Friday, 14 November 2014

#38 Nada Kolundzija: Concert Pianist

"I liked Yugoslavia. It was my country and I had a lot of friends everywhere.   Every year I played solo concerts, and also concerts with my violinist brother, in the former Yugoslav Republics. The whole country was my home.  

Then came  the Yugoslav Wars in the period between 1991 and 1999.  I was completely confused.  We couldn't travel anywhere to play. Professionally, it was a disaster. Living also became difficult because of financial and political sanctions against Serbia.  And then in 1992, everything culminated with bombing of Serbia and Montenegro for more than two months.  It was too much for all of us.

At that time I left Belgrade for a village nearby. And actually, I didn't have any wish to work and to play piano, because my feeling for my country had gone.  I know many other people who had a different approach, and they started working more than they had before the war started.  But I couldn't.

I was really lost because I lost my job that was essential for my life.  I became a gardener.  I grew vegetables, there were so many that I ended up giving a lot of them away.  I was a really successful gardener. I enjoyed that job and I still garden as a hobby now in Belgrade.  I lost my identity during those years...things really fell apart for me.  But, when you are in something, you don’t feel how bad it actually might be.  Humans are flexible and we couldn't survive without this flexibility.

In the lead up before the bombing started I was working in Belgrade, at the Faculty of Music. It was a very hard time.  Every day we were advised to stay at home. We never knew when we would hear alarm and the voice over the megaphone that alerted us that the bombing would start and also when the bombing was over.  I will never forget that voice, or the sound of siren.   But of course many people still did go outside anyway, even though we were supposed to stay inside.  It was becoming difficult to manage so many things and so our work became very difficult to do.

Before things changed, and then after things settled down, a strong impulse for music came to me. I started to practice a lot. I played Classical repertoire with my brother Jovan Kolundzija, who is a great violinist and I continued with my love in contemporary music; Schoenberg, Xenakis, Cage, Messaien, Kagel… all those very famous names, classics of 20th Century, and many new composers too. From the time I was in Middle School, I was always very interested in this kind of music, a new music. So, when I returned to Belgrade I took it up again. And, I began to get my identity back when I started to play.   Nowadays I’m very happy, I work a lot, with pleasure, often long into the night.  I feel passion for my work. That’s my life. I am discovering new scores and new music, listening a lot and when I find something that is for me I want to play this so much! 

Right now, I’ve made something new.  I’m now at the point in my career where I've prepared a small concert anthology of music for piano, and from that I've chosen three concert programmes.  So I’m busy preparing all the new repertoire for these new concerts.  The three concerts are one month apart for three months. Such a big job. But so nice!

After that I want to choose the best pieces and play one more concert in a Synagogue in Novi Sad; it’s a great place to play and record, play in more places and make CDs with nice book about composers and with the pieces." (Nada Kolundzija)


Short bio
Belgrade-based Nada Kolundzija is an internationally renowned concert pianist and Serbia's most prominent performer and passionate promoter of contemporary music.  Over a career spanning more than four decades, Ms. Kolundzija has performed as a soloist and as a chamber music collaborator in countless concerts at home and abroad, been featured as a leading national artist on Serbian radio and television broadcasts, and won national and international awards and recognition for her artistic achievements in classical and contemporary music.

Listen to Nada Kolundzija play Louis Andriessen Image de Moreau - Tocatta  for Piano (1)

Friday, 10 October 2014

#37 Sarah Sarhandi: Composer, Solo Violist & Pianist

“I loved piano, I played since I was a small child; I had one tune that I made up when I was really young. I ended up going to the Royal Academy of Music where piano was my second study but Ive always played and it’s a huge source of inspiration to me to work at the piano.

I was probably four when I first touched a piano. My first memory is that we had some friends in the country who we used to visit. There was a piano in the corner, my friend and I used to make up plays and we used the piano to enhance our stories, we’d make our own music that way. She was my age and interestingly her father was Ghanaian and her mother English whereas my father was Pakistani and my mother English so we had a strange cross culture adventure as tiny children and this cross cultural element has gone on to become a major theme in my music making. My friend, Adjoa Andoh, went on to become an actress and I became a musician!

After those little plays I was desperate for piano lessons. First I learned recorder, then piano and then, somehow, I became drawn to the viola. There was something about the singular voice that attracted me to the it and it grabbed me and became my first instrument.

I began to study viola seriously when I was 11 and almost right away began winning competitions which was astonishing for me, so I just went with it. I wanted to become a solo violist, I didn’t want to play in an orchestra.

When I was 21 I was at sea for many reasons and tried to give up music. I didn’t know what to do. I played with musicians who improvised including Don Cherry. I started to work with the pianist Mark Springer and began to improvise and write with him. I realised there'd been a missing link. I hadn't been making my own music. I wrote a song on the piano for Bjork to sing which she's recorded. Eventually I split from Mark in order to really find my own voice as a composer.

Curiously enough my piano playing began to emerge again as I was no longer working with a pianist. I was always writing, writing, I’d often go to the piano first.

I played in orchestras from the age of 8 and I realise that when you sit at the piano alone, you can make a panorama of sound that goes all around you just like when you are sitting in an orchestra, but just with your with ten fingers. The sonic range of the piano is enormous. All these elements conspired in me. I never really thought of going along in one musical line - electronica and sound are also a very important part of my work.

I’ve been composing at the keyboard recently. At Kings Place last December I performed 'Found' an event of my work and collaborations with other artists, dancers, singers and musicians which included video - some of which I shot recently in Karachi. Piano that I’d recorded myself ran through quite a few pieces. 'Music To Swim To' was a film with music based on a swimming race I'd won as a child and a collaboration with the artist Sophie Molins. The music included a sample of Ravel's 2nd piano concerto and tabla by Talvin Singh. I decided I’d play live piano on stage too, for the first time in public.

At the moment I’m working on an ongoing project which is an exploration and reflection of the worlds I and many others like me inhabit - a teeming, sometimes confusing, challenging but rich kaleidoscope of both intertwined and oppositional worlds - perhaps it simply is the world now. I have been discussing musical forms and creating some exciting work with the Pakistani guitarist and composer Aamir Zaki and I have a collaboration with Vincent Katz the poet and translator. We're writing an opera based on his translation of 'The Complete Elegies of Sextus Propertius' (National American Translation Award 2005). Vincent is in New York, Sextus Propertius was an Ancient Roman Poet so that’s a cross cultural/time travel project too!” (Sarah Sarhandi)

Short Bio
Sarah makes new sounds whilst drawing on her classical inheritance. Her music is characterised by a layering of strong themes and rhythms, sounds that are both acoustic and programmed, vocals and the geometric shapes of her viola. The complexity of the composition offers a different experience each time they are heard, so that the listener explores new moods and emotions, different areas of time and space.' - Anthea Eno. 

Sarah studied viola at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is known for her work as composer, performer, film director, and visual artist. In 2002 Sarah Sarhandi received the 'Time Out Award For Outstanding Collaboration for Sheer with Russell Malpihant, which was performed at the London Coliseum in 2009 by Thomas Edur and Agnes Oakes. Her show 'FOUND' featuring recent collaborations premiered as part of the Out Hear series at Kings Place, London in December 2013.

She has recorded and performed worldwide. Previous collaborators include Bjork, Jean Charles de Castelbajac, Ivor Guest, Damien Hirst, Michael Nyman, recently and currently Paul Benney, Gina Birch, Jamie Irrepressible, Vincent Katz, Lore Lixenburg, Sophie Molins, Jemima Burrill and Aamir Zaki.

Friday, 3 October 2014

#36 Dr Valerie Capers, Composer and Pianist (with contribution from John Robinson, Bassist and Colleague)

                        Valerie Capers                                                                         Left to Right: Lola Perrin, Andy Rowan,
                                                                                                                           John Robinson, Valerie Capers, NYC July 2014

Valerie Capers "Until my works are published they only exist in John’s handwriting.

I wrote ‘Portraits in Jazz’ a long time ago. The first time ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) selected my work for their piano grade syllabus they picked “Billie’s Song” from the collection. I was very inspired by Billie Holiday, I would say it took me around two weeks to have that melody composed and written down.

Generally, when I dictate a piano piece to John, it might take a week or two depending on how busy he is. I love to compose music but it’s very difficult for me. Now in this 21st Century they have a lot of computer programmes and things that are particularly created for the blind and the visually impaired. They are not as sophisticated as they should be at this point and there are many, many things, if we're going to talk about writing large compositions, orchestral compositions, oral compositions, they are much more difficult to deal with than people would expect. And I've had people say well Stevie Wonder can do all this; well Stevie Wonder has millions and millions of dollars, and can come up with an idea for this or that or whatever, and I don't know if Stevie Wonder himself would be able to write let's say an orchestral piece. It's just very, very, very, very complicated.

To get it into print - and unfortunately I'm not Mozart- what I do is I come up with the ideas and then I write them down in Braille music which is very cumbersome, extremely cumbersome. And then, after talking to John because he has a beautiful hand, he works and writes for me and we talk about how we can communicate, so I don't have John sitting around while I write the music down and then give it to him, I will take time if I'm working on something ….. I'll get up in the morning, work on the piece of music, write it all in braille and then I dictate the music on the cassette so that John can come in his own time, pick up the cassette and sit down and start writing.

He gave me some pointers to help him when he's writing, for example, in Braille music the keyboard Middle C is called fourth octave C because it's the fourth C on the keyboard and so any note from Middle C (which is below the lowest line on the treble clef) up to the B (the third line of the treble clef), they call it fourth octave C- that's how you can get tones in Braille music, a register which is different from being able to know how high or how low a note is when you see it on a particular line space.

So John changed that a little bit to make it easier for him to pick up right away. He said “you know, we have the keyboard divided into certain sections like “Small”, (C Small, for example, is the second space of the bass clef and anything from the C to the B just below the middle C is called the Small area). Then you have the Grade section of the piano (so C grade would be from the second C on the piano up to the B which is the second line of the bass stave). Down at the bottom it's called Contra (that's the C from the low C at the very bottom up to the B below the C Grade which is below the two ledger lines below the bass).

Now that sounds awfully complicated and it is!

And John says we’ve got to find a way to make this easier. So when I'm talking to John and dictating to him I refer to the notes in the third octave range as C Small. For example if I want the clarinet to play a G below Middle C I wouldn't say third octave G which, I'm comfortable with being a blind musician, I would say a “G Small”.

Every instrument has to be written individually. If I'm doing a piece for woodwinds, let's say an alto saxophone, a tenor saxophone and a clarinet, let's say together, this is what I have to do. I take the lower one first, I take the tenor, I say “here are the notes …., its first note is F Small” so I give John the notes maybe for the first phrase and I say, ”now I go back” and I give him the first note for the alto sax.

Then I give him notes for the clarinet, and remember you cannot see them all at once, you never can see a chord, you see that you go back and you have to remember...

When we were doing the “Ruby” for example, it was only us, measure by measure, because, in one an area there's 64 bars of music that's in the New Orleans polyphonic street band style. I said John " This is going to be very tedious but let's take it phrase by phrase … " and I said “now, at the end of this 4 bar phrase, there were 3 instruments, a clarinet a trombone and a trumpet I said there are 2 instruments that have the same rhythm, let me know” … so he looks and says “yes the trombone has the same rhythm as the clarinet so I said “play the trombone part”.

He's sitting there and I play it, and then I play more...

And then I make the decision as to which instrument I'm going to rhythmically change so because we had to maintain the polyphony, it was hard. You have to understand that anything that I dictate has to be dictated note by note by note."

John Robinson "Well somebody saw my writing and he asked what computer I used and I said a straight ruler and a Pentel rolling writer! We have a mutual friend who's a wonderful sight-reader and she plays through the material after I write it on the page so we can check it all." (Valerie Capers with John Robinson 2014)

VALERIE CAPERS SHORT BIO - click here for full bio 

Dr. Valerie Capers was born in the Bronx and received her early schooling at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind. She went on to obtain both her bachelor's and master's degrees from The Juilliard School of Music. She served on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, and from 1987 to 1995 was chair of the Department of Music and Art at Bronx Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where she is now professor emeritus.

Her outstanding work as an educator has been lauded throughout the USA as being both innovative and impressive. Susquehanna University awarded her the honorary degree of Doctor of Fine Arts in 1996, and Doane College (Crete, Nebraska) and Bloomfield (New Jersey) College (along with Wynton Marsalis) both awarded her honorary doctorates in 2004. Recent teaching and workshop venues include Doane College, Stanford University, the Cleveland (Ohio) public school system, St. Thomas (United States Virgin Islands) high schools, Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah) and the Mozarteum conservatory, Salzburg, Austria.

Among the awards and commissions she has received are the National Endowment for the Arts, including a special-projects grant to present a jazz series at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, Meet the Composer, the CUNY Research Foundation, the Smithsonian, and The Fund for Artists of Arts International.

Dr. Capers has appeared with her trio and ensemble at colleges, universities, jazz festivals, clubs and concert halls throughout the country, including a series at Weill Recital Hall and the 2001 Rendez-vous de l'Erdre in Nantes, France. Her trio's performances at the International Grande Parade du Jazz Festival in Nice, France, the Martin Luther King Festival in Ottawa, Ontario, and the North Sea Jazz Festival in The Hague received rave reviews. The group has also participated in the Monterey Jazz Festival, the Mellon Jazz Festival (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), and New York's Kool, JVC and Downtown jazz festival.

Connect with Valerie Capers
See videos at the African American Composer Initiative website

Thursday, 24 July 2014

#35 Nadav Hertzka: Concert Pianist

"In my next concert I’ll be playing Janacek, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky and also contemporary composers; Borenstein and Waley-Cohen.

I have an interest in playing new music; I wanted to explore more than the Classical composers I was mainly playing; perform contemporary music and also work with the composers. I don’t collaborate with the composer until the piece is delivered to me. It is at that point that I get involved; before that I don’t know what the composer is creating. So I work with the music and with the composer, and see what the composer wants from me.

Five Breaths by Freya Waley-Cohen was written specifically for me. When she handed me the score I had questions. We talked about phrases and tempi changes, we discussed everything in detail and also elements that were not written out. 
I hope that my style of playing has an effect on the composers I work with; that I influence in some way the composition, through the composer having an understanding of my performance.

I have played contemporary music before, but now I have a stronger interest. In Israel we grow up playing contemporary repertoire and that must be part of the reason why I lean towards contemporary composers now. I think it was always important back in the day, and now we must do the same because we have to keep moving forward.

I play a lot of chamber music and I’m also preparing for several solo concerts in Europe. I've recorded a Tchaikovsky CD and looking forward to my second recording.

I came to England to do my Masters at the Royal Academy of Music and decided to stay because I like it so much here. There are lots of things around the business of music, superficial things, to do with image, looks, marketing, but what is ultimately most important is the music itself. When it comes to stage fright, I don’t think there’s a solution but I do think you get used to it. In a way, stage fright serves a purpose and eliminating it completely may be counterproductive; I think it means you care about the performance."(Nadav Hertzka)

Come hear Nadav Hertzka perform at the Markson Pianos Concert Series
July 30th at 7pm
£6 (£3 concessions) on the door
St Mary Magdalene Parish Church, Munster Square, London NW1 3PL
Janacek: In the Mists
Borenstein: Reminiscences of Childhood op. 54
Rachmaninov: Elegie in E Flat Minor, Op. 3 No. 1
Waley-Cohen: Five Breathes
Tchaikovsky: "The Seasons" Op. 37b (selection)

Israeli pianist Nadav Hertzka has performed throughout the United States, Europe and Asia in major venues such as Carnegie Weill Hall, Wigmore Hall, Kings Place, Shanghai Conservatory, and Avery Fisher Hall. His festival appearances include the Mostly Mozart Festival in Lincoln Center, the Beethoven Festival in Israel and the Mozart Festival in Malta, as well as engagements in China, Russia, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, England and Scotland.

Connect with Nadav Hertzka

Friday, 18 July 2014

#34 Antony Clare: Chamber Pianist and Composer

"I do a lot of ‘accompanying’ work for students taking exams and diplomas, but the kind of piano playing I like to do as a professional performer is chamber music, with a duo or trio or a larger group. I don’t see any of this as ‘accompanying’. The word has a lot of baggage attached to it because it makes the pianist sound like a kind of servant. To me, the piano is always an equal partner and a lot of the piano writing in the chamber repertoire is equally as difficult and challenging and interesting as the solo repertoire. I would say that music where the piano sounds like it is accompanying is often bad music. As a pianist, you can find a lot of equality with the singer or instrumentalist you are playing with. It doesn’t matter how simple the piano part might be. When Schubert writes a song, it’s a piece for voice and piano, it’s not just a vocal line with the piano providing the harmony, there’s a lot more to it. For example, in many Schubert songs, the piano may be playing the same thing over and over again in each verse, but if you look at the meaning of the words and use your creativity, you can make the music different on each verse and so actually bring something to the piano part that isn’t there on paper. I think all of the truly great pianists played chamber music and felt it was part of their musical life. Then there were the great players like, for example, Gerald Moore who became known as an ‘accompanist’ (and of course wrote the classic little book 'The Unashamed Accompanist’) and more recent pianists like Roger Vignoles or Malcolm Martineau who perform with singers. I prefer not to use the word ‘accompanist’ to describe such great pianists.

I like to bring little known music to wider audiences; that’s always been my primary function. I mainly perform composers who are still alive; I really like exploring unfamiliar music, that’s the driving force for me. If an audience loves the music as much as I do, then that’s great! I also compose when I have time, more recently mainly pieces for bass clarinet and piano for my duo with bass clarinettist Sarah Watts (SCAW). I also compose pieces for bass clarinet choir. I’m very much a British music lineage composer with influences from Elgar to Birtwistle." (Antony Clare)

For information about forthcoming events for SCAW, visit:

Friday, 20 June 2014

#33 James Brawn: Concert Pianist

"What I’ve heard recently in the last twelve months, in London, are so many young pianists, and certainly in the conservatories, who play the big pieces, who play admirably, their technique is really quite astounding! Their memories are astounding and they obviously work incredibly hard.

And yet, there’s something lacking in their playing and I often wonder if the conservatory system is the way to go, especially for individual artists. I wonder if the competition circuit is the way to go for up-and-coming musicians because I fear that it breeds something into them … I think that when you are in an environment where you’re surrounded by other pianists, all playing the same repertoire, studying with the same teachers and working towards the same competition circuit, somehow, over a period of years, pianists tend to lose some of their individuality because they’re so influenced by their teachers, by the people they’ve had masterclasses with.

I wonder if there’s another way; maybe just to abandon the conservatory training altogether and to really go along your own path, looking for other fine musicians to work with who don’t necessarily have to be pianists, they can be singers or other instrumentalists. I wonder if one can focus on the performance side of things, perhaps not to worry so much about having lessons with particular teachers who might be able to write references and get you into competitions and just to avoid all of that!

Perhaps find a new path that allows a player to develop his or her own sound, own voice, even when they’re playing the music of the great composers of the past. It doesn’t mean that they have to compose themselves, especially if they haven’t been doing that from a young age.

I’m very aware that one hears many pianists who, if they were to abandon teachers and abandon the whole idea of competitions and exams and auditions, they would find their own voice perhaps more easily, and maybe at a younger age.

There is a tiny percentage of musicians out there who have something really special to say in the music that they’re playing and this makes me wonder about the system, and I wonder about the business as well. I don’t think the music business is all that interested in artists who offer something a little different, who walk in another direction. They’re more interested in the people who have won prizes, who studied with particular teachers, who have gone to particular conservatories and so on. The business is very afraid of taking risks with artists who are either older or playing repertoire that’s not 'out there', and you know, it takes a lot of guts to walk in a different direction to everybody else and I wish more musicians would do that actually.

Performers could be more interesting and probably more engaging for audiences, because I think that audiences notice and hear the same old repertoire, the same types of virtuoso pianism being churned out night after night, day after day and this concerns me. It’s almost as if we’re being pushed into thinking that there is only one way to do something, you know.

I think there are probably some very enlightened teachers who can develop enquiring minds and are willing to allow their students to develop in an original way, but in this country we’re so totally obsessed, and we always have been, with music exams and all these sorts of things, so it’s very much engrained in the culture of education in this country. Maybe the younger musicians do need to think outside the box and think about how they’re really going to nurture their audiences, and especially younger audiences. If that means going into and playing in all sorts of schools, going into different performance venues and really try and engage with the audience of the future.

Nothing changes overnight, but I think there’s a feeling that maybe the competition is not the way to go anymore, that people are jaded by it all, that there are so many hundreds of competitions worldwide that churn out prize winners.

I adjudicated for a competition at the end of last year and pianists from all the music colleges mostly left me cold. Something needs to be developed within these students because I think everybody has the potential, yet somehow the training, especially in the conservatory system, means musicians conform, they don’t think enough for themselves and perhaps are afraid to take the necessary risks.

Perhaps there are pianists like that, and there are those doing things their own way. One of them might be Benjamin Grosvenor, who I think is only in his early twenties. My advice would be to find the really wonderful mentor, a really wonderful human being who believes in you and somebody who’s willing to explore, experiment and develop something special. I think there are very few of those sorts of mentors around. If it means travelling to other parts of the world then artists have to do it. They shouldn’t necessarily think that London is the only place." (James Brawn)

Hear James Brawn perform 'Beethoven Odyssey' at Markson Pianos Concert Series

June 25th at 7pm
St Mary Magdalene Church
Munster Square, London NW1 3PL
Tickets on the door: £6 (Concessions £4)

James will be performing a selection of works from his odyssey of recording ALL the Beethoven piano sonatas. "A tremendous display of pianistic virtuosity with a powerful interpretation" - Evening Telegraph (UK)

Since his Mozart concerto debut in Australia aged 12, pianist James Brawn has forged his own musical path of discovery, from studies with great pianists who can trace their teachers' lineage back to Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt and Clara Schumann to concerts alongside great Australian pianists Roger Woodward, Rita Reichman, Ronald Farren- Price, Ian Munro and Michael Kieran Harvey.

Connect with James

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

#32 Duo Gastesi-Bezerra: Florida-based Piano Duo from Brazil and Spain

                                                                                                                          Estibaliz Gastesi & Márcio Bezerra

Márcio We try to have a mix of standard and contemporary repertoire in all our programmes. We find connections between the new pieces and the older pieces in the programme. For instance, we may work with a new composer who loves Schubert, so we pair his works with Schubert and somehow that works very well. Or we may work with a composer who uses pentatonic scales so we pair her music with Debussy and that also works so well.

Estibaliz Generally around 30% of our repertoire is new music. We find that when given the chance, audiences like listening to new music, people are often surprised that they like new music so much, sometimes more than the older pieces they may already know.

Márcio  I was raised in Brazil, in Santos - a city that had no music except an annual new music festival. The festival is now fifty years old, and at that time it was run by Gilberto Mendes who programmed post-modern music. He was a very open person, a composer who also worked in a bank. The concerts were free and there were usually around seven people in the audience and I was one of them! New music was the only kind of music I'd hear and it always interested me.

In our duo we play around 20 new pieces of music on a regular basis. That doesn't count premières, it doesn't really matter to us whether we play a première or not. To us the performance is more important than “the premiere” so we don't really count the number or premières we've done; when we take up a work we tend to play it more than once.

Estibaliz I come from Bilbao. I met Márcio in a summer camp in Spain and then we met again by chance at the Hartt School in Connecticut. We mostly work together but sometimes one of us will play solo if the programme requires it. For example, in our minimalism programme I play a Philip Glass solo piano piece.

Márcio  We have our roles. Estibaliz always takes Primo …

Estibaliz … yes, he has Secondo, because it's he who has the pedal ...

Márcio  ... and it's easier for me to be quieter than her so I take the Secondo role!

Estibaliz   Márcio is more into the harmonics, and the chords and the theory, I'm more into the melody and how the music sounds, so it suits both of us to stick to those roles.

Our vision is that playing the music is more important than fame. We like to be in contact with composers, we're not really looking for a big international career, with managers, extensive travel, and so on. We love what we do and we're really happy we're in a situation where we play what we want where we want, it's good to be independent.

Márcio  We try to encourage everyone to play new work. My advice is to play contemporary music - Mozart cannot help you. Playing new music is important, it's what keeps music alive. The problem with contemporary music is that the fingering and the chords are difficult to get used to, so I'd encourage everyone to start contemporary music as early as possible. The audience is surprised when they hear new music, sometimes they comment that living music is so much better than older music.

Estibaliz Once when we played, someone told me she couldn't sleep for a whole night, she was so stimulated after hearing the new music we'd played.


Short bio
Internationally acclaimed Duo Gastesi-Bezerra has delighted audiences for over a decade with exciting programs of traditional and contemporary music for piano ensemble. Billed by the American Record Guide, as “a strong combination, playing very well together — often indistinguishable,” pianists Estibaliz Gastesi and Márcio Bezerra are staunch supporters of new music. They have commissioned and premiered more than twenty works by renowned and upcoming composers.

Connect with Duo Gastesi Bezerra


Monday, 31 March 2014

#31 Joseph Fleetwood: Concert Pianist

Generally I'll start my practice session with a little warm-up, play some Bach, or something light, or something Romantic, just to get the blood going through the hands. Then I'll look up the repertoire I'm performing at that particular time and focus on the technical problems because, there's no point in playing the whole programme through if you can play most of it, but get stuck on bits. So, in the Liszt for example, there are a few scary moments in there and I just make sure they're secure, that I can play them without thinking of them technically, so that the technique just functions by itself. At the same time I'll be working on the sound and the interpretation, but once the technique is solid you can then open the door into what's next; how you phrase, how you interpret the piece ...

To solve technical problems what I do is break the music down into the smallest component parts. I studied with a teacher called George Donald, and he was a pupil of two great teachers; Karl Schnabel (the son of Artur Schnabel) and Aube Tzerko who was a pupil of Artur Schnabel and they both go into something they got from Leschetiszky, who got it from Czerny who possibly got it from Beethoven; to get the composer's view of how the music is constructed so you look at motifs.

So the motifs are like the words that make up the phrase. I'm talking about practising micro phrasing hands together; so split up the phrase into the smallest unit that makes musical sense on its own. That's called the motif, and it's the stringing of these motifs together that make up a phrase. If you practise that one motif until it's right, and then you go onto the next motif and then you can string the two together so that you're not taking a running jump at a huge difficult part. The smaller the unit, the better the practice. Obviously you can't just practise the single note as that doesn't make musical,or physical, sense.

The aim is that the motif becomes instinctive. So, play it very very slowly, and with a light, but firm touch. You'd play with the key all the way down, but lightly, so that the fingers really understand the movements that they have to make. When you practise it at a slow enough speed, the brain understands the movement that the fingers have to make. Of course, when you practise faster, a certain compromise has to be made, because when you play all these motifs into a phrase you don't necessarily want your audience to hear the separate parts to the phrase, but if you don't practise like that, sometimes you can hear this and the music can sound a bit frenetic and senseless. It might feel like you're doing the phrasing right, and the pedalling right, and everything else, and getting the tone right but that sense of rushing comes from not rushing on these individual motives.

Practising in these small chunks actually builds stamina because your concentration is focussed only for a very small time, so you're not having to maintain a long line of concentration all the way. When you perform, your brain is going through the motifs so you're not focussed on thinking “I have to maintain the long line” - yes - you do have to maintain it, but you can do it in such a way as to go between the places where you can rest. You will have practised the motif within context, you will have moulded the motif into the line and that increases the stamina of practice and because you're not going over the same passage . In fact it's easier to make sense of the "long line" (as in the romantic idea of the long line) by focusing on the motifs, because instead of trying to make the line out of notes, you're making it out of the motives. It's like the difference between trying to make sentences and paragraphs out of individual letters, or trying to make it out of words.

I wouldn't play it excessively until it's right because you end up killing your ear and numbing your brain, so I think play the motif 3 or 4 times, then go on to the next one then go back – and keep it fresh, keep everything fresh. I never sit down and open the book from beginning to end unless I'm practising the performance.

When I'm practising for a performance I do two things. When I'm playing it all the way through, I practise it very, very slowly with that kind of soft, but sure, touch. You have to be incisive but you can't bang. And that gives you the core sound. George used to tell me that Schnabel told him that the tone should sound like iron wrapped in a velvet glove, and that you should imagine even in your pianissimo that you are playing to somebody sitting at the back of a large concert hall, but never shout at them. And from that sound you can increase to your fortissimo or decrease to your pianissimo and then you practise certain things in different ways. Sometimes it's good to practise a fortissimo passage pianissimo because you can get into the habit of thundering out all these chords and you're not really hearing what you're doing at that volume, your ear gets confused. So if you take it down and listen to everything at low volume you don't get as tired actually, because it's actually quite a lot of work. Break it down tonally and again into the motifs. Playing everything through at half speed is a good test of memorisation.

I'm not a great advocate of memorisation. The fashion is already changing and pianists are returning to using the music in performance; the piano competition had made some pianists into performing monkeys. Of course, I'm not saying that ALL competition pianists are like that, and there are exceptional players rise out of the competitions, like Danil Trifonov or Federico Colli, but many who enter competitions are merely thinking about memorizing as many of the right notes as possible and churning them out. I'm not sure how healthy that is to be honest. I think it's more the fault of an individual competitor than a competition - after all, the competition organizers aren't controlling how these people play. That is down to the individual, right?

I'm from Dundee which is going through a renaissance at the moment. There's currently a twenty year campaign of building works to completely redevelop the waterfront.

Joseph Fleetwood comes from an extraordinary musical lineage, having studied extensively with George Donald, a concert pianist in Scotland and a pupil of Karl Ulrich-Schnabel. Karl’s teacher was Artur Schnabel, a pupil of Leschetiszky, who had studied under Czerny. Czerny was a protégée of Ludwig van Beethoven. It is from this training that Joseph’s concept of tone production and preparation has been developed, and his playing is attracting international critical acclaim. His current CD of piano works by Edvard Grieg is available directly from him (visit his website for details). His next recordings will be of the complete Bach Partitas, and the Liszt B minor Sonata coupled with the Schubert Wanderer Fantasy, and John McLeod's Sonata No.1

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Come hear Joseph Fleetwood perform at the Markson Pianos Concert Series
St Mary Magdalene Church, Munster Square, London NW1
Wednesday 30th April 2014 7.00pm
Tickets £6.00 on the door or pre-booked (phone 0800 0748 980); £4.00 Concessions
Scarlatti Sonata In E minor
Scarlatti Sonata In C major
Scarlatti Sonata In D major
Mozart Sonata K.570
Liszt Sonata in B minor
Ginastera Tres Danzas Argentinas