Graham Roos in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

I recently caught up with producer, writer and performer Graham Roos and we talked all about his life and career. Graham is Creative Artist in Residence at the University of Buckingham and Artistic Director of Seven Star Productions; the latter being a wonderful stable of artists and performers who present concerts and performances consisting primarily of words and music. Yvonne Evans is the founder of this agency and I’m delighted to be featured on this roster too,  presenting a programme of Melodramas with pianist Anthony Hewitt.

Graham’s career has spanned the media of poetry, opera, theatre, TV and film. Educated at Rugby School and Great Eastern Stage School, he trained under legendary opera impresario Alan Sievewright. Graham’s first book Rave was published by Oberon Books in 1998 and was followed by Quest an experimental CD of spoken word and music in 2001. Later that year he co-founded Large Magazine UK – a unique and eclectic blend of satire and imagery which under his aegis won Best Front Cover of the year at the Magazine Design Awards 2003.

In 2004 he took an MA in Screen Arts at the Northern Media School and began to create a series of cine-poems starring Janet Suzman, Donald Sinden and Fenella Fielding. From 2008 – 2009 he was project poet to the Royal Opera House’s Opera Genesis working with Dominic Muldowney as librettist and culminating in the Art of News at Kings Place.

In 2010 he was appointed the first Creative Artist in Residence to the University of Buckingham where the University Press published his third work Apocalypse Calypso which was largely the result of his previous work in The Art of News.  Graham is currently working as playwright tutor at LAMDA and is working on a new play Popessa and a fourth collection of poetry The Care of Ravens.


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.


 

Jessica Duchen in conversation with Melanie Spanswick

My Music Talk interview guest today is music journalist and author Jessica Duchen. We met up at Steinway Hall in London earlier this week to chat about her career.

Jessica was born in London, where her parents settled after leaving South Africa.  She regrets that she can’t remember her encounter with JR Tolkein in  Oxford at the age of six, which has become a family legend. She first  tried to write a novel when she was 12 and her efforts soon found their  way into the hands of a distinguished author and a literary agent, who  both provided valuable encouragement. After studying music at Cambridge  and piano with Joan Havill at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama,  she worked as an editor in music publishing and magazines until going  freelance to develop her writing.

As a journalist, she writes regularly for The Independent and has interviewed most of the world’s finest musicians (see Archive). Her work appears frequently in BBC Music Magazine, Opera News, Pianist  Magazine, Classical Music and The Strad, among others, and she  contributes to BBC Radio 3.

She has given  pre-concert talks at Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the Barbican, the  Wigmore and the Royal Festival Hall and served on the juries of the  Royal Philharmonic Society Awards and the BBC Music Magazine CD Awards.  Jessica Duchen’s  Classical Music Blog has frequently been ranked among the world’s top blogs of its kind.

Her novels focus on the tensions and cross-currents  between family generations, ranging from a painful exploration of the  effects of anorexia (Rites of Spring) and the rearing of a child prodigy (Alicia’s Gift ) to the long-term effects of displacement and cultural clashes (Hungarian Dances  and Songs of Triumphant Love). Music is also a recurring theme and in 2009 the celebrated violin and  piano duo Philippe Graffin and Claire Désert recorded a CD directly  inspired by Hungarian Dances and designed as a companion to the novel. It is available from Onyx Classics. Songs of Triumphant Love, was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2009 and has been acclaimed as ‘enthralling’ by Joanna Lumley.

Jessica’s first play, A Walk Through the End of Time, a one-act drama introducing Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, was commissioned by her frequent collaborator, violinist Philippe Graffin,  the artistic director of the Consonances Festival, Saint-Nazaire, in  2007 and won her the Medal of the Town of Saint-Nazaire. She and the great tenor Robert Tear gave the play’s UK premiere in  2008. Further performances have included the Orange Tree Theatre,  Richmond, in the International Wimbledon Music Festival and at Chethams  Piano Summer School in Manchester; actors have included Dame Harriet  Walter, Guy Paul and Henry Goodman.

Sins of the Fathers is  Jessica’s first full-length play: a fantastical comedy about Wagner,  Liszt and Cosima, created for the International Wimbledon Music Festival in 2013, Wagner’s bicentenary year, and presented at the Orange Tree  Theatre, Richmond, starring John Sessions, Jeremy Child and Sarah  Gabriel.

Jessica frequently appears as narrator in concert versions of her novels Hungarian Dances (with violin and piano) and Alicia’s Gift (with solo piano). Hungarian Dances was devised for the Fiddles on Fire Festival at The Sage, Gateshead and King’s Place, London, in 2009. Alicia’s Gift, suggested by the pianist Viv McLean, launched in November 2013 and has  been touring extensively; performances in 2014 will include the Buxton  Festival and the Chopin Society, London, at Westminster Cathedral Hall.  Jessica’s earlier ‘literary concerts’ for musicians and actors have been performed in the UK, France, Australia and America.

Jessica’s first books were biographies of the composers Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gabriel Fauré. She wrote the text for Inside London, Dorothy Bohm’s photographic  portrait of the city, and has published several short stories, notably Too Much Mozart, commissioned by Graffin for the booklet of his CD with  Nobuko Imai of the Mozart Sinfonia Concertante. She lives in London with her husband and cat, and when not writing enjoys travel, cinema,  cooking, jogging and attending occasional ballet classes, despite  encroaching creakiness.

www.jessicaduchen.co.uk


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.


 

‘Divine Fire’ at the Radcliffe Centre in Buckingham

The quaint, attractive market town of Buckingham, situated in North Buckinghamshire, played host to a rather special performance held at the Radcliffe Centre earlier this week. The centre, formerly a splendid church, is attached to the University of Buckingham and has been tastefully refurbished and renovated, catering perfectly for recitals and lectures. The venue presents a popular concert series and is a flourishing arts and cultural centre.

I’ve written before on this blog about my love for the combination of words and music. I had the good fortune to perform Melodramas and Recitations for several years with the recently deceased raconteur John Amis, and regularly observed audiences favourable reactions as they became captivated by the sheer beauty, emotion and profundity this alliance provides.

The relationship between  Frédéric Chopin and his lover George Sand is assiduously explored in this fascinating programme aptly entitled ‘Divine Fire’. Narrated and written by the celebrated actress Susan Porrett, the mellifluous prose transported us on a journey through Chopin’s turbulent existence, marking both his musical achievements and often chaotic personal life. Chopin, a shy, spiritual soul, who died at the untimely age of thirty-nine, spent nine years with the rebellious, feminist writer, Sand. This unlikely union, which from the outset was so full of promise, hope, romance and passion, slowly descended into misery, jealousy, despair, and ultimately with Chopin’s demise. Seemingly neither ever recovered from their final separation. A love story for the end of time.  Moving, expressive and heart breaking, this searing chronicle was effectively punctuated by many of the composer’s well-known piano compositions, elegantly performed by pianist Viv McLean.

Viv presented a wide range of Chopin’s works opening with the small-scale yet poignant Prelude in A major Op. 28 No. 7; not an obvious choice, but it was played with precision, poise and colour. The Nocturne in E flat Op. 9 No. 2 and Prelude in C sharp minor Op. 45 were equally effective; restrained and contemplative yet devoid of any sentimentality. The interweaving of dialogue and piano music was beautifully judged with renditions of Chopin’s First and Third Ballades (Op. 23 and Op. 47), metamorphosing the reflective mood into an impassioned and dramatic aura.

Larger works such as the thrilling Scherzo No. 3 in C sharp minor Op. 39, ever popular Fantasie Impromptu in C sharp minor Op. 66 and Polonaise in C sharp minor Op. 26 No. 1 were juxtaposed with the Nocturne in C sharp minor Op. Posth. and the Mazurka in A minor Op 17 No. 4. Performed with consummate mastery, this Mazurka’s pervading improvisatory semblance exuded a trance-like quality.  As one of Chopin’s later compositions, the chromatically adventurous Polonaise Fantasie in A flat major Op. 61 afforded a fitting conclusion, and complimented the utterly tragic and desolate narrative enthralling conveyed by Susan. The script cleverly integrated a mixture of the lover’s letters with accounts and descriptions from friends and relatives, allowing their personalities to permeate powerfully.

Chopin and Sand were indeed present at this concert, appearing as ethereal apparitions on a large screen placed high above the performers. Sands’ painting dominated at the beginning, her piercing dark brown eyes illuminating the tempestuous character beneath. Chopin’s ghostly haunted image, which featured in the second half, was of a man whose spirit had been totally crushed, thoroughly consumed with sadness. The evening was an intense tour de force fully demonstrating the irresistible charms of words and music.


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.