A master class with Garrick Ohlsson

I’ve been working in Germany over the weekend, tutoring a bilingual piano workshop near Düsseldorf, so I thought it appropriate to highlight a master class today.

Gelsenkirchen is a city in the North Rhine-Westphalia state of Germany, and I’ve been visiting a couple of times a year since 2014, providing free piano classes to those who would not normally have such an opportunity. I love this concept and am very grateful to Kery Felske (director of IKM Gelsenkirchen) and our sponsors for their unwavering support, enabling the possibility to continue this important work.

The class always consists of a variety of levels and abilities (and age ranges!), from complete beginners to advanced players (probably to a standard comparable to UK diploma level), and this weekend focused on those who hadn’t played much before, although there was one intermediate to advanced level pianist. Classes are held in English, and for the younger participants this can seem somewhat daunting, but it hasn’t proved problematic as yet.

The value of an ‘open piano lesson’, which is ultimately what a master class or workshop is, cannot be underestimated; it presents a chance to observe a variety of musical and technical issues. Solving such challenges can be of benefit to everyone and therein lies its beauty. Hopefully, those who attended our two-day event found it useful, and will be encouraged to further develop their playing.

The following master class was given by leading American pianist Garrick Ohlsson and features Chopin’s Etude in A minor (‘Winter Wind’) Op. 25 No. 11 played by Netanel Grinshtein and recorded at The Jerusalem Music Centre last year.

As always, there’s much to enjoy in this class and I hope you find it of interest:


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

A visit to the August Förster Piano Factory

August forsterPeregrine’s Pianos are organising a two-day visit to the August Förster piano factor. This factory is one of the oldest established piano factories in the world and it thrives in a corner of Saxony steeped in rich musical traditions. Peregrine’s Pianos is the London dealer for August Förster Pianos.

The trip is intended for customers interested in learning more about this company and its culture. Taking place on the 25th and 26th October 2016 and limited to twenty customers, included are flights from London’s Heathrow airport to Berlin, private coach transfers to Dresden and Löbau, and overnight accommodation in a beautiful mountain hotel. Guests will be shown around the factory and entertained at the Förster Villa (pictured below).

In order to illustrate the cultural background of August Förster, the visit begins in Dresden.  Lunch will be served at the Grand Café in the Cosel Palais before an afternoon recital in the Dresden Piano Salon, a hall in which both Robert and Clara Schumann performed. This is followed by a brief tour of Dresden’s Baroque buildings including the Zwinger, Augustusbrücke, Hofkirche and the famous Frauenkirche.

On the second day, a visit to the town of Löbau is first on the itinerary, as it’s where the factory is situated. After lunch in the old town, a tour of the factory takes place. The factory buildings are 150 years old and piano making is all by hand. There will be an opportunity to play completed instruments and to select a piano to purchase.

august_foerster_villa_0


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Peregrine’s Pianos presents a visit to the Schimmel Factory

Schimmel FactoryPeregrine’s Pianos is organising a visit to the Schimmel Factory (pictured above), which will take place on Thursday 21st April 2016. Situated in Grays Inn Road, Central London, Peregrine’s Pianos is the exclusive dealer in London for Schimmel Pianos and also for August Förster instruments.

The first visit to the Schimmel Piano Factory in Germany was arranged in 2012, and I took this fascinating trip in October 2014, and can confirm it to be a thoroughly enjoyable and fun day out. You can read my review here.

The trip takes just one day, and commences with a flight from Heathrow to Hannover, a coach journey to Braunschweig, introductions to the Schimmel management team, an extensive tour of the factory and the return journey to Heathrow. A short recital is also included, as well as an opportunity to try the pianos in the “selection room”, a visit to the old city and an early evening group meal in a choice restaurant.

Schimmel Pianos is the largest volume German piano manufacturer, founded in Leipzig in 1885, and since 1975 has been housed in a modern purpose-built factory close to the centre of Braunschweig.

SchimmelI182TThis year’s factory visit is open to any prospective customers who desire a greater understanding of Schimmel pianos. Guests will visit workshops within the factory dedicated to specific areas of the production including frame and soundboard manufacture, casework, key making, piano stringing, action alignment, silent piano installation, final assembly and finishing.

This is an exclusive visit by agreement with the factory and numbers are limited to twenty.  Guests are asked for a nominal charge of two hundred pounds per person to include all items listed in the itinerary, and Peregrine’s Pianos will discount this against the subsequent purchase of a Schimmel Piano.

www. peregrines-pianos.com

Schimmel Factory VisitTrying the Glass Schimmel Piano! Photo courtesy of Ciaran Morton


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.

 


 

The Importance of Breathing

I’ve been working in Germany this past weekend, giving classes and piano workshops in a busy town in the Ruhr. I do this two or three times a year. My students are invariably an eclectic group of all ages and abilities, intent on improving their playing. We work for two days and then present a little concert at the end. The venue for these classes sometimes changes, but the concept is always the same. The course is becoming increasingly popular, and provides an opportunity for pupils to develop various piano skills.

I work closely with course organiser and singer Kery Felske, and together we try to vary the content slightly; adding a new aspect of piano playing each time (which might involve highlighting anything from sight-reading or scales to the importance of posture). The topic on this occasion was breath control. Once this useful skill has been assimilated, it can be added to the smorgasbord of performing tools in a pupil’s ever-increasing armoury.

At the beginning of every session, we practised deep breathing, which can be effective for all types of performing. The class visibly relaxed after around ten minutes, and those who employed this technique before the concert said they found it beneficial.

Kery lead the group ‘breathing session’, and for readers keen to improve their breath control, here’s what we did:

  1. Stand up straight; your feet parallel with the width of your shoulders. Knees should ideally be flexible and not at all stretched, so that moving is easy (imagine you are preparing to Ski, with the knees in a slightly bent position). Sway from side to side freely, and find your centre by allowing body movement to become smaller and smaller.
  2. Breath through the nose and imagine your stomach is filling with air, encouraging the diaphragm to contract downwards (wear elastic or comfortable clothes!). When you intake air, make sure the belly is totally supported, so it is able to expand fully.
  3. Hold the air-filled stomach for a moment, then change the breath direction from breathing in to breathing out. Start breathing out by pursing the lips, making an ‘F’ sound, thus allowing yourself to feel a connection between the air-filled stomach and the mouth. Aim to be aware of a pillar of air between the stomach and mouth. Hold this position for as long as possible.
  4. As you release the diaphragm, the muscles of the stomach will take over, supporting your breathing as the air releases. Watch how the stomach caves in and finish with a ‘shh’ sound, making sure all air has been expelled.
  5. Then, once again, change direction of your breath, as you repeat this process. When executed correctly, you may feel slightly dizzy to begin with, and if so, take more time and slow down (or stop for a while and try again later). Repeat the process around five times at the most to start with. It should be done rhythmically and with purpose. Breathing out must take longer than breathing in. Breathing in could be considered the passive part of this exercise, and breathing out, the active part (it’s possible to stand or sit whilst doing this exercise).

    Once ingested, you will hopefully feel a sense of  tranquility by the end of the process. The ‘flight or fight’ instinct will calm sufficiently and this may help alleviate nerves, or at least help to control the rapid breathing associated with nervousness before and during a performance, as well as aiding concentration whilst playing.RZ6_8420With Katharine Pilgrim during a workshop session.

     IKM GELSENKIRCHEN

Image: Ralf Zeiß


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


 

Bilingual Piano Workshops in Germany

I enjoyed another wonderful time in Germany over the weekend, and love being part of a bilingual piano project, organised by singer Kery Felske, and supported by the IKM Gelsenkirchen (in the Ruhr region). The workshop concept is becoming increasingly popular, with classes running all day on Saturday and Sunday. Young (and older) pianists are now coming from further afield, from various backgrounds, and from all age groups too. Anyone can come and play, irrespective of standard or ability, and it’s always interesting to witness the improvement made by the participants; both during the weekend and over the months between classes. Several pupils have come to every workshop thus far.

Saturday’s session (which lasted around five hours), included some technical work, namely Czerny exercises and some scales. British exam boards are not popular in Germany, and some students weren’t familiar with scales, but it wasn’t long before my group digested the various keys and fingerings (the Grillo Gymnasium, where classes are held,  is equipped with several practice rooms on site, allowing pupils to work on their own). Participants practiced between classes on Saturday and Sunday, and progress was most impressive.

After a further all day session on Sunday, we host a late afternoon concert for family and friends, although classes are also open to the public. The concert provides a platform for every student, and it motivates them to work that much harder, because they know their efforts will be on display. I’m perpetually concerned as to whether two days is really enough to substantially make a difference to a pupil’s playing, but each student has risen to the challenge beautifully.

Repertoire ranged from C.P.E Bach’s Solfeggietto H.220 and Burgmüller’s L’Orage Op.109 No. 13, to Mozart’s Sonata K. 331 in A major, and Waltz in B minor Op. 69 No. 2 by Chopin. Pupils generally present standard repertoire, but I’m looking forward to eventually hearing some Contemporary music!

All classes are conducted in English, posing few problems for young German pianists. Several more workshops are planned for 2015, as well as a Summer Piano Course in 2016. The IKM Gelsenkirchen are involved with a variety of musical events, from pop and rock concerts, through to classical recitals. They stoically represent German commitment to culture and the arts, and I’m very grateful for their interest in this project.

www.ikm-ge.de 

Pic 2 Germany

Working on a Mozart Sonata with one of my students: Photo by Kery Felske

My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Master classes in Germany

IKM_logo

Earlier this year I visited Gelsenkirchen (near Düsseldorf), in Germany, to give master classes and workshops, and last weekend I enjoyed a second visit. The classes form part of a community piano project, established and organised by Kery Felske and the wonderful organisation, IkM-Ge e. V (The Interest group of Cultural working Musicians). Kery (who is a singer), works tirelessly, arranging many cultural events in the region, promoting a whole variety of artistic projects. During the weekend, I asked Kery to write a little about this organisation, explaining its objectives and ideas:

‘Since 1997 the Interest group of Cultural working Musicians (IkM-Ge e. V.) in the Ruhr Area in Germany, regularly organises and manages practice rooms, venues, events and workshops for the free artistic and musical scene. The association has the aim to realise conceptions supporting cultural life and its growth with a special view to newcomers, transregional networking and keeping musical events and qualification achievable for everyone while engaging for fair payment of professional performance in the cultural field. Those aims already appear in the non-commercial background of this community whose members do most of their work as volunteers in their leisure time. The wide range of their projects runs from monthly local rock concerts in our own venue, crossover workshops and events of art and music of different styles and genres, a yearly three-days open air event with two stages and thirty bands up to international co-operations with the classical scene and all in between. Diversity is an important aspect of the work of the IkM-Ge. A lot of idealism and enthusiasm is needed to do this job successfully. Since 2005 they run a practice centre (Consol4) with 39 rooms; since 2013 they have their own venue in the same old mine building equipped with PA, stage lighting and an over 100-year-old Bechstein grand piano. But the IkM-Ge uses a lot of other venues around depending on the character of the event and cooperation. Since 2013 as organization structures of the practice rooms, the venue and external events are established, the association started to create more supportive projects around qualification for musicians. In 2014 international workshops especially the classical piano masterclasses with Melanie Spanswick enriched our programme.’

Consol4, the practice centre in Gelsenkirchen

I’m delighted to be a part of this programme, and will be visiting Gelsenkirchen more frequently in 2015. My classes are generally held at the Grillo Gymnasium in the city centre, and are intended to help those who may not be able to attend regular piano lessons. We work for a period of two days and all workshops are public. Each student receives one to one coaching (in English)  and also has the opportunity to use the practise facilities at the school. The lessons are followed by a concert at the end of the weekend, where we all perform (including me!) and introduce our pieces.

A variety of ages and abilities were invited to participate, and the improvement after a couple of days of intensive lessons was considerable. Students presented a wide range of works from Bach and Chopin, through to Denes Agay and Housman. An open class affords the opportunity to learn from others; whether a relative beginner or advanced player, there is always more to assimilate. It’s a pleasure to work with such attentive and dedicated pupils, and I look forward to many more German weekends.

www.ikm-ge.de

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

With Kery Felske (in the middle) and some of the students.


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


A Trip to the Schimmel Piano Factory in Germany

Selection room

Peregrine’s Pianos have been in business for a relatively short period of time (four years), yet they have already established themselves as one of the leading piano dealers in the UK. Their premises in Grays Inn Road (in central London) offers superb practice facilities, piano hire and servicing, as well as housing a large showroom of fine pianos. They are the exclusive dealer in London for Schimmel pianos; a company who are the largest volume piano manufacturer in Germany, building quality instruments for discerning musicians.

Germany is a long way to travel for a mere few hours, but when I was invited by the owner of Peregrine’s Pianos, Dawn Elizabeth Howells, to spend some time at the Schimmel Piano Factory near Hanover, I couldn’t resist a peek behind the scenes at this major European piano makers. Our tour began at the headquarters in Brunswick (Braunschweig), where we were able to explore a whole collection of instruments on display in the large yet informal concert room (pictured below), positioned at the front of the sprawling factory. Gleaming uprights merged with two beautiful concert grands, bestowing a golden opportunity for our party (an assortment of pianists, piano tuners and technicians), many of whom immediately began sampling the instruments! After admiring the selection room (pictured above), we were treated to an enlightening lecture given by Lothar Kiesche, the company’s Chief Marketing and Sales Officer, who afforded a potted history laced with copious technical details and interesting anecdotes.

Concert hall

Schimmel Pianos was founded in 1885 by Wilhelm Schimmel in Leipzig, moving to Brunswick in the 1930’s. Wilhelm Schimmel (originally both a furniture and instrument maker), constructed his instruments from scratch, starting with upright pianos, moving later onto the concert grand. By the 1950s, Schimmel had become the biggest German piano manufacturer. Always concerned with quality as opposed to volume, the company has focussed on innovation and evolution. In 1952 they produced the first glass piano (a model of which is resplendent in the entrance hall at the headquarters) built for the world’s largest music fair in Hanover (now based in Frankfurt), and in 1985, they began work on a hand-built piano. This series of highly refined instruments, which appeared from 2000 onwards, are collectively known as the Schimmel Konzert Grand range, and they utilise the latest technology, or ‘computer aided piano engineering’, setting them apart from those made by other European piano makers.

There are four Schimmel designs or ranges; Wilhelm Schimmel, Schimmel International, Schimmel Classic and the Schimmel Konzert Grand (see photo below for a glimpse at the workmanship inside a piano from the Konzert Grand range). Within this framework exist many permutations and variations on both the grand and upright models. The largest instrument in the Konzert series is 2.8 metres in length (the K280), and every piano in this series has a patented design, such is the advanced innovation and expertise that has gone into the production, making this a unique product family.

Inside the piano

After the lecture, we toured the factory inspecting every stage of the construction, which demonstrated just how Schimmel Pianos, the Konzert grands particularly, differ from other instruments.  The soundboard and bridges are constructed from very high quality materials, which boosts the timbre and resonance considerably. On average, the Schimmel Konzert Grand’s soundboard is 15% larger than a standard piano, producing greater volume of sound. The soundboard is also equipped with a resilient ‘bar’, an extra, shaped length of wood positioned in a certain manner across the soundboard, which apparently affects the clarity and brightness, and is particularly effective for playing pianissimo (very soft) dynamics. We were also shown a variety of timbers (including Spruce and Oak), and it was fascinating observing the curve of the soundboard, although the exact information regarding how much and by what means it was curved was strictly off-limits, as this is a trade secret!

Construction of the piano keys occupied a whole area in the factory. Determined to find a solution to the ivory dilemma, Schimmel have found a way to produce keys which feel comfortable to play and are eerily similar to those made entirely from ivory. Yet they are made with ‘mineral material’ (again, another trade secret!). It was interesting to visit the voicing room, where each piano comes to receive its final ‘sound’. The technician worked at shaping each hammer-head in order to refine the tone and sound quality; a painstaking job requiring much skill and expertise.

The pianos are sprayed in the colossal polyester room, and here we could examine the wide variety of models on display; from the traditional black polyester (or shiny) finish, to white glass, black and clear glass with gold trimmings, and the famed ‘Pegasus’ piano which would suit only the most avant-garde (or adventurous) buyers! Most Schimmel pianos take between nine months to a year to build, and this dedication to evolution has enabled them to become the most ‘awarded’ German piano maker.

After appreciating all Schimmel has to offer, we were treated to a mini recital by the owner of Peregrine’s, Dawn (pictured mid-concert below), who was, for many years, a concert pianist. She played two short works by Russian composers, Lyadov and Rachmaninov, and she was introduced by the fourth generation of Schimmels, the Company’s President, Hannes Schimmel-Vogel. A hearty, jovial meal at a picturesque German restaurant in the town centre concluded our brief but thoroughly enjoyable visit.

Dawn Playing

There is no doubt that Schimmel pianos are quality instruments. I tried a few in one of the selection rooms; a couple of uprights and one of the Konzert grands. The upright was incredibly responsive, with a fulsome bass and sonorous, bell-like treble. The Konzert grand had a favourable, resistant, heavy action; it was possible to sink fully into the key bed, commanding plenty of sound. If you would like to try these instruments, take a trip to Peregrine’s Pianos who have a whole range in their showrooms.

www.peregrines-pianos.com


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


A Trip to the Schimmel Factory in Germany

Schimmel Pianos

If you love pianos then you will most certainly be interested in this superb one day trip to the Schimmel Piano factory. Peregrine’s Pianos, London’s exclusive dealer in Schimmel Pianos, is offering its customers an opportunity to visit the factory in Braunschweig, Germany. The one day visit, on Tuesday 30th September 2014, will provide an excellent opportunity for anyone who enjoys observing the intricacies of building this complex instrument, and also for Schimmel lovers who are already aware of the range of pianos available and would like to learn more.

Schimmel pianos (the largest volume German piano manufacturer) was founded in Leipzig in 1885. The present modern factory (pictured above) is close to the centre of Braunschweig and is purpose-built. It takes the form of numerous work areas dedicated to specific parts of the process – frame and soundboard manufacture, casework, key making, piano stringing, action alignment, silent piano installation, final assembly and finishing. Schimmel Pianos run a comprehensive training scheme for apprentices and planning ahead is key in the company’s thinking. Care about wider issues is also highly important; for example timber is carefully selected from regenerating forests.

Full details of the day will be given to those joining the visit. The trip will begin at Heathrow, London at approximately 7am and arrive back there at about 9.30pm.  After a short flight to Hannover there will be a special coach transfer to the factory. On arrival, guests will then be introduced to senior staff at Schimmel Pianos and entertained to a factory lunch. The visit will include talks from the management team, an extended tour of all parts of the factory and opportunity to try pianos in the “selection room.” The day will also feature a short recital, a visit to the old city, a group meal in Braunschweig and the return coach transfer to the airport.

Places on this visit are limited and those interested in joining it will need a valid passport and should contact Peregrine’s Pianos as soon as possible. There is a nominal charge of £250 per person which includes all items listed in the itinerary, and Peregrine’s Pianos will be pleased to discount one person’s charge against the subsequent purchase of a Schimmel Piano.

For more details please write to: info@peregrines-pianos.com

www. peregrines-pianos.com


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.


Master Classes in Gelsenkirchen

I had the great pleasure of giving master classes and workshops recently in Germany. The town of Gelsenkirchen (around a thirty minute drive from Düsseldorf) provided the backdrop for a weekend of intensive piano playing. Seven students had signed up for coaching over a period of two days which culminated in a little concert late Sunday afternoon. The classes were held at the Grillo-Gymnasium, although the pupils came from various schools in Gelsenkirchen. I also taught a further six students towards the end of my visit who were all pupils at this particular school.

Our venue, the school hall, housed a large Yamaha grand piano. A small audience was present during each class, which grew substantially for the concert, perhaps indicating the interest and demand for piano classes within this area. You can see us in action by clicking on the video link below, which shows short excerpts of a few classes.

I was invited to be involved in this venture by Kery Felske, a singer, who works tirelessly promoting and organising artistic events in Gelsenkirchen and beyond. This concept is very much a community project; many of these students are self-taught or have occasional piano lessons. With this in mind, it’s quite an achievement to play at all, especially after such little preparation and practical help.

We worked on many different aspects of piano playing from the pupil’s chosen pieces (everything from pop tunes to a Chopin Waltz), to exercises and scales (and as will be evident from the video, some pupils had never played scales before). Each student had two individual lessons albeit in public and in English (this is a bilingual school), followed by several opportunities to practice in between lessons in the practice rooms provided. This was all quite a challenge for the pupils, and one which they met beautifully. There is no doubt that everyone had improved considerably from the first lesson to the concert performance, but sadly you will have to take my word on this, as the film doesn’t include any concert clips!

www.ikm-ge.de


My publications:

For much more information about how to practice piano repertoire, take a look at my piano course, Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). Covering a huge array of styles and genres, the course features a large collection of progressive, graded piano repertoire from approximately Grade 1 to advanced diploma level, with copious practice tips for every piece. A convenient and beneficial course for students of any age, with or without a teacher, and it can also be used alongside piano examination syllabuses too.

You can find out more about my other piano publications and compositions here.