ABRSM Conference Report

ABRSM’s Teacher Conference has established itself as one of the leading events in the instrumental teacher’s calendar, providing an opportunity for colleagues to network, stay abreast of new developments in the music teaching world, and refresh teaching skills.

This year’s conference took place at London’s Grange Tower Bridge Hotel on Saturday 5th November, and took as its title and grand theme ”The Art and Craft of Performing. More than 500 teachers attended, including me for the first time.

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The Pianist’s Solitude

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

Guest Post by Frances Wilson.

“The loneliness doesn’t worry me …
I spend most of my life alone, even backstage …
I’m there completely alone. I like the time alone …”

British pianist Stephen Hough, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme

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Breathing at the Piano

Piano Qigong Exercise

Are you sure that you breathe when playing the piano?

It might seem like an odd question – of course we continue to breathe while playing! But to what extent are we aware of our breath, and how it affects our technique, musicality and comfort at the piano?

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ABRSM: Spectrum 5

Sheet Music Review

Spectrum launched in 1996 with the aim of commissioning serious solo contemporary works by distiguished composers, to be playable by talented amateur, student and professional pianists. Since its inception, the series has produced six compilations for piano (including Spectrum for Piano Duet) and additional anthologies for cello, clarinet and violin, containing a total of 225 new works.

spectrum-5

Once again compiled by aclaimed pianist Thalia Myers, Spectrum 5 includes 15 specially commissioned works by leading composers Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Philip Cashian, Chen Yi, Michael Finnissy, Cheryl Frances-Hoad, Graham Fitkin, Helen Grime, Gavin Higgins, Gabriel Jackson, Harold Meltzer, Poul Ruders, Timothy Salter, Howard Skempton, Karen Tanaka and Huw Watkins.

The pieces range in length from 2-5 pages, with most being 3 pages long. According to ABRSM they range in difficulty from Grade 6 to Diploma (and they should know!) but I would qualify this by assuring readers that the majority here are squarely Grade 7-8 in my view, meaning that you should not be put off by the thought that the pieces will mostly be at the top end of the difficulty level.

In her introduction to the collection Thalia Myers writes:

“Although the pieces in Spectrum 5 are generally rather harder to play than many of those in earlier piano volumes, the purpose of Spectrum has remained unchanged since the first anthology was the mere glimmer of an idea twenty-odd years ago: to commission some of the world’s finest composers to write non-virtuosic miniatures that capture the essence of their concert music style, and to provide pieces that will appeal equally to student, amateur and professional performers and their audiences.”

The presentation is outstanding, in keeping with the whole series. The cover follows the style established by the first Spectrum book 20 years ago, yet seems remarkably fresh and up-to-date. The inside of the book is reassuringly familiar too, with short biographies of the 15 composers whose works are included, followed by the pieces themselves, all beautifully engraved and with brief footnotes by the composers.

While many of the pieces themselves are (as with the series as a whole) atonal, the collection is full of accessible musical and imaginative character, and never austere. I expect that many of these pieces will be hugely popular with players, and will no doubt be regular exam choices in future years too.

In short, here’s the best collection of new “contemporary classical” miniatures for piano that I have seen in years.

While there is great consistency of quality across the 15 pieces, my personal favourites are Gabriel Jackson’s ’Imaginary Birds, Karen Tanaka’s highly catchy ’Masquerade, Howard Skempton’s ’Aside (with its hints of Prokofiev) and Philip Caspian’s beautifully evocative ’Swale.

Supporting the publication, there is a full recording of the 15 pieces by Thalia Myers herself, available as a digital download from Amazon here.

I would recommend the recording as an essential purchase if you plan to play or teach these pieces. I assume it is a digital download because, at just over 30 minutes it doesn’t justify CD release. The quality is superb however, with a beautifully warm but clean recording of the piano, revealing every detail of these exquisite pieces.

ABRSM Publishing, £10.25
ISBN 978-1-84849-683-5

No One Method…

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

People may assume as an author of a method book I always use it. This simply is not the case. The right material is always my first consideration. And at times another tutor may be more suitable.

Perhaps for a very young beginner needing a slower progression or a teenager/adult needing something faster. Students have many different needs. I’m currently using alternative tutors with two beginners for those very reasons…

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Louis Couperin … on the Piano?

At a recent piano recital, I started with the very beautiful Chaconne in F major by the early French Baroque composer Louis Couperin (1626-61), uncle of the far better known François Couperin “Le Grand” (1668-1731).

For most who were in the audience, it will have been their first encounter with the music of Louis Couperin, and even those with an interest in the early French Baroque will perhaps never have heard this music performed on a modern piano before – it was written for the harpsichord (or clavecin as the French knew it) and while later Baroque music (for example the keyboard works of J.S.Bach and Domenico Scarlatti) has found its way into the piano repertoire, earlier Baroque keyboard music is rarely heard outside of specialist “Early Music” circles.

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Ayako Fujiki: “brightwater”

Recent Recordings

Ayako Fujiki is a Japanese classical pianist who lives in Barcelona, Spain, where she had the privilege of learning with the legendary Spanish concert pianist Alicia de Larrocha.

brightwater

She has released three classical recordings, and now brings us Brightwater, a collection of her own original compositions. Already a success in Spain, Ayako now hopes to win more fans in the UK and beyond.

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The Pianist’s Anonymity

The Pianist’s Reflections Series

As I write this, it’s been another eventful week in celebrity land, with tabloid headlines screaming the latest sordid news about Angelina, Brad, Jennifer, Jonny and others. There’s a common theme here: celebrity can be both a magnet for narcissism and unhappiness and a force that knocks lives off balance.

In the world of piano playing, albeit on a smaller scale, being well-known brings its own challenges, with exposure to conflict, malicious gossip and the envy of those who are less successful or unfulfilled.

So should we basically pursue anonymity?
Can a wise balance be found?

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