Wednesday 6 July 2016

#47 Lorraine Liyanage: Concert Harpsichordist, Piano Teacher and Dulwich Music Festival founder

Just because you don't win doesn't mean you don't give up

"I run a private piano teaching studio in East Dulwich, South London and was sending my students far away to Croydon and Bromley to take part in music festivals.  I dont drive and it was always difficult for me to get to there so it occurred to me that I should set up on my own festival.  In 2012, I founded the Dulwich Music Festival for my students, and for other local students and piano teachers. The festival started as a small-scale once a year event but has now grown to around 5 events a year and is part of the Federation of British and International Festivals.

The festival is an opportunity to feature most keyboard instruments from piano to fortepiano to harpsichord, and we may include the organ in the future.  The aims are to introduce young musicians to primarily historical instruments and also to have competitive piano classes.  We encourage contemporary music which provides the young musicians with the opportunity to meet the composers who wrote the music they’re playing. Weve just had our fifth annual piano competition this June and already have the date in the diary for next year’s event at Dulwich College which will be adjudicated by James Kirby.

We also run the Broadwood Horniman Harpsichord Competition which is the only harpsichord competition of its kind in the UK and so theres a lot of demand for it, with competitors coming from across Europe for last year’s event.

Our newest event is the Clementi Junior Piano Competition which had its inaugural event in March 2016. Whilst researching local Dulwich history, I found a connection with Muzio Clementi’s former home on Kensington Church Street which was previously owned by Dulwich Schools JAGs and Alleyn’s School in the 19th century.  When I discovered this piece of local history I thought it was great connection for the Dulwich Music Festival and I contacted Clementi House to establish a new event. Competitors perform set pieces by Clementi on a modern grand piano; the next competition is in February 2017 and entries are already open.

Of course, not everyone wants to compete.  I have colleagues who don’t enter their students into competitions and there are also parents of some of my students who do not want their children to participate in competitive events so we always include non-competitive classes. These provide the opportunity to receive feedback and it’s also great preparation for exams as it helps to combat the nerves by performing in public. 

I personally dont mind competitions; I took part in competitions such as the Ealing Festival regularly as a child so Im used to them and consider them a rite of passage for young musicians. Being at ease with playing to an audience developed my confidence with public speaking which is a skill that I regularly use now when performing as a harpsichordist and also as the festival director.  I didn’t win any competitions but I enjoyed the experience and also the excitement of performing - and it was a fantastic way to hear new repertoire before the days of YouTube and Spotify! In fact, the only time I remember “winning” is when I played in a class of two and I came second!  I was around 17 years old.  It didnt put me off. Just because you dont win doesnt mean you give up.

When I perform I love to play contemporary music.  Recently I performed music by the Australian composer Stephen Yates.  The composition, written in the 1990s, is based on a Baroque Fandango.  A wonderful aspect of performing contemporary music is that you can get in touch with the composer and ask what was in their mind when they were composing. This piece has a macabre character and goes into some very dark places so I asked the composer all about it and he provided me with fascinating information about the background to the piece. The music is about someone who wandered into a castle on his travels where he stumbled upon a crowd of people dancing at a ball. He is invited to dance in the fandango and suddenly it turns sinister and the dancers start swirling around him and drawing him into their ghoulish embrace.  I’ve also recently discovered the music of Greek composer Nikolas Sideris that I performed at a recent harpsichord recital.

One of my other passions is the music of Haydn played on the harpsichord. I am fortunate enough to have access to a Kirckman harpsichord built in 1772 that resides at the Horniman Museum and Gardens where I have performed several times. This instrument is ideal for the music of Haydn and I have a lot of Haydn programmed for 2017 recitals.

Im attracted by the repertoire and also by the harpsichord community which is very welcoming and mutually supportive.  And you tend to end up playing in amazing places; beautiful old buildings always seem to surround the harpsichord world.  Not long ago I was in the Museu da M├║sica in Lisbon. To one side is the tube station and the other side is an amazing museum underground.  I went there just to try the instrument but it ended up being an audition so I look forward to playing there in the near future.  Another interesting place where I recently performed is The Asylum Chapel in Peckham.  This is a Grade II listed building created for retired pub landlords that was bombed in the war.  Although the whole of the inside was destroyed the stained glass windows stayed intact. The acoustics are wonderful and it makes for some stunning photos.  I had a very diverse audience for this concert and all ages came as well, it was fantastic, I think its what we call the South London effect!" (Lorraine Liyanage was speaking with Markson Pianos Composer in Residence Lola Perrin)

To find out more about many of the events listed above, please visit Dulwich Music Festival

Upcoming harpsichord recitals are listed online

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