Sunday, 17 July 2016

Ribble Valley International Piano Week - Steven Osborne in recital

Piano galore day! After the July meeting of a new piano meetup group in Clitheroe (very good fun) and a tasty meal, M and I headed towards Westholme School for the final concert in this year's Ribble Valley International Piano Week. The Piano Week has been on my radar for a while... as has stellar pianist Steven Osborne. This year the two coincided nicely.

Steven's recital to close the Piano Week for 2016 was a programme of Schubert, Debussy and Rachmaninov:
Schubert – Moment Musical (D 780 No 2)
Debussy – Images (series I), Children’s Corner, D’un Cahier d’esquisses, L’Isle joyeuse
Rachmaninov – Études-Tableaux Op 33; Études-Tableaux Op 39 Nos 2 and 9

Throughout, Steven played with elegance and simple absorption in the music; his quiet concentration drew in the audience and it was soon very obvious why he is held in such high regard. The Schubert piece was fantastic and certainly got everyone's attention - at the end there was complete silence before the start of Debussy's Images. The whole first half was a superb performance, firm but smooth with no harshness, fitting the music very well. Highlights - Schubert plus the Images pieces and L'Isle joyeuse

The character of the Rachmaninov Études-Tableaux was very different. Steven introduced the pieces as expression's of Rachmaninov's deep emotions laid bare. Whilst excellently played they were most definitely unsettling and it was a more difficult listening experience. The encore, a prelude by the same composer, following from the content of the
Études-Tableaux was almost the opposite - calm acceptance of fate.

A very good evening and a good showcase for the Piano Week. Apparently 2017 is the event's 30th anniversary (I think I heard that correctly!) and the dates for 2017 are 19th-22nd July.


Saturday, 25 June 2016

Summer songs 3 - Hauschka and guests in Leeds, 24th June

Somehow I missed the information for Hausckha's Leeds concert until a few weeks ago... hurriedly planned but a great end to a holiday week. I first came across Hauschka in the German language magazine PIANONews and from there discovered his album with violinist Hilary Hahn, Silfra. Prepared piano is an intriguing concept - Hauschka's website has a good explanation - so it was really something to see it done live. At the Howard Assembly Room, Hauschka came on after his two support artists. introduced himself and a bit about the evening, then proceeded to perform for 50 minutes solid. Just the stamina was impressive - but also the ebb and flow of the pieces. A camera mounted onto the end of the piano meant the audience could see the prepared elements - where they were, how they moved and when Hauschka changed or removed them. At the end of the 50 minutes they were all on the floor by the piano stool. The soundscape was really quite different to Silfra - in some ways similar to pieces by Nils Frahm, but perhaps more acoustic.

Pianocam - taken after the show
First support was pianist and composer Matthew Bourne, showcasing his concept Moogmemory, creating pieces from live manipulation of synths. Moogmemory is available on Bandcamp. Second, Berlin-based British artist Tom Adams, who mixed piano based melodies and soaring lyrics. Lots of long arcs in voice and instrument. Tom also used his laptop - he explained that a microphone fed into his laptop from which he manipulated a program in real time to catch the resonances from the piano, adding an extra dimension to the sound. 

Both artists were well received and yes, I enjoyed their works, but I struggled to emotionally connect with their pieces. I'm putting it down to the tumult of the EU referendum result. 

Summer songs 1 and 2: Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain plus Concertgebouw Amsterdam

Do you uke? Yes? You'll come away inspired. No? ha - ditto anyway -  the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain come highly recommended. Not just a musical show but a real evening of entertainment. I was far too busy laughing for taking photos - whilst trying to follow the very intricate arrangements and playing styles.

In between jokes, the 8-strong orchestra played a variety of old and new songs arranged very skillfully for their ensemble of ukuleles - from 'fridge magnet' tiny to a bass ukulele. Some of the set pieces are available on the Orchestra's YouTube page. Amongst classics such as Morricone's The Good, The Bad and The Ugly were inspired takes on songs such as Get Lucky, Kiss and even Teenage Dirtbag. Party in the aisles of the Alhambra.

In complete contrast, a midday break from touristing round Amsterdam led us to the Concertgebouw for a bite-sized free concert. Within the calm of the Kleine Zaal  - packed with a mix of locals and tourists - we heard members of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform a 35-minute programme:

Weber - Finale - Allegro (from Trio in g, Op. 63, J 259)
Schulhoff - Andante con moto; Andante;  Rondino -  Allegro gaio (from Concertino)
Brahms - Scherzo: Allegro - Molto meno allegro (from Horn Trio in E-flat major Op. 40)  

The Weber movement suited the summer's day perfectly - bright and warm. The Schulhoff which followed was rather more complex but equally rewarding. The movements from the Concertino showcased a sound derived from the Carpathian folk tradition - lots of complex rhythmic motifs and contrasting melodies, with a very lively folk dance in the Rondino.  The exuberance continued into the final section, with the lively lighter movement from Brahms' Horn Trio.  

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Awesome April music 2: Anna Tsybuleva at Hebden Bridge

This time it didn't rain! After a few years' gap we returned to Hebden Bridge for another sellout Piano Festival concert. I left it so late that we almost didn't get tickets for headliner Anna Tsybuleva! Understandably a sellout as Anna is the winner of the 2015 Leeds International Piano Competition.

A pretty impressive biography listed on the festival website - and the concert programme was equally impressive: Beethoven - Fantasy Op. 77; Schubert -  'Der Wanderer' Fantasy in C, D.760; Brahms -  '7 Fantasies' Op.116; and Liszt -  Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12

Described by Jonathan Biss as a little odd, the Fantasy Op. 77 is a multi-key, multi-meter, many-tempoed smorgasbord of writing, clearly showing Beethoven's genius as an improviser. Certainly parts of the Fantasy felt like a musical puppet show! Anna displayed the piece superbly (especially the quieter sections). 

Suitably warmed, we headed for the intense dark/light of the 'Wanderer' fantasy. It's extremely difficult to play - but Anna made the technical side sound easy and kept a very good sense of structure and connectivity throughout Schubert's slightly demented investigation of darkness and light. Extremely well received by the audience (hopefully including the person who had fallen asleep and was lightly snoring - how anyone could have fallen asleep is beyond me!). 

After the interval, through the Brahms Op. 116 Anna showed her prowess in meditative as well as virtuosic playing. I thought her performances of Nos 2, 4 and 6 of the 7 Fantasies were stunning. The event climaxed with Liszt's jaunty Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 - five intense and often funny folk themes therein. 

After all that - and some very rousing applause - we were treated to two encores. More Liszt  - Concert Étude No. 2 'La Leggierezza' and Saint-Saens' Etude en forme de Valse.  

Certainly an intense evening! Throughout all the pieces, Anna maintained a very clear sound and demonstrated her skill in steel and spun-sugar playing. For all the steel, I particularly enjoyed the simpler moments of the performance.


Awesome April music part 1: Basia Bulat returns to Leeds

Two years on from her last visit, Basia Bulat returned to Leeds touring her new album Good Advice. On Record Store Day no less (16th April). Yet another good beer venue - this time she played Headrow House. Good Advice is a bigger sounding album, in many ways, than Tall Tall Shadow, so understandably Basia wanted to tour it with a band. The efficient option, as it transpired, was to have her support band as her backing band.

The Weather Station (trio led by Tamara Lindeman) played a 30 minute set to a small and rather chilly audience (maybe Headrow House had forgotten the heating....). The Weather Station has a big-open-space instrumental sound (I definitely heard the soundscapes reminding me of looking at Ontario's landscape from the train); whilst Tamara seems to be a pretty respected songsmith, 30 minutes was too short a time to get into her lyrics. They were, however, much more engaging than the support from 2014.

Basia and backing musicians played a shorter set than in her 2014 trip. Whilst the musicianship was all excellent, with a good vibe (plenty of laughing and joking between songs) we felt that the balance was a bit off-kilter: Basia's vocals seemed a bit swamped by the instrument set-up. Maybe it was calculated for a larger space than Headrow House - I wonder if it feels odd or weird to go from playing sell-out halls in Canada (such as Toronto's Massey Hall) to playing for 100 people? 

In possession of a spangly gold cape (containing her magic powers!) Basia and co started with a selection of big-sounding songs: Let Me In, Long Goodbye, La La Lie, Heart Of My Own, Five/Four. 

The second section of the set was my favourite: Basia along with her autoharp. The treats in store were: Paris or Amsterdam, Gold Rush, In The Night. In comparison to the foot-stomping album version of Gold Rush, the solo autoharp rendition was amazing - I was almost in tears. None on this evening, but apparently In The Night had been the impetus for the only mosh pit so far a a Basia Bulat gig....

Rounding off the evening we heard Good Advice, Wires, Someday Soon and Infamous. No encore - but having heard a few quips about the excellence of the NHS, there were a few illnesses and injuries.

A pretty fun evening, but for all the magic capes, this show didn't have the spellbinding-ness of Basia's 2014 solo show. 

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Music bonanza: It's All About Piano

This year I finally made time to go to the It's All About Piano festival at the Institut Français in London. Now 4 years old, the festival seems to be ever stronger than when I attended in 2013 - and also more affordable: all my events were £5 per ticket.

This year, the festival introduced a 'Come and Play' event for pianists of grade 6 or above - selected pianists to play, presented by Erica Worth of Pianist Magazine. I jumped at the challenge, applied, forgot all about it in the intervening few months, then received an invite! Very exciting - a second opportunity to play for a paying audience. I'd also bought tickets for concerts by Jonas Vitaud and Eliane Reyes.  Eliane Reyes in particular was amazing.

Due to train times, I arrived at the 'Come and Play' event a little late but in time to hear half of Zala Kravos' performance. Zala is 15, studies with Maria João Pires and is clearly a pro in the making. I heard her performances of Brahms' Ballade Op.10 No 1 in D Minor and Chopin 'Revolutionary' Etude Op. 10 No.12. Really good and very confident playing.

The variety of performers was super - a mix of piano teachers, good amateurs, all ages, from as far away as Australia... fantastic to hear! I enjoyed everyone's performances - from 11 year old Tristan Vermeulen (he played a Beethoven sonatina and a Chinese piece, Seagrass Dance by Mingxin Du) to 53 year old Marie Askin who performed Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66.  I followed Marie in the running order. I performed Massenet's Nocturne Op. 10 No. 1 from 10 Pièces de genre. Generally it went well - especially on a super piano (we were all playing a Steinway grand)! 

The last performer was another future pro, 16 year old Julian Trevelyan. Julian came top in the piano category of last year's  Long–Thibaud–Crespin Competition. There was a little confusion over his arrival on Saturday - so Julian literally ran in the door, sat down and played! Very good though, especially his performances of Schumann's 'Warum' from Fantasiestücke, Op. 12 and Kapustin's Etude

After all of that (still only 1.15!!) I went to see the remainder of Jonas Vitaud's recital. I heard parts of Debussy's Suite Bergamasque but fully heard his performance of Henri Dutilleux's Sonate Op. 1. I heard part of this Sonate last summer at the Leeds; listening to the full work was very interesting. Pain, anguish and acceptance indeed. Jonas made the work sound very cool - jazzy in parts of the first movement, a cool elegant blue 2nd movement changing to a piercing third movement.

After the intensity of Dutilleux I went for a coffee & cake stop before Eliane Reyes' recital. Eliane had been in the audience for the 'Come and Play' event and we'd briefly discussed Massenet and Benjamin Godard, whose works she had programmed. Eliane's recital balanced Godard and Chopin. The whole thing was amazing -an intense, spellbinding atmosphere (there was a collective 'ah' after the end of the Grande Valse brillante Op. 42/5 and Fantaisie-Impromptu). Benjamin Godard is a French Romantic composer; the pieces Eliane played worked very well with Chopin. The Sonate No. 2 was both lyrical and powerful; but the soundscapes evoked in Sur la mer Op. 44 and Rêve vécu Op. 140 were amazing. As good as many Debussy or Ravel piano pieces. I feel a few Godard pieces being added to my 'to learn' list....

A full day, an intense day of really high quality music making.  

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Skipton Music - Chamber Philharmonic Europe

Final concert of the season  - already! The Chamber Philharmonic Europe were in town to close the Skipton Music season with a varied programme - Nielsen, Borodin, Hummel, Schubert, Albinoni, Mozart.

The group consisted of 8 performers (soloist Pawel Zuzanski also performed as first violin) plus trumpeter Kirill Gusarov.  An international bunch - at the end when the players were announced individually, the list of countries of origin included Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Kazakhstan....

For me, the concert was quite mixed. Some pieces were excellent - very high quality performances; others less so. Kirill Gusarov was superb - both his solo, and the orchestra, in Hummel's Concerto for Trumpet & Orchestra in E flat major, were really great; Kirill made the long phrases and trills of the trumpet sound so simple. Before that, a quartet from the Philharmonic performed Borodin's Nocturno from Quartett No. 2 in D major - a very well known piece but nonetheless performed strongly and simply. I'm sure most of the audience were holding their breath.

After the interval, Pawel Zusanski took the solo spot for Schubert's Rondo for Violin and Orchestra D438. Whilst a solid performance, it didn't match the Hummel in intensity. The other 'crowd favourite' which followed, Albinoni's Adagio in G minor for String Orchestra, was again performed with a simple, powerful manner. 

The main concert finished with Mozart's Divertimento in F major K.138 - performed well especially in the 2nd and 3rd movements. The audience were then rewarded with two encores, Kirill Gusarov contributing Rafael Méndez' Romanza. Both encores excellent. 

Maybe it's the way they play... but the assembled group didn't address the audience at all (even their bows were subdued) throughout the main programme. After being introduced at the end and between the encores, there was much more engagement - which was appreciated by the audience. 

As for next year's Skipton Music - the proposed programme looks inviting, including names such as Alina Ibragimova.