Murray McLachlan plays Piano Sonata No. 5 by John McLeod

 

I wrote last week about the Overseas Masters Winter Piano Academy held at the Yehudi Menuhin School (you can read the post here). Students and teachers could enjoy the recitals and lectures given by the faculty during the evenings.

Scottish pianist Murray McLachlan is Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester, and Professor of Piano at the Royal Northern College of Music (amongst many other appointments). Murray (pictured above) presented a lecture and a recital at the OMWPA. Whilst the lecture focussed on his new book, The Foundations of Piano Technique published by Faber Music (more about this in my next post), the recital consisted of two piano favourites, which were juxtaposed with a new piece written by Scottish composer John McLeod. Murray is a keen champion of new music, and he commissioned McLeod to write a sonata.

The concert began with Chopin’s beautiful Berceuse in D flat major Op. 57. Murray spoke briefly about each work beforehand; this is a really good idea, and establishes an immediate rapport with audience members (I wish musicians would always introduce pieces). After claiming the Berceuse to be ‘a sugary, sweet introduction’, he gave a committed account, the increasingly complex passagework and filigree was delicately played, effectively characterizing the musical line.

Next came the John McLeod work; Piano Sonata No. 5 (2013). Murray has spent the last few months performing this work, both in the UK and abroad  (and has no doubt lived with it for much longer). It was interesting to hear the similarities in terms of structure and concentration of ideas to that of Liszt’s Piano Sonata in B minor (which concluded this concert). The harmonic language however, is totally different from Liszt’s.

A work in one movement, with two dominating themes. The first is a bitingly dissonant motif, which catapults its way all around the keyboard. Highly chromatic and breathtakingly dramatic, it’s both exciting, captivating, and occasionally, terrifying! The second theme is more lyrical, with a gentler waltz-like feel, providing the necessary relief and contrast. The two motifs are akin to completely different ‘characters’ who continue to banter, never feeling completely settled; there are countless moments of virtuosity and sudden changes of mood, as the spikey dissonant theme persistently tries to take charge.

The performance was full of drama and pathos; both themes were given their own colour and personality. Murray made light work of the copious complicated figurations, many running the length and breadth of the keyboard, requiring scintillating virtuosity and power. Yet amidst the turmoil, there were flashes of tenderness, passion and reflection too. A tremendous tour de force of piano playing (and memory), and a compelling, provocative work, which will hopefully receive the attention it deserves.

The recital ended with one of the great piano masterpieces of the Nineteenth Century. Liszt’s Piano Sonata B minor S. 178 had been reworked by the composer many times (as Murray pointed out in his introduction), yet it consistently sounds fresh and enthralling. This rendition was given a real sense of space (tempos were always well judged); themes were elegantly stated, and the work was given a clear sense of architecture and structure.

After a tumultuous reception, two encores ensured; one by Ronald Stevenson (with whom Murray studied), and the other, by Scriabin. The inclusion of a large-scale Twenty-First Century work in between Romantic favourites is an extremely effective way of presenting commissions or ‘new music’, and this superb concert proves the success of such a format.

www.johnmcleod.uk.com

Portrait shoot of John McLeod

Scottish composer John McLeod

(Image: Wojtek Kutyla)

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.


 

Overseas Masters Winter Piano Academy 2014

There are a plethora of piano courses taking place every year here in the UK. The majority are held during the Summer months, coinciding with holiday periods, usually offering a mixture of one to one lessons and group classes. Courses can be a very helpful addition to a pianist’s regular musical activities, providing much-needed extra ‘ears’ and piano tips.

Two years ago, I was invited to coach group classes on the Overseas Malaysian Winter Piano Academy (as it was then known), which is held at the Yehudi Menuhin School in Surrey, UK. The structure of this course is fairly unique, in that it provides high quality lessons, classes, concert opportunities and a UK ‘experience’ to a group of talented young musicians from the Far East. Most of the participants are from Malaysia, although this year there were some students from Singapore too (25 pupils in all). Each participant has been auditioned and selected, and most are at least Grade 8 standard (many were far beyond this, several students in my classes had already achieved the FTCL or FRSM). Once chosen, pupils fly to London for twelve days, returning home on Christmas Eve, after a fantastic musical adventure.

This course was established in 2010 by  Malaysian pianist Bobby Chen, who masterfully arranges all the activities and events. Bobby is a busy concert pianist who studied at the world-renowned Yehudi Menuhin School, and it does indeed provide a marvellous backdrop. The facilities are superb, with plenty of large music rooms all resplendent with one or two excellent pianos, as well as two concert halls, and beautiful surrounding grounds.

Each pupil receives several individual piano lessons, many groups classes (in Composition, Improvisation, Conducting, Chamber Music etc.), lectures, evening recitals given by some of the tutors, the opportunity to hear their fellow student’s lessons (most lessons are open classes), the chance to play in the final Gala concert, and a visit to London, taking in cultural sites and concert performances too. Most participants are pianists, but there were a few string players for the first time this year.

The faculty is impressive, showcasing some of the finest musicians and teachers: Anthony Hewitt, Dominic Alldis, Mikhail Kazakevich, Thomas Carroll, Julian Jacobson, Carole Cerasi, Andrew Ball, Douglas Finch, Leslie Howard, Murray McLachlan, Ruth Nye, Terrence Lewis, Stephen Goss, Graham Caskie, Boris Kucharsky, Mihai Ritivoiu, Tomasz Ziemski, Aleksander Szram, and me.

I gave three hours of classes to four groups. One hour each on Technique, Sight-reading and Memorisation Techniques. I enjoy group lessons and so, it seems, do students, as they eagerly learn from each other; lots of interaction can be both fun and instructive. My classes contain plenty of participation at and around the piano, and there’s always a Question and Answer session and discussion time too.

One great advantage of staying on campus for a couple of nights, is the chance to meet some of the faculty and enjoy their lectures and recitals. I was fortunate to have free evenings, and was able to hear three lectures. Pianist and Professor of piano at the Royal College of Music, Julian Jacobson, presented a fascinating talk about the first movement of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata No. 23 in F minor Op. 57. Julian played all 32 Sonatas in one day for charity last year, at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London, so he has a wealth of knowledge on this subject. He played excerpts from the piece and shed much new light.

There were two lectures on the second evening. Pianist, Head of Keyboard at Chetham’s School of Music and Professor of piano at the Royal Northern College of Music, Murray McLachlan, talked about his new publication, The Foundations of Technique, published by Faber Music. Murray explained the reasons behind writing the book (formed from articles he had written for the International Piano Magazine, over many years), and the importance of honing piano technique. Covering wide-ranging crucial topics, Murray demonstrated at the piano and spoke eloquently.

The second lecture was given by Pianist and Professor of piano at the Royal College of Music, Andrew Ball. Andrew lectured, demonstrated at the piano and also played recorded excerpts about his love of Twentieth Century music. It was an interesting journey of personal discovery and reflection.

On my third and final evening at the school, we all enjoyed a piano recital given by Murray McLachlan. The programme consisted of Chopin’s Berceuse in D flat major Op. 57, Liszt’s Sonata in B minor, and John McLeod’s Fifth Piano Sonata, which was written especially for Murray. The recital was certainly a highlight and I will write in more detail about it and the wonderful McLeod Sonata in a future post.

Students were clearly lapping up the musical riches on offer at the course; many claiming they had never experienced such a rich tapestry of stimulating events and performances. I was only sorry I couldn’t hear my colleague’s open classes during the daytime.

Bobby must be congratulated for his meticulous attention to detail, and ingenuity in creating a course which juxtaposes his homeland and heritage with that of his education and present life. He has changed the lives of many Malaysian piano students, opening up a whole new world of possibilities. I look forward to the Overseas Masters Winter Piano Course 2016.

www.omwpa.com

Menuhin 2014

With one of my classes (photo: Jiacy Chuah).


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.