Monday, 24 October 2016

#52 Lola Perrin: Composer Pianist and Markson Pianos Composer in Residence

Lola Perrin in the Markson Pianos Showroom
" ... the right hand is chasing the left and there’s a recklessness .... the audience seemed to erupt which was perfect as it was designed to provoke conversation ... "

"I composed my first “climate piece” in 2005 in which I imagined

the changing shapes of spaces inside melting icebergs.  I was influenced by artist Rachel Whiteread who finds ways to capture different spaces in her works.  She was on a trip to the Arctic to highlight global warming and while she was there, I was at my piano in London working very consciously in her footprints, allowing the peaks and troughs of the imagined shapes inside the ice to dictate the shapes of my musical lines.

A few years later I saw an image that was so powerful I instantly decided I’d have to focus my life and work on climate issues. It was one of Isaac Cordal’s miniature sculptures; little business men standing up having a meeting, but with water up to their necks and foreheads. You immediately saw that these were bureaucrats discussing climate change - but too late; they were already flooded.

I first found myself going down the path so many of us artists go down and engaged with the apocalypse.  Imagery of floods, droughts, fires, melting ice … the drama of extremes is a magnet to the artist.

Trying to stop my handwringing about not knowing what to do about climate change ... I followed trails to different scientists and environmental groups and found two really compelling concepts. Zero Carbon Britain which has developed an intensively researched twenty-year plan to switch over to clean energy using existing technology, and and also Citizens Climate Lobby which is a lobbying movement to get politicians to impose a new fee to fossil companies - which will basically force them out of business. And I really loved the sound of joining a lobbying force to compete with the way fossil companies lobby politicians – empowering! These two movements influenced my present composition, Significantus, currently on tour and also being performed at Markson Pianos Concert Series.

It frustrates me that there’s not enough conversation in real life places about the most urgent issue we face, ie climate change. It’s much more in the media now but it’s still not often enough, in or out of the media – it’s like a taboo. I wanted to make a piece of music that has a space within it for a positive conversation with the audience, about the better type of world we want to create in response to climate change. Because if the conversation needs to be everywhere, that includes concert spaces.

I sourced three quotations. The first is by Mark Maslin and tells of how significant we actually are, contrary to the last 500 years in which scientific thought taught us that we were insignificant – through our modern lifestyle we'e leaving our footprints where we’ve never even been! The second quote, from Paul Allen, tells us that if we don't imagine a positive future we won't create it. The third quote, from Chris Rapley, likens the earth to a spacecraft and tells of how we're recklessly tampering with all the vital systems keeping us alive – something we wouldn’t dream of doing if we were on a man-made space ship. 

Just before the conversation with the audience the music is very fast, the right hand is chasing the left and there’s a breathlessness, a recklessness. At the premier the audience seemed to erupt after I played it, which was perfect as it was designed to provoke conversation. I’m looking forward to playing this to more audiences to see if I get the same reaction.

I’m inviting different guest speakers to join the different performances. Climatologist and writer Rachel McCarthy will be at the Marksons Piano Concert Series concert. Other speakers I’m collaborating with are Paul Allen of Zero Carbon Britain/Centre for Alternative Technology, political economist Andrew Simms, complexity theory activist Jean Boulton, environmental psychologist Stuart Capstick, filmmaker/writer James Murray-White and writer/performer Jennifer Leach. I’ve also had interest from Chinese concert pianist Ella Xunhuan Zhou who has started to learn the suite with the idea of touring it next year in China. It’s exciting to think that on the other side of the world is someone just as serious as I am in using the concert space to help drive forward the vital environmental conversation." (Lola Perrin is Composer in Residence at Markson Pianos)


Hear Significantus (Piano Suite IX Lola Perrin 2016) 
With Guest Speaker Rachel McCarthy

Wednesday Oct 26th at 7pm
Markson Pianos Concert Series
St Mary Magdalene Parish Church
Munster Square
London NW1 3PT

Oct 31 Clare College Cambridge with James Murray-White
Nov 9 Schumacher College's Feeding the insatiable symposium
Nov 12 Cambridge Circular Festival with Prof Jane Heal
Jan 29 SOAS University of London with Andrew Simms 

Monday, 17 October 2016

#51: The Reverend Mark Nash-Williams: Vicar of Alston Moor and lifelong pianist

  " ...Alston town has about a thousand people – and we’re really quite isolated ... we’re going to have to learn to do things for ourselves, possibly as people did a hundred years ago ... "

“I started having lessons when I was five or six; playing piano has always been an important part of my life. It’s one of the ways in which I communicate with God. That stilling process of playing opens up channels, so it’s an important part of my spiritual life. Occasionally I accompany services, but if I’m dashing from my stall to the piano and back again, from my point of view it makes for a less satisfactory worship experience. Fortunately we do have very good musicians who can play most of the time, so mainly I play just for my own personal pleasure and satisfaction. 

A while ago circumstances meant that I got out of the habit of playing. The Church kindly thought that playing the piano was part of my personal development so they paid for half a dozen lessons to help me start up again. I began by learning some Beethoven sonatas. I’m now also trying to get my fingers around Oscar Peterson - trying to play some of his transcriptions is fun!

If I had to pick one composer it would be JS Bach - we tend to refer to him as God in this house. There’s a serenity about his music, and a rightness which is immensely good. It’s not easy to put into words; Bach himself was close to God, there’s something about his music which seems to bridge that gap somehow. A friend of mine has a good phrase; “music is God’s language here on Earth”, and I think there’s something in that, because it touches us at a level where words often don’t. Music often opens things up that perhaps other things don’t. Bach is the composer who most resonates with who I am, he’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. 

Playing the piano is a process of praying, I think. Prayer is wide-ranging, it’s not just saying words in church or consciously focussing on God, it can be about the whole of life - and music is part of that communication with God and with the wider world. 

I have a project that is focussed on the town of Alston and also on the wider community, scattered across an area of a couple of hundred square kilometres. Alston town has about a thousand people – and we’re really quite isolated; we’re up in the North Pennines in an area that gets snowed in regularly. It’s around 40 minutes’ drive to the next place of any size so we have to be self-sufficient. We’re inconvenient to the authorities and providing services is never going to be profitable. So we’re beginning to lose our services; the banks have closed, the hospital is under threat, the buses are minimal, the school is under threat … Like a lot of people, I’ve realised that if we are to flourish in the long term, we’re going to have to learn to do things for ourselves, possibly as people did fifty, sixty or a hundred years ago. 

The Church has generously given me a three month sabbatical so that I can explore how we might make that happen. It’s not exactly a Church ‘thing’, but my view is that God is interested in the whole of our lives and community and how we flourish as a whole, and so the Church ought to be a part of that anyway. If we’re looking at the future of the community in general, it’s become increasingly apparent to me that there’s no point in doing this unless we’re looking at sustainability and also at carbon neutral, and then moving ahead quite quickly in that direction. And perhaps we can be an exemplar of how this can be done. 

So I’m researching what people are already doing in different parts of the country and beyond, attending courses, reading, interviewing, visiting colleagues and learning ways of getting the community involved in local development. Hopefully by the end I’ll have the beginning of a paper suggesting a way forward which the wider community can pick up and work with as they develop a community and neighbourhood plan, and then we will start to have conversations much more widely with the community about as to where we want to go. It’s daunting but exciting!” (The Revd Mark Nash-Williams was speaking with Markson Pianos Composer in Residence Lola Perrin)