Pro Corda at 50

Turning 50 is a special occasion. I celebrated my 50th birthday earlier this year, and on Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the 50th Birthday of Pro Corda, which was marked with an afternoon concert held at the Purcell Room on the South Bank in London.

Pro Corda Trust is a music and educational charity which was founded by Pamela Spofforth MBE and Elizabeth Hewlins MBE. Its purpose is ‘to provide for and conduct the education of young persons and others in the whole art, philosophy and theory of music, particularly chamber music’. Pro Corda is the largest music organisation of its kind and is recognised as the UK’s centre of excellence for ensemble training.

It is the only youth music organisation in the UK to provide a continuous and progressive programme of education through the medium of chamber music and ensemble training from age 5 to 24.  Home, for the majority of courses, is Leiston Abbey in Suffolk (pictured below). But the organisation also offers national provision and opportunity all around the country, including courses and workshops in Yorkshire, Gloucestershire, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire, Sussex, Surrey and Kent.

Historic Leiston Abbey, the home of Pro Corda
Image: Geograph

In addition to ‘core’ courses for talented young musicians, which are accessible through audition, Pro Corda has pioneered an innovative course for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, using the power of ensemble training to benefit personal and social progression. This programme serves SEND schools and units across the country.

Pro Corda’s work employs a holistic approach, aiming to benefit the person as a whole, as well as the musician, with the mission to unleash the wider social benefits of chamber music in terms of participation, access and learning. And in addition to the courses for younger musicians, there are adult piano courses too.

At the 50th Birthday concert we were treated to an impressive smorgasbord of all that Pro Corda represents; an eclectic mix of ensemble groups, choirs, and a string orchestra, displaying a high standard of musicianship.

The Pavack Trio. From left to right: Lucas Dick (clarinet), James Murray (violin), and Jonathon Cheng (piano), who won Pro Corda’s National Chamber Music Festival. They are all pupils at King’s College School in Wimbledon (UK)
Image: Amanda Hurton

The afternoon began with a beautifully crafted first movement of Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, D956, which was played by students from the Intermediate Course. This was followed by the Pavack Trio (pictured to the left) comprising clarinet, violin and piano. Not a combination commonly heard, however this ensemble had won the 2019 Under 16s ‘Chamber Champions’ award at the Pro Corda National Music Festival (which is held annually), and it was easy to see why. For me, their performance was the highpoint of the afternoon. They romped through the Overture from Milhaud’s Suite for Violin, Clarinet and Piano Op. 157b, the first movement of Khachaturian’s Trio for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, Poulenc’s L’invitation au château, and a movement from Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat.

The Pro Corda choir followed featuring students from Preparatory, Primary and Junior Courses. Singing in harmony and directed by Anna Strevens, they offered a lovely selection: The Salley Gardens (Traditional) and With A Little Help From My Friends (Beatles).

Beethoven’s immense string quartet, the Grosse Fugue in B flat major Op. 133 isn’t an obvious choice for a celebratory Sunday afternoon concert, but that’s exactly what the Senior Course students performed. And they played it superbly, with panache and the necessary intensity required for this fiendishly demanding double fugue.

A lengthy interval provided time to reflect, a chance to catch-up with many of my friends and colleagues, and enjoy the copious champagne.

In the second half, the feast of music making continued, firstly from Pro Corda’s outreach students. These students attend the ‘Activities Unlimited’ weekends, which are sponsored by Suffolk County Council, and by BBC Children in Need for those living in the London boroughs.

The Music Theatre Ensemble Showcase was formed of special educational needs and disabilities students, and together they offered The Greatest Showman, a medley of various current pop and rock tunes which were sung and danced to with the aid of very effective lighting and a lively, energetic, and enthusiastic team of tutors. It was certainly an audience favourite. Such ensemble focused activities seek to develop creative, communicative and confidence skills. I found this segment of the concert particularly moving. It was a joy witnessing the happiness these young people brought to this performance; it clearly offers a wonderful chance to explore stage craft and build necessary life skills.

Pro Corda’s CEO and Artistic Director Andrew Quarterman, who had been piano accompanist for several of the ensembles during the afternoon, spoke eloquently about the birthday celebrations; there had been over 50 events throughout the year, and the organisation were now looking forward to restoration of Leiston Abbey.

The afternoon concluded with the Senior Course Orchestra; a string orchestra directed by violinist and Pro Corda alumni Simon Blendis. Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110a was the chosen piece. This dark, reflective work was written after Shostakovich had suffered two traumatic life events; the first was a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a debilitating muscular weakness), and the second, his reluctance to join the Communist Party. Apparently, the composer thought of this work as his epitaph, as he planned to commit suicide around this time. Thankfully, Shostakovich grappled with his demons and survived for many subsequent years. The orchestra captured the dismal character with a bleak, devastating performance, which certainly left myself and my companion in a contemplative state.

Pro Corda endeavours to help a wide cross-section of young musicians which is no easy task here in the UK. They no doubt battle for funding at a time when those in charge of our country repeatedly fail to see the benefits that music education can provide for everyone. Such initiatives should be rolled out across the country (and the world), in order to encourage young people to value, respect and enjoy music and the arts, as well as learn the many skills it bestows. Here’s to Pro Corda’s next 50 years!

www.procorda.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.


 

 

 

Cadenza International Summer Music School

When the academic year ends Summer schools begin, and they now appear to be more popular than ever. Students have so many options to choose from that it must be a challenge deciphering which might offer the most inspirational learning experience. I will be spending two weeks in Shropshire this year (from July 22nd – 5th August) at Moreton Hall enjoying PIANO WEEK, hosted and organised by pianist Samantha Ward. But if you would prefer to stay nearer London, the Cadenza International Summer Music School might be an excellent choice.

Artistic director and pianist, John Thwaites is at the helm, and the school is now in its twenty-sixth year. Based at the Purcell School, near Watford, just outside London, this friendly course provides a very generous array of private lessons, chamber music opportunities and coaching sessions.

The course runs from July 13th – 20th and tuition is offered for piano, violin, viola and ‘cello. Students can enjoy a minimum of three individual lessons on their first study instrument during the week, plus chamber music coaching as well as concert and performance platforms. Everyone plays in at least one chamber group which is coached not less than every second day. Repertoire plans can be made in advance, especially for pianists. Groups and partnerships apparently evolve flexibly during the week; the coaching timetable is arranged in two-day cycles. All levels and abilities are encouraged and there is a wide age range from youngsters through to teenagers, as well as undergraduates, postgraduates, professional and amateur pianists.

Teaching faculty:

Piano: John Thwaites, Julian Jacobson, Fali Pavri, William Fong, Pascal Nemirovsk and Victor Sangiorgio

Violin: Krysia Osostowicz, Daniel Rowland, Leland Chen, Maciej Rakowski

Viola: Robin Ireland

Cello: Adrian Brendel, Alexander Baillie, Pierre Doumenge, Louise Hopkins, Ursula Smith

You can find out more information about the Cadenza International Summer Music School, here. Click below to download the brochure:

Cadenza International Summer Music School Full Brochure


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.


 

 

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:


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.


Manchester Music Festival Young Artists Program

yapHere’s a wonderful chance for young pianists and string players to attend a Summer course in Vermont (US) with an illustrious faculty and exciting performance opportunities.

The Manchester Music Festival (MMF) Young Artists Program is a full scholarship, six-week intensive chamber music festival for string players and pianists, aged from 18 – 26. Occurring annually every summer in scenic Manchester (Vermont), the 2017 Young Artists Program will take place from July 3rd to August 13th, 2017. Young Artists will receive daily coaching sessions by a faculty composed of world-renowned artists and pedagogues.

The primary focus of the Young Artists Program is to intensively study and perform chamber music at a high level, and to benefit from outstanding musical guidance on a daily basis. During the course, students can expect to study several chamber masterworks, with ensemble sizes ranging from duos to octets in a broad spectrum of repertoire spanning the centuries, from Baroque to Contemporary. Groups will also be selected to perform in the weekly MMF Young Artists concert series.

On August 3rd, 2017, Young Artists will participate in one orchestral concert, performing Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony and the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, with Ignat Solzhenitsyn conducting and pianist Alexander Kobrin.

Young Artists will also have the opportunity to perform in public masterclasses and take private lessons with many of the faculty members. In addition, they will benefit from forum discussions addressing principles of entrepreneurship and career development which will assist in forging successful paths as professional musicians.

‘This is a full-scholarship program, meaning that we offer this opportunity to outstanding students at no cost to them, other than the application fee. This makes us quite unique in the world of expensive summer programs’ –  Adam Neiman (artistic director of the MMF, concert pianist and professor of piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts (Roosevelt University)).

Each MMF Young Artist receives a scholarship providing full tuition, free accommodations, and a modest weekly stipend. Students are responsible for their own meals.

Scholarships are made possible by the generous contributions of individual sponsors and endowments, and all of the Young Artists will have opportunities to interact socially with their patrons during their stay in Manchester.

The closing date for applications is February 15th 2017.

Visit the website here


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.