Sunday, 14 October 2012

#21 The Ivory Duo Piano Ensemble, Concert Pianists

                                                          Panayotis Archontides and Natalie Tsaldarakis

"PA We've been together artistically as a piano duo, and as a couple, for almost twenty years. We met very young, at the studio of our piano teacher. We spend time alone on our parts – sorting out technical details individually, so when we rehearse together it's always about such aspects of the ensemble as phrasing, pedalling, balance. Sometimes we have a dispute, which turns out to be fruitful as we arrive at even more interesting conclusions; sometimes we may feel very strongly about our individual approaches to music, but we have learnt to still talk to each other afterwards - just joking!

NT It's fun and also intense. What happens many times is that by the time of the concert, the sound is “as one”: I remember times not knowing where the sound is coming from...transcending the individual contribution.

PA I agree with that.

NT It's such a creative process, from working on the technical aspects, the nuts and bolts of the performance, to actually performing, which is when you can really get swept up by the music. I remember once, during a concert at the Jaqueline Du Pre Music Building in Oxford: I looked down at our four hands while playing and I didn't know where the sound was coming from.

PA We've found that in the UK there's not an abundance of concert halls which provide two grand pianos. We adjusted to four-hand piano duets. They are very different types, although we love both.

NT I love the proximity of the piano four-hands, although technically such repertoire can be very challenging. Hands very often interlock or even cross. Further adjustments need to be made as we are of differing heights too. But obviously in piano four-hands, we can breathe and phrase as one. In two-piano repertoire, the sound becomes naturally more orchestral and we can explore the medium as a conversation between two individuals, as much as uniting in harmony. It really depends on the work. I remember one of the first times we were performing as a duet: we were backstage waiting to go on stage to perform Brahms Hungarian Dances (complete 1st volume!), Schubert Fantasie in F Minor, and Liszt Grand Galop Chromatique, we were very charged up, it was a manic programme.

PA I was jogging on the spot and Natalie was doing small jumps. We started joking a little and she began to give me small boxing punches in my stomach, we were doing all these manoeuvres and suddenly our mutual piano professor walked in on us. It was really funny. We've calmed down a lot since those early days in Athens.

NT For me, at the beginning it was rather nerve wracking to depend on somebody else for tempi, especially as Panayotis loved to take break-neck speeds and I always rather preferred to play with the colours. I think, through the medium of chamber music, we have helped each other grow further as performers and stretch beyond our comfort zones. Nowadays, we are able to be spontaneous and creative on stage, because we have such understanding of each others’ intentions.

PA We also try to swap who has Primo and who has Secondo. It makes it interesting visually also for the audience. When I'm making an arrangement, I'll tailor the parts specifically for each of us, although in the end we tend to just choose what we like best. We are also soloists, but the experience of playing four hands is something we really value and love, because it's not easy for pianists to find situations in which to collaborate.

NT These days we tend to appear solo if a composer approaches us with a specific work. For example, last September I was invited to play the Thaelmann Variations at Glasgow City Halls as part of a conference on Cornelius Cardew. But I must say it pleases us that more and more composers, such as yourself (!), approach us with works for piano duet/two pianos. And I think, what makes us different from other piano duets, is our love for the new and exciting. We agree with Nicola Benedetti who just got an album out playing John Williams and doesn’t consider it a cross over. We have the same idea, that labels should not stop us from engaging us (and our audience) with good music, be it new, or old and revered.

PA Yes, we are very eclectic in our choice of repertoire and we are also careful not to alienate audiences. Among our many loves, we programme from film music, music that has specific colour such as from Greece and the Balkans, and repertoire from early 20th c. onwards, including classics such as Shostakovich, Ravel, to newly composed works, alongside established classical repertoire. We actually just finished presenting all of the Mozart Sonatas for piano four-hands and for two pianos in our various concerts, alongside our film music arrangements." (Panayotis Archontides & Natalie Tsaldarakis)

Panayotis Archontides is a Greek-Australian with British roots and Natalie Tsaldarakis is Greek with Italian roots. They live in London with their daughter.

They will be performing four hand works next at St Alfege’s Church, Church Street, London, SE10 9BJ on October 20, 2012 at 6pm. Works by film music composers Williams, North, Rozsa and Lola Perrin’s Before Sleep in world premiere. Tickets on the door.

Upcoming two-piano concerts:
Fairfield Halls March 2013
Lauderdale House June 2013
St George’s Bristol 2014

Connect with The Ivory Duo

Their CD (included in the Athens Concert Halls’ Library in the Tamvakos Archive) can be purchased from

#20 Michael Jones, Retired Physicist with European Space Agency and Pianist

"I’ve been playing the piano almost all my life; I started the grades late so only got up to Grade 7 before I left school. After I got my Physics degrees I worked at the European Space Agency in Darmstadt for 36 years where I was responsible for a division that develops software for control systems and stimulators for satellites and ground systems. I hadn't played much piano while I was at getting my Physics degrees, but at Darmstadt I played more or less the whole time. During the last ten years there I focussed on honing my skills on the organ, and then when I came back to England I started to focus more on the piano again. I started to have lessons from time to time with Mikael Pettersson. I performed in a concert of music by Scriabin Mikael has organised for his students to take part in – we all learnt different works so we could have a concert that examines the breadth of the composer’s output for piano. A long time ago I learnt the famous C# Minor Prelude that everyone plays. At the concert I played three early pieces. One is a very early, C# Minor Op 2. No 1, a prelude for the left hand. It’s really a study. I also played two preludes from Op 12 and then right at the end of the concert, I played four late pieces from Op 74. That was extremely interesting; these are difficult to understand harmonically, that’s the problem, and sometimes they are a bit counter-intuitive, even the way you play them. The last one I play doesn’t really lie comfortably under the fingers at all and it’s not really logical. Some piano music is pianistic and it falls under the fingers well. Bach, for example, is generally pianistic, there are some exceptions – some of the early music is difficult on the piano, but usually it’s very pianistic because it has all these wonderful contrapuntal lines that combine together in these gorgeous harmonies, I find it most gratifying to play on the piano or on the organ. But that’s not the case with late Scriabin. My wife Jean is a singer and we discussed the interpretation of it, trying to find out what it was, trying to understand it. In the end I took the attitude of trusting what Scriabin has written, and playing it and trying to makes something of it. It seems to me in this late Scriabin is that he was going crazy and that seems to be what is coming out of it. It’s inconsistent, sometimes it’s very bold and then it suddenly has sections in it that is quite the opposite. It’s crazy music, it’s expressing a crazy state of mind, but at the same time the more you play it, it becomes quite attractive. Another of my interests is in accompanying. Jean and I have a project going. Some years ago I made some re-arrangements of Negro Spirituals. Jean is American so she understands the idiom. We’re working towards a recital in a month’s time. Half of the programme is the Spirituals, and the other half is American music that’s influenced by Spirituals. I was triggered in the first place by a recording made in the 1970’s by Barbara Hendricks with the Russian pianist Dimitry Aleksee. She got to know him by chance because he accompanied her on a tour at very short notice, someone had dropped out. So one day she came in for a rehearsal with him and he was improvising some Spirituals on the piano and she started to sing along with him and they produced a very impressive record from it. Aleksee’s playing is jazzy, idiomatic, suitable for these Spirituals and so that really inspired us and then we based our eventual arrangements on the collection put together by HG Burley. And then, a friend gave me a copy of twenty-four piano pieces based on African melodies and negro Spirituals by Samuel Taylor –Coleridge - a completely forgotten composer. So, I decided to put one of these in to the concert because Taylor-Coleridge played a role in making Negro Spirituals known in this country. It’s a curious work; a Salon piece but beautifully set with rich harmonies, very Victorian." (Michael Jones)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

#19 Ivo Varbanov & Fiammetta Tarli, Concert Pianists (and each other's occasional page turner)

IV We're really busy, I'm about to fly to Bulgaria to start a cycle of Brahms chamber works being performed between October and April. It's taken a year to set up; the musicians are from Denmark, France, Hungary, Germany, Slovakia and the UK, it was not easy to organise.

FT I'm currently preparing for various concerts. One is a Debussy concert in London that will also include a piece for four hands which I'll play with Ivo. Last year we played together for the first time. It was like we finally found that everything was complete, it was like finding the missing part.

IV We are preparing a two piano concert for 12th November in London - including a world premier of “Silent Light”, a 12 minute work for Two Pianos and String Orchestra written for us by our friend Martin Georgiev. As I have so much on, I have a system of preparing music 30 days before a concert, and working on programmes in parallel depending on what is happening within the time frame. With “Silent Light”, it's a new piece and we are on a short term schedule so my focus is very much on short fragments, I learn one line literally at one time, not look at the whole, but just learn one line at a time, with the metronome and gradually increase the speed, working on detail straight away. That is the principle to learn a piece quickly.

FT My approach is different, I like to have the global picture as soon as possible so that I know more clearly what is the goal. If I'm working in fragments I want to know how they sit together. It's quicker for me that way. So I want bigger parts of the music first to work with.

IV We've heard the midi file of the whole piece. While Martin was writing it he told us the direction, that the heavy part would be on the piano and less on the strings.

FT We have many projects as soloists and sometimes we turn pages for each other. When I'm page turning I'm totally and utterly concentrated on the music. I think when Ivo is on stage he is putting on an extra gear, so it's a good feeling, but I'm also tense. It happened once when he was playing the Paganini Variations at Kings Place the other day. I was thinking he was taking a tempo too fast, I was worried, was it he going to make it to the end? For a fraction of a second I forgot to turn the page; you risk getting too involved. But it's a good feeling, you can observe things from close up.

IV I'm a terrible page turner. I had a bone marrow transplant a couple of years ago for leukaemia, the endings in my nervous system were completely ruined, especially in the hands - they've recovered pretty well since but the feeling in my fingers has not yet completely returned. That's why turning pages is a nightmare for me.

FT Can you imagine what it's like for a pianist not to have 100% sensitivity at the tip of the fingers? What happens is that the brain and imagination compensate by making up for that lack of sensitivity.

IV I will get the feeling back; it'll take another couple of years.

FT I prefer to play with Ivo than turn his pages because I feel my hands itchy with the desire to play.

IV I prefer her to turn the pages than someone else because I trust her!

FT I would have preferred someone else to turn the pages on this particular occasion as I could have relaxed more and concentrated more on the bigger sections. I felt tense, like I couldn't drop my attention for one second. It was as if I was playing without actually playing, that's why it was a bit frustrating - like everything was going on in my mind but it wasn't really happening. I can survive as long as he plays with me afterwards!” (Ivo Varbanov & Fiammetta Tarli)

Ivo Varbonov and Fiammetta Tarli live in London with their young child.

Connect with Ivo and Fiammetta 

#18 Elena Riu, Concert Pianist, Piano Professor and commissioner of new piano music

"I am on a new project. Because of time management issues in recent years due to having a child, I've become more project based. When I sit down to practice I have a very good idea of what it is I'll be working at. I'm good at managing my time so, for example, I'll plan precisely what I need to do in each piece down to the bar line! Within a certain practice time. If I'm learning something new it's useful to record myself, and I always try to to a mock performance as well. If I'm playing Baroque repertoire, I may play to a harpsichordist and exchange opinions. I met up with John Henry before my Soler recording and enjoyed it tremendously. I'll play to friends, I'll play to my husband. He's a very good pianist, I will always play to him before I record or play live – he's very cheap! He's usually my best critic, he doesn't have to beat around the bush's because he knows me well and knows what I am trying and what I can achieve. Usually I play from memory but in some projects I choose to use the score. Recently I've been working with a percussionist I haven't worked with for very long so I had some of the music on stage. I'm about to launch a project that I've been developing for a long time; juxtaposing Bach's inventions with inventions by contemporary composers. It's very different to what t I've been doing recently, focussing on new commissions of new music inspired by popular genres for my Boosey & Hawkes books and also for the corresponding CD's. I needed to do something different for myself. Because I had limited practice time I wanted to have something where the artistic expressive side of myself was nurtured in a different way: I needed soul- food.  I hadn't played Bach for a long time. Where I come from people revere Bach to such an extent that often they daren't play it. They are in awe, you know – he is like God.  So I had the idea of doing these inventions and then showing people what contemporary composers think of Inventions, think of the word “invention”. I'm including music that is not even an invention, there's a prelude and also a fugue. So it's a very abstract use of the term “invention” To invent is to think 'anew'.It's very interesting because the new inventions inform the old, and the old inventions inform the new. Some people think they don't like Bach, but when they hear the new pieces, they find they actually understand Bach better. The new pieces allow them to think about the old pieces in a different way. This connects with my other recent work – where I've been showing how new , popular and early music relate and can come together and meet. It all boils down to relationships. As usual." (Elena Riu) 

Elena Riu was born in Caracas and lives in London.  She is Piano Professor at TrinityLaban.  Her new project "Invention" will be performed at Sutton House on November 18th at 3pm.

Connect with Elena 

Elena Riu piano books :,235996.html