2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition

Those who read this blog regularly will know how much I enjoy adjudicating; it’s always a fascinating experience, and one from which I’m constantly learning.

On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to sit on the jury of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition. Organised by the Beethoven Piano Society of Europe, the competition is held every year and proffers young pianists the chance to perform a programme built entirely from the German Master’s extraordinary output. Each participant attends one of the conservatoire junior departments or specialist music schools in the UK, and had been selected to represent their particular institution.

Pianist, teacher, writer and editor, Nils Franke, and pianist and piano professor at the Royal College of Music and Birmingham Conservatoire, Julian Jacobson, were my distinguished fellow jury members.

Standards are consistently high at such competitions, particularly when competitors hail from notable music institutions, enabling them to study with excellent teachers. But on this occasion, we witnessed exceptional pianism.

This year’s competition was held at Trinity School in Croydon (South London). A splendid modern concert hall housed a full-bloodied, rich, warm Steinway Model D (those who played it commented vociferously on its beauty). Beethoven’s Bagatelle in B flat Op. 119 No. 11 was the set piece, and to accompany this work, the ten competitors were free to select a sonata of their choice. Rather fortuitously, none of the sonatas chosen were duplicated, so we were able to listen to a fair representation of Beethoven’s thirty-two works in this form.

Repertoire included early, middle and late period sonatas: Op. 2 No. 1, Op. 2 No. 3, Op. 10. No. 2, Op. 14 No. 2, Op. 28, Op. 31 No. 2, Op. 53, Op. 54, Op. 57, and Op. 111. Most pianists began with the Bagatelle, which is a small and ostensibly straight forward work (compared to the sonatas), yet, for me, one of the most interesting aspects of the whole afternoon, was the contrasts between interpretations. Not simply speed, phrasing, sound quality, or articulation (as might be expected); there were those who imposed their own interpretation and therefore ‘made something of it’, whilst others were happy to simply let the piece unfold more organically (as instructed in the score).

Each pianist dispatched their sonata with virtuosity, control and generally a high standard of musicianship. Some unleashed the full colour and power at their disposal (made possible via such an instrument), with greater aplomb and command than others. Those who dared to play beyond the notes, even beyond the instrument in some respects, revealing a distinct oneness and spiritual affinity with the music, were the triumphant.

The winner displayed these attributes in spades. Our decision was completely unanimous; Adam Heron (pictured below) treated us to a breathtaking performance of Op. 111, and he will no doubt be a future star of the piano world. Currently studying with Hilary Coates at Wells Cathedral School, from September Adam will attend the Royal Academy of Music in London. We wish him every future success.

Second place was shared by Rebecca Leung (from the Royal Academy of Music Junior Department) and Ellis Thomas (from the Royal Northern College of Music Junior Department), and the third place was shared by Tomos Boyles (from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department), and Gorka Plada Giron (from the Yehudi Menuhin School).

For those eager to hear Adam Heron, he will be giving a prize-winning recital at St. Barnabus Millennium Hall in London on Friday June 23rd 2017.

The Beethoven Piano Society of Europe is an international forum for pianists, teachers, musicologists and music lovers for the greater appreciation of Beethoven’s piano music in all its aspects. The Society’s primary aims are ‘the promotion of the authentic interpretation of all of Beethoven’s music for or involving piano, orchestral, chamber or vocal genres, and the deeper awareness of his pianistic oeuvre as a whole’; you can become a member, and find out much more here.

www.bpse.org

Adam Heron – winner of the 2017 Beethoven Junior Intercollegiate Piano Competition


AllAboutPiano

The Musicians’ Union (MU) have launched a new website for pianists, piano teachers, students and piano lovers everywhere. AllAboutPiano focuses on all aspects of piano teaching and playing, and has been developed by the MU and publishers 1Hub Media, with support from Faber Music, EPTA UK and a host of other partners.

The site will feature resources, articles, videos, information about events, and special offers on sheet music and books as well as instruments. There will be an AllAboutPiano directory of key organisations, and as the site develops and evolves other benefits such as free membership packages will also be available.

The MU is calling for piano teachers and pianists to register; during the first month (March) the AllAboutPiano website will feature teaching tips, practice advice and repertoire from across the piano community.

A piano portal community such as this is a great idea, and it will hopefully provide lots of relevant information; I look forward to watching its development over the next year.

You can find out much more here: www.allaboutpiano.co and join the community on Facebook by clicking here.

My contribution to the site’s launch consists of the following three videos. Shot in January at Jaques Samuel Pianos in London, they focus on three facets of technique: ornaments, octaves and thumbs. I hope you find them of interest.

Tutorial 1

Many find the addition of ornaments (to a piece), cumbersome; they can disturb the pulse and can be difficult to play evenly and with clear articulation. In this video, I have suggested a few different ways to practise, which will hopefully instigate finger strength and agility.

Tutorial 2

Whilst the interval of an octave can seem a large ‘reach’ for some, it is possible to feel more relaxed and comfortable with the hand in this out-stretched position. This video presents a few ideas for keeping flexible and for developing the necessary strength and control required to play octaves without any strain.

Tutorial 3

It’s easy to forget that thumbs play an important role in piano playing. In this video, I offer a few practice tips to get the thumb moving, encouraging it to work to its fully capacity, aiding rapid passagework and general keyboard dexterity.


www.musiciansunion.co.uk

www.fabermusic.com

www.epta-uk.org

www.1hub.co

5 Top Tips to Aid Memorisation

Pianist Magazine produces a newsletter which wings its way into a reader’s e mail box every other month (sign up for your copy here). It’s brimming with piano news and information, as well as a few piano articles. I write a regular ‘Piano Tips’ feature, and today’s post presents the most recent, which focuses on memorisation. I’ve written about this topic endlessly (and I even give presentations on it), but hopefully, you may find the following suggestions of interest (here’s the original article).


Memorisation is a hotly debated topic in piano playing. Irrespective of whether a piano piece is to played from memory or not, the act of memorising is incredibly useful. It can help with so many facets when learning repertoire; from understanding form and structure, to fully internalizing your chosen work (both physically and mentally), and therefore ultimately presenting a more unified, considered and engaging performance.

Here are a few ideas to aid memorisation:

  1. Take the score (and a pencil) away from the piano and thoroughly study its structure, marking up important ‘landmarks’ such as its form (fugue, sonata form, ternary form, etc.), key changes, texture, chord progressions, and the like.
  2. When you begin studying a work, memorise from the outset. Resist the temptation to ‘learn the notes’, returning to memorise later. If you can do this from the very beginning, bar by bar (or phrase by phrase), learning everything from the physical ‘feel’ of note patterns, fingerings and movement, to the required sound and musical details, you’ll find it easier to remember in the long run. This is because you’re already taking the music off the page and allowing it to permeate your mind.
  3. Work without the score as soon as possible (that’s not to say you won’t return to examine it often). memorize each hand separately. This can be most beneficial, particularly regarding the left hand, which has a habit of ‘disappearing’ under the pressure of performance. Be aware of fingerings and note patterns especially, finding sign posts to jog your memory.
  4. Ensure you have sectionalised your new piece, so that you can practise from various ‘points’. You may want to divide the work into as many as ten sections (or more). Practise playing from the start of each section until it becomes second nature (totally engaging your mind and focus when doing this). If you have a slip when playing through or during performance, you can easily recover by moving quickly to the next ‘section’.
  5. Hear the piece in your head (away from the instrument) or visualise yourself sitting playing it at the keyboard. These are both useful techniques once the piece is under your fingers (and in your mind!). I find them extremely valuable tools. Sit quietly and mentally ‘play it through’ (concentrate completely so as not to miss any detail). Once you can ‘hear’ a piece from beginning to end with ease, you’re on your way to mastering (or conquering!) your memory.

For even more information on this topic, click here and here


For lots of information on memorisation and much more, check out my book, So You Want To Play The Piano?

For useful piano repertoire, check out The Faber Music Piano Anthology, containing 78 pieces from around Grade 2 – 8, selected by me.

Image link

Yuja Wang’s master class debut

As many will know, I enjoy highlighting master classes. Public ‘lessons’ can be beneficial and interesting for many reasons, whether for teachers, students or anyone who loves the piano. Most of those previously featured here on my blog have been given by pedagogues or more ‘mature’ artists, but the following videos offer something different; a brief but fascinating insight into the piano world of Chinese star, Yuja Wang.

Uploaded in January this year, these classes were filmed at the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music in Tel Aviv, Israel. All three videos are substantial ‘lessons’ and there’s much to glean from Yuja Wang; this is apparently her ‘master class’ debut too.



Musical Odyssey

I enjoy highlighting various piano courses, whether they be in the UK, or abroad. Today’s featured Summer course is held in Nafplio in Greece, and is intended for singers and pianists. Musical Odyssey runs from the 19th to the 26th July 2017, and is organised by artistic director and Russian pianist Yekaterina Lebedeva.

The faculty includes Yekaterina and Artur Pizarro (piano), and Nuccia Focile (soprano), and Manolis Papasifakis (accompanist and accompaniment teacher). These are Summer masterclasses with a difference, offering intensive tuition from expert pianists and pedagogues, sponsored concert engagements and various prizes. The course offers three unique programmes for different age groups, as well as future concert engagements and continuing support for successful participants.

Younger pianists (those under 16 years of age) are supervised by more experienced conservatoire students who work with them, visiting lessons as well as helping practice sessions. The older students also receive help and guidance with teaching practices from the expert pedagogues too. Previous pianists and pedagogues who have given classes at this course include Cristina Ortiz, Janina Fialkowska, Vanessa Latarche, Laurens Patzlaff, Susan Bullock, Judith Howarth and Sumi Jo.

Set in beautiful stunning Greek scenery, Musical Odyssey is sure to be a great way to spend your Summer holiday.

www.musical-odyssey.com

For more information, click on the link below:


Weekend Competition winners…

ed_13860-turner_648_Many thanks to all who took part in my weekend competition. The prizes consist of one copy of My First Chopin and one of The Piano Playlist, both published by German music publisher, Schott Music.

Without further ado, the winners are…

David Barton wins My First Chopin

and Helen Miller wins The Piano Playlist

CONGRATULATIONS! ed_22459_1-ohmen_648_

Please send your address via the contact page on this blog, and your book will be on its way.

You can find out more about these publications on Schott’s website here.

There will be more competitions coming soon!


 

Weekend Competition: The Piano Playlist & My First Chopin

Today’s weekend competition features two volumes, both new publications from Schott Music.

ed_13860-turner_648_The Piano Playlist is a collection of 50 arrangements by Barrie Carson Turner, featuring many popular favourites from opera arias (Habanera from Carmen by Bizet, Nessun Dorma from Turandot, and O Mio Babbino Caro from Gianni Schicchi both by Puccini), to ballet numbers, famous gems from orchestral works (Ode to Joy (Beethoven), The Swan (Saint-Saëns), Adagietto (Mahler’s 4th Symphony)), to piano concertos, instrumental music and  arrangements of piano pieces. Great for intermediate to advanced players.

ed_22459_1-ohmen_648_

My First Chopin has been  compiled by German pianist and pedagogue, Wilhelm Ohman. This collection of 20 pieces lies well within the capabilities of the advanced player, and contains some of Chopin’s best-loved works including a group of Preludes, Waltzes, Mazurkas and Nocturnes. These works are particularly popular amongst students, and this book features Raindrop Prelude Op. 28 No. 15, Prelude in B minor Op. 28 No. 6, Waltz in B minor Op. posth. 69 No. 2, Mazurka in B flat major Op. 7 No. 1, Nocturne in C sharp minor No. 20 Op. posth., Funeral March (from Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35), to name a few favourites. An excellent addition to any library.

I have one copy of each to give away for two lucky winners, Please leave your comment in the comment box at the end of this blog post to be in with a chance of winning. I will announce the winners on Sunday evening (British time).

To find out more or purchase these books click here and here.


The ‘Stars of the Albion’ Arts Competition and Festival

stars-imageOver the past few weekends I’ve been adjudicating at various competitions. On several occasions I worked alone (as an adjudicator for the British and International Federation of Music Festivals), but this past weekend, I was one of a panel of judges for the ‘Stars of the Albion’ competition.  Although I enjoy both challenges, working with others is not only more interesting and convivial, but it also shares the responsibility of selecting winners (which is never an easy task).

‘Stars of the Albion’ is an international performing arts festival and competition. It’s an annual event, uniting young talented musicians and dancers from across the world. The project forms a unique bridge connecting different cultures and in particular that of Russia and Great Britain. It aims to provide valuable opportunities for young emerging artists to perform, learn, communicate and develop.

Organised and promoted by Musica Nova Academy of Music, which was founded and is owned by Russian singer, pianist and educator Evgenia Terentieva. This bilingual establishment (situated just around the corner from King’s Cross station, on Crommer Street), combines the British and Russian principles of teaching. It’s held under the Patronage of the World Association of Performing Arts (WAPA) and is supported by the Rossotrudnichestvo, the Russian cultural centre in the UK.

This is the fourth arts festival & competition. There are two rounds; the first one is based on video recordings (DVD and YouTube), and the second is open to the public and held at the concert hall of the Rossotrudnichestvo (situated just off Kensington High Street), and at the Musica Nova Academy. The Rudolf Steiner Theatre (also in London) plays host to the final awards ceremony and gala concert. Thirty international and twenty national soloists as well as five ensembles were selected to participate in the second round.

Participants hail from a large spectrum of nations including the UK, Russia, Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Republic of Belarus, Bulgaria, Malta, Philippines, Latvia, Armenia, Ukraine, Ghana, and India.

I was one of four to judge the instrumental category at the Musica Nova Academy (with colleagues, Alexander Ioffe and Yuri Zhislin (both from Russia), and Natalia Varkentin (who is Latvian)). The awards were segregated into three age categories; 6 -10 years old, 11 – 15 years, and 16 years and over, and all competitors were either pianists or violinists. The standard was reasonably high; students were expected to play their programmes from memory (including the duet classes), and many performed fairly advanced pieces (particularly in the age category from 6 – 10 years).

I’m always fascinated by the repertoire chosen for such events; there was a diverse selection from a piano arrangement of the theme from Schindler’s List (John Williams) and Yiruma’s ubiquitous piano piece The River Flows In You (played by a six-year-old!), to the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11 by Liszt. We heard several renditions of Tchaikovsky’s Melody in E Op. 42 No. 3 (for violin) as well as typical selections from the ABRSM Grade 8 repertoire.

The winners of each class perform in the final gala concert (which was held last night), and some of them also win cash prizes. Whilst we enjoyed the instrumental classes at the Musica Nova Academy, a much larger panel judged the singing classes at the Rossotrudnichestvo Cultural Centre  (which were huge in comparison). I like the inclusion of multiple disciplines; there’s something for literally everyone (both amateur or professional), whether a classical performer, jazz player, pop singer, dancer, or folk musician. This flexibility will ensure that the ‘Stars of the Albion’ goes from strength to strength, and it will no doubt flourish and develop over the coming years.

www.starsofthealbion.org.uk

www.musicanova.org.uk


Contemporary Music Festival Repertoire

I enjoyed an interesting and fun couple of days at the Music & Drama Education Expo at Olympia in London at the end of last week. My music publisher, EVC Music Publications Ltd, hosted a vibrant and busy stand at this event, and some composers (including myself) gave several presentations, enabling us to meet and chat to teachers whose students play our music, which was a real pleasure.

elena-cobb-star-prizeA particular highlight this year for me, is the inclusion of some of my pieces in the Elena Cobb Star prize, which is available to music festivals affiliated to the British and International Federation of Festivals.

Music festivals are essentially mini competitions for students of the arts (whether that be music, dance or speech). The Star prize can be implemented by any festival; there is a £50 prize for the winner of the class (as well as a Star Prize badge and certificate). This prize aims to encourage students to play music by living composers and there’s a whole syllabus of pieces from which teachers and pupils can choose (for beginners up to advanced level). You can view the complete syllabus here, which includes works by all EVC Music composers.

My compositions are featured in Grade 1 (Witch Cackle from Piano Magic), Grade 2 (Fairy Dust from Piano Magic), Grade 5 (Waltz on a Sunken Ship from Piano Waves), and Grade 7 (Digression from Digressions). My book of duets, Snapchats, can also be played in the duet classes.

Snapchats have proved popular with students and teachers around the world; these 11 duets are short (8 -10 bars), succinct, and use a variety of piano techniques which may be new to pupils of this level (written for those between grades 1 – 3 (ABRSM level)). Whilst the title, Snapchats has been inspired by the social media platform, the pieces themselves have been influenced by meditation and Taoism, and are therefore rather ‘atmospheric’, creating various moods, The primo and secondo parts are of similar standard, therefore they can be played by two students, teacher and student, or parent and student, and are therefore a useful addition to any studio recital or school concert programme.

I was recently sent three performances; Shanti Shanti, Light and Sutra (all from Snapchats) played by very talented brothers Arthur and Alex Anderson, who performed them in a concert in York (UK). I hope you enjoy these recordings. Find out more about Snapchats here, and you can hear all the pieces in the set here.



Music & Drama Education Expo 2017

expo

For those in the music education industry in the UK, the Music & Drama Education Expo event is a yearly highlight. Organised by Rhinegold, it’s held over two days (9th and 10th February 2017) at Olympia (London),  and features a raft of events, including professional development sessions, seminars, practical workshops, performances, show cases, and a huge exhibition of over 130 of the leading brands in the industry.

My publisher EVC Music Publications Ltd will be hosting many events over the two-day period; composer presentations, performances, and book launches, including those by composers Donald Thompson, Heather Hammond, Andrew Higgins, and a book presentation by piano teacher Irina Mints (all held at stand G8). EVC Music director, Elena Cobb, will also be giving a presentation at 10.15am on Thursday 9th February; The Art of Positive Self-Promotion held at the Rhinegold Theatre.

I’ll be giving two presentations at this year’s event on the EVC Music stand (G8) at 12.30pm on both Thursday (9th) and Friday (10th). The presentation will focus on my piano compositions, specifically the four books published by EVC Music. I’ll also be playing some of the pieces and chatting generally about how my works can complement exam syllabuses and specifically music festivals.

If you’re in the vicinity, please do come along and say hello!