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.    

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Handel through the wind and rain – Red Priest in Skipton

rock chamber... stage set for Red Priest
In case you didn’t know… Red Priest are an early music group with a huge amount of style, virtuosity and ingenuity. Whilst I’d heard of the group, I didn’t know this until I saw them in Skipton, 9th February 2016. The group (Piers Adams, Angela East, Adam Summerhayes and David Wright) were in town to perform their show ‘Handel in the Wind’, based on their album of the same name.

Whilst a good proportion of the performance was based around Suite from the Messiah (very cleverly arranged by cellist Angela East) – of the suite, I thought Siciliano Pedicuro the best – I actually preferred some of the other pieces. The final allegro from the Sonata in F major Op 2 No 4 was a real foot-tapping number.  I also enjoyed David Wright’s improvisation around Prelude in B flat for harpsichord, leading into Largo and Passacaglia in G minor – a lovely cello and violin spotlight, followed by a sprightly Passacaglia featuring the violin-as-drum;  a super display of the excellent musicianship on offer.

I thought the second half (even) stronger, especially the Recorder Sonata in B minor – which was much more of a trio, written for recorder, cello and harpsichord where each instrument can shine. Adam Summerhayes’ arrangement of Lascia Ch’Io Czardas was just superb. After an introduction setting the scene in wintry London c.1730, it started as a poignant conversation between violin and cello and developed into a whole-group lively fun-piece with a good dose of gypsy swagger.  

The Harmonious Blacksmith set and Zadok the Red Priest were very popular with the Town Hall crowd, and great applause rang out after the final Messiah section with Hallelujah.

Throughout, the level of musicianship – and acting, even – was very high. Moving in time to the music and with a few comic touches, the performance was really fun all the way through. I counted harpsichord, violin, cello, a whole range of recorders, with a touch of mandolin , harmonica, melodica, (aka the pianica, blow-organ, key harmonica, or melodyhorn) on stage – very multitalented!

They have lots of clips on their website as well as Youtube videos etc – plenty to discover!

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Classy rock and roll: Kitty, Daisy & Lewis live in Sheffield

Many moons ago, we saw bright young things Kitty, Daisy & Lewis touring their debut album at Clwb Ifor Bach and were suitably impressed with their r'n'b/blues/swing/rock/you name it mix.  Moving forward 8 years and the recorded output of the band (definitely still bright and young!) has strengthened - I strongly recommend listening to latest album The Third - a lot more original writing and plenty of sass. The opportunity to hear them live again was a definite yes. Not to mention a good excuse for a weekend trip to Sheffield. 

Dosed up on Remo's coffee and with a pit stop at The Devonshire Cat, we arrived at The Plug to see support band Kiziah and The Kings from Doncaster. We'd not researched the band before, but they are a pretty funky mix of soul/rock/reggae with a very confident manner; and a pretty good front singer with Kiziah. An enjoyable set - their sounds are available (and definitely worth a listen) at Bandcamp, Soundcloud etc. 

Tan Tan and the band
The Plug filled up for the main show; it seems K D & L have picked up a vocal and enthusiastic fan base! The set mostly consisted of songs from newest album The Third, with a few older songs thrown in - in particular ending with a classic 'Going Up The Country'.  Part way through the set, the band invited guest trumpeter Eddie Tan Tan Thornton on stage to join them. Thornton features on The Third; his infectious humour and classy performance was a joy, with a lot of infectious dancing amongst the audience. The musicianship of the Durham siblings has, if anything, got even better. They shared around instruments with ease and the performance level never dipped throughout the hour and a half set. Kitty was in some ways the anchor lead singer  - and a very good one, with plenty of charisma. The band (including dad Graeme - Daddy Grazz - and mum Ingrid Weiss) clearly work very well together and the result was a slick, fun, exciting evening. 

Hopefully it won't be another 8 years until we see them again...   

Friday, 8 January 2016

New year, new practice - Piano-Yoga and more

In between unpacking and seasonal preparation, I found time in December to join Skipton Ukulele Club  - great fun! Including joining in their Christmas charity gigs on 19th December. Piano practice became somewhat less enthused....

Whilst I don't do New Years Resolutions per se, I took the turning of a new year to revisit performing and practicing. On 2nd January, I attended the first Players for Pleasure group meeting of the year in central Leeds. Players for Pleasure is like a piano group but for all instruments. As well as piano, we heard pieces for flute, clarinet, alto sax, guitar, cello, tin whistle (as well as combinations/duets/quartets). Everyone was really friendly and I look forward to going again - maybe even bringing along my ukulele!!

On Wednesday 6th January, I headed to London for the latest instalment of the Piano-Yoga Club. I have been using the Piano-Yoga exercise book for a few years now, but hadn't been to any events as yet. The Piano-Yoga Club started last September and meets every first Wednesday at 7pm. 

The January Club was entitled 'Simple formula for an efficient practice'. It was really useful to discuss aspects of planning practice time and how to get the most out of that time, as well as discussing/trialling a few yogic exercises to help with energy levels. I have already starting using a few of GéNIA's tips to refresh my piano practice, so far so good! A lot of GéNIA's advice would also be applicable to learning ukulele.

The future Club topics and dates are listed on this page; although sadly too far from Skipton to attend regularly.

My calendar of events is already starting to get quite busy. This year I have planned a day at It's All About Piano in March; as well as further events with Skipton Music and Ilkley Concert Society. After having so much fun with Let's Play The Piano! Newcastle, I am planning to attend the Let's Play The Piano! Manchester group in February.
Happy music-making!