A few thoughts on Practical Musicianship and Keyboard Harmony

Today’s post highlights an important yet often forgotten element in music education. Most pupils take instrumental exams at some point in their musical training and are therefore familiar with aural and sight-reading tests (nearly all practical exams have these elements, irrespective of level). However, a much broader based training is necessary if pupils are going to become rounded and complete musicians.

Even if a student finds the  supplementary tests in instrumental or vocal exams straightforward, they would still benefit from more practical based musicianship exercises; one solution could be Practical Musicianship Exams. The ABRSM (Associated Board of The Royal Schools of Music) have a series of graded tests (1-8) covering a whole spectrum of skills which are different yet comparable to those found in the conventional aural tests. Practical Musicianship exams can be taken instead of the Theory exams (most notably, Grade 5 can be supplemented for Grade 5 Theory), and it’s an extremely useful alternative.

Subjects covered are similar to some of those featured in the Aural tests at the early grades, but from Grade 6 onwards, there are differing worthwhile tests. Pupils are required to sing (or play some tests from memory) diatonic melodies (in more extended, complicated examples than those found in traditional aural exam tests), middle or lower part melodies, melodies with added expression, articulation, dynamics. There are also memory tests where the candidate is asked to play back, as well as transpose at sight, and recognise changes in a short musical extract. Answering questions about an extract from a score is another valuable test too.

The real benefit to any practical musicianship test must be the element of harmonisation, and ‘free’ playing or improvisation which is promoted in the advanced grades. If the keyboard is not a student’s métier, then practical tests can be played on any instrument.

It’s the element of thinking ‘on the spot’, which builds the foundation for advanced study. Theory exams are a great tool for understanding and practising harmony and counter-point; they could be considered the ‘first stage’ of learning, however, the realisation of harmony is truly grasped whilst improvising or harmonising at the keyboard. Useful exam tests include continuing a two bar melody by elongating to last eight bars, realizing a short figured bass passage by adding the required chords, and performing a ‘free improvisation’ based on a given poem.

Whether students decide to take an exam or not, keyboard harmony should perhaps be introduced into weekly practice regimes. Learning how to harmonise at sight and to assimilate figured bass are skills which are perfected over a period of time and with regular cultivation. Once basic harmony is understood, pupils can begin to harmonise,  so here are a few suggestions and ideas to implement during practice sessions.

1. An understanding of basic triads (chords which use the root or tonic, third and the fifth notes of a scale and are built on degrees of the scale) and chordal progressions is needed, so ideally some theory must be studied first. The example below shows how triads are built on each degree of the scale (in C major here), and it’s these which form the basis for harmonisation.

Chord progressions 2

Then, for those with sufficient keyboard skills (possibly Grade 5/6 level), start by playing cadences (i.e. the ends of phrases and pieces which normally consists of just two chords). Work out basic cadences: Perfect (which uses chords V-I),  Imperfect (chords  I, II, IV or VI to V), Plagal (IV-I) and Interrupted  (generally V-VI) cadences, listening to how they sound and feel to play (you might find it useful to write them out first on manuscript). You could practice playing them in all different positions around the keyboard.

2. Now play those cadences in every key; it’s probably best to work through the keys methodically adhering to a pattern such as the circle of fifths or fourths. Once you are familiar with these chord patterns, more chords can be added to each cadential point, so that you end up with a four or five chord cycle such as; chords I – IV – V – I (or tonic, subdominant, dominant, tonic chords, see example below).

Chord progression

Incidentally, this simple chord cycle is one used often in pop music, sometimes repeated ad infinitum over an entire song. Again, try to work at these chords in all keys and observe the bass note in every chord as this is the key to successful harmonisation. The feel and sound must be noted and assimilated, as it will prove crucial when playing on the spot, adding chords to melodies.

3. Once basic chords and their patterns are thoroughly ingested and can be played without too much thought (i.e. without having to slowly work them out),  look at fairly simple melodies (perhaps those consisting of two or three four bar phrases), and decide how and where to harmonise by adding chords (either in the right hand or splitting the harmonies between two hands; the latter takes some practice). Sometimes one chord per bar will suffice if the tempo is quick. Next, play the harmonisation slowly at the keyboard adding the melody at the top of the texture. Concentration is key to begin with, and rather like sight-reading, it will all become easier and quicker over time.

4. Practice simple harmonisation for a while before negotiating Figured Bass, which is another type of harmonisation where symbols and numerals written under the Bass line indicate certain intervals and chords.

5. Reading through and studying hymns can be particularly helpful when learning to harmonise (and good sight-reading practice too!). Mentally take note of the chordal progressions, which will become more familiar. It’s also possible to notice the same patterns appearing countless times. Start by opening any hymn book, and also get a copy of J.S. Bach’s 371 Harmonized Chorales and 69 Chorale Melodies with Figured Bass (Riemenschneider), which are fun to sight-read and are a good place to begin. There are, of course, many other useful materials and resources. Melodies of popular songs are another never-ending source of suitable harmonising material.

6. After a period of study the basis of harmony and harmonisation will have been learnt and the student can begin to experiment with improvisation. Sometimes just creating a ‘mood’ or atmosphere in a short simple improvised passage of a few bars, is necessary to start with, again, slow-moving harmonic progressions (such as those suggested above) will form the backbone of any melodic exploration.

These stages may take some time and pupils do need to be fairly fluent at the keyboard (or any instrument) to harmonise and improvise effectively, but it’s definitely a productive and interesting area of musical study to be encouraged in lessons.

Image link

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

BBC Proms 2014

The BBC Promenade concerts are always an important feature in any music lover’s calendar, and it’s a great pleasure to highlight the 2014 programme. The concerts start on July 18th and run for nearly two months; 76 concerts in over 58 days to be precise! What a feat of organisation, requiring amazing artistic vision and imagination. The Proms is the largest classical music festival in the world, this year is the 120th Proms season, and most of the concerts are held at the stately Royal Albert Hall in Kensington, London.

The first Proms concert took place on 10 August 1895 and was held at the newly built Queen’s Hall in London. It was the brainchild of impresario Robert Newman (who was the manager of the Queen’s Hall), who met with Henry Wood (whom the Festival was eventually named after) at Queen’s Hall one spring morning in 1894 to talk about the project. ‘I am going to run nightly concerts to train the public in easy stages,’ he explained. ‘Popular at first, gradually raising the standard until I have created a public for classical and modern music.’ In February 1895 Newman offered Wood conductorship of a permanent orchestra at Queen’s Hall, and of the first Proms season.

The Proms continue to advocate Newman’s idea by developing and encouraging an audience for a whole spectrum of music. This year’s programme is more diverse than ever, including an eclectic mixture of standard classical fare with plenty of contemporary classical music, jazz, musical theatre, film music, as well as rock and pop. Many feel this to be detrimental; the mix of so many different styles can apparently only lead to a ‘dumbing down’ effect. The real question is this; how do we move forward with any musical genre if the next generation (and their music) feel excluded? If those who would otherwise never attend a classical music festival are encouraged to come and enjoy a pop or musical theatre concert, they may then take the next step and enjoy a classical concert too. So for this reason alone diversity can only be a good thing.

The selection of concerts includes a performance by pop princess Paloma Faith (Prom 65 – September 5th) who performs with the Guy Barker Orchestra, the Pet Shop Boys (Prom 8 – July 23rd) with the BBC Singers and Concert Orchestra (narrated by Juliet Stevenson), the wonderful John Wilson and his orchestra (Prom 21 – August 2nd) with Kiss Me Kate, jazz singer Clare Teal with the Battle of the Bands (Prom 30 – 8th August), Laura Mvula (Prom 45 – August 19th) with the Metropole Orchestra and Jules Buckley, and Rufus Wainwright (Prom 74 – September 11th) with the Britten Sinfonia and Johannes Debus. Many of these are in the ‘Late Night’ Series starting after the main Prom concert at 10.15pm.

For the children, there are two CBeebies Proms (Prom 11, July 26th and 13, July 27th) with the BBC Philharmonic and a great range of music, presented by various well-known presenters. There is also a BBC Sports Prom (Prom 3 – July 20th) presented by Gabby Logan, to include part of Carmina Burana (Orff) and music by John Williams, as well as a War Horse Prom (Prom 22 – August 3rd), featuring Gareth Malone, the Military Wives Choir and BBC Concert Orchestra.

However, the majority of concerts are traditional standard classical programmes, with many usual works such as Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, No.9 in D minor on the penultimate night (Prom 75 – September 12th) with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Chailly, and the Last Night (Prom 76 – September 13th) with all its typical fun and games. This year the soloists are violinist Janine Jansen, soprano Elizabeth Watts, tenor John Daszak and baritone Roderick Williams, who will perform alongside the BBC Chorus and Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sakari Oramo.

The Proms will open on July 18th with a performance of Elgar’s oratorio The Kingdom with the BBC National Chorus of Wales, BBC Symphony Chorus and Orchestra conducted by Sir Andrew Davis. St John’s Passion (Prom 12 – July 26) and the St. Matthew Passion (Prom 66 - September 6th), two of J.S Bach’s crowning achievements, always popular choices, are also showcased this year (the latter conducted by Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic). Prom 37 (August 13th), looks particularly interesting for lovers of Minimalist composer Steve Reich, with a concert consisting of It’s Gonna Rain; The Desert Music played by the BBC Singers, Endymion and conductor David Hill. There is a whole feast of contemporary music (including many premiers) at the Proms this year.

There are a plethora of fabulous concerts to choose from and my favourites normally feature a piano concerto or two! Newcomer to the Proms, Chinese pianist Haochen Zhang plays Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat major on July 19th (Prom 2 – 19th July) with the China Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Long Yu, which should provide plenty of keyboard fireworks.  Prom 9 (24th July) will be wonderful; a performance of Brahms Piano Concerto No. I in D minor played by veteran pianist Barry Douglas. He will be accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev. Young Argentinian pianist Ingrid Fliter joins the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Josep Pons for Mozart’s beautiful Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major K.488 (Prom 15 – 28th July). Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left-Hand is a less familiar choice but a fantastic piece, and will be played by pianist Alexandre Tharaud and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Juanjo Mena (Prom 18 – 30th July).

Other piano highlights must include young British pianist Benjamin Grosvenor who will play Chopin Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra (Prom 29 – August 8th) and Rachmaninov’s ever popular Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor played by the brilliant Russian Denis Matsuev with the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra (Prom 67 – September 7th). There are so many more concerts to enjoy and they can all be heard on BBC Radio Three, and many on BBC 4 too. You can browse the Proms programme, find out lots more and book tickets here: www.bbc.co.uk/Proms

image link
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Boris Giltburg in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

The thirty-fifth interview in my Classical Conversations Series features Israeli concert pianist Boris Giltburg, and we met at Jaques Samuel Pianos in London earlier this week to chat about his life and career.

Israeli pianist Boris Giltburg was born in 1984 in Moscow and has lived in Tel Aviv since early childhood. He began his piano studies with his mother at the age of five and went on to study with Arie Vardi. He has received many awards for international competitions, notably at Santander (top prize and Audience Prize, 2002) and the Rubinstein (2nd prize and Best Classical Concerto, 2011). In 2013 he received First Prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels, as a result of which his already flourishing international career has been catapulted to a new level, with a packed diary of additional concert engagements across the globe. In the same year he was nominated for a Classic Brit (Critics’ Award).

Since his breakthrough appearance with the Philharmonia in 2007, Giltburg has been an annual visitor to the Royal Festival Hall in London, and made his BBC Proms debut in 2010 with the BBC Scottish Symphony. Last season he made his first concerto appearance in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, with the Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra, and gave his London Philharmonic debut. He is a popular guest with many UK orchestras and has also appeared with DSO Berlin, Frankfurt Radio Symphony, Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse, Royal Flemish Philharmonic, Swedish Radio Symphony, Danish Radio Symphony, Prague Symphony, to name a few. In autumn 2013 he played for the first time at the Vienna Musikverein and debuted with the St Petersburg Philharmonic.

Giltburg made his debut with the Israel Philharmonic in February 2005, and regularly appears with all the major orchestras and in the leading recital series in Israel, as well as playing chamber music with members of the Israel Philharmonic. Having toured the USA as a teenager with the Israel Chamber, he made his North American orchestra debut in 2007 with the Indianapolis Symphony. In January 2014 he appeared with the Seattle Symphony, and in 2015 with the Baltimore Symphony. He made his Tokyo debut in 2005, toured China for the first time in 2007, returning to give a recital at the NCPA in Beijing last season, and he played with the Hong Kong Philharmonic in 2010. He has toured South America several times every season since 2002. He has collaborated with conductors such as Alsop, Brabbins, De Waart, Dohnanyi, Entremont, Fedoseyev, Neeme Jaervi, Karabits, Krivine, Lintu, Luisotti, Petrenko, Saraste, Segerstam, Sokhiev, Soustrot, and Tortelier.

Giltburg has played recitals to audiences across Europe in major venues such as the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, Vienna Konzerthaus, Munich Herkulessaal, Paris Louvre, Zurich Tonhalle, Wigmore Hall, Teatro San Carlo in Naples and Madrid Sony Auditorium. Festival appearances have included the Klavierfest am Ruhr, Schwetzingen, Luzern, Piano aux Jacobins and Cheltenham. Highlights of 2013/14 included recitals at the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts, and a return to London’s Southbank Centre (International Piano Series).

In August 2012 Giltburg released the Prokofiev ‘War’ sonatas on the Orchid label to excellent reviews worldwide, and appearing in Gramophone as ‘Editor’s Choice’: “These performances of Prokofiev’s three ‘War’ Sonatas eclipse all others on record – even those tirelessly and justifiably celebrated performances by Richter and Gilels” (Gramophone, October 2012). He has most recently recorded sonatas by Rachmaninov, Liszt and Grieg.


Boris in action….

And the transcript for those who prefer to read my interviews;

Melanie Spanswick: Israeli concert pianist, Boris Giltburg, won first prize at the Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels last year. He’s also been nominated for a Classic BRIT Award, as well as many other accolades. So I’m thrilled he’s taken the time from a very busy schedule to join me here today at Jaques Samuel Pianos in London for a Classical Conversation. Welcome.

Boris Giltburg: Hello, Melanie.

Melanie: Lovely to be chatting to you today.

Boris: Thank you, my pleasure.

Melanie: I’m going to start by asking about your education. I always start by asking what age you started, why you started, whether you come from a musical family.

Boris: I do. My mom, my grandma, and my great grandmother were music piano teachers. And we always had a piano at home. So, for me it, seemed absolutely obviousI should play. Whereas, to my mom, it seemed I perhaps should do something more practical, and she was quite against the idea that I play the piano. So I, at 5 years old, was denied something I really really really wanted it, and I insisted and I insisted until the point where she relented and started giving me lessons. And that’s how we started. It was still in Moscow, before we moved to Israel. And the rest of my education, the main part of it, was in Israel. My big one teacher, the one teacher of my life, is Arie Vardi in Israel.

Melanie: That’s what I was about to say, “Which teacher do you think was most crucial?”

Boris: Well, I would say both Mom and him, because I studied with him for 15 years almost. And so, it’s a long time. Almost everything I think and do in what concerns sound, style, to musical text, phrasing, to almost everything in musical interpretation is by the prism of what he taught me or what I’ve learnt from him, but I know that, from my mom’s point of view, I can rely on her 100% every time. She’s not at all, “Oh, this is lovely!”

[Laughter]

She’s a very strict critic, and I know that if something is bad,she would always tell me.

Melanie: So, how did you develop your technique over the years? Did you used to practice sections in pieces or did you practice studies?

Boris: No, I hated studies.

[Laughter]

And scales, all of that. Most every piece of classical music is full of scales and study-like passages. Whereas, if you do just the studies, there’s sometimes boring technical exercises. If you do them inside a musical work, then the technical part becomes just one variable of it – of the entire thing, and in good music, the technique is always in service of a higher musical aim of some sort. And when you work on a piece of music and you want to get a certain musical result, then the technical challenge becomes – It’s not annoying. It’s not an obstacle. It’s something which you want to overcome and integrate inside the interpretation to get to the musical result you want to get. So, it’s easier to solve problems in Liszt’s Piano Sonata than in some of Czerny’s etudes.

Melanie: And more enjoyable, too.

Boris: Yes,much more so.

Melanie: Now, you won the Queen Elisabeth prize. It must have had a huge impact on your career. How’s it changed and shaped it do you think?

Boris: It gave a very big push. There’s was a very big list on engagements right after the competition. Not only that, but the prestige of the Queen Elisabeth was one of the reasons why I wanted so much to participate, many of my biggest musical heroes have won it in the past, including Gilels, and Oistrakh, and Ashkenazy. So, to have won this – and this is probably the last one – not probably- this is definitely, this is definitely, this is definitely the last competition I’m going to take part in.

Melanie: Well, that was going to be my next question. How do you feel about competitions in general? Because you’ve taken part in quite a few.

Boris: Yes. Many more when I was a small kid. In the last 10 years, just three. I won Santander in Spain 2002. Then I took part in Rubinstein Competition inTel Avivand won 2nd prize. And then Brussels last year. I think when you’re a small kid, it’s just sheer fun. You have nothing to fear, nothing to lose. The older you become, the more heavy the responsibility when going to a competition and, I think I’m extremely happy to be able to end my competition career on this note with this prize at this competition.

Melanie: Sure. Which composers do you love to play?

Boris: I’m omnivorous,so almost everything, but two big groups. from which I almost always draw works for recitals are the Germans and the Russians. A lot of variety inside this group, from Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Schubert,all composers who are German.Rachmaninov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Scriabin, Shostakovich, in the Russians. The Russians, I think, are easier to explain, because even though I grew up in Israel, I’m still very much a Russian person inside. Or more exact is to say that Russian culture, Russian language, Russian literature, poetry, and music are extremely close to my heart. The Germans, I just love them.

Melanie: You like them all?

Boris: Yes, no logical explanation. They just appeal to my imagination, to – both my heart and head.

Melanie: You’ve recorded the late Prokofiev sonatas, the War sonatas, to great acclaim. What attracts you to this music?

Boris: War sonatas? Prokofiev in general is a master story teller. He – even his early works, he- within a few bars, he weaves an entire world around you and then places the music as a story told within this world. And this is something which I find extremely attractive. It appeals to your imagination in a very dark way. He’s also sometimes very visual, like a good filmmaker. He knows how to mix close-up scenes with the wide angle shots. So, he’ll take you into the action or take you out and show you the larger perspective. His harmonic language is quirky, fun and very spiky in a rude kind of way. He adds bad notes and somehow it all sounds right and it ends right.

Melanie: I feel it suits your articulation, which is absolutely fantastic, if I may say.

Boris: Well, from the technical point of view I find that his style of writing suits my hands like no other composer. I don’t know, maybe his hands were somewhat similar; but, for example, Rachmaninov, whom I love just as much, but technically he’s much more difficult for my hands. But Prokofiev, the music just seems to sit very comfortably in the fingers. The articulation, like you said, this kind of thing – I was just working on-just now- on two Rachmaninov concertos, the Second and the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. I was thinking how much easier I find the Rhapsody, where the technical approach is closer in some way-to Prokofiev.

Melanie: I was going to say that, yes,it is isn’t it?

Boris: So, less blocks – less heavy blocks of chords and more I would say percussive, but more single line voices, shifts between hands, and more clarity and transparency. I think the Prokofiev in some ways, even in its most thick texture, he’s a neoclassicist of some degree, to a certain degree and he always retains a transparency, which one would expect to find rather in Beethoven or Mozart or Haydn, imitating like whom he wrote the classical symphony. He wants to write something which he might have written if he lived at that time. And the way his music, whereas Rachmaninov is extremely visceral, and he goes directly into your heart. Prokofiev- Playing his Second Piano Concerto, for example, is like reading a great novel by Kafka and the War sonatas, which you asked me about, they’re are of course knowing the circumstances in which the music was written- so, not only the invasion of Russia by Hitler in the Second World War, but also the terror within Russia. It was just after the great purge of Stalin in ’37-’38, in which nearly two million people were made to disappear without a trace, and Prokofiev himself lost many friends and people he knew. And the combination of those things, the terror within and the terror without, they lead to three works which are – it’s like a chronicle of the time, and it’s – I think it’s a masterpiece, even by his standards and something he has never surpassed in his other works of piano. There’s a kind of, it’s actually in the Eighth. The way he manages to reach some sort of objectivity. So, in the Sixth for example, it’s very much inside theaction in the sonata, and it’s the enemy marching towards with blank dead eyes. There is no objectivity at all there. The Seventh for me is more about the terror of which I’ve told you, Stalin’s – Stalin’s kind of terror, and the fabulous finale which, he thought was the triumph of humanity over all obstacles; which this could just as easily signify or depict the triumph of a well-oiled machine over everything, including that spirit of humanity. It just tramples everything in its path to glory, anything. But it in the Eighth, he manages to surpass even those two. It reaches some altitude of – all of his energy and quirkiness is still there, but there’s also wisdom and objectivity as I said, and a tapestry which he creates, especially in the first movement. I think it’s a masterpiece, a work of art of any time and period. So playing it is a big privilege and a very special experience.

Melanie: And do you plan to record all the sonatas? A whole Prokofiev project?

Boris: Well, I’ve recorded some Romantic sonatas and my last CD, which I’ve just recorded last week and will be released in the winter, is Schumann. As for more Prokofiev, maybe the concerti. The exercises, I love very much number four. I like very much number two and three. One, five, and nine, I’m – at the moment, I still find a bit hard to understand. Well, Five specifically is very obscure work for me. Nine is lovely. It’s a bit weaker, I find, than the others, and one is just very early work. So, it’s not easy to sense the essence of Prokofiev in it. But I think that even those three sonatas – just on their own – if Prokofiev left nothing else, they would be testimony of a very great artist.

Melanie: Do you have a particular practice routine?

Boris: Not really.

Melanie: I read somewhere you practice on a silent piano?

Boris: Yes and no. The grand piano which I have at home has a silent piano mode on it, so if I need to practice, this is quite a life saver. And it acted as a life saver a few times, but this is just for an emergency. For a normal kind of work, you must have the real response of the real key, the real sound. One thing which I do is I record myself quite a lot and then I listen to it right away, because often it’s hard when playing to hear the larger line, to hear the movements or the work in its entirety; and also many things which you don’t notice when you are at the keyboard, suddenly when heard from a distance, they sound really – they’re very prominent. This is something which is part of the daily work. And other than that, it’s just practicing, just working as much as possible.  The material we are working with is so rich. It’s inexhaustibly rich. It’s like a mine which you can never reach the bottom of. And those works, they grow with you. So if you come back to visit and play it five or six years ago or ten years ago, you’ll usually find that there’s more to discover, more layers to bring up. This makes the everyday practice not really work, but a journey of discovery. So it can be sometimes frustrating when you are unable to do something you want to, and sometimes you don’t know why. You don’t know what you need to change in order to get there, but still I think that the positive points overcome the landslides, over the others.

Melanie: What are your future plans, concerts, recordings?

Boris: Well, for recordings after the Schuman, the next CD is probably going to be Beethoven, Beethoven sonatas. For concerts, next season is fully packed. Many things in Europe. Many things in the Far East.Many things in South America. A few things in the States. I’m playing for the first time with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra with Marin Alsop. In Japan, China, then many things in Israel, too, in my home country. It’s an exciting time.

Melanie: Sure, of course. What does playing the piano mean to you?

Boris: It’s my life. It’s one of the best things I know of. This is one of the many things that drive me forwards, that makes me want to go and do things. My main way of doing things is by playing. I would say it’s about expressing myself a little. It’s about reaching some kind of musical truth in the piece. And this truth might change with time; but, for tonight, there is something which we know is there in the piece, and when you are able to reach it and to show it or play it for the audience, this feeling is incomparable. I wouldn’t be able to do this without playing the piano. And I also love playing the piano because it’s a hands-on experience. As opposed, for example, to conducting, where you need to make other people do the music you want. I imagine it’s even more complicated. For me just the physical sensation of doing it with my own hands, with my own body, this is also a big part of the fun. And yeah, I think so.

Melanie: Thank you so much for joining me today, Boris.

Boris: My pleasure.

Melanie: Thank you.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Arabia; Etude-Tableaux for solo piano

Arabia Front Cover

Piano teacher and composer Elena Cobb presents a thoroughly modern  approach to learning the piano. She has written a whole collection of educational books which feature in her highly successful Higgledy Piggledy Jazz series; I have already highlighted these books here on this blog.

Higgledy Piggledy Jazz deals with the often feared concept of improvisation, and the idea behind this series according to Elena is  to promote ‘Improvisation for the Classically trained pianist’. Her  pieces are designed for those who enjoy lively, syncopated, jazzy, tunes, which all introduce elements of improvising; encouraging young players to think outside the box and make-up their own melodies within a rhythmic framework.

Nor content to sit on her laurels, Elena’s latest work has a totally contrasting character. ‘I never said I was a jazzer!’ she commented and so the new piece, Arabia: Etude-Tableaux Op.1, is aimed at a completely different pianist. Elena says  ‘This musical composition is for the young virtuoso at late intermediate to advanced level’. Looking at the score, this piece would most comfortably be suited to the Grade 8 student (although Grade 7 or diploma students could also find it fun to play). The piece  provides plenty of variety and interest, a  prerequisite occasionally lacking in educational works.

Arabia was inspired by a train journey across the desert taken by Elena as a young child with her family. These memories are heard clearly at the opening, where a couple of recitative/improvisatory style solo treble passages create the necessary Arabic flavour. The main thematic material, stated from the third bar, consists of colour and mystery provided by ornamental flurries and florid melodic inflections. The melody is then briefly restated in octave passagework in the right hand, thus revealing the real test of this little piece. The sub heading, Etude-Tableaux (‘Study Pictures’), was probably inspired by Rachmaninov’s two sets of works with the same title, Op. 33 and Op. 39.  An Etude is basically a study or technically demanding yet musically satisfying exercise, and Arabia is a test primarily in octave technique (an octave being an interval of eight notes, requiring two fingers to play it, most commonly the thumb and fifth finger).

Over the next few pages, several types of octave passagework are explored (dotted rhythms, leaps, octaves in both hands, and split octaves) which are often accompanied by a chordal off-beat bass part, played by the left hand. The aim is to develop a reliable, secure, and relaxed approach to tackling octaves. Many might balk at the prospect of young pupils playing copious repeated octaves (care is certainly needed when teaching this technique as repetitive strain injury can be a problem). However, there are plenty of opportunities here to ‘rest’ the hand (with less taxing figurations in between) and the tempo is fairly moderate, only really speeding up towards the end of the piece. My previous blog post proffers a few thoughts and suggestions for successful octave practice, which can be read here.

This work is the ideal first octave study for students with the appropriate hand stretch, virtuoso prowess and energy levels! For more information about Arabia click here.

www.elenacobb.com

 
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G! A few thoughts……

Many piano students have issues with stretching. Smaller hands are less suited to playing the piano than larger ones, and they often need a little more help when learning certain repertoire. Playing hefty chords and intervals of an octave (8 notes) or more, in either hand, can create physical problems, causing the hand to ‘lock-up’ and subsequently become tense, curtailing fast movement.

This can also happen even when chords are negotiated relatively easily; fast double octave passagework, octaves with the melody in the top line (or bottom line), quick chordal passages, and chords which leap around the keyboard, are all potentially troublesome for the smaller hand. It’s occasionally possible to re-write passagework in order to play successfully, but a better plan is to train the hand and fingers so that they become accustomed, and indeed prepared, to play large intervals without any strain.

Here are a few ideas and suggestions to help prepare the fingers and hand; it is possible to re-train yourself mentally and physically, allowing the hand and whole upper body to feel free and unrestricted whilst stretching octaves and beyond.

Place your hand (or hands) on a table top (or your knee) in a totally natural position, stretching out as far as is comfortable, with no tension (see photo below). Observe how each hand feels as you stretch out whilst relaxing your arm(s) and upper body; it’s important to sense what is completely relaxed.

20140705_160756

Next play an octave interval on the piano in each hand (one at a time), again feeling totally relaxed (this might only be an interval of a 6th or 7th if you have small hands or an octave feels tense). If you can’t yet reach an octave, a flat hand position (i.e. the whole hand out-stretched as on the table top in the photo above) might be necessary at first so that you can actually reach the interval.

Whilst playing the interval, observe the thumb and 5th finger; the two fingers you will normally be using to play any interval (although after a while you may be able to use the 3rd and 4th fingers alongside the thumb for octaves as well). How they negotiate any wide interval is vital.

Firstly, try to ensure that the 5th finger in each hand is active and working independently from the rest of the hand. Employ your finger-tip on the key using the fleshy area of the tip, and be fully functioning from the knuckle down to both finger joints; it is best if the 5th fingers are bent and in a ‘gripping’ position  (see photo of my left hand below – my right hand was busy taking the photo!). Also notice the bridge position of my knuckles i.e. the knuckles are all visible; if this bridge ‘collapses’, then playing at speed outstretched (which is necessary for octaves and chords) becomes problematic. The thumb should also assume a ‘gripping’ position, as this helps with note accuracy. It will probably take a while for these finger positions to feel natural (it takes pupils generally six to nine months of constant hand/finger mindfulness).

20140705_161000

Whilst playing the interval, allow your wrist and arm to go floppy and relaxed. I ask my students to move their wrists freely up and down, as they are keeping the position of the chord or octave (it’s best to start practising using an octave – inner notes can be added later). Playing the piano is all about tension (to play the notes) and release (letting go immediately afterwards) and so chords and octaves also require this approach.

The idea of encouraging the hand/wrist/arm to go floppy and limp whilst keeping the interval shape with the fingers needs to be practised frequently, so it becomes a habit, and eventually it will feel natural when playing larger intervals.

It’s a good idea to get into the habit of ‘letting go’ of the octave as soon as it has been played. However, this doesn’t mean you need to physically let go of the notes or piano keys.  It’s possible to hold notes, chords and intervals without assuming a tense position, hence moving the rest of your hand should feel easy and flexible as you hold onto the notes. This is really like an exercise in assuming the interval shape. Try moving your whole arm/hand in a circular/rotational motion whilst still holding down a chord. If this feels relaxed and ‘free’ then you know you are on the right track! Always release the hand position completely after you have played a one or two intervals or chords – otherwise you might feel strain or discomfort.

Sink into the key bed as you play the octave interval ensuring your wrists remain free and not in a high position (high wrists usually indicates tension), It’s quite good practice to allow the wrists to drop as low as possible as well as moving freely in a rotational motion as already suggested.  Avoid a ‘fixed’ wrist position, but rather encourage it to move as and when necessary helping you reach each and every chord or octave. The wrist should act as a hinge allowing arm-weight to produce the sound.

Once you feel comfortable playing an octave, practice this stretch every day for around 5 minutes. Muscles will get used to the feeling of the stretch so that it feels like a ‘normal’ hand position. Then eventually add inner notes to create chords. Your hand will adjust to this new position and you might notice a change in the structure of your hand too.

This exercise should never be uncomfortable or cause pain in any way. If you feel pain whilst playing the piano then something is wrong, so stop and get help! If you want to develop a good piano technique finding an appropriate teacher is paramount.

After working systematically on this technical issue, you might find playing intervals of a ninth and even a tenth possible, as your hand gets used to stretching further and further without feeling strained or tense. It’s all about relaxing the hand so it feels more accommodating and pliable, whilst keeping a firm finger grip on the octave/chordal shape. Happy practising!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Martin James Bartlett in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

The thirty fourth interview guest in my Classical Conversations Series is BBC Young Musician 2014, Martin James Bartlett. Martin is a student at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and is about to start an undergraduate degree at the RCM Senior Department in September, where he will study with Professor Vanessa Latarche. We met up for a chat at Jaques Samuel Pianos earlier this month, where he talked about his life and career.

Martin James Bartlett began learning the piano at the age of 6. From the age of 8, Martin has been studying at the Royal College of Music Junior Department with Emily Jeffrey, with whom he has been learning at the Purcell School since becoming a student there in 2010. Martin has also been studying the recorder and the bassoon and, indeed, by the time Martin was 12, he had achieved Grade 8 Distinction on all three instruments.

Martin has performed in many competitions and festivals, where he has enjoyed considerable success. For several years running he has been a prize-winner in the Jaques Samuel Intercollegiate Piano Competition, which has resulted in a series of Wigmore Hall solo performances. At the age of thirteen, Martin won the Purcell School’s Middle School Concerto Competition, performing Mozart’s D Minor Concerto K.466 with the Purcell Sinfonia. More recently he has performed Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto K.491 with the Vanbrugh Ensemble.

At the Royal College of Music Junior Department, he has won The Teresa Carreno Competition, The Gordon Turner Competition and the Peter Morrison Concerto Competition. He has also won the Freddy Morgan Competition and the Wigmore Hall Competition at the Purcell School. From his success in these competitions he has performed solo recitals in The Purcell Room, Wigmore Hall, Royal Albert Hall (Elgar Room), Steinway Hall, Bolivar Hall,  John’s Smith Square, The Beaumaris Festival, Moscow Multi-Media Arts Hall, Calbourne Isle of Wight, Novi Sad Town Hall and Fazioli Concert Hall in Italy.

Notably, in March 2012 Martin was one of only five pianists chosen nationally to perform in the Keyboard Final of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012, which was held in the Dora Stoutker Hall in Cardiff, the live performance of which was broadcast on BBC4 in April 2012.

Martin has performed in fundraising and charity concerts raising over thirty thousand pounds. He has received master classes from Lang Lang, Stephen Kovacevich, Kathryn Stott, Mikhail Petukhov and Alberto Portugheis.

His great love and involvement with chamber music playing extended with the forming of a duo partnership with the BBC Young Musician of the Year 2012 winner, ‘cellist Laura van der Heijden.  Having returned from an International Chamber Music Course in Montepulciano, Italy, in 2012, they have since given numerous recitals together at such venues as the Elgar Room, The Britten Theatre [Royal College of Music], and a Live Broadcast on BBC Radio 3’s “In Tune”.

Future engagements in 2014 include performances of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on the Theme of Paginini with the RCM Symphony Orchestra and Windsor and Maidenhead and Symphony Orchestra, Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto K491 with The Watford Symphony Orchestra, and Beethoven’s 2nd Piano Concerto with The Welsh Chamber Orchestra.

He is again one of five pianists to reach the Keyboard Finals of BBC Young Musician of the Year 2014. In March 2014 he performed in the Dora Stoutker Hall, in Cardiff. The live performance was broadcast on BBC 4.

Since 2012, Martin has been awarded a Tsukanov Scholarship, which supports all his studies at The Royal College of Music. More recently Martin has been awarded three full scholarships to study at three London Conservatoires.

Martin in action…….


And the transcript for those who prefer to read interviews…..

Melanie Spanswick: Young British concert pianist, Martin James Bartlett, has just been crowned BBC Young Musician 2014. He’s currently a student at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and the Purcell School and so, I’m so pleased he’s joining me today here at Jacques Samuel Pianos in London for a Classical Conversation. Welcome.

Martin James Bartlett: Thank you very much.

MS: I want to start by congratulating you. It’s fantastic that you’ve won the Young Musician.

MJB: Thank you so much.

MS: Brilliant, and I want to start by asking you all about your musical education, how old you are when you started, why you started, whether you’ve come from a musical family.

MJB: Well, my mum taught me first and I started at the age of six, and then at the age of eight, she decided that I should go somewhere else to carry on my studies. So, I went to the Royal College and I’ve been there for the last ten years now, and I suppose I started the piano because my mum was always teaching people in the house and we always had the radio on and CDs all the time and I just grew so accustomed to hearing it, that I really kind of wanted to follow in what she was doing and everything I could hear.

MS: And so, what teachers then do you think were crucial in your development. I think I know the answer to this.

MJB: No, definitely my mum first started me off really well and then when I went to Emily Jeffrey, she really just, I’ve been with her for the last ten years and she just, was just such an inspiration to come to, and she has so much patience with me and even sometimes I didn’t use to practice that I kind of wasn’t feeling it so much as other times I used to come in and she just used to, you know, carry on going, come back next week and we just have such a great relationship. It’s amazing.

MS: We should talk a little bit about Emily because she’s quite phenomenal, she’s not only had yourself, but she’s also had Lara Melda as Young Musician of the Year as well. So, she’s a phenomenal teacher.

MJB: Yes, she is fantastic and I think one of the reasons we set her apart from other teachers is because she doesn’t play so regularly to me and she just tries to describe how I should feel some of it with different adjectives and things. It makes me find my own sound and my own way of playing, so I don’t copy the way she plays. I have my own kind of voice when I’m playing.

MS: So, how did you develop your technique? I’m always asking this question. It’s fascinating how people start when you play, studies, scales, whether you learn the difficulties within a piece.

MJB: I suppose when I was younger, I used to occasionally do some Czerny Etudes, things like these, but I never really concentrated on a technique because it was always something that we thought, you know, the more we push ourselves with different repertoire it will come anyway.

MS: Right.

MJB: And I never wanted to become mechanical in any way, with the way I practiced, so when I did practice scales, which of course, I did when I was younger, we would, you know, we used to phrase them and do different dynamics and try to get as many kind of techniques in as possible.

MS: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, you know, you’ve won Young Musician. It’s gonna have a huge impact on your career, no doubt, but how do you feel about competitions, in general, because this isn’t the first time you’ve entered, you actually entered in 2012 and did very well as well.

MJB: I think competitions, I think you have to have the right attitude when you go in, and I think, you really can’t be going in to win. I think you’ve really got to go in just to develop yourself more as a pianist and musician, and I think they really push you, in terms of, there’s lots of pressure and you gotta learn new repertoire and of course, lots of international competitions have the set repertoire to go through, the Bach Preludes and Fugues in the first round and things like this, which I think is really good, ‘cause it kind of develops you more, as long as you go with the mindset of I’m just gonna go and give an amazing concert and not worry about the actual prizes or winning.

MS: So, do you feel that you might enter international competitions in the future or do you feel that the Young Musician is enough?

MJB: I suppose, I have no idea what I would do, you know, when it comes to things but I would love to because all those are my idols and things, you know, won the Chopin, and the Tchaikovsky and things. So, I would like to enter some in the future, yes.

MS: That’s a yes. I think it’s good experience isn’t it?

MJB: Yeah, exactly and you just, I mean, I’ve lost so many competitions and I really have, I think everybody loses lots and you just gotta, you carry on going and take it the right way.

MS: Which composers do you love to play?

MJB: I suppose, there are so many that I could mention but I think I quite have a special affinity with Bach. I love Bach but also Beethoven, I absolutely adore, and Schumann as well, but I also love Prokofiev and Romantic composers as well.

MS: And how many concertos do you have in your repertoire? How many do you play with orchestra involved?

MJB: I have around six or seven. When I was younger, I used to play quite a few Mozart concertos and a few Beethoven and also Rachmaninov as well. So, I play, I think, three or four with orchestra but I think concertos are so great because it’s all that chamber music aspect. You don’t really, with solo recitals it’s quite daunting, you know, it’s just you on you’re own, and the good thing about chamber music is if you’re with a fantastic orchestra, you just push each other further, you know, and you get even more out the music than many solo recitals you would do, I think.

MS: Do you have particular practice regime?

MJB: I suppose occasionally when it gets really tough, I have to write down what pieces and time and everything like that. Normally, warm up a bit but normally I warm up away from the piano, so I do a few stretches, run my hand under some warm water, just to loosen up my joints and everything, but then I think you can’t spend so much on technical studies because you’ve got so, there’s such a vast amount of repertoire to learn. You really have to just get stuck in and just go through as many pieces as you can.

MS: Do you ever practice away from the piano?

MJB: I do a lot of practice away from the piano in different ways, such as, you know, sometimes I’ll be looking at the score and listening through recordings or sometimes I just sit in bed after a hard day at work and I’m thinking, you know, now let’s get the score out and we can just look at all the markings and make sure I’m clear about what I’m doing.

MS: Yeah. So, what are your favourite pianists, or I should say who are your favourite pianists, Martin?

MJB: My favourite pianists, I love Horowitz. I love Martha Argerich for clarity and the sound as well. Claudio Arrau, has a sound like a bell like sound and really sings out. I also love Shura Cherkassky for these dazzlingly light runs, I mean, those transcriptions like Strauss, I mean there’s so many who I love.

MS: And Horowitz?

MJB: I think, the thing about Horowitz is that there are some moments, if you watch him play and there’s so many flaws in part and there’s, you know, it’s quite inaccurate and you think to yourself, “Oh, you know, is this really him playing?” And then, a moment later there’s a most incredible thing which is just not human and it’s that combination of kind of inconsistency that makes me love his playing so much.

MS: So, which works are you hoping to tackle in the future?

MJB: I’m really hoping in the near future, I’m hoping I’m gonna tackle Rachmaninov 2 and Tchaikovsky as well. Not so many people play Tchaikovsky anymore and I think it’s such a warhorse, it’s gotta be brought back in a way, but in the long term future, of course, I’d love to play Schumann concerto and Rach 3, but I’m kinda waiting for that ‘cause I don’t wanna, I wanna graduate the Rachmaninov concertos up until I hit Rach 3.

MS: When was the light bulb moment when you decided ‘I want to be a pianist?’

MJB: I suppose, it was when I was ten I think, because when I was seven I was not sure and I wanted to kinda…I had several job options…!

MJB: It was really when I was ten, exactly, I wanted to be a marine biologist at some point and a physicist and then when I got to ten, I think, I heard an amazing recording of Claudio Arrau doing Beethoven 4th and when I listened to that, I thought, “You know, this is what I’ve got to do because it just, that really inspired me a lot.

MS: What are your future plans, coming, upcoming concerts?

MJB: I have quite a few upcoming concerts. I have one next week in Wigmore Hall but at the moment I don’t have my diary because the Young Classical Artist Trust have my diary. (YCAT) Yeah, they’re helping me sort things out. I have a meeting with them tomorrow to sort out some things, but they kind of get all the work in and then we can discuss it and work out what works with dates and everything like that. So, I’m not really sure what I’m doing. I’m just gonna see them and they’re gonna tell me what I’m gonna do, so.

MS: What does playing the piano mean to you?

MJB: Playing the piano means so much to me, but I would say that it’s not playing the piano that means so much to me. It’s just music, in general, and I’ve always thought that there’s so much in music that I would really love to do and God forbid but if anything ever happened that I couldn’t play the piano like I would, I would just love to do some conducting and teaching, and there’s just so much that I’d love to do in the profession.

MS: Watch this space?

MJB: Well.

MS: Thank you so much for joining me today, Martin.

MJB: Thank you very much.

Melanie Spanswick: Young British concert pianist, Martin James Bartlett, has just been crowned BBC Young Musician 2014. He’s currently a student at the Royal College of Music Junior Department and the Purcell School and so, I’m so pleased he’s joining me today here at Jacques Samuel Pianos in London for a Classical Conversation. Welcome.

Martin James Bartlett: Thank you very much.

MS: I want to start by congratulating you. It’s fantastic that you’ve won the Young Musician.

MJB: Thank you so much.

MS: Brilliant, and I want to start by asking you all about your musical education, how old you are when you started, why you started, whether you’ve come from a musical family.

MJB: Well, my mum taught me first and I started at the age of six, and then at the age of eight, she decided that I should go somewhere else to carry on my studies. So, I went to the Royal College and I’ve been there for the last ten years now, and I suppose I started the piano because my mum was always teaching people in the house and we always had the radio on and CDs all the time and I just grew so accustomed to hearing it, that I really kind of wanted to follow in what she was doing and everything I could hear.

MS: And so, what teachers then do you think were crucial in your development. I think I know the answer to this.

MJB: No, definitely my mum first started me off really well and then when I went to Emily Jeffrey, she really just, I’ve been with her for the last ten years and she just, was just such an inspiration to come to, and she has so much patience with me and even sometimes I didn’t use to practice that I kind of wasn’t feeling it so much as other times I used to come in and she just used to, you know, carry on going, come back next week and we just have such a great relationship. It’s amazing.

MS: We should talk a little bit about Emily because she’s quite phenomenal, she’s not only had yourself, but she’s also had Lara Melda as Young Musician of the Year as well. So, she’s a phenomenal teacher.

MJB: Yes, she is fantastic and I think one of the reasons we set her apart from other teachers is because she doesn’t play so regularly to me and she just tries to describe how I should feel some of it with different adjectives and things. It makes me find my own sound and my own way of playing, so I don’t copy the way she plays. I have my own kind of voice when I’m playing.

MS: So, how did you develop your technique? I’m always asking this question. It’s fascinating how people start when you play, studies, scales, whether you learn the difficulties within a piece.

MJB: I suppose when I was younger, I used to occasionally do some Czerny Etudes, things like these, but I never really concentrated on a technique because it was always something that we thought, you know, the more we push ourselves with different repertoire it will come anyway.

MS: Right.

MJB: And I never wanted to become mechanical in any way, with the way I practiced, so when I did practice scales, which of course, I did when I was younger, we would, you know, we used to phrase them and do different dynamics and try to get as many kind of techniques in as possible.

MS: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, you know, you’ve won Young Musician. It’s gonna have a huge impact on your career, no doubt, but how do you feel about competitions, in general, because this isn’t the first time you’ve entered, you actually entered in 2012 and did very well as well.

MJB: I think competitions, I think you have to have the right attitude when you go in, and I think, you really can’t be going in to win. I think you’ve really got to go in just to develop yourself more as a pianist and musician, and I think they really push you, in terms of, there’s lots of pressure and you gotta learn new repertoire and of course, lots of international competitions have the set repertoire to go through, the Bach Preludes and Fugues in the first round and things like this, which I think is really good, ‘cause it kind of develops you more, as long as you go with the mindset of I’m just gonna go and give an amazing concert and not worry about the actual prizes or winning.

MS: So, do you feel that you might enter international competitions in the future or do you feel that the Young Musician is enough?

MJB: I suppose, I have no idea what I would do, you know, when it comes to things but I would love to because all those are my idols and things, you know, won the Chopin, and the Tchaikovsky and things. So, I would like to enter some in the future, yes.

MS: That’s a yes. I think it’s good experience isn’t it?

MJB: Yeah, exactly and you just, I mean, I’ve lost so many competitions and I really have, I think everybody loses lots and you just gotta, you carry on going and take it the right way.

MS: Which composers do you love to play?

MJB: I suppose, there are so many that I could mention but I think I quite have a special affinity with Bach. I love Bach but also Beethoven, I absolutely adore, and Schumann as well, but I also love Prokofiev and Romantic composers as well.

MS: And how many concertos do you have in your repertoire? How many do you play with orchestra involved?

MJB: I have around six or seven. When I was younger, I used to play quite a few Mozart concertos and a few Beethoven and also Rachmaninov as well. So, I play, I think, three or four with orchestra but I think concertos are so great because it’s all that chamber music aspect. You don’t really, with solo recitals it’s quite daunting, you know, it’s just you on you’re own, and the good thing about chamber music is if you’re with a fantastic orchestra, you just push each other further, you know, and you get even more out the music than many solo recitals you would do, I think.

MS: Do you have particular practice regime?

MJB: I suppose occasionally when it gets really tough, I have to write down what pieces and time and everything like that. Normally, warm up a bit but normally I warm up away from the piano, so I do a few stretches, run my hand under some warm water, just to loosen up my joints and everything, but then I think you can’t spend so much on technical studies because you’ve got so, there’s such a vast amount of repertoire to learn. You really have to just get stuck in and just go through as many pieces as you can.

MS: Do you ever practice away from the piano?

MJB: I do a lot of practice away from the piano in different ways, such as, you know, sometimes I’ll be looking at the score and listening through recordings or sometimes I just sit in bed after a hard day at work and I’m thinking, you know, now let’s get the score out and we can just look at all the markings and make sure I’m clear about what I’m doing.

MS: Yeah. So, what are your favourite pianists, or I should say who are your favourite pianists, Martin?

MJB: My favourite pianists, I love Horowitz. I love Martha Argerich for clarity and the sound as well. Claudio Arrau, has a sound like a bell like sound and really sings out. I also love Shura Cherkassky for these dazzlingly light runs, I mean, those transcriptions like Strauss, I mean there’s so many who I love.

MS: And Horowitz?

MJB: I think, the thing about Horowitz is that there are some moments, if you watch him play and there’s so many flaws in part and there’s, you know, it’s quite inaccurate and you think to yourself, “Oh, you know, is this really him playing?” And then, a moment later there’s a most incredible thing which is just not human and it’s that combination of kind of inconsistency that makes me love his playing so much.

MS: So, which works are you hoping to tackle in the future?

MJB: I’m really hoping in the near future, I’m hoping I’m gonna tackle Rachmaninov 2 and Tchaikovsky as well. Not so many people play Tchaikovsky anymore and I think it’s such a warhorse, it’s gotta be brought back in a way, but in the long term future, of course, I’d love to play Schumann concerto and Rach 3, but I’m kinda waiting for that ‘cause I don’t wanna, I wanna graduate the Rachmaninov concertos up until I hit Rach 3.

MS: When was the light bulb moment when you decided ‘I want to be a pianist?’

MJB: I suppose, it was when I was ten I think, because when I was seven I was not sure and I wanted to kinda…I had several job options…!

MJB: It was really when I was ten, exactly, I wanted to be a marine biologist at some point and a physicist and then when I got to ten, I think, I heard an amazing recording of Claudio Arrau doing Beethoven 4th and when I listened to that, I thought, “You know, this is what I’ve got to do because it just, that really inspired me a lot.

MS: What are your future plans, coming, upcoming concerts?

MJB: I have quite a few upcoming concerts. I have one next week in Wigmore Hall but at the moment I don’t have my diary because the Young Classical Artist Trust have my diary. (YCAT) Yeah, they’re helping me sort things out. I have a meeting with them tomorrow to sort out some things, but they kind of get all the work in and then we can discuss it and work out what works with dates and everything like that. So, I’m not really sure what I’m doing. I’m just gonna see them and they’re gonna tell me what I’m gonna do, so.

MS: What does playing the piano mean to you?

MJB: Playing the piano means so much to me, but I would say that it’s not playing the piano that means so much to me. It’s just music, in general, and I’ve always thought that there’s so much in music that I would really love to do and God forbid but if anything ever happened that I couldn’t play the piano like I would, I would just love to do some conducting and teaching, and there’s just so much that I’d love to do in the profession.

MS: Watch this space?

MJB: Well.

MS: Thank you so much for joining me today, Martin.

MJB: Thank you very much.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The 1st International IMMA Records Classical Music Competition

Calling all those musicians who would love to make a professional recording. The 1st International IMMA Records Classical Music Competition takes place in 2015 and was founded by composer and pianist Arshak Andriasov. This competition  invites a variety of musicians from all over the world to participate for prizes which include a CD release by IMMA records. According to the IMMA website,  the purpose of the competition is to give cash prizes for ‘extraordinary performances by musicians who deserve recognition as well as to advance their careers by means of recording and performance/business knowledge’.

A wide variety of instrumentalists and singers are encouraged to participate and there is no upper age limit (15 years or older). The closing date is 1st August 2015, so there’s plenty of time to prepare your entry!

Born and raised in New York, and of Armenian and Russian heritage, Arshak represents a new wave of Classical composers and he is the founder and owner of IMMA records. On the IMMA label, Arshak released a CD of his father Iosif Andriasov’s “Five Orchestral Compositions” (in 2003), and another in 2010, of Iosif Andriasov’s “Chamber Music Compositions”.  In 2012, Arshak released a CD of his own compositions.

Arshak’s music draws on a vast array of musical resources, ranging from Armenian folk music to Russian classical music, with certain elements of American jazz, while using means of contemporary language to create a complex system of juxtaposition. ” There is no point to write classical music without having beauty in it” is his motto. You can find out more about Arshak here.

Prizes for the 1st International IMMA Records Classical Music Competition include:

FIRST PRIZE: $1250 award plus further prizes

SECOND PRIZE: $1000 award plus further prizes

THIRD PRIZE: $750 award plus further prizes

ACCOMPANIST PRIZE: $250 award plus further prizes

For more information about the competition and how to enter click here

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment