The 2012 Overseas-Malaysian Winter Piano-Academy

Entrance to Yehudi Menuhin School

As 2012 came to a close, I was invited to lecture and teach piano classes at the Omwpa Overseas-Malaysian Winter Piano-Academy which is organised by pianist Bobby Chen and held at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, UK. The Winter Piano-Academy consists of around 40 piano students (all have been auditioned and selected) who make the journey from Malaysia for a period of intensive study. The course lasted just over a week and provided an excellent opportunity for each student to immerse themselves in all kinds of musical experiences; individual piano lessons, masterclasses, lectures, group lessons, as well as  attendance at recitals given by many of the course tutors. The students stayed at the Menuhin School and therefore had access to first class musical facilities.

Pianists Murray McLachlan, Andrew Ball, Douglas Finch, Mikhail Kazakevich, Dr. Aleksander Szram, Graham Caskie, and Anthony Hewitt gave individual piano lessons and masterclasses.  Dr. Stephen Goss taught composition, Rebecca Miller taught conducting, Michael Dussek and Dr. Aleksander Szram coached chamber music classes, and Douglas Finch taught improvisation. I coached the art of sight-reading and memorisation to small classes.

One feature I particularly enjoyed were the evening lectures and concerts. Lecturers included Dr. Stephen Goss, Dominic Alldis, Professor Ruth Nye and Terence Lewis. My classes were held over two days so I heard only a fraction of the performances on offer, however, I did enjoy the lecture Terry Lewis presented entitled The Building of a Fazioli Piano. Terry is the Managing Director and Co-Owner of Jaques Samuel Pianos in London. Jaques Samuel Pianos sells a wide range of Fazioli pianos (many consider these instruments to be the finest in the world) and it was fascinating observing the fine detail and craftmanship with which these instruments are constructed.

Evening concerts were another highlight featuring Murray McLachlan, Douglas Finch and Anthony Hewitt of which I heard the two latter.  Anthony gave us a ‘Beethoven Sandwich’ as he explained (all concerts and lectures had Q&A sessions afterwards). Beethoven Sonatas Op 27 No. 1 and Op. 101 were juxtaposed with Piano Cycle by Dr. Stephen Goss performed with the aid of an iPad complete with pedal for turning the pages (full marks to Tony for negotiating four pedals at once coupled with this incredibly complex work!) and Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata plus Chopin’s Barcarolle Op 60.  A gargantuan programme which was beautifully executed.

Douglas Finch also played Beethoven – Sonata Op 22 in B flat major, and Finch/Chopin: Preludes and Afterthoughts – Fantasy-Transcriptions on Chopin’s Preludes op. 28 as well as Chopin’s Mazurka op. 24 no. 4 in B flat minor and the  Fourth Ballade Op. 52 in F minor. At the end of the concert Douglas provided a series of wonderful improvisations. The enthusiastic audience chose all sorts of melodies which were then expertly weaved in a series of different styles and genres – including the now infamous ‘Gangnam Style’!!

All Grade 8 and diploma standard, the students were keen and attentive. My classes consisted of about ten pupils and we worked both in groups and individually. Most students regularly play from memory so my aim in the memorisation class, was to extend their knowledge by demonstrating many different and viable ways to approach memorising. Each pupil was given the opportunity to memorise a short passage of music (usually a line of two) on the spot in front of the class. They all managed to play the extract from memory after approximately ten minutes of intensive study – memorisation can be instant and doesn’t have to be painful! Sight-reading classes were also worked at individually but the most popular activity was when I asked three students to play together at one piano (six hands) and encouraged them to sight-read various styles and genres. Everybody was afforded this experience and it really is a great way to instigate quick reading.

The students I spoke to found this course thoroughly enjoyable, many describing it as ‘life-changing’. Hopefully they went back to Malaysia inspired to keep working at their piano playing. Held every two years, the Overseas-Malaysian Winter Piano-Academy will no doubt continue to thrive in 2014.

Photo above; Entrance to Yehudi Menuhin School; images courtesy of www.geograph.org.uk  and photo below; Me with some of the young pianists I coached (photo courtesy of Jia Hui who is standing to my right)

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