. On the commercial side, my first scores were very low-budget, written for children’s audiobooks. I did them under a pseudonym, and would recommend this approach to composers starting out; it enables you to gain writing experience and confidence before having to own up! If you go into any Waterstones there are rows and rows of them by someone with a silly name – but I’m not telling you who it is!

Which compositions/recordings are you most proud of?
I have very much enjoyed writing for ballet, and two out of my three ballet commissions for Ballet Cymru have been recorded and released on CD. Writing for dance is very refreshing because dancers think about music in a completely different way. Unlike composing for film where the musical narrative is tightly dictated by the picture, with ballet you can tell a story through a series of scenes or tableaux, and the narrative musical journey can be more fluid.

Alongside instrumental music, I particularly enjoy writing choral works. Recently I completed ‘The Same Flame’ for Boosey & Hawkes; an exciting new choral work written in collaboration with poet and lyricist Matt Harvey. It’s a positive song-cycle focused on humanist values that will receive its premiere in July in a concert conducted by choral director David Ogden.

Do you have a favourite concert venue?
For a small venue the Cadogan Hall isn’t bad. I’m going there on the 1st May when my old school will be premiering my ‘Psalm 150’. It’ll feel a bit like going full circle, because it was singing Benjamin Britten’s setting of the religious text that left a real impression on me and encouraged me to compose when I was a kid. I was delighted when my alma mater commissioned a new setting.

Who are your favourite musicians?
I couldn’t say; there are so many fantastic ones around. The best musicians are those who lift the music off the page, translating the mere dots into something with real shape. Like composers, they have to be able to understand emotion, and really be able to tell a story. Players with a good personality always convey this through the music.

What is your most memorable concert experience?
In December 2010, my carol ‘Child of the Stable’s Secret Birth’ received two joint premieres within a few minutes of each other – by John Rutter and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall, and over the road at the Royal College of Music by members of the Junior Department chamber choir and orchestra. There’s nothing as exciting as a first performance – especially when two happen at the same time!

What is your favourite music to play? To listen to?
I was an organ scholar at university and enjoy playing Bach – counterpoint doesn’t get better. I was fortunate to be a member of the National Youth Orchestra in my teens, and Jill White, then Director of Music, was intent on offering us a rich palette of the very best of 19th-century orchestral music. The highlight of my 8 years as cellist and latterly principal composer with the NYO was playing Mahler 8 with Sir Simon Rattle, and the same year conducting a premiere live on Radio 3 with NYO players.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians/students?
I’m going to be blunt here. Music enjoyment/participation is for everyone at all levels, but don’t rely on making a living from the music profession unless you are so genuinely passionate about it that you would give up everything for it.

What are you working on at the moment?
Having just put the finishing touches to the score for the final animation of the 2012 Olympics Mascots film series, I am currently working on two further commissions. Hopefully they will be finished by 1 May, which is when I am scheduled to start work on a large-scale commission for choir and orchestra for Sloane Square Choral Society who are premièring it in December 2012.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
In a composing hut somewhere remote by the sea. With a tolerant wife and kids, if I’m lucky.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
The little things. Despite the emotional complexity of being a composer, I’m a simpleton really.

What do you enjoy doing most?
I think an exciting answer would be ideal here, but I am ashamed to say that I’m very happy when composing. When I was about 3 or 4, I remember being in a toy shop and looking up in awe at all the toys that were there to play with. For better or worse, composing feels the same, and I never get tired of it. Maybe I will one day.

What is your present state of mind?
Tired. I’ve recently delivered the masters for the score to the new 2012 Olympic Mascots film, ‘Rainbow to the Games’, which is being released in UK cinemas on 5th May.

Origonal interview date: April 2012

Thomas Hewitt Jones is an award-winning composer of both concert and commercial music. Winner of the 2003 BBC Young Composer Competition, he studied music at Cambridge University where he was also organ scholar of Gonville and Caius College.

His concert work has been heard on BBC Radio, Television and in many of the major concert halls in the UK, including the Royal Festival Hall, London’s South Bank centre and the Royal Albert Hall. Thomas has worked with numerous acclaimed ensembles such as the Britten Sinfonia, Sounds Positive, Members of the Royal Opera House orchestra and the Carducci Quartet. He has had pieces published by Faber Music, ABRSM, Novello & Co, Universal Music and Oxford University Press.

Thomas has worked in Hollywood assisting on the film scores for the films ‘Forbidden Kingdom’ (the Kung Fu epic featuring Jackie Chan & Jet Li, dir. Rob Minkoff) and ‘Town Creek’ (dir. Joel Schumacher), and has written music for radio and TV stations including BBC Radio 4 and ITV.

Thomas has written extensively for ballet, including the 2008 Welsh Independent Ballet commission ‘Under Milk Wood’, and an adaptation of Llewellyn’s novel ‘How Green was my Valley’ in 2009.

Thomas recently composed a new ballet, ‘The Lady of the Lake’, based on the Welsh folk tale for a UK tour of the Welsh national ballet company, ‘Ballet Cymru, that toured throughout 2010 including Lilian Baylis Theatre, Sadlers Wells, London in November.

Other recent commissions include composing and recording the music for the London 2012 / LOCOG Mascot Animated Films for the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games the latest instalment of which was ‘Adventures on a Rainbow’ (performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and conducted by Thomas).

www.thomashewittjones.com

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano, and make it your career?
Growing up in a house where the piano was always being played by my mother and grandmother was very influential. I just wanted to join in all the time!

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?
Mozart Concert Rondo for Piano and Orchestra K382. I played this with a chamber orchestra when I was 13. The expressive d minor variation has a 4 bar piano solo before the orchestra joins in; in the rehearsal I was suddenly aware of the orchestral sound swelling around me, carrying me with it, and hooking me for life.

And I was fortunate to have inspirational teachers, Roy Shepherd and Stephen MacIntyre, who had studied with legends such as Cortot and Michelangeli, and also to study with Ronald Smith.
 
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Having moved around a lot, it has always been a challenge to retain former contacts and performance opportunities as well as forging new links in a new location. As part of the research before we move, I have always checked out what’s on where, and started to make contacts with likely promoters.

In this digital age the exciting challenge has been to use the internet and social networks as part of that process, without the limitations of physical geography.

Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
I was delighted to mark 2011, Liszt’s Bicentenary, by recording his Annees de Pelerinage  – Italie on CD, by writing a blog about the music, and by performing his works in concerts in the UK and Australia.

In 2012, the year of the London Olympics, I will be performing in the world premiere and recording of ‘The Same Flame’, a song cycle of 5 songs based on the Olympic values of Courage, Inspiration, Excellence, Friendship, and Respect and Equality, for massed choirs and piano, with words by Matt Harvey and music by Thomas Hewitt Jones. And I’ve been the pianist on the soundtrack of 3 Olympic Mascots animated films featuring Wenlock and Mandeville, with a story by Michael Morpurgo. It’s always exciting to be involved in something new, fresh and contemporary.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Anywhere with a good piano and a receptive audience!

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
Liszt is always a favourite, and Chopin. I listen to a very wide range of music, often choral, orchestral and operatic, as it broadens my aural horizons and colours all that I play.

Who are your favourite musicians?
Musicians who serve the music they perform, and who make me think – ‘I must get the score and see what the composer wrote there.’  Even better if they are pianists, and if they make me think, ‘I have to learn that piece!’

What is your most memorable concert experience?
In 2009 I gave a charity recital in Mbabane in Swaziland. The local piano teacher’s upright piano could not be transported to the venue, so I played Moussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ on a Yamaha Clavinova. Whenever there was a silence in the music, the sounds of the African night floated in through the open windows – frogs and crickets.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Never give up – priceless advice from Churchill.

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on pieces by Debussy, whom I think of as being ‘The French Connection’ between Chopin and Liszt. I’m playing two of his studies, dedicated to the memory of Chopin, as well as Masques, and La Plus que Lente.

What is your most treasured possession?
A Maelzel metronome belonging to my grandmother. It set a musical pulse for her, for my mother, for me, and now for my children.

 

Christine Stevenson enjoys a distinguished career as a piano recitalist and concerto soloist throughout the UK and abroad. Winner of the prestigious Dom Polski Chopin competition, her wide experience extends from making the premiere recording of Alkan’s Rondo Brillant with members of the London Mozart Players, to being the pianist on the soundtrack of the latest animated film featuring the 2012 Olympic Mascots.

Recent projects in the UK and in Australia have included concerts and broadcasts celebrating Liszt’s bicentenary, and the release of Christine’s recording of ‘Années de Pèlerinage – II – Italie’  on CD and iTunes, which has received excellent reviews. Recitals this season explore ‘The French Connection’ – Debussy, his influences and contemporaries, and Christine is currently blogging her way through an ABC of Debussy’s piano music at notesfromapianist

In July 2012 Christine will be the pianist in the world premiere performance and recording of ‘The Same Flame’, a song cycle based on Olympic Values for massed choirs and piano, with words by Matt Harvey and music by Thomas Hewitt Jones.

An inspiring communicator, she is on the staff of the Junior Department of the Royal College of Music in London, and is a tutor at the annual Hereford Summer School for Pianists. She has given masterclasses at Morley College, Hindhead Music Centre, Jackdaws Music Education Trust and the City Lit.

Born in Melbourne, Christine graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with distinction, being twice awarded the Gaitskell prize for the most outstanding student. She studied with pupils of Cortot, of Nadia Boulanger and of Michelangeli, and with the celebrated English pianist, Ronald Smith, also participating in masterclasses given by Sergei Dorensky, Aldo Ciccolini and Vlado Perlemuter.

www.christinestevenson.net